One of the main reasons why people attend conferences is to network. Why, then, do traditional conference apps make that so difficult? This is the question David Aubespin had in mind when he began to develop Topi.

Attendee’s view of the event’s homepage

Named after a type of fast and extremely social antelope, Topi is a native app that runs on iPhone, iPad, Android and Mobile Windows platforms, covering roughly 80 percent of the mobile operating systems used. Its purpose is to help attendees find people with common interests at conferences and make it easier for them to meet and communicate.

The app does this by matching information attendees have shared on social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare and Meetup and cross-referencing that with the interests of other Topi users on-site. The more networks users connect with their Topi profile, the easier it will be for them to see whether they have friends, business connections or other things in common with the other people on site. Users also can add interests to their Topi profile to create an event-specific filter to, for example, find attendees from a particular area, job function or company or just someone who might also want to watch the same college football game after sessions end for the day.By selecting a magnifying glass icon on the home page, attendees can browse a pictorial list of everyone at the event in order of relevance to them, based on the number of shared connections and interests, or search the list of attendees for specific companies, job titles, etc.

Clicking on the magnifying glass results in a list of attendees in order of relevance to the user.

Click on a person’s profile and you can invite them to chat privately or connect with them via LinkedIn. Event information like schedules, hotel information, speaker handouts, etc. may still be included in the app, but it’s not front and center, it’s on the same sidebar as the user settings and preferences. Those files may be uploaded in word document, spreadsheet, PDF and/or PPT formats. As soon as they’re uploaded, they simultaneously become available to everyone using the app. Users can then print the files onsite or email the documents to themselves so they have access to them later.An example of group conversations in the main event chatroom.Attendees can send text messages, drawings, pictures, audio files and maps to each other in any of the public or main event chat rooms. At any time, an user can take a conversation offline into a private chat room and invite other people to join in, whether or not they are physically at the event.

Topi’s event dashboard

Event organizers create the event by entering information on an online dashboard, creating a geo-location for it, and setting start and end times. Attendees download Topi, not an event-specific app. That is because when people arrive at the specified geo-location for the event, Topi recognizes where they are and gives them access to the event chat room and information. Planners can make that perimeter as specific (a room) or wide (a city) as they’d like and set the time and date that the geo-fence for the event will begin and end. The event also can be built to occur simultaneously in multiple locations, a boon for organizers of hybrid events looking for a way to tie remote and face-to-face communities together. When people walk outside of the perimeter(s) set by the planner, they no longer have access to the chat rooms, polls or files for that event.

Once the event ends, no new messages may be added to the main chat room, but the information stream and metrics related to it will still be viewable. On the organizer dashboard, planners have access to information about the frequency and type of engagement generated during the event as well as audience demographics.

Example of real-time Topi analytics, as viewed from organizer’s dashboard

Planners can alert attendees to changes in schedule, send them speaker handouts or tell them to take a poll by sending push notifications through the online dashboard. These messages can be sent in real-time or scheduled to drop at a particular time. Attendees see these notifications as part of the public chat stream or, if the app isn’t open, as a push notification on their mobile device. Once a poll or survey is published, it continues to appear in the chat stream until the time it goes dead so that anyone using the main event chat will see it and be able to use it. Conference organizers can see the real-time data from the survey and polls on their dashboard. Other metrics include patterns of engagement among the attendees using the main conference dashboard and the type of media they shared during the chat.

Historically, Aubespin says, they’ve found that the ideal conference size for Topi use is between 1,000 and 5,000 attendees. That’s when the app seems to “make the most meaningful connections” without creating too much noise. Although, he notes, many events of 100 or fewer have been using the platform and Topi is in talks to create white label solutions for 20,000-person conferences as well as university campuses. Pricing has yet to be formalized, but Aubespin says for groups that are larger than 100 and smaller than 5,000, it has hovered in the $1 per user range.

Even when the app is turned off, attendees receive push notifications

One way planners can offset the cost of the app is to sell sponsorships. Hyperlinked sponsor logos are displayed at the bottom of the event homepage. Topi automatically sets these slots to rotate every 30 seconds, but that timing may be adjusted. On the organizer’s dashboard, planners can enter any number of logos and links. Whitelabel solutions can be customized to include color schemes and other functionalities.

One of Topi’s early adapters is American Express, which has been using the app for its monthly marketing meetings. “Without question, Topi has nailed it with their mobile app for business professionals who want to network with each other in a simple but powerful way,” stated Andrew Der, Senior Manager, Digital Strategy & Innovation at American Express.  “Our Marketing Mixer members have been using Topi every month with great reception, and the level of engagement and connections members have made with each other is exceptional.”

Want to see how it works? Watch this video.

Watch this video demonstration of the Topi mobile app from David Aubespin on Vimeo