From Web 2.0 to Webinar 2.0

September 28, 2009

Source: flickr (User: Werkplay)

Source: flickr (User: Werkplay)

In this age of social sharing, participation, “users as publishers”, Facebook updates and Twitter tweets, the webinar is a seeming anachronism.  In your typical 60 minute webinar, the presenters speak for 45-50 minutes – and the only “participation” from the audience occurs when the presenter selects your question to be answered.  Users are not able to see questions submitted by other viewers – in fact, they rarely know how many other users are also viewing the webinar.

At the Feeding the SAP Ecosystem blog, there’s an interesting posting titled “SAP Virtual Events: A Work in Progress“.  Here’s a great quote about webinars:

Or the presenters drone on too long, overloading the audience with slides and not coming up for air until there is a few minutes left and the participants are too burned out to even attempt a last minute question. Webinars that incorporate reader chat and questions throughout the broadcast, rather than exiling them to a shrinking time slot at the end, are much more effective.

I agree wholeheartedly with this observation.  I believe that webinars can be much more engaging if they adopted an unconference model.  According to Wikipedia, “an unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose”.  As a webinar presenter (or sponsor), you’ll still want to define the topic and prepare a set of slides to reinforce your speaking points and presentation objectives.

But, what if you were to hand over some control back to the audience?  It requires a leap of faith, I know.  But when the audience is directly involved, I think you create a more rewarding user experience – and, you stand to benefit as well.  User involvement should directly result in engagement, retention and satisfaction.

Here are some simple ideas from Web 2.0 that can be applied to create Webinar 2.0:

  1. Audience drives the content selection – the presenter flips through two potential slides to the audience and then pushes out a survey to the audience.  The survey prompts the audience to select which slide they’d like to see covered.  The presenter then publishes the survey results and advances to the slide that won the vote.  This addresses one issue I’ve had with webinars – I attended the live webinar because the topic intrigued me; however, the content didn’t quite hit the mark.  If presenters gave more control and input to the audience, they’d have a better chance of giving viewers what they want.
  2. Audience members render their own slides – akin to a virtual meeting (e.g. WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect), where the meeting host passes control to another participant, who then shares his/her desktop.  For webinar platforms that support this, imagine how powerful this could be.  Viewers would need to know to come prepared with slide content – but imagine the presenter asking for real-world case studies of a given technology and allowing a viewer to render a slide about his real-world implementation experience.  Again, this is a leap of faith and a “risk factor” in surrendering control of the content.  However, isn’t that what Web 2.0 is all about?
  3. Better balance between PowerPoint content and Q&A – a typical webinar has an 80/20 split (or more) between the PowerPoint presentation and Q&A.  I think it should be more like 50/50.  Scheduling frequent pauses (to answer questions) provides a lot of value to viewers – it means that they don’t have to wait until the 50 minute mark to have questions answered – and it signals to the audience that the presenters are “listening” to them.  Along these same lines, the webinar platform should allow all viewers to see all questions submitted by attendees.  And to cap it all off, follow up after the webinar by publishing an FAQ – list commonly asked questions along with their answers.
  4. Answer questions coming from the statusphere – define a Twitter hashtag for your webinar and have staff available to monitor the tweets – then, have presenters address and answer interesting questions that were posed via Twitter (and other social tools).  This allows you to extend the audience of your webinar – and engage with users who might not be able to attend.  Additionally, have staff members tweet back (with the answers), so that users monitoring the tweet stream know that you’re not only listening, but participating back.

I’m sure we’ve just gotten started – what tactics do you have to recommend for bringing Web 2.0 to Webinar 2.0?

Case Study: How ExpoNZ Created A Virtual, Global Showcase

July 8, 2009


For many locations around the globe, the country of New Zealand is many miles (and oceans) away.  As such, businesses in New Zealand have the challenge of reaching and connecting with a global audience.  In 2008, Virtual Expos New Zealand Limited was faced with helping businesses  address this challenge.  The economic environment presented a number of obstacles – rising costs, shaky exchange rates and the need to drive new business as the economy was sputtering.

