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It’s Friday afternoon and after one month at George P. Johnson, I thought it was time I got around to blogging.  What has tempted me out of my fishbowl office to tweet you ask yourself?

In a word,

It is pretty much impossible to talk about digital experience, social media etc. in a client context without mentioning the word Twitter.  It is now pretty much synoymous with all current “new type web2.0 stuff technology that is moving so fast it’s like holding jelly in my fingers whilst sitting on the wing of a jumbo jet in a snowstorm”.  For any event, physical or virtual the question comes up.  Do we tweet?  Will anyone else tweet?  How should we tweet?  Will people like us if we tweet or think we are the emporor with no clothes.  (OK I made that last one up, but I’m guessing that’s what some people must wonder).

There are lots of ways you might choose to use twitter at an event, but today, thanks to Michael Martine of Dogear-Nation, I saw a great website that has lots of potential for making your tweetstream event friendly: visible tweets

visible tweets screenshot

You simply select a term or terms to follow and the visible tweets starts displaying them.  It has 3 different types of visualisation (rotating is shown above).  It even has the option to go fullscreen.

One  nice addition would be the ability to follow a particular user, which would make it even more event friendly, by taking out the risk of rude spam.

Two other tools deserve a worthy mention in the Cool Twitter tools category at the moment too.  They are both quite similar and could be used in a number of ways for events:  PeopleBrowsr and Tweetdeck.  Both tools display terms you want to follow in virtual columns, allowing you to follow a number of different threads/memes at once.  From an experience perspective, both have various facilities to customise the interface (colours, font etc.)  The main difference is PeopleBrowsr is web-based and has more extra functions than you can shake a stick at, whilst tweetdeck is a bit simpler and requires a download, but then kinda sits in the background tempting you to type just one more Tweet.

Peoplebrowsr 09 2009-05-15 16.53

I finally got around to trying out Twitpic using my Blackberry’s (not very good) camera. You can see the results here.  I currently have a picture of Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant in Kingston from my office window, and a shot of my new business cards (I could be dangerous now!) – not quite moocards, but hey you can’t have everything.  I have to toe some of the party line now although I did break ranks and ask to have my blog, Second Life name, Linked In address and of course given this Blog post, Twitter account, on the back 🙂

One final honorable mention goes to another Twitter tool I came across as I stumbled into a twitter conversation whilst using my Blackberry on the train home yesterday is Tweetchat.  Tweetchat effectively turns Twitter into an Instant Messaging tool, allowing you easy group chatting around a topic, which stays in the twitterstream once you’re done for everyone elses benefit.

Tweetchat

As I still work for an American company, that’s my 2 cents for the day.  Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter here:  http://www.twitter.com/kevinaires.  And of course this blog post will auto tweet there once I press the publish button.

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Here at IBM, we receive many requests from academics interested in virtual worlds research, about our work in Second Life and other virtual environments.  For some time, we’ve been wondering what to do with these requests, as there are generally many more than we can field, but yet we’d love to engage.  So…. we’ve decided to use our own (new!) Lotus Connections community tools platform, to setup a community for anyone interested in engaging with IBM and their academic peers.  The idea being, that many of the requests we receive have similar themes, so by forming a community we can ensure that we don’t all reinvent the wheel and we can all address the big topics that are bubbling to the surface.

Bear with us… 

  • the tool itself is new (read Beta!)
  • it’s early days for us in deciding how best to “run” this community
  • it’s probably me that will have to go in and approve your request 🙂

However, rather than waiting for ages and navel-gaze as to the answers and issues above, we thought we’d be ibm2.0 about it and get the thing running and see what happens!  🙂

So consider this a very soft and quiet “launch”.  If you want to come and play:

  1. Register for an IBM ID.  You’ll need to use an “academic” email address from your academic institution so that we can verify you are an academic.
  2. Request to join the community.
  3. Fill our your profile so people know who you are.
  4. Get collaborating!

Please let us know how we can make it better too!

So… if it becomes something people find useful and is a “success”, we’ll make a bit more of a hoo ha about it, you never know, we might even do a proper launch!  🙂

I am keen proponent of using virtual worlds like Second Life for virtual meetings.  The benefits of being able to quickly meet up, use spatial VoIP speech chat with people all over the world will eventually mean that many events take place solely “in-world”.  My personal view is that in when viewed through the lens of ROI, many real conferences will die within the next 10-15 years.  The normal argument, that real events are so much better because you can look people in the eye, and the coffee is better are OK, but in-reality I think some of this is motivated by wanting a day out of the office, and yes the coffee IS better.

So, whilst the social factors and the technology catch-up, there is still going to be the need for real meetings and conferences in the meantime. Unless of course they’re all cancelled by the credit crunch accountants 😉

Like others though (David Burden of Daden for example has a great post  on this:), I and our team have been exploring ways of adding value to conferences and meetings using virtual worlds and web2.0 technologies.  Things like using Twitter as a backchannel, and using social networking tools to allow delegates to network before, during and after the conference, so they use their time more effectively are great ways to improve the event experience.

