Trends In The Virtual Worlds Industry

September 28, 2010

How do you keep up with industry trends?  You hear from the people setting the trends.  On September 24th, FountainBlue held its annual virtual worlds conference on Cisco’s campus in Milpitas, CA.  The event featured a session titled “Trends in the Virtual Worlds Industry: An Update on What’s New and What’s Coming.”

The panel:

  1. Facilitator Jeff Pope, Founding Partner, Spark Sky Ventures
  2. David Helgason, CEO and Co-Founder, Unity
  3. Chris Platz, Creative Director and Art Lead, Stanford Sirikata Labs
  4. Eilif Trondsen, Research and Program Director of the Virtual Worlds @ Work Consortium at Strategic Business Insights, SRI International
  5. Mark Wallace, Conversation Manager, Linden Lab

Related News: From Virtual Worlds News, “Unity Launches Unity 3, Wins Innovation Award

Terminology

The panel agreed that the term “virtual worlds” may no longer be applicable.  Eilif Trondsen noted that many technologies (e.g. Teleplace, Protosphere), provide virtual spaces (for corporations), rather than an entire virtual world.  Interestingly, at a Stanford Media X event, IMVU noted that they’re “NOT a virtual world“, either.  Chris Platz noted that he refers to the technology as a “real-time 3D collaborative spaces.”

Adapting to a changing user community

Platz noted that many virtual worlds technologies were designed for an older audience – one that will soon give way to a younger generation (e.g. Gen Y).  The technologies will need to adapt to a user base who grew up in a “virtual world” – they will have a different set of expectations.  An audience member noted that for some kids, their first experience online is in Club Penguin (or a similar “world”) – before they experience the broader web.

Platz encouraged virtual worlds to tear down the “walled garden” (e.g. closed system) in favor of an open system that integrates with Facebook, Twitter and other systems.  Platz developed and experimented with a Flash-based MMORG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) that ran as a Facebook app.  He predicted that some time soon, someone would develop a fully functional 3D virtual world embedded in Facebook – one that users interact with while on Facebook.com.

Avatar or no avatar?

The panel had an interesting debate on the use of avatars.  The debate was spurred from a point made about someone’s notion of an “ideal corporate learning environment”, which listed the following attributes:

  1. Ability to give presentations
  2. Virtual whiteboard
  3. Document collaboration
  4. Desktop sharing
  5. Use of avatars is secondary

What the debate really boiled down to is not “avatar or no avatar”, but “immersion or no immersion?”  Mark Wallace from Linden Lab took the “avatar stance”, noting the deep association between a user and her avatar – and the resulting impact of that connection.  Wallace noted that Second Life residents whose avatars participate in virtual weight loss programs actually lose weight in real life.

Audience member Laura Kusumoto noted that Wallace’s example referred to “Club One Island” on Second Life – I wrote about Club One in a posting about a Stanford Media X event in which they presented.

For me, it’s useful in a group learning environment to receive signals about the other members of the group (e.g. are they paying attention, are they engaged, are they asking questions, etc.).

There are non-immersiveness tools that can be leveraged (e.g. webcams, text chat, message boards, etc.).  However, I do see the value of immersiveness for learning – I’d compare it to an in-person team meeting vs. an audio-only conference call.

Augmented social graph reality

David Helgason made an interesting prediction with regard to augmented reality.  Helgason believes that the future of augmented reality includes your social graph overlaid onto your AR experience.  In the near future, your smartphone may be able to perform facial recognition on a person – and overlay your social graph connections to that person (on your smartphone’s display).

Perhaps the more immediate opportunity is already happening – via location based services as opposed to augmented reality.  For example, I arrive at a restaurant and find reviews from people in my social graph.  Reading my friends’ reviews lets me know whether I should go in to grab a table.

Second Life Enterprise

Linden Lab’s Mark Wallace was asked to comment on future plans for Second Life Enterprise.  Wallace noted that Linden Lab is taking a holistic approach to the entire platform – looking to make improvements to the user experience that apply to all users.  Wallace would not comment specifically on Enterprise, noting that the improvements underway would benefit everyone.

Conclusion

This isn’t your father’s virtual world any more.  From hearing this panel, I’d say that virtual worlds technologies (or, real-time 3D collaborative spaces) will continue to morph and blend immersive experiences with the social graph, social gaming and augmented reality.  As facilitator Jeff Pope noted, it will be interesting to gather again in 12 months to re-assess where the trends have taken us.


