Conferences Meet Instant Gratification



This is the fourth in a series of articles, written by Wrecking Ball SVP & General Manager Bob Donlon, on the subject of shaping the future of virtual events and conferences.


I talk to strangers.

Maybe it has something to do with having gone to high school in Times Square during the pre-Giuliani era, where strangers would get in your face and start yakking at you whether you liked it or not. It turned me into an “accidental extrovert” and gave me the skills to survive daily unwanted encounters with various hustlers and nut-jobs.

These skills have also served me well in times when work has called upon me to staff exhibit booths at conferences. I’ll chat anyone up, unless they’re clearly psychotic. That happens. There have been certain conferences where my colleagues and I had to develop coded physical gestures so we could rescue one another from such conversations. A scratch of the chin and a colleague would magically appear to pull me away for an “urgent and important meeting”.

That said, the kinds of surreptitious conversations which can happen at live conferences become even more meaningful and valuable as time goes by. The world of commerce is rapidly devolving to the point where the “chat bot” has become the lowest-common-denominator form of communication. Friendly customer support rep “Kenny” or “Whitney” magically appears in a chat window in the lower right corner of nearly every site you visit, asking how they can help. It’s the modern day equivalent of “Clippy” — that persistent cartoony nuisance who constantly showed up, uninvited, in Microsoft Word to disrupt our work. What kind of “help” would Clippy offer us today, if it were resurface in the era of shelter-in-place work-from-home?

In our world of diminishing human interaction, which can be especially difficult for us extroverts, let us consider how virtual events and conferences can be shaped in order to meet the wants of people like myself who thrive in face-to-face interactions. Here is a hypothetical case study involving an extroverted persona named “Claudia”.


Claudia is a payroll administrator at a baby food company. She has reached a breaking point at her job because the company’s payroll platform has become broken beyond reproach. Employees aren’t getting paid on time so they are becoming angrier by the minute. As a result, productivity has slowed to the point where strained mushy peas and carrots have completely disappeared from store shelves. The babies are pissed — their union, the “Diaper League Local 802 AFL-CIO” has declared a general strike. Claudia is in desperate need of a new payroll platform and must find a solution. Fast.

Luckily for her, the “National Association of Human Resources Humans” is having its annual conference. Because of COVID-19 its gone virtual so she’ll get a chance to learn about the latest and greatest in payroll admin platforms from the comfort of her “home office” (unfinished basement).

As an extrovert, one of the things Claudia really likes about the live conference experience is the energy of the people who staff the various booths in the exhibit hall — she feeds off of that. Even so, she finds the exhibit hall itself an unwieldy animal to wrassle with. Since exhibits are often grouped together in no particularly logical fashion, she often finds herself wandering about in a search for companies that offer the type of solution she is looking for. It’s a total time-suck, wears out her legs, fries her brain, and as a result she sometimes loses consciousness at the evening networking dinners. Nodding off into a bowl of lobster bisque is not exactly the best look for a human resources professional.

A key advantage of the virtual conference is we can do away with all that. In an online format, if done the right way, we can have a virtually infinite means of search, sorting, and discovery of virtual exhibitors in a virtually unlimited variety of virtual categorizations.

When crafting the search functionality of a virtual exhibit hall, the key principle to keep in mind is to


If Claudia is searching for “payroll administration platforms” and has to spend time weeding out exhibitors offering “performance review management platforms”, she’s going to turn in her own “performance review” at the end of the conference: “Exhibit hall sucks!”

OK, now Claudia has done her search and narrowed the exhibitors down to those that offer payroll administration platforms. There are 27 of them. She decides to have a brief read-through of the summary paragraph of each one. The first is a company is called PAY-ME-NOW TECHNOLOGIES and their summary paragraph reads:

“The mission of PAY-ME-NOW is to disrupt the thought leadership funnel by leveraging seamless distributed and scalable omnichannel dashboards which engage targeted awareness of optimized mission critical insights into big data learnings.”



The next search result is a company called “Personable Person Purse” (PPP) which has the following summary paragraph:

“Please your personnel with our powerful payroll platform that promptly puts pay in the pockets of your people.”


“Possibly the perfect platform” she thinks, and clicks through to their virtual exhibit.

Now that Claudia has found a potential vendor, and is willing to invest her time to visit their virtual booth, she comes with certain expectations based on her past experiences vising exhibits at live, physical conferences. In the live scenario she would want to:

  1. Get a high-level sense of whether the product/service is a good fit for her needs. This would normally be in the format of a stage presentation that includes a description of the value position, a demo of key features, and customer success stories. She’d be willing to invest 15–20 minutes of her time to watch the presentation, and if she’s not hooked on PPP within that timeframe she’d move on to the next exhibit. Assuming she’s taken the bait, her next step would be to:
  2. Dive deeper on the product. She would walk over to a demo pod staffed by a product expert who has in-depth knowledge of the product as well as its practical application. She could ask questions, get informed answers, and have a dialogue about her specific wants and needs based on her particular use-case scenario. If she determined the platform could be a good fit her company, her next step would be to:
  3. Talk to a sales rep to discuss pricing and deployment. Would the cost of the PPP platform fit within her budget constraints? Could she get it up and running quickly? Remember . . . the babies! They’re still out on strike! If all looked promising the sales rep would:
  4. Schedule a follow up for after the conference. Close the sale and deploy the product, fulfilling Claudia’s wants and needs. The promise of the live conference would be manifested!

With those expectations in mind, let’s think about how an exhibitor can meet Claudia’s needs in a virtual medium. An overarching reality to always keep in the front of your mind is:


It’s the first day of the conference, Claudia just watched the keynote, and now she’s visiting the virtual exhibit floor. She’s done a search for payroll administration platform providers and discovered PPP — she decides to pay them a visit.

