Web Summit has been called “the best technology conference on the planet.” It’s certainly one of the largest and most innovative technology-focused conferences in the world. First held in Dublin, Ireland in 2010 and drawing a crowd of 500, by 2013 it saw more than 10,000 attendees. In 2014 that number more than doubled to 22,000.

Attendees span the spectrum. C-level execs from Fortune 500 companies and founders of small startups just launching gather to swap stories and lessons learned annually at this “Davos for geeks.” Even celebrities and rockstars make appearances at the three-day event (Bono was among 2014’s speakers).

Why have an app at a conference?

Anyone who’s attended a conference is familiar with the challenges around identifying, locating and connecting with those other attendees you want to speak with. Attendees come to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and gain insight through common experience. Others seek opportunities to do business together and collaborate.

For its recent event, the team created an app that encourages the kind of serendipity that can only happen at an event like Web Summit. Not only can the app be used to connect with existing contacts, it also employs a sophisticated recommendation engine to match people who should know each other based on common interests and other shared traits.

How Web Summit used Layer

2013 was the first year Web Summit offered an app to its attendees, but communication was not the focus. This year the team turned its attention to messaging and communication, connecting attendees to chat, connect, and schedule get-togethers — all inside the conference app. Even better, attendees didn’t need to share phone numbers or other contact information to connect directly.

A beautiful, easy-to-use recommendation engine suggests possible connections, Tinder style, based on shared interests, common connections, and areas of expertise. Attendee swipe right through curated profiles, and can directly message other attendees to say hello and start a conversation.

If matched attendees decide to meet, meeting details can be coordinated, attendees invited, invitations accepted, and meetings added to the user’s calendar, all in-line with the conversation. Native in-app conversation and meeting invitations trigger push notifications to notify the receiving party of the initiated contact. This in-context scheduling of informal conference get-togethers makes connecting in a conference environment much easier.

Usage patterns & lessons learned

Half of all Web Summit’s 22,000 attendees downloaded the app and connected with other attendees via chat. At the outset, the app delivered an attendee’s top 50 recommended connections, but attendees’ voracious appetite for networking required an increase to 300 top recommendations starting on day two of the Summit.

Ci (the company behind Web Summit) will expand in dramatic fashion this year, launching a new event in Asia called Rise, a new tech conference that will give leaders of enterprise a place to congregate and demonstrate how their companies are changing the way we live. Plans are underway for the U.S. this year as well with year two of an event in Las Vegas in May called Collision. The team plans to deploy conference apps for these events built on the learnings from the launch of chat-enabled networking at Web Summit.

The Web Summit team believes that event-centric chat and networking has legs beyond the in-person conference experience. The app will keep attendees connected and enable ongoing chat well beyond Dublin, Hong Kong, and Las Vegas, with the hope of keeping the spirit and community of the events alive and engaging throughout the year.