By eliminating both attendees' travel costs and organizers' logistics expenses, virtual tradeshows are gaining more attention as a practical way to get the latest insights on a topic.
Although the capability has been around for several years, the concept of a tradeshow conducted solely in cyberspace is just beginning to take off.
In the past year, a handful of virtual tradeshows have taken place on topics ranging from nanotechnology to plumbing and heating supplies. These events function just like conventional tradeshows, with booths, plenary sessions and keynote speakersbut without the travel and expense that go along with terrestrial shows.
To attend workshops and sessions, attendees need only a computer and a fast Internet connection. The system is set up so attendees can chat with and ask questions of speakers and other attendees in real time.
And like a standard tradeshow, the virtual tradeshow comes complete with booths sponsored by various vendors. Exhibitors use specially designed software to build their virtual booths to showcase products and services, present live presentations and product demos, and distribute literature.
By browsing the booths, attendees can view demos, pick up literature to deposit in their virtual briefcases and chat with sales reps in real time.
Virtual tradeshows also benefit the tradeshow organizers, who can spend more time recruiting quality speakers and exhibitors and less on logistics.
There are only a few companies providing virtual tradeshow software and services, including iCongo Corp. of Brighton, Mass., whose ICE3 Online Tradeshow and Exhibition Platform allows exhibitors to build tradeshow booths and interact with attendees.
Similarly, Internet Business Systems Inc. of Campbell, Calif., provides virtual tradeshow technology for the computer modeling industry, while Tradeshows Online of Priest River, Idaho, provides similar services for a variety of industrieseverything from mechanical systems to alternative living.
The virtual tradeshow concept was a great way to answer customer demand for more such events, said Elliot Markowitz, editorial director of Ziff Davis Media eSeminars of New York.
Ziff Davis is running its first two-day virtual tradeshow on IT security this week, complete with two keynote addresses and six editorial panels. The idea is an outgrowth of the companys weekly eSeminars, which Ziff Davis Media eSeminars has been running for some time, Markowitz said.
"We want to grow the eSeminars business, and our audience is clamoring for more editorial events," he said. "What better way to give them what they are asking for than to create a virtual tradeshow that isnt just a one-hour panel discussion but focuses an entire tradeshow on the topic?"
To create the virtual tradeshow, Ziff Davis Media eSeminars has combined technology from ON24 Inc. of San Franciscowhich it has long used to deliver its eSeminarswith virtual tradeshow technology from iCongo.
The virtual tradeshow concept has merit, but its so new to most people that they may not get maximum value out of it, said Jonathan Penn, an analyst at Forrester Research. Penn was a panelist in a session called "Inside the Head of a Hacker" at Ziff Davis virtual tradeshow Tuesday.
"A lot of the value of a conference is in the unplanned moments, where you decide to hear a speaker or visit a booth because somebody mentioned that it was worthwhile," Penn said. "But with a virtual tradeshow, a lot of people are going to come in for a quick hit and leave."
But with time, people may become more familiar with the format and begin using more of the virtual tradeshows features, he said.
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On the upside, Penn said virtual tradeshows often attract many more attendees because its easy to sign up and attend. The Ziff Davis security show, for example, had about 4,000 attendees. "I dont go to too many security conferences that have that many attendees," Penn said.
Steve Kramer, chief technology officer at iCongo, said the virtual tradeshow concept has grown steadily over the past several years and will continue on its upward spiral.
"Demand is increasing, particularly with publication companies and those with large product bases that want to do their own product symposiums," Kramer said. "We think 2005 will be a big year for virtual tradeshows."
Editors Note: The Ziff Davis Media Security Virtual Tradeshow is run by eSeminars, a division of Ziff Davis Media, parent company of eWEEK.com.
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