In, Twice the Work, Half the Pay, Martha C. White describes the impact that the sharp drop-off of the conference market has had on conference planners, who earn their income from commissions on the meals, hotel rooms, and other services sold at these events. (Tasks that meeting planners handle include ordering the catering and making sure everyone is served; reserving meeting rooms, specifying how those rooms should be set up, and ordering the audiovisual equipment--and making sure that everything is set up and running properly; and coordinating registration and signage at the event.) With orders down by 50 percent and more, commissions are drying up. Read the story at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/07/business/07meetings.html?em.
This loss of opportunity in face-to-face conferences creates opportunity for online programming. Consultant Mitch Joel describes how organizations are trying to integrate online connections into their programming. His article can be viewed at http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Real+virtual+conventions+together/1725270/story.html.
To be honest, however, many organizations in the field of training have been experimenting with online formats for years. For example, ASTD (www.astd.org)has been offering regular webinars for at least 7 years. The publishers of TRAINING magazine (www.trainingmag.com) have offered online certificate programs since 2004. The e-Learning Guild (www.elearningguild.com) has been running online symposia since the same time, and began offering webcasts before that.
in 2007, Tony Karrer (working with others) launched a week-long online "fest" that was preceded and followed by online discussions, included a number of live events during the "fest" week, and included lots of social networking. Jay Cross was among those in leading the followup event in 2008.
In my opinion, one of the things that's important about what's going on with training conferences is that people are experimenting a lot with them. What's sad is that, for the most part, people are not publishing what they're learning through these experiences, so there's little chance to share the lessons learned.