David also mentions simultaneously running a virtual track where sessions take place in a virtual environment too.  This can be further improved by streaming audio or video one or both ways.  In practice though, it’s quite a lot of effort to do this and you are frequently at the mercy of the wireless or wired network at your conference venue, as I found to my cost recently.  For “new media” type of conferences, where folk are familiar with the technology and fault tolerant when things go wrong, this is fine, but for many others, the risks are too high.  Even using Twitter is a new concept still to many never mind a virtual world!

At the event

So… how DO you use virtual worlds to add value to mainstream conferences and events? First rule, as ever, is keep it simple.  At a few conferences that IBM has hosted or attended, I have manned a pedestal, showcasing our Virtual Business Center and Virtual Green Data Center.  I also have a high-resolution video tour of these on hand in case of network issues.  At the very least these add some nice eye-candy and a conversation starter, which is half the battle on a trade stand, and seeing as pretty much every man and his dog in IBM has tried some kind of virtual worlds project, we can demo something relating to whatever topic the conference might be about, at least loosely.  Used well, these can start real business discussions.  I was pleasantly suprised that at the Green IT Expo this week, I had many conversations with people

At the Rational Developers conference I also facilitated a virtual Grady Booch to be able to present to the real audience in the auditorium, with mixed results (i.e. it started well and then was scotched by the venue LAN!  😦 – i.e. it wasn’t actually a Second Life problem per se, more a problem of running a live virtual anything – see risk comments above).  I was aware that this might happen, and had tried to de-riske the possibility by having a backup video of the presentation that was running in parrallel that we could switch to, although in the event one of the other speakers picked up the baton and carried on.  Having the backup video also meant that I didn’t need to try and record the talk live (i.e. lower risk) and I could simply make the pre-recorded talk available to the AV company for editing into the highlights video.

Post Event (and possibly Pre)

One area I think virtual worlds CAN really add value is in followup virtual events.  Having met everyone physically at the event or conference, participants now have a shared experience of a real event, which gives them something in common, and also have a memory of the people they met.  These two factors can be used to try and continue to gel these people into a community using subsequent virtual events – e.g. “meet the expert” type Q&A events.  People have a memory of the people they met, which anecdotally tends to improve the quality of subsequent virtual meetings – as Roo Reynolds recently noted:

“we may build relationships online but it’s hard to start them that way. “

These kind of smaller, more frequent virtual events can allow an extension of an event in a very cost effective way that would’ve been more or less impossible before.

Add to this the option of steaming the virtual event on-line for the high proportion of people that will not yet be ready to dip their toes into virtuality, and it means that everyone can take part.

This is also potentially a great way to qualify people’s interest for an invitation to a real event.  I have heard stories recently of expensive, poorly attended events.  By running cheap pre-events, possibly using virtual worlds or even just a conference call or web-ex, you should be able to get some sense of who might come to a real event.

At the recent Virtual Worlds Forum event, the organisers hit a major problem where the planned venue was closed due to an unrelated shooting the night before.  I quickly setup a virtual “refugee camp” for displaced avatars, which, given the available time, was quite successful, demonstrating how quick and easy it can be to run fully virtual events, when your participants are up on the technology.

Why are virtual worlds conferences held in the real world?

This is the frequently repeated and obvious joke.  Ironically however, the virtual worlds industry is probably going to be the last one to hold it’s conferences in a virtual world as choosing a virtual world to hold it in, is a highly political decision as many potential attendees run their own platforms!

I just finished an interesting exercise in social networking from web2.0 to web3.0…  I posted on Twitter, that I was offering to take folk on a tour of our Virtual Green Data Center in Second Life. I currently have 129 followers on Twitter, so that offer pinged out to them, and Erica Driver of the innovation community site, Thinkbalm, accepted.

We setup a meeting and have just shown Erica and Sam Driver around (nice name badges!).  We had a good discussion around how we are using this to promote IBM’s green capabilities to our clients.  One major theme that came out was that these environments offer opportunities to show things that would be very hard to demonstrate in other ways, or are just much more compelling and memorable than the alternatives.  Thanks for visiting Erica!

Ironically, my PC crashed as I had the radiator on, just as I’d been talking about water cooling in IBM servers!  Perhaps my room needs a rear door heat exchanger on!?

If anyone else would like a tour, drop me a line: airesk@uk.ibm.com

Have been increasingly concerned about the phenomenon mentioned at last years Virtual Worlds Forum by Cory Doctorow where social networking sites become less and less useful as you pick up more and more “friends” that aren’t really your friends.  This is especially true when your boss asks to be your friend – what are you gonna do, say no?

At the moment, I am mainly using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for social networking.  An old friend of mine recently posted a video from a fun event we went to showing me dancing crazily (a very fun day it was too), but it got me thinking whether I really want my colleagues or only vague acquaintences seeing it and other stuff I’d really prefer only my friends to see.

So, I’ve taken the radical (?!) step of clearing out my Facebook account of all work related friends and “friends”, and plan to use my LinkedIn account for professional related networking, Facebook for personal social networking, and my Twitter account for anything inbetween as it tends to carry less personal info and I feel more in control of it.

So, if you’re not my “friend” anymore, don’t take it personally, especially if you’re my boss 😉

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