Introduction to HuzuTech: A Social Media Software Company

January 17, 2011

Note: The following posting was submitted by Graeme Harvey, Managing Director, HuzuTech

Graeme Harvey is MD of HuzuTech, a social media software company. He’s been involved with HuzuTech since 2009, and before that he started up a successful digital publishing division within Harpercollins publishers, concentrating on online, desktop and mobile application development. There, he developed a digital business that underpinned the Collins Language division – the first of its kind within Harpercollins UK (it included the first e-commerce, e-book and mobile app presence).

Introduction

HuzuTech is a British social and virtual technology company. We’ve just launched our white label virtual world platform, HuzuVirtual, which lets brands, publishers and film or TV production houses create their own branded virtual worlds and online environments – at a fraction of the cost of building one from scratch.

We also white label our own social networking platform, HuzuSocial, which lets brands offer secure social networking facilities (including within a virtual world, through full integration with HuzuVirtual) and the ability to link to Facebook.

Branded communities

We announced the launch of HuzuVirtual at AdTech New York recently, and the response was fantastic. We know that virtual worlds are a huge growth area for publishers and media companies, but what was really interesting was the appetite for brands to create their own communities.

As online communities become integral to brands’ marketing campaigns, there is a reluctance to hand over control of customer data and relationships to a third party like Facebook, and requirements for more sophisticated or bespoke technology to manage those relationships effectively.

Customisation

As a result, our technology is completely customisable, with functionality that includes things like the creation of different virtual environments, rooms or ‘levels’ to the world; avatar creation; virtual (or real) goods shop; fully moderated chat functionality; custom-branded avatars; and special events such as online meetings, concerts, and VIP areas. It’s cloud-based, because it is designed to be able to cope with rapid growth, when the community grows exponentially.

Monetisation

There’s also the thorny issue of monetisation. More and more, brands are seeking to monetise their online environments. Sales of branded goods are expected to grow by more than 100 per cent over the next three years. We’ve included virtual shopping features in HuzuVirtual, and the feedback we’ve had so far has been that brands definitely want to control an environment where customers are paying for their goods.

Demonstrating the Technology

We’ve developed a site to show how the technology works, including some really great features like routing technology (which means an avatar will always follow a path – rather than walking ‘through’ obstacles), and ‘motion’ sensors (see how the car alarms going off when the avatar walks past them) here: http://paperworld.huzutech.com/.

Note: this isn’t a virtual world in itself, but shows the kind of technology we can use. We’re constantly tinkering with it to make it better, and we’re always interested to know what other people think of it.

The first full virtual world built on our platform will be out in around June 2011, and is for Scholastic’s Horrible Histories™ – it’s a great one to be working on and shows how the publishing industry is one of the first to adopt these new technologies to market books.

If you’re interested to know more, visit our website: www.huzutech.com.


How I Published A Virtual Events Book

December 4, 2010

Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events

For more info: New Book, Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events

Introduction

Publishing a book has never been easier. Today’s Web 2.0 tools (e.g. self publishing, wikis, crowdsourcing, etc.) completely empower the aspiring author.  If you’ve got the inspiration to create a manuscript, then the logistics of going from completed manuscript to Amazon.com has gotten a whole lot easier.  Here’s the approach I took to publish my book, “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events“.

Self Publishing

With self-publishing, you’re in complete control.  You dictate all the details of the book (e.g. title, cover image, etc.) and you define the schedule.  At the same time, you become your own editor, producer and PR agency.  Those are some key trade-offs.  In the end, I decided self-publishing was the way to go.  Its immediacy is a huge advantage – with a completed manuscript, you can self-publish a book in as little as a day, whereas a traditional book publisher requires several months.

First, I selected my self-publishing service, FastPencil. While there are a number of services available, I had used FastPencil for a family project and found it quite intuitive and easy.  It also helped that their support team (especially Dave) was helpful and always responded to my emails sooner than I anticipated.

