Advertisements
 

2009 Year In Review: Virtual Events

December 24, 2009

2009 was a landmark year for the virtual events industry – early adopters expanded their virtual event initiatives and leveraged the technology in innovative ways.  Many industries (and associated corporations) entered the mix, producing their first ever virtual event in 2009.  Despite the economy (or perhaps aided by the downturn), virtual event platform providers enjoyed healthy growth in client demand, event volume and revenue.  The platform market expanded beyond the U.S., with the emergence of new platforms in Europe and New Zealand.  We even had the industry’s first ever face-to-face event, the Virtual Edge Summit (U.S. – Santa Clara, CA).

To get a better sense of how 2009 unfolded, I reviewed the past 12 months of postings on this blog and sought to categorize the trends and patterns.

Source: flickr (User: Linzi's Cakes)

Assorted Shapes and Sizes

In the early days, the industry was all about virtual tradeshows.  During 2007-2008, new event types were spawned – and in 2009, we saw many more instances of non-tradeshow events: virtual job fairs, virtual sales meetings, virtual partner summits.  In addition, we saw innovative concepts applied in hybrid events – where event planners staged concurrent physical and virtual events.  I wrote about learnings and observations from Cisco Live and Networkers Virtual, in which virtual and physical blended together.  In 2010, I expect to see many more hybrid events, with event planners leveraging creative ways to tie virtual together with physical.  In fact, I believe 2010 will be The Year of The Hybrid Event.

In addition to the assorted event types – we’re starting to see the use of virtual event technology to support ongoing business communities.  The community concept makes a lot of sense in conjunction with physical or virtual events – instead of “going dark” between live event dates, event planners can leverage the “platform” to keep the community interaction and dialog going – where the events serve as “momentum points” to drive continued activity within the online business community.  I brainstormed about tactics that could be applied to sustain virtual business community loyalty.

Social Media and Twitter

With all due respect to Facebook and other services, I believe 2009 was The Year of Twitter.  There are many ways in which Twitter can be leveraged for virtual events – here are a few ideas that I blogged about:

  1. Leverage Twitter for Virtual Tradeshow Outreach
  2. How to Promote Your Virtual Event on Twitter
  3. Leverage Twitter Lists for your Physical or Virtual Event

Virtual event platforms have integrated with Twitter and other social networks – in 2010, I see the breadth and depth of integration expanding.  The expansion will be fueled both by interest (from the virtual event platforms and from clients) as well as richer interfaces (APIs) from the social network sites.  For instance, LinkedIn recently announced an open API for their platform.

In parallel to virtual events, 2009 was a watershed year for social gaming (e.g. Zynga, Playdom and other sites).  In 2010, we’ll see virtual event platforms leverage gaming for a mix of fun and business use.  I wrote about the reasons that virtual events should incorporate gaming.  Lastly, I believe the tried and true webinar needs to become more social – webinars need to encourage and support more participation from the audience.

The market extends beyond the U.S.

In 2009, virtual events platform vendors emerged globally – in order of appearance in this blog:

  1. ExpoNZ – New Zealand
  2. IMASTE – Spain
  3. Ubivent – Germany

I expect to see a few more virtual event platforms emerge in Europe in 2010 – Asia Pac is sure to see local entrants as well.

Virtual Event Best Practices

I wrote a lot about virtual event best practices in the past 12 months. Here’s a selection of the more popular postings:

  1. Virtual Event Best Practices
  2. How to Market your Virtual Event
  3. Best Practices for Virtual Tradeshow Exhibitors
  4. Lead Follow-Up for Virtual Events
  5. Assemble the Right Team for your Virtual Event
  6. Increase Your Virtual Event ROI
  7. Think Outside the Inbox for Virtual Event Promotion
  8. How to Run a Virtual Event Command Center

Happy Holidays to all.  2009 was a great year for virtual events.  And I have news for you – 2010 will be even better!