On the flip side, virtual event technologies had emerged, while New Zealand companies were under pressure to uphold a clean green brand and consider their carbon footprint.  The decision became clear for Virtual Expos New Zealand Limited – build a virtual event to “showcase and sell the best of New Zealand to a global audience and to enable people everywhere to get a taste of what New Zealand is all about.”


The virtual environment was named ExpoNZ and configured as a 365 dayper year online community – with live events scheduled throughout the year. Marie-Claire Andrews, ExpoNZ’s Vice President and Head of Sales notes, “Through our expo, New Zealand businesses no longer face the tyranny of distance – the costs and inconvenience of reaching markets a thousand miles away.  A year round schedule of live events, B2B opportunities, huge support from the dedicated team in New Zealand and round the world, plus a half million dollar marketing budget all make this a pretty compelling way for NZ to face down the global credit crunch and do more business.”

ExpoNZ neatly segemented the event content into halls – allowing visitors to select their desired activity: Trade, Learn, Visit, Live, Invest, Work:

ExpoNZ Plaza

This provides an intuitive entry area – it clearly highlights the available exhibition areas and encourages visitors to determine (on the spot) their objecctive.  If I want to visit or live in New Zealand, then I’ll visit those two halls – perhaps returning at a later date for investment opportunities.

The virtual event platform for ExpoNZ is powered by US-based Expos2 – via their partnership, ExpoNZ is an authorized reseller of the Expos2 platform in New Zealand.  According to Andrews, the sponsorship cost to exhibitors is “$12,000NZD per year or $2750NZD for seven weeks around a specific live event and we’re also signing up sponsors for the halls, the lectures and supporting infrastructure.”

Like many virtual event organizers, Andrews belives in the power and value of social media integration, but notes that “it’s all about consistency, relevancy and immediacy”.  Andrews has leveraged Twitter to uncover potential sponsors and clients – and for generating buzz around launch events.  She also reads a number of industry blogs and finds connecting via Linkedin Groups to be particularly valuable.

What were some of the technical and logistical challenges faced by ExpoNZ?  First and foremost, Andrews notes that “it has taken a while for internet bandwidth here to catch up with the rest of the world.”  As such, she had to “be creative” with media servers in the U.S. to support North American visitors.  Secondly, ExpoNZ faced a perception issue – business is done in a very personal fashion in New Zealand, so “there’s a belief that face- to- face is generally best.  We have to demonstrate that business can be done virtually – and with our integrated video conferencing you do get face to face – if only digital.”

Live Event – July 16, 2009

Registration is now open for a Live Event on the morning of July 16, 2009 (which is July 15th in the U.S.).  The start time for the event:

  1. 7AM NZT
  2. 12PM PDT (July 15)
  3. 2PM CDT (July 15)
  4. 3PM EDT (July 15)

According to ExpoNZ:

You can’t enter the Expo before the day, but visitors can pre-register at and we’ll send updates about the show.

All the information including presentations and job listings will still be available afterwards because ExpoNZ is ‘always on’ 365 days a year round the clock. So visitors can come back as often as they like after the event; to make appointments to talk to exhibitors in their booths, to re-view presentations at leisure.

We’ve a cohort of over 15 ICT companies and supporting organisations (eg Immigration) and eight speakers lined up so the live conference will run till around 11am NZT.  We expect to have several hundred job seekers from the UK, US, Canada and Australia primarily.

For New Zealand visitors, Andrews’ personal recommendations are as follows:

On the web, you can’t go past the virtual Encyclopedia of New Zealand ( or our beautiful tourism site ( where you can book your next trip.

Best places to visit:  A wine tour in Marlborough, diving in the Bay of Islands, ski-ing in Wanaka, hot pools in Rotorua and culture, coffee and creativity in my fantastic home town, Wellington of course!…..

Related Links

  1. ExpoNZ’s home page
  2. Follow ExpoNZ on Twitter
  3. Read the ExpoNZ blog

How To Use Social Media To Stay Current On Virtual Events And Virtual Worlds

April 21, 2009

In 2009, I’ve seen a surge in the volume of content published around virtual events and virtual worlds – coverage in mainstream media, blog postings, videos, podcasts and even entirely new web sites developed to cover these specific industries.  It’s all great – but with a rising volume of information comes the challenge of how to efficiently stay current.  I’ll highlight a few social media services that I use to keep current on events, track emerging technologies and find relevant commentary on all things virtual.