3 Virtual Worlds Technologies To Watch

September 26, 2010

On September 24th, FountainBlue held its annual virtual worlds conference.  This year’s event was hosted on Cisco’s campus in Milpitas, CA.

The event was attended by entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors and virtual worlds practitioners.  Several virtual worlds entrepreneurs spoke on the scheduled panel discussions and a few set up stations to demonstrate their technology.

I’d like to highlight 3 virtual worlds technologies that caught my attention.

RocketOn: A virtual world layer on top of the entire web

Presenting executive: Steve Hoffman, CEO

RocketOn takes my “Best in Show Award” for most innovative virtual worlds technology.  While Facebook and Twitter have propelled social networking to mainstream adoption, surfing the web is still a solitary experience.

While many web sites have added community features (e.g. membership, comments, Facebook social graph integration, etc.) – it’s still the case that when I browse my favorite content sites, I have no idea who else is reading the same page at the same time.

RocketOn seeks to change that.  Using a Flash layer placed on top of web pages via an i-frame, RocketOn users can create their own avatar and have them walk atop any web page.  They can then see other RocketOn users who may be visiting the same web page.

Perhaps you’re reading a movie review and happen to bump into a friend, who’s reading the same review.  You decide to visit a site that hosts a trailer for the movie, so you both navigate to the trailer site, watch it there and continue your chat.

A Foursquare for the entire web

One of the captivating features of Foursquare is the ability to see who else is at the same physical location as you.  RocketOn has built a similar feature for the entire web.  While the service is focused on a consumer audience initially, imagine how this technology could be used in a corporate setting.

Browsing your company’s intranet could become much more productive and engaging.  Now, water cooler conversations could occur online, as you bump into colleagues at the employee directory page (rather than the kitchen).

Additional Information

  1. The “About Us” page for RocketOn
  2. More details on the RocketOn platform
  3. Neat 2-minute video about the RocketOn service

Zenitum: Bringing virtual worlds into the real world

Presenting executive: Albert Kim, CEO

I admire technologies that flip conventional models upside down.  While we visit virtual worlds from the real world, Zenitum seeks to have virtual worlds elements visit us in the real world.  CEO Albert Kim receives the “Jetsettter Badge”, having attended the conference from Zenitum’s home base in Seoul, Korea.

When publicly released (later this year), Zenitum’s technology will be supported on iPhone, Android and Symbian.  Zenitum will provide their app and an SDK (software development kit) for free.  They are encouraging widespread adoption of their technology – consumers use their app and device manufacturers develop services using their SDK. Zenitum will monetize their service via advertising (“augmented advertising”, perhaps).

Our reality will forever be augmented

When you run the app, your smartphone scans your surroundings, attempting to recognize images.  If it finds a match, Zenitum overlays a 3D animated object on top (or around) the real world object.  For example, let’s say a comic book publisher is running a campaign and loads an image of a comic strip into the Zenitum platform.

The same image is on a billboard on a city street.  When I walk down that street with the app running (and my smartphone positioned properly), Zenitum detects the comic strip image.  It then inserts animated 3D objects (perhaps other characters from the comic strip) around the real world object.  As I move my phone left, right, up and down, the animated objects adjust their positions accordingly.

Possible use cases

Imagine the use of this technology at a museum – as you walk past a painting, its “virtual artist” could appear on your phone and speak to you about the inspiration behind the work.  At a trade show or conference, walking down an aisle could cause executives (virtually) to spring up and give you a brief pitch about their product.

Neat stuff – I hope we’re able to keep the distinction clear, though, on what’s real and what’s virtual!

Additional Information

  1. Zenitum’s “Company” page on their web site

Digitell: Bringing a global audience to your next meeting

Presenting executive: Jim Parker, President

Digitell uses the ActiveWorlds 3D platform to bring you hybrid meetings, virtual events, virtual communities and webcasts.  Jim Parker, Digitell’s President, notes that a common client of his service is associations, who want to extend the audience for their annual meetings.  Parker notes that the immersive experience of Digitell makes attendees “feel like they’re there” (at the physical event).

Parker’s clients who run these hybrid events often charge the same amount on virtual attendance as they do for the on-site event.  In this way, the common objection of cannibalization goes away, as the virtual component generates additional audience – and additional revenue for the meeting organizer.

