I'm reluctant to declare that real-time events are the Next Big Thing on the Internet, because it seems like a Next Big Thing comes along on the Internet about once a month, and they're mostly forgotten the next day. Still, I've seen firsthand how powerful virtual events can be. They're an emerging trend. And InformationWeek is in the middle of it all.I was part of a team that managed virtual events for InformationWeek's parent company, United Business Media, last year. We ran a series of weekly one-on-one public interviews in Second Life, called GridTalk. We got a pretty good turnout, more than 50 people at each event. The people were really engaged, too -- they asked a lot of questions, talked about what was happening, and hung around afterward for discussion. It was terrific.
My colleagues at UBM also ran several week-long conferences in Second Life, called Life 2.0, which got about 1,000 attendees each.
I know those attendance numbers sound small to people accustomed to the millions of people who visit popular Web sites. But Second Life events are a different dynamic. Web audiences are often huge, but the relationship is shallow. It's a drive-by thing: the reader clicks on a link, stays a couple of minutes (if that), and then moves on. Second Life business relationships are deep and high-touch -- people stayed at our GridTalk events for an hour, they gave it their full attention, they listened closely, discussed, and asked questions. People attended Life 2.0 all day; some people scheduled time off from work