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.