By Avarie Parker and Brian Regan
The Virtual World Conference 2008 just wrapped up in NYC, running April 3-4.
The conference presented 2 full days of sessions aimed at “leading media, consumer entertainment, youth brands and agencies” and helping them “understand how to monetize their intellectual property using virtual worlds.”
SLENTRE.COM was fortunate enough to have an insider at the event; Brian Regan also known as PrinterBrian Dowd. He managed to “bang out” some notes from the road, presenting his thoughts on what the future holds for businesses and the ever expanding presence of virtual worlds.
Thursday April 3, 2008 – 10:30am – EST
“Was sitting at table with Philip as he was interviewed by a woman. She is publishing a book about business in SL and I got her card so SLENTRE.COM can interview her when her book is released. I was even asked to take the picture of the two of them for her article. Philip is really a down to earth philosophical guy–he has a great vibe.”
(Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale interviewed by Sue Mahar, http://www.molaskeys-pub.com
Thursday April 3, 2008 – 2:18pm – EST
“There is a clear divide in the world of virtual worlds between entertainment and business needs. Never before have these lines been so starkly defined and, in my opinion, it’s a refreshing development. Coming to VW08, I feared that the primary focus would be on teen and children’s virtual worlds. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see many product launches and discussions geared towards “adult” business needs.
Nonetheless, the field is still blurry–both from a company usage perspective as well as the yet to be clearly answered ROI perspective. There were some clever ideas addressing the issue of the integration of “social capital” within a company. Some of these suggestions involved pulling in the collective intelligence of a firm’s employee base so as to provide additional value and potentially increased revenue. Other arguments involved layering social network elements in 2D around the 3D VW to assist in capturing multiple aspects of the discussions and ideas expressed. Most of these suggestions revolved around the idea of using the VW engagement to encourage discussion with a geographically dispersed team, and then circulating the resultant ideas through company blogs and other types of social networks. The application would basically frame the VW in the center of a screen wrapped by the 2D social network tools.
(CyberExtruder offers the ability to take a picture of your real life face and upload it into SL and apply to your avatar. They have an island in SL called Avatar Island.)
Some of the more pressing issues at the conference involved rapidly transforming management challenges and–oddly enough—the question of avatar identities. Justin Bovington, CEO of Rivers Run Red, eloquently explained his approach to the avatar issue. He has two avatars; one for business purposes and one for social activities. When logged on with his business avatar, he follows strict business protocol. As the CEO of a company, he is expected to behave in a certain way. When using his social avatar, the rules change, allowing for looser, less rigid interactions. This dialogue was triggered by the provocative question: ‘Does your avatar need an avatar?’
There was a lot of discussion regarding tools designed to assist business people with VW access and use—tools like a presentation software that leverages a 3D platform and allows for a choreographed experience-style presentation with the potential to span multiple locations. The software provides the presenter with the capacity to control audience avatar perspectives. This could enable a built-in HUD to allow people to follow the path of the presentation and revisit it as needed–or possibly as a way to take notes within the VW.”
Thursday April 3, 2008 – 10:00pm
SLCN TV after party streamed live into Second Life’s North Point.
(Keren, aka Starr Sonic, creator of SLCN TV)
(SLCN after hours party as viewed by those watching the live stream within Second Life)
(SLCN TV after party offered party goers a window into Second Life via a laptop and webcam)
(The simulcast was riddled with technical difficulties making it less than optimal for Second Life viewers. Beer anyone?)
Friday April 4th, 2008 – 11:00pm
“Tired and on a train from NYC to Boston”
Are virtual worlds actually useful?
“During the early phases of any new product comes the questions ‘Why
should we adopt this? How can we benefit from it?’ Virtual
worlds are certainly cool and interesting early adopters demonstrate a lot of passion for them, but is their passion justifiable?
The best evidence for the frustrations of the non-passionate early
adopters and development firms emerged from a Fidelity Investment representative when she asked, ‘You have given us reasons why it is a great
tool, but no true value-add definitions and case studies. How do those of us
that believe in the product go back and explain it to our superiors? Can you provide us with this information?’ This question was met with
many nods from the standing room-only conference room.
(NOTE: Fidelity has had a private Second Life location for two years and has been experimenting with the collaborative nature of
The fact is that there are no case studies available
as reference material, no way to show results over time, as there has not
been much time since the technology first became available. This leaves us
with educated speculation. For example, it is a commonly use argument that
the technology can save travel money, hotel expenses and it’s obviously “green” friendly. However, so are other meeting tools already well
established in the 2D world. So we need more pieces to this puzzle–areas
where the technology can enhance functionality and add new value. We need hard developments that assist with collective creativity and organizational innovation potential.
If we all go with the assumption that virtual worlds are valid in that they are visually engaging and can thus increase the attention
spans of participants, then we find the base
line needed to build a valid case for the value a virtual world can
bring to a company. The fact that 80% of people on conference
phone calls or 2D web meetings are, in fact, multi-tasking and not
participating, has significant impact here as well. The loss with these distracted multi-taskers equals lost potential and time. The value of the virtual world begins to be
seen a bit more clearly.
(Cisco had a great presence and they offered a couch seating area with coffee for those with cramping legs and caffeine addictions.)
Virtual worlds have the ability to engage participants at a much
higher level than other conference tools in existence today (it is all about immersion after all). However, they lack the necessary tools to make them
business friendly. Perhaps a better way to look at this scenario is to recognize that virtual worlds are
not as advanced as their 2D cousins advanced tool kits. This leads
us to the obvious question and next step of integration: leveraging both
tool sets to create a product that enhances end user experience and that
collects necessary information like voice and text logs
of meetings, shared documents, and collective ideas. Once these
features are integrated, we can add the layer of social network elements
that distribute the collective ideas to others within the
organization. It’s in these modes that the true power of the medium comes to fruition.
(Panels of virtual world makers and their clients riddled the show with their products and stories.)
We have yet to quantify all of these things and provide a roadmap for
others to follow, but we are getting closer. The distant image is gaining clarity daily. Significant progress is happening with firms like IBM, Rivers Run Red, and the myriad of virtual world’s providers and developers. These tools will gain strength, case studies
will be made, and value will be added. Perhaps the most profound
evidence of this is in a complex data command center presented by IBM. Located on a private Second Life sim, the display tracked real world data and
displayed it in a manner shockingly simple to understand.
The tool identifies data bottlenecks or faulty servers and solves these troublesome issues using the virtual command center, increasing response time and making distance irrelevant. The best part is that the command center has a
certain Star Wars feel to it, making for a very cool and enjoyable work environment.
Tools, immersion, integration, collaboration, enhanced offerings, and
collective innovation all combined can be extremely valuable to
an organization. Yes, this medium has great potential and we have yet to
see where it can really take us.”