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


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

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.


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.

Leverage Twitter Lists For Your Physical Or Virtual Event

November 7, 2009


Robert Scoble's tech-event-organizers Twitter List

What’s a very simple yet effective way to integrate the new Twitter Lists feature into your event?  Here’s what you can do:

  1. Define your event hash tag (a “must do” for any event!)
  2. Create a Twitter List for your event
  3. If your company or event already has a Twitter ID (“brand”), connect it to that ID (e.g.<your-brand>/<your-event-list>)
  4. On your registration page, ask registrants to supply their Twitter ID
  5. Manually or automatically populate your Twitter List directly from registration!

As part of the Twitter API, there are methods in place to interact with Twitter Lists (look in the documentation for List Methods, List Members Methods, List Subscribers Methods).  As such, you could automate this process by having your registration page utilize the Twitter List API to auto-populate your list directly from registration.

In addition, you could use the Twitter API to inform registrants which of their Twitter friends or followers are (a) also registered and (b) already a member of the Twitter List.  Here are benefits of leveraging a Twitter List for you event:

Registrants promote the event on your behalf

It’s the crowdsourcing method for generating awareness – allow the participants to spread the word on their own.  After all, the combined reach of your registrants is far greater than your own.  By referencing your Twitter list on your registration page, users who supply their Twitter ID will likely go straight from registration completion to the Twitter list to (a) confirm that they’re now a member of the list and (b) skim through the pre-existing messages.

The concept is similar to a pre-event bulletin board or forum – the beauty of using Twitter, however, is that unlike a forum (which needs a critical mass of initial postings before it really takes off), a Twitter list is “pre-seeded” from the natural activity of the list members’ tweets.  You can be sure that as users register for your event, they’ll first tweet that they “just registered” – and then, continue to tweet about the event (especially as the event date draws near).  You’ll want to encourage all registrants to include your event hash tag when they tweet.

Facilitates pre-event networking among registrants

Whether physical or virtual, a key reason people attend events is the networking aspect – being able to meet, connect and interact with others, to discuss common business challenges – and to extend their social graphs.  Too often, however, one arrives at an event with no idea whom else is attending.  A Twitter List changes the game – you’ll not only know the identity of folks who are attending, but you’ll feel like you know them very well.

Consider friends or family members that you follow on Twitter or Facebook – do you find that you come to learn and understand them more via status updates than interacting with them day-to-day (or over the years)?  It’s remarkable how social network connections can generate a more complete picture of an individual.  With pre-registrants to an event, you may find that you’re really getting to know individuals, based on their intra-day status updates and industry thoughts.

This will lead to events whereby attendees will have pre-arranged meet-ups and appointments (with other attendees) in advance, making their event experience more rewarding.  Perhaps someone will build an integration from Twitter List pages to LinkedIn, so that event registrants can also extend their LinkedIn connections directly from the event’s Twitter List.

Allows exhibitors to get to know registrants/attendees

This will need to be managed/handled properly, as registrants surely wouldn’t welcome unsolicited pitches from exhibitors before they’ve even attended the event – but, imagine the potential for exhibitors.  You get to know the users who are attending the event.  Perhaps you create booth content or special offers that are tailored to what you’ve learned about your upcoming booth visitors.  Did they talk about pricing challenges in your market?  Well, how about an event-exclusive price break on your product, which you announce at the event?

If users commented about technical challenges using your product, bring the right specialists into your booth so that you directly address this pre-event feedback.  Lastly, exhibitors can seed some “must meet” lists based on the registrants who are tweeting within the list – build a profile of interesting users and ask your booth reps to be on alert if those individuals visit your booth.

Can you believe it?  Something as simple as a Twitter List can go a long way to making everyone happy: registrants/attendees, exhibitors and … YOU.

Related links

  1. 10 Ways You Can Use Twitter Lists (Mashable)
  2. Five Essential Twitter Lists For Every Event (CrowdVine)

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