Dispelling the notion that virtual worlds are for the younger generation, Parker notes that the average age of a Digitell user is 44 (wow!).  Users are so passionate about the experience that they often comment, “when’s the next event, I want to use my avatar!”.

Parker has created 3D replicas of museums, which allows students (across the globe) to visit and experience the museum’s works, without having to be “bused” to the physical building.  Imagine how easy it would be to have a virtual guide take students on a tour of the museum’s main works, any time of day, with students participating from all over the world.

Additional Information

  1. More info on Hybrid Meetings from Digitell

Conclusion

While the term “virtual worlds” has a negative connotation in the minds of many, it hasn’t stopped innovative entrepreneurs from developing new and exciting services.  It will be interesting to watch each of these technologies to review their adoption, growth and monetization.


Stanford Media X Event: IMVU’s Online Community

August 23, 2010

Brett Durrett (@bdurrett), VP Engineering at IMVU, gave an interesting presentation at a Stanford Media X virtual worlds event.  IMVU achieves a $40MM annual run rate, primarily from the sale of virtual goods.  Several virtual worlds entrepreneurs were in attendance at the event, which meant that Durrett’s talk received a lot of attention and interest.

IMVU is NOT a Virtual World

Durrett began the presentation by stating that IMVU is not a virtual world.  Instead, they are an online community “where members use 3D avatars to meet new people, chat, create and have fun with their friends.”  Many members of the early management team came from There.com (including Durrett) and their experience told them that an expansive “world” may not be the best solution.

Instead, the team considered connecting (with one another) the core function of the experience, so they built rooms and spaces where members can meet, connect and chat.  IMVU has achieved large scale usage.  At any time of the day, there’s usually 100,000 (or more) users logged into the system.  And while there’s no single “world” connecting them all, a user can find and connect with any other user who’s online.

User Generated Content as Key Enabler

How has IMVU achieved their current run rate?  User generated content.  IMVU generates very little of the virtual goods for sale in their marketplace.  Instead, it’s the community that creates the virtual goods for sale.  Durrett noted that IMVU could have hired a staff of developers to create the 100,000+ pairs of womens’ shoes available in IMVU.  But at the end of the day, they wouldn’t know if users liked those shoes.

And, that would have covered just shoes.  The way to scale to the wide assortment of goods now available is to open up the creation to the users.  With so many goods available, how do users find the items they want to purchase?  Durrett noted that like any online retailer with a large inventory, intelligent tools need to be built, a la Amazon’s recommendation service.  IMVU can recommend new items to you based on your past purchase patterns.

Competition Drives Engagement

Durrett described how IMVU creates daily contests based on pre-determined themes.  Users dress up their avatars in the particular theme and then submit a snapshot (image) of their avatar.  The community votes and the top avatars are displayed on a leader board.

To appear on the leader board, the reward is “virtual” (i.e. recognition, rather than cash, virtual credits, etc.).  And yet, the contest creates an intense amount of interest and competition from the community – a great thing from IMVU. If members happened to admire a particular user’s outfit, they could purchase all the items in that outfit with a single click.

Expanding the Inventory

Expansion of virtual goods inventory will be a key driver to IMVU’s continued growth.  They already make user generated music available (in MP3 form) and they recently launched games.  For games in particular, it will be interesting to see if IMVU creates inventory items around game status and advancement, as is common in many of today’s social games (e.g. FarmVille).

While IMVU does not support user generated games today, that could  be an interesting avenue of growth.  They’d probably want to review and certify submitted games, to prevent malicious activity from occurring.  In this manner, they could create a sort of iTunes App Store for games.

Related Links

  1. Interesting and related presentations from Brett Durrett (SlideShare)
  2. TechCrunch: IMVU’s Virtual Cash Cow: Doubling Revenues, Focused On Gaming (Video)
  3. Virtual Worlds News: IMVU Hiring, Anticipates $60M Run Rate

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Stanford Media X Event: Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs Show The Way

August 20, 2010

Introduction

Media X at Stanford University hosted a workshop titled “Cashing In on Virtual Worlds: Entrepreneurial Insights for the Healthcare Industry.” The workshop was organized by Parvati Dev and Laura Kusumoto, who combine leading edge research, expertise and hands-on experience with virtual worlds and virtual worlds platforms.

