Top 5 Virtual Event Posts Of 2010

August 5, 2010

Here are the Top 5 posts (on this blog) for calendar year 2010.  The Top 5 List is in descending order and based on the number of page views per blog posting.

#5: Virtual Events 101: Tips For Building Your Virtual Booth

My guess is that many readers built their first virtual booth during 2010.  This posting provided tips planning and objectives, content strategy and booth staffing.  In addition, it provided tips on content presentation, “search optimization” and how to stand out from the crowd.  This posting is part of a broader Virtual Events 101 page that provides tips on virtual events.

#4: Bringing The Physical Event Experience To Virtual Events

This posting did some brainstorming on features that virtual event platforms could provide to bring physical event experiences to virtual events.  Then, it covered tips for virtual events, including how to gauge attendee interest, how to connect with interested attendees and how to create better attendee networking.

#3: COMDEX Re-Launches As A Virtual Trade Show

This was big news back in March, that the famed COMDEX show would return as a virtual event in November 2010.  I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store this November at COMDEX Virtual.

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

Twitter and Facebook have taken the world by storm – this post received a lot of traffic by association.  I thought it was logical that 3D virtual world platforms could adopt some of the principles developed by Twitter and Facebook, such as the pervasive “Like” feature from Facebook.  I posited on some new concepts, such as closed circuit TV and on-demand TV for virtual worlds.

Finally, I guess I foreshadowed “Second Life Shared Media”, when I suggested that web content be embedded in-world – Linden Lab announced that feature a few short months after my blog posting.  More recently, I wrote about Second Life being at an important crossroads.

#1: The Future Of Virtual Events

There’s always something about the “future” that generates interest and curiosity.  I’m still a believer in the vision of the future (for virtual events) that I painted here.  While none of it has come to fruition, it’s just a matter of time.  In the future, that is!

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At A Crossroads: Where Does Second Life Go From Here?

July 2, 2010

Crossroads

June 2010 will mark an important month in the history of Linden Lab and Second Life.  On June 9th, the company announced a restructuring that included a 30% reduction of their staff.  On June 24th, the company announced that CEO Mark Kingdon was stepping down and named company founder Philip Rosedale its interim CEO.

Second Life is clearly at a crossroads – it will be crucial for Linden Lab to determine the best path forward.  To do so, they need to identify the right questions to ask and then determine the right answers to those questions.

What is your audience and customer segmentation?

Second Life takes quite a broad approach today – there are a wide assortment of communities [audience] (see their Destination Guide) and an equally wide assortment of land owners [customers].  Having cut 30% of staff, the question at this juncture is whether the company (and the platform) is well suited to cater to “anybody and everybody” or whether it’s better to narrow the focus.

One “focus area” may be in evolving the platform to cater to the hobbyists and loyalists who helped grow the Second Life community from the early days [consumer focus].  Another focus area, while unlikely, may be in catering to corporations for business use (I say “unlikely” because the Enterprise group was let go in the June staff reduction).

Yet another focus area may be in catering to particular categories (e.g. Music, Art, Education).  If Second Life focused their resources around building the #1 immersive music experience, would that have a larger impact than evolving the broader platform to meet everyone’s needs?

So the question really comes down to “narrow vs. broad” – by identifying narrower segments to target their service, can Second Life create a more rewarding and enjoyable experience for both residents and land owners?

What is the revenue model?

Today, the Second Life revenue model is based around a virtual economy, whose currency is the Linden Dollar.  Residents purchase Linden Dollars with real money (e.g. US Dollars) and can then buy land (in-world) or buy virtual goods from in-world merchants.  One of the challenges inherent in this model is its dependence on others to sustain a viable audience (community).

The model works when the audience is growing and the community is thriving; however, when the audience declines and becomes less active, purveyors of virtual land find the ROI less compelling and the audience decline snowballs (since users have fewer residents to interact with each time they login).

Are you a media company or technology platform?

Second Life can go one of two ways here – they can morph into a media company (and have direct influence over the audience) or they can move to a pure-play technology platform provider, which shifts the audience generation “burden” to licensees of the platform.  As a media company, they’d be similar to Facebook, Zynga, IMVU and Slide, with revenue being a mix of advertising, sponsorship and the sale of virtual goods.

Today, I’d say that Second Life is somewhere in between – they’re a technology platform that has no explicit and associated “force” to drive audience (like a media company does).  Resolving this “grey area” will be important.

Where do you take the technology?

To some degree, the technology vision was shared in the June 2010 restructuring announcement – the company will migrate Second Life to a web-based experience, with no software download – and, they’d look to integrate popular social networks to be more accessible and relevant.  Of course, there’s a delicate balance to manage here, since a core component of the Second Life community uses the service for the immersive experience that a downloaded client can deliver.

