At a minimum, I typically make it a point to hit SXSW and a few other events. I find it advantageous to quickly absorb what’s new and emerging as well as to make some new contacts while I'm there.
This year I decided to check out CES for the first time. It was fairly last-minute and I didn’t have as much time to research what I wanted to see in advance or to coordinate with all of the people I wanted to see while there. Plus, it was absolutely the largest conference I had ever seen and completely nuts. I was left to rely on a slew of mobile apps to make the most of the trip.
Here are some of the apps I came to rely on and which helped me to avoid going all Hunter S. Thompson while in Vegas.
Highlight runs in the background on your phone and tells you when interesting people are nearby. If you're at an interesting tech conference, it quickly becomes completely addictive. I first used it at South By Southwest 2012 and ended up uninstalling it because it just completely drained my battery. I decided to give it another shot at CES 2013, and again found it extremely useful—even using it to stalk Robert Scoble at one point (to no avail...yet).
CardMunch takes a picture of business cards, converts them to text, and then lets you connect on LinkedIn and/or save to your phone’s contacts. Business cards suck and it baffles me that we still use them; CardMunch helps immensely.
This likely needs no explanation. If you use LinkedIn on the web, you can also use it via the mobile app. You’re at a conference. You’re going to meet new people. LinkedIn is great for staying connected after you’ve gone home.
Nine times out of 10, attending a conference means traveling. This means coordinating airfare and accommodations for yourself and communicating those plans with others. Enter TripIt. TripIt makes it easy to store your travel plans in a centralized place that can be easily shared. All you do is connect your email or forward itineraries to an email address provided by TripIt and it handles the rest.
Hello is a newish mobile app by Evernote that helps you create rich notes about people you meet. Kicker—it let’s you exchange contact info more easily. Kicker-kicker—it saves history and notes to your Evernote account (duh).
The best part of any conference is what happens after hours. There are meetups, parties, you name it. Most events at most major conferences seem to use Eventbrite for RSVPs. Bringing a printed-out RSVP confirmation to a party is the conference equivalent of having your mom drop you off at a party in high school. On the off chance that you actually need the confirmation, install the Eventbrite app on your phone
Bloodhound touts itself as "the complete mobile solution for events." Features include networking via Facebook and LinkedIn, live Twitter feeds, maps, schedules, and exhibitor information. If you had to pick one app on the list to try out, this will provide the most breadth in terms of features and functionality.
You didn't expect me not to plug my own app, did you? One of the hardest things about going away for a week to attend a conference is dealing with work stuff back home. At the very minimum, you’re going to end up dialing into conference calls while you’re away. Speek is a fast and easy way to join conference calls and our apps provide a single click experience for joining. Also, one founder has tattoos and amazing hair. Just sayin'.
These days every conference rolls out mobile apps just for the annual event. CES had one this year, and so will SXSW. Although the quality and usefulness of these apps vary, it’s typically in your best interest to go ahead and install them and find out.
SXSW Go is available for iPhone and Android.
—Danny Boice is the CTO and cofounder of Speek. Find him at SXSW later this week and on Twitter at @DannyBoice.
[Image: Flickr user Steve Garfield]