Blog Post

Here come Virtual World Trade Shows… seriously

Iris Ophelia in business wear
Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d read outside a cyberpunk sci-fi novel: “Should my catwoman avatar wear a business suit at the virtual interview with Microsoft?” But that’s become a serious question, thanks to the growth of corporate events, meetings, and conferences held within online worlds– Sun, IBM, other major tech firms hold them regularly in Second Life, and as the Wall Street Journal just reported, TMP Worldwide Advertising recently hosted an SL-based job fair with reps from HP, Verizon, and other major players in attendance. (On my own blog, metaverse style correspondent Iris Ophelia just published a perfectly-timed, gorgeously illustrated business wear-for-avatars fashion guide.)

But as the Journal notes, while such a venue has its advantages, Second Life in particular still has numerous stumbling blocks– it requires a separate client install, and the complicated user interface may make the interviewee end up looking like a helpless noob.

Enter Unisfair, a relatively new start-up offering virtual events in a web-based environment. (The pitch: Second Life meets Webex meets LinkedIn.)

Boasting clients like IBM and Nortel, the site recreates real world conference in three dimensions. They’ve already had about 310,000 visitors, according to spokeswoman Jennefer Traeger. On a single day, she says, one of their enterprise clients generated 1701 leads who spent around 168 minutes on average in the 20 locations Unisfair created for them. “Cost of virtual event,” says Traeger, “less then total shipping costs for physical events they had done in the past.”

But why a virtual space, as opposed to say, teleconferencing or IM chat? “Participants can ask questions and receive immediate responses, network and generally be a part of things via chat, IM, email or voice,” Traeger argues. “Also, 3-D is engaging– making participants feel more as if they are at a live event.” And unlike Second Life, no cat people or women with robot arms to scare off more conservative companies.

20 Responses to “Here come Virtual World Trade Shows… seriously”

  1. This is an interesting avenue for people like ourselves who create real world trade show displays, banners and other exhibition equipment as we already do all the graphics up in photoshop before printing. Really hadn’t given it much thought before :-)

    We can supply virtual stands for people whoe are interested if they contact our graphic design team.

  2. The Cumming Gaff!

    Wait until IBM, SUN and other “Big Business” clients on second life are faced with supporting a site that has “sex toys” “bondage devices” and plays to the many baser parts of humanity that their participants are involved in.

    What’s the VP of Communications going to say? “I didn’t know there was sex and bondage in second life!” Yah, this will be a mess. Just sit back and watch them drip their integrity right off their…foreheads.

    Double entendre in title intended.

  3. Hehe lots of things to say about this :) My first “business meeting” in SL was in late 2004, and I wondered about the dress code in a meeting. Since I wished to impress my future employees, and SL had absolutely no “business fashion” these days, I hired an Australian SL clothes designer to do an executive pinstripe suit for me. It looked like I picked correctly; the dress code on that meeting was mostly formal, and I got the job.

    Sure, back in 2004, there was no IBM or Dell or Microsoft in Second Life, so I wasn’t really going to get a US$3000/month salary; more like a L$ (Linden dollar) 3000/month, or 250 times less :) Still, it was my first contact with a “business meeting” inside SL. And it worked pretty well.

    Although everybody has a different experience, I guess I’m the unlucky one on things like conference calls or videoconferences — or even “business meetings”. Setting the first up has been increasingly easier — thanks to Skype or similar products — but apparently only for the tecchie-savvy. Bad luck always strikes me at the moment someone insists that I join a “conference” — either I have the wrong version, or the microphone doesn’t work, or the video quality is too low, or I’m picking up too much noise… in any case, I spend way more time in trying to fix the computer properly than to listen to the meeting. At the end, of course, I’ll just pick up the text-written notes and take it from there; for me, the “real discussion” using voice and video is pretty much pointless. Real work (in the service area) happens on the word processor or the spreadsheet; “meetings” are precious hours wasted in establishing social bondage, eye contact, reading body language, and whatever sociologists and anthropologists require us humans to do to establish “trust”, “reputation”, and all the invisible things required to “do business honestly”.

