Community on and off line

On Monday Tom and I participated in the Program for the Future Conference. He was onsite at the Tech. I was at home working, and watching the event in Second Life.

I’m not a fan of online only conferences, I think they’re aims (stated) are good, but the experience is bad. Conferences are as much networking, hallway conversations, as much as learning, sit in chair experiences. Let’s be honest, sitting in a chair, at work or at home for 8 hours watching online video of a presenter, is not exactly a great user experience. Sure it appeals to some folks, that’s fine, but I think until we’re all wearing helmets and truly interacting, it’s more a gimmick than a serious endeavor. Case in point, I couldn’t get anyone at my office interested in Aral’s conference. Sitting at home on a weekend, to watch a breeze preso, was not at all appealling to them, and since the local hubs were in NY, London, and a few other places, the RL (Real Life) networking wasn’t.

So this event, took a different approach, which I think makes more sense. Tom registered for the RL event, paid his fee (not much either, which was nice) and was in the room. I paid nothing (it was free to attend virtually), and sat in 1 of three Second Life gathering places.

The one I was at, “Tech 2” had a good turn out, I’d say 50ish avatars. Not bad at all. The other benefit was that Second Life provided an awesome back channel for the event, a few people that were physically present, were also in SL. As were “moderators” so to speak.

The RL to SL interaction actually left a bit to be desired. The mural in the screen shot, had SL post its that we could use, and in RL there were post its, but no inter relation. Obviouslya touch problem, but still made it a little isolated feeling.

Also to ask questions, SL users had to visit a website to submit a question. It would have been a much more interactive experience if, say there was a screen at the event with SL on it, or that the in world moderator folks could pass on our questions, it made for a kind of disjointed experience.

Overall the attempt was awesome. They did a really good (as much as can be done I think) job of merging SL and RL into a single event. I have to give kudo’s to SL or whomever does the tech behind the video, that video and audio seemed very well in sync, which was nice. Tom and I were chatting a bit, and I wasn’t like “What? that hasn’t happened yet”

Are events like this the future? No I don’t think so. Maybe the distant future, but not any time soon. There’s too much signal loss. I was sitting watching my SL screen, it was very hard to do my work (since I wasn’t ‘at’ the conference I still had work to do) since leaving SL I miss the chat, which is the backchannel of the event.

I do think however this type of Rl and SL offering helps expand and encourage community. There was hundreds more people talking, sharing ideas, etc, that wouldn’t have been able to, since they weren’t phyisically present. The networking is nil, which is why these virtual events are not a replacement, but still as a way to augment an event, they’re awesome!

A note to the organizers, for 8 people, the event was not very smooth. If it’s going to be an annual event, I suggest hiring pros to do the organizing, or put a little more into the little things. Just my thoughts.

4 thoughts on “Community on and off line

  1. Harry B. Garland

    I enjoyed reading your honest assessment of virtual conferences. It's my job to help fix the experience problems with virtual conferences today. I piloted the development of ON24's Virtual Show, (used for virtual tradeshows, virtual conferences, virtual job fairs, etc.) so I take a special interest in this topic.

    It is a challenge to digitally reproduce the value of running into somebody in the hallway and spawning an impromptu conversation. We can never reproduce that same dynamic because it involves too many human senses that don't transmit through the Internet. But we can do a lot with technology to help live attendees connect with each other.

    With our Location Chat feature, you can see a list of attendees who are in the same location as you (such as at a specific exhibitor's booth, or in the lounge, or in the resource center). Since our shows usually include hundreds of people that are in the same place at the same time, it's a nice way to break down the attendees into natural groups.

    We also enhance your abilities to organize everything you find at a virtual show. From documents to presentations to contacts, you can add anything you encounter to your virtual briefcase. Your briefcase remains persistent forever after the show, so you can always come back to follow up.

    So my conclusion is that there will never be a virtual show that is 100% the same as a physical show. There are opportunities in a digital world that you don't have physically, and vice versa. And we've really only just begun. ON24 Labs is experimenting with many more opportunities that only exist virtually. If you consider that social networking tools like Twitter and LinkedIn really have no physical counterpart, you can start to see the technical and business future of the Virtual Show.

  2. jwilker Post author

    @Harry

    True dat! Today at the conference was especially excruciating for the second life attendees. I'll admit, we paid nothing so we're only out our time, but I'd be hesitant to do that event in Second Life again. It was more of an after thought than anything else. We weren't included in the polls/surveys through out the day. They had break outs that we weren't set up for so the Second Life crew had to sit in on the break out that happened to be in the same room. About 5 minutes, maybe 10, into that breakout the Audio went out.

    There was only 1 person spanning both worlds, and he signed out of SL when the break outs started so we had no way to provide feedback to the organizers, who sadly seemed more into tooting their horns at pulling off an event, than finding out how to make it better :(

    Ah well. I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with. I can tell you there's definitely an interest. I think yesterday there were more SL attendees than RL (Real Life).

  3. fernanda Ibarra

    I saw in the picture that there is a visual graphic facilitation? Was that done there? Who did that? Can it be seen? If the avatars can interact with graphics that could be awesome.

  4. jwilker Post author

    @fernanda

    Are you referring to the long white mural? It was sorta interactive. In RL they had postits to amend and add to the mural things they thought were missing. In SL we had post its as well, though the use of them was lost on me, too confusing.

    yes interaction between both RL and SL was a big topic amongst us in SL, since for the most part, we were just observers in the conference, no participants.

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