The Virtual Convention

by Craig Anderton

There I was in New York, at the AES Convention. It was fun, but I couldn’t help but notice the non-environmentally-correct nature of the event: thousands of gallons of jet fuel were burned to get people from all over the globe to the convention center, which itself burned up kilowatt upon kilowatt of electricity for air conditioning and lighting. Trucks and planes carried tons of literature (say bye-bye, trees!) and booths to the convention, while taxis and buses transported the reveling showgoers around the Big Apple.

Meanwhile, on the convention floor, salespeople kept answering the same questions and giving the same demos, hour after hour, day after day. No wonder everyone gets so burned out when the show is over. And in keeping with the 3-ring circus atmosphere, there was a constant stream of papers and workshops, often at the same time, so there was no way you could see it all.

So what’s a solution? Try this on for size: online conventions.

What if a convention was held online for a week? Manufacturers would have sites instead of booths, where you could click on spec sheets, get demos in streaming audio (certainly the fidelity would be no worse than what you get on the show floor), and participate in chat rooms with product specialists. By simply reading previous questions in the chat, you could probably have many questions answered without having to ask them yourself.

Curious about one of the technical papers? Download the compressed speech file and diagrams. How about the producer’s workshop sponsored by NARAS? Either listen to the event with streaming audio, or download the transcript later.

You’d need an organizing committee, a la AES or NAMM, to put it all together. Companies with existing web sites could pay to have links added. Companies without web sites could pay the organizers to whip up some HTML documents for placement online (it would still be cheaper than shipping a booth and a bunch of people). Due to bandwidth considerations, there might have to be a schedule for streaming audio events and like. But it’s all doable.

Of course, one reason for these shows is for companies to show sneak previews of products to the press or favored dealers. So, maybe some links would require a password. Another justification for shows is for the human contact — it’s fun to see industry people you haven’t seen in some time, and alas, that’s where the online convention concept is definitely lacking. Still, you could open up some after-hours chat rooms. It’s not the same thing, but it could help a bit. And why not have a “press room” chat, where members of the media could compare notes on the hot products?

But human contact aside, there are also compelling advantages. People all over the world could attend the virtual convention, as long as they had access to the net. A tremendous amount of resources would be conserved. You could browse the event at your leisure rather than have to meet an inflexible show schedule. Spec sheets wouldn’t have to be limited by paper size. There could be links to other online resources for getting background material on a particular technology or concept.

Of course, I’m not expecting a “virtual AES” overnight. But actually, we’ve already taken a tiny step along that path with SSS. I file show reports, and there’s a folder where people can talk about what they’ve seen. Press releases get posted in the hot news folder. People who can’t attend the show are definitely thankful that SSS regulars (like Lynn Fuston) take the time during busy schedules to post their impressions. Sure, these are baby steps from a site that’s essentially a one-person operation with no sponsors. But it hints at what might be possible.

Who knows? Maybe by the year 2010, we’ll all be doing the summer NAMM show online while the winter show remains as a “real” convention. Or maybe SSS will get enough resources to expand our coverage of conventions, with reporters on the show floor, so that those who can’t attend can at least participate in some form of virtual convention. You never know. But one thing’s for sure: we haven’t even come close to exploiting the full potential of the net, but we are going overboard in exploiting our planet’s resources. If nothing else, the virtual convention would be one small step toward a more environmentally-sound world.


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