Tech Conferences Ready to Go Virtual

At the corner of Broadband and Social Software, virtual conferences are ready to move to the next level of interactivity, community, and new business models.

The 2004 OReilly Emerging Technology is now history, with a Wiki full of Hydra and blogger transcripts to document it. Conferences are mental marathons, and this one was as hard to keep up with as ever. Theres no way to attend every session of multiple tracks, but there could be. Its time for virtualized conferences.

Last years BloggerCon conference at Harvards Berkman Center was webcast, with IM and IRC chats allowing limited interchange with the web audience. Lotuspheres opening session was made available as a streaming Webcast several days later, and Microsoft released transcripts (but no video) of its Professional Developer Conference keynotes.

Microsoft PR privately acknowledged they withheld the video to encourage media and developers to attend in person. Vendor conferences like the PDC and JavaOne have become major marketing events for companies, both for customers and developers. IBM and Novell have piggybacked on LinuxWorld and other open source get-togethers, while the aging dinosaurs (Comdex, PC Expo, even N+I) have collapsed or converged toward the consumer electronics space.

The developer conference business model is easy to understand: Water the developers and the platform will grow. Some analysts (and Microsoft insiders) suggest the PDCs focus on Longhorn was too much, too soon, but developers only had to remember how long Microsoft kept .Net behind the firewall to relish the idea of early access to the next wave.

But each of these spaces is parochial to the larger reality of the network. The OReilly conferences have always leveraged this fact, knitting disruptive technologies together into a loosely-coupled fabric akin to grid computing. The dial tone in this case is frequently serendipitous at first, but with each successive iteration, the implementations become stable and resilient.

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