Initial Impressions of Google+ Events and Hangouts

July 14, 2012

Introduction

I attended my first Google+ Event this week. It had no physical venue, taking place exclusively on Google+ and YouTube. The New York Times hosted the event. In the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics, the Times has been hosting Google+ Hangouts with Olympians. I came across the Hangouts while visiting the Times’ London 2012 Olympics page.

You can still check out the Google+ Events page. On that page, as well as on YouTube.com, you can view an on-demand video of the entire Hangout.

The Hangout was hosted by Ken Belson, a sports reporter from the New York Times and featured Shalane Flanagan (a U.S. marathon runner), Mary Wittenberg, (President of New York Road Runners) and Bob Sherman (a recreational runner, who’s completed 29 consecutive NYC Marathons).

I’d like to share my initial impressions of Google+ Events and Hangouts.

What I Liked

Logistics

As far as streaming technology goes, the Google+ Hangout experience (which broadcast via an embedded YouTube viewer) was quite good. The video picture was sharp and crisp. Google+ Hangouts auto-detect who’s speaking and switches the focus to that person.

These transitions worked so well that it reminded me of watching television (where there’s a human being controlling those switching decisions). As the host, Belson did a fine job of detecting ambient noise and asking whether a participant wanted to speak. He’d pause to ask, “did you want to jump in?”

Experimentation and Exploration

I commend the New York Times for exploring and experimenting with emerging technology. The Times has always been a primary news source for me, but the experience has revolved around articles, with occasional on-demand videos.

A live event brings an entirely new experience for Times’ readers. First, the event allows Times’ columnists (e.g. Ken Belson) to connect more closely to their readers. Second, readers can see and hear from personalities that otherwise would not have been possible (e.g. an Olympic athlete).

The use of emerging technology comes with some risk. For instance, at one point in the Hangout, Ms. Flanagan’s image froze, and then her presence dropped off completely. She re-joined a few minutes later and continued to field questions.

To me, that was completely fine. It’s a learning experience. The Times learned from this and we’ll all learn and evolve – I’m sure it was the same with television broadcasts in the early days. Let’s keep experimenting and exploring.

What I’d Like to See

The Times has done a great job of connecting U.S. Olympic athletes to its readers. And to start, it’s not surprising that they sought a controlled environment, with a host (Belson) who steered the conversation among the three guests.

As media outlets continue to use online (and social!) broadcasting tools, I’d like to see them take more advantage of the interactive and engagement capabilities that these platforms provide.

Stronger Connection from Audience to Guests

Users could post questions (for Ms. Flanagan) within the Google+ Events page and I noticed that a number of good questions had been submitted prior to the Hangout. In addition, during the Hangout, I noticed a number of comments and questions posted.

While Belson did pose a user-submitted question to Flanagan, it was from “a reader,” rather than a question posted within the activity stream. In the future, I’d love to see more questions selected directly from the social platform, with guests actively reviewing and commenting on thoughts posted by viewers.

A More Active Role for Audience Members

I’m sure the Google+ Team is busy at work on product features to support a more complete Google+ Events and Hangout experience. Beyond the existing commenting system, I’d like to see more tools for users to provide feedback and to collaborate with one another.

In addition, audience members should have the opportunity to help steer the direction of the conversation. How about integrating Google Moderator to allow audience members to read and vote on the submitted questions?

Conclusion

While I concluded my first Google+ Event wanting a bit more (interactivity-wise), I commend the Times for what they’ve done. There’s something about a Hangout (compared to a TV interview, for instance) that puts you closer to an Olympic athlete. You hear about their diet and their training regimen, all with the intimacy of seeing them from their laptop’s webcam.

I look forward to subsequent Hangouts. And to Shalane Flanagan, best of luck in London!


In This Era of Digital and Social, The Extended Family is Closer than Ever

July 16, 2011

Note: I found this image to be perfect for this post; however, I have no known relation to the nice couple pictured.

