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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!

Alternate Reality Games

I should be listening more here – trying to mentally process all the cool conversations today. 🙂

ARGs are very flexible and can be on  any platform.  They are games, not computer games.  The intersection of story and games.  Takes place in real world, online or indeed anywhere.

I love the concept and suprised that I’ve not heard more about it.  Sounds a lot like a much more sophisticated version of stuff I’ve done with friends.  I was wanting to do something like this with a large church I used to be part of to help increase the level of community.

Ideal for something like X-Factor.  With Roo on this panel expect the BBC to break out in ARGs 🙂

Games can empower the audience.

Dan Hon – often so far people play themselves in ARGs. (need not be that way).

Q- Do assests in ARGs have real world value? Dan – yes.

Most thought provoking talk of the conference!  Brain will now officially explode 🙂

Business Process Management

Ian used to work in BPM and now works in virtual worlds and is amused that these things are now coming together.  It’s all about people – BPM and virtual worlds, everything.  Combine services and people to do a piece of business – SOA – People Information Process.

BPM with Virtual Worlds
What is it you’re trying to do.  V. different having a VW as an end touch point for your customers to having a VW for doing business.  Very different for VW providers too.


Chain Model of Needs
Expressiveness, Communcation and Instrumentation
Depends on what you are trying to do as to how things flow between them.

Ian talking about ibm.com virtual business center )  Nice slides.  Customer touchpoint.  Ian is making point that it’s integrated into our regular processes.  Note we even have Siebel tactic codes for leads!

Internal Communication
Often treated as a side project. VW has to be integrated into the workflow of everyday business life.  Treat it as you treat email system, IM etc.  Ian gives cattail example – IBM’s social filesharing app, which can be easily pulled into IBM’s internal Metaverse project as same login is used for both systems. Also mentioning instant VW comms as part of IM – IBM’s recent announcement.

Virtual Worlds as the Business
As a service provider or tool vendor this is business as usual.
Opensim is a good fit for IBM – open and interoperable.

Innov8 – a BPM simulator

Ian talking about holistic view of business and business dashboards.  Is best way to find out about your business a spreadsheet at the end of the month or a living breathing model.

Understanding your business – the future
VW visulization of the entire holistic view of your business in realtime.  Think mirror world, but with the business/IT as the model to mirror.

Eating the IT Elephant
http://www.elephanteaters.org
Not about VW, but able to use dynamics of a virtual world to communicate the details outlined – physical, business services, Data/Component Entities, SOA view, Complete view. Gives you a model that you can use to explain things to people.

Conclusion
To quote Douglas Adams. “Space is big.  You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.  I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drg store, but that’s just peanuts to space.”  Virtual worlds can be at the end of a business process, part of the business process or controlling your business process.

Quick summary of Virtual Worlds London conference day 1…

Ron demoing Olive

Ron demoing Olive

Firstly big thanks to Ron from Ambient Performance for supplying me with a full pass for the conference, when I realised at the last minute that IBM didn’t actually have a stand(!)  Ron was demoing the olive platform during one of the breaks and had a team of people demonstrating how it could be used for sales training.  The team were across the US logged in live.  It was quite amusing as they had a mother and child and the mom was interrupting a sales assistant to say that her child needed the restroom and if she didn’t get help her daughter would go potty right there and then!  🙂

Mark Kindon opened the batting for Linden Labs with a 30min infomercial for Second Life, which was fine by me as a Second Life fan.  It was interesting to see what Rivers Run Red are doing with LL on out of the box virtual spaces, and have largely dropped their agency work to focus on it.  They still have a strong design ethos though from what I saw, with some lovely builds, which take the white label idea to an extreme (very white very Apple).  I think that this and the IBM Sametime/opensim/forterra integration stuff are the most interesting stuff for mainstream business I’ve seen (apart from qwaq).

I was also interested in Mark’s comment about their mixed reality meeting room which carries the spatial sound from second life into the real world nicely.  Perhaps I need to put in for a 7.1 surround sound system.  Sound was the one thing I skimped on when speccing up my pc, settling for on-board sound. 🙂

As for take up by the enterprise of virtual worlds, one thing that came up a few times, was it will just take time.  Takes time for large companies to evaluate, test and assimilate anything, especially something as left field as virtual worlds.  Also, the people for whom this is natural will take time to grow up and become part of the workforce, but it will happen.

