Our work in Second Life is this kind of initiative. Second Life is an online 3D virtual reality—a 3D social network wrapped around a highly programmable, Web-based, multimedia conferencing and content-creation system created by San Francisco-based, venture-funded Linden Lab.
By using Second Life as a platform, enhancing it with technology of our own design and applying some classic publishing tools (subject matter expertise, and the ability to attract and qualify audiences and drive traffic), we're now holding globally accessible events that offer many of the practical and psychic benefits of events in the real world, though on a smaller scale.
In 2005, a team of software and online experts from our Dr. Dobb's Journal launched CMP's Second Life efforts with a quiet period of research and development. This team mastered the powerful but arcane technologies used for 3D modeling and scripting, made deep connections with the in-world developer community and explored Second Life's in-world culture and its diverse and creative economy.
It was immediately obvious that "events"—from client education to full-scale international conferences—were a sweet spot for business in Second Life. The 3D environment lends itself to the creation of attractive event spaces—from classrooms to amphitheaters to convention centers. The social networking, group identification and communications, and multimedia features of the platform enable rich interaction and nurture community. And Second Life's sophisticated scripting capabilities make it possible to recreate most classic event infrastructures—from nametags to barcode readers to overhead projectors, video walls and security barriers.
But a number of elements were missing: While there were ways of promoting events to interested Second Life residents, nobody had yet systematically attempted to draw a qualified audience into Second Life from existing professional Web communities. And there was very little available in the way of metrics for measuring traffic, identifying unique visitors, clocking duration of attendance or helping draw useful inferences from visitor behavior.
Based on these needs, the team has been evolving a best-practice model for achieving ROI, developing a great deal of new technology—from event infrastructure to large-scale hosted metrics—and creating events in Second Life (appropriately, on the subject of Second Life development) to test these tools and theories.
CMP's first Life 2.0 Summit event took place April 28-May 4, 2007 on Dr. Dobbs Island in Second Life. Scaled to match a real-world event, the first Life 2.0 Summit drew a registered audience of more than 1,000 (200 accommodated in-world and the remainder via real-time audio, IM and other media on the Web). The audience quality was the same as that expected at any CMP developer event. The event itself followed a familiar real-world recipe of expert keynotes, tutorials, panels and presentations, followed by tours and other diversions until the wee hours. Qualified attendees treated this online event just as they treat real-world events in destination locations. The top 25 attendees averaged more than 21 hours of attendance each over six days; all in-world attendees averaged more than six hours.
Businesses seeking to emulate CMP's success in Second Life should familiarize themselves completely with Second Life culture and community before writing a business plan. Pioneers should also remember that Second Life is not the 3D Web. While the scriptable environment can indeed be used to create innovative commerce and other unattended applications, these are not (at the world's current scale) where businesses will find the best payback. The strength of Second Life is in community creation and active nurturance, live interaction and deep human engagement with small, qualified audiences.
CMP has recently been listed as a "metaverse" developer—the first global multimedia company to so identify itself—and our metaverse team is actively pursuing client engagements.
Overall, we're convinced that 3D virtual reality will gradually become a vital tool in our business. We believe that immersive Web experiences can capture the interest and participation of professional audiences as never before, and that this will lead to new opportunities for marketers and the media companies that serve them.
Steve Weitzner is president-CEO of CMP Technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.