Event planners tend to agree that content can be delivered effectively at a virtual conference. But networking? Not so much. A new tool called Twine, officially launched this week, wants to change that thinking.
In brief, Twine pairs up people for condensed but productive one-on-one online conversations. Company cofounder and CEO Lawrence Coburn likens the experience to the chance encounters an attendee might have walking into a reception. However, unlike a cocktail party, Twine events are designed to cut through the small talk and get people to connect more deeply.
Twine can be used as part of a virtual meeting or to bring more cohesion to far-flung teams. Attendees start the “remote watercooler” experience by pre-selecting topics that interest them. The system has a deep well of thought-provoking questions to pick from (a sampling: What advice would you give yourself five years ago? What is your earliest memory of achievement? What’s the kindest thing anyone ever did for you?) or an organization can customize questions that connect with their people or their goals.
The Twine algorithm pairs up people based on the questions they select and places them in virtual breakout rooms for a short conversation. (The length can be set by the organizer; most common is five to eight minutes.) To help guide the discussion in meaningful directions, the questions that the pair selected in common are displayed. There’s also a countdown clock letting participants know the remaining time.
“I'm passionate about engineering serendipity,” says Colburn, who has experience in the meeting space: He's the former CEO of DoubleDutch, the meeting app company that sold to Cvent in 2019.
Once the time ends on a Twine session, a participant can immediately join another or leave and come back within the overall time set for the event. Colburn says attendees tend to stay for four or five encounters. An early version of the tool required all participants to arrive for the start of the entire Twine event, but it’s been reengineered so matches can be made on the fly and attendees can come and go.
With the pandemic, the “whole industry got a crash course in the power and the reach of virtual,” says Colburn. “I do think the future is going to be somewhat hybrid—a small group that convenes face to face and a much larger group participating remotely that's a little less engaged. The bet that I'm making is that the most valuable part of the live event experience is the face to face. And if you're a virtual event producer, you'd better have some networking or people are just not going to show up…If you're relying on content to get people to your [virtual] event, when it's going to be on YouTube in three days anyway, [attendees think] ‘why should I change my schedule to watch your content in real time?’”
Twine has serviced groups as large as 700 people, but Colburn thinks the upper limit is more like 10,000. Organizers can create a Twine space and invite people to their event from the twine.nyc website. Groups of up to 30 people can use the tool for free; larger groups pay about $10 per participant per month, with event package pricing available.