For years now, conference organizers and meeting planners have been promised the Virtual Reality Big Rock Candy Mountain, a magical place where you just push a button and seamlessly send your in-house meeting registration and requirements to a hotel or CVB housing service. Everything is easy, and the hotels and CVBs pick up the tab.

Well, it hasn't happened yet, and a lot of it won't ever happen. At METCON, the meeting technology conference put on by the American Society of Association Executives and the Professional Convention Management Association, I found myself feeling sorry for hoteliers who have invested big money in Plansoft/Ajenis and Meetings Exchange only to see release dates pushed back and planner frustration rise and interest diminish [see news story, page 15].

One big problem is getting all parties to agree on communication standards. There were brave words at METCON about the Unity Team, made up of the various meeting planning and association management associations, getting together with the CVB and convention center groups to hammer out an agreement, but these are the same folks who still can't agree on a common first page for hotel contracts.

Another big problem is figuring out who is going to finance and reap the benefits of a communication system that everyone can use. Let's invent for a moment: Imagine there is no federal highway system. Now imagine that Ohio is bidding on building the whole thing, and plans to make I-20, I-40, I-80, etc. all toll roads. It's not gonna fly, is it? There has to be a federal highway commission, and maybe the rich states will pay for most of it because they'll get the most benefit, but no one state makes all the money, and no state is penalized because it can't afford tolls.

Thus, A Modest Proposal: Meeting organizers and planners, not hotel companies, and not software developers, should be the ones to oversee the development of communication standards. It will be difficult work, not only because the average CMP isn't up on communication protocols, but also because planners already have jobs that require their full attention. Maybe the big meeting organizations will have to donate some "citizen soldiers" for the cause. To paraphrase Jefferson, maybe the Tree of Information needs watering with the Red Ink of meeting planning organizations.

By all means, let the hotel companies and CVBs participate too, to provide a reality check (no promises about offering room availability). But let the planners sweat the details, and also pick up the check. It will be a lot better than having everyone stand around bleating, "Tell me what to buy."

"Four years ago I went to a seminar on meeting software, expecting to find The Answer to my meeting planning problems," says independent planner Earlene Hill, CMP, of Hill Management Concepts, St. Louis. "That experience taught me that there just isn't any easy ave-

nue. Technology is hard. You have to do your own research and find your own answers."

Right on, Earlene. To the barricades!