“Freeconomics” – The Rise of Free or Very Low Cost Meetings and Tradeshow Software
By: Corbin Ball Associates
We are going through a major technology transformation -- we are moving from shrink-wrapped software to the web as a major means of software distribution. With the price of data storage, computer processors and bandwidth plummeting, this is leading to low cost and free tools for meetings and trade shows.
Web-based software is more efficient than shrink-wrapped software in a number of ways:
- It does not require local installation, network configuration, local customization, local firewall protection and local backup – everything is stored, backed, virus-protected and updated remotely, usually in highly secure data farms.
- All that is required by the user is internet access and a browser --- this makes the programs accessible 24/7 anywhere there is an internet connection. This lends naturally to event workers who typically are in out-of-the office locations.
- The web is cross-platform: A PC, a Mac, a Linux operating system, and mobile platforms can access the data.
- With the plummeting costs for data storage, processors and bandwidth, costs are substantially lower than shrink-wrapped. This is leading to many free web tools to market, manage and improve events.
This posting will cover several new free or lower-cost web tools to manage events and tradeshows, and will discuss things to look for in the “freeconomic” world.
- Exhibitor database integration
- Real-time, online interactive floor plan with color-coded booths
- Merge, split, delete, revive, resize, rename and renumber booths easily
- Manage non-exhibit space including meeting rooms, registration area, etc.
- Reporting engine for custom exhibitor reports, booth inventory and change logs
- Print wizard for custom scale, camera-ready, high-resolution printouts
- Contractor access to real-time floor plans, exhibitor lists, booth inventory and change logs
There are no hidden costs or add-on fees, and this is not a free trial. The only limitations are that it can be used for a maximum of three shows per year and that the minimum show size is 10,000 net square feet.
BabyCAD – free exhibit booth design
BabyCAD provides a nice set of exhibit booth design tools with the ability to print out in PDF format. It is very easy to use and free to try. If you would like to save the files and use your own branding, it is $39/month.
OotoWeb: Online attendee management/registration and mobile meeting management
Although this is not free, the attendee management tool is substantially lower cost than most other web registration products. Veteran designers from the pioneer meetings technology company SeeUThere have built a new attendee management/online registration product using state-of-the art web technology. It looks very easy to use, but can handle large, complex events. It has full mobile integration so planners can access all attendee/housing data from an iPhone. The pricing is free for the first month and then only $49/month per user thereafter with no transaction fees. This is substantially lower than traditional web registration vendors which charge per transaction (an average of $6 per registration).
DimDim web conferencing
This web conferencing/collaboration product is similar to WebEx or GoToMeeting, but is free for up to 20 users, only $25/month for up to 50 people. Additional people or features such a HD video and recording features can be added on – but usually at a price that is less than half of WebEx.
Skype high-definition and multiple person video conferencing.
The newly released Skype 5.0 beta version allows 5-way group video conference calls as well as high definition (HD) capabilities. This opens up the potential for free or near-free telepresence-like capabilities and will be a natural for developing low-cost hybrid events and video conference participation by speakers. Skype makes money though Skype-Out, Skype Manager and other VoIP (voice over the internet) phone offerings.
MogoTIX -- Free mobile ticketing solution for events
MogoTix provides mobile event ticketing using QR (Quick Response) codes. It is free for events where no fee is charged and $0.99/ticket + 2.5% of the ticket value ($9.95 maximum/ticket) for those events selling tickets via credit card or Paypal.
Free audience polling from Poll Everywhere
Traditional audience polling keypads rent for about $10/keypad/day. Poll Everywhere uses mobile phone text messaging (similar to American Idol) to accomplish a similar result. It integrates fully with PowerPoint making it easy for presenters to use. Pricing is free for up to 30 poll participants, $15/month for 50 participants and up.
Free site selection database
Cvent provides a free searchable online database of over 100,000 event venues and service providers allowing planners to search detailed profiles of event venues and service providers, send Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to the most qualified meeting suppliers and then compare bids, supplier details and availability with side-by-side reports. Funding is made through vendor enhanced listings.
Free and very easy to use RFP tool.
This is the most user-friendly meeting facility request for proposal (RFP) system for meeting planners to book meeting space and sleeping rooms that I have ever seen. Rich with functionality to improve convenience, this is APEX-compliant and will soon integrate with MeetingBroker.com as well. It is free for planners, and a low monthly fee to hotels to participate.
Is there such a thing as a free lunch?
These are just a few of the free and low cost meeting technology tools available. Many may ask, is ‘free’ too good to be true?
Companies need to be profitable to survive, and very few offer free tools out of pure altruism. As these tools become part of the meeting planning process, it will be important for planners to look at each company’s business model to judge whether that specific ‘freeconomic’ model is viable. Is their company stable? Will they be around through my event, next year and beyond? What will happen if they change options or drop services? All these questions need to be asked before building into your business process.
The good news, however, is that it appears that the price of meeting planning technology is dropping along with the cost of computers and data storage. There will be more options as a lower price than ever before.
Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is an independent 3rd-party analyst focusing on meetings and tradeshow technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings and shows, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site: www.corbinball.com and followed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/corbinball.