  1. Upon landing in the virtual booth, a 30-second commercial rolls. Unless it holds her attention, while communicating what the company has to offer, she bounces and moves on to the next exhibitor. Forget the 15–20 minutes of the live conference, the window of opportunity in the virtual world is waaaaaay narrower. After all it’s takes just a click or a swipe, as opposed to a 200 yard haul through a physical exhibit hall, to move on to the next “better” thing. But for now, let’s assume the best — that PPP invested in producing a kick-ass commercial. Claudia is hooked. Now she wants to:
  2. Deep-dive into the product. Remember, as an extrovert she wants to do this face-to-face with another human being — have an actual conversation, not wind up in a chat window. That will turn her off right away, her attention will be lost. Clicking on a “visit our demo pod” button, she is brought into a live video conference where a product specialist is in the midst of a demo. There’s a queue to allow attendees to, on a first-come-first-served basis, have a chance to interact with the product specialist without being interrupted by other attendees. I want to point out that this is a significant improvement in comparison to the live conference demo pod experience, where there are often several people vying for the attention of the product specialist at once. Claudia gets her turn, has an informed face-to-face conversation, and decides to take the next step. The product specialist passes her off into a virtual breakout room with:
  3. A sales rep. Via video conference they have a face-to-face 1:1 discussion about pricing and deployment. Since, in any sales scenario, body language is an important factor in building trust, they develop a rapport, agree on next steps, and ride off together into the sunset.


So what about the wants and needs of the introvert — the flip side of the coin? That’s the topic of next week’s article. In the meantime I’m going to drag my extroverted ass down to Dolores park and have a meaningful face-mask to face-mask conversation with a total stranger and thus become that nut-job in Times Square, I guess.

Thanks for reading! We are always happy to have informed conversations on the topics of virtual events/conferences and digital marketing in general.

Convention Exhibits: The Bizarre Bazaar



This is the third in a series of articles, written by Wrecking Ball SVP & General Manager Bob Donlon, on the subject of shaping the future of virtual events and conferences.


If I blindfolded and kicked you into the middle of an exhibit hall in any convention center in the world, there’s no way you’d be able to tell me what city, state, or country you were in. No matter where you are, the odoriferous off-gassing of low-grade carpeting combined with migraine-inducing lighting and a sound that can only be described as a hundred FM radios all tuned to a different station all add up to “exhibit hall”.

Just like the uniformity of the sensory experience itself, there is uniformity to the motivation of exhibitors. That motivation is money. Companies exhibit at conferences to acquire sales leads, build awareness of their brand, and (in some cases) to engage in good-old-fashioned “buy something now or I’m gonna punch you in your face”.

“Put. That. Coffee. DOWN! Coffee is for closers ONLY.” (Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Being called upon by your employer to staff a conference exhibit booth is like being entered into a reality show called “Enterprise Gone Retail”. No matter where you sit on the corporate totem pole, you’re going to be an “Apple Store Employee” for the day. If you’re lucky you’ll get to be one of the “Geniuses” behind a demo pod, otherwise you may wind up becoming one of the floor-walkers who has to answer the question “so, what does your company do?” five hundred times a days. For some of us it’s being “face-to-face with customers,” and for others it’s “having customers in your face”.

A great deal of effort, human power, money, and ability to go-with-the-flow are required to pull off a successful conference exhibit. I’ve had more than my fair share of experience working exhibits at conferences all over the world as a demo-jockey, stage presenter, and one of those stand around and answer “what do you guys do” people.

We’ve also done it ourselves at Wrecking Ball, and got to experience the entire end-to-end of what it takes to pull it off first-hand.

Our exhibit booth at the eMerge Americas conference in the Miami Beach Convention Center

Let’s take look at the “customer journey” of the live conference exhibitor. Transforming the live exhibit into a virtual experience is one of the greatest challenges we face right now, and we need to figure it out soon because a lot of money flows in this part of the industry —not just to and from exhibitors — it’s a major funding & profit center for the conferences themselves.

Here’s a fictitious, but highly realistic hypothetical use-case of a live conference exhibitor from the days before the world went all wacky.


TV star Danny Partridge has a business selling autographed pictures of himself as well as his own line of branded merchandise. For those of you who don’t know who Danny Partridge is, he was a character in the hit TV show “The Partridge Family” about a family of kids and their mom who had a band that toured the country in a school bus. They mainly performed in cocktail lounges.