Introduction

While nuclear families remain in one household, doesn’t it seem like our extended families spread further and further away from us over the years? Weddings, job transfers, lifestyle moves, home upgrade/downsizing, etc. – they pull our extended families in all sorts of directions, both within the States and across the globe.

And yet, with today’s prevalence of broadband, mobile technologies and social tools, doesn’t it feel like we’re as close as ever? How great is that.

Analog Days

Back when I was in elementary school, I remember recording audio tapes with my sister (in Chinese) that my mom would send to our maternal grandmother. Wouldn’t it be great for her to hear her U.S.-raised grandchildren attempt to speak Mandarin? Some two weeks later, grandma would get the tapes in the mail and be able to play them.

Fast forward to today, where my daughter leaves comments for her grandmother on Facebook (via my account), records a video greeting for her via my smartphone, or simply “dials” her up for a real-time video chat via Skype. In this era of digital and social, interactions are in real-time (when we want them to be) and we know more about our extended family than ever before.

I’ll highlight some of the tools that my extended family uses to stay in touch.

Photo and Status Sharing on Facebook

I once read a quote from a prominent executive, who noted that he learned more about his daughters in a few months on Facebook than he learned over all the years raising them. Isn’t that amazing? For people I’m closest to, I’ll learn things on Facebook that I otherwise would not have learned seeing them day in and day out.

In my extended family, photo and status sharing on Facebook has been great for daughters, sons, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents to have a sense of what’s going on in everyone’s lives.

Related Post: Why Facebook Is The World’s Largest Virtual Event.

Photo and Video Capture via Handheld Devices

From the iPhone’s high-quality camera to Flip video recorders, it’s easier than ever to record special moments wherever you happen to be: at home, on vacation, at graduation, or watching baby’s first steps.  The image and video quality captured by handheld devices has never been better.

In addition, the ability to instantly share, via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. has allowed extended family members to “participate” in the moment a few seconds after it happened.  My mom, who would receive frequent Flip video footage of granddaughters on each coast, once remarked that “I love the Flip, it’s allowed me to watch my granddaughters develop.”

Real-Time Video Chat via Skype

My extended family is a big fan of Skype. We tend to do synchronized video calls, where we pick a set time to call one another. We have three generations of the family using it, from grandchildren through to their grandparents. It’s really a lot of fun to observe grandparents video chatting with their grandchildren.

While I don’t expect the grandparents in our family to be enabled with mobile video, I do expect the younger generations of the family to practice more and more “spur of the moment” video calling, via Facetime, Skype for iPhone/Android and related technologies.

Related Post: How Mobile Video Changes Things.

Email

Email is the original “connector” for my extended family and for many others. Email continues to serve a purpose. It’s often used to ask a question of other family members (where, perhaps, Facebook is not the right tool).

And it’s a common distribution vehicle for much of the sharing we do (i.e. you want some more private sharing options beyond Facebook). But it’s interesting how email usage within the extended family is down a bit, due to the extensive sharing via Facebook, Skype, etc.

Conclusion

It’s a great time for extended families. With the combination of broadband, digital and social, go ahead and move halfway across the world – we can remain as close as ever.

Use the comments area below to let me know how your extended family stays in touch! Thank you.

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A Look at The Future of Online Instruction

July 9, 2011

Photo credit: abbynormy on flickr.

Note: This is a collaborative blog posting made possible by PBworks. The concept behind this posting began with an innocent tweet from a few weeks back, in which I noted that my daughter asked me for knitting instruction.

Introduction

Want to learn how to knit, but don’t have an instructor available? The first place you’d probably turn is your preferred search engine. And after a search or two, you’d likely come across KnittingHelp.com.

On this site, you can find written content, a forum and a collection of excellent how-to videos. And while the content and videos are quite good, what if you wanted a little more hand-holding?

For instance, elementary or middle school students looking to knit for the first time may not know where to start. They’d prefer an after-school class or private instruction to get them started. Let’s consider a few web-based solutions that could address these aspiring knitters.

