Online-only conferences: how do they compare with the real thing?

Edward Pollitt

Edward Pollitt

With coronavirus pandemonium at fever pitch, many businesses are being forced to shut down the in-person aspect of their major conferences and go digital-only.

Salesforce, Adobe, Facebook and Google are among the major tech businesses that have chosen to go down this avenue.

Even after making the last-minute decision to cancel, South by Southwest organisers confirmed over the weekend they are scrambling “to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants”.

As well as highlighting just how serious the coronavirus outbreak is, the digitisation of these conferences showcases just how advanced technology has become.

While an online-only conference will never be able to truly replicate the networking experience that comes with a traditional event, it seems delegates are not deterred.

Salesforce revealed last week more than 80,000 viewers tuned in to watch the World Tour Sydney event, while the content reached around 1.2 million users across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn.

“We have been overwhelmed with the support and excitement shown for Salesforce World Tour Sydney Reimagined. To have so many of our customers, employees and partners join us online has surpassed even our high expectations,” Salesforce’s head of marketing for Australia and New Zealand, Renata Bertram, said.

Powering Salesforce’s event last week was IBM, which used its IBM Video Streaming technology to broadcast the day.

The technology will also be used for IBM’s flagship conference IBM Think, set to take place as a digital-only event in May, and will be used for “many other major events”.

An IBM spokesperson confirmed the demand for such a technology is up at the moment.

“In recent weeks, IBM has seen increased interest in digital event broadcasts,” the spokesperson said.

IBM Video Streaming technology is completely cloud-based, meaning it can share the content to any device around the world.

There are also features to help the digital experience best replicate the real-world.

“This technology provides the viewer with a seamless and smooth viewing experience on any device and allows for additional engagement options including chat, Q&A, live polls, and integrated side presentation modes,” the spokesperson said.

There are also clearly large financial incentives for businesses to move their conferences to online-only, while delegates can engage with the content without losing precious hours.

So, could the coronavirus outbreak spell the end of conferences as we know them?

Probably not.

In the meantime, companies like IBM are working to ensure the online-only experience is as good as it can be.

“Feedback from users has been incredibly positive, as it allows people to digitally attend events without disrupting their normal routine,” the IBM spokesperson said.

Featured image: iStock/Petro Bevz

This story originally appeared on The Nibbler’s sister publication, B&T.