  1. Looking for ways to grow his autographed picture and branded merchandise business, Danny decides that San Diego Comic Con would be a great conference for him to have an exhibit at. Since his target audience will be there, and the attendance averages 130,000 people or so, he could make some serious bank.
  2. He gets in touch with one of the sales reps at Comic Con and she recommends a 20x30 foot exhibit space at a cost of $10,000. Seems like a pretty good chunk of real estate, so he goes for it.
  3. Once he signs the contract, the sales rep tells him he’s going to need an eye-catching exhibit booth because all the exhibitors will be competing for attention. She recommends an exhibit design company who can custom build something specific to his brand.
  4. The exhibit design company creates a Partridge Family themed exhibit complete with TV monitors that will play episodes from the show, a stage that has original props for people to look at, and a sound system to play songs from their records. The design and buildout of the booth is $25,000. Danny is now committed for a total spend $35,000 but he knows it’s going to be worth it — he’ll earn that back, and then some.
  5. The booth needs to be broken down, loaded into road cases, and shipped from the design company in Los Angeles to the convention center in San Diego. Once it gets there, it’ll have to be loaded in and re-constructed by a crew of union specialists. Labor and transport fees cost $5,000. (There may also be some bribes involved, that’s a whole other story that I’m not getting into because I don’t wanna get punched in the face.) Danny’s total spend is now $40,000. He raids his kids’ college fund — after all community college is free in LA, no?
  6. He arrives at the convention center the day before the conference opens. The exhibit hall is massive! It takes him nearly an hour to find his booth because it’s tucked waaaay in the back in what’s bound to be a low-to-no traffic area. He calls up the conference sales rep to ask her WTF but she tells him that “premium locations” are reserved for “platinum sponsors” and she’d love nothing more than to discuss how he can purchase such a sponsorship for next year’s convention. There’s nothing she can do for now, sorry.
  7. Because of the crappy location of his exhibit, he’s going to have to work harder to grab peoples’ attention. What can he possibly do at this late stage of the game? How about making use of that bandstand! He knows of a Partridge Family tribute band, they wear the costumes and all and look & sound like the real deal. He calls their manager, turns out they’re available, and they’re willing to work the duration of the 3-day show for $3,000. He decides to go for it, but before signing the contract he finds out that his cast-mates from the original TV show still perform as The Partridge Family. They charge way less than the tribute band. He hires them at a total cost of $200.
  8. Oh, but what about the SWAG! The other exhibitors are giving away some really cool stuff to draw people in. Since The Partridge Family’s music is considered “bubblegum” he calls up a corporate promo company and rush-orders 5,000 gumballs with his face printed on ’em. Cost including rush fees is another $1,200. Total spend at this point is now $41,400.
  9. He’s hired 3 people to staff the booth to handle sales, collect leads, and do traffic control. They, and he, will need hotel rooms and meals. Hotels always jack prices during big conferences so a room at the nearby Motel 6 will cost $666/night and he’s going to need to get 4 of them. For the 3 day duration of the conference, staff salaries will cost $3,000, hotel rooms $8,000, and add in around $1,200 for meals. His total cost is now $53,400.
  10. The head of the crew setting up his both walks over to tell him there’s nowhere to plug in the lighting, video screens and the amps for the band. Danny forgot to order electricity — yes, the convention center makes you pay extra for that, and you also need to pay for one of their staff electricians to come over and plug everything in for you. An electricity drop that can handle his power needs plus the electrician’s time to basically do nothing more than plug power cords into outlets amounts to another $1,500. Danny takes out a 2nd mortgage on his house as the total cost is now $54,900.
  11. One of his staff walks over to ask how they’re going to collect leads for follow-up after the conference. All the attendees have bar codes on their badges for exhibitors to scan for lead capture and they don’t have a scanner. Oh, you need to rent that too — lead capture scanner for 3 days = $1,000 = total of $55,900
  12. Wow there’s a lot of expensive gear in this booth and stuff tends to “walk away” from conference exhibits after hours. Danny hires a graveyard-shift security guard to watch over the stuff at a cost of $750. He’s now in for $56,650.
  13. Finally the show opens! There’s a mad rush of attendees and the booth is a huge success! Danny is surrounded by so many adoring fans he’s completely overwhelmed. They are thrilled to have face time with him, and he forms lasting connections that will result in loyal “customers” for life! This couldn’t happen any other way and is the key component of what makes the live conference exhibit unique. The merchandise flies off the shelf. He develops carpal tunnel from signing so many autographed pictures. Lead collection is through the roof. Even though the drummer in the band has a heroin addiction and keeps nodding out in the middle of songs, the music and the video and everything else is such a magnet that people are now lining up in the aisle to get in.
  14. It’s the second day of the show. Things are slowing down. People are mainly coming by for the giveaway gumballs — a man of gargantuan proportions grabs about 50 of them to stuff in his pockets and crams another 8 or so into his mouth.
  15. It’s last day of the show and it’s completely dead — traffic has dwindled to nearly zero. He and his staff just want to pack up and go home already, but overall it’s been a smashing success. He’s raked in $100,000 for a total profit of $43,350! Not only that, he’s got over 5,000 leads for follow up and many of those people will wind up buying even more stuff off his website. Nice!
  16. The conference is finally over. As the last stragglers of attendees exit the exhibit hall, an executive from ABC wanders by and takes note of the Partridge Family branding, videos, and music. His network owns the rights to all that so he calls up some of his goons who come over and sledgehammer the entire exhibit to the ground. Well, at least Danny won’t have to pay to have the booth shipped back up to LA and stored until the next conference, because there won’t be a next conference!
  17. Danny settles the copyright infringement lawsuit for $200,000 resulting in a net loss of $156,650. He eats candy bar lunches for the next 7 years.


Despite the fictitious nature of our “case study subject”, anyone who’s ever been involved in this side of the business knows that everything up to and including item 15 above is real. There are an infinite number of potential curveballs in the conference exhibits game.

We have, however, demonstrated through this case study that (if done the right way) live conference exhibits have the potential to drive substantial amounts of revenue, heighten consumer mindshare, build brand awareness, and grow customer loyalty. It’s a shame that the conference exhibit in its physical form is a gone, gone, goner — at least for a very long while. But, as that door closes, another opens — there is now huge, untapped potential to shift the paradigm of what a “conference exhibit” means. We have a present opportunity to evolve the model and make even more revenue flow for exhibitors and conferences alike.

How we re-imagine and re-shape this into a virtual form may be the biggest challenge the industry currently faces, and it’s IMPERATIVE to figure out if the industry is to survive. It’s an economic lifeblood, and we just can’t let it bleed out. It’s time to begin that discussion — I look forward to diving in. Stay tuned for my next article in the series which will be about just that.

Thanks for reading! We are always happy to have informed conversations on the topic of virtual events or digital marketing in general.

The Conference is Dead! Long Live the Conference!



This is the second in a series of articles, written by Wrecking Ball SVP & General Manager Bob Donlon, on the subject of shaping the future of virtual events and conferences.


In olden times (4 months ago, was it?) live conferences offered great opportunities for learning, connection, discovery, and incomprehensible demoralization. Over the years I experienced all that and then some.

In 1998 I got a job that had me demonstrating video & film post-production software at trade show exhibits. The first one was an absolute whopper. The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) conference is a week-long endurance test that takes place every April in the former home of Elvis Presley (and current home of Andrew “Dice” Clay), Las Vegas, Nevada. It draws 120,000 people from all over the globe and offers everything you can possibly imagine in a large-scale live conference experience. The expo floors are massive, the variety of session topics are vast, and the stench of bad breath gives you night sweats for days.

As a rookie demo-monkey I made every possible mistake in the book. By far the worst was getting swept up in a raging river of alcohol that flowed right over the Hoover Dam and back onto the exhibit floor the next day. Soon thereafter I had completely lost my voice (not a good look for a demo guy) and by the end of the week I’d become a shriveled raisin. This was not a conference — for me it was a fraternity hazing.

Having curtailed the after-hours hi-jinks, I spent a few more years shilling at conferences for software companies in the film & video post-production industry before becoming a “subject matter expert”. I started giving talks of my own at events all over the place — Sundance Film Festival, HOW Design Conference, Adobe MAX, and NAB to name a few — and got to share my thoughts and perspectives with my peers without having to sell anyone on anything. Best of all I got to wear one of those red “Speaker” ribbons taped to the bottom of my conference badge and strut around the place like a big shot while stuffing my face with unlimited free Doritos from the Speakers’ Lounge.