Real-Time Video Instruction

Instead of “on-demand videos” (the KnittingHelp.com model), a student could connect with an instructor over a real-time video conference, using systems such as Skype or Facetime.

A flexible webcam would work best, one that can seamlessly alternate between two angles: (a) a view of the participant’s face and (b) a view of the knitting needles. This way, the session can begin with instructor and student seeing each other face to face, which is important to establishing a comfort level with one another.

Then, with both webcams focused on their respective knitting needles, the instructor could perform a few steps, while watching the student follow along. Real-time video (and audio) allows the instructor to provide constant and immediate feedback, which can facilitate more productive learning.

Real-Time Immersive Knitting

Next, imagine a 3D immersive environment, in which the instructor’s avatar meets the student’s avatar. Using mouse or keyboard controls to manipulate the knitting needles and yarn, the instructor and student can take turns with “immersive knitting.”

Much like an online meeting in which the presenter “passes the ball,” the instructor can “pass the needle” to the student to take control and practice knitting. While the immersiveness can be useful to visualize the proper knitting procedure, it’s not as effective as handling the needles and yarn with one’s own hands.

(A comment from Jim Reilly [Twitter])

“I see this as having little value – why use a new language (using computer keys) to knit, so that you then have to translate back to the original language (knitting needles) when you actually want to learn the skill and create something real?

I would also suggest including an example of how this technology could be employed so the motions detected through the motion sensors could be translated, through a modified knitting machine (substitute potter’s wheel for another of your examples) to deliver a product, almost in real-time, on the other side of the world.

The possibilities for physically disabled people to use the immersive environment and associated tools to create art and functional items is also worthy of note.”

Real-Time Immersive Knitting with Motion Detection

This scenario can be thought of as “3D immersive environment meets Microsoft Kinect.” Imagine the same 3D immersive environment, but using a motion-sensing device such as Microsoft’s Kinect.

Now, you can handle virtual knitting needles and watch the resulting scarf and sweater on the screen.  A Kinect device on the instructor’s workstation allows her to “take control” of the knitting. Together, instructor and student can knit collaboratively – imagine the interesting sweaters and garments they could create and then sell in Second Life or IMVU!

Alternatively, imagine a “real” (physical) ball of yarn, with “real” (physical) needles, working in conjunction with a motion detection system. As the student knits, the instructor sees a digital representation of the yarn/needles and can provide instruction based on the student’s knitting motions.

But Can Knitting Students “Really” Learn this Way?

(The following segment was contributed by Heidi Thorne [website] [Twitter])

When I was about 9, I learned to knit from my dad (yes, my dad!). That was in the physical “real” space. When I didn’t know how to do something, I could ask OR I referred to books. My how things have changed! It would have been so helpful to have a KnittingHelp.com resource around.

Interestingly, I didn’t learn to do the stitches (English) exactly as shown in the video. It looks somewhat awkward. But I think it points to an important aspect of online instruction, whether it be online video, real-time immersive, or with motion detection: It standardizes the way things are done, detail by detail.

Old-time (like 40-50 years ago) books would show here’s what the work looks like at step 1, then what it should look like at step 2, and the part between step 1 and 2 was somewhat of a mystery. It’s really difficult to turn mystery into mastery! So in that sense, yes, I think these new virtual learning models have incredible potential.

As noted earlier, knitting, like many other tactile arts, is difficult to translate into mouse and keyboard controls. So the real-time immersive knitting, without motion detection, has limited utility in this case. A 3D immersive environment which uses Microsoft Kinect type technology presents possibilities.

But, again, learning to deal with the tactile sensation of fibers, which can be uniquely uneven by default or design, is missing. It’s similar to driver’s ed simulators. Yes, you can drive along perfectly and the virtual traffic behaves. In the real world, well, traffic is less polite.

In sum, I believe that these technologies are excellent for early learning experiences since they take away some of the bumps and bruises that go with it, creating confidence through success on a small scale and at a faster pace.

