Why We Exist
The Conference Exchange was founded in 1996 by an MIT-trained engineer who was frustrated with conferences. He observed that, because of concurrent sessions, no person could see more than a small fraction of the presentations at any conference. Too often he found that his own presentations were scheduled opposite other talks he wanted to hear. And he was frustrated that it was so hard to locate information about presentations already given at conferences that he could not attend.
Thus our company began with a focus on capturing and sharing the information presented at conferences so that access to information would no longer be limited by concurrent sessions, and so the presentations carefully crafted by thousands of professionals would be preserved rather than evaporate. We pioneered the capture of selected conference presentations in multimedia format — so highly compressed as to be distributed on CD and through dial-up connections, yet containing sufficient visual detail to accommodate detailed charts and diagrams. This led naturally to the development of continuing education products derived from conference presentations.
Innovation in the Collection, Management, and Distribution of Conference Data
In parallel with our work in multimedia technology, we also began helping associations to improve the efficiency of their conference planning processes, and to distribute other forms of conference data. We produced our first conference CD and conference web sites in 1996, giving professionals faster access to abstracts, PowerPoint files, proceedings, etc.
We deployed our first online abstract system in 1997. It handled everything from the call for abstracts, through online review and scheduling, to generating outputs for print and Web. New versions of that system quickly followed, and our client list quickly grew to include societies for engineering, the physical and biological sciences, medicine, and more.
Starting in 1998 we began providing e-commerce services to accommodate clients who charged abstract submission fees or who sold conference products and engineering guidelines or standards. We pioneered the instant purchase and delivery of digital documents and recordings.
By 2002 we found that new technology was enabling us to cut the price of multimedia recording by a factor of 10 or more. This made it economically feasible for our non-profit clients to contemplate recording all of the oral presentations at any conference, regardless of conference size. This led to the release of Confex PodiumTM in early 2003. Since then we have recorded and distributed tens of thousands of conference presentations.
Today and Tomorrow
Today, we are recognized as one of the leading providers of conference support software and related digital products. We enable hundreds of conferences annually, both in the United States and around the world. Our online abstract systems are used by an extraordinarily diverse range of customers — in medicine, science, engineering, business, public policy, and human services, etc. The size of the meetings we support is similarly varied — ranging from tiny one-day meetings to conferences that spread over many days, across multiple properties, and involving 80 or more rooms with nearly 5,000 speakers. This gives us an incredibly broad perspective on the needs and methods of conference planners and conference attendees; and it motivates our pro-active approach with clients, helping us to advance their missions.
We have, to a considerable extent, achieved our founder’s vision. The sites we host for our clients are of immense help to the volunteers and paid staff who organize conferences, and our services help many associations and government agencies make a wealth of information available to professionals and the public.
We are excited by the future. The technology available to us continues to improve at a rapid pace, as does the number of associations we are privileged to serve. Our clients, some of whom have been in business for a hundred years or more, continue to evolve along with the professions they represent, and so the software and products we provide to them will evolve as well. But there are some things that remain constant: our service ethic, a tradition of innovation, and a focus on the information needs of the professions we serve. We are experts in conference technology, but, at its core, we recognize that this is a personal service business. It is the relationships with loyal customers, with meeting planners, and with professionals around the world that we value; and it is those relationships that motivate us to remain as reliable, as responsive, and as innovative as we have ever been.