Today I’m a civilian. Even though I still give the occasional talk, I’m usually an attendee and pay for my badge just like everybody else. I invest my time and money in it because there are valuable things for me to gain at certain conferences — things I can’t get any other way.

Well, now there needs to be another way — it’s all been shot to hell for the time being. The death bell for the live conference industry as we know it has been tolled. We are in the midst of a rebirth, and in order to grow a healthy new child we need to start with a thorough examination of the past.

What story does the past have to tell, what was life really like for a live conference attendee, the Cro-Magnon if you will, in the olden days of 4 months ago? Which pieces should we pick off the bones to keep, and which should remain discarded in the La Brea Tar Pits?

Here is the typical live conference end-user experience from the perspective of Cro-Magnon:

  1. Congratulations — you’ve just made the decision to attend a live conference! Or perhaps your boss just made that decision for you. Before you hit “send” on that rant of an e-mail you’ve got going, buckle up — you’re about to get a whole lot angrier as you:
  2. Investigate your travel and hotel options. Better do it now or you could be SOL. Back in 2000 I waited too long to book for the IBC conference and wound up with a $350/night “hotel room” behind the kitchen of a rat-dump in the red-light district of Amsterdam. I never realized how the sound of bottles being smashed could be so calming.
  3. Peruse the conference agenda and sign up for sessions — do this the instant you’ve finished booking your travel. There are only so many seats in each room and the good sessions fill up fast. Make haste lest you suffer the dregs. I’ve sat in on more than a few bottom-of-the-barrel breakouts over the years that were nothing more than thinly-veiled sales pitches chock full of bogus claims.
  4. Head to the airport and the roulette-wheel that is our air travel system. Pray to whatever God it is you pray to. If you’re an atheist may you find God now. If you can’t find God then may you find 4 mg of Xanax and a bottle of tequila because you can’t pray away a seatmate on a red-eye who’s got chronic flatulence and night terrors.
  5. Hopefully you got Step 2 right. Otherwise, when you leave the airport terminal tell the cab driver to take you right past the Wynn Resort to the Circus-Circus hotel where “everyone’s an ass-clown”.
  6. “Hello and welcome to our hotel! Are you here for the conference? Well, step right this way to the check-in line where you’ll find 150 of your fellow attendees to keep you company!”
  7. Bail on the check-in line, leave your luggage at the bell stand, and head on over to the convention center to pick up your badge.
  8. Follow the “Conference Registration This Way” sign to the South Hall. Once you’ve arrived the sign says “Exhibitor Registration Only”. A friendly “conference ambassador” says walk to the North Hall for “General Registration”. You get there and see another sign reading “Press & Media Registration Only”. Another friendly “conference ambassador” directs you to the Central Hall. Get there to find that registration has closed for the day. Buy a seventeen dollar hot dog and find a place to sit on the floor. Begin to question all your life decisions.
  9. After a bad night’s sleep, wake up bright and early for the Day 1 Keynote. Executives! Celebrities! Sneak peeks at new technologies! It’s excitement and energy at it’s finest, but make sure to arrive plenty early to get a good seat. Thirty minutes should be enough, right? Well, everyone else started lining up 3 hours ago so you wind up sitting in the back and watching it on TV.
  10. Time for lunch! The conference may be providing this as part of your registration fee, in which case all you need to do is line up with 20,000 of your new best friends at the buffet line. The guy in front of you is shaving because he left his hotel room 12 hours earlier to line up for the keynote.
  11. Attend your first breakout session. The reason they’re called “breakouts” is the presenter might suck so bad you’ll want to “break out” of there as quickly as possible.
  12. Hit up the coffee and snack station and drink your fifth cup of coffee of the day.
  13. The coffee isn’t working anymore. Visit the restroom. Fall asleep on the toilet.
  14. Visit the exhibit floor. So much cool new stuff to see! Demos to watch! New toys to play with! WHY ARE MY EARS RINGING SO LOUD???? WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE TURN THE FAN OFF????
  15. Attend the opening night cocktail and networking event. It’s a great chance to make new connections! With a craft beer and jalapeño poppers in hand, introduce yourself to someone new and try to mutter your name through a mouthful of cheese and breadcrumbs. Lean down and stare awkwardly while reading the name off their badge. “Presssur tu mt yu Mrssh Umfloofoo.”
  16. Wow, it’s been a looong day. Your feet are killing you, right? But at any conference there is always after-hours fun to be had, right? Who knows where the night will lead! Just remember to keep a few dollars on hand for tipping the bailiff when the time comes. A little kindness goes a long way when he’s attaching the GPS tracking bracelet to your ankle — if it’s on too tight it’ll cut off the circulation to your foot and you’ll have a nasty limp when you go back to the courthouse for the arraignment.
  17. Repeat steps 9 thru 16 for as many days as the conference lasts, then head back to the airport. You’re finished, done, kaput. All you want at this point is to put the whole thing behind you for a while. You settle in for your red-eye flight home and the guy seated next to you was at the same conference and wants nothing more than to jabber in your ear about it the whole way back.
  18. You’ve finally made it home. Say hi to the kids, give ’em a hug, it’s a miracle they can recognize you at all. Nonetheless you try and trick them into believing the SWAG you picked up for free on the exhibit floor are actually presents you bought for them.

And there you have it, the “customer experience journey” of the live conference attendee. Whaddayathink, maybe there’s room for improvement there? Things we can learn from? Maybe take those learnings into account as we begin to mold the virtual conferences of the future?

Next up I’ll take a look at the experience from the exhibitor’s perspective, including top tips on how to find the right guy to bribe at the Javitz center so you can get your shipping cases back at the end of the show.

Thanks for reading! We are always happy to have informed conversations on the topics of virtual events/conferences, video production/platforms, and digital marketing in general.

Live Event Transformers



This is the first in a series of articles, written by Wrecking Ball SVP & General Manager Bob Donlon, on the subject of shaping the future of virtual events and conferences.