Here, Second Life can take a page out of OnLive’s book – if OnLive can deliver immersive, action-rich, multi-player video games from the cloud, then one would imagine that a 3D immersive virtual worlds can move to the cloud as well (though, of course, it’s not trivial to achieve).  Second Life needs to think beyond the web as well and determine the viability for apps running on iPad/iPhone, Android and related mobile operating systems.

My Answers (Recommendations)

These are obviously complex questions that require a lot of analysis – in addition, there may be other questions that need to be asked.  The answers to these questions are interrelated and need to be answered together, not individually.  Here are my high level answers / recommendations:

  1. Audience and customer segmentation: Go narrow – you’ll lose segments of your user base, but the core segments you choose to focus on will see solutions and experiences that are more targeted and relevant.  Build upon these small successes and grow outward again.
  2. Revenue model: Move to a SaaS licensing model (priced in US Dollars) – keep the Linden Dollar currency system in place for the purchase of in-world virtual goods.
  3. Media company or technology platform: Become a pure-play technology platform that partners with media companies as a sales channel.  Give media companies incentives and easy-to-use tools that foster growth in virtual real estate – encourage them to be your sales champions and bring their audiences into the community.
  4. Technology evolution: Complete the transition to a 100% web-based offering (no small task!) – and, on the journey there, have plans in place for iPad and Android apps.

Times of turmoil give companies the opportunity to throw convention out the window and reinvent themselves.  Consider another company whose original founder returned to transform them from a “has been” to the most valuable technology company on the planet:

Apple Computer.

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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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The Future Of Virtual Events

February 1, 2010

There’s no time like the present … to think about the future.  I previously wrote about predictions for the virtual event industry in 2010 – those predictions were based around a short-term outlook and have a reasonable chance of coming true.  Now, I’d like to weigh in on 2011 (and beyond) and discuss where the industry (and the technology behind it) may be heading.

Virtual Event technology moves “closer” to the end user

To spur increased adoption, the virtual event experience will move closer to the end user.  To move closer, the browser-based experience of today will be complemented by numerous apps that live outside of the browser.  A relevant analogy is Twitter, which could not have achieved its place in the world on twitter.com alone – its power is broadened with desktop clients such as TweetDeck and Seesmic.  Possibilities include:

  1. Browser toolbars that encapsulate a subset of virtual event functionality (OK, we’re still within a browser here – so consider this an initial step only).
  2. Desktop applications – initially, these apps may provide a real-time dashboard for attendees, exhibitor or show hosts.  You’ll get to keep tabs on activity within a virtual event without having to be logged into the event (from your browser).  Subsequently, the apps will become more sophisticated and take on more of the virtual event platform’s features.
  3. Asynchronous alerting services – attendees, exhibitors and show hosts will be able to configure alerts that inform them of important activities.  The alerts will have numerous transport mechanisms – email, SMS text message or social media notification (e.g. a direct message on Twitter).

Virtual Events Go Mobile

Related to “getting closer” to the end user, mobile is the “elephant in the room” for virtual events.  The mobile apps will start off quite simple – think again of the dashboard app, which provides a real-time view of what’s going on within the event.

Building onto the dashboard will be basic interactivity (e.g. text chat) – allowing attendees and exhibitors the ability to chat with others.  An exhibitor, for instance, can now staff her booth “on the go” from her iPhone.

As we look to 2011 and beyond, I see a clear shift in the computing landscape, whereby more and more “computing” moves from the desktop and laptop and on to mobile devices.  In this decade, the smartphone becomes the PC of the past decade.

The challenge for virtual event platform providers is to determine where to place their bets (investments) across iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Mobile and Palm.

Tighter Integration Inside The Firewall

Virtual events see major adoption from multinational corporations, who leverage the events for internal-facing communication and collaboration (e.g. sales kick-off meetings, human resources programs, learning programs, executive briefings, team/departmental meetings, etc.).  Corporations will begin to request the following:

  1. Integration with other enterprise applications (which often sit inside the firewall)
  2. Tighter security measures

This drive from corporations will cause virtual event technology to morph a bit, shifting from a 100% software as a service (SaaS) model to a hybrid model that combines SaaS with on-premise software.

At first, integration points to a company’s enterprise apps may reside “on premise” on corporate servers – subsequently, corporations may require the underlying virtual event platform be hosted inside the firewall – a model that mirrors Linden Lab and their Second Life Enterprise.

Augmented Virtuality

Virtual events and in-person events meet augmented reality – resulting in “augmented virtuality”.  I previously wrote that 2010 is The Year of The Hybrid Event.  There will come a day when every in-person event has a virtual component.  With existing smartphone technology and the emergence of augmented reality – we’ll soon hit a sweet spot whereby in-person event attendees will wield enormous power in the palm of their hands.