In her introductory remarks, Ms. Kusumoto provided a perspective on the current state of virtual worlds. While the consumer-focused virtual worlds have seen notable platform closures (e.g. Google Lively, Metaplace, There.com, etc.), there has been positive activity on the enterprise side of virtual worlds, including virtual events and virtual trade shows.

Virtual Worlds: On An Upswing?

Kusumoto referenced a recent Gartner Hype Cycle Report that positioned “public virtual worlds” in a phase of “Trough of Disillusionment.”  The good news is that the subsequent phases are called “Slope of Enlightenment” and “Plateau of Productivity.”  Web 2.0, Tablet PCs and Wikis are positioned in this “Slope of Enlightenment” phase in Gartner’s cycle.

In the afternoon, we heard 5-minute pitches from entrepreneurs who were looking to launch virtual worlds businesses related to health care. These entrepreneurs showed me how virtual worlds (and notably, the surviving virtual worlds platforms) can embark on an upward path towards enlightenment.  Here’s my view on how virtual worlds are evolving:

Circling back to the Gartner Hype Cycle, I look back at the following progression:

  1. Technology Trigger: Artists and Hobbyists discover this technology for self-expression
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: Fortune 500 brands enter the mix, expecting a transformation of marketing and advertising
  3. Trough of Disillusionment: An assortment of virtual worlds platforms fold
  4. Slope of Enlightenment: Entrepreneurs develop innovative businesses that ride on top of virtual worlds platforms

The entrepreneurs who presented are leading the way towards enlightenment and the virtual worlds platforms (e.g. Second Life, Unity, OLIVE, etc.) stand to benefit.  The new business model is the purchasing of virtual land (or, the licensing of virtual world platform technology) that entrepreneurs leverage to drive monetization and revenue.

In a sense, this is similar to the smartphone app store – the entrepreneur creates intellectual property that rides on top of a “platform”.  The entrepreneur then leverages that platform to drive revenue to a direct sales channel (customers).

Noted Entrepreneurs

I’d like to highlight some of the presenting entrepreneurs (and their businesses).

Club One Island

Lose weight in a virtual world, on Club One IslandCeleste DeVaneaux gave a fascinating overview of how participation in a virtual world program can facilitate habit change.  It’s one thing to urge people to eat slower – it’s another thing to show them how.  And, to have their own avatars practice the habit of doing so.  Club One Island runs on top of the Second Life platform.

Related: How I lost 20 pounds in Second Life (featuring Club One Island – by Hypergrid Business)

CliniSpace


CliniSpace is a collaborative virtual medical environment created by Innovation in Learning, Inc. (the company led by Parvati Dev, one of the event’s organizers).  The goal of CliniSpace is to provide virtual world-based training to physicians, nursing students, etc.  A virtual patient can start out completely healthy, but then be programmed to worsen, such that s/he requires CPR within 15 minutes.  The service runs on top of the Unity platform.

InWorld Solutions


InWorld Solutions “incorporates a wide range of avatars, content and features specifically designed to facilitate clinical and educational applications.”  InWorld can facilitate treatment for substance abuse by having patients in a virtual world, with their doctors observing from the same physical space – or, from within the virtual world.  Patients can experience peer pressure (virtually) and be advised and coached on how to respond.  InWorld runs on top of Forterra’s OLIVE platform.

Conclusion

These were just a few of the innovative business concepts brewing in one particular industry (health care) around virtual worlds.  As more entrepreneurs launch virtual worlds businesses, the platform vendors (e.g. Linden Lab / Second Life, Unity, Forterra / OLIVE) stand to benefit.  And importantly in this vertical, another entity stands to benefit: the human condition.

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Virtual Events 101: Tips For Building Your Virtual Booth

April 13, 2010

Your company is exhibiting at a virtual event and you’ve been assigned the responsibility of building your company’s virtual booth.  You’ve had plenty of experience assembling a physical booth, but never before have you built one virtually.  What’s your first step?  To immediately resist the urge to start the virtual build.

Set/Confirm Objectives & Goals

The objectives and goals for your virtual booth should align with the goals for your company’s participation in the virtual event. If you do not set the direction yourself, be sure to round up the necessary decision makers and have a documented set of goals – publish them internally and be sure that all stakeholders have a copy.  Sample goals include:

  1. Obtain contact information from “X” number of prospects
  2. Generate “Y” number of meaningful prospect engagements in-booth
  3. Yield “Z” number of qualified sales opportunities
  4. Generate “X%” of brand uplift, as measured by “Y”

It’s absolutely critical that goal definition be your first step, as it drives the decisions you make regarding the build-out of your virtual booth.

