Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Running a Second Life event

A big part of my most recent career move just came to fruition last night with the hosting of CPA Australia's first ever event in Second Life.

My role within the Knowledge Exchange team at CPA Australia is all about finding ways for members to better engage with each other. Be that sharing information, connecting with like-minded members, or any other need members might have to help exchange knowledge.

One need we have been working on is to help members in disparate regions connect and learn with the same ability as those members in capital cities. CPA Australia is well under-way in rolling out hosted webinars, but as an experiment we also wanted to explore the boundaries of remote collaboration. This led us to Second Life.

Much research and many articles have been written on virtual worlds and the 3D internet and it all leads to a thinking that in the future that internet will be 3D. I believe that as humans we naturally interact and feel in a 3D world therefore it is only natural that we migrate our online life to three dimensions.

To get a better idea of how serious this topic is, check out IBM's work in virtual worlds.

But back to our little experiment! Our aim, as part of the annual series of CPA Congress events was to be able to deliver an event that was accessible to any member no matter where they were and to provide the same experience to all.

As with all new things we were required to make plenty of decisions with little experience to fall back on, here is a list of some things we needed to sort out:

How big was our place going to be? Do we need an island or just a patch of land? Do we buy or rent?

As this was an experiment and not (at the moment) a long-term investment we decided to rent land in the region of Bracket. One thing to consider is that you can't choose your neighbours. We currently have a Magic Island and an Egyptian temple as neigbours!

What building/s do you want? What theme will they be?

This one was hard. It's not everyday you get to build a convention centre from scratch! With a little help from our designers we settled on a three tiered piece of land where from the landing pad you could observe your surrounding area. We wanted the experience to be as easy as possible for newbies, so landing people at the top of the hill allowed everyone to get a sense of place and of where they could explore.

We then decided to include an exhibition space. As with the previous point, we wanted as much as possible to replicate a real conference event to make the transition from real world to virtual world as easy as possible. In this area we were also able to show off many of our services and also promote other media applications like our Love your Super video on YouTube.

Our final area to build was the theatre space. For this we chose a three paneled back drop that would allow us to also show off our brand spanking new TVCs - think+create. The central panel was for the presenters slides.

Top cap it off, we were also able to include a backdrop of cityscapes from across the world, fitting nicely into our global premier brand positioning.

Some points to remember when building a theatre or other space in Second Life is that text chat travels 20m and voice 30m, so don't make your theatre too big or else the people in the back rows will not be able to participate.

We also built all our assets in the 3D software called Maya, this meant that if in the future we wanted to teleport to another location or another virtual world we could take our buildings, seats, tables and chairs with us.

The event
How do you run an event in Second Life? How do you register people? What are the 1%-ers that need to be covered off?

Our first hurdle to overcome here was getting people to register. We took a softly, softly, approach to the promotion of this event, so we asked members to contact us if they were interested and if they were we sent our a traditional event registration form. This allowed us to register members as per a regular event, and it also allowed us to grant permission to avatars into our space as needed.

A point to remember is the 'space' you hire is actually just memory space on a server back in Linden Labs, San Francisco. So the memory that we hired allowed for our venue and about 50 avatars. Any more than this and our space might go kapoot.

Once we had the people registered we needed to have a very tight run-sheet to make sure everything went off without a hitch. For this run-sheet we made sure that the virtual team was really contactable. We had phone numbers and emails just incase of technical problems.

To make sure all those present behaved our MC let everybody know the house-rules prior to the session commencing, and we found that as everyone came there to learn and experience something new, the crowd was well behaved.

One thing you will know with Second Life is that it is temperamental. The audio function can come and go willy-nilly. Because of this we had a person on stage that typed out highlights of the presenters speech in the text-chat so that we had audio and text dialogue of the presentation.

Also while speaking of audio, there is another trick that you need to be aware of. All microphones work differently in Second Life. Ensure that you test out your audio levels prior to the event. If there was one down point to the event we held it was that the audio levels were not consistent amongst those speaking.

The presenters
As this was our very first step into virtual worlds we wanted the theme to be around how business is approaching virtual worlds and how virtual worlds can assist collaboration and learning in a work environment.

And who better to lead our first ever event that two experts in the field, Lindy McKeown and Lee Hopkins. Both presenters were able to help us along the way giving us tips on how to create a better Second Life environment and also delivered highly engaging presentations.

Lee has also written a review and posted his presentation on his blog.

To conclude this rather long post I would advise those thinking about dipping a toe into Second Life, go for it, but think about a few key points:

1. It's relatively cheap to get started, hire land to start - only buy an island if you're in it for the long haul
2. Make sure you know what you want to build. Consult all stakeholders at work because once they get a whiff of how cool it is they'll want a little space for themselves too
3. Know what you want to get out of it. I can highly recommend virtual worlds for hosting events, but I don't expect avatars to register to become a CPA member from a brochure I have sitting on a table in Second Life.
4. So.... run an event in a virtual world - in a single session we had people from Mildura, Tumut, Euroa, Tamworth, Cairns, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth AND London, Liverpool, Detroit and New York!
5. Have fun! Virtual worlds let people blend technical learning and creativity in a whole new way, the format of a virtual world means that new connections can be made across geographic boundaries and this, for me, is one of the biggest pluses for virtual worlds.

Teleport to the CPA Australia Congress Centre in Second Life

CPA Australia - Event host
Net Effective - Second Life interior designers, architects, carpenters and all-round virtual tradies
Second Life - the virtual world we landed on
Lindy McKeown (aka Decka Mah) - Virtual world educator, scholar and guru
Lee Hopkins (aka Lee Laperriere) - Business communications expert and explorer of virtual worlds


Check out photos of the event here on Flickr


Mick Leyden said...

Well done Alex, it's a great effort and a worthy experiment. I'm looking foward to watching the video. :-)

ann.quach said...

Hi Alex,

As a conference attendee I thought the session went really well. No detail was left spared, even to the point of having staff avatars to help delegates.

Well done,I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Ann Quach

Alex of Melbourne said...

thanks guys, it was a great experience to build and deliver on. Now I need to keep the momentum rolling!