How to Make Virtual Conferencing Work: 10 Steps

Last Updated Mar 11, 2011 8:33 AM EST

For years, we have been hearing about how the next logical step in virtual communication is the "virtual conference". Some people love the idea, some hate it. While the technology has taken great leaps in the last few years, it's still not very common.

I look at virtual conferencing the way I look at the flying car or owning a boat. The idea sounds cool, I daydream about it, but the cold hard realities make it impractical. Recently, I saw an article on the Hypergrid Business blog that was written by someone at the 3D, Virtual Conferencing company Altadyn. They identified 10 concerns that need to be addressed by the industry for widespread adoption in the enterprise space.

Let's hear what you think. I believe that they're all valid, and some of them represent much bigger barriers to entry than they're copping to. That's natural enough; if your marketing folks aren't optimists they need to find another gig.

The listed concerns are theirs, the smart-aleck editorial is all me.

  1. The software download issue- IT continues to struggle as an industry with whether to allow people to download plug-ins and software to allow meetings, particularly with people outside the company.
  2. Firewall Issues When are we going to get past "we have all the communication tools we need, as long as we don't have to talk to customers, vendors or anyone who doesn't work here"?
  3. Bandwidth- Anything involving video is going to suck up a lot of webspace and bandwidth. This is not only on the connection but whatever computer you're using. If you've ever seen what your kid's version of the SIMS does to your computer performance you see the issue. Actually, at the rate bandwidth and ease of use is expanding, this will be one of the first barriers to fall.
  4. Support for multiple platforms. This is more than just the "PC vs. Mac" debate. As people learn to work on the go, fewer are using true "computers" and going to tablets, smart phones and lord only knows what we're going to have next. I (for the moment) discount the rumors that Google is looking at an implanted chip.
  5. User generated content. One of the advantages of these tools is the ability to integrate all kinds of content (documents, video, applications) and show it to lots of people at the same time. The current problem is that you can't just drag and drop existing content into most platforms... it's a hassle.
  6. Scalability- If you use one tool for small meetings and then another for big events, you'll always have problems getting people comfortable and up to speed.
  7. Learning Curve- Now we're hitting the big barrier. These tools still take time to learn, and most of us have better things to do than spend half an hour learning to use a tool we'll only use for one event. I'm not saying we shouldn't, I'm saying most of us (including me) won't. If it's something I'm going to use every day, that's one thing. If I'm going to spend time being frustrated so I can attend a virtual event that used to get me out of the house to Orlando every year I'm even less motivated--and I'm not even that crazy about Orlando.
  8. Simple Avatars- Why does it take so long to set up an online persona that bears no likeness to who I am. Proponents of these tools like to point out how we can interract with other avatars and that's great, if everyone on your team is a vaguely-30s, annoyingly thin, clean-cut white (or darned near) person. The only time an online persona that's better looking and more impressive than the real person would be useful is on sites HR won't let past the firewall. Or so I've heard.
  9. Walking and turning-Unless you spend a lot of time on video games(and I haven't) navigating the virtual conference hall is still annoying. Why does it take 3 buttons and carpal tunnel syndrome to get to the content I want to see. More than that, I don't see the fun or the business application in flying from place to place. (Seriously, how good would a conference session have to be that you wished you could literally fly to it?) It's not fun to me, and it's time consuming and annoying to a lot of people.
  10. Virtual behavior- It's interesting that one of the concerns vendors have is people getting rambunctious and acting inappropriately in these sessions. Seriously? Most of us can't get our team involved enough to stop answering email. I think this shows how little the people who passionately love this technology relate to those of us who want to use just enough to get our work done.
You'll notice that the first six challenges are technical. I have no doubt they'll be solved quickly (at the current rate maybe by the time you read this article). The last four have to do with human motivation and behavior...and I suspect Google will have that implant long before some of these challenges are properly addressed and overcome.

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picture by Flickr user HVX Silverstar CC 2.0