EIBTM WORLDWIDE TECHNOLOGY WATCH, now in its fifth year of recognizing companies for their meetings-focused technology products, has picked a sophisticated social networking software for its 2004 top honors.

The product, introNetworks (www.intronetworks.com), connects meeting registrants before, during, and after a meeting through an online networking portal that allows people to find those with similar interests. After answering a series of profiling questions that are customized to the meeting, registrants can search for others who have products or services of interest or similar goals for the event (for example, peer discussion). Attendees can contact one another using the system's internal messaging center.

Those are the bare basics, but there's significant depth to the product. Especially notable is the engaging and graphical user interface. For example, in the search mode, attendees are represented as pins on a circular grid. The user is shown as a gray pin in the center. The distance of the other pins from the center indicates how closely those people match the user's profile. As the user narrows the search, pins disappear. When the user rolls the cursor over a particular pin, that individual's profile (and, in some cases, his or her picture) appears in a pop-up box. The designers have made completing a profile (the basics are pre-populated with the meeting registration data) and searching for other attendees an agreeable, interactive process. This may account for high adoption rates by attendees (78 percent to 92 percent) at the 17 conferences that have used introNetworks since it was launched in February 2003 by Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Mixed Grill.

“There are too many people at any given conference for you to realistically meet,” says Mixed Grill CEO and co-founder Mark Sylvester. “The reason we go to meetings is to make connections. And we think that networking at meetings and conferences is pretty random.”

Another notable aspect of the introNetworks system is the reporting available to meeting organizers. As attendees profile themselves, organizers can see who attendees are and what they expect to get out of a show. Since an introNetwork typically goes live months before a conference and stays up for a year, planners can react to the interest demographics of their group to adjust the session content.

The system costs $9,995 for up to 2,200 attendees and goes up from there. It's scalable to hundreds of thousands of attendees, although the company's largest meeting so far has been about 16,000.

The prize for coming out on top in the Worldwide Technology Watch includes exhibit space at EIBTM — it will be introNetworks first — in Meeting Professionals International's Technology Village@EIBTM as well as an opportunity to present the tool to attendees on the show's central stage. EIBTM convenes in Barcelona, Spain, November 30 to December 2.

IntroNetworks competed against 32 other meeting technology applications for the award, twice as many as in 2003. Honorable mentions were given to two companies. Dietze Enterprises (www.dietze-inc.com) was recognized for its conference badge embedded with Radio Frequency Identification (RFI) technology designed to hold encrypted attendee information. The badge allows exhibitors to efficiently collect data using a badge reader that can pick up the badge's signal from a few inches away. The other honorable mention went to 3Touch Intelligent Conference Systems (www.3touch.com) for its Liberty Lectern. The lectern incorporates a 20-inch touch screen to navigate presentations, and allows presenters to view the current, previous, and next slides simultaneously, as well as receive messages. There's also a timer to keep the presenter on track and a built-in camera for displaying products or documents.