Content is King

The main elements of a virtual booth are (1) content [e.g. images, signage, videos, documents, links, etc.] and (2) virtual booth staffers.  Your first job is “content curator” – review all content available and be selective about which content you’ll place in your booth.  It all goes back to the defined goals – the content you select should align with the goals.

So if your goal is demand generation, find the same White Papers that your marketing team is using to generate sales leads across the web.  If your goal is driving awareness around a product launch, grab that 2 minute video of your product manager and have it auto-play when visitors enter your booth.  Besides documents in your marketing library, be sure to cobble together useful links on your web site, along with third party articles, blog postings and product reviews that reinforce your objectives.

Booth Labels Are Like Headlines

Content in a booth is typically housed behind a set of “booth labels”.  Your next job is one of headline writer – you’ll want to craft captivating “headlines” for the booth label, along with attention-grabbing titles (and descriptions) for the underlying content items.  You’re like the home page editor for your favorite content site – you need to figure out how to write headlines (titles) that will grab your visitors’ attention.

While you certainly want to avoid the “bait and switch” (e.g. writing a label/title that intentionally deceives), your labels need not literally reflect the underlying content. For example, if you assemble a set of blog postings from your company’s blog, you need not label these “Blog Postings”. Instead, organize the blog postings into themes – a set of postings on best practices could simply be labeled “Best Practices” in your booth.

While I suggest you do not change booth labels while the event is live (that would significantly confuse your booth’s repeat visitors), you’ll want to review the activity reports from your booth to learn from the labeling decisions that you made.  You’ll begin to figure out what worked and what didn’t – and can use those learnings for your next event to more effectively use labels/headlines to achieve your goals.

Use A Call To Action – Not A Declaration

For signage within the virtual booth, I prefer to use a call to action (e.g. “Ask Us Why 2010 is The Year of The Hybrid” above) over a declaration. So instead of declaring, “The world’s leading producer of plastic widgets”, try a call to action, “Ask us why plastic widgets are the new metal widgets”.  The call to action initiates a conversation with your visitors, rather than telling them what they should know.  If visitors enter your booth’s group chat and proactively ask the question stated in your call to action, then give yourself a pat on the back.

Stand Out From The Crowd

You’ll likely have competitors exhibiting in their own virtual booths, which means that a key part of your job is to figure out how to separate your booth (and company) from the crowd.  Greenscreen video (aka an embedded video greeter) has been used at enough virtual booths that it won’t make your booth any different.

Instead, try an offbeat video that’s not yet made its way to YouTube.  Or, how about an avatar of your CEO whose mouth movements are synchronized to the words s/he is speaking.  Perhaps an animated avatar is the new greenscreen.  Thinking further outside the box, how about bringing one of your products to life – personalizing that product to the point where it speaks and delivers a message to visitors.  A good example (in general – not in a virtual event) is the DCX Man character created by Brocade:

Source: Brocade (dcxman.com)

Further information can be found here: http://www.dcxman.com/whois_dcxman.html

Optimize Your Content For Search

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not the sole domain of your web site or blog – it applies to virtual events as well.  How can this be?  Well, most virtual event platforms provide basic and advance search capabilities – they index all content in the event (e.g. documents, links, Webcasts, etc.) and some platforms even index the contents of uploaded documents.

As a result, keep SEO in mind for selecting documents to include in your booth, along with the labels, titles and abstracts that you use to catalog your booth content.  Taking a step back, be sure to write an SEO-optimized description for your company and booth – if attendees search for a key term and your booth is at the top of the search results, then all is good in the world.

Subject Matter Experts as Booth Staffers

While you’ll certainly want sales reps and sales engineers as booth staffers, it’s critical to work subject matter experts into the staffing schedule.  A visitor who asks specific product or service questions is a hot prospect – and telling that prospect “let me get back to you with an answer to your question” becomes a lost opportunity.  Even worse, that opportunity could fall into the lap of your competitor, whose booth is only one click away.

If you’re a technology vendor, try to have your product manager, chief engineer or event your CTO available within the booth.  While some technology folks may not be comfortable face-to-face with a customer, most feel quite at home in a text chat session.

