Virtual Conferences: Wave of the Future?

vConferenceOnline - Virtual Event Hosting - Video Conferences -  (Build 2008070206)One of our more popular articles is A Conference Survival Guide for the Web Worker – full of tips on how to pay for, pack for, and get the most out of one of the many conferences out there. But what if there was an even easier way to attend a conference: by sitting in front of your computer? That’s the proposition behind vConferenceOnline, which is putting on a big purely-online conference for SSWUG in November.

The vConference site goes to some length to contrast their offering with a traditional webcast. They’re using professional video production to actually broadcast conference sessions with full audio & video, instead of requiring phone dial-in for the audio portion. They also make conference sessions available to attendees in on-demand fashion after they’re first broadcast, so you can revisit a session to take better notes or check out a point you don’t quite remember.

These virtual conferences are patterned on “real” physical ones, though without some of the hassles like waiting in line or eating rubber chicken. When you first log in, you’re at a main menu – though they call it a conference lobby. From there, you can do things like click through to the session tracks to attend a session, visit the virtual exhibit hall, or chat with other attendees.

The virtual exhibit hall is interesting – it’s not just web collateral, as you might expect. They’ve set it up so that sponsors can have a broadcast pitch with one of their representatives “walking” on screen, as well as letting them deliver white papers and allowing chat-on-demand between attendees and vendors.

Overall, this is the best-looking virtual conference platform I’ve yet seen. Certainly, there will be some elements of attending a conference in person that you can’t replicate while sitting at your computer. For me, one of the best parts of conferences has always been serendipitous ad-hoc meetings, and a chat room isn’t quite going to get that part of the experience together. But given the savings in gas and travel time and the ability to adjust the schedule to my own liking, the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages in many cases.

Would you attend a virtual conference in your field?