As you can see above, self-publishing looks a lot like blogging. And it really is that simple. For me, publishing a book was like writing a series of blog posts in Microsoft Word – and then copy/pasting them into a blog editor, with a little bit of formatting afterwards.  I then purchased the “Wide Distribution” option from FastPencil and they took care of assigning the book an ISBN and listing it for sale at Amazon, BarnesAndNoble.com, Ingram and Apple’s iBooks Store.

Community Publishing

As I was working to complete the manuscript, I posted the book’s introductory chapter here on this blog and on a PBworks wiki.  My objectives were to get some early promotion of the book (and give potential readers a taste for what I’d cover) and see if the community would want a hand in editing it.  Anyone who created a PBworks account could edit the introduction.

Copy edits were welcome – and, I invited folks to make changes to the content.  If I liked the edits or contributions, I’d apply them to the manuscript and acknowledge the contributor(s) within the printed book.  While no one made edits to the wiki, I think we’ll see a trend towards community publishing of books.

Authors will leverage the web to source spelling and grammatical corrections from a global network of copy editors.  And industry peers will participate to become co-authors.  You see it today on sites like Quora or FOCUS.com – in the near future, the collaborative discussions sourced  there will be excerpted into printed books.

Cover Image via Crowdsourcing


It doesn’t get much better than this: you name your price for a cover design and have a global network of graphic designers bid on your project.  You then receive several submissions of the actual (proposed) book cover, which you then need to whittle down to a final few.  For submissions you like, you request some adjustments or alterations.  Those updates are made by the designers and you make a final selection on the eventual book cover.  This was all made possible by a great site called 99Designs.

I’ve worked with some design shops who limited the number of iterations they’d allow on a design (i.e. since each iteration increases their cost). With the crowdsourced model at 99Designs, I received messages from designers that I had not rated their design or provided enough feedback! Such is the dynamic when the incentive model is inverted: you get paid only when your design is selected.

99Designs has done cover design projects for other books, including “The Purpose Driven Life” and “Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body”. “Crowdsourcing is a great way for book authors to see the many different ways in which artists interpret the title and subject matter of the book. They get ideas and concepts that they would have never gotten otherwise,” said Matt Mickiewicz, co-founder of 99Designs.

With a neat polling feature from 99Designs, I invited friends and family to review the submissions – they were able to rate each submission and leave comments.  The number of submissions received will correspond to the dollar value of your reward – I happened to set a moderately priced reward, but still received 67 submissions, which I thought was a fantastic amount.  The biggest challenge was in narrowing them down to a single selection.

Conclusion

Aspiring authors have more tools at their disposal than ever before.  If you’re a high frequency blogger who loves to write, then turning you expertise and passion into a printed book (or, e-book) may be the thing to do.  The power is in your hands (and fingers).


Virtual Mingle Rooms: Show Them What You’re Talking About

November 1, 2010

The following is a guest post by Daniel Ruscigno of Mingleverse.

Introduction

Mingleverse is a new service offering browser-based virtual rooms where 2 to 50 people can get together to talk using 3D audio while watching various types of media together (pictures, presentations, videos, webcam, screen broadcasting, etc).

Although predominantly a consumer-facing service, Mingleverse is used not only by friends and family in Facebook, but also by teachers and trainers, and small businesses.  However, the most interesting adoption has been with authors and athletes who are using their Mingle Room to mingle live with their fans.

Use Cases

For example, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell had a live virtual mingle with 25 of his fans, where they were all able to ask him questions about his books and his future writing plans.  Gladwell mingled from the comfort of his New York apartment and came into the room via webcam for all of the fans to see.  He commented afterwards that it really did feel like meeting 25 new people, and the fans were ecstatic that they got to meet their favorite author.

The Vancouver Canucks NHL team have also taken advantage of Mingleverse’s virtual Mingle Rooms by embedding one directly on their website.  After each home game the Canucks invite their fans to join the Mingle Room to talk about the night’s game, watch live post game interviews and press conferences together, and watch highlights streamed directly from YouTube.