Optimizing For: Demand Generation

If you’re looking to generate sales leads, cobble up all your best lead gen content – the latest White Papers, Case Studies, product sheets, videos, podcasts, customer testimonials, etc.  Be liberal and selective at the same time – that is, ensure there is a good mix of content choices, but be religious in making sure the content you select aligns with your goals – and relates to the theme of the virtual event.  The beauty of a virtual event is that registration occurs once – but all activity with your content is tracked.  So you’ll have rich activity profiles at your disposal to help you separate the cream of the crop leads from the visitors who came simply to enter your prize drawing.

Optimizing For: Thought Leadership

Are some of your co-workers experts or luminaries within your industry?  If yes, then have them be staffers within your booth!  Visitors will have a natural inclination to engage with them – and they’ll be able to funnel the ripest opportunities to sales reps within your booth.  If your employees have not achieved rock star status within your industry, leverage some of the luminaries to produce content on your behalf.

Perhaps it’s a research report authored by an industry expert – or, a video interview (hosted by the expert) with your CEO.  Better yet, a Webcast within the virtual event that features the expert(s) who provide a presentation prior to your own speakers.  If the experts are available to attend the virtual event, invite them to provide Q&A within your booth, as they’ll serve to draw interest and engagement from visitors.

Conclusion

While much of the logistics occur “online”, building a virtual booth will take longer than you think (if done right).  Be sure to clearly define your goals first – then, make sure your booth achieves those goals.  Take planned breaks from the virtual build to assess whether your booth aligns with the stated goals.  Finally, be sure to study activity data from the live event so you can make improvements for your next event!

Related Links

  1. Browse the Virtual Events 101 Index Page
  2. Download the eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


The Business Benefits Of Second Life

March 23, 2010

Veronica Butler-Borrer

The following is a guest post by Veronica Butler-Borrer, known in-world as Pooky Amsterdam (@PookyMedia).

AVATAR started off being the word of the new decade, and for good reason.  The blockbuster movie, which allows a man to take on a completely new form through a kind of mental transfer, has made hundreds of millions of dollars. It also speaks to the new decade in terms of new possibilities.

While Second Life has been part of the Internet for a while, recent changes and upgrades have made it more compelling as a business and media platform.  Recent economic conditions have also required new strategy to save money on travel costs.  And increased attention to environmental changes has required us to look more closely at green alternatives to business.  Facts and figures plus improved opportunities are now encouraging us as a business community to re-examine Second Life.

Pooky Amsterdam's Second Life avatar

What makes doing business as an avatar in Second Life a good choice?

  1. You can virtually meet people from anywhere in the world easily and inexpensively
  2. Your Avatar can be an extension of yourself and increase personal investment for you and the business community you are addressing
  3. VoIP puts you in the same room with those you need to speak with
  4. You can share any documents you need to
  5. You can work in real time on those shared documents
  6. Any 3D product or place can be re-created cost-effectively and to scale for business decision making
  7. You save on time and travel expense by just logging in from your computer
  8. You can establish a secure environment by restricting access to your location
  9. Training and Education done in virtual worlds returns great results
  10. Video created in Virtual Worlds (known as Machinima) or cinema done on machine will get your message to the public through regular distribution channels (e.g. YouTube).  In addition, it will be available as video content on your web site, plus be something you can include in your video emails

These are the main reasons to think about doing business virtually.  Let’s look into this a bit further.

Analysis: Benefits of Doing Business Virtually

That’s right, once you download the free client which is Second Life, you can enter a 3D world where you can meet by prearrangement, those whom you would like to, from anywhere in the world.  Of course this will take some organization, but that is easy to facilitate.

Your Avatar is an identity that you construct to carry out your work in a virtual world.  Allowing this creation to personify you means you invest yourself in it, and interact as well.  This is also not a bad thing, as in creating an other self which is “better, faster, stronger” will also result in your being able to transfer some of those properties to your real world person.  If you saw a digital image of yourself running on a virtual treadmill, would you feel like going to the gym? Probably so, according to a Stanford study showing that personalized avatars can motivate people to exercise and eat right.

It doesn’t yet beat Skype for number of chat minutes a month, but the VoIP technology in Second Life is excellent, and has served over a billion minutes of voice chat a month.  That means you can speak to people anywhere in the world, in the same virtual room, sharing important documents or any 3D representation for absolutely free.

