It's a busy day for ON24. They just announced a new Adobe Flash version of their main webcasting console, and introduced a completely new product - A virtual show platform.
The Flash-based webcast console is supposed to be available in mid-July. It joins a very limited number of webinar/webcast platforms that use Flash to allow greater cross-platform accessibility along with more flexible layouts of the content and viewing/presenting tools.
According to Adobe's marketing releases, Flash is installed on more than 98 percent of all computers with Internet access. Now that's what I call market penetration. The great thing about running an application in Flash is that the software doesn't care what the underlying operating system or browser is. A person using the application in Internet Explorer on a Windows machine should have exactly the same experience as a person running it in Safari on a Macintosh, or Firefox on a Unix/Linux computer. And the user doesn't have to download and install your application as a formal step with installation windows, confirmations, and the like.
I have occasionally run into Flash webcasting problems with users on locked-down computers (such as in labs or secure financial institutions) that won't allow the Flash player to download and install. Some companies also have a policy against allowing Flash on user machines because they don't want their employees playing Flash games.
I haven't had a chance to play with the new interface ahead of its release, so I can't comment on the user interface. The press release mentions that it should let meeting organizers show new types of content including "dynamic images, audio, video, and animation." I asked ON24 whether the new release would support PowerPoint animation effects and they said that the slide upload and conversion process has not changed... All slides are still converted to static images for display within the webcast. They also said that the first version would effectively match the existing console interface in look and feel and functionality. But the company is willing to work with clients to provide custom interfaces for their unique needs and preferences.
I did have a chance to demo the new ON24 Virtual Show application. A few companies have implemented the same concept, but as with Flash webcasting, it's still relatively new and in limited availability. The idea is to duplicate the experience of visiting a conference or trade show with online representations of public lobby areas, message boards, exhibitor booths, communications and networking opportunities, and presentation rooms. ON24's display looks very pretty, with the ability to use different "convention center" layouts and backgrounds, including custom ones based on graphics the customer supplies.
The virtual exhibitor booths allow attendees to get information from different companies taking part (or product groups, business units, etc), including downloading collateral, asking questions of online representatives with chat sessions, or viewing recorded presentations.
Of course with my area of interest, I wanted to find out about how ON24 webcasts fit into the picture. Providers schedule and set up the live webcasts with the show's organizer. Then the webcasts are listed in a virtual program schedule as if they were talks being given in auditorium rooms. Program listings can also include prerecorded on-demand presentations. You can group presentations into different program tracks to segment them by interest, and you can even display user ratings (obviously only useful for recorded presentations or repeats of topics that others have had a chance to see already).
It all seems to hang together very nicely from my early glance at the technology. This product is not designed for casual webcasters, but is appropriate for larger organizations that need to let people see lots of different information sources on different topics. A company might use it to show off business partner applications (and could charge those partners to exhibit). It might be used for customer summits where customers around the world can interact with different product group booths (the interface supports multiple languages). And of course there is the opportunity for the big show consolidators to run a virtual show as a revenue generating business as they do with live convention center shows, charging exhibitors and attendees for the privilege of bringing together supply and demand in one space.