IS THERE AN INDUSTRY that has not changed drastically in the last decade and a half as a result of computers, e-mail, and the Internet? If so, it's certainly not the meeting industry. If you've been in this field long enough, consider our registration methods, audiovisual equipment, and communication tools circa 1980 — no PCs, no cell phones, no voice mail …

With our anniversary upon us, it seemed like a good time to take stock of just how far meeting technologically has come. And we could think of no better person to do it than Corbin Ball, a meeting-technology consultant who, as a former planner himself, has lived the changes. His chronology of tech developments notes general events in RED and meeting industry innovations in BLACK.


Worldwide, the number of computers in use reaches 1 million.

Conferon develops a system of wireless headsets and beepers for meetings that is designed to improve on-site communication. This is before the widespread use of portable radios.

Several registration companies (Galaxy Information Services, CompuSystems, and Registration Control Systems) offer basic computerized badge production and lead retrieval (via embossed plastic “credit” cards) to the trade show industry. Before these cards, exhibitors simply wrote down attendees' badge numbers, which the registration company later matched to the contact information.

Galaxy provides the first computerized on-site registration. Using 12 registration stations transmitting over one 1,200-baud modem, this innovation eliminated the need for an on-site mainframe computer.


Commodore VIC-20 hits the market — the first color computer for less than $300 — and sells more than 1 million units. The monitor was a TV set, the storage was a cassette tape, and the “killer apps” were video games.

IBM releases the first personal computer.

MeetingPro (now Peopleware), the first database for the meeting industry, is released for continuing medical education events, enabling personalized confirmation letters, big-print name badges, accurate attendance lists, and basic market tracking.


Time magazine names the computer its “Man of the Year.”

Compression Labs begins selling $250,000 videoconferencing systems with $1,000-per-hour line charges.


The first cellular phone network starts in the United States.

The patent for voice mail is awarded to Gordon Matthews and sold to IBM.

The first laser pointers come to market, weighing more than 6 pounds and costing more than $800.

Eric Orkin launches Delphi Management Systems, the first comprehensive meetings and group sales, marketing, and catering software for the hospitality industry. It became Newmarket Software in 1985.


Apple releases the Macintosh, the first widely distributed computer with a mouse and a graphical user interface.

Galaxy runs 120 trade show registration workstations from a single microcomputer built by Digital Systems Corp.


Microsoft releases Windows 1.0.

CD-ROMs hit the market, with the ability to store 270,000 pages of text.

Phoenix Solutions releases MeetingTrak 1.0, the second meeting-planning relational database product.

The first badge software, PCNametag, is introduced at MeetingWorld. Using a dot-matrix printer, it could produce 120 badges per hour. Attendees lined up three deep to see the product.


MeetingMatrix, the first room-diagramming software, is created and released by E.J. Siwek.

Meeting Industry Microcomputer Users Group is formed by Judith Mathews. For several years, MIMUG met before the annual meeting of Meeting Professionals International. The tabletop software displays were among the first technology education for the meeting industry.


The first association focusing on meeting technology is formed. The association, its name lost to history, lasts about two weeks before being co-opted by MPI to become the Computer Special Interest Group.

PowerPoint 1 (originally called Presenter) is released. It provided only black-and-white images, had only one transition, and ran only on Macs.


The number of fax machines more than doubles to 2.5 million units.


IBM and Sears joint “videotext” venture starts operation under the Prodigy name.

Sixteen hotel chains contribute $100,000 each to fund a startup company, The Hotel Industry Switch Co., to electronically link the global distribution system companies, such as Sabre, with hotels' computerized reservation systems. THISCO eventually became Pegasus, and now processes more than 300 million transactions per month.


The number of computers in use worldwide surpasses 100 million units.

PCNametag and LasersEdge develop software for laser-printer badges.

McNametag, one of the few meeting-industry software programs written for the Macintosh computer, is released.


Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web.


