Friday, May 29, 2009

Think you'll never attend a meeting in a Virtual World? Look out behind you!

I've heard meetings expert Corbin Ball speak for several years now about the coming era of Virtual Meetings in Second Life and similar sites. The typical audience response is something close to "not in my lifetime", but Corbin keeps plugging this vision.

I may have been one of the skeptics in Corbin's presentations, but I've recently been converted by three experts in my own house.

Toontown vs. Second Life

The other day I walked over to our computer table to see three of my kids (Kyra age 10, Cade age 9, Izzy age 6) excitedly switching screens and looking over each others' shoulders as they played a new game they discovered at - Toontown. Basically, you pick a Disney character to represent yourself, and then you run around a virtual Disney world, talking to other kids' Toontown characters and trying to figure out how to defeat the evil Cogs infecting the world.

To my kids, this environment was more natural than the pictures of real trade shows that I show them when they ask me why I went away last week. Their response is, "You stand in that tiny booth all day waiting for people to come see you?!?"

There is Izzy above, using her dog's name "Ginger" for her Toon.

Izzy talking to a Cog (they are bad).

Izzy talking to a town employee for help.

The Coming World of Virtual Trade Shows

As the Toontown generation becomes the working class, the age of virtual trade shows is inevitable. Inc. magazine recently published an article ("Nice meeting your avatar") on three leading providers: InXpo, Unisfair, and ON24. I've also seen Digitell at the Meetings Tech Expo shows and have explored their version of Active Worlds platform.

I tried the Active Worlds platform but found the experience lacking. There were too many key controls to move around, visiting booths took longer than I was willing to spend, and the booths were too cumbersome to customize (in my opinion). The experience was too close to reality - at a real show I don't mind walking across the floor for five minutes to find a booth, but I'm used to everything being instant at my computer.

The systems will improve, however, and if it's in Inc. this month then it will be in Forbes next year and in Newsweek the year after that. By then you may have attended one yourself. If so, please let me know about your experience.

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