The global recession has given air travel a good seeing to, and in this time of greater fiscal prudence at hitherto carefree organisations, web conferencing is showing that it is coming of age.
And it's easy to see why. At the bottom end of the market there are now a suffusion of free tools offering the kind of functionality that only a year or two ago commanded serious fees. For us as elearning bods this offers a great new way to help people interact and share ideas, as the crew of Onlignment have recognised.
At the top end of the market the technology is getting so good that the effect is truly remarkable.
So it is no surprise to see that TED, an organisation that is all about staying ahead of the curve, is now giving virtual presence the full stamp of respectability. For the first time, those that fancy it can attend TED online, with "a virtual front-row seat at the conference via a private, live web stream". This means you get to see all the bits cut out of the TEDtalks, like the introductions by Chris Anderson, the tech guys setting up the laptop/hacked Wii/brain-in-a-jar, Seth Godin getting up halfway through a talk to go use the toilet* and so on.
While this might seem the solution to the scarcity of tickets (as I'm given to understand it, $2000 a pop, by invitation only, or at least a compelling reason as to why you should get in), before you go reaching for your credit card, even this 2D rendering of the TED experience will cost you $995, without the chance to head to the bar afterwards to chat up Qi Zhang, spill your pint on Bill Gates** or ask Phillip Zimbardo if the SPE wasn't actually a hoax***.
If they are asking that much for the experience then they know that they can - web conferencing becomes aspirational. Cool.
* Seth Godin has never done this at TED and is very well mannered - he won't even walk out of a Michael Bay movie early out of respect for other ticket purchasing members of the public.
** Not that I would suggest that you do this on purpose. He's just quite unassuming and it would be easy to inadvertently bump into him as you struggle to get away from Al Gore doing an impromptu rendition of The Inconvenient Truth on a Samsung Pico mobile phone projector next to the fag machine, egged on by Susan Greenfield and Robert Scoble.
*** I mean, doesn't it sound just a little too amazing? In six days you recreate Nazi Germany in a Californian basement, just because of a couple of a few uniforms?