Could the future of NamesCon be a hybrid conference model?

“An all virtual conference or event will never work.”

“People meeting online only for a conference is simply a waste of time, and the most outlandish idea I’ve ever heard of or thought about.”

“Why would I ever attend an online-only conference?”

Let’s be real with one another or, at least, ourselves for a moment. How many of us likely thought and said those very words, if not something similar, prior to COVID-19?

Little did I, you, or anyone else realize that NamesCon Global 2020: Economic Domain Forum could likely be the last physical domain investing conference anyone in the industry would attend, and for a long while.

Upping the ante, none of us certainly thought or ever imagined a completely virtual domain conference some eight to nine months later that would forever transform the landscape of the conference experience.

As Harold Arlen penned, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” And so it goes with the industry’s leading domain conference, we’re in uncharted waters in terms of what is next for the conference experience, especially NamesCon.

So many questions to answer as the future fast approaches.  Will the conference experience go back to being in-person only?

I sure hope not. Or just just maybe, all domaining conferences will simply opt for this new virtual-only trend and experience, right? I certainly hope this isn’t the case either.

However, what I do believe is this space, place, and moment in time is truly a watershed moment for the domain industry. Why?

First, domain conferences and events have long followed the traditional model that most did prior to having met their match, a total knockout by COVID-19.

The traditional conference scene is quite expensive and doesn’t necessarily translate nor promote global growth like that of a virtual conference. In my humble opinion, a traditional conference can be viewed by some as catering to only the top performers in an industry.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this, per se, but it would or could prove challenging to grow an industry using such a model — not insinuating that NamesCon did this intentionally. My point is that most conference models have a high barrier of entry when summing up the following:

  • Time away from work, especially if you’re in an hourly or contractor role
  • Cost of conference ticket
  • Cost of travel, meals, and hotel
  • Cost of any entertainment
  • Cost of family and one’s own health (heightened now due to COVID-19)

The average person hoping to make their entry into domain investing would likely have to invest $3K-$5K at minimum to attend an in-person domain conference in Austin or Las Vegas — not to mention tallying up the cost of having commenced buying domains.

Without having a single domain sale or a few consecutive months of domain sales, investing to attend a physical conference seems a bit risky, to say the least, and even more risky if not a single domain has been sold to date. Sure, a variety of people can meet at an in-person conference, but nothing truly can ever compare to an in-person interaction.

However, as the last six months or so has exposed, people can easily do the same online using low-to-no budget options in Skype or Zoom, which I believe The Domain Show realized and NamesCon Online 2020 took to the next level with the Hubilo experience.

For investors, developers, brokers, resellers and mainstream industry professionals, were shoo-ins by default because we’ve found a consistent, profitable model of some sort that allows us to attend.

But when speaking of newcomers or those persons outside of the domain industry, an affordable virtual conference — in this case free for newcomers and $59 for everyone else — is more than doable for a larger demographic and population spanning the globe. Socioeconomic status often limits a large percentage of the global participants from attending an in-person or physical conference.

In my opinion, NamesCon could truly capture lightening-in-a-bottle should it capitalize on an ongoing virtual platform, a physical experience, and a combination of the two as a hybrid conference experience. Let’s explore.

The good and not so good of virtual conferences

Even days after the event, the NamesCon online platform was still buzzing with posts and chat messages from newly made friends as well as those of old.

While there are many things for NamesCon to build upon and address, I’m overall impressed by the ease of use of the Hubilo platform experience — mobile, tablet, and desktop.

In addition to having all agenda and attendee information at the tip of my fingers, the NamesCon Online experience provided many features I intuitively used and liked — networking lounge, social wall, and chat.

I really enjoyed the networking lounge, especially having partnered with NamesCon to produce My First NamesCon and NamesCon Expert interview series (see interviews below).

My First NamesCon and NamesCon Expert interview series

It’s safe to say that at least 50%, if not 60%, of the aforementioned interviewees would have likely not attended a physical NamesCon event (by their own admission via video in some cases). However, NamesCon Online was a no-brainer decision for each attendee. They simply adjusted their personal and work schedule (some not missing work at all) to invest in their domain education journey and experience.

Unofficially, it was noted that 29% of attendees were based in India, which I’m willing to go all out to estimate that only 2-3% would have traveled to the physical conference due to time and financial commitment.

That said, NamesCon Online shrank the earth to a screen across multiple tracks while increasing the opportunity for relational connection and networking exponentially. I loved the concept of the Americas, Europe, and South Asia tracks.

However, I simply could not keep track of when things were happening — even with NamesCon suggested time conversion widget. Personally, I would love to see a macro level view of all the talks over a time span versus clicking back and forth between tabs. The back and forth confused me at times. So much so that I created my own spreadsheet that was outdated no sooner than I completed it.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy the 30-minute sessions as opposed to 1 hour or 15-20 minute sessions. The latter options felt more rushed and some presenters simply didn’t complete presentations in their allotted window of time. The 30-minute window felt good and I would likely go no more than 45 minutes at most.

