Can Virtual Conferences Replace Real World Boondoggles?

from the are-you-in-town-for-the-conference? dept

A recent report by Market Research Media predicts that virtual conferences are poised to take over the conference market, growing to $18.6 billion (from nearly nothing today) in the next five years. Though it’s possible that virtual conferences could cannibalize the attendance of the real world conferences, there is more opportunity to increase the size of the market here. After all, attending a virtual version of a conference provides an intermediate tier for those who could not afford the exorbitant time and expense of traveling to a real-world conference. This is similar to what classical orchestras have been doing — using technology to provide a cheaper alternative to people interested, but unable, to attend their events.

As the wildly popular TED Talks have shown, if done well, it is already possible to share engaging conference talks with a wider audience online. That said, viewing TED videos does not come close to the real-world experience of being at a conference. For most conferences, the presentations are only a small part of the appeal — networking is a large part of draw. In an attempt to address this, Second Life and ON24 both offer virtual conference programs that are designed to replicate the real-world conference experience online, complete with avatars, virtual meetings and even virtual “goodie bags.” Even as someone who spends the bulk of their day online, I am a little skeptical that this will work out well. In order for this to work, the focus has to be on how best to connect people in the virtual world, and less about avatars and goodie bags — and even then, the additional value of meeting someone through a “virtual conference” seems marginal to the other online social networking options that already exist.

Having attended some great (and admittedly, very fun) conferences this year, I can see why conferences are sometimes considered boondoggles. After all, it is why Vegas has positioned itself as the king of all conference destinations. Though some argue that business relationships initiated in meetings during the day are solidified during the typical sponsored parties thrown at night, in lean times, being a known boondoggle is good a reason to be cut out of the budget. In the virtual world, perhaps Second Life is well positioned for this part of the conference “experience,” though maybe it should not have shut down all of its casinos.

Filed Under: ,
Companies: on24, second life

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Can Virtual Conferences Replace Real World Boondoggles?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

People meet in person to talk about online networking

I’ve been online since 1993 and it has always intrigued me the degree to which Internet people still go to conferences and are expected to show up at offices rather than telecommute. Aren’t we supposed to be able to do everything online?

There have been periods of my life when I have gone to a lot of in-person events and other times when I’ve tried to avoid them as much as possible because I don’t want to spend the time and/or money. Plus I really like the environmental benefits of reducing unnecessary travel, whether by car or by plane.

If there is someone I want to meet, I will go. But if it’s just to show up and be seen, I probably won’t.

I can’t see virtual conferences filling a need for me personally. Even at in-person events I am most interested in having conversations with just one or a few people at a time. I don’t need an online conference for that. I can just contact people directly.

Another issue with conferences is that they serve as mini-vacations for some attendees, so you’re not going to get that in a virtual conference.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the real power of a meeting isnt just what is done in the meeting but what is done before and after. lunch, drinks, chat, whatever.

True. But why do suppose we haven’t found a way to duplicate those things in a virtual environment?

Do people need to meet face-to-face and nothing online, now or in the future, will change that? I’m curious what everyone thinks.

I’ve never been a fan of Second Life because it seemed to substitute a lesser experience for a real one. Why have a press conference or a meeting in Second Life when you can have one showing real people?

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But why do suppose we haven’t found a way to duplicate those things in a virtual environment?

Because our inter-personal sensory systems have been honed over millions of years, but we’ve only been messing around with digitising them for a paltry handful of decades.

Once we meet someone in person, our mental impression of them incorporates the full sensory bundle – sight/sound/smell/etc. Without that, our brain is missing a lot of the data it expects to have for people it is dealing with. Body language counts for an awful lot in conversation, especially in mediating things like who gets to talk next.

It’s impressive that we *can* imagine a real living person that we’ve never met at the far end of a text-mediated conversation, but we’re still happier when we don’t have to.

Video and audio conferencing help, but the affordable systems still offer relatively poor resolution or are a pain to setup and use (or both), while high resolution systems are still a pain to setup and use and are hellishly expensive to boot.

Jake (user link) says:

Re: Re:

You could get the same effect by holding an annual barbecue and 4th of July/5th of November/(insert own relevant national holiday) fireworks display.
And does your definition of “worker drones with no life” include single parents, volunteer firefighters or others with responsibilities they can’t easily get out of, or people who’d just rather spend their downtime at home with their spouse and kids rather than in a Holiday Inn with their coworkers?

Cece Salomon-Lee (profile) says:

Virtual Doesn't Replace, It Complements

Hi Dennis,

You wrote “In order for this [virtual conference] to work, the focus has to be on how best to connect people in the virtual world, and less about avatars and goodie bags — and even then, the additional value of meeting someone through a ‘virtual conference’ seems marginal to the other online social networking options that already exist.”

I want to highlight that virtual doesn’t necessarily replace a physical conference but can augment that face-to-face experience. In a post on our corporate blog, I highlighted five ways that virtual can complement a physical conference:

1) Socialize and network spontaneously
2) Puts faces with the names
3) More free and open dialogue between attendees and vendors/presenters
4) Training and learning
5) Real-time conversations

As for the experience, you’re correct that most virtual conferences have been about replicating physical spaces in a virtual environment. From our perspective, we are working with customers to expand upon the unique differences of meeting online to drive collaboration, networking, and learning. This includes bringing in social networks and technologies, such as Twitter and Ustream, to enhance the conversations and collaborations within one environment.

One good example is how Cisco leveraged this “hybrid” approach for their Cisco Live & Networkers Virtual Conference. Their analysis can be found on the Virtual Environments blog.

Thanks for your insightful comments. Please feel free to connect with me if you’re interested in hearing more about virtual or getting a demo.

Cece Salomon-Lee
Director, INXPO (virtual events provider)

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

But how would writers get paid?

It occurred to me today that if there are fewer real conferences, there goes a main source of income for many high profile writers.

Many writers are giving away their digital content for free in hopes of being able to get paid $1000 to $50,000 to speak at conferences and corporate meetings. If the meetings become digital too, then there’s not so much demand those high priced talks.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...