Most personal computer vendors introduce notebook PCs, known then as “freedom machines.”

PlanSoft begins development of Ajenis, the first attempt to standardize meeting specification communications between meeting planners and hoteliers. The software eventually rolls out in 1995 but is not widely adopted, in part because of rising competition with Web-based tools.

School Home Office Products Association is the first group to use smart cards (plastic cards with integrated computer chips) for lead retrieval at its trade show.


The Web had a total of 130 sites.

MPINet, the first online discussion group for meeting professionals, is created as a forum on CompuServe. The formation committee meets in December 1993, and the service comes online the following month. It grows to more than 2,500 members before closing in 1997.

Doug Fox publishes the first newsletter focused on meeting planning software, The Meeting Software Review. In November 1996, this evolved into EventWeb, the first meeting technology e-newsletter.


Laurence Canter sends the first spam e-mail — “Green Card Lottery 1994 May be the Last One!! Sign up now!!” — creating a huge uproar in the Internet community. As a result, Canter loses his job, and his Internet service provider cancels his subscription.

To keep track of Web sites of interest to them, two Stanford students create “Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web,” soon renamed Yahoo!.

The first software product to track meeting spend and sourcing is introduced by McGettigan Partners (now Maritz McGettigan). This evolves into Core Discovery, originally provided only to McGettigan clients. In 1998, the company releases an upgraded version with a Web interface to the general public under the name Real-Planner. In 1999, this evolves into a separate company, StarCite, as a package of Web-based sourcing and consolidation solutions.

Registration Control Systems and Galaxy provide magnetic stripe cards for trade show lead retrieval.


PlanSoft starts work on (now, the first comprehensive searchable meeting facilities database combined with a request for proposal engine. This was a unique consortium of a privately held company (PlanSoft), two associations (MPI and the American Society of Association Executives), and three hotel companies (Marriott, Sheraton, and Hyatt Hotels). comes online in 1997.

Reed's InterMedia trade show is the first to use two-dimensional barcode paper-based lead badges, allowing exhibitors to extract full contact information directly from a badge.

Holiday Inn provides the first hotel Web site with online purchasing of sleeping rooms.

The first online meeting-registration tools emerge — all hand-coded by Web programmers.

Microsoft NetMeeting, a Web collaboration tool, is released with Windows95, allowing people to “meet” and work together from remote locations. It is soon joined by WebEx (1996), PlaceWare (1996), and others to provide audio, slides, and file-sharing collaboration capabilities.


Lee Travel provides the first housing Web site to track room blocks and real-time housing inventory. From Lee Travel grows in 1998, one of the pioneering attendee management, housing, and meetings-consolidation products. Originally called ERS — Event Reservation System — is one of the first template-driven housing and registration products.

The San Francisco Miyako (now Radisson) Hotel offers the first online request for proposal, built by Cardinal Communications.

Passkey, one of the original online housing companies, is founded by hotelier Bob Motley and meeting planner Brian Layton. The first Passkey-enabled single property meeting is for Sheraton Corp. in New Orleans for 900 people in 1998.

Cardinal Communications creates the Meeting Industry Mall, the first Web-based interactive meeting industry portal. From this grows the MIMlist, a listserv for meeting professionals.


Most major hotel corporations and meeting industry associations develop Web sites.

The first template-based meeting registration tool is released: RegWeb by Cardinal Communications. This allows planners to set up semi-customized registration pages without a Web designer. This is the precursor to the hundreds of application service providers to follow.


ExpoCardWeb opens, allowing exhibitors to access leads via the Web. (now provides a free online meetings cost-analysis tool.

Lee Travel provides the first generation of an online integrated housing, registration, and air-booking product that incorporates zone fares.


EventSource (which became ProcurePoint and is now out of business) and StarCite provide online auctions for the sale of meeting space. is one of the first Web sites to offer “distressed inventory” — hotel meeting space and sleeping rooms — usually at short notice and at discounted rates.

