It’s no secret that advances in technology have rocked the event world. From mobile apps to virtual trade shows to social networks—not to mention gaming, geo-location, and cloud computing—tech is driving major innovation. But somewhere in the bowels of this business, there is another movement afoot. Open source platforms—free applications that are built by an individual but evolved communally by sharing the source code with other programmers and enthusiasts —could be the next big thing in trade shows, conferences, and meetings.
Pros and cons
After years of development, group experimentation, and refinement, open source platforms are stable, full-featured, easy to maintain, and less expensive than prefabricated applications. The communities that support the tools provide 24/7 tech support. And according to Pat Pathade of Fantail Consulting, open source tools now exist to power Websites, CMS (content managements systems), ecommerce, CRM (customer relationship management), conference management, (floor plans, education, speaker coordination, registration) and computer operating systems.
“One of the main advantages of open source is that you have a choice. You can make changes or customize your applications and Websites and you don’t have to depend on a vendor. If you build a house, anyone can fix it for you. You don’t have to go back to the original builder,” says Pathade. Plus, he adds, “You don’t have to be a programmer to work with open source tools.”
The perceived downside of open source tools is the issue of support. Some event organizers could be concerned with a solution that no one really owns. However, commercial companies are available to provide the support if organizations are squeamish at first and plenty of large corporations including General Dynamics and Lockheed are using open source platforms to run their businesses.
Who’s using open source
Fantail recently completed a new Web site for TSEA. The site was built using several modules of the flexible, open source, Drupal content management system without requiring any custom programming. The new no-code website runs on Rackspace Cloud Hosting, and includes on-demand videos, blog/twitter feeds, a buyer’s guide, several large and small lead and data capture forms, and automatically creates user accounts in their new Salesforce.com CRM.
Programmer and environmentalist, Stephen Cataldo is launching a new company called Verdant Event that will build Websites for conferences incorporating technology, social sharing, and green values into the design. He is also using Drupal to build sites that will integrate green education, matchmaking, speaker management, and resource (especially paper) conservation into the fabric of typical conference Websites.
SEMI, the association for the microelectronic, display, and photovoltaic industries is switching to Drupal to address slashed staff, budgets and reduced internal resources. They have contracted an outside vendor to build and manage the sites. Semi’s local regional offices will upload content in their native languages and manage their own pages. According to Thomas Viano, director, interactive services, Drupal will minimize the marketing department’s reliance on IT.
“We chose Drupal because of it’s low cost, because it’s open source, and because of the available vendors to build our new sites and manage the sites over time. We chose Drupal, then we chose the agency. We plan to build 24 sites in multiple languages on Drupal,” Viano says.
Open source platforms have come a long way over the last decade. Much of the Internet is powered by open source. “Now things move so fast that you are forced to move faster with open source. Drupal is ready for prime time. Using an average skilled programmer you can quickly set things up for a conference. It’s a great tool. It’s there and it’s got a community behind it,” Says Verdant Event’s Stephen Cataldo.
The Takeaway: More and more event Websites and applications will be built using open source tools in the future. They provide event organizers with significant advantages including a lower cost to build and maintain. A move toward DIY content management, customization, and experimentation is the next logical step for our industry. Open Source is a less painless way to get there.