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How Vendors Should Evolve Their Virtual Event Platforms


The following is a collaborative posting by Miguel Arias, Steve Gogolak and Dennis Shiao.

Content creation and collaboration was facilitated by a PBworks wiki – the wiki page can be found here: http://allvirtual.pbworks.com/How-Vendors-Should-Evolve-Their-Virtual-Event-Platforms

To evolve their platforms for enhanced experiences and broader adoption, virtual event platforms should consider the following:

Make it easier to experience

Most virtual event platforms are easy to use – on a first-time visit, users tend to grasp the overall user experience and can figure out where to go (and how).  That being said, for wide scale adoption, virtual events needs to be as easy as Facebook.  That is, our grandmothers need to be able to access the site and figure things out.  On Facebook, grandmothers can update their profile, read their “friends” posts and write updates to their Walls.  Can a grandmother login to a virtual event, update her profile and participate in a group chat?  We’re not so sure.  Similarly, navigation and interactions need to be easier.  Most virtual events are intuitive to navigate (e.g. Lobby, Auditorium,  Lounge, etc.) – but may not be so intuitive with regard to message boards, chat, blogging, rating, etc.

Along with a simplification of interfaces and the use of usability and navigation conventions, many customers and users seem to be demanding more immersive environments. While presenting a brand and hosting an interactive experience in a convention centre, it seems an interesting field to add some real-time rendered environments using engines like papervision3D or Unity3D. This said, it is unlikely that avatar-based real time rendered environments will make it to a mainstream audience. Key considerations (or obstacles) are plugins or applets downloads, system performance and learning curve barriers.

Make it easier to find

The typical “location” of a virtual event is quickly becoming outdated – microsite with registration page, with no ability to experience the event prior to completing all mandatory registration fields. The registration page serves as a “wall” not only to potential attendees, but to search engines as well.  Virtual event platforms need to move “outside the wall” and expose their technology on Facebook, on blogs and on publisher web sites.  Platforms should widen their distribution via widgets, embed code and application programming interfaces (API’s).  Facebook is not limited to Facebook.com – it has Facebook Connect, Facebook Open Graph and much more.  Virtual events platforms, on the other hand, seem to be restricted to “VirtualEventPlatform.com”

Make it easier to access

The most relevant virtual event platforms will introduce, or already have, Facebook Connect and Twitter API, and they will need to move to even wider standards like OpenID.  For public events, ease of registration is a must.  Using open methods for registering and/or connecting social networks have three-fold benefits:

  1. Registration is faster because basic information can be provided by services like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.  Shorter registration forms increase completion, period.
  2. Intelligence gathered by the platform about the user’s existing social graph can enhance the experience within the event by automatically creating connections with other attendees based on that user’s connection outside the platform.  This will lead to more networking and awareness of actual people within the environment.
  3. Users opting into connections at the point of registration allows platforms to create publishable actions that can be spit out to twitter and facebook news feeds that can increase viral awareness of the event.  Marketing automation at its best.

On the other hand, desktop or mobile widgets to control your stand usage, statistics and reporting will be a must. Lastly, the platforms will have extensive APIs to manage their integration with various social networks, corporate databases, physical event managing software, etc.

Make the experience available on more devices

Most virtual event platforms support Windows, Mac and Linux.  They need to support more platforms, especially mobile.  On the mobile front, it’s important to consider iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows 7 Phone and WebOS (listed in our order of importance).  To start, we don’t believe the entire virrual event experience needs to be “ported” to mobile devices -rather, vendors should determine the most critical features for attendees and exhibitors – and prioritize based on importance.  For instance, chat is an important element of virtual events, so why not make a mobile app that allows exhibitors to staff their booth via their smartphone.

The entire 3D environment does not need to be supported on a mobile device, but the networking tools (visit card managing, real time conversation, etc) and the reporting tools certainly do. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see what happens with Flash and Apple, and see which vendors will try to develop their platforms using HTML5.

One of the key areas where mobile can play a huge role is the “reminder” needs that come from tons of scheduled activities within virtual events.  If attendees have the ability to build out a personalized agenda before the event and opt-in to either SMS reminders or download some kind of app that will push notifications at them throughout the day, it would be much easier to create a flexible agenda.  Currently we’re cramming so much into the shortest amount of time because we’re afraid of losing people.  If only we had better planning and reminding tools, driven by devices that never leave our pocket!

Make the platform more adaptable and flexible

Related to our point about mobile support, platform vendors have important decisions to make regarding the development platforms.  Virtual event platforms today are based on Flash, Flex, Silverlight, Java and JavaFX.  Are those the “right” platform technologies for the future – or, should platforms move in the direction of HTML5?  Does a combination off HTML5, Javascript and Ajax create a more adaptable and flexible platform?  What do we “lose” by shifting away from Flash, Silverlight, etc.?  And what are the mobile implications with the chosen direction?  All good questions for the platform vendors to consider.

Make the platform more adaptable for different customer needs and different usage

There are so many different kind of virtual events: trade shows, conferences, job fairs, corporate events, webinars, congresses… that vendors should decide in which market niche they are going to play. We will see generic platforms and other vendors delivering a tailored solution for one or many of the previous choices. It will become more and more complex to provide physical event managers with the features they need to handle their hybrid events at the same time as the platform is able to cope with the extensive data handling of the virtual job fair, or the networking tools of a professional tradeshow.

Take a hint from Apple and FaceTime

Video chat will, without a doubt, increase the effectiveness of networking.  It is the one key element that can be introduced that will get critics to come around to the idea that networking in an online environment can be as effective as the cocktail hour of a physical event.

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