Second Life Viewer 2

The latest viewer for Second Life (Viewer 2) also allows for shared media within this Virtual World and that means you can view ANY content on the web in real time with people from (or outside of) your organization.

This includes of course, Google Docs and Etherpad.  So you can make decisions together from your office, or home, without having to fly anywhere.  This is a remarkable opportunity that is afforded people who are on this site.  Plus, being able to recreate objects in 3 Dimensions means you can build anything to scale, whether it be a building or an engine, and have your people discuss this matter, again in real time and vocally.

When you have your own location, you can also set permissions to that landing point and area so you are the only ones who have access to it. This will not compromise your security at all, when you are discussing matters of confidentiality.

Second Life Case Study

Consider the case study entitled, “Virtual World Simulation Training Prepares Real Guards on the US-Canadian Border: Loyalist College in Second Life,”

The executive summary reads:

Before September 11, 2001, Customs and Immigration students at Loyalist College spent three weeks closely tailing professional border guards to experience the daily routine of their future job. In a post-911 environment however, this was no longer allowed. Training suffered until the Director of Educational Technology at Loyalist College catalyzed a virtual border crossing simulation in Second Life for Loyalist students.

The amazing results of the training and simulation program have led to significantly improved grades on students’ critical skills tests, taking scores from a 56% success in 2007, to 95% at the end of 2008 after the simulation was instituted.

This is proof positive that training in a Virtual World environment has documented benefits.

I present a video which my company made to show you some of the amazing opportunities that the Virtual World of Second Life can afford.  Video is a hallmark of professionalism, and being able to have content on your website, and/or through video email is an important way to integrate your customer base.

Before embarking on a Second Life journey, you may want to seek expert help; it will save you time and ultimately money if you begin your investment with those who are knowledgeable about the world you are about to enter for business.  Just of course if you wanted to have a meeting in Paris, you would need concierge services there.  Pookymedia can help you get started.

Please feel free to contact Pooky Amsterdam at info@pookymedia.com.

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How 3D Virtual Worlds Can Be More Like Twitter And Facebook

February 8, 2010

3D Virtual Worlds Diagram

Facebook and Twitter have taught us that people of all ages love to utilize the web for self-expression, connecting and staying in touch.  3D virtual worlds have similar characteristics: the ability for self-expression via customized avatars and the creation of your own ‘island’; the ability to connect with friends (or meet people you’d never get a chance to meet in the real world); and the ability to be part of a vibrant community.

In addition, 3D virtual worlds offer a fully immersive environment, that allows you to escape from the real world – and, experience virtual representations of real-world locations. For virtual worlds experiencing declining usage, however, “community” becomes a challenge to maintain (i.e. imagine using Facebook when none of your friends or family are using it).

Mark Kingdon (in-world: “M Linden“), the CEO of Linden Lab, laid out his vision of Second Life’s evolution, tying it in with the recent acquisition of Avatars United.

M. Linden on Community:

“When we talk to the users who sign up but then decide not to stay, they say they left, in part, because they had a hard time finding people to hang out with. Either their friends weren’t there, or they have a hard time meeting new ones inworld, or sometimes both.  We need to fix this.”

M. Linden on Social Sharing:

“Another part of the “social glue” of any community is the concept of sharing.  Inworld, it’s easy to share and we’ll make it even easier.  But sharing between Second Life and the larger social Web is not as easy.  As an avid photographer (well, aspiring to be avid), I’d love to be able to easily share my snapshots from Second Life with my friends on other Web services, and be able to watch a feed of the people I’m interested in.”

Reaction

Kingdon’s blog posting generated a wealth of comments from the Second Life community – I’d characterize the comments as mixed to fairly positive.  My own reaction to the blog posting was very positive – my use of Second Life (and other virtual worlds) would increase based on my knowledge of in-world events/happenings attended by members of my social graph.

Here are my thoughts on how to increase community engagement and social sharing in a 3D virtual world.

Facebook and Twitter

Direct Integration with Twitter, Facebook

With Avatars United, according to Kingdon, “you’ll start to build an activity feed (similar to Facebook or Twitter) that keeps you in closer touch with the people you’re connected to in Second Life.” While I see value in a single feed that aggregates content from multiple social networks, I see equal (if not more) value in direct integration of Twitter, Facebook, etc., into the virtual world.