In March 2020 the “excrement had hit the air conditioning”. My previous employer, and current client Adobe, announced that due to Covid-19 its annual digital marketing conference — Adobe SUMMIT — had been cancelled. It was to be a 23,000 person live event in Las Vegas and poof it was gone. The next thing we knew, the C-suite announced a decision to pivot the whole thing to an online virtual event, with the 5 of the keynotes and 125 of the breakout sessions that had been planned for the in-person event, and to keep the existing timeframe intact. Meaning my team and I at Wrecking Ball, along with our colleagues within Adobe, had three weeks to launch a virtual event involving six keynotes and a couple hundred breakout sessions when nobody involved was allowed to leave their homes. I could hear people screaming in San Jose which is forty five miles south from here.

In what now feels like the blink of an eye, video gear was sourced and shipped by the Adobe Studio team to the homes of the C-level keynote presenters and those delivering the breakout sessions. Remote sessions were set up to coach them on the technical and performance aspects of recording their content. On-the-fly workflows were developed to facilitate panel discussions (no disrespect to Zoom, but that just wasn’t gonna cut it for this). In parallel, my team took on the design, development, and deployment of a set of new components for the custom-built video publishing platform that we had originally built during the Adobe TV days (and has been in continuous use by the company ever since). We had to integrate everything within a custom front-end being built by a different team, and factor in a complex set of business requirements covering discovery, delivery, analytics, and follow-up.

It was the first event of this magnitude to be pulled off at the onset of the pandemic. We reached hundreds of thousands of unique viewers in the first week alone. People engaged with the content across the board, at a much greater order of magnitude than would’ve been the case in Vegas. KPI’s were blown out of the water. Even though I wish we’d had the time to virtualize other aspects of the conference such as the exhibit floor and socializing/networking (maybe virtual craps tables?) it was a pretty damn good place to start.

This hadn’t been my first rodeo — in 2010 I was asked by the leadership team at Adobe to help create the first virtual event in the company’s history. The task was to present the launch event for Creative Suite 5 on Adobe TV, an online video platform that I had conceived of and built, along with my cohorts at Adobe and a relatively new company called Wrecking Ball (where I work today). This would be the first time in the company’s history that there would be no in-person launch event, as Adobe TV had grown to such an extent that it reached a far greater audience than anything that could be achieved face-to-face.

To be completely honest, there was one more impetus to this endeavor . . . a massive failure that had taken place during a previous in-person launch event in 2009. I had played a role in that one as a keynote presenter — thankfully my own portion went off without a hitch (if it had not, please feel free to visualize my ass being kicked down West Broadway by my boss at the time, seen in the picture below).

Adobe SVP John Loiacono (left) and me (right) delivering part of the keynote at an Adobe Creative Suite launch event in 2009. (image credit: DV Magazine)

Earlier on in the keynote, my colleague Greg Rewis was onstage demonstrating the new version of Dreamweaver when all of a sudden the screens went dark. In front of a live audience of several hundred, as well as lord knows how many others tuning in via a live stream, the whole thing ground to a halt. Greg tried to fill the dead air by cracking jokes and an “unscheduled intermission” was abruptly announced. “Be right back, folks!”

Thirty minutes later the issue was fixed, but by then we had lost most of the webcast audience, and the five hundred or so people in the room were well in to the free hard liquor on offer behind the seating area. To be honest what happened next is somewhat of a blur, but I’m pretty sure when I stepped onto the stage an empty bottle of Jack Daniels came flying at me from the seats.

The point I’m trying to make here is that there were multiple factors behind the decision to pivot the 2010 Creative Suite 5 launch event from live to virtual. For sure, we had built a successful, proven platform — Adobe TV — in which to pull it off. For ABSOLUTELY sure we could no-way have anything resembling a repeat-performance of that unscheduled intermission in 2009 (incidentally, the culprit behind that turned out to be a cable that overloaded and fried somewhere on the A/V side of the house).

The latter was solved by recording the keynotes in advance, which was the easy part as this would involve much more than just a simulated live stream of a pre-recorded keynote. We needed to build awareness and buzz around it, provide an easy means for attendees to register (and thus capture the highly-prized leads coveted by our sales and marketing organization), produce and deliver the event itself, create an instant post-event on-ramp to our vast library of product demos, and provide a quick and easy path for attendees to download trials of and purchase the software.

Remember, this was ten years ago and nothing like this had been done on this scale 100% online before. There were months of research, development, and testing in order to pull together the pieces to make it happen (read a very brief case study here if it interests you). Today we take a lot of this for granted, but at the time it was a landmark event — a major success — we achieved the highest ever amount of revenue booked for Adobe in a single day

So here we are, chucked head-first, right back into the swimming pool of virtual events and conferences. This is on for real. But I tell you what, the timing couldn’t be better — the possibilities in how to transform this space are endless. Every day I’m having conversations with current and potential clients in organizations of all shapes and sizes about this transformation — ideas fly around faster than an empty Jack Daniels bottle sailing towards my head.

There’s one thing we all agree on at this point: there is no “if” anymore, there is only “how”. How do we define success in this space? Where should we “place our bets”?

First we need to understand the motivations of attendees. What do they hope to gain, and what are they willing to sacrifice in terms of time and money to achieve those gains? Upon what basis do they deem a live event a success or failure? In my next article, I’ll dive in to those motivations and success factors . . . until then, please enjoy this very brief “scheduled intermission”.

Thanks for reading! The Wrecking Ball team is always happy to have informed conversations on the topics of virtual events/conferences, video production/platforms, or digital marketing in general.

Improving Large Touch Screen Kiosks

You often see large, interactive touch screen kiosk installations at trade shows, conferences, or static exhibits. The user usually walks up to the touch display and interacts with an application. This application might include video and written content with an interactive element, perhaps a quiz or a simple game. One might think developing for touch kiosks is the same as developing for a tablet except on a larger scale. There are definitely similarities between the two but the large format presents unique challenges and opportunities.