  1. Twitter (  – I published a prior blog posting regarding some of the specific people I follow on Twitter for virtual worlds information. To stay current on virtual worlds, find the authorities in that space and start reading their blogs or articles.  If you like what you find, see if they publish their Twitter handle – or, search for it yourself – and start following them.  I can easily stay current on virtual worlds by following a few select experts.  Their posts to interesting content serve as a virtual wire service for me (pun intended).
  2. Tweetbeep ( – I follow over 300 people on Twitter.  And as you may know, some of the A-level Tweeps obtain that status because of  their verbosity.  I tend to notice that a core set of 15-20 people (that I’m following) contribute about 80% of the tweets that I scan at any moment.  What’s the downside to this?  Well, that virtual events pioneer who only sends 2 tweets per day gets lost in the shuffle, as I’ll miss his tweets.  That’s why I use Tweetbeep to set up Twitter alerts by email – it’s like a Google Alerts for Twitter.  I set up search terms such as “virtual event”, “virtual tradeshow”, “virtual worlds” – and when I wake up in the morning, the alerts are there in my email inbox.  Now, if that pioneer tweets about virtual events, I’ll know what he said.  Also, I do have parallel Google Alerts configured, so that I learn about new content that Google has crawled on these same search terms.
  3. Google Reader ( – I’ll find blogs and web sites that focus on virtual – and subscribe to them (via RSS) in Google Reader.  This requires a bit more time, to skim through RSS headlines and determine what’s worth reading (similar to scanning an email inbox).  So it’s not quite as efficient as Tweetbeep or Google Alerts, but very valuable nonetheless.
  4. Friendfeed ( – similar to Twitter, but also different – I find myself following a unique set of people on Friendfeed – and the neat thing with this service is that I can see not only their tweets, but links they’re reading via Google Reader and pages they’ve bookmarked with, to name a few.  In addition, I’ll check in on a Friendfeed Room called Metaverse News, where Gaby Benkwitz posts links to interesting articles about the virtual world.
  5. Facebook ( – I created a Virtual Events Strategists Facebook Group – so I’ll check in there from time to time to see what’s been posted by group members (articles, images, questions, etc.) – and I’ll try to contribute to the group by posting articles that I’m reading about the industry.  I’ve also noticed that virtual event producers are leveraging Facebook Groups to promote their event – which is neat.
  6. Linkedin ( – I’ll use Linkedin to connect with folks I meet in the industry – and to keep current, I’ll check in on a few Linkedin Groups when I can (e.g. Virtual Worlds, Virtual Edge, Virtuual Events Forum, Event Managers, etc.).  Some groups tend to be more “spammy” than others – so I’ll find those with the best signal-to-noise-ratio and receive postings via a weekly digest email.

All in all, this probably involves a bit more effort than it needs to – that’s why I think the future of staying current will be about services like Tweetbeep and Google Alerts – you configure what you want to see and an “agent” goes out, finds it and delivers it to your doorstep.  Virtually, of course!

How A UC Davis Professor Leverages Second Life For Research

April 8, 2009

Professor Peter Yellowlees of UC Davis

Professor Peter Yellowlees of UC Davis

Dr. Peter Yellowlees, professor of psychiatry at UC Davis, has done some innovative work using Second Life to help educate people on schizophrenia.  I referenced Professor Yellowlees in an earlier blog posting about virtual worlds technologies that benefit the real world.  I contacted Peter to get some more information about his research and his thoughts on virtual worlds, Web 2.0 and the future.