    My own professional reputation always relied on “getting the job done and delivering it for the specified cost”, so I’m a bit alien to all the things that go behind the scenes. In fact, in all companies I founded/worked with, one of the first things I do whenever there is enough money to hire them is getting someone charismatic, good-looking, and with a positive, radiating image to be the sales rep. Ideally these people should be self-confident and even slightly arrogant or daring, both in their figure, image, clothing, and their words. It also helps if they’re shrewd and clever :)

    The same obviously applies to conference calls — that’s the reason why corporations almost always hire people with calm, trusting, and lovely voices to pick up the phone. A good voice, a nice accent and pronuntiation, and excellent grammar and clearness of speech will go a long way to cause a good first impression. And I really don’t wish to fall back to the old stereotype of hiring blonde bombshells to handle the reception; I know the reason why it’s done, but it still disgusts me. In any case, it’s for the same reason: “a good first impression”.

    Well, now enter SL. All this nonsense — but a type of “nonsense” that makes sense for us as human beings — is simply shortcut. Everybody can be beautiful, dress nicely, and write eloquently (even if you type slowly with a spell-checker — people will be multitasking anyway). During a meeting in SL, you can actually be not only in touch with your colleagues and suppliers at the same time — so no time is wasted there — but you can effectively work immediately on a proposal/document/analysis/report or whatever the purpose of the meeting actually is. “Meetings” tend to become more a collaborative environment where both customer and provider work almost simultaneously on a final document (more so, if the meting transcripts — the chat log — is included).

    Naturally, this only works for the service industry. There is still some impossibility in selling groceries through a virtual world, or getting your hair cut :) Although for those areas videoconferencing is also not very useful…

    The issue if in the future the “informal” meeting space in things like Second Life will be used or not is much more a question of “management fashion” than anything else. These days, 5,000 IBM employees use SL as a meeting & collaborative space every day. It’s “corporate policy” to use it instead of “in-the-flesh” meetings or any other sort of fancy voice/video teleconferencing with much higher costs. IBM might be a pioneer, but they’re definitely not the only one. Still, in a world that has perhaps one billion employees in the service industry, what “a few dozens of thousands” are doing right now does not set a “fashion” or a “trend”. Even the ubiquitous mobile phone took a few years to be integrated into corporate culture — or email. But watch out for 2010, when “dozens of millions” of corporate workers will be indeed using SL or its successor as an alternative business tool for communication and collaboration. We might talk of a “trend” then, and Bill Gates will write another book on it :)

    Right now, in 2007, it’s the phase of the “early adopters” — shunned, laughed at, ignored, or grossly underestimated. But early adopters are used to it; they were the ones laughed at when they dragged 30 pounds of “mobile” phones to meetings, or typed their proposals on WordStar and Lotus 1-2-3 instead of using a typewriter and a pocket calculator.

    I can’t wait until my present of today becomes the future of the rest of the world :)

  4. Trade shows within virtual worlds can work very well, if the companies hosting understand the nature of Second Life and how best to host or help sponsor them.

    I have seen places like Silicon Island do a great job with a real life expo, and we did a 3 day Expo at Armory Island called the SL Combat Expo. There is also an upcoming Sci-Fi Expo this weekend.

    There can be a lot of crossover from Second Life into real life and vice versa, with large companies helping to sponsor and promote these kinds of events. By getting involved in SL expos, real life companies can get more brand awareness — including much coveted word of mouth recommendations.

    While companies can interview potential job applicants, they can also show off their products in 3D details, arrange samples to be sent to buyers, give out virtual recreations of their products, and work out sponsorship deals for SL events. However all this means its much more than just “setting up a cool island”. It means understanding the platform in more detail, or coming to those that understand it well.

  5. SL Name = Malcom Bricklin

    Second Life is an excellent environment for a Human Resources Recruiter to initially SCREEN potential candidates, but for an Employees’ first impression to be meeting his Executive Boss in such a Playful-Fun situation may not be the way to “put your best foot forward”.
    HR Depts could expand their recruiting areas worldwide by having continuous Job Fairs in SL, CASUALLY talking with candidates about what the company has to offer and how the candidate might fit in.

    On the other hand, utilizing the Virtual Presence aspects of SL for employee MEETINGS would work better in a “motivational” national Sales meeting than for a serious Executive Board meeting – too many “distractions” for any boring meetings.

  6. This could be a great idea for out of the main road cities like Idaho Falls in southeast Idaho.

    Smaller towns can host their own virtual trade shows for their residents and get more big-name vendors than in the real world.