There are now several professional sports teams who are looking to be the leaders in live fan interaction and are excited about providing fans the opportunity to mingle live with players and coaches.

Conclusion

As Mingleverse has shown, virtual world technologies allow us to become more interactive with people from all over the world and can afford us new opportunities not regularly available in our daily physical lives.  As we adopt these new technologies, perhaps our celebrity idols will ask you to meet them in their Mingle Room in their next tweet!

You can try Mingleverse for free at http://mingleverse.com or through the Mingleverse Facebook Application.

Related: Mingleverse picks up $1.4M in seed funding for video conferencing with cardboard cutouts (from VentureBeat, Dec 2010)


Webinar Evolution

October 6, 2010

Introduction

Do you attend webinars?  If so, what is your satisfaction level with the experience?

Webinar Q&A

I was attending a highly captivating webinar last week.  The speaker had delivered a great, crisp presentation and was doing a great job answering questions during the Q&A period.  While viewing the webinar, I tweeted the following:

Needed in webinars: tool for producer to dynamically insert Q&A topic on screen – better than seeing static closing-slide image

When presenters complete their presentation and transition to Q&A, the viewer is left with a closing slide.  That slide remains unchanged for the duration of the Q&A session.  Couldn’t the moderator play a role here by generating some updates that appear in the webinar player, adding some context to the presenter’s answer?

That’s one of many ways that the webinar experience can evolve.  About a year ago, in fact, I wrote a posting about applying Web 2.0 features to webinars.  Here’s a link to that posting:

https://allvirtual.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/from-web-2-0-to-webinar-2-0/

Let us know your thoughts – how can webinars evolve?


FountainBlue’s Virtual Worlds Annual Conference (2010)

August 11, 2010

On September 24th 2010, FountainBlue will hold its “Second Annual State of the Virtual Worlds Industry Event” on Cisco’s campus in Milpitas, CA (USA).  The title of the event is:

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

Register to Attend

The conference will host three panels of virtual worlds experts and thought leaders – one on industry trends facilitate by Jeff Pope (Founding Partner, Spark Sky Ventures), another featuring industry entrepreneurs and facilitated by Nina Gerwin (Founder, The NRG Group) and one that I’m facilitating on corporate use of virtual worlds.

Linda Holroyd, Founder and CEO of FountainBlue answered a few questions about FountainBlue and this virtual worlds event:

Q: Tell us about FountainBlue.

A: FountainBlue stimulates collaborative innovation one conversation, one leader, one organization at a time, through our monthly events, our dynamic communities, and our strategic and business development consulting services for early stage clean energy, high tech and life science entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Q: Who should attend this conference?

A: This conference is for virtual worlds and other high tech entrepreneurs involved in or interested in this hot space, for intrapreneurs involved with virtual worlds solutions building brand and serving customers, and investors interested in investing in this space.

Q: Why should they attend?

A: FountainBlue events are known both for the quality of the speakers and program, but also for the value of the quality, win-win, long-term connections created. Both are highly valued in creating an entrepreneurial community in this exciting area.

Q: On virtual worlds and “where we’re going”, what is your opinion?

A: The opportunities in virtual worlds brings together the best of enterprise solutions which automate business process to better serve customers at all levels, the best of social media and its capacity to expand audiences virally leveraging technology, and the best of gaming with its fanatical appeal to extremely loyal customers. It is a hot Web 3.0 opportunity, which takes the technology, community, and monetizing potential of Web 2.0 to the next level.

Q: Tell us about other upcoming events from FountainBlue?

A: FountainBlue produces monthly events for clean energy and life science entrepreneurs as well as a Tech2Green series for executives transitioning into the clean energy industry and a When She Speaks Women in Leadership series, supporting women entrepreneurs and leaders. We run annual events for the high tech entrepreneurs in our community, which includes an annual freemium-to-premium event, an annual M&A event, an annual data analytics event, as well as an annual virtual worlds conference – this one, which we are conducting for the second consecutive year. We facilitate the cross-over between communities in support of entrepreneurial ventures.