Physical event attendees will begin to experience an event through the lens of their smartphone – holding up the smartphone at any location and seeing overlays of relevant information.

Augmented virtuality will blend augmented reality with the virtual event platform – elements of the virtual event appear as overlays on the smartphone (e.g. the virtual booth is layered on top of the smartphone’s view of the physical booth – and virtual staffers are displayed as being available [via the smarthphone] if the in-person staffers are busy).

Bye Bye, “Virtual Events”

Based on the trends I’ve outlined, by 2011 (if not sooner), we’ll no longer refer to “virtual events”.  Instead, they’ll have “grown up” and migrated into a broader category of business or collaboration application.  Virtual event technology becomes a toolset in a larger ecosystem – or, they’re integrated into a broader suite of tools (rather than being a standalone solution).

Conclusions

In a few years, these will no longer be your mother’s virtual events!  The industry and technology will change, morph and adapt to suit the needs of the market.  Let’s all be thankful that we’re along for the ride.

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Ubivent Enters The Virtual Events Platform Market

December 2, 2009

Based in Mannheim, Germany, ubivent has entered the virtual events platform market with a recently launched platform.  According to Michael Geisser, Managing Director Market Development, the ubivent co-founders “met at university, working together in an IT research program and pursuing our PhD”.  The co-founders then spent several years working at multinational corporations, where they held numerous roles in IT and IT management.

In fact, Geisser and co-founder Thomas Butter (Managing Director Research and Development) were recently with SAP, where they worked on some of SAP’s first virtual events.  Ubivent is off to a fast start – they received 12 months of funding from EXIST, “a program of the European Union and the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology” designed to support innovation.  In addition, in late November, ubivent was selected as the most promising young company in Mannheim.

Target market

Ubivent’s initial target market is to serve large and distributed corporations – large companies have already adopted the basic technologies required for virtual events (including sufficient bandwidth capacity) and distributed companies can immediately leverage the convenience and cost savings of virtual collaboration (versus in-person).

“However, this does not mean that we do not offer our services for small, non-IT organizations”, noted Geisser. “We’ve also done projects with local authorities. Obviously, the entire project size has been not that extensive as for a global event with multiple thousands of participants.”

Since the European market for virtual events has not developed as quickly as the U.S. market, Geisser sees plenty of opportunity in Europe.  Geisser sees opportunity in all sorts of event types, but notes that “the type of the event is not as important as the content and the participants. We see the advantages of virtual events especially for knowledge-intense content (e.g. software, finance, etc.) with globally distributed participants”.

In comparing the U.S. and European markets, Geisser believes that while “US based customers put more emphasis on the look and feel, the European customers are very keen on getting a technically scalable and secure platform. Fortunately we’re combining both.”

Technology platform

Ubivent is a member of Microsoft BizSpark, a program that provides “software, support and visibility” to software start-ups.  While most virtual event platforms are built on top of Adobe Flash, ubivent’s platform is based on JavaFX, a platform for building rich internet applications that runs on top of JRE (Java Runtime Environment).

According to Geisser, the use of JavaFX serves as a competitive advantage for ubivent over competing Flash-based platforms – “JavaFX is one key advantage of our platform. This opens the door for completely new functionalities which are not possible with other technologies (e.g. Flash)”.

Ubivent developed an accessibility framework to assist visually impaired people in using their virtual events platform via a screen reader.  The source code for the accessibility framework has been published as open source.  The framework is built on top of JavaFX, which means that other platforms seeking to incorporate it would need to run JavaFX as well.

Virtual events vs. immersive virtual worlds

Geisser has taken a look at 3D immersive virtual worlds, such as Second Life and Twinity.  He believes, however, that the immersive virtual world is currently more suited to B2C or C2C use cases, whereas his B2B market is more focused on quick and convenient access to selected content.  Notes Geisser, “In a B2B context, the desire for avatars and the ability to walk through a virtual world is less distinct. Here, the focus is more the ability to quickly access information and other participants. The need to ‘walk’ through the virtual world to access this information or participant is considered adverse with regard to this goal.”

In closing

It will be interesting to watch the European market for virtual events in 2010.  Ubivent and IMASTE are two of the leading European-based providers – while they may encounter each other in common client accounts, I’m sure the providers from the U.S. market will be looking towards Europe (and Asia) as well.

Related links

  1. Follow ubivent on Twitter
  2. Ubivent’s Facebook page
  3. Ubivent-developed accessibility framework, fxaccessible
  4. Ubivent’s executive management team
  5. Audio interview – ubivent speaks about their JavaFX-based virtual events platform

For Software Development Teams, The World is Flat (And Virtual)

October 18, 2009

Source: flickr (User: reinholdbehringer)

Source: flickr (User: reinholdbehringer)

Software development teams are traditionally located in the same (or nearby) physical office location(s).  It’s useful for these teams to work from adjacent cubicles (or offices) as the close proximity facilitates collaboration, mentoring and joint code reviews.  In fact, the increasingly popular agile software development methodology lists the following in its Agile Manifesto: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”.

