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ON24 Aims to Turn Desktops Into Conference Halls With Virtual Show

ON24 is looking to create a truly immersive online conference environment with its new Virtual Show solution.

According to ON24 vice president of product management and business development Tom Masotto, the software-as-a-service solution is a cross between traditional webcasting and services such as Second Life.

"It’s much more of a virtual environment than a single webcast, and it doesn’t require a 5MB download or some sort of understanding to get into," he said. "It’s really geared toward the business professional who’s an attendee of a physical trade show and basically now is invited to the virtual equivalent of that."

Setting the Mood (and Look)
Virtual Show allows companies to set up an online venue for anything from trade shows to job fairs to consumer shows, according to ON24 senior marketing communications manager Cece Salomon-Lee. Background images, which are created by flattening a 3D image and converting it to a JPEG or PNG file, are completely customizable, allowing users to tailor the environment to their needs.

"If you wanted this to be in a different language or you wanted to change the look and feel, because right now you see more of a corporate business feel, that can be done as long as it fits within our specifications," she said.

From the main "home plaza" area, virtual attendees will be able to click on hot spots to navigate through a number of other areas including the resource center, where presentations and documents from exhibitors and sponsors can be viewed and saved; the auditorium, where both live and pre-taped events can be watched and, in the case of the former, interacted with; the exhibit hall, where visitors will be able to browse various sponsors’ booths; and the communications center, where attendees can interact with each other and attend scheduled chats.

Flash Forward
Virtual Show is powered by Flash, which allows for the location of hot spots on the screen to be changed so that they sync up with whatever background a company creates, according to Salomon-Lee. ON24 is also converting its webcasting console, which currently runs on Windows Media or Real Player and will be used for presentations in Virtual Show, to Flash. Masotto said he expects to roll out the new Flash console "in the coming months."

"[Moving to Flash] addresses two things," he said. "It addresses that cross-platform and cross-browser support because Flash players have penetrated over 99% of the marketplace. The other thing it does from an engagement perspective is it really allows you to do more dynamic interactions. You can incorporate Flash widgets into the consoles; you can have nicer ways to organize the information and different ways that you can present information to the audience to engage them more readily."

However, the console will also be backward-compatible with Windows Media and Real Player so companies can "leverage their existing assets," he said.

Virtual Schmoozing
Virtual Show also features a social networking element that allows visitors to network with other attendees and conference staff by creating a profile, searching for friends, and engaging in private and location-based chat. In addition, the solution’s "smart booth" technology allows exhibitors to recommend specific content to individual users based on their profiles.

"If, for example, I knew that it was a technology person coming to the booth, I can have recommended content that’s based on that person’s profile versus a businessperson who may want to see different types of information," Salomon-Lee said.

How to Get It
Virtual Show was announced for general availability on June 30. The cost per virtual conference ranges from $20,000 to $50,000 depending on factors including the use of ON24’s professional services team for customization of the environment, the number of booths at the show, and the extensiveness of the webcasting streaming component desired.

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