Webinar technology vendors... read this to the end. You have a chance to get free publicity and recognition!
Web seminars are an incredibly powerful tool for reaching a global audience. Your participants can watch from anywhere in the world without having to spend time and money to travel to a physical meeting place. As an organizer, you can create registration pages that collect vital information on who registered and attended your seminar. These might represent new sales leads or they might indicate existing customers with an interest in a new offering. Perhaps you are tracking employees who have taken a mandatory training class online. Maybe your presentation is a prerequisite for a live telephone discussion so you know all your committee members have seen the salient facts before working collaboratively to reach a conclusion.
Whatever the case, the ability to collect and analyze a list of registrants and attendees is vital. Most webinar technology vendors offer the ability to create registration pages (some offer more customization flexibility than others) and to download reports pulled from the registration information. But I have been running up against problems with international attendees lately.
Consider someone from Poland attending your event. Their alphabet (and keyboard)contains characters not found in the standard ASCII codes used for Western English.
If they enter their name with one of the non-English characters, it is likely to show up on your registration report as an empty rectangle or some other character conversion that leaves you scratching your head over who they are, what their address is, or what their company name is.
It gets worse if you are trying to reach Asian audiences. Many Asian language representations on computers use what is known as a "double byte" architecture. That means a character needs two bytes of digital coding in order to represent it, instead of a single byte, as is common with Western alphabets. Japanese and Chinese have even more confusion, as there are different representation schemes even within their own language representations.
A standard was created for consistent representation of different languages on computer systems. It is called Unicode and can handle around 100,000 different characters taken from all the major languages of trade and commerce. Great! Something we can all use. Unfortunately, Unicode is inefficient, as it uses a lot more storage space for each character's coding. And the "universal standard" has been broken down into many subsets, which kills the whole point of it, if you ask me.
So now we come to the crux of the matter. Which (if any) webinar technology vendors support Unicode or some other way to get registration reports that faithfully reproduce characters entered from non-Latin keyboards. Can you show me the Japanese name of my attendee? Can you give me the street address that my Korean participant typed in?
Send in a comment or email and I will update this post to give you the recognition you deserve. I figured WebEx would be able to handle my request, as the global market leader in web conferencing, but it turns out they can't do it. So this is your chance to trumpet your feature superiority to WebEx!
UPDATE (Oct 15):
ON24 is the first vendor to speak up. Cece Salomon-Lee (Marketing Communications Manager) writes me that "our platform can take the non-standard characters and display them correctly in the reports. This assumes that the person viewing the report has the correct fonts installed on their computer. In other words, you have to have the correct fonts installed on your computer in order to see the characters. If so, then our presentation manager program will also display the correct characters."
UPDATE (Nov 8):
WebEx now says they can properly capture foreign characters in registration information. You need to segment and save the report rows from each different character set as a comma delimited text file and import the file into Excel indicating the source character set. Excel will interpret the codes correctly and display the characters in their original format.