I won’t debate this particular point, but I do think that the trends are pointing towards distributed (vs. centralized) software development teams.  Some of the factors that are causing this trend:

  1. Outsourcing and off-shore development – while the core software development team may be based out of a single physical location, corporations are increasingly leveraging off-shore development – both for its lower costs and its ability to tackle ad-hoc product requirements and requests.
  2. Working from home / telecommuting trend – whether it’s a child’s doctor’s appointment or the local outbreak of the H1N1 virus, workers are spending more and more time getting their work done outside of the office.  Ever walk into a large software development shop’s offices during the afternoon?  You probably noticed that more than half the developers’ cubicles were unoccupied.
  3. Good developers can be hard to find – your software development team’s most attractive developers may be located half-way around the globe.  Talented developers are hard to find these days – so why not extend your team’s depth but bringing on remote workers?  As an example of a distributed team working together on a large project, consider the development of the Linux kernel – according to the Linux Foundation, “over 3700 individual developers from over 200 different companies have contributed to the kernel”.
  4. Software developers and product owner in separate locations – it’s not uncommon for the software developers to be in a different location than the business or product owner who’s driving the product and project’s requirements.  As the internal customer, the product owner is obviously a key member of the team.

With all of these factors at play, it seems reasonable that alternatives need to be in place when face-to-face meetings are not possible.  And I have good news on that front – with the emergence and maturation of virtual worlds / virtual meeting technologies, there are plenty of solutions available.

Some technologies available to distributed software development teams:

  1. Virtual Meetings – e.g. WebEx Meetings, GoToMeeting, Adobe Breeze, etc.  These technologies allow users to share their desktops and participate in shared whiteboards.  With the desktop sharing, this allows one developer to “look over the shoulder” as another developer codes.  The New York  Times recently published an interesting article on pair programming – with virtual meeting technology, the “pair” can reside in separate physical locations.  A shared whiteboard may not be useful for writing code together – however, it could certainly come in handy during the pre-coding stage, to map out an architectural diagram or outline a software program’s flow chart.  For a no-cost alternative, developers can interact with audio and video on Skype, which now includes a free desktop sharing feature.
  2. 3D / Immersive Technologies – these solutions provide similar features to a virtual meeting, but add a layer of 3D and immersiveness.  There’s Second Life, of course – and there are also solutions tailored for very specific enterprise use.  Options include Teleplace (formerly Qwaq) and Forterra Systems.  Teleplace offers a solution called Program Management that seems well suited to the distributed software development team – it offers text chat, VoIP chat, video via webcam, shared documents and shared applications (all in an immersive 3D environnment).  Similarly Forterra’s OLIVE platform enables collaborative meetings, training and more.

In this “flat world” that we now live in, I expect software development teams will increasingly collaborate virtually.


College Recruiting 2.0: The Virtual Campus Experience

October 7, 2009

Source: flickr (User: Heidi SeraKorea)

Source: flickr (User: Heidi SeraKorea)

I read an interesting article in the New York Times this week – titled “M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree“, the article describes how M.I.T. (and other colleges and universities) is leveraging student blogs as a recruiting tool.  The idea is that the blogs allow prospective students to get a glimpse into life on campus – and help them determine whether they’d like to apply for admission.

The dean of admissions at Haverford College was quoted in the article: “High school students read the blogs, and they come in and say ‘I can’t believe Haverford students get to do such interesting things with their summers.  There’s no better way for students to learn about a college than from other students.”

While I’m certainly a big fan of blogs, it occurred to me that virtual world and virtual event technologies could extend this concept to a whole new level.

3D Virtual Worlds

Hundreds of colleges and universities have a presence in Second Life (and other 3D virtual worlds).  Professors have been using 3D virtual worlds to complement their real-world classes – and in some cases, classes have moved entirely into a virtual world.  Universities who created 3D replicas of their campus (in Second Life, for example) could leverage the existing island(s) as a recruiting tool.  One could provide links from the student blogs, inviting high school students (who are so inclined) to enter the virtual campus for a real-time and interactive experience.

