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"Virtual conferences have arrived and are going to stay" - Morressier's CTO on building products to support impactful conferences

June 25, 2020

The COVID-19 health crisis was a wakeup call for the scholarly communications industry, shedding a light on the importance of services that support the digital dissemination of research - in particular the early-stage findings that are traditionally shared in-person at academic conferences. In this interview, Morressier co-founder and CTO Rino Montiel discusses how research organizations can adjust to the unique challenges that COVID-19 presents, why being flexible is an integral part of product development, and what new features are coming up on the Morressier roadmap.

What inspired you to come on board as a co-founder and CTO at Morressier?

Rino Montiel: I met Sami (Morressier co-founder and Managing Director) in 2017. When he explained what Morressier was doing in the conference space with poster and presentation management, I got really excited about the idea of all this content, which is an essential part of human knowledge, coming through the one platform, when before it wasn't accessible to anybody and was kept offline in physical posters. The idea of building products that would distill this content and make it discoverable for people who might not even be aware that it existed really excited me. I thought Morressier could have a major impact on the world as a whole because, in the end, this research contributes to that scientific advancement that helps to drive society forward.

What do you find exciting about developing products for scholarly communications?

Montiel: There are lots of things that could be more efficient in scholarly communications. For example, giving early-career researchers a platform where they can showcase their progress and discover research that might be related to what they're working on helps them to build their reputation and make progress faster. As for conference organizers and societies, we found that existing tools were lacking in many areas, in particular in terms of user experience – there was a lot of room for innovation to ease how conference content is managed and how researchers can discover this content. Also, we found there were major gaps when it comes to connecting early-stage research findings into the scientific ecosystem, which we could really contribute to by assigning DOIs and ORCID iDs to conference posters and presentations.

Do you see any kind of unique challenges in developing products for this industry?

Montiel: Definitely. Firstly, the industry has quite a bit of infrastructure that you need to account for when you're building a new product. You can’t just build a web application and expect people to use it. It’s more complex than that - institutions often have their own research management systems and several software tools to manage conferences themselves, and you then have the infrastructure that powers science as a whole, like DOIs and the FAIR data principles. So it is definitely a unique challenge, because you can’t just think about what you want to do when building products, you also need to think about how your product can contribute and be part of the infrastructure that is currently out there. 

Right now we're in a global crisis that has really upended the academic system as we know it. How can societies and conferences best navigate this time? And do you think that the changes that are being introduced will have longevity and continue after this is over?

Montiel: This was definitely a wake up call for a lot of us in scholarly communications. One of the key learnings here is that many people in the conference space have realized that having a virtual offering opens new revenue possibilities and also enhances the experience for everybody. I think that is a major realization for the industry as a whole, and that's not going to go away as that would feel like going a step backwards. You see from the many positive reactions from researchers that virtual conferences have arrived and are going to stay. Conferences organizers have also seen very real results - the additional reach that the internet provides has resulted in new revenue streams and opportunities, with some societies even doubling their membership numbers.

Talk through the product development process at Morressier. How do you decide what features to build and the product roadmap?

Montiel: We look at which products would have the highest impact in industry. So, for example, at the moment our product development for physical conferences has taken a step back, even though we will come back to this once the crisis is over. Now, we are definitely focusing on our virtual conference offerings because we see this as something our customers really need and, as such, has the highest impact for research as a whole. We saw the Coronavirus crisis change what impact is - whereas previously the focus was on enhancing the experience onsite and bridging the online and onsite experience, now we need to look exclusively to virtual conferences to best support our customers. This is just one example of a challenge that the whole industry is facing and how we have adapted to it.

Which new features do you have planned on the immediate product roadmap?

Montiel: We recently launched video presentations so that authors can submit videos alongside their posters and presentations, which is great because you can then have more context surrounding the research. So you’re not just looking at a presentation or a poster, but actually seeing the people behind it talking about the findings. The next products that we have coming up are around bringing back that community feeling that conferences have lost because of the lack of a physical, in-person connection. So a focus on networking, connecting, collaborating in the online world. Finally, we will also be providing tools for conference organizers to manage these changes, because online community management is something that is a new challenge for many of them.


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