How a Prestigious Information Security Event Evolved Into a Digital Conference Session

The Virus Bulletin Conference has a simple mission each year: to unite the masterminds of the cybersecurity industry from all around the world during a 3 day event held at a new location each year. 

Year 2020 forced them to pick a location even they didn’t see coming: everybody’s home. VB2020 localhost was the first carbon free, virtual conference in their history of more than 30 years of events.

By combining different platforms we created a unique solution which helped Virus Bulletin achieve great success and resulted in an amazing conference atmosphere for everybody who attended. 

The Virus Bulletin 2020 localhost

Context / Challenge

Project Background & Description

Virus Bulletin is the organiser of the annual VB conference, the premier event for malware researchers, threat intelligence experts and cybersecurity professionals, held at a different location each year.

Given the COVID-19 situation in 2020, Virus Bulletin was forced to hold this great event in the online space to provide a safe, and socially distanced solution while still providing invaluable information to the experts of the industry. 

In order to stay safe, give a chance for people from all around the globe to tune in, keep the good atmosphere and create a virtual stage for presenters, Virus Bulletin decided to create VB localhost, their first ever online conference platform.

The Problem

COVID-19 first appeared in the early months of 2020 and took the entire world by surprise. People not only had to change their everyday lives but the virus created situations we could not even fathom for organizations too.

One of the many things this pandemic totally re-shaped (at least for now) worldwide is the way conferences and events are being held. With the bans on travel and other restrictions, you either go online or go (stay) home. 

Now they not only faced the problem of providing the same lively, amazing atmosphere as they provided every year. The concept of doing everything over a live streaming platform was a steep learning curve for everyone. 

Creating an amazing conference platform in a short amount of time  was not the only problem we faced. Virus Bulletin as a brand had a traditional identity that didn’t translate well to the louder, modern and vibrant online space we were aiming to create.

Why Choose Custom Development?

Our client did a lot of research and weighed a the platform alternatives before settling on custom development.

Every off-the-shelf solution had limitations, ranging all the way from noticeably annoying bugs to immensely high costs. After browsing through several templates presenting some 3D virtual reality garbage with no flexibility they made a decision.

The essentials should be executed flawlessly, and templates just won’t do the trick.

In order to have complete flexibility and total control over the project, our client decided to partner up with us.

Project Goals and Objectives

Creating the right visual elements.

As a first step we had to create an identity for VB localhost that will serve as a basis for everything conference related, starting from mugs to the conference website.

The approach to the online event we took was divided into two phases: 

1. Teaser Website

The goal of the teaser website was to function as a lead magnet that generates registrations in an automated way with the help of strong social media marketing in the background.

2. Conference Platform

We built this to be the podium of the 3 day live event and it had two main purposes: 

  • Provide an easily understandable schedule for the three days
  • Provide access to all the on demand content of the hosts of presentations

Delivering a great conference experience virtually was one of the key challenges.

Creating the online platform was not the last challenge we faced. Attendees registered all across the globe, from Japan to the US and we had to make sure that we are able to handle all the traffic at once. We also had to provide blazing fast load times no matter where our visitor comes from.

Our choice was CloudFlare which provided CDN and caching around the world and security on top of all that.

Planning & Research

1. Customer Engagement

Peter (Head of Testing for Virus Bulletin) first approached us in March and presented the situation and we discussed the requirements of the project. We evaluated the deliverables and the deadline and realized we had to start acting really quickly if we wanted to have a chance to make the deadline which was the end of September.

2. Evaluation

Going through the specification and working closely with Peter we managed to get a clear picture about the goal and deliverable of the project. We also identified the possible dificulties early on which played a key role in being to deliver everything on time.

3. Research

We always focus on delivering the best results possible for our clients and Virus Bulletin was of course no exception. Proper market research is an absolute must in our books to know what other similar businesses are doing both wrong and right. We always try to learn from other people’s successes and mistakes in order to provide excellent service to our clients.

We took a look around and tried to learn how other organizations solved the problem of online conferences this year and tried to put together the best possible solution for VB2020.

4. Brainstorming

After we got a clear picture about our client’s business, goals and competitors we put our heads together and discussed potential stacks, platforms and solutions together with our team as a form of workshop.

5. Strategy Planning

Having put together a technical plan to we identified they key milestones and deadlines we have to meet which were the following:

1. Creating the Conference Identity
2. Creating the Teaser Website
3. Creating the Conference Website

Execution

6. Prototyping

From ideas to wireframes. We sketched a rough prototype first with pen and paper just to visualize some prototypes.

7. Content Creation

Our client was well prepared with content so we only had to sync this during the UX/UI phase of the project. WordPress then provided an excellent and convenient way to upload it directly to the website.

8. UI/UX Design

Together with our design team we came up with two approaches to the two different parts of the website. Build a kick-ass landing page called “Teaser” with the purpose of converting as many visitors into future attendants as possible. Building a portal for the livestream and the video content of the event called “Conference”.

