Notes from the Virtual Edge Summit

Last week I attended the Virtual Edge Summit, which  focused
exclusively on providing education, training, and solutions for planning and
producing virtual events. I attended the first day in person, and the second day virtually.

It’s not surprising in this economy that virtual
conferences are becoming more popular. What I did find interesting was the
number of virtual conference vendors out there, and the quality of their
software and services. In addition, it was fascinating to listen to some of the
top dogs, such as IBM and Oracle, speak about their experience with virtual
conferences, the mistakes they made, how they corrected, and what expectations
should be.

Conferences are at heart about community. You
aren’t bringing together hundreds or thousands of people just for the heck of
it. Every conference must have a purpose, a goal that is wrapped up in intention
to better serve that particular community with services, products, and
communication. After all, this is not a one way street. Companies need to find
out what their communities need from them and how they can better serve them.
Conferences are a great opportunity to do just that.

So, when considering a platform for your virtual conference, it’s vital to make sure it’s going to satisfy the social
aspects of a conference. All the speakers at the Virtual Edge Summit made it
clear that virtual conferences do not replace face-to-face contact and in-person
conferences, but rather they extend and enhance the typical conference.
Businesses need to make sure the virtual experience is every bit as satisfying
as the in-person experience.

Most of my experience with virtual
conferences and meetings has been in Second Life (SL). I like SL a lot, and
use it way too frequently for my personal fun, but I have found professionally
that SL has a steep learning curve for many, has big computer requirements, and
therefore some attendees are less likely to join that platform. What is great
about SL, though, is the 3D environment lends to a feeling of “being there” and
having avatar-to-avatar contact gives more of a face-to-face feeling than does 2D.

The Virtual Edge Summit did a great job of
uniting the in-person experience with the virtual. While in sessions, we could
see the virtual session while they had us on a screen, so we could see each
other. Virtually folks entered their questions and comments through text, and
chatted with each other, commenting on what the speakers were saying, while
listening to our in-person questions and comments.

The Virtual Edge Summit used VirtualU, a virtual universe
created by Digitaltell Inc. This platform provides a 3D and 2D experience, which
I really liked. First you download the software, which has a small footprint,
then select an avatar. Navigation buttons are at the bottom of the screen at all
times. The virtual environment is on the left, while a small panel of 2D
features is on the right, giving you access to any file downloads, such as PDFs,
text chat, etc. It was nice to use the software in a real conference to see how
it worked. Other vendor software there worked similarly, some using only 2D and menuing
systems, which offered a lot of nice features.

For CollabNet, since we are a smaller  company, some of these platforms are going to be out of our budget. I’m
researching less expensive alternatives, while being careful that the platform  gives as “real” a conference experience as possible. Community is important to
us, and one big attraction to having a virtual conference is that more people
can attend since travel is not an issue.

I would love to hear from you on your
experiences with virtual conferences, how likely you would be to attend a
CollabNet virtual conference, and what some of your expectations would be.

Another interesting use of this platform is
that some companies are extending their websites with this software so that
folks can visit virtual chats and 3D forums year-round. Sites have had text
discussion forums for a long time, but it seems our online communities are
getting 3D face lifts, such as extending into places like Second Life or
platforms like VirtualU. I welcome your thoughts on this topic as well.

Dana dnourie at collab.net

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