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself? I am a professor of psychiatry at UC Davis in Sacramento California, and I also run the UCD Health Informatics Graduate program, where we currently have over 40 graduate students enrolled in our masters and certificate programs. I trained in medicine in London, England, then spent 20 years in Australia, before being offered a position at UC 5 years ago. I am married to Barb and we have 4 grown children, and one “furry daughter” – a puppy called Lucy who  thinks she is human.
  2. Tell us how you are using technology (including virtual worlds) in your research? I use it to teach about the experience of schizophrenia. It is hard for students to imagine what it is like to hallucinate – to hear voices and see visions – and the capacity to have the avatar undergo those experiences is very helpful for the students and lets them understand about the lived experience of psychosis.
  3. When you heard of the concept of a virtual world, what was your first thought? I have been working with virtual reality for more than 10 years – I started with a CAVE (collaborative virtual environment) in Australia and developed software applications for that type of environment, and then moved “downscale” to the much cheaper more available internet environment when I came to the US.
  4. Besides Second Life, do you participate in other virtual worlds? Not currently, although I am constantly looking at other software systems, particularly the ones used by USC to model the Iraq war environment and treat PTSD.
  5. What’s missing in virtual worlds technologies that could benefit your research efforts? In SL the main missing element is the relative lack of realism of the environment – it is still rather cartoon-like and can’t compete for “reality” with the very expensive VR games that are now widely available. I would also like to see the avatars being able to change more easily on the fly, although the creation of avatar bots is great.
  6. What Web 2.0 services or social networks do you participate in? I blog regularly at and am also on facebook and twitter. I have recently published a couple of ebooks at ( one of them is free) and have my own website at that is set up to both support patients that I see in the real world, as well as to promote my book on internet healthcare – “your health in the information age” published by iUniverse and available through Amazon and most online and f2f bookstores
  7. Do you see benefits of social networks as they relate to your research interests? I am very interested in them and would really like your readers to comment on how they think that social networks could be used in healthcare – they clearly can be a support and information system for patients but I feel they should have more capacity than this and am looking at how they can be combined with mobile environments –  I carry both a blackberry and an iPhone for instance, and am interested in how they could be used for monitoring behavior and symptoms.
  8. What are related fields of science that could benefit from virtual worlds? Certainly the social sciences – also probably genetics, by allowing us to link with unknown family members better…and many others…
  9. What does the future hold? Read my book!!!! – go to – the last chapter is all about the future of healthcare on the internet – lots of fascinating areas, and I think visualization of large data sets is particularly important – in 3D in virtual worlds – allowing scientists to literally get inside their data – amazing possibilities.

Philip Rosedale On Building A Business: Practice Extreme Transparency

April 2, 2009

Source: Linden Lab

Source: Linden Lab

At the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, Philip Rosedale (Founder and Chairman of Linden Lab) gave a fascinating presentation titled “Extreme Transparency: Virtual Worlds, the Love Machine, and Other Practical Things That Actually Work in a 300 Person Company“.  Rosedale spoke of his methodology for growing Linden Lab (creators of the virtual world Second Life) from a small team working out of a warehouse on Linden Alley (in San Francisco) to a 320-person, profitable company with multiple locations across the globe.

Instead of a top-down approach to building the business – which starts with a grand vision and then trickles down to all the details that allow that vision to unfold – Rosedale decided to take a bottom-up approach.  An Engineer (and physicist) by trade, Rosedale was very hands-on during the early days – code that he wrote back then still resides in the Second Life software today.

Rosedale’s concept of extreme transparency means that each individual knows what every other individual is working on, accomplishing, doing, etc.  His analogy is one of a sports team (where transparency comes in the form of player statistics).  That’s not to say that Rosedale believes employees should be represented by numerical scores – rather, information should flow freely regarding each and everyone.  When that occurs, Rosedale belives that traditional management (of people) is simplified – and you end up spending much less time managing and more time doing.

Rosedale spoke of an interesting internal application called The Love Machine – an internally developed web site that allows employees to send a message of thanks to another employee.  The web site lists “Sender”, “Recipient”, “Description”, “Time Posted” and scrolls in real-time as new Love is posted.  A posting of Love autogenerates an email, such that if Rosedale entered a posting, the recipient would receive an email with a Subject heading of “Love from Philip”.