And speaking of presenters not completing presentations, I almost didn’t get to present due to an isolated incident with StreamYard on my MacBook Pro. In short, I honestly would have preferred Zoom in this instance over StreamYard. Nevertheless, the production team did well adjusting to display and advance slides during my session, “Guarding Your Domain Portfolio Against Economic Downturn”download full presentation at DNPrez.com.

During the panel “Bulk Domain Search for Investors, Developers, Resellers, and End Users”, my entire video and StreamYard froze with no other applications running, leaving me to fly blind and navigate audio only.

These were not the only tech challenges encountered over the course of 3 days. Other presenters and panelists fought hard battles with glitchy internet, green screens not working, video, screen sharing, or both simultaneously not working, and a few platform issues logging in or staying connected during Networking Lounge video session. But everyone pushed through and delivered good content to the best of their ability.

Speaking of pushing through, the social wall was “hit and miss”. While many appropriately used the wall to socialize, there were quite a few folks SPAMMING links, pictures, and videos of domains they hoped to sale.

At one point during a quick scroll of the social wall, I counted nearly 20 consecutive spam messages of domains that were not worth reg fee or their effort to have posted — sorry, it’s the truth! Nevertheless, I and others desire NamesCon to create the following for the next experience:

  • a separate chat wall for domain selling
  • users limited by number of consecutive posts or link only posts
  • the ability to filter posts
  • the ability to block or hide a user

This was by far the rallying cry of many attendees. There were a number of polls and posts calling abusers out for such posts. But outside of this abusive behavior, which was a BIG miss, the social wall was a hit!

While there are many other items that NamesCon Online got right and worth mentioning, the ones that resonate with me are as follows:

  • Live chat during sessions
  • Notes functionality
  • RECORDED SESSIONS
  • NETWORKING LOUNGE

Those last two bullets are critical game changers that are missing, or simply lacking in the in-person experience. However, because I knew sessions were being recorded, I didn’t rush to end conversations as I normally would during the in-person experience.

All in all, if I had to give NamesCon a grade on a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being perfection, I would give it a solid 8. 🙂

The good and not so good of physical conferences

NamesCon has long mastered the ins and outs of a physical conference. Of course, many would argue that the move from Vegas to Austin was unwarranted and not worth the hassle to ever attend again. Many feel the change of venue was not worth the cost as opposed to the virtual experience.

There are many upsides to physical conference. First, the level of in-person interaction usurps that of virtual experience because you can see and walk up to people in real time as well as break bread and beverage together. This is not to say that one couldn’t do the same at a virtual event. It’s doable, but different and more limited in dimensional experience.

Next on the list for physical conferences is the domain auction. This year’s virtual auction experience fell short and could have been better, in my humble opinion. It exponentially lacked the in-person excitement and quality in names. I speculate to believe it was possibly the lack of marketing, more the format and rules, and less the auction moderators and facilitators.

Another difference between virtual and physical conference experience is downtime. It seemed as if there wasn’t downtime built in outside of “brinner”, which I see as a good thing. The physical or in-person conference always seem to have more lull moments than the virtual experience. Yet, a person is less likely to be distracted by home and day-to-day life than when attending virtually.

Another item to note about the physical conference experience is limited mobility or restricted physical presence of only being one in place at a time. Physical conference requires greater physical exertion than mouse clicking to move from Networking Lounge to Session to Networking. I could move in seconds what would take roughly 30 or more minutes of in-person walking around.

The one critical downside about the physical conference is not having professionally recorded sessions. If you miss a keynote or breakout session, you’ll never know or you’ll have to live with a second-hand experience. This could be easily solved, and likely a lead generation and revenue producer long after the event — if executed well.

Last but not least, what is a conference without swag. While the virtual experience lacks true swag, in-person conferences nail the swag game — shirts, socks, stickers, power banks, pens, etc.

Could the future of NamesCon be a hybrid conference?

With 2021 fast approaching, all eyes are on what’s next for the domain industry and domain conferences, specifically NamesCon 2021?

Could the future of NamesCon be a hybrid conference model?

Will we witness the the unveiling and marrying of a physical and virtual conference to bring forth the hybrid conference? I personally believe the hybrid conference could bring together the best of two worlds as one conference.

I also believe NamesCon could find itself pioneering an old, yet new method for a budding industry to continuously engage and communicate, should it seize the opportunity. I could be wrong, but NamePros.com and DNForum.com have likely seen their best days. But executed with precision, NamesCon could birth an ongoing platform of innovation that includes conferences, interviews and presentations, on-demand content, networking lounges, and likely more than the mind could ever imagine.

Of course, such an endeavor requires prudent planning, implementation, and execution to launch and sustain, but anything is possible — as we’ve all learned having to adjust how we live and do business in during a global pandemic.

It’ll be amazing to look back at this moment years from now to truly understand whether it was a watershed moment for both NamesCon, the domain industry, and domain conferences in general.

I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts about physical, virtual, and hybrid conferences?

In the meantime, while I await your response, I’m going to catch up on all that I missed as the NamesCon Online Platform is now open through October 5th!

Talk soon. Thanks and that’s all for now.

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Written by Alvin Brown
He's an experienced and passionate serial entrepreneur, founder and publisher of Kickstart Commerce. Alvin possesses a great love for startups dominating their market using profitable digital strategies for greater commerce.