The Twitter API and Facebook Connect make doing so fairly straightforward.  A B2B company with an island in Second Life may want to integrate a Twitter stream that displays tweets related to the company.  Similarly, the company could prompt visitors to tweet about their visit and have that message be distributed to all of the visitor’s followers on Twitter.

By enabling this, the owner of the island generates “free” promotion to the social web – and, the underlying platform gains wider reach as well.  A relevant analogy is Ustream’s Social Stream, which allows viewers to “chat with your friends over Twitter” while they’re viewing a live video.

On the Facebook front, imagine if the virtual world platform enabled Facebook Connect, thus allowing residents to sign in to Facebook and find a list of their Facebook friends who are also residents.  Then, imagine showing users a real-time list of their Facebook friends who are in-world right now, with “links” to teleport to the friends’ locations.

Borrowing from another popular service (Foursquare or Gowalla), the virtual world platform could enable residents to “check in” at different locations (islands).  Broadcasting their whereabouts to their social graph may result in more “planned encounters” within the virtual world.  If my friends just checked in to “virtual island”, I may choose to teleport and join them there if I happen to be free.

“I Like It!”

Virtual worlds could create a stronger “shared experience” by allowing visitors to leave a trail of breadcrumbs reflecting their visited locations.  If I “friend” someone in-world – or, if an in-world resident is a Facebook friend of mine, then I might want to follow the path they took during their last session.  Additionally, the platform could support location endorsements, in the same way Facebook allows me to “like” a friend’s wall posting.

As I enter a location in the virtual world, I can see whether members of my social graph previously visited – and, what their comments were.  Alternatively, I could see a list of all past visitors – with a link to view their in-world avatar and profile.  If a past visitor panned a location, but I enjoyed it, allow me to send an offline message to that user, who can read my message the next time she logs in.  This allows me to connect with other users even when they’re not online (a form of virtual world email).

Source: flickr (User: Indiewench)

Virtual World Closed-Circuit TV

Business owners leverage closed-circuit TV technology to perform surveillance of their store front or office.  Wouldn’t a similar service be useful for virtual world residents, especially those who “own” an island?  While we tend to be online during our waking hours, it may not be practical to be in-world all the time.  How about a virtual world thin client – it provides a read-only “view” of a given location, similar to closed-circuit TV.

Since it doesn’t allow you to navigate, teleport, interact with others, etc. – the client is entirely lightweight and can sit in a corner of your desktop with only a portion of the CPU/RAM consumed by the full-blown client.  So if you’re interested in a given location, the closed-circuit TV can alert you to visitors – and with one click, the thin client can launch the full client and teleport you to the location.

Services (like this one) that can instantaneously connect users are a win-win – they generate more logins to the platform and enable more connections, upon which a stronger sense of community develops.  Alternatively, the virtual world platform can provide even more lightweight notification mechanisms: it can generate an email, Twitter direct message or Facebook email whenever a user enters a designated space.  The notification could contain a link that teleports the recipient into that space to connect with the current visitor(s).

Embed Web Content In-World

As Twitter and Facebook have demonstrated, users of social services are inclined to share interesting content, often in the form of web links.  Within a virtual world, “sharing” often results in the launching of a web browser to render the shared page.  Why not provide sharing capabilities that render the shared content on an in-world wall or projection screen?  This keeps users engaged, while retaining their attention in-world.  Building upon this, I may want to look up Facebook friends and be taken to all locations in which they shared content in-world (as I have an interest in what my friends are reading and sharing).

On Demand TV (for Virtual Worlds)

Facebook has a great utility that allows me to record a video on my laptop’s webcam, upload it to Facebook and share it on Facebook.  Virtual world platforms should enable users to press a “record” button and have their current session saved for later playback.  Perhaps I’m attending an in-world concert or watching a keynote presentation – capturing a recording of the session allows me to share it with members of my social graph who weren’t able to attend.  Treet TV provides similar services (with professional quality) – this capability empowers end users to create on-demand programming with the click of a mouse.

Conclusion

3D virtual worlds have a lot to offer already – by adopting useful social sharing services, they can tap into the phenomenon (social media) that’s the force behind many of today’s most popular web sites.

Related Links

  1. Wagner James Au in New World Notes, “How To Make Second Life Truly Mass Market, Part 1: Deep Integration With Facebook

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