“Hands-On” Practice

(The following segment was contributed by Jenise Fryatt [website] [Twitter])

I believe there is great value in methods of teaching that actually give you practice while using your hands. I believe there is research that shows that using your hands actually helps the brain to think better. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/hand.htm

I also believe that when the mind experiences the sensation of doing something, whether it be flying a plane in a simulation or laughing at failure in an improv game, the same neural pathways are created as are created in real life. Thus games and simulations can be amazingly effective teaching tools. I don’t think we’ve even begun to explore all they may be capable of accomplishing.

Conclusion

In addition to knitting instruction, the technology models we’ve outlined (above) could also apply to guitar instruction, pottery, painting and more. With technologies such as video, 3D immersion and motion detection, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

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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)


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

Terminology

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 Facebook.com.

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.

Conclusion

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.


Bringing The Physical Event Experience To Virtual Events

March 30, 2010

Source: flickr (User: cafebiz08)

Virtual trade shows got their start by creating 2D graphical replicas of physical trade shows: exhibit halls, booths, auditoriums, lounges, etc.  Most users are “wowed” in their first experience attending a virtual trade show – they enjoy the quality of the user interface and often comment that they felt like “they were  there” at a physical event.

Exhibitors, too, find the virtual trade show experience to be quite enjoyable – at the same time, they often highlight important differences between exhibiting virtually vs. physically.  In a physical event, for instance, you have some amount of guaranteed foot traffic on the show floor – a portion of which will naturally wander into your booth.  The “efficiency” of a virtual event means that users only enter your booth by explicitly clicking into it.  In a physical event, exhibitors can greet prospects with a friendly handshake – in a virtual event, the exhibitor may never see the prospect’s face.

How can virtual event platforms incorporate aspects of the physical event experience?   Let’s consider a few ideas.

Source: flickr (User: ExhibitPeople)

How To: Gain Virtual Foot Traffic to Booths

On a crowded show floor at a physical event, an exhibitor knows that some percentage of attendees will visit their booth – additionally, exhibitors can increase their investment and receive strategic placement on the floor (e.g. near the entrance, near areas where food and drink are served, etc.).  In a physical event, as attendees walk towards (or past) your booth, there are tactics to catch their attention (e.g. making eye contact, telling them about a special sales offer, showing T-shirts that you’re giving away, complementing them on their laptop bag, etc.).  In a virtual event, you never see someone “passing by” your booth – they click directly to where they want to go.

The Guided Random Walk

Virtual event platforms could re-create the leisurely stroll down the show floor aisles.  Clicking on a “take me on a guided booth tour” button could allow the platform to become the auto-pilot and guide the attendee to the “store front” of randomly selected  booths.  At each  “stop”, the attendee is presented with an overview of the exhibitor, the products/services they provide and a list of staffers with whom they can engage.  The attendee can click to enter the booth – or, continue on with the “walk”.

Once they enter a booth, attendees would see a “resume walk” button to return to the guided tour.  Additionally, the virtual event platform could collect “interests” on the registration form (or on the attendee’s profile) to more efficiently recommend exhibitors (on the tour) to attendees.  Since most virtual attendees prefer to visit only those areas that interest them, this service would be completely optional.

Strategic Offer Placement

Virtual event platforms provide many avenues and areas for exhibitor branding and promotion (e.g. banner ads, jumbotron, etc.) – similar to a physical booth located near the food and drink, virtual event show hosts could map out the event hot spots (e.g. lobby, auditorium, etc.) and provide sponsorship opportunities for exhibitors.  For instance, the Auditorium could display banner ads that drive traffic to premium sponsors’ booths.  Since the virtual attendee is bound to navigate through key areas  (e.g. the Auditorium), promotions in those areas creates the equivalent of “passerby traffic” in a physical event.

Webcast Exit Actions

Imagine taking all attendees of a physical conference session and teleporting them to a specific sponsor’s booth at the conclusion of the session.  Well, a virtual event makes such teleporting possible.  If an exhibitor is presenting in one of the event’s Webcasts, have the virtual event platform provide an “exit action” to drive Webcast viewers to the exhibitor’s booth when it concludes.   Be sure to instruct the Webcast presenter(s) to inform viewers that additional questions can be addressed within the booth at the conclusion of the Webcast.  And, be sure those presenters also “exit” into their booth to provide the answers!