Typically, HTML5 is used to build touch-screen applications. The User Experiences are essentially single-page web applications. Wrecking Ball uses technologies such as WebGL to create fluid 3D experiences that feel nothing like a regular website. The application typically runs on a local PC that is connected directly to the touch display. The benefit is that there are virtually no concerns about file size, video streaming, or load time but you do have to be very careful about performance. Complex animations can be CPU intensive. Today's trend consists of building responsive websites for myriad screen sizes and devices. With large-scale, fixed screen sizes, we can build applications that only have to work on one browser at one specific resolution. The end result is an immersive experience that can be built on a fixed budget with a tight timeline.


Interactive kiosks work very well when presenting a large amount of content. Maybe you have hundreds of videos you want to showcase or thousands of entries in a database that you want to be displayed in a beautiful, attractive design. Interactivity and user experience plays a big role in the way it empowers the user to browse the content.

Adobe invited Wrecking Ball to concept, design, and build an interactive experience for their library of patents. Visitors to Adobe's home office can browse and learn about its 3,000+ patents and their hundreds of inventors while waiting in the lobby. Wrecking Ball developed the installation using web standards and built a custom CMS to manage the assets. The result was a beautiful, 3D, abstract object with each point in the object representing a different patent. Users can rotate the 3D object easily to browse patents. Wrecking Ball fine tuned the project with an original, visually stunning interface putting Adobe’s patents in the spotlight at Adobe's main headquarters!


Learn more about Wrecking Ball's patent installation at the Adobe Patent Innovation page.


One aspect of creating an interactive kiosk is the experience when no one is using the device. Similar to the “attract mode” or “idle mode” of arcade games, our interactive kiosks have a similar idle experience. We have the option to show a video, show part of the main interaction, or cycle to a title screen with a call to action like “touch here to begin.” Everything is scripted using one or more looping timers and anything is possible.

Wrecking Ball had a great idea for a "idle mode" when asked to help Adobe define their Adobe Youth Voices program digitally. The new platform for Adobe Youth Voices launched with the #withMalala campaign, hosted by The Malala Fund. The interactive kiosk that Wrecking Ball built for #withMalala displayed global artwork aimed to incite social change. The idle mode of this kiosk was an elegant screensaver with scaling circles smoothly animating to look like a rising sun catching the eye of anyone who walked by the screen.

malala1 malala2 malala3

Learn more about Wrecking Ball's #withMalala platform at the Project 1324 page.

If you are interested in learning more about interactive kiosks or large scale, interactive touch screens, send us an email at

Self Compiling Go Docker Container

Todd Rafferty - Senior Software Architect This blog post was written by Todd Rafferty, Senior Software Architect at Wrecking Ball Studio + Labs. Todd has over 15 years experience in Software Engineering and has been working on bringing Docker and Go to our standard Wrecker toolbox.

Imagine a self contained development environment that could detect that there's a file change on my file system, kill an existing Go binary, rebuild the Go binary, and then, launch a new process.


Setting up a docker container that self compiles my Go source upon changes, within a local development environment, helped myself and colleagues iterate faster. I am a remote engineer with a mix of other disciplines on my team that are new to the language. The goal was to make a reproducible, development environment that was extremely productive for both ends of the spectrum. Enter docker. With docker and docker-compose, I can build, tear down, and recreate the entire development environment with single command, but could it be smarter? Could it be used to automate the tedious? Could it be reproduced across other developer machines?

After learning docker and trying various approaches, I came across Reflex which wraps fsnotify. My approach was to get things working outside of the container first to understand how everything works, then move the pieces into a container and get it working. Outside of the container, I could get reflex to listen to file changes on any Go files within a directory. However, within a container I ran into limitations. I determined that it would be more performant to listen to the changes of 1 file than the entire sub-directories of potential matches.

So, what we'll need as I guide you through this:

  • Some Linux knowledge. Familiarity with bash scripting.
  • Docker experience. Familiarity with the docker and docker-compose tools.
  • New docker beta. This is important because it's using the native virtualization engine of the operating system instead of relying on virtualbox. Just trust me. It's faster this way.
  • Understanding of Go. Familiarity with Go environment, compiling, and coding.
  • golang on dockerhub
  • Reflex which uses fsnotify internally.
  • Please note, I’ve tested this on OSX. I haven’t tested this on linux / windows, sorry!

Please note, everything you're about to read is for local development environments. This isn't meant to be a deployment strategy or for production usage.


First, we need a Go environment within a docker container. Fortunately, there's one already available to us on dockerhub. For this post, we'll be using the alpine distro because it's super small, but there is a debian based one available as well. There are no changes needed to switch between distros. Within the docker container, the $GOPATH is `/go` which means the Go environment is right on the root path of the server.

We need more on this container though because while it has the Go environment on it, it doesn't have everything we need to watch for file changes within our project. This is where reflex comes in. Reflex is a small program that is written in Go that will notice changes on our local file system and kick off a shell script within the docker container for us.

Base Dockerfile:

# Pull the golang version.
FROM golang:1.7-alpine
# Fix the DNS issue, this happens at raff's house.
RUN echo 'hosts: files [NOTFOUND=return] dns' >> /etc/nsswitch.conf
# Setup reflex env
ENV REFLEXSHA dee8f77fac8c873c709117df6ebe4467fc9f57ed3339105d308f787e9b94059c
# Install reflex
RUN wget -q "$REFLEXURL" -O reflex &&\
    echo "$REFLEXSHA reflex" | sha256sum -c &&\
    chmod +x /go/bin/reflex

Here is a brief explanation of what's going on in this Dockerfile. We're pulling `golang:1.7-alpine`, downloading a pre-built version of reflex. We’re avoiding building reflex on the container itself to make sure we have a reproducible environment and to avoid `go get` issues.

This is a pretty good base image. Each project we work on is probably going to be different in terms of path and configuration. My recommendation is to keep this base image lean so you can use this for different project configurations. The above has already been provided for you on [dockerhub].


We did a lot of simplification above, and that base image has been built, tagged, and pushed to dockerhub. The above dockerfile is documented in case you want to make modifications to the base image and put it within your own docker hub environment.