Advertisements

2010 Predictions For Virtual Events

December 3, 2009

Source: flickr (User: sassycrafter)

Back in August, I jumped the gun a bit and wrote a “year in review” posting about virtual events.  Now that we’re in December,  I think it’s high time to peer into the Magic 8 Ball and speculate on what’s in store for the virtual events industry in 2010.  Away we go…

Widescale adoption and integration of video conferencing

Virtual events have incorporated a lot of on-demand and live video – however, to date, the majority of attendee interaction has been via text (e.g. private text chat, group text chat, etc.).  Many platforms have enabled the use of attendee webcams (a la Skype) and that was a nice start.  In 2010, I believe that the virtual event platforms will integrate with third party video conferencing technologies in a big way – stirred largely by client demand for it.

Think about it – multinational corporations have adopted high-end video conferencing to encourage collaboration and save on travel costs.  They have the budget to invest in Cisco Telepresence or HP Halo.  As those same corporations look to adopt virtual events (e.g. for an annual virtual sales meeting), it’s only natural that they incorporate the video conferencing technology that they already have running.

To capture mid-market and small business interest, virtual event platforms will look to integrate with mid-tier video conferencing systems, such as Tandberg (whose acquisition by Cisco is pending) and Polycom.

Another interesting player is LifeSize Communications, an Austin-based provider of “mainstream telepresence” that was acquired by Logitech in November.  LifeSize recently launched an offering called Passport, which they term “a portable telepresence-quality system” that fits in the palm of your hand.

I see continued use of consumer-grade webcam technology in 2010 virtual events  – however, the game changer will be the incorporation of multi-party, HD video conferencing.

Emergence of global players

We’ve already seen the emergence in Europe of virtual event platforms – IMASTE in Spain and Ubivent in Germany.  I expect to see another European-based platform emerge in 2010, along with one or more in Asia Pac.  In addition, we’ll see services companies launch to capitalize on the demand (for virtual events) from publishers, corporations and event marketers.  The companies will provide both strategic and logistical services around virtual events.  You’ll see some start-up companies and you’ll also see physical event marketers spawn service offerings around virtual (or more logically, hybrid) events.

Industry consolidation

We’ll see the merging or acquiring of virtual event platform companies.  Some providers will look to acquire/merge out of platform capability gaps – while stronger players will look to complementary/synergistic technologies offered by the competition.  As the economic environment comes back around, companies (and their investors) will be more apt to combine forces to fuel the next phase of growth.  Lastly, larger and more established players in the “collaboration space” may look to acquire virtual event platform companies, to add a complementary piece to their product portfolio.

Decrease in “relative response rates”

Virtual events had a great run in 2009, but we’re now past the novelty, “wow, this is cool” phase.  In the B2B market, we now have plenty of users who have attended two or more virtual events.  If virtual event show hosts continue to use the same graphical templates, organize the same presentation agenda and re-create an identical experience to their last event, then “relative response rates” will drop – meaning, it will become harder and harder to recruit users to register and attend.

Decreased response rates are natural as any new “content type” grows beyond infancy – and the supply/demand ratio begins to tilt towards having more supply than demand (e.g. lots of virtual events).  Virtual event show hosts will need to consider the incorporation of gaming, the creation of affinity programs and more.  The solution to decreased response rates will be fun to watch – innovators will step to the table to find creative ways to engage and attract virtual event attendees.

Platforms take first step towards immersiveness

While virtual event attendees may not “require” the immersiveness of Second Life and other 3D virtual worlds – immersive capabilities provide real value in a B2B setting.  The most obvious use case is an immersive rendering of a complex product – consider the high-end video conferencing system, the high-end router, the latest luxury car model.  Instead of a 2D PowerPoint slide that highlights the capabilities of the video conferencing system, how about an immersive experience where attendees (aka prospects) get to experience the system and interact with it?