I think the point here is that “thanks” is such an easy thing to say, but how often is it really done in a business setting?  Not enough – that is, unless you have a tool (like Love Machine) to foster and facilitate it.  Rosedale noted that transparency needs to be granular – and these love posts are as granular as it gets.  Linden Lab has a data and metrics-driven culture – so of course, Rosedale presented a slide that plotted average love received per employee – to show that the trend line goes up (as more people use the tool to give thanks).

Rosedale next spoke about a Linden profit sharing plan – a certain amount of the company’s profits are divided equally among all employees – everyone from Rosedale down to individual contributors receives the same amount.  But then, employees are asked to distribute their shares to colleagues whom they feel deserving of it.  Rosedale found that profits were shared equally across functional roles (so as an example, Development did not receive an unfair share of the profits compared to another department).  This goes against conventional wisdom, which might say that certain groups would receive more favor than others.

A neat side effect of this plan is that executives get to uncover the hidden heroes of your business – those who did not have full exposure to senior management, but are highly appreciated by the masses.  The result is that their visibility in the organization is heightened – and those heroes become better appreciated.

With regard to data – Rosedale suggests that companies define the metrics that are important to the business.  Then, visualize them and keep them constantly updated.  Linden Lab leverages flat panel displays in many of their offices to display key metrics (via real-time charts).  Total simultaneous users is an important chart – if the count suddenly drops, everyone stops what they’re doing!  Linden Lab provides each employee with a personalized dashboard tool, where metrics can be dragged and dropped in – so, each employee watches (in real-time) data that’s important to them.

On measuring engagement within Second Life, metrics of importance to Linden Lab include average session length, number of Linden dollars spent and retention (since 85% of new sign-ups are gone within the first month).  Of course, a natural platform for transparency within Linden Lab is Second Life itself – and Rosedale spoke of its use for internal meetings.  Rosedale did a demo of the famed Virtual Isabel conference room, which is an in-world representation of a physical conference room at Linden’s headquarters.  A video stream of the physical conference is piped in-world and in the physical conference room, folks can go in-world from their laptops.

One audience member asked how Rosedale handles the media hype cycle – with media coverage today not as positive regarding Second Life compared to a year or two ago.  Rosedale pointed back to his key metrics – and noted that those metrics (e.g. total hours, total Linden dollars spent, etc.) continue to maintain a steady and healthy trend upward.  And that’s what matters most to him (and not what the media thinks).  Rosedale then made a casual reference to the open source movement, in which he’s become more involved of late.

For more info on the culture of Linden, their web site has a page focused on The Tao of Linden.

For Virtual Worlds Info, Here’s Whom I Follow on Twitter (and Why)

January 16, 2009

Author's "Twitter Home"

Source: Author's "Twitter Home"

The pace of change and innovation is quite brisk in the area of virtual worlds and virtual tradeshows.  How does one keep up with the pace? One tool that I use is Twitter, the popular and very useful microblogging platform.  As it relates to virtual worlds, my uses of Twitter are:

  1. Find the news of the day – I check Twitter (and FriendFeed, too) with my morning coffee, in the same way I might have walked down the driveway to pick up the morning newspaper (when I was a kid, of course!).  My RSS feeds in Google Reader are good, but I often find more applicable and more timely virtual worlds news via the folks I follow on Twitter.
  2. Stay connected with the metaverse – I discover the influencers (and, who may soon be an influencer) and keep tabs on the chatter and commentary related to virtual worlds.
  3. Distribute information – Guy Kawasaki has blogged about how he leverages his Twitter network to generate interest in  You can find one relevant post here:  I’ll often let my Twitter followers know about new blog posts that I’ve authored.  In fact, you may notice that I’ve done just that for this blog posting!
  4. Source new business contacts and leads – Twitter moves in two directions – you follow (and receive benefits from) others, but you ought to “give back” and share information that the community (and your followers) may find useful.  When you do that, you find that your list of followers starts growing magically (Twitter users are eager to follow others have a way of finding you), which, in turn, expands your universe of potential business partners.  In fact, you may find that business opportunities will come finding you, without any action on your part (aside from being active on Twitter) – it’s happened to me, for sure.