FROM wbsl/go:1.7
ENV TOOLS /go/_tools
# Make directories and add files as needed
RUN mkdir -p $TOOLS
ADD reflex.conf $TOOLS
RUN chmod +x $TOOLS/
# Execute reflex.
CMD ["reflex","-c","/go/_tools/reflex.conf"]

Breaking down the above dockerfile, we’re pulling the base image `FROM wbsl/go:1.7rc6` that was created above. We're setting environment variables and setting a port to 8080. Creating a `/go/_tools` directory and then adding our `` and `reflex.conf` to that directory. So, let's pause here for a second. This entire environment depends on reflex kicking off a build script for us.

Here's the content of ``:

set -e
echo "[ binary]"
cd $BUILDPATH && go build -o /servicebin && rm -rf /tmp/*
echo "[ binary]"

`` is removing a previous binary, if there is one. It's going to do a change directory into the `$BUILDPATH` defined in the environment/dockerfile. It's going to `go build -o` another binary into our `$BUILDPATH`, clean-up the `/tmp` directory afterwards to keep the container size down, and finally, it's going to execute the binary.

Let's take a quick look at `reflex.conf` file that reflex is going to use as a configuration.

-sr '\.build$' -- sh -c '/go/_tools/'

Reflex is going to run as a service, and if a file named `.build` has changed, run the `` script. We're very close to starting this up. We're just missing a sample Go file to modify.

Basic `main.go` example:

package main

import (

func handler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
        fmt.Fprintf(w, "Hello World!")

func main() {
        // Get the port from the OS ENV.
        port := ":" + os.Getenv("PORT")
        http.HandleFunc("/", handler)
        log.Printf("\nApplication now listening on %v\n", port)
        http.ListenAndServe(port, nil)

So, we're done setting up the necessary scripts and configurations for the development environment within the container. There’s only one thing left to do and that’s create a post save hook outside of this container.


Our editor needs to have a post save hook and most editors have one. Sublime Editor has sublime-hooks, Vim users can use auto run upon save. I personally use Atom Editor with a plugin called on-save. The on-save requires me to have a file in the root of the project named `.on-save.json` with the following content:

    "srcDir": ".",
    "destDir": ".",
    "files": "**/*.go",
    "command": "echo $(date) - ${srcFile} > .build"

So, `srcDir` / `destDir` - I pretty much ignore and set to the current directory. `files` tells it to listen to listen to save changes made on `*.go` files. If a `*.go` file is changed, it kicks off a shell command:

echo $(date) - ${srcFile} > .build

Which is basically writing the current date and the file changed (e.g. `Wed Aug 17 13:35:20 EDT 2016 - main.go`) in a file named `.build`.

Something worth noting at this point. If you'd rather manually control the reloading of the Go building / relaunching, there's nothing in the process stopping you from deciding when the container is going to rebuild everything internally. Perhaps you’re ok with bringing down the environment and bringing it back up to rebuild. Find what works best for you.


I have a sample `docker-compose.yml` in the project that will get you up and running pretty quickly. Again, I want to be as close to real world scenario as possible and that means that I may have an API server, a database server, memcache, etc. Docker Compose allows us to describe an environment and get it up pretty quickly.

With a terminal open, and the working directly in the root of the project, let’s launch the environment by typing `docker-compose up`. Here’s an animated gif showing what we should be seeing.

Animated Gif Displaying Docker-Compose up

The terminal is on the right hand side, the environment is coming up. Within the environment, it runs `` which removes the previous Go binary, rebuilds it, and relaunches it. On the left, a change is made within Atom. The post save hook kicks in when the file is saved which creates `.build`. Back on the right, the environment running reflex detects the change to `.build` and kicks off `` which removes the previous Go binary, rebuilds it, and relaunches it.

We're ready to build some awesome stuff now. 🙂


I believe maintaining a reproducible, local developer environment across team members is critical. However, if you can’t update the local environment as features and fixes are available, across the team with multiple disciplines, then having a docker container that self builds the environment could be an effective solution that saves your team time. In some cases, developers on the team might not have the expertise to update their local environment properly or may need to try a version of code and then roll it back. Finding a solution to solve this problem is important, especially when the diversity of disciplines on the team increases over time.

Project notes:

I'd like to thank:

Mobile Changes Everything

Are you looking to go Mobile first? Are you waiting for the shift to happen? Well, if you are waiting, you might be too late. Why? Because it's already happened! Marketers are no longer asking "if" they should invest in Mobile but rather "how" they should invest? People is investing more and more ever year in mobile devices, they want things they can take with them, including portable digital wallets the ones in this Ledger Nano S vs Trezor review. Every year there are trillions of searches on and over half of those searches happen on mobile. Learn more about the latest ads and analytics innovations designed to grow your business in a mobile-first world.

Creating a Successful eLearning Platform

The global eLearning market has an estimated compound annual growth rate of approximately 25.2%. Back in 2012, the worldwide market for mobile learning products and services reached a total of $5.3 billion. The global eLearning market expects to reach $107 billion by 2016. With numbers like these, it's easy to see how profitable the eLearning market can be for thoughtful brands.

Wrecking Ball created Adobe Education Exchange, an education-based, eLearning community for the tech giant. The site features a large collection of educational resources to help instructors bring creativity into classrooms of all ages. Today it has gained a great deal of success with 55% of its members having participated in some sort of professional development activity. The Adobe Education Exchange's current catalog includes over 12,533 eLearning assets that have been viewed over 13.7 million times to date.

In this post, we will share with you key learnings from creating a successful, large-scale, eLearning platform.

Make search the star

By far the most critical feature of an eLearning platform is the ability to easily search through all available content. More than likely, you will have various courses/media/content in multiple categories. Without a good search feature, the site becomes cumbersome for a user looking to browse a website with lots of content. So having an easy and accessible search function is essential for the platform’s success.

edex02This is why Wrecking Ball gave Adobe's Education Exchange search top priority when redesigning the homepage. The old page's design had "search" positioned out of the way and was not nearly as intuitive. By styling the search as a sentence and adding additional functionality to make it easier for the user, we made it simple to drill down to the exact criteria needed for a more qualified and refined search.

Keep the design simple

Another key factor is design. The design of an eLearning platform needs to be simple. While the design of the platform is important, it is not meant to draw all of the user's attention. The real purpose however, is to make it easier for users to find, discover, and interact with all of platform's content.

edex03Wrecking Ball used a flat design style consisting of light grays, while blue's were used for links and buttons to draw the user's attention. Cards were used to display courses, programs, and discussions. While the core sections were consolidated onto the homepage as opposed to separating them into individual, bulky pages.

