My experiences with online conferences have, to this point, been mostly underwhelming. The online format just does not seem to capture the essence of the live in-person event…well, at least in its current form.
To really capture the essence of a conference we need to re-think what an online conference should look like, based on defining characteristics and overarching goals, not general appearance.
One of the most recognizable features of the live conference is the format. Participants come from far and wide to meet in a hotel ballroom at some resort location. Because it requires participants to travel, and an expensive meeting space, the program is always condensed to just a few days. But is this the essence of a conference, or a necessity based on the reality of the event?
Online conferences often try to mimic this format by spanning a set amount of time. It does create an event, but is that really the goal? When attending from a computer, the participant rarely can give the same level of commitment to a condensed live online meeting as they would in person. Online meeting space is nowhere near as costly and eliminating the necessity of travel offers the chance to create a never-ending open conference.
While live conferences are often filled with presentations and speakers, online conferences are often, not. Most online conferences focus on providing top-notch presentations from well known speakers. The presentations are also mostly live webcasts geared towards a general audience. But this misses something big.
By extending the online conference you can make room for more speakers and specialized presentations. Conferences are not only about having the opportunity to learn but also the opportunity to present. Opening up to presentation submissions from the participants can greatly increase the appeal, and success, of the online conference. Also, not everything has to be live. Blog posts and recorded presentations still allow for discussion, just within the comments section which stays open for a much longer period of time.
Online community takes longer to build than the face-to-face community you find at live conferences. Online community follows fresh content. By providing a constant supply of fresh, provocative, and specialized content you create the backbone of a successful online community. By allowing comments, providing the ability to present, and creating discussion areas you can create a space where online community will grow.