Q: How do you support early stage entrepreneurs beyond connecting them through regular events?

A: FountainBlue supports entrepreneurs through one-on-one strategic and business development consulting for early stage clean energy, high tech (including virtual worlds) and life science entrepreneurs. We help our founders develop and refine business models and strategies and work with founders to build momentum with initial customers and strategic partnerships.

FountainBlue’s Virtual Worlds Annual Conference

Topic: Virtual Worlds: Where We Were, Where We’re Going, What Does It Mean to YOU?
Date & time: Friday, September 24, 2010, from 8:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m PT
Location: Cisco, Great Dane Conference Room at MCCARTHY RANCH 3 (SJCMR3), 155 North McCarthy Blvd., Milpitas, CA
Cost: Register by September 22 at noon: $42 members, $52 partners, $62 general
Late and On-Site Registration: $62 for members, $32 for non-members
Registration: http://www.svvirtualworlds.com by 9/22 at noon
Audience: Entrepreneurs, Intrapreneurs and Investors only. No service providers please.

Description
FountainBlue’s Second Annual State of the Virtual Worlds Industry conference updates entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and investors on the successes, challenges and trends of the industry overall, and showcases corporate and entrepreneurial virtual world demos. Beginning with a panel sharing the growth of the industry from the legal, venture, research and corporate perspectives, the program will next highlight how leading corporations are leveraging virtual worlds solutions to better serve their constituents, and culminating in showcasing early stage, funding-bound virtual worlds entrepreneurs with a range of solutions pushing the technology and business envelope.

Agenda

8:30 Registration and Networking

9:00 Welcomes and Thank Yous

9:15 Trends in the Virtual Worlds Industry: An Update on What’s New and What’s Coming

Facilitator Jeff Pope, Founding Partner, Spark Sky Ventures
Tim Chang, Principal, Norwest Ventures
David Helgason, CEO and Co-Founder, Unity
Chris Platz, Creative Director and Art Lead, Stanford Sirikata Labs
Eilif Trondsen, Research and Program Director of the Virtual Worlds @ Work Consortium at Strategic Business Insights
Mark Wallace, Conversation Manager, Linden Lab

10:20  Morning Break

10:35 Corporate Panel: Serving Customers, Building Communities, Training Users

Facilitator Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing, INXPO
Mic Bowman, Intel
Dannette Veale, Global Virtual Event Strategist, Cisco, Lead, Virtual Component, Cisco Live
Another Corporate Presenter to be confirmed

11:40   Lunch and Networking

12:30   Entrepreneur Panel: The Tools, The Goods, The Immersion Experience

Facilitator Nina Gerwin, The NRG Group
Michael Gold, CEO, Electrotank:
Steve Hoffman, CEO, Rocketon: virtual world for tweeners
Albert Kim, CEO, Zenitum: Augmented reality with 3D displays
Jim Parker, CEO, Digitell: SaaS 3D immersive virtual events and virtual training
Reuben Steiger, Founder and Chairman, Virtual Greats

1:30 Adjourn and Further Networking and Corporate Exhibits and Entrepreneur Showcases open until 2:00

For more information and to register, visit http://www.svvirtualworlds.com.

Thank You to Our Sponsors:
We are grateful to our sponsors at Cisco for their ongoing sponsorship of FountainBlue’s annual virtual world’s conference.

(Technorati code: 2KFW26VPVNTT)

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How To Use Twitter For Virtual Event User Support

March 8, 2010

End user support for virtual events has traditionally been provided via a small number of channels: email and telephone support (which is especially useful for users having issues entering the virtual event) and “in-show support”, which is typically provided in a “help booth” within the virtual event.  With growing use of social media, however, attendees are leveraging their social network tools to request (and receive) user support.

From my observations, Twitter is the most widely used social network for virtual event support requests (today) – however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see increased “calls for help” via Facebook and LinkedIn.  This posting provides tips and best practices on providing virtual event end user support via Twitter.