Recruitment activities you could facilitate in a 3D virtual world:

  1. Student-led virtual campus tour – the same exact concept as the real-world – prospective students meet the student guide at a designated place and time and the guide takes visitors (and their parents!) on a tour of the campus.  Of course, in a 3D virtual world, visitors would be required to download the client (if needed) and familiarize themselves with the user interface – they’d also need to teleport to the tour site and learn the basics of navigation / walking.  For colleges who built extensive campus replicas, however, the virtual tour gives prospective students a great feel for the real-world campus.  Later, prospective students can return at their own leisure to explore the campus at their own pace – and have random encounters with enrolled students or other prospective students.
  2. Student blogs -> 3D virtual dorm rooms – existing student bloggers can create “in-world content” to complement their blogs.  How about an in-world replica of your real-world dorm room?  It would come complete with in-world residents (you and your roomates), along with renderings of your wall posters, unwashed clothes (strewn across the floor), collection of beer cans, etc.  What better way to give a taste of campus life than taking prospective students into some 3D virtual dorms?

Virtual Event Platform

While the 3D virtual worlds facilitate outreach from enrolled students to prospective students, virtual event technologies could be leveraged by admissions and administration (of the university).  Instead of an immersive 3D environment, admissions and administration could utilize a 2.5D rendering of the campus in a virtual tradeshow fashion:

  1. University Departments as “booths” – Admissions, Administration, Law, Chemistry, Mathematics, etc. – each department could have a “booth” in the virtual environment, where they provide information on the department – and, representatives can staff the booth to greet and interact with prospective students via text or webcam chat.
  2. University Resource Center – a convenient one-stop-shop for all content placed in the department booths, allowing students to find the documents, web pages, videos, podcasts, etc. that interest them.
  3. Auditorium – allows your administration and departments to put a face and voice to your university – by way of live (or on-demand) video, podcasts, etc.  How about a monthly live videocast from your University president, provost or dean of admissions?  Prospective students would get a lot of value from that.
  4. “Lead” and engagement tracking – by requiring prospective students to provide a minimum amount of demographic information, you can use activity reports (provided by the virtual event platform) as a gauge of applicants’ interest level in your university.  This type of data may be quite relevant to the admissions department.

I don’t think that virtual worlds and virtual events will be adopted by all prospective students – there will still be quite a few who prefer the simplicity and low-overhead of browsing blogs.  That being said, those who are so inclined to participate virtually may signify the more “engaged” of the prospective student base – and next Fall, they’ll be the ones leading the virtual campus tour.



Virtual Worlds: Where We Were, Where We’re Going, What Does It Mean to YOU?

September 30, 2009

On September 25, 2009, FountainBlue held a conference at Sun Microsystems’ Santa Clara (California) campus.  The title of the conference, “Virtual Worlds: Where We Were, Where We’re Going, What Does It Mean to YOU?”.

What follows is an event summary and guest post by Linda Holroyd – CEO, FountainBlue

Introductory remarks, framing the discussion were provided by:

  1. Michael Gialis, New Business Development for Sun Microsystem’s Lab and Chief Technology Office, Founder of Virtual Worlds Roadmap Group
  2. Barry Holroyd, CTO, Masher Media

An Overview of the History of Virtual Worlds – What is it, Where Has it Been was provided by Benjamin Duranske, Associate, Pillsbury Winthrop.

Our first Panel Discussion: Virtual World Business Trends featured:

  1. Moderator Sibley Verbeck, CEO, The Electric Sheep Company
  2. Panelist Joshua Bell, Director, Technology Integration, Linden Lab
  3. Panelist Tim Chang, Principal, Norwest Venture Partners
  4. Panelist Benjamin Duranske, Associate, Pillsbury Winthrop
  5. Panelist Michael Gold, CEO, Electrotank

Our Second Panel Discussion: Virtual World Case Studies featured:

  1. Moderator Jeffrey Pope, Founder of Virtual Worlds Roadmap Group, Former Virtual Worlds VC and Virtual Worlds Entrepreneur
  2. Panelist Jack Buser, Director of Sony Playstation Home
  3. Panelist David Helgason, CEO, Unity
  4. Panelist Damon Hernandez, Lead, Web3D Outreach, Web3d Consortium
  5. Panelist Greg Nuyens, CEO, Qwaq

Below are notes from our conversation, along with resource links from our presenters.

Virtual Worlds offer a dynamic, ever-changing landscape of technology, community, interaction. Although Virtual Worlds have evolved over the past few decades, it is now coming to the mainstream, and its impact is deep and broad. It affects many facets of the way we do business from the financial, economic, technology and legal aspects, as well as HOW business is done, leveraging software the enables creative and dynamic interaction between people with virtual presences and online communities overall.

Virtual worlds are evolving from the walled gardens of the 1990s to more and more dynamic, interactive and creative sites that incorporate user content and creativity. This seems to be following the familiar evolution of the web itself; America Online and Prodigy became supplanted by more open browser standards from Mosaic.

Indeed, Virtual Worlds are evolving from a fad and a toy to a valuable business tool, serving and connecting various stakeholders. The graphics abilities introduced in the 80s and 90s brought in the era of avatars and games which were wildly popular, with some running still today. Now these graphics are being harnessed in virtual environments to effect value in a variety of non-game related use cases.

