Virtual is killing business travel? ‘Awesome,’ say execs.

Forget the romance of the high-flying executive lifestyle. When a virtual events company recently asked execs whether they’d prefer a virtual conference to a trip to several American cities, large percentages said yes, citing the horrors of modern business travel. Houston, we have a problem.

ON24 Adds Social Features to Webcasting Platform

Webcasting and virtual event firm ON24 is adding new social features to its webcasting platform in an effort to drive deeper engagement between audience members and webcast participants. The new social webcasting tools will connect users through group chat, hosted Q&A discussions, and integration with Twitter and (eventually) other social networks.
ON24’s social webcasting tools work in a browser-based conferencing platform that is easily customizable, along its customers to create their own webcast skins and allows them to pick or choose from a variety of integrated widgets. Currently those include audio and video webcasting, slides, transcripts, moderated Q&A, Twitter, group chat and sharing widgets. In the future, customers will also be able to build their own customizable resource widgets. Read More about ON24 Adds Social Features to Webcasting Platform

Venture Capital Loves Virtual

Startups selling virtual goods and offering virtual experiences are raking in the venture capital these days. Perhaps it’s the fact that virtual gifting hit the mainstream in 2007 or because people are worried about the impact of business travel on the environment, but the virtual world is beginning to get its share of real dollars.

In the first half of 2008, virtual worlds raised $345 million in venture investment, according to data from Virtual Worlds Management, a media company that covers the industry. And while it may be easy to dismiss the virtual economy as frivolous or scoff at the idea of attending a virtual trade show as useless, deriding the intangible misses a crucial point about today’s culture: A lot of it is happening online. Read More about Venture Capital Loves Virtual

ON24 Launches Virtual Show

ON24 is expanding beyond traditional corporate webcasting with its new Virtual Show product. Think of Virtual Show almost like a Second Life for trade shows, only without the avatars and full 3-D world. Customers can create customizable digital convention floors where attendees can log in, visit virtual booths, watch live-streamed or on-demand online video demonstrations and network with other virtual attendees.

With rising fuel prices and a depressed economy, it’s not hard to see the cost benefit of hosting a trade show online. The average mid-to-large company shells out about $550,000 a year on trade show expenses. ON24 says hosting a virtual show will cost a company between $20,000 and $50,000 to produce.

ON24 isn’t alone in this space, Unisfair and GoExhibit both offer similar services, and some companies like IBM have used Second Life to host digital trade shows.

While the technology is there and the benefits are appealing, I’m a believer that trade shows are more than just a collection exhibitors and demonstrations. They are about connecting with other people in your industry face-to-face, shaking their hand — and getting them drunk. That’s something you just can’t do virtually.