Day 2 of Virtual Edge 2009 (May 29th) featured a keynote, “The Future Of Virtual Events”. Executives of numerous virtual event vendors and service providers had their crystal balls polished (and in hand). The panel discussion was moderated by Michael Doyle (General Manager and Executive Director of VirtualEdge) and John Jainschigg (Director of Ziff Davis Enterprise’s Internet and Community Laboratory). The panelists (in order of their seating, from left to right):
- Chris Meyer, Senior Vice President and General Manager, George P. Johnson
- Malcolm L. Lotzof, CEO and Co-Founder, InXpo
- Jim Parker, President and CEO of Digitell, Inc.
- Chris Collins, Director of Enterprise Systems, Linden Lab
- Stuart Bowen Senior Director of Virtual Events, ON24
- Stu Schmidt, Vice President, Global Sales & Services for Unisfair
The session was simulcast into the virtual world via VirtualU (from Digitell) – with the VirtualU in-world session projected on two large displays in the presentation room. I found it interesting to alternate between the “real world” panelists and the in-world avatars within VirtualU, including the text chat that was occurring in parallel to the panel discussion (very similar to a live Twitter feed being displayed during a presentation).
Initially, the in-world chat was focused on logistical issues around the presentation (e.g. the sound is too low) – but as the session progressed, a lively and interesting discussion unfolded on the in-world displays. The moderators picked up on this and began to read aloud (to the panel) some of the more interesting questions posed in-world.
In response to Jim Parker’s (Digitell) provacative statement that the future of the desktop is a 3D experience/interface – the in-world commentators began to ask about the implications on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) [i.e. how do search engines index 3D content]. Kevin Aires of GPJ (who was concurrently in-session and in-world) responded in-world with one word: “metadata”.
Other notable panelist comments:
Chris Meyer of GPJ: Virtual, going forward, will be a part of everything we do. Chris notes that the model has flipped – in the past, a physical event might be the driver for a complementary (or replacement) virtual event. Going forward, the foundation will be a virtual community – and physical events will fall off it. A 5,000 person physical event of the past – today, that may transform to a 500 person event, complemented by a 4,500 person virtual event. Chris believes as the industry grows, enterprise players (e.g. Google, Microsoft) will look to enter the vendor (platform) space.
Stu Schmidt of Unisfair: A carbon calculation (of savings) is a standard part of post-event wrap-up analysis for Unisfair events. Stu had perhaps the best one-liner to cap the entire session. On the notion of whether virtual events are here to stay, Stu commented, “virtual events are here to stay because positive ROI always survives”. Broadening the scope of virtual event platforms a bit, Stu envisions that in the near future, static, 2D web sites will move in the direction of fully interactive sites, based on virtual event platform technology.
Jim Parker of Digitell: Jim’s children grew up with Webkinz and related virtual worlds – which means when they enter the workplace, they will expect interaction and 3D as part of their work environment. Jim introduced the notion of a virtual event to pre-educate attendees of a physical event. If you allow attendees to visit a virtual booth and peruse an exhibitor’s content, then they can walk into the physical booth armed precisely with the questions they need to ask the physical booth rep.
Chris Collins of Linden Lab: Second Life has seen significant traffic growth of late – and enterprises are successfully leveraging Second Life for business use. Chris mentioned IBM’s use of Second Life for an Academy of Technology meeting (in-world) that saved the company over $300,000 in costs.
Stuart Bowen of On24: Stuart notes that in addition to interest around virtual tradeshows, clients are also considering virtual career fairs, virtual sales kick-off meetings and more.
Malcolm Lotzof of InXpo: In response to a question about cultural changes resulting from the shift to virtual – Malcolm noted that many of the questions posed by the in-world participants may never have been asked if those same people were physically in the presentation room. The virtual environment has a way to break down barriers – making everyone a Type A personality in a virtual event. On the question of the virtual event industry and how will it scale into billions in revenue – Malcolm noted that like the physical event industry, there’s an ecosystem with a myriad of service providers, roles and functions. Malcolm believes that no one provider will drive the ecosystem. As such, generating the right partnerships is important.