Lanyrd: Twitter Meets LinkedIn Meets IMDB for the Conference Circuit

5/12/11Follow @wroush

Sixth in a series of profiles of Y Combinator Winter 2011 startups.

I’m always on the lookout for technologies that have the potential to help us be better journalists and storytellers, and I find new ones pretty regularly—touchscreen video editing being my favorite recent example. But Xconomy is both a media company and an events company, and the technology of events seems to evolve a lot more slowly. If you took away PowerPoint for presentations and Twitter as an unofficial communications backchannel, most conferences today, even Xconomy’s, would look and feel the same as they did 30 or 40 years ago.

That’s why I’m so intrigued by Lanyrd (pronounced like lanyard, as in the string your ID badge hangs from at a conference). This Y Combinator-backed startup, which consists for now of the husband-and-wife team of Simon Willison and Natalie Downe, is building a user-generated conference directory that has the potential to transform the way we prepare for conferences beforehand and the way we learn from them while we’re there and after we leave. If it catches on, it could make the whole routine of conference-going radically more efficient and productive, in roughly the same way that LinkedIn has made it easier to network with peers or IMDB has made it easier to find information about actors, films, and TV shows.

Already, users have uploaded details on close to 10,000 conferences to Lanyrd’s database, stretching all the way from 1945 (the Yalta Conference) to 2014 (38 people have already signed up to attend the 100th Pub Standards Web meetup in London on March 1 of that year). Downe and Willison successfully battle-tested the site at the mother of all technology events, the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin this March—2,000 speakers, 10,000 attendees. And so far, users have uploaded more than 6,800 conference-related items, such as speaker slide decks, videos, photos, live blogs, and Web writeups.

The central feature of Lanyrd—the core on which everything else hangs—is its ability to show you who’s speaking at each event in its listings and who’s attending. It all revolves around an existing and very robust social network, namely Twitter. If you’re creating an event listing on Lanyrd, you add speakers according to their Twitter handles, and if you’re a user searching Lanyrd, the first events you see are those that the people you follow on Twitter are speaking at or attending. (But you don’t have to have a Twitter account to be listed as an event speaker. I’m pretty sure that Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill weren’t big Twitter users.)

Just as every event on Lanyrd has a list of speakers and attendees, everyone who’s ever spoken at or attended an event listed on Lanyrd has a profile page showing their conference history and all the materials they’ve uploaded. “For all intents and purposes, it’s like a LinkedIn profile for your speaking career,” says Willison.

Which is a brilliant but also forehead-slappingly-obvious idea; the wonder is that no one has done it before. There are, of course, sites that track events, such as Yahoo’s Upcoming, and sites that store event-related materials, such as Slideshare. But nobody before Downe and Willison had hit on the idea of organizing both conference listings and conference materials around the speakers themselves, and making it all discoverable via users’ existing social networks. The IMDB analogy is actually a pretty good one. In the same way that you can thread your way from a famous actor to a recent movie he was in to another actor in that movie to the TV show where that actor got her start in showbiz, Lanyrd exposes the whole tangled web of professional events and the people who seem to jet constantly from one to the next.

Lanyrd’s coverage, not surprisingly, is particularly strong for the world of technology conferences. It’s got oodles of material, for example, about the just-completed Google I/O 2011 conference in San Francisco. But there are also lots of listings in areas like … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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