I participate in a virtual worlds group over at LinkedIn. A few members there asked me about a Virtual Tradeshow’s (VTS) underlying technologies. I don’t pretend to know the full set of technologies that power a VTS, but I will list my Top 3 (in order of importance).
- The SaaS Engine – Virtual Tradeshow platform providers often call this the “self service utility”. What it boils down to is a 100% web-based interface that allows event organizers to build a VTS environment from scratch. Every last detail of the event (down to the number of pixels to use on a particular image on the show floor) can be configured or selected via this web app. While some clients will always want the extra attention of a “full service model” (where the VTS provider’s staff uses the same web app to build the entire show), consider the power of “self service” – VTS platform providers can scale their businesses by selling leases on their SaaS platform, where their clients do all the heavy lifting. This means that the better you build this web app, your clients will create more events and they’ll create them more quickly. This means more revenue and (possibly) earlier revenue recognition.
- The Chat system – Today, the power of a VTS lies largely in the text chat sessions that attendees engage in with exhibitors (or, attendee<->attendee sessions). Platforms used to employ basic HTML to support chat, but the trend is towards client/server technologies, such as Flash Media Server (FMS). The platform needs to account for corporate firewalls, as many firewalls are configured to block chat-like protocols – if your users cannot chat within a VTS, they lose out on a significant show feature. If you employ a workaround – such as HTTP tunneling – beware, as some corporate firewalls can utilize deep packet inspection, to figure out that you’re trying to tunnel FMS within HTTP. And, they then block those packets from reaching their destination, which means that chat fails. Finally, as webcams and Skype-like video chat emerge in virtual tradeshows, keep in mind that moving from text chat to video chat means that you lose the ability to save a transcript of the chat. This may be an opportunity for platform providers to support such a feature (e.g. auto-transcribe the audio from a video chat).
- Event Reporting – For event organizers, an open-ended web reporting system is useful. Give them the ability to generate custom reports, kind of like a rudimentary business intelligence app. For exhibitors, the creation of easy-to-understand canned reports is important. For both organizers and exhibitors, the reporting system is critical. Once the live event is over, the reports (and the data contained in them) are the “living record” of the show’s success and both constituencies will lean on the reports to derive their ROI on the event.
What technologies do you feel are important in a VTS?