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How MOOCs are Similar to Virtual Events (and Quite Different, Too)

October 19, 2013

Can you say MOOC?
Photo credit: Flickr user audreywatters via photopin cc

Introduction

In Boston this past week, I attended one marketing conference and walked past another. I scanned the schedule of the other conference and saw a recognizable set of popular topics: mobile, big data, social media.

And then I noticed a session on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and their role in the future of education. That evening, I met a college buddy for dinner and we talked about MOOCs. He was experimenting with them and even received a few certifications from completing an online course.

So this got me thinking about MOOCs and their growing popularity. In doing so, I was drawn to the many similarities they have with virtual events. Let’s consider a few.

How MOOCs are Similar to Virtual Events

Extended Reach to a Global Audience

Extended reach across the globe
Photo credit: Flickr user DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

MOOCs, like virtual events, can reach anyone with an Internet connection. Whether you’re in Paris, France or Paris, Texas, it doesn’t matter.

The New York Times ran a piece about a boy who attended several courses via MIT’s MOOC from his home in Mongolia. And that’s the power of an online platform. Traditionally, your event or your college course required your physical presence. Today, anyone can attend from anywhere.

Disrupting Business Models and Conventions

The emergence of MOOCs and virtual events disrupted venues and formats with hundreds (or thousands) of years of history (e.g. education and events).

When disruption hits an industry, some seek out the change, while others combat it. We’ve seen these dynamics in both the education and events industries. The disruptive force, though, needs to seek and refine a sustainable business model. MOOCs are finding their way. Virtual events have not proven to be self-sustaining, financially.

The Power of Online Collaboration

MOOCs and virtual events help people find and discover new connections (online) and facilitate a degree of collaboration that wouldn’t have happened face-to-face.

In MOOCs, online students can answer each other’s questions (which would be rude to do in the middle of a lecture), while also grading each other’s assignments.

In a virtual event, 50 attendees can simultaneously chat and brainstorm a topic, in a way that just wouldn’t be possible (with that many people) in-person.

Ultimately, the power of online collaboration can lead to face-to-face connections and experiences. The boy from Mongolia (Battushig Myanganbayar) ended up attending MIT. And the girl in Paris, France will end up traveling to the conference that she first attended online.

How MOOCs are Quite Different from Virtual Events

There are important differences between MOOCs and virtual events – and these differences give MOOCs a higher likelihood of finding a sustainable and successful business model.

Education is a More Basic Need

The need for education is basic
Photo credit: Flickr user One Laptop per Child via photopin cc

TED conferences are an exception. In B2B, the majority of conferences and events are for industry gatherings and professional associations. In other words, places you go once you’ve started your professional career.

Higher education, on the other hand, is what many seek in order to land their first job. And because of the high cost of higher education, some families have never sent a single person to college.

MOOCs can now provide a taste of that education to any family member.  They’re also relevant to those already in the workforce who want to stay current in their industry or branch out into others.

Conceived by Insiders

Let’s consider some well-known MOOCs: Coursera, edX and Udacity. They were founded by professors at Stanfard, MIT and Harvard. In other words: insiders identified the need, built the platform and formed companies to find sustainable business models.

It’s the insider angle that gives MOOCs their advantage: an insider appreciates the complexities of the system in a way no outsider can. And, the insider has valuable connections that would take outsiders a long time to assemble.

Virtual events platforms were built by entrepreneurs, who partnered with the insiders (event professionals) to find a sustainable business model. Advantage: MOOCs.

Technology Advancement

Virtual events emerged circa 2005-2006. At the time, Twitter didn’t exist, Facebook was just opening its service outside college campuses and the iPhone had yet to be created.

MOOCs emerged several years later, to an entirely different world: a world of social media, pervasive mobile device usage, lower bandwidth costs and more convenient video production/streaming capabilities.

Technologies like USTREAM and Google+ Hangouts have made it a cinch to broadcast live video from anywhere. As a result, they’ve raised the bar for vendors who provide similar services. If only virtual (and hybrid) events had it so easy back in 2006.

A Focus on the Core Unit (the Lecture)

The college lecture
Photo credit: Flickr user pinelife via photopin cc

MOOCs found success by focusing on the core unit of their offering: the online course. Virtual events, on the other hand, charted a more complex route by attempting to re-create the conference experience in 3D or pseudo-3D.

Virtual events had elaborate lobbies and lounges, and an exhibit floor complete with virtual booths. MOOCs have not attempted to re-create the quad, the library steps and the dining hall (although online eating may be possible one day with 3D printers).

Over time, virtual events adapted to focus more on the content and less on the virtual furniture. MOOCs have focused on the core content from the start.

Conclusion

Massively Open Online Events. Would virtual events have evolved differently if we used an alternative name? Probably not. MOOCs, while similar to virtual events, have a number of advantages.

I’ll be watching to see how their business model evolves. And like my college buddy, I’ll have to spend a few evenings attending an online course myself.

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“It’s All Virtual” On Virtual Worlds

October 3, 2010

Introduction

Given Microsoft’s rumored interest in acquiring Linden Lab (developers of Second Life), I thought I’d assemble some recent virtual worlds content.

Related: “Microsoft Buys Vivaty For New Project, May Be Looking For More,” from Virtual Worlds News

Virtual worlds have taken a hit, as Twitter, Facebook and other services have become media darlings.  And while I love social networks as much as anyone, I do think the market is under-considering (if that’s a word) the potential of virtual worlds technologies.

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

I analyzed different directions that Linden Lab could take Second Life.  Of course, one that I did not cover was an exit – if the rumored exit (Microsoft) were to happen, I’m very curious to see how and where Microsoft folds the Second Life technology into its business.

On a slightly related topic, I wrote about how virtual worlds can be more like Twitter and Facebook – that is, more social and more open to the rest of the web.

Related: Guest Post from Pooky Amsterdam, “The Business Benefits of Second Life.”

Conference Coverage: FountainBlue Virtual Worlds (September 2010)

  1. 3 Virtual Worlds Technologies To Watch
  2. Trends In The Virtual Worlds Industry
  3. Hear From A Panel Of Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs

Conference Coverage: Stanford Media X Virtual Worlds (August 2010)

  1. Stanford Media X Event: Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs Show The Way
  2. Stanford Media X Event: IMVU’s Online Community

Virtual Recap: Recent Postings On Virtual Events And Virtual Worlds

August 26, 2010

Virtual Events eBooks

  1. Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go – download the eBook
  2. Social Media and Virtual Events – download the eBook

Across the Industry

  1. My guest post at PR Meets Marketing, “Go Virtual for your Next Press Event” – how virtual events can be an effective platform for PR and marketing simultaneously
  2. Ken Heyward (vcopious) with a guest post on this blog, “Flexible Platforms in a Virtual World,” which addresses considerations for SaaS vs. on-premise software for virtual events
  3. ROI for Virtual Events,” a posting I authored on the INXPO blog, with insights on virtual events ROI from thought leader Todd Hanson from ROI of Engagement

Virtual Worlds

  1. Stanford Media X Event – Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs Show The Way
  2. Stanford Media X Event – Summary of IMVU Presentation from Brett Durrett, VP Engineering at IMVU
  3. FountainBlue Event – Annual Virtual Worlds Conference hosted by Cisco (Milpitas, CA)

Virtual Events Calendar

  1. There were a few virtual events in August as summer winded down – but look at what’s scheduled for September – events on luxury travel, natural products, publishing, higher education, autos, wireless technology, cruise shipping and eBooks.  Glad to see virtual events being leveraged across so many distinct industries

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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