One of my favorite web 2.0 technologies is the webinar. When you work at a company and not a University, with constant seminars, it gets a bit harder to hop on a bus and travel across town to learn about new things. Webinars are a good way to fill that gap. I grab my coffee cup, put on my headphones, and I get to listen to someone tell me about their work for an hour and show slides over the web. It's nice.
Our company is even going to be involved in two webinars in the next two months. One of us is giving an Illumina webinar tomorrow on managing Next Generation Sequencing data. A description of the webinar and digital gene expression workflows is here.
Next month, yours truly will be assisting (if needed) in a science education webinar on cloning novel plant genes and using bioinformatics to sort out good and bad data and figure out what you've cloned. You can register for that one here.
Preferring webinars over conferences highlights a crucial misunderstanding of how people work. It's the same discussion as telecommuting for work versus commuting to an office. The main value of a conference is the discussions between the talks, not the talks themselves. The talks are just an excuse. The main value of an office is not the building itself, it's the exchange of ideas between people working on highly divergent and innovative services that need coordination, tasks that cannot be planned beforehand.
I guess you are well aware of this. So I guess you agree that a webinar is something completely different than a real conference with a much lower value but also with less investment of time and nerves. I just felt like I had to add it to your post...
I wouldn't say that I prefer webinars. I like them because of their convenience. Many scientists and instructors, like me, work outside of Universities and can't attend seminars very easily. For me to attend an hour-long seminar, for example means 2 or more hours away from work, depending on traffic and the ease of parking. If I were to ride my bike or take a bus, I'd need 3 hours.
Webinars, like distance learning, are an alternative that I really appreciate.