Low Cost Options For Virtual Events And Communities

Source: flickr (User: businesspictures)

Source: flickr (User: businesspictures)

Can you run a virtual event with zero budget?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Let’s consider one use case – the B-to-B Editor or Editorial Director.  For the Editorial side of b-to-b publications, virtual events can be quite productive and rewarding.  They put you in direct contact with your readers, allowing you to engage via interactive tools (e.g. text or webcam chat) while both parties remain in the comfort of their office or home.

During the virtual event, attendees (who often come from across the globe, no matter what the time of day) can provide direct feedback to Editors regarding the event content, theme, speakers, presentations, etc.  Often, Editors will also receive input regarding the online content they’re publishing (on their web site) – and even find sources for upcoming articles.  I’ve spoken to a number of Editors who were thrilled about the attendee/reader interactions they experienced at a virtual event.

There’s an economic model to a virtual event, however – and that rests on the fact that the event needs to generate revenue – enough to cover the cost of the event, with room for a profit margin.  Thus, at a b-to-b publisher, it’s not the Editor that drives the virtual event, but rather the Publisher, VP Sales or Sales Director.  If there’s no forecasted revenue around a particular event topic, budget isn’t approved and the event has no funding to move forward.

I was recently contacted by an Editor, who was interested in pursuing virtual events (or virtual communities) – he wanted to facilitate interactions around new topics.  However, as with many new topics, they were not mature enough to achieve the right revenue model for the Publisher.  As such, the Editor asked me for available low cost (or no-cost) options.  Here were my initial responses:

  1. OpenSim – according to the FAQ, “OpenSim is a platform for operating a virtual world, and supports multiple independent regions connecting to a single centralized grid. This is somewhat similar to the web, where anyone can run their own web server, tied together through the internet. It can also be used to create a private grid, analogous to a private intranet.”  I noted that OpenSim has no hard cost, but there’s soft cost (e.g. your time).
  2. BlogTalkRadio – a web-based, free service that allows you to create your own Internet radio show.  Your host and your guests call into a standard telephone bridge and the audio is streamed over the web in real-time.  For the free model, you may have house ads served up around your content – there are premium service options available, however.

So my off-the-cuff response was based upon two concepts: (1) try out a no-cost, 3D virtual world environment and/or (2) generate a community discussion (via streaming audio) with no hard costs.  In thinking about my response further, however, I realized I could do better.  First, about OpenSim.  I think OpenSim is great, but it’s probably not the tool of choice in this particular scenario.

First, the build instructions and configuration instructions indicate to me that a fairly technical person  (e.g. SysAdmin) needs to build out your grid.  Second, end users (e.g. the Editor’s readers) need to install an OpenSim client in order to participate.  That might work in some industries (e.g. a gaming publication), but probably not for a b-to-b audience (as they rarely use an OpenSim / SecondLife client on their work computer).

BlogTalkRadio has a lot of potential – in fact, I think b-to-b publishers would be well served by hosting live broadcasts for their readership.  However, the nature of a call-in radio show (even if you have active callers participating) is fundamentally different from the private and group chat activity that occurs in a virtual event.

Source: Metaplace

Source: Metaplace

Taking all of these considerations into account, I felt that Metaplace might be an interesting solution – it allows the creation of a customized 3D world (with avatars) that requires no software download (as it’s Flash based) and can be easily embedded in web pages or blogs.  That may fit nicely at a b-to-b site – in relevant blog postings or article pages, you cam embed the Metaplace world.  So you pair your created 3D world (it’s theme) with content you’re already developing  for your sites – and then use reader traffic to drive participation in the Metaplace world.  And then that community can grow on its own (hopefully).  Again, no software download and no hard cost.

After all that, I’m still not satisfied with my answer – what tools or technologies would YOU recommend to this Editor?

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