Friday, August 15, 2008

Are There Any Limits to the Size of a Virtual Fair?

We get this question often: "Are there any limits to how big we can make our virtual fair?". Let us look at this from a few angles.
  1. Like trees, they need trimming to stay healthy: If your virtual fair grows in a wild unstructured and lopsided manner, then the trunk will not be able to hold some of the branches together, resulting in some branches falling off. This is seen happening even in real-world trade shows. When a trade show grows too popular and too big, some of the bigger sponsors start creating little breakaway events, hospitality suites or simply just stop participating. Just like a tree, a virtual fair needs to be periodically trimmed to ensure the quality of the experience, depth of interaction and quality of users.
  2. Every part needs care and feed: A visitor to a virtual booth needs to be engaged instantly and answers offered instantly. Virtual attendees whose requests for live interaction go unanswered (and I have seen this happen in many of the virtual trade shows that are out there - unstaffed booths) tend to drift away. Given this reality, the effectiveness of a virtual booth is limited by the number of booth staffers that are available live online during the virtual fair, and by the number of simultaneous virtual attendees that each booth-staffer can engage one-on-one. In our experience that number is 3.
  3. They need to prepare for growing pains: In estimating the turnout at a virtual fair the organizers and providers have to make intelligent estimates, but the more popular a virtual fair gets, the chances are higher that the traffic estimates may not be very accurate. Outages have not been unheard of even in the who's who of websites, whether it is Amazon, Yahoo, Ebay, or - yes - Google. It goes to show that when a provider boasts of the most robust system there is, it just means that they have done everything humanly possible to ensure a smooth virtual fair, and that they have in place mechanisms to monitor and nip problems in the bud.
Virtual fairs can grow with no limits so long as they learn how to sustain nutrition to every corner of the virtual fair, whether the virtual event organizer plans to add a blog to it, or a career corner to it, or a social network to it. You will see this happen even with social networks that are huge. Beyond a certain point, the users tend to seek more depth in their interactions and start looking for groups to form clusters.

In a perfect world, if one assumes unlimited bandwidth, unlimited server capacity and software code written so well that the system scales and soars like poetry, the only limits on the growth of virtual fairs are driven by the limits of human behavior and needs.