Top to bottom:
avatar from Qwaq;
Virtualis conference room;
patio at Virtualis;
Mitch Kapor, Linden
presents at Life 2.0
Stuart Bowen is
apologizing for having had too much caffeine. He speaks
frenetically about the event he’s helped to organize, and one can
easily forgive his unbridled enthusiasm: This conference, which
runs for six days, begins the following morning.
But Bowen isn’t on site, per se, nor is
he planning any last-minute travel to get there. His event is the
Life 2.0 Summit, and it takes place in Second Life, an online 3-D
For many, the concept still conjures up
images of geeks and gamers, and there’s likely a high percentage of
both among Second Life’s millions of “residents” around the globe.
But, in fact, corporations such as IBM as well as more than 100
academic institutions have invested time and money in Second
The Life 2.0 Summit, which first launched
in April 2007 and has now completed its third iteration, is about
the business of virtual worlds and the technology behind it: “what
the future is, what people are working on, some technical stuff,”
explains Bowen. It’s geeky, to be sure, but the emphasis is on
business: Bowen was expecting 1,800 attendees for the spring event,
with Fortune 1000 technologists well represented among them. In
fact, the summit drew 2,100 registrants.
Bowen is the executive director of
global business and sales for San Francisco-based Think
Services (formerly CMP Media, which early this year was divided
into independent business units). The first Live 2.0 event was an
experiment more than anything else, primarily to gauge interest.
“We wanted to know,” Bowen recounts, “could we attract an audience?
And we managed to get 1,000 people signed up, and a nice set of
speakers. What really surprised us is the quality of audience:
Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 1000 companies and the right type of
A door for planners
Meetings technology consultant Corbin
Ball, who last September gave the first seminar in Second Life
tailored for the meetings industry, expects to see an increasing
number of these “metaverse” events -- a general name given to
virtual worlds, of which Second Life is a well-known example.
“There seems to be a lot of interest,” says Ball (left). “These
multiuser, virtual-environment tools will improve and will get more
realistic and easier to use. It won’t be for everyone, but I think
it’s here to stay.”
The realism and tools to which Ball
refers are what separate a metaverse event from web-based platforms
for webinars or virtual shows. A Second Life event, for example,
requires the attendee to download the Second Life software (which
is free). The attendee is represented onscreen by an avatar -- a
3-D character, which may or may not resemble the attendee -- that
the user guides on-screen through the virtual environment (for our
purposes, often a conference room or auditorium; think video game,
but with less adventure and violence). Attendees communicate with
each other through their avatars, either by instant messaging or,
through a microphone, by voice -- all in real time.
“This was by far the most like a
face-to-face meeting,” Ball says about the Second Life seminar,
more “than any web conference or webcast I have participated in.
This is completely different from standard online web conferences,
where participants essentially just see each other as a text list
of participants -- and where text messages are the principal way of
Ball delivered this seminar at the MeCo
Mansion, a swanky, 16-room meeting and events venue in Second Life
built by Dan Parks (his avatar is at right), president and creative
director of Dana Point, Calif.-based Corporate Planners Unlimited.
Parks and some colleagues from the Meetings Community (MeCo)
listserv run the project, which is devoted to virtual-world
education for the meetings industry. The MeCo crew also runs weekly
watercooler meetings “in world” and a CMP Boot Camp, a three-day
study group for CMP exam preparation, held in the MeCo Mansion.
Last month, Corporate Planners
Unlimited opened Virtualis, an in-world virtual convention center
that Parks believes to be the largest trade show and event space in
Second Life. (Actual capacities were still being tested at press
time.) Like the MeCo Mansion, Virtualis doubles as a training
ground to get planners up to speed on virtual event possibilities.
One can learn how to plan an event as well as actually hold a
virtual conference here for a client.
Virtualis offers a variety of rooms
(breakouts, an exhibit hall, a grand ballroom) and technology
(lighting, streaming video, PowerPoint, live chat and recording
equipment). The venue’s learning center, named after industry
veteran Joan Eisenstodt, can host meetings no earthly venue can:
Avatars might sit on balloons floating through space, for example,
or on bubbles underwater. “The ‘wow’ factor that we’ve pulled off
here is amazing,” says Parks. “We want planners to know that this
is another accessory they can have in their belts. Especially with
the greening of meetings and the tightening of travel budgets, this
is something else they can do for clients.”