Create/Establish a Twitter Account

Users can’t find you on Twitter if you’re not there, which means that if you don’t already have a presence on Twitter, you’ll need to create one.  I recommend a Twitter ID that incorporates your company name – or, the product, platform or service that you provide (if that’s different from your company name).  In addition, be transparent about the contributors (employees) who tweet on behalf of your company and brand.

Create A Real-Time Dashboard (of  tweets)

Configure your Twitter client (e.g. TweetDeck, Seesmic, etc.) with the relevant search terms and hash tags related to your virtual event.  At minimum, you’ll want to monitor the following:

  1. @Replies sent to your Twitter account (in TweetDeck, the column is labeled “Mentions”)
  2. A search on the hash tag for your virtual event
  3. A search on your company name – or, the name of your platform, product or service
  4. A search on the virtual event’s name or title

If it helps you stay more focused, delete columns that are unrelated to the virtual event – the result will be a single app that consolidates all “chatter” related to your event.  I recommend that you monitor for new tweets every 15 minutes while the event is live.

Allocate Proper Staffing & Get Started Early

In the same manner that you allocate support staff to booths, email inboxes and telephones, be sure to allocate staff to “Twitter support”.  You want to get up and running early – I recommend monitoring Twitter at least one full hour before the official opening of your virtual event.  Virtual event producers typically allow exhibitors into the environment prior to attendees – so during the “early period”, be on the look-out for tweets from exhibitors who may need assistance finding their way into their virtual booths.

Have at least one person who is “primary” for Twitter support throughout the event day.  And, know that Twitter users expect quick turnaround to their tweets.  Trend setters such as @comcastcares have provided highly responsive and immediate customer care on Twitter, which has raised the bar for everyone else.  Users on Twitter have come to expect similar care and responsiveness.

If you do not respond within 15-20 minutes of users’ original tweet, they may issue a subsequent tweet, letting the “world” (e.g. their followers + users who are following the event’s hash tag) know that they’ve received no response from the event provider.  So be sure to provide prompt service – if your customer care is prompt and effective, you’ll be rewarded.  Users are just as quick to say “thanks” (on Twitter) and acknowledge the great service you provide.

Following Up With A User

I prefer to handle support issues via 1-on-1 care.  Before you contact the user, review their Twitter profile – as background to your upcoming dialog, it’s good to know the user’s company, title and number of Twitter followers.  I like to know if the user has an audience of 100 on Twitter – or, an audience of 100,000.  In addition, read the user’s last 10-15 tweets, to get to know his/her interests, hot buttons, etc.

Now you’re ready to make contact.  I prefer to connect directly – a direct message on Twitter (if the user is following you), a direct email (if you have his/her email address) or a private chat within the virtual event (if the user is logged in at the time).  If none of these channels are available to you, send the user a public message on Twitter and provide your direct contact info (e.g. your email address).

It’s important to personalize your brand, letting users know that there are “real people” behind your corporate Twitter account – and, providing them with a direct means for getting in touch.

1-on-1 Triage

To prepare you for a “triage session” with your end user, I like the have the following information available via URLs that I can provide to the user:

  1. Technical requirements for accessing/attending the virtual event
  2. Automated system check that allows a user to test their system
  3. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) related to the virtual event
  4. A “contact us” page related to end user support (e.g. providing an email address, phone number, etc.)

In addition, be sure to have higher level “support experts” available in case you need to delegate a sophisticated system issue.  The experts should be available within the virtual event – or, be available “on call” to jump in as needed.

Post-Resolution

Once you’ve resolved a user’s issue, follow them on Twitter – this allows them to send you direct messages.  And, it allows you to be quickly apprised of any subsequent issues they may come across.  Later on in the day, check if the user is logged in to the virtual event – if so, send a private chat request and politely ask how the event is going.  It’s always good for users to know that you’re actively supporting the event and genuinely interested in their satisfaction.