Source: flickr (User: SESConferenceSeries)

How To: Gauge Visitor Interest

When an attendee visits your physical booth, you can quickly judge their interest level based on facial expression and body language.  While these signals are not available from virtual booth visitors, you certainly can decipher interest based on the visitors’ mouse clicks.  Eloqua developed the concept of digital body language – and it applies directly to virtual booth visitors – “Digital body language can arm sales people with deep insights into the areas and levels of interest of every prospect.” (source: Eloqua)

The virtual event platform could provide real-time profiling of booth visitors, based on the actions they’re taking within the booths.  Inactive visitors can probably be left alone, whereas highly active users (lots of document views, document downloads, web site views, chat requests, etc.) may literally be raising their hand to engage in a conversation.

The virtual event platform could first characterize the nature of the prospect’s interest (e.g. map the requested documents to high level “interest categories” defined by the show host) and then place a subtle offer in front of the visitor (e.g. “An online representative is available to answer questions about telepresence – click here to engage in a 1:1 chat”).

Since this feature could be deemed too “Big Brother” by attendees, it would have to be tested (to gather feedback) and/or have an explicit opt-in setting that allows attendees to enable or disable the feature.

How To: Connect with Interested Attendees

During periods of high activity in a physical booth, visitors often walk up, see that all staffers are speaking with other attendees and decide to move on to the next booth.  Perhaps  later in the day, the same visitor returns to see if any staffers are available.  The observant exhibitor may recognize the visitor (from her prior visit) – and if so, provide special attention to her (since she made the effort to visit the booth and return a second time).

In a virtual event, all activity is tracked, which means that observant exhibitors need only turn to the services of the platform to let them know about repeat visitors.  Virtual event platforms ought to explicitly track repeat visitors and alert booth staff accordingly – perhaps the platform plays one audio alert for the first time visit  – and separate audio alert for the repeat visitor.

Additionally, the platform could allow exhibitors to build in rules and offers based on the amount of repeat visits.  For instance, on the fifth visit to the booth (within the same day), the visitor could be offered to download a free copy of the exhibitor’s software.  Exhibitors  could then leverage the resulting action to qualify the worthiness of the prospect (e.g. visited my booth 5 times + downloaded a copy of my software = have a sales rep follow up tomorrow).

Source: flickr (User: bilateral)

How To: Create Better Attendee Networking

One of the key attractions to an event is the ability for attendees to network with like-minded professionals – exchanging ideas, thoughts and business cards.  In a physical event, there are many “transitory phases”, where attendees migrate from one locale to another.  These phases create opportunities to meet or “bump into” random strangers.

That being said, meeting at a physical event is largely inefficient, based on the random nature of the meet-up.  Who knows if you’ll meet someone aligned with your interests or an uninteresting individual who’s there only for the free cocktails?  A virtual event can leverage the information available in user profiles to make meet-ups a bit less random – and far better “matched”.

In virtual, we can skip past the not-so-subtle glance at another attendee’s badge label – instead, we can auto-recommend like-minded individuals.  In my mind, the single most effective feature of LinkedIn is the “People You May Know” listing in the upper right of your LinkedIn home page.  Virtual events ought to create recommendations (of other attendees) with the same effectiveness.

The recommendation engine could be combined with an interface similar to ChatRoulette – whereby attendees enable their webcam and rotate through and chat with other attendees in roulette-type fashion.  It may not be quite the same as the physical experience, but the use of webcam can add a whole lot more than just text chat.

Conclusion

While it’s still true that virtual events can never replace the handshake – there are benefits of physical events that if modeled and implemented properly, can be a boon for virtual events.


