First Impressions Of The InformationWeek Virtual Trade Show - InformationWeek

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03:35 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner

First Impressions Of The InformationWeek Virtual Trade Show

I was impressed with my first-ever visit to a Web-based trade show, the InformationWeek 500 Virtual Event, last week. It was powerful and involving. But it also demonstrated how we're still in the very early days of live virtual events, with a long road ahead.

I was impressed with my first-ever visit to a Web-based trade show, the InformationWeek 500 Virtual Event, last week. It was powerful and involving. But it also demonstrated how we're still in the very early days of live virtual events, with a long road ahead.The InformationWeek 500 Virtual Event combined video from the real-life InformationWeek 500 Conference earlier this month, along with a live video interview, and virtual booths staffed by representatives of InformationWeek and sponsor companies. As with a real-life conference, attendees could wander the show floor and visit the vendor booths, pick up literature, talk to their peers, exchange digital business cards, and take in keynotes and discussions.

The event was Thursday, but you can still check it out; it will be available on the Web until Dec. 25.

I come at this from a dual role as both an insider and an outsider: I'm part of InformationWeek, of course, which makes me an insider. But I'm also an outsider: I wasn't involved in planning this event. I didn't find out details on what was happening until about two weeks ago. Also, I was involved in a different virtual events initiative last year, in Second Life.

Indeed, now is probably a good time for me to point out that I'm not speaking for InformationWeek or United Business Media, its parent company. I'm not privy to a lot of the planning UBM is doing in virtual events, or much of the analysis of the results we've seen so far. I'm a blogger who's writing about his own company's activities, and trying to do it objectively, as if I weren't affiliated with the company -- an unnatural and delicate act.

The IW conference runs on a platform called InXpo. The platform is Web-based, you can access it with an off-the-shelf desktop computer using software most people already have: A Web browser, Flash, and a streaming media player.

My main involvement with the IW500 Virtual Event was booth duty, for an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon. I did exactly what a person does on booth duty at a real-world conference: I greeted people when they came in, answered any questions they had, and tried to help them out with any problems they encountered. I bounced back and forth between the booth and another area called the Networking Lounge, an area where people could congregate and talk to each other. I got into a couple of conversations with attendees at both locations. I also took about a half-hour when I was not on booth duty and visited most of the vendor booths and talked to the vendor reps there.

Later, I learned about some of the results we saw from the conference. I won't publish them here, because it's not my place to give out that information to the public. Suffice it to say that attendance was high, and people spent a lot of time on the site.

Word-of-mouth for the event also was good. The reps I talked to at vendor booths said they were happy. We got a couple of shout-outs on Twitter; "Jesterkisa" said he or she was "chillin" at the conference, while "gartrell" said it was "very cool and interactive."

United Business Media, which is this publication's parent company, is aggressively pursuing its virtual events business: We've had events for IT channel vendors and for U.K. architects, and we're working on more, according to an e-mail I received from UBM CEO David Levin.

Comparing the only two virtual events platforms I know, InXpo and Second Life: With InXpo, you can jump right in using the software you probably already have on your PC, and get comfortable in the event pretty quickly. With Second Life, you have to install a heavyweight client, and it takes a while to learn your way around. On the other hand, once you're comfortable in Second Life, the event and interaction are richer than with InXpo; you really feel like you're in another place, sharing an event with people who are physically far away from you.

Phrased that way, the road ahead for virtual events is obvious: The platforms need to be as easy to configure and use as InXpo, with the richness of Second Life.

Also, virtual events need to be accessible on mobile devices, which are increasingly replacing the PC as the Internet device of choice, especially outside the United States.

I'm looking forward to watching virtual events evolve, and I hope to be part of their development.

By the way, I'm still bullish on Second Life, which has a rich selection of activities and events. It's had its problems, but it seems to be turning around.

Did you come to the InformationWeek 500 Virtual Event? Have you been to other virtual trade shows on the Internet? What did you think? Let us know.

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