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by Michael Shapiro | September 30, 2011

Event-specific social networking provider Pathable is about to unveil a major upgrade to its platform, and CEO Jordan Schwartz delivered an interesting sneak preview in a webcast earlier this week. Part of what I found interesting was Schwartz's candor; he spoke just as much about what needed to be improved in the current version as what was working well.
 
Overall, Pathable has been successful in increasing attendee networking and engagement, Schwartz noted, which is its main goal. The number of attendees who opted in to the system and sent messages during MPI's 2010 World Education Congress, for instance, dwarfed the number who did so on dedicated Facebook and LinkedIn pages. But, said Schwartz, a few factors were driving redesign and development of version 2.
 
First, clients wanted more year-round engagement, and Pathable has really been geared toward single events. The mobile functionality of the platform hasn't been as robust as it should be, and the software's performance, while generally pretty good, had been just a bit sluggish at larger events. As Schwartz admitted, even an extra two seconds of waiting for a page to load could be enough to sour some attendees on the platform's use -- or at least make them less likely to use it as often as they otherwise might. Additionally, Pathable needed a more flexible design that could be more easily adapted to different events, including international meetings that require multiple languages.
 
From a tech standpoint, version 2 represents a major overhaul. The new architecture is widget-based; it eschews the hard-coded pages and constant server interaction required by the first. With version 2, once a site is loaded, no page reloads are necessary. That translates to a much snappier site -- eight to 10 times faster, according to Pathable's estimate. Based on the online demo of the new version, navigating the site did appear to be worlds faster.
 
This lack of constant page reloads is an especially key factor in venues that have dicey Wi-Fi or wireless coverage. Pathable's new mobile functionality makes the most of that; the new mobile app is web-based, rather than native, but as of early 2012 Pathable customers will be able to use that app offline, too. In other words, once they've viewed the app on a smartphone with coverage, the info is all in the browser. Even if they move out of Wi-Fi range, they'll still be able to access the data.
 
That's a significant change from the current Pathable iPhone and BlackBerry apps, which lack a number of features, such as messaging and exhibitor info. The new mobile apps will offer those attributes, plus much wider device compatibility to boot. For clients who want native, downloadable apps, Pathable will be able to deliver that, but through supplier partnerships.
 
Pathable's new design will be geared toward multi-event communities, with discussions categorized by event or as general community forums. Clients will easily be able to add or change language options for international events, owing to the new architecture. And for events with host-organized meetings, a new administrative dashboard makes editing meeting schedules much more straightforward; in version 1, all schedules were uploaded via spreadsheet. Early next year, Pathable also will fully support a workflow for hosted-buyer events.
 
If you'd like to learn more, Pathable will begin offering public webcasts as of Oct. 11. That's when the company starts rolling out the new version to customers. The following week, Pathable will start migrating existing customers to the new platform, on demand. The hosted-buyer functionality should be part of Pathable's platform by February of 2012.
 
The demo I saw looked great, but the new version wasn't finished and was still a bit buggy. I'd love to hear feedback from any customers who get a chance to use v. 2 once it's released.