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April 17, 2008

Peter Dunkley: Keeping virtual business real... for now

Here's a question. If virtual worlds represent such a challenge to the meetings and events industries, then why are none of the biggest events about them actually held in Second Life? This month has seen Virtual Worlds 2008 take place in New York, the organisers of which have announced a new event in London later this year. We have also had the dates confirmed for the second Virtual Worlds Forum (VWF), to be held in London from 11-13 November. This is the largest of the European events and is the centrepiece of the Virtual Economic Forum (virtualeconomicforum.com), which describes itself as "a media company and think-tank delivering events, online content and networking to the virtual worlds...community"

The inaugural VWF event was held last October at the (now closed) Canvas, in Kings Cross, London over four days. Workshops supported the main conference and expo, bringing together an audience ranging from the deeply committed to the mildly curious across all aspects of virtual worlds. The impressive speaker list was headed up by Lord Putnam, and included many of the great and good in virtual world developments. The success of this event was reflected in the media coverage, with the BBC and most of the quality press featuring stories from the show.

Keeping it real

There are good reasons why these events are sticking with real events at real venues, but the most important has to be the potential to attract a large audience paying real-world prices. Many of the people that are interested in the commercial potential of these environments and who are happy enough to pay conference prices, won't even have an avatar, let alone be able to navigate it around a crowded virtual expo.

Credit, then, to Nick Wilson of Clever Zebra who has announced a purely virtual event, to be held in Second Life on the 24-27 April. The main sponsor is to be Kelly Services and the keynote speakers include Forrester's Erica Driver and IBM's Sandra Kearney. The event is to have four streams focusing on collaboration, education, marketing and commerce. For those in the events industry keen to understand what's happening in virtual worlds this should be a good opportunity. Registration is now open cleverzebra.com/vbusiness.

Virtual portfolio
Among those that will be keeping an eye on these developments is Sasha Frieze, Virtual Economic Forum's CEO. Sasha has no firm plans to run events virtually just yet, but is considering their place in her portfolio for the future. She is, however, already using her Second Life facilities for meetings with potential sponsors, speakers and partners. As is appropriate for a conference organiser in the social media space, Sasha sees real value in blogging and podcasts to keep the meetings and event communities engaged, but she is also running monthly Salons at the Hospital Club in London's Covent Garden.

These events are currently free, but places are limited and the first two were fully booked within 90 minutes. As the participants for the first two salons have included many of the significant European virtual worlds players it is worth registering for future events if you are at all interested in how these environments are developing. There's no date yet for the next Salon, but Sasha says that it will be held in May.

Peter Dunkley is director of virtual world consulting agency depo consulting

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