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Over the weekend I caught up on some of the great material at the ReLive08 conference in the UK last week.  Roo Reynolds, previously of IBM fame, and now “BBC Social Media smarty pants” did a great round-up presentation.

Sarah Intellagirl Robbins

Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins

In it he cited Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbin’s REALLY helpful presentation on comparing virtual worlds.  I highly recommended it.  Skip over the first few slides.  The interesting conclusion on slide 46 is that two of the often cited virtual worlds, World of Warcraft and Second Life, are different in practically every “facet” that Robbins has identified.  In other words, they are hard to compare and contrast in a meaningful way as they differ so much.

I think that this approach potentially gives us a common language and approach to analysis of virtual worlds and which ones might serve well for what purposes.  As Roo noted it also educates us to a great new word (new to me anyway!) – Stigmergy.

If you do a quick analysis using her method and compare the real world with Second Life, they are largely similar.  What does that mean?  Is SL a good place to start for trying out things in the real world?

Ted Castronova’s talk suggested that it’s even better to use games rather than open-ended worlds like Second Life, for experimenting.  His presentation is also recommended.

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!  🙂

Watch the video relating to this post here:

Flor and Kevin in GIBM Center

Flor and Kevin in GIBM Center

Today, Flor Estavez, Program manager for The Greater IBM Connection, and I took a wander down memory lane to discuss how I got started in virtual worlds – The Greater IBM Connection, IBM’s alumni network.  We streamed the tour live to my internet TV Station, Boris in Wonderland.

Over two years ago, Jack Mason and I initially held a Block Party, where Greater IBMers from as far away as Chile and Afganistan attended.  The event was a great success and had quite a buzz about it.

As IBM’s prescence in Second Life grew, I built a larger home for Greater IBM on IBM 7,

Opening of the Greater IBM virtual connection center

Opening of the Greater IBM virtual connection center

which is where Flor and I toured around.  We later held a Christmas Party, and later a Machinimania Challenge, to create a machinima about Greater IBM.  Here’s the winning entry:

Flor and I would like to run another Christmas party, so watch this space…

#borisontour Well, last night’s appearance on Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe seemed to go well.  I was the first guest.  Take a look…

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!

On this auspicious day for America, I’ve just realised that I have a larger (albeit somewhat tenuous) link to the US government than I’d previously thought. I’ve just realised that one of the pictures I took of our Virtual Business Center in Second Life appeared in Colin Parris’ submission to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Hearing about Second Life.

Here’s the submission

Here’s the video of it – Colin comes in about halfway.  It’s quite an interesting start with committee members quite amused that the whole thing is being simulcast into Second Life with the speaker noting that his avatar is more trim than he is 🙂

And here’s the original picture below.  As helper to Sarah, my wife in her photography business it’s quite a one-up to note my pics (ok virtual photo) have been seen by such a group!  🙂

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:

Boris and KevinHere at the Green IT Expo in London demonstrating IBM’s Virtual Green Data Center (part of our Virtual Business Center).  Quite a lot of interest so far, and the virtual Green Data Center is proving a good conversation starter.  Here’s me mimicing my avatar Boris Frampton… 🙂

 I am also twittering using the #GreenITExpo tag, but this being a non new media conference, the organisers looked only faintly aware, when I asked them if they had a twitter feed running 🙂

It’s been a good week.  I get asked a lot about how to create videos using virtual worlds (machinima [pronounced ma shin ee ma], so I’ve been creating a series of videos on how to create virtual videos.  Which of course means this is one of those happy times when the medium is the message.  There is nothing new in all that of course, but as it’s done on IBM time and for an IBM audience it sadly means that I won’t be posting it on the internet.

In the course of doing all this, I found a great little internal IBM website which allows you to create topics with content and then mash them together into mini-courses which people can sign up for.  It did also remind me that things go full circle.  When I joined IBM I worked on a project called “Learning Village” which IBM sold to a company called RiverDeep which basically did the same thing and more, but was a full-blown Lotus Notes deployment.

This is all very timely as I am on a panel discussion tomorrow up in London for an HR Magazine on virtual worlds learning.  I’d best go iron a shirt! 🙂

The unconference on day 2, allowed participants to co-create the agenda, courtesy of some masking tape and post-it notes…

and we then set about attending/leading sessions mixed with networking, coffee and lunch (which sadly ran out).  Hurrah for the bagel place next door which sold all day breakfast bagels!

Here’s me leading a discussion about…

how to demonstrate value to business technophobes. ) For more pics, (not just of me!) see here.

Rob Smart looking Apple cool…

and amusingly me, extolling the benefits of Lotus Sametime 3D to get corporates interested in virtual worlds…

Klaus Hammermuller of Talkademy) (now post IBM)…

And last but not least… Mr. Eightbar himself… Ian Hughes (ePredator Potato)…

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