Client interest and demand will drive some platforms to add immersive capabilities in 2010.  I don’t expect a software download, however – it would serve platforms well to support the immersive experience within their existing framework (e.g. Flash, JavaFX, Silverlight).

Those are my 2010 predictions for virtual events.  I’d love to hear your’s!


Ubivent Enters The Virtual Events Platform Market

December 2, 2009

Based in Mannheim, Germany, ubivent has entered the virtual events platform market with a recently launched platform.  According to Michael Geisser, Managing Director Market Development, the ubivent co-founders “met at university, working together in an IT research program and pursuing our PhD”.  The co-founders then spent several years working at multinational corporations, where they held numerous roles in IT and IT management.

In fact, Geisser and co-founder Thomas Butter (Managing Director Research and Development) were recently with SAP, where they worked on some of SAP’s first virtual events.  Ubivent is off to a fast start – they received 12 months of funding from EXIST, “a program of the European Union and the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology” designed to support innovation.  In addition, in late November, ubivent was selected as the most promising young company in Mannheim.

Target market

Ubivent’s initial target market is to serve large and distributed corporations – large companies have already adopted the basic technologies required for virtual events (including sufficient bandwidth capacity) and distributed companies can immediately leverage the convenience and cost savings of virtual collaboration (versus in-person).

“However, this does not mean that we do not offer our services for small, non-IT organizations”, noted Geisser. “We’ve also done projects with local authorities. Obviously, the entire project size has been not that extensive as for a global event with multiple thousands of participants.”

Since the European market for virtual events has not developed as quickly as the U.S. market, Geisser sees plenty of opportunity in Europe.  Geisser sees opportunity in all sorts of event types, but notes that “the type of the event is not as important as the content and the participants. We see the advantages of virtual events especially for knowledge-intense content (e.g. software, finance, etc.) with globally distributed participants”.

In comparing the U.S. and European markets, Geisser believes that while “US based customers put more emphasis on the look and feel, the European customers are very keen on getting a technically scalable and secure platform. Fortunately we’re combining both.”

Technology platform

Ubivent is a member of Microsoft BizSpark, a program that provides “software, support and visibility” to software start-ups.  While most virtual event platforms are built on top of Adobe Flash, ubivent’s platform is based on JavaFX, a platform for building rich internet applications that runs on top of JRE (Java Runtime Environment).

According to Geisser, the use of JavaFX serves as a competitive advantage for ubivent over competing Flash-based platforms – “JavaFX is one key advantage of our platform. This opens the door for completely new functionalities which are not possible with other technologies (e.g. Flash)”.

Ubivent developed an accessibility framework to assist visually impaired people in using their virtual events platform via a screen reader.  The source code for the accessibility framework has been published as open source.  The framework is built on top of JavaFX, which means that other platforms seeking to incorporate it would need to run JavaFX as well.

Virtual events vs. immersive virtual worlds

Geisser has taken a look at 3D immersive virtual worlds, such as Second Life and Twinity.  He believes, however, that the immersive virtual world is currently more suited to B2C or C2C use cases, whereas his B2B market is more focused on quick and convenient access to selected content.  Notes Geisser, “In a B2B context, the desire for avatars and the ability to walk through a virtual world is less distinct. Here, the focus is more the ability to quickly access information and other participants. The need to ‘walk’ through the virtual world to access this information or participant is considered adverse with regard to this goal.”

In closing

It will be interesting to watch the European market for virtual events in 2010.  Ubivent and IMASTE are two of the leading European-based providers – while they may encounter each other in common client accounts, I’m sure the providers from the U.S. market will be looking towards Europe (and Asia) as well.

Related links

  1. Follow ubivent on Twitter
  2. Ubivent’s Facebook page
  3. Ubivent-developed accessibility framework, fxaccessible
  4. Ubivent’s executive management team
  5. Audio interview – ubivent speaks about their JavaFX-based virtual events platform

%d bloggers like this: