I’m in a virtual world, now what?

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There are many different kinds of virtual worlds and potentially many different things to do in them. Some are better than others at nudging you along to become productive in them. By “productive” I don’t just mean getting business work done. If you are there to complete quests, as in online games, how much are you directed toward the goals? If you are there to socialize, how easy is it to find and then get to know people? If you are there to work, what does that even mean and how do you get it done?

When I get into a virtual world, I find that the one of the worst questions I can ask myself is nothing more than “now what?”. If I can’t think of anything to do, I leave. If I can’t do anything there that’s better than what I can do on the phone, I leave. If I find myself mindlessly repeating what I did six months ago, then I do it a bit longer, and I leave.

Am I doing the right thing in the virtual world at the right time? Is this entertainment or is it work? Do I need to connect with people and are they available in the same virtual world? Are the people with whom I’m interacting wasting my time? Am I wasting theirs? Can I make measurable progress toward meeting some goal?

I think that even in a business context there has to be a notion of exploration and you can’t feel like you’re doing it alone. How is having a meeting in a virtual world better than a conference call? What cool technology adds to the experience vs. just being distracted?

I’m not convinced, for example, that leading a meeting or giving a talk in a virtual world is really effective unless you can translate real hand and arm gestures into avatar movement. While I’m at it, give me a way to transmit real and timely facial expressions to my inworld persona. Without these, I’m afraid people just look elsewhere and eventually get distracted.


One Comment

  1. First and most important, congratulations to Bob Dylan for his Pulitzer Prize.

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/books/04/07/pulitzers.arts.ap/index.html

    My experience with virtual world meetings accords with yours. They are slightly better than phone conferences. Given some fidelity with gestures, and familiarity with the avatars, one can tell who is attending, who is speaking, who they stand near and so on. The in-world presentations of slides, movies, etc., are improvements but not much. The main thing is simulated presence and on-set cues do increase the attention of the attendees better than a phone-con.

    The cleverness of the animator makes a difference. I saw a demo where when the virtual lecturer wanted to present slides, their avatar morphed into the slide screen. That was a neat attention holding trick. I’ve seen demos of technical manual procedures where the part to be disassembled appears and then goes through the steps of the repair and replace. That works. Medical operations where a procedure can be repeated many times with a different student holding the tools on each pass with others watching and making suggestions works (and the cadavers are cheaper and funnier).

    So first one has to decide if the topic has a time and space component. If not, a virtual presentation isn’t worth building. On the other hand, if you are hosting the world anyway, it isn’t worse than other formats.

    Discoverability of other attendees and the serendipity of that is worth it. While the Build It and They Will Come palaces don’t work as well as we like, they might become more useful when they aren’t in the middle of other islands.

    I’m interested in what happens in the Vivaty/Facebook worlds where small private gatherings can listen to music together, watch the movies, whatever. It’s Tupperware for Geeks. I had good experiences with that in the early VRML worlds. It turns out that small invitation-only events works pretty well depending on the products.

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