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Zoom launches virtual conference floor for online events

Zoom wants virtual events to feel more like in-person sessions. The company's 2D virtual show floor, Expo, aims to re-create that sense of presence for remote attendees.

Zoom has launched a feature that creates a digital show floor for events to engage attendees of virtual conferences further.

Expo, included with Zoom Events licenses, is a 2D virtual space intended to re-create the interactions that would take place during in-person events. The feature is helpful because, even as some conferences resume live activities, analysts expect virtual and hybrid events to persist for some time.

"We created Expo to give attendees the in-person event experiences they know and love, with the convenience of virtual events that they now expect," said Wei Li, head of Zoom Events.

Zoom made Expo generally available this week as part of a slate of updates to the company's platform.

Expo, which has a maximum of 1,000 attendees, represents speakers and exhibitors as dots that move across a virtual conference floor to speak, meet and chat with others at the event. Attendees can signal that they are open to networking, allowing anyone on the show floor to start a 1:1 chat with them.

Expo also features virtual booths, where attendees can meet or chat with exhibitors and view videos, images and PDFs about their companies. Booth representatives can host several ongoing video meetings during conference hours, talking to multiple attendees or placing visitors in breakout rooms for a more focused discussion.

Zoom Events Expo
Zoom has launched Expo to create a virtual show floor for events.

"The [video conferencing] industry has been able to virtualize the scheduled part of events, such as watching a keynote," said Zeus Kerravala, founder of ZK Research. "What's been missing is the ability to address the expo hall, where attendees can explore and interact with companies in an ad-hoc manner."

Even as the world reopens, making remote attendees feel like they are at a show remains a goal for event organizers. Though some conferences, like the Consumer Electronics Show this month, have brought back in-person attendees, experts believe events will continue to have online components.

Corporate travel budgets cratered at the onset of the pandemic, and COVID variants and restrictions have slowed their recovery. A Deloitte study found that only 54% of 139 executives believe business travel will return to 2019 levels by the end of 2022, meaning workers are less likely to attend events physically.

Meanwhile, analysts expect the demand for virtual events to increase. Grand View Research expects the global virtual events market to grow from $114 billion in 2021 to $505 billion in 2028.

Zoom, Cisco and Microsoft have expanded event-hosting capabilities in their collaboration products. In 2021, Cisco bought Socio Labs to improve Webex's ability to host large-scale conferences, while Microsoft increased the number of people who can attend Teams webinars.

Zoom's Expo resembles other tech-industry efforts to make employees feel a sense of presence and camaraderie during remote work. BlueJeans by Verizon will release a virtual workspace this year with a 2D model of an office. Another company, Teamflow, also offers a digital office where workers, represented as dots, move around and interact with each other. However, these products simulate offices, not conferences.

Zoom released other features this week as well:

  • Admins can turn on Zoom's language interpretation feature by default, so every meeting provides attendees the option to select the language of their choice.
  • The Zoom meeting web client UI displays the same language as a worker's browser.
  • Meeting hosts can display a video in a session's waiting room, giving participants something to watch as they await admission.
  • Zoom expanded the compatibility of its Smart Gallery feature, which displays at-home and conference-room attendees in individual video frames, from just Zoom Rooms appliances to Mac and Windows devices with certified USB cameras.
  • Zoom now offers versions of Zoom Phone and Zoom Webinars that meet the U.S. government's FedRAMP security standards.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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