Like most of the other economists, for the last couple of days I have been at the annual Allied Social Sciences Association conference in San Diego. This is a gathering of mostly economists with hundreds of papers being presented, strewn across multiple hotels.
A staple of the meetings was the ‘book.’ This was a 500 odd page book that listed all of the sessions. As you couldn’t attend many of them to find the ones you wanted took a good period of time. One economist’s strategy I observed was to find the pages with the sessions they wanted to attend and rip them out. Others used post-its or bookmarks or what have you. It was complicated.
This year, the ASSA provided an app. It was available for free on both iOS and Google Play. And it is safe to say that it has changed the experience of the meetings.
First, it provides the schedule in frames including by time, by association and of course has a search function. This was, in fact, all I expected it to do but as it turned out far more thought had been put into it.
The second feature was the ability to build your own schedule. Find a session you want and you can add it to your calendar. You can even add multiple sessions for the same time in case you want to schedule based on individual papers rather than sessions. Moreover, it was intuitively designed. It was very easy to see functions and use them. For instance, you could share session information on social media and you only had to press one button to find out where the session was on a map.
This completely changed the experience of the meetings. Not only could you abandon the book you could easily work out where you hoped to be. In addition, notifications would remind you of upcoming sessions. It was pretty funny to be standing in a conversation and suddenly half of the people’s phone’s beep with the same notification. It was like we were all being called into the ER on our pagers.
But there are a couple of quibbles. First, app data was updated constantly. That was a good thing but this is usually happened just after you opened the app to search for something requiring you to restart the app. It would have been better if this could occur somehow in the background.
Second, during the conference, when you were searching the program by time, it did not think about the time and started on the day with the first sessions at 8am even if it was already later in the day. It would make more sense to open the program at the current time and also to have search that did not include sessions that had already taken place.
Finally, the book contained ads. Those ads funded the book. It seems to me that with some thought the app could provide great targeted ads that will help fund the app itself. Restaurant information, new textbooks etc. If done right this could be useful and not annoying. It also happens to be the topic of the paper I presented at the meetings.