As more people got more deeply engaged, user communities arose and questions on policies, procedures and how users can interact and communities can grow arose. In addition, a business model evolution is now occurring where we are redefining who developers, publishers and retailers are and how they work together, as well as who is funding, marketing, and servicing these individual users and user communities. Users continue to raise the bar for what they can do and how they can do it, increasingly demanding more customized solutions and experiences tailored to themselves personally, and to the communities they join.

Adoption has not reached explosive double-digits figures yet for most virtual world communities, but with that said, in general the virtual worlds for kids sub-industry has benefited from the fastest and broadest adoption rate and continues to grow, showing that this is not a transient fad, but a real opportunity. Indeed, savvy publishers, manufacturers, producers and others selling to the kids market are factoring in web sites, books, toys, and virtual world communities as part of their marketing and outreach efforts. Successful examples of this maturing mass market segment include Webkins and Club Penguin.

Both panels remarked on the huge opportunities available in the media and entertainment industry. According to latest PriceWaterhouseCoopers Q2 2009 report, media and entertainment investments, totaled $115B, averaged $2 million per deal and totaled 52 deals, mostly from Silicon Valley (19), but also 10 from New York, and 6 from LA/Orange County. https://www.pwcmoneytree.com/MTPublic/ns/print.jsp?page=industry&industry=7100&region

The panelists and presenters had the following advice for virtual worlds entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs:

  1. The growth of an individual virtual world, and the industry altogether might grow in fits and starts, depending on technology availability, user communities, adoption of standards, bandwidth constraints and other factors. Awareness of these challenges and addressing them headlong, in collaboration with other stakeholders will help drive the growth of the industry.
  2. Minimize the barrier to adoption and drive the user base for your community: making adoption friction-less a critical factor for success. Make sure that there are no technology hassles (installing separate plug-ins and technologies), process hurdles (logging in, taking surveys, confusing steps), or marketing/branding confusion (they have to know where to go and that their trusted colleagues have recommended the experience), for example.
  3. Take advantage of the ‘Hybrid Tiered Solution’, where general users (about 85%) get in free, and a certain percentage (around 15%) pays through micro transactions for premium services and a smaller percentage (1-3% for example) pays for ongoing subscription levels. The successful organization will offer a solution which would serve the individual needs of all three types of users, treating them all as valuable members.
  4. Leverage the social communities (FaceBook, Twitter, iPhone, etc.) of the audience to leverage the growth of your community.
  5. Content is king. Everyone wants more content, richer interaction, more activities, more engagement, etc. The successful company offers solutions which engages users while also setting appropriate controls and boundaries.
  6. Focus on the needs of your target audience, whether they are frequent texters, or users of Twitter or FaceBook, creating a virtual world that lets them interact the way THEY want to will attract the audience you’re targeting.
  7. Research patents in your space, and consider IP issues associated with user-generated content. Find the edge of the law to remain competitive, but stay on the right side of the law to avoid litigation and other problems.
  8. Policies, regulations and enforcements in the virtual worlds space are rapidly evolving. Leverage resources to stay informed and be prepared to help shape, respond to these changes.
  9. Adoption of hardware such as headsets and webcams etc. will continue to occur, but not nearly at the pace of the evolution of software. Therefore, if your virtual world incorporates hardware components, create games which work with existing hardware, and leverage existing markets.
  10. Create a simple communication device to share information to the whole community, like a leader board, as it would generate discussion, invite more engagement, and help with the viral growth of the community.
  11. Ease of use can be defined as the first 30 seconds, the first 30 minutes, the first 30 hours, and the first 30 days. Strategies for retaining and securing users for each of the ‘first 30s’ may vary, but they are also inter-dependent, and must always focus on the needs of the customers.
  12. When designing a virtual worlds solution, speak to the people who would use it, like nurses or service station attendees rather than doctors (if they are not the ones who will use the solution) and managers (if they are not the ones serving the customer).

The panel raised some questions which could lead to hot virtual world business opportunities:

  1. What are the challenges and opportunities in synchronist and asynchornistic communication? How can solutions bring more people from more places together and more richly interact?
  2. How can virtual worlds assist with visualizing and modeling to support the innovation process and more cost-effectively make real technology- based solutions?
  3. What opportunities can data analytics and data visualization provide?
  4. Solutions across sectors offer opportunities. What might work for the education market, for example, might also serve a life science market. In addition, the technology for conducting a quest for a game might be adapted to organizational and productivity tools for businesses. What could this mean for YOUR company?
  5. What are the intersections of where gaming meets music or education or homework and what solution could you create to serve the needs of that market?