On Twitter, respond to each and every end user “tweet” – mention that the issue is resolved and invite the user to contact you back as needed.  Be careful, however, not to include the event’s hash tag on all of these follow-up tweets.  As the virtual event platform, you do not want to have a significant presence in the hash tag’s tweetstream.  Rather, only include the hash tag if your tweet relates to system-wide updates (applicable to all or most users).

The occasional update (with the hash tag) shows users that you’re listening – and replying to every single tweet shows your followers that you are responsive to each issue that arises.

The Entire Team Contributes

If your virtual event support staff is comprised of active Twitter users, encourage them to tweet about the event – have them highlight interesting sessions, pass along comments from enthusiastic attendees or simply state that they’re having a great time.  This helps promote the event itself – and, highlights the depth of the team behind the event support.  Take it a step further and create a Twitter List of your staff – allowing interested users to follow your employees tweets via a list.

Conclusion

The world is going social, which means that user support and customer service need to be “socially listening” (and responding).  Get ahead of the curve – be sure to support your next virtual event on Twitter.

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Popular Virtual Event Blog Postings

November 19, 2009

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One of the most enjoyable aspects of virtual events blogging (for me) is the ability to observe which postings “work” and which postings don’t work.  I’ve come to learn that my intuition is often off – postings that I think will generate a lot of traffic don’t, while postings that I thought were marginal become very popular.

For instance, I wrote a posting on the concept of applying Web 2.0 to webinars – it was one of my better pieces of work, but the blogosphere voted with their mouse clicks and (unless we had an issue with counting / undercounting of votes) it didn’t even scratch the Top 10 list of posts [over the past 3 months].

With social media sharing these days, I found that the biggest factor in which posts receive traffic (relative to others) is how and where a given posting is shared.  All it takes is a few retweets from prominent Twitter users (i.e. with 20,000 followers each) to drive a lot of page views to a particular blog posting.  Or, someone posts your blog entry to a sharing site, such as StumbleUpon or digg – you’ll see traffic spike when that occurs.

Another factor is search engine optimization (SEO) – with some of my blog postings, I referenced people, places, certain virtual worlds, etc. – and received search engine traffic from users searching on those terms.

Examples include: Gregory House, My Little Pony (they have a virtual world), Online Dating, Club Penguin.  Some of those blog postings were marginal at best – but they continue to draw traffic to this day – by virtue of having common search engine terms in their content.

Here’s a listing of the Top 5 blog postings (on this blog) over the past 3 months – as measured by the number of page views:

  1. How To Promote Your Virtual Event On Twitter – the key point in this posting – to be able to best leverage Twitter, you need to work hard to build the right “following” first.  This posting received top billing (of traffic) by virtue of tweets/retweets, along with some postings to digg.
  2. Virtual Tradeshow Best Practices: Top 10 Exhibitor Tactics – written back in May, this is always a popular one – it has a fair number of in-bound links and also gets a lot of search engine traffic.
  3. The Advantages Of Virtual Meetings – I provided commentary around a Forbes Insights piece that presented the case for face-to-face meetings.  This gets a lot of its traffic via inbound links.
  4. Virtual Worlds: Where We Were, Where We’re Going, What Does It Mean to YOU? – a guest post by Linda Holroyd, CEO of FountainBlue.  Linda may not have known it at the time, but her posting is an SEO hotbed – it contains lots of relevant terms related to virtual worlds – and, lists the names of many industry executives and entrepreneurs (and their companies).  So this blog posting receives traffic when users search for those individuals’ names or company names.
  5. Hey Kids! I’ve Got a Virtual World For You – it’s like a boomerang (it keeps coming back) – I wrote this back in January and the posting can still make this Top 5 list of the past 3 months.  The reason?  It’s rich in search-friendly terms (Club Penguin, Webkinz, My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch, Beanie Babies, etc.) – I suppose I’ve managed to extend the reach of this blog to parents, who are performing searches on children’s toys!

So there you have it.  I’d love to hear from you – what’s been your favorite blog posting?


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