2010 Predictions For Virtual Events

December 3, 2009

Source: flickr (User: sassycrafter)

Back in August, I jumped the gun a bit and wrote a “year in review” posting about virtual events.  Now that we’re in December,  I think it’s high time to peer into the Magic 8 Ball and speculate on what’s in store for the virtual events industry in 2010.  Away we go…

Widescale adoption and integration of video conferencing

Virtual events have incorporated a lot of on-demand and live video – however, to date, the majority of attendee interaction has been via text (e.g. private text chat, group text chat, etc.).  Many platforms have enabled the use of attendee webcams (a la Skype) and that was a nice start.  In 2010, I believe that the virtual event platforms will integrate with third party video conferencing technologies in a big way – stirred largely by client demand for it.

Think about it – multinational corporations have adopted high-end video conferencing to encourage collaboration and save on travel costs.  They have the budget to invest in Cisco Telepresence or HP Halo.  As those same corporations look to adopt virtual events (e.g. for an annual virtual sales meeting), it’s only natural that they incorporate the video conferencing technology that they already have running.

To capture mid-market and small business interest, virtual event platforms will look to integrate with mid-tier video conferencing systems, such as Tandberg (whose acquisition by Cisco is pending) and Polycom.

Another interesting player is LifeSize Communications, an Austin-based provider of “mainstream telepresence” that was acquired by Logitech in November.  LifeSize recently launched an offering called Passport, which they term “a portable telepresence-quality system” that fits in the palm of your hand.

I see continued use of consumer-grade webcam technology in 2010 virtual events  – however, the game changer will be the incorporation of multi-party, HD video conferencing.

Emergence of global players

We’ve already seen the emergence in Europe of virtual event platforms – IMASTE in Spain and Ubivent in Germany.  I expect to see another European-based platform emerge in 2010, along with one or more in Asia Pac.  In addition, we’ll see services companies launch to capitalize on the demand (for virtual events) from publishers, corporations and event marketers.  The companies will provide both strategic and logistical services around virtual events.  You’ll see some start-up companies and you’ll also see physical event marketers spawn service offerings around virtual (or more logically, hybrid) events.

Industry consolidation

We’ll see the merging or acquiring of virtual event platform companies.  Some providers will look to acquire/merge out of platform capability gaps – while stronger players will look to complementary/synergistic technologies offered by the competition.  As the economic environment comes back around, companies (and their investors) will be more apt to combine forces to fuel the next phase of growth.  Lastly, larger and more established players in the “collaboration space” may look to acquire virtual event platform companies, to add a complementary piece to their product portfolio.

Decrease in “relative response rates”

Virtual events had a great run in 2009, but we’re now past the novelty, “wow, this is cool” phase.  In the B2B market, we now have plenty of users who have attended two or more virtual events.  If virtual event show hosts continue to use the same graphical templates, organize the same presentation agenda and re-create an identical experience to their last event, then “relative response rates” will drop – meaning, it will become harder and harder to recruit users to register and attend.

Decreased response rates are natural as any new “content type” grows beyond infancy – and the supply/demand ratio begins to tilt towards having more supply than demand (e.g. lots of virtual events).  Virtual event show hosts will need to consider the incorporation of gaming, the creation of affinity programs and more.  The solution to decreased response rates will be fun to watch – innovators will step to the table to find creative ways to engage and attract virtual event attendees.

Platforms take first step towards immersiveness

While virtual event attendees may not “require” the immersiveness of Second Life and other 3D virtual worlds – immersive capabilities provide real value in a B2B setting.  The most obvious use case is an immersive rendering of a complex product – consider the high-end video conferencing system, the high-end router, the latest luxury car model.  Instead of a 2D PowerPoint slide that highlights the capabilities of the video conferencing system, how about an immersive experience where attendees (aka prospects) get to experience the system and interact with it?

Client interest and demand will drive some platforms to add immersive capabilities in 2010.  I don’t expect a software download, however – it would serve platforms well to support the immersive experience within their existing framework (e.g. Flash, JavaFX, Silverlight).

Those are my 2010 predictions for virtual events.  I’d love to hear your’s!


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