Mobile meeting apps have been around long enough that a standard format has evolved: icons on the home screen link users to the schedule, attendee list, photo gallery,, polls, speakers, exhibitors, and so on. But a new launching this week takes a very different approach, dedicating the home screen entirely to attendee networking.
The app is called Topi, and its central features are topic-based discussion boards and an attendee search function, both designed to connect attendees with shared interests. Topi was conceived as a location-based social networking app, but CEO David Aubespin, a former Google engineer, pivoted the product’s focus early on, convinced of its ability to improve the meeting experience.
Attendees populate their Topi profiles by connecting to Facebook and can also link to their accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, FourSquare, and Instagram. The app automatically suggests groups of attendees whom participants should meet based on the affiliations and interests pulled from their social media profiles. “The more you link up, the more Topi knows about you. Your interests trigger topic-based discussions,” Aubespin says.
When users launch the app, they see a list of up to 10 discussion groups. The first includes all attendees, sorted by relevance to the participant, and the rest are custom groups generated by Topi. These may include people who, for example, attended the same university, work for the same company, come from the same country, or have a shared interest in, say, social media two-minute video.). (To get a sense of it, view Topi’s
Users can post comments to any of the groups, connect one-on-one with other attendees, or create new discussion groups. There’s also a one-click option for attendees who meet on Topi to connect via LinkedIn. Without leaving the app, Topi users can also make and share photos, audio clips, maps, and sketches.
Topi is a free native app, downloadable for iOS, Android, and Windows mobile devices. On Topi’s setup interface, meeting organizers designate the physical perimeter of their event on a map. Everyone with the Topi app within that perimeter can connect. More than one location can connect under the same meeting network. So, for example, a planner could draw a perimeter around a hotel in New York City and another around a hotel in London and attendees in both sites would be linked together on one Topi network.
At this point, the system is not private. If you have the Topi app and you’re within the conference perimeter, you can connect to the meeting. “Topi will have a new feature down the road that allows organizers to prompt users for a code to confirm they are registered attendees,” says Aubespin, “but it hasn't been strongly requested by organizers at this point.”
From the back end, the meeting organizer can push out messages to atttendees; conduct polls; set up sponsor logos and links; and distribute conference documents, such as the agenda and speaker handouts. The app also provides the planner with audience analytics, both in terms of attendees’ interests and demographics as well as how they’re using the app’s features.
Over the past six months, Topi’s beta testers have included the NYC Marketing Mixer networking events, organized by Andrew Der, senior manager, digital strategy & innovation at American Express, and InfluencerCon, a five-country, three-day event held in October. “We're excited to bring social networking to the conference and meeting industry. We believe the quality of a conference is strongly correlated with how engaged an audience is,” says Aubespin. “We spent months figuring out how to simplify networking between like-minded people.”