I'm off to the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature (together again, just like in the old days!) in San Francisco on Thursday. The report today was that there will be over 10,000 people in combined attendance.
With hundreds of simultaneous sessions in dozens of groups under the aegises of two huge learned societies, figuring out how to spend your time is one of the most difficult tasks of the pre-conference period. Add to that the bewildering array of options available when you need to make a judgment on the fly, and a lot of people just give up and duck into the nearest open room.
This year for the first time the AAR and SBL have provided a smartphone app (Android and iPhone) that cuts admirably through the clutter. Search for people or keywords, and get a list of sessions and presenters for both societies. Select and get abstracts of the session; select a participant and get an abstract of her paper. Add the session to your schedule and the app builds a calendar of your choices for all four days of the conference plus the two days of pre-conference workshops and additional meetings.
That works great for planning your days before you get there, but what about on site? That's where the app really shines. It senses your location and will tell you what sessions are taking place at that moment nearby. Maps of the massive convention center and hotel meeting spaces turn interactive with pins dropped at your location and at the session you've selected. Updates are constantly pushed to the app with no need to download the changes; just restart to get the new information. And of course, sharing to social media is all integrated.
This is one of the biggest upgrades to the annual meeting experience that has happened in my lifetime -- during which a multitude of changes, tweaks, and strategies for the program books, abstracts, and planners have been tried. Everybody going to the meeting should download it (search for AM11AAR&SBL -- it's free!) and get started building a schedule and agonizing over those conflicts. And be sure to follow @AARWeb on Twitter!