Many predict total computer system collapse because of the Y2K bug (the inability of older computers to distinguish between the year 1900 and the year 2000). Almost no problems are encountered in the New Year, but fears lead to major system upgrades throughout the global corporate community.


Application service providers — companies that rent Web-based meeting applications (versus software installed directly onto a computer) — explode onto the scene, fueled by enthusiastic venture capitalist funding. Several of these companies do not last past the bust in 2001.


The first virtual trade show, ExpoExchange, is held.

Shockfish's SpotMe PDA device debuts, allowing an attendee to see pictures and contact information of people standing within 20 feet.

GetThere Direct Meetings provides the first online group space reservation tool. This is followed in 2003 by other group room block reservation tools such as Groople and Hotel Planner, primarily for small meetings.

Sixty percent of U.S. households own at least one computer.

The LoveBug worm/virus infects 2.5 million PCs and causes an estimated $8.7 billion in damage.


Use of online meeting and collaboration tools such as WebEx and PlaceWare (now LiveMeeting) spikes after September 11.

StarCite offers the first Web-based, two-way, real-time RFP tool for meeting space and rooms.


Growing numbers of attendees search online travel sites — Expedia (launched in 1996), Travelocity (1996), Orbitz (2001), and others — to find low-cost hotel accommodations. Booking “outside the block” creates significant attrition problems for planners. In 2004, to combat the problem, Hilton launches its Group Reservations Identification Program, allowing planners to compare registration lists with hotel guest room reservations and thereby account for all attendees staying at the hotel.


Software Management Inc. files more than 200 patent claims covering a range of meeting-related Internet processes, including online registration and exhibit booth design. No awards have been granted. In 2004, the Expo Group is awarded a patent on the process by which exhibit services for trade shows are processed from a single source online.

Hyatt rolls out E-mmediate Meetings, an online meeting-booking tool designed for small meetings. From this came E-mmediate Response, the first real-time, two-way connection between an RFP site (in this case StarCite) and a hotel sales system.

Columbia Resource Group rolls out Rio, a Web-based meeting-networking program. Rio creates an attendee database that people can use to search for and contact other attendees. Others to follow are introNetworks (2003) and ExpoExchange's SmartEvent (2004).

Mobile Web logs (MoBlogs) are first used in a meeting setting, with technology companies leading the way.

StarCite, working with Outtask Inc., offers the first online, real-time group air-booking product.


Intel incorporates wireless Internet communications in its Centrino chip.

A number of meeting consolidation/strategic events management programs are developed and refined.

Intellibadge is the first to use RFID (radio frequency identification) to track attendee movements.

Cyber “poachers” such as market sleeping rooms outside the block to major meetings. This company now appears to be out of business.

Major online travel retailers move toward meetings. Orbitz launches Orbitz Meeting Services (an alliance with David Green Organization) and Expedia acquires Metropolitan Travel (in mid-2002). More are expected.

In May, the amount of SPAM e-mail exceeds the amount of legitimate e-mail for the first time.

Wireless high-speed Internet access is deployed in more than 6,000 hotels. (This is expected to grow 1,100 percent by 2008).


Google indexes more than 8 billion pages on the Web.

Online bookings for Hilton Hotels exceeds those at its call centers.

Two of the major meetings consolidation vendors, PlanSoft and SeeUThere, merge to form OnVantage.

Thanks to the following meeting technology pioneers whose contributions and fact verification made this article possible: Janet Christodoulou, Coleman, Bill Duncan, Doug Fox, Bruce Harris, Deb Huffington, Peggy Lee, Mike Malinchok, Rodman Marymor, John Pina, Jeff Rasco, Elaine Rickman, E.J. Siwek, Bruce Small, Ed Tromczynski, Nick Topitzez, Robert Walters, and Dick Zeller.

Corbin Ball, CMP, is a speaker, consultant, and writer focusing on meeting technology.