Lots of stats from Strategy Analytics, KZero and Gartner.  Was interested in KZero’s assessment that growth areas are virtual worlds based around brands – e.g. watch out for lego (perhaps especially given their successful foray into games), also “vertical worlds” based around specific interest groups.

Steve Prentice from Gartner tried to simplify the whole stats issues.  His rough assessment was that the ratio of software client downloads to real users is 10:1.  Also was strong on the idea of Effort vs. Reward and that VWs are often high effort for low reward.  Contrast this with say World of Warcraft – high effort, high reward and Facebook, low effort, high reward. His other soundbites were,

Think:

purpose not volume

value not numbers

people not physics – users don’t give a monkeys about technology, they want to meet people like them.

Moving on to Virtual Worlds in the Workplace session.  Most interesting comment to me, was from Justin Bovington of Rivers Run Red who said that there most asked for feature was a “window on the virtual world” even if they were not logged in – i.e. live video feed from the virtual world.  We’ve thought about doing that, so perhaps we should revisit it!  🙂

Virtual Worlds Roadmap

Virtual Worlds Roadmap

Some good stuff from the Virtual World Roadmap folk later on, who were encouraging folk to get involved.  Ian Hughes and I went up to hand in business cards at the end and suggested that IBM’s Virtual Universe Community could be good contributers to this effort.

Haptictatsic!

Haptictatsic!

Another cool demo I saw, was the haptic device from Anarkik3D

At the end of the day, were 1 or 2 companies who shall remain nameless, but whose sole purpose seemed to be to provide amusement by pitching their ideas in a really poor way.  One had some of the worst slidewear and presentation I’ve ever seen and was then asking for venture capital.  I was still not really sure what the product was or what problem it solved!!!

Champagne on the London Eye

Champagne on the London Eye

I met up with the Metaverse Mod Squad folk afterwards and walked over

MMS at Big Ben

MMS at Big Ben

to the London Eye for Champagne with Crisp Thinking and KZero.

Big Ben

Big Ben

Aftwards we went to the Marriot County Hall for dinner in a private oak pannelled dining room.

chat

chat

Nice!

Nice!

Food was delicious!

yum!

yum!

Thank you Metaverse Mod Squad for the invite!  I have been an advocate for their business model since coming across them at the NY VW show back in March.  Land in virtual worlds is cheap for companies, people are expensive.  Do the maths and that says that even popular places will often feel empty…. unless staffed by enthusistic affordable non-specialists, which is where MMS come in.

I’d better get some sleep as it’s 12:47am and in too short a time I have to get up, head into London and do it all over again.

Well, after a blogging vacation, Boris is back. A lot has happened in the virtual world, and in particular my bit of it in IBM land. IBM.com has launched it’s 2-island sim in Second Life, and more recently has launched a “Virtual Green Data Center” – more on that soon. Boris has hosted a few more Wonderland shows using the very cool “Mogulus” web application, and will be back on the air net soon – probably with a bit more of a business flavour.

What else is new… I attended the Virtual Worlds conference in New York a few months back, which was great chance to catch up with the myriad of IBMers working in virtual worlds. It was quite funny – the fact that there were clients there was almost a side issue, as it was just so cool to finally meet people I’d worked with virtually for so long – including my boss!

On the conference theme, I am getting ready for the two coming up in London in October. Am hoping to speak on the aforementioned Virtual Green Data Center at one of them.

Finally, for now, I have had a quick play with Google’s new “Lively” 3D application. This is encouraging in some ways, as it again helps put virtual world higher up the agenda. I have to say though this feels a pretty early effort, with many on the forums feeling short-changed. It has more a feeling of an alpha than even a beta, and in that sense is a bit un-google like. However, I am sure Google will sort it and I don’t doubt will gain some mind share simply because it’s a google thing. That can only be good for us all. I do think that the browser is the way to go for mass acceptance of virtual worlds – flash based etc. so no further downloads. That would also be ideal for my wife’s new Photography business: Sarah Aires Photography. We could create online 3D galleries of her portfolio or even private galleries for clients.

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