I follow 253 people on Twitter.  Among those, I’ll provide a short list of the folks I follow specifically for virtual worlds info (and why):

  1. @malburns: Mal Burns has made 29,696 updates on Twitter, most of which are about virtual worlds news.  I don’t quite know how he can be so prodigious, but I do know that I check his tweets to get the latest news each day.  For virtual worlds, he’s my Daily News and New York Times in one
  2. @epredator: Ian Hughes is a metaverse evangelist at IBM (based in the UK) and a blogger at eightbar – he has lots of interesting insights into the metaverse.  See related interviews that I did with Ian: Part 1 and Part 2
  3. @NickWilson and @OnderSkall – Nick Wilson and Caleb Booker (OnderSkall) are executives at Clever Zebra, a virtual worlds business.  Caleb publishes a weekly “Business in Virtual Worlds News Roundup” on his blog that’s loaded with lots of useful links and articles.  Here’s a sample:
  4. @skribe – skribe Forti is a Digital Media Consultant at Skribe Productions – he has his fingers on the pulse of the (virtual) world
  5. @Dusanwriter – Doug Thompson is CEO of Remedy Communications who travels in the virtual world as Dusan Writer.  He blogs about virtual worlds at
  6. @reubstock – Reuben Steiger is CEO of Millions of Us (
  7. ADDED: @Consiliera – Gaby K. Benkwitz is “Futurist, consultant, educator” who links to articles and blog entries about the metaverse.  I also subscribe to her excellent newsfeed on Friendfeed:

I’m sure I’m missing some key people – so drop a comment below to let me know whom else I should be following for virtual worlds info – and, I’ll follow them!

Of course, if you want to follow me, I’m at @dshiao.

A Real Government Goes Virtual

January 4, 2009

Washington Post

Source: Washington Post

O Brave New World That Has Such Avatars in It! That’s the title of a Sunday article in The Washington Post by Michael Laris, in which he describes the efforts of the Arlington County (Virginia) government to create a presence in Second Life.  Here’s the basic idea:

Curious executives can swing by to gather market research aimed at luring grocery chains to Arlington. County officials can conduct presentations on an interactive white board as they promote the region to corporate prospects. And later this month, anyone interested will be able to join a confab on how to launch a business in Arlington.

Apparently, the Washington area has become a hotbed activity for virtual worlds:

The Bethesda-based National Library of Medicine, for instance, has created in Second Life a potentially noxious world of everyday health hazards called Tox Town, where clicking on a tower in a dusty construction site produces a list of the chemical properties of neighborhood runoff.

At the University of the District of Columbia, criminal justice students practice investigations and patrols and deal with such imaginary perp behavior as the attempted theft of Professor Angelyn Flowers’s pink convertible.

Other designers have created in Second Life a virtual Capitol Hill, where plans are afoot for a white-tie inaugural ball Jan. 20. Instructions are forthcoming on how to find a good tux.

I admire this initiative by Arlington County and encourage other governments (local, county, State and Federal) to follow suit.  I see the following benefits:

  1. The world becomes flatter and smaller, as governments get closer to their constituents (and vice versa)
  2. Governments may be able to save costs (imagine that) by utilizing the online/virtual world to connect with residents, rather than connecting in person at physical locations
  3. Assuming a critical mass of audience within the virtual world (I know, we’re not yet there), governments can efficiently distribute information, in the form of updated rules/regulations/bylaws, government news.  Also, how about regular visits by the County Executive within the virtual world
  4. Residents/constituents will feel more connected to their government, which will spur increased involvement in the community

The man behind Arlington’s virtual presence if John Feather, who is volunteering his time to make it happen.  For me, the following quote from Feather hits home:

For Feather, helping nudge the county into Second Life has opened a creative spigot.

In November, he started working on a 3D map of Arlington’s major buildings. Touching images on the map calls up Web pages about them, and he and his colleagues want to add real-time rent data and detailed visuals from architects and developers so that “when you click on that building, you go in the door.”

Such technology will eclipse standard Web sites, including the county’s, Feather said. “You’ll start to walk around places instead of going to flat pages.”

I agree – web pages will increasingly have the same 3D and interactive elements found in virtual worlds.  Web 2.0 has been fun, but the next phase of the Internet is going to be Web 3D-dot-oh.

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