Mercury Moves Conference Into Cyberspace

Business conferences have felt the ripple effect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, primarily from the reluctance of some attendees and exhibitors to fly to the locations. Some conferences were postponed, others outright canceled.

Mercury Interactive Corp., a maker of network load testing equipment, didnt cancel its user conference later this month, only moved it into cyberspace.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., companys conference was scheduled to begin Oct. 21 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. But given the air travel concerns of attendees, speakers and partners, the company has decided to hold the conference in a virtual format over the Internet.

The conference was planned for about 1,000 people, many of whom were prepaid and were coming from several continents, said Mercury Chief Operating Officer Ken Klein. But when some expressed "very serious reservations," Mercury officials surveyed all the attendees and decided to try holding the event entirely online.

The conference will go on using presentation technologies from Silicon Valley companies PlaceWare Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., and WebEx Communications Inc., of San Jose, Calif., Klein said. Also streaming video supported by Mercury partners like Digex Inc., of Laurel, Md., and Digital Island Inc., of San Francisco, will be used.

"In no way do we think this is going to replace a physical event in all of its aspects. Obviously things changed on Sept. 11," Klein said. "Theyre going to miss the physical medium of being able to be next to their colleagues. Thats one of the biggest advantages of a conference, that they can network. Theres really no true replacement for that peer-to-peer interchange."

That especially is true for product training, he said.

But thats where the bad news ends. Because of issues like reduced travel budgets, the conference may have had fewer attendees anyway, and so holding it online may actually boost attendance. If it goes well, Mercury may use the technology for future events as just another way of participating, Klein said. The presentations will be archived throughout the rest of this year.

"I think well learn a lot from this exercise," he said.