In summary, our panelists and presenters have shown and told us that Virtual Worlds:

  1. Are not only becoming more and more useful, they are also engaging and fun and potentially profitable.
  2. Are being adopted in different ways to create and serve communities for personal and business benefit.
  3. Are being increasingly more integrated into everyday business functions from training to education to service, branding and outreach. As such, challenges such as IP, security, privacy, and other factors will arise.
  4. Are mature enough that metaphors and examples exist, making it easier for potential customers and partners to understand new technology and business model solutions. Second Life, early games, Mosaic, Silicon Graphics, Tivo, Qwaq and other others have forged the business, technology and cultural grounds and helped grow the industry. They have been around long enough so tools and technologies and solutions are available, and the technology adoption curve is not as steep.
  5. Is not dominated by the US, as adoption of virtual goods and mobile platforms for example is 4-5x faster in Asia and Europe.

Additional information and resources:

  1. Presenting Entrepreneur Brian Bauer, OnTrack Health, winners in the Enterprise, Other Category (Collaboration in Health Care): http://ontracktechnology.blogspot.com
  2. Panelist Joshua Bell, Director, Technology Integration, Linden Lab http://www.lindenlab.com
  3. Linden Lab: Second Life enters the realm of the enterprise. Joe Miller, VP of Platforms and Technology Development, at Linden Lab talks to CNET’s Dan Farber about the challenges in developing dynamic and reliable backend operations for the 3D virtual world of Second Life. Miller also discusses how they’re incorporating new hi-tech conferencing tools for business users such as VoIP solutions and video streaming technologies. http://video.zdnet.com/CIOSessions/?p=310
  4. Linden Lab’s Blog on the Economy https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2009/04/16/the-second-life-economy–first-quarter-2009-in-detail
  5. Second Life Starts To Grow Again, Wagner James Au, Wednesday, April 15, 2009 http://gigaom.com/2009/04/15/exclusive-internal-second-life-data-shows-returning-growth/
  6. Panelist Jack Buser, Director of Sony Playstation Home: http://www.playstation.sony.com
  7. Panelist Tim Chang, Principal, Norwest Venture Partners http://www.nvp.com
  8. Presenting Entrepreneur Dustin Clingman, Immediate Mode Interactive LLC, winners in the Enterprise, Virtual Meetings Category: http://www.immediatemodeinteractive.com
  9. Presenter, Sponsor and Panelist Benjamin Duranske, Associate, Pillsbury Winthrop
  10. Entrepreneur with display booth, Andrew Filev, CloudMach, http://www.cloudmach.com
  11. Emcee and Sponsor, Michael Gialis, New Business Development for Sun Microsystem’s Lab and Chief Technology Office, Virtual Worlds Roadmap Group and Survey: http://virtualworldsroadmap.blogspot.com/
  12. Panelist Michael Gold, CEO, Electrotank http://www.electrotank.com
  13. Presenting Entrepreneur Sherry Gunther, CEO, Masher Media, winners in the Consumer, Six to Twelve Category: http://www.mashermedia.com
  14. Panelist David Helgason, CEO, Unity: http://www.unity3d.com
  15. Panelist Damon Hernandez, Lead, Web3D Outreach, Web3d Consortium http://www.web3d.org
  16. Presenting Entrepreneur Troy Hipolito, CTO and Owner, ISO Interactive, winners in the Consumer, Teenagers to Adult Category: http://www.isointeractive.com
  17. Presenter Barry Holroyd, CTO, Masher Media, http://www.mashermedia.com
  18. Presenting Entrepreneur Stevan Lieberman, SpotON3D, winners in the Enterprise, Other Category (Virtual Real Estate and Office Tools): http://www.spoton3d.com
  19. Entrepreneur with display booth, Greg Howes, IdeaBuilder, http://www.ideabuilderhomes.com
  20. Panelist Greg Nuyens, CEO, Teleplace, formerly Qwaq http://www.teleplace.com
  21. Demo presentation by Chris Platz, Creative Director, Sirikata, Stanford Humanities Lab and Computer Science, projects: Virtual Museum and Virtual Live Music Performance: http://www.sirikata.com and http://shl.stanford.edu
  22. Panel Moderator Jeffrey Pope, Founder of Virtual Worlds Roadmap Group, Former Virtual Worlds VC and Virtual Worlds Entrepreneur, and Founding Partner, Spark Sky Ventures: http://www.sparksky.com
  23. Presenting Entrepreneur Terry Thorpe, Chairman, KohdSpace, winners in the Enterprise, Virtual Events and Tradeshows Category: http://www.kohdspace.com
  24. Panel Moderator Sibley Verbeck, CEO, The Electric Sheep Company http://www.electricsheepcompany.com
  25. Demo presentation by Nicole Yankelovich, Principal Investigator, Collaborative Environments program including Wonderland v0.5, Sun Labs will demo the new features / functionality and capability of our re-architected platform: http://www.projectwonderland.com

In conclusion, the opportunities in the virtual worlds space are massive, with the convergence of technologies and markets and solutions. And it will take basic business principals, including strategic leadership and superior execution, constant education, lots of hard work, and a network of influential contacts to remain competitive in this rapidly growing and evolving space.