9. Development

With rapid feedback rounds from our Client and extremely fast turnarounds from our designer team who were working around the clock to make deadlines we managed to start development earlier than expected which played a crucial role in the timely completion of the project. 

We started developing the Teaser website once the UI was finalized while our designers could continue to work on the Conference website. We ended up doing two week sprints with our developer team and managed to complete the teaser site in just 3 sprints while the conference took a little more effort than 5 sprints together.

Finishing steps

10. Testing & QA

While developing I have no doubts about everybody holding themselves to the highest standards possible at Splendex but since we are talking about software development it’s inevitable that some things don’t work or look properly out of the box.

Initially we faced more design issues than we expected so we doubled down on quality assurance.

11. Delivery

We were asked to deliver the website 2 weeks prior to the start of the conference which was on the 30th of September. This gave the Virus Bulletin team enough time to prepare and upload all the content.

We succeeded and managed to complete everything on time!

12. Tracking & Monitoring

Since our task was to ensuring everything runs smoothly during the entire conference and every visitor has great experience, we were constantly monitoring performance and page load times globally.

The Solution

New Brand Identity: VB2020 Localhost

Virus Bulletin is a well-known organization among IT security professionals so we knew not to do a complete brand make-over. Rather we focused on giving it a refreshed look while still keeping some parts of the organization’s original identity.

New colors 

New logo

Teaser Website – Generating Registrations 24/7

For the success of the conference we had to come up with a website that looks really good in the new brand’s colors, looks appealing to visitors who might be interested in the conference and holds all the relevant information about the upcoming conference.

Not only was it a challenge to combine these but we were absolutely tight on time. Each day the planning, design or development consumed was a day Virus Bulletin could have used to generate registrations.

We decided to focus on two pages.

1. Landing page

All the critical information was present about the conference right upon entering the site, without having to scroll down. A neat countdown also helped in knowing how much time is left until the start of the conference.

On this page people could learn a bit more about Virus Bulletin as an organization. Anyone could browse through the presentations that will take place during the conference. 

2. Registration page

The real action happens here. Everyone who attended the conference visited this page and filled out this form so we knew it has to be simple, short and easy to understand.

To Virus Bulletin, integration straight to their system played a really important role in flawlessly handling registrations. We made sure everything was connected to their internal database.

Conference Platform

The goal was to create something totally different than the Teaser website. This part of the project was not about sales or generating registrations. It was all about providing video content for those who attended the conference itself.

The Conference Platform symbolized the big conference room with the stage and the speaker in the middle of it. Just as you would have in a physical conference, visitors could instantly see who is currently speaking.

This concept and atmosphere of the conference we had to translate to a website. Our goal was to make it as easily accessible as possible so the user could tune in to the livestream with one click.

We decided to go with a wide layout with the navigation on the left side and the rest of the content on the right. The actual day and the livestream (if available) already selected and ready to be played.

With just a quick scroll down, the schedule of any of the 3 days can be viewed.

While the livestream was obviously the main attraction we had to make sure users can easily access On Demand videos, and recordings of previous days. For this we used a video library with a well laid-out presentation page. Further information this page included the speaker and some extra downloadable materials.

Discord Integration

To try and re-create the fantastic feeling of being around like-minded people there was a chat along the live broadcast so people could chat about various topics connected to presentations. Or just simply have fun, post memes and enjoy themselves. After all a conference should be fun too!

To make this happen in such a short space of time, we chose the well-known communication platform Discord. On this Discord server the team of Virus Bulletin created different chat rooms for different topics.

It was a huge success, people were constantly discussing different topics, having some laughs and making new friends even in these difficult times around the world.

The Results

Project done from start to finish in under 3 months

Our delivery policy was simple. We simply had to deliver on time. No other way around it, since the conference was set to start on the 30th of September from the beginning.

We were asked to deliver at least 2 weeks prior to the conference. This was a request so Virus Bulletin team had enough time to upload everything.

We managed to hit both deadlines, first delivery was done 2 weeks before the conference. By the time the conference started everything came together and we had nothing to do other than to wait for the attendees to arrive.

3000+ attendants

Given that VB2020: Localhost was the first of its kind for Virus Bulletin, nobody knew what to expect.

Despite being on uncharted territory the final numbers exceeded the expectations. 2020’s special conference turned out to be the one with the most visitors yet.

69+ presentations

In just three days Virus Bulletin provided an enormous number of topics and presenters for those who participated. With close to 70 different presentations everybody could choose from a wide variety of topics.

0 minutes of downtime

We were not only responsible for brand identity creation, UX research, UI design and development but for creating the proper architecture for the website to run on.

People don’t have a lot of positive things to say when it comes to WordPress and performance but we believe with the right setup, WordPress can really be a solution for even a massive amount of visitors coming on all at once.

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