For Virtual Event Platforms, User Experience Is Key

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Heard of this new web site?  It’s Wolfram|Alpha, whose “long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone”.  Unveiled with much media coverage (and drawing some comparisons to Google), the Wolfram|Alpha web site is exceedingly easy to use.  Other than the insiders at the company, we’re all first-time users of this service – and Wolfram|Alpha incorporates a lot of noble elements in User Experience (UE) – for one, the main page is prescriptive.

Not sure how the service works?  Well, click on any of the links in the “A few things to try” area and you’re off and running.  A left-click on any of the listed examples inserts the search term into the search box and the page dynamically updates to instruct you on what to do next [e.g. “Click here (or press enter) to get the result”].  Here’s a closer view of the “A few things to try” area:

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

How does this relate to virtual events?  Well, in 2009, virtual events have witnessed a dramatic surge in both interest and attendance.  The surge in attendance means that many users of virtual events have been first timers.  In fact, I’d estimate that of all virtual event attendees in 2009, one third (33%) were first time attendees.  Since first impressions are critical, this means that virtual event platforms need to nail the User Experience factor in order to have first time users return for more virtual events.

For first time users, it’s important for the platform to have the following attributes:

  1. Be prescriptive where needed – the last thing a virtual event platform provider wants to hear is a user who says that the environment is “hard to navigate”.  Especially for the first time user, virtual event platforms should add prescriptive features to the user experience – such that booth visits, search, chat, etc. leverage visual indicators similar to Wolfram|Alpha.
  2. Use examples – why not mirror the Wolfram|Alpha approach of  “A few things to try” – use that as a title in a navigational area of the virtual event and you’re sure to have users leverage it to get acclimated.  In a virtual event, a few things to try include: private chat, group chat, private webcam chat, view a Webcast, visit a booth, etc.  By providing these examples – and walking the first time visitor through each activity, you’re allowing these new users to take off their training wheels – and they’ll thank you for it.
  3. Be intuitive and easy to grasp – easier said than done, but the example I’ll use here is Netflix.  When I first joined a few years back, I immediately found the Netflix web site to exceedingly intuitive, with a savvy use of AJAX in just the right places.  Finding movies and managing the Queue were so easy and convenient.
Source: Netflix

Source: Netflix

It would be silly to think that attendees of a physical event partake in “training” in order to navigate and participate.  This holds true in a virtual event – if the platform handles UE properly, the first time user should be up and running as a virtual veteran within the first 30 minutes of that first session.

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