At FountainBlue, we support transformative leadership, one conversation, one leader, one organization at a time. We therefore hope that you have enjoyed the meeting, and that the meeting and these follow-up notes, along with the attached updated list of attendees, and the attached bios, provide you with both food for thought and great connections. We will also post our notes to our community on both BigTent https://www.bigtent.com/groups/fountainblue and LinkedIn and invite interactive conversations around these notes through those communities. Although we welcome you to share our notes, with proper acknowledgment to FountainBlue and our sponsors and speakers, we ask that you DO NOT forward the contact list as it is intended to be shared with fellow attendees only.


The Advantages Of Virtual Meetings

September 5, 2009

Source: Forbes Insights

Source: Forbes Insights

Forbes Insights published a study titled “Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face“, in which the key finding was this: “the majority of executives polled believe face-to-face meetings are still crucial for building stronger, more meaningful and profitable business relationships.”  Excellent points were made in the blogosphere this week regarding this study:

  1. Forbes in a Funk over Virtual Meetings and Events (Virtual Edge)
  2. Virtual Augments Face-to-Face – Reply to Forbes and HSMAI Surveys (Virtual Insights | InXpo)

I don’t wish to question the conclusion of the Forbes Insights study – nor do I wish to have a debate on “face-to-face vs. virtual”.  Despite the fact that I’m passionate about virtual, I’m a true believer in the value of face-to-face.  What I would like to highlight is that face-to-face and virtual have unique capabilities.  Meeting planners must consider these capabilities and apply them appropriately.

With virtual, an often-touted benefit is that they’re green and carbon-friendly.  And while that’s certainly a nice side-effect, I think it’s important to focus on unique in-meeting capabilities of virtual – here are a few that come to mind:

  1. Participatory training with seamless presenter transitions – while it’s true that a face-to-face meeting is hard to beat with regard to audience participation – in a virtual meeting, there’s still plenty of room for audience participation.  In fact, with a shared whiteboard, participants can annotate a technical diagram simultaneously, which is trickier to do with more than 2 people (annotating) in a physical space.  In addition, participants can be “handed the ball” and take turns serving as the presenter – without having to stand up, walk to the front of the room and plug their laptop into the projector.  In an instant, a new presenter can start sharing her desktop applications for the rest of the meeting participants to see.  In a 3D virtual meeting (e.g. Second Life, Lotus Sametime 3D), participation becomes even richer, allowing medical students, fighter pilots (in training), computer technicians, etc. to learn by interacting with 3D objects.
  2. Meetings On Demand – what if your technical meeting needed to split up into a set of smaller focus groups?  In a physical meeting, you’d need to gather up each sub-group and go seek out new conference rooms (or, migrate into corners of the same room, which could be distracting for everyone).  Or, take another scenario whereby a senior executive wants to faciliate an ad-hoc face-to-face meeting during the coming weekend – all required participants would then need to make the necessary travel (and lodging) arrangements to get to the meeting venue.  With virtual, meetings are truly on demand – you create the meeting with the click of a mouse and the participants arrive with the click of a mouse.
  3. Putting the cards on the table – while this is difficult to quantify or prove, I believe that participants are more “at ease” in a virtual meeting and more likely to reveal thoughts that they’d otherwise be hesitant to do in person.  A virtual tradeshow is a good example.  Exhibitors have found that visitors to their booth are more transparent and revealing about budget, timeframe, decision making process, etc.  – when interacting via text chat.  The same person in a physical booth may be hesitant to reveal those details.  So for meetings that can stand to benefit from more transparency and openness (and not all of them do!), virtual can be a boon.
  4. More efficient person-to-person interactions – if you’re the chief executive of a company with 500 or more employees, I’m sure it’s hard for you to achieve the same quality time (with employees) as when you had 50 employees.  If you assemble the company at a physical meeting, it’s a challenge to mingle with the crowd and achieve any true quality – you’ll be more akin to a president or dignitary, who walks down a receiving line shaking hands and patting folks on the shoulder.  If you invite the same 500 employees to a virtual meeting or virtual event, you’ll find an easier ability to have meaningful interactions (via text chat) – including the potential to carry on multiple chats at the same time.  Employees will also find that they receive more access to the chief (and other execs) than they would in a (crowded) physical space.

So those are some advantages that come to mind for me.  What advantages have I missed?


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