Virtual Events

We’ve discussed here how collaborative virtual worlds and other technology can be used to facilitate better business meetings while reducing business travel. (See here and its links.) What about when the

Oil giant BP uses a number of virtual world technologies (including Teleplace), and they also run a number of big internal conferences. Our corrivals at ProtonMedia have published a wonderful review of the effectiveness and savings realized through the virtualization of one of these conferences: more effective, half the cost, savings of $3.7M in just one event. (And that’s without accounting for carbon footprint.)

Events are already changing. Now that we live near San Francisco, my wife and middle-school daughter were able to take a field trip to MacWorld Friday. They had never had the opportunity before to see anything like that in school. And yet, Apple wasn’t there, citing costs and today’s suitability of cyberspace to host events like their iPad announcement two weeks earlier.

The previous real-world conference in the BP study is described by participants as having been a “PowerPoint festival.” The virtual-world version featured creative use of multimedia, virtual robotics or machinima, and some clever uses of virtualization as a way of temporarily veiling people’s identities and roles. And yet it was still strongly modeled on the physical meatware conferences of the past. The participants spanned several generations, and to make them comfortable, meetings took place in conference rooms and halls designed to look like what what someone might expect (in the future of) the real world. Slideshows still played on big screens viewed by avatars sitting in chairs and discussions took place at conference tables.

I expect that mainstream adoption of virtual events will continue to require this kind of grounding in past expectations. But imagine what will happen as this becomes commonplace. Instead of merely modeling real life behavior, virtual events will be able to go further. Imagine a World’s Fair in which the architects and exhibit designers are not bound by physical limitations. Imagine how much easier it is to produce this kind of stuff in a virtual environment than in the physical one.

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