ESA 2012 Mobile Apps

We launched our first apps into production on the app stores quietly a week or two ago – and you might be a little surprised to see that it is a conference app rather than a field guide or a data collection app.  The app is live on both the Google Play store as well as the iTunes store(and it’s free to download), but before you go ahead and download it, have a read as to how it is designed to work.

The aim here was to deal with a situation I’ve faced at a number of big conferences – how do I pick what I want to go to, and how do I actually find it in the middle of a busy conference session?  So what we built is an app and an accompanying web site, based on existing open source tools (more on that later) that lets you choose your schedule, and then have it on your phone – along with directions to the next session.

The way that this app is designed to be used is that before you go to the conference, you go to the main web site at  There, you register, log in and pick the sessions that you want to go to by adding them to your schedule.  This is much easier on larger screens with larger conferences!  Once you have selected your sessions, then you install the app on your device, and then synchronise with the web site to download your program.  Once downloaded, you can browse the sessions, and the app will actually show you a map of the venue and tell you where the session is (as we don’t have indoor GPS set up at the venue, that’s still a pipe dream to give you directions).  You can also download the instructions that went to all of the delegates for the conference here as well, by clicking here.


Obliogatory screenshots – with our on-ground helper highlighted…

OK, now that you’re read how it works, here’s where to get it from:  

Steph’s been working hard behind the scenes on the app and accompanying web site.  In her own words, here’s how we did it:

To create the app, we leveraged existing technology by starting with the open source DrupalCon app – see their blog article here – and setting up a Conference Organizing Distribution (COD) Drupal backend site.  The app is built with Appcelerator Titanium and ended up being heavily modified from the original DrupalCon app to suit the particular needs of this conference.  It was built with the future in mind, however, and can be easily modified for future conferences.  For this particular conference, we didn’t use most of the features of COD as well, but the combination of the app and the COD backend site have the potential to be a complete conference package that integrates registration, session submission and scheduling, and social media.

In addition to developing it, we even ran a company wide testing session in our office a few weeks back – including obligatory pizza and coke – where everyone grabbed a device (Android tablets, iPhones, iPads, Android phones) and we all went through the installation, registration and testing of the app.  As our boardroom has whiteboard paint all over the walls, everyone grabbed a pen and wrote their feedback on the walls while we tested the apps (and ate pizza).

Proof that AJ can write legibly…

Kehan is heading over to Melbourne this week to support the apps on the ground as well as to enjoy the ESA 2012 conference content as well.  There’s even a flashing part of the map in the help screen that tells you where he will be during the breaks (well, it’s set by default to the bar…).  So we’re looking forward to seeing how it goes, and we’ll be supporting Kehan remotely from back here in the office while he runs the floor.  And while he’s there he’ll drop in to Museum Victoria to do some liaison with the team there on Biodiversity Snapshots, too.

We have deliberately written this app framework to be able to be adapted and re-used for a whole variety of conferences; we can readily re-skin the app and web site, and drop in a new conference program, and have a conference app ready in a short period of time.  So there you go, a nice toolkit for conferences, and it is built on open source tech.  If you are interested in getting us involved in doing this for your conference, get in touch.

You can contact us about the app by sending an email to our team or by starting a conversation with us via our corporate Twitter account.



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