Make an eLearning Reward System

edex04Creating a reward system is an excellent way to keep users interested in your platform by acknowledging their work and overall platform engagement. A badge can be given for a variety of accomplishments including the completion of a course and various other platform activities. The user's badges live on their profile so other platform users can see their accomplishments. Seeing others receive rewards for their achievements encourages other users to become even more involved.

Wrecking Ball took the reward system further by adding the ability to earn points. With a point system, users are encouraged to continue to add relevant data to their public profile so they can earn more points. This is an excellent way to keep users engaged and their profiles up to date.

Create a community

Today, social media is by far the most popular way for everyone to interact on the Internet. As humans, we are drawn to interactive communities. Building an interactive community is an excellent strategy for increasing audience and the popularity of your eLearning platform.

The community created by Wrecking Ball for Adobe Education Exchange also shares interaction design elements from Facebook and Twitter. Users can choose to follow each other and follow educators. They can also customize their profiles to further establish their identity and discuss eLearning topics in the discussion area of the platform.

The Future of UI Design and Its Impacts on Everday Life

Science fiction often influences the world of technology by showing us the impossible. Today's iPad is essentially the tablet computer from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Back to the Future II in 1989 got a lot right about the technology of 2015, now people use tablet and computers in their daily life to work, and play games with the help of csgo boost guide they can find online. In fact, the man who invented the world’s first flip phone, the Motorola Star-Tac, was inspired by the Star Trek communicator.

The future is definitely exciting when it comes to innovations in technology and  in many ways, the future is already here! In this article we will review examples of how future UI design will impact our everyday lives.

Gesture Interfaces

Tom Cruz in Minority Report. © 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Tom Cruz in Minority Report. © 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

The most memorable futuristic user interfaces were shown in the Minority Report and Iron Man. These interfaces are the work of inventor John Underkoffler. He says the feedback loop between science fiction and reality is accelerating with every new summer blockbuster. He goes on to say, "there’s an openly symbiotic relationship between science fiction and the technology we use in real life. The interface is the OS - they are one."

In the video above, view a real-life demonstration of the futuristic user interfaces as seen in Minority Report. You can see how simple hand gestures can perform complex operations. Now imagine playing video games with such capabilities!

Light Ring

LightRing from Microsoft Research uses infrared to detect finger motion and a gyroscope to determine orientation, and it can turn any surface into an interface. You can tap, draw, flick and drag on a book, your knee, or the wall. For now, the interaction is with only one finger, but still provides a really attractive and natural looking way for user gestures.

This technology puts wearable computing to a whole new level! Imagine controlling your device anywhere and any way you choose. As shown in the video, the nature of using this technology is similar to using a mouse, so we are already familiar with how the product works.

Room Alive

RoomAlive is Microsoft Research's follow-up to IllumiRoom, which was presented at CES 2012. Both are steps towards a "this-is-our-house-now" Kinect future. The new system goes beyond projection mapping around a TV by adding input-output pixels on top of everything in the room. RoomAlive uses multiple depth cameras and spatially mapped projectors to overlay an interactive screen from which there is no escape.

Imagine “real-life” video games that transform your living room into the world of the game. Or imagine virtual home decoration, projecting your vision of what you want to rearrange or add to your home's decor.

Skin Buttons

The Skin Buttons project uses miniature projectors to display interactive icons on the skin around the watch face. This technology expands the interactive zone around a smartwatch without making it physically bigger. The projector parts cost less than $2 and can even increase battery life by shifting workload from the main display.


The FlexSense is a transparent sheet of plastic, but its embedded piezoelectric sensors detect exactly what shape it's in. This allows for all kinds of intuitive, paper-like interactions. For example, flipping up a corner to reveal something underneath, toggling layers in maps or drawings.

Imagine cell phone cases that react as you peel the cover. Or interactive books or children's books that react as you turn a page.


HaptoMime uses ultrasound to create tactile feedback in midair, so you feel like you're touching a hovering image when there’s nothing there at all. It’s produced by a hidden LCD and an angled transmissive mirror. This technology has massive potential for any public display.

Zero UI

Zero UI isn't a new idea. If you've ever used an Amazon Echo, changed a channel by waving at a Microsoft Kinect, or setup a Nest thermostat, you've already used a device that could be considered part of Goodman's Zero UI thinking. It's all about getting away from the touchscreen, and interfacing with the devices around us in more natural ways. With methods such as haptics, computer vision, voice control, and artificial intelligence, Zero UI represents a whole new dimension for designers.

As these technologies become more intuitive and natural for the new generation of users, we will be treated to a more immersive computing experience that will continually test our ability to digest the flood of knowledge they have to share. The potential for change is both overwhelming and exciting for future user interfaces and it’s definitely something to look forward to when new technologies and ground breaking products come to market.

The Hard Truth About Website Speed

The time it takes for a page to load is an important part of any user experience. However there are times when you might choose to sacrifice load times in order to accommodate a better aesthetic design, new functionality or add more content to web pages. Unfortunately, website visitors care more about page loading times than an epic user experience. Also, website load times are becoming even more important when it comes to search engine rankings and mobile usage. Mobile visitors expect websites to load instantly, while using the slower speeds of mobile networks.


  • Nearly half of users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less
  • Additionally, they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds
  • 79% of users who have trouble with performance say they won’t return
  • 44% of users would tell a friend if they had a poor experience

Site Analysis Tools

Are you interested in finding out how long it takes for your website to load? There are several free tools available. These tools report the number of requests, file sizes, and server response speed of your pages. Some even provide suggestions on how to improve your load times.

Ensuring fast load times

At Wrecking Ball, we go out of our way to ensure the platforms we build for our clients are optimized for fast load times. Our hosted content is delivered through Amazon’s high-speed AWS Cloud Hosting. Our CSS is optimized by the leading preprocessor, Sass. In the backend, such features as gzip compression and caching are enabled. Those are just some of our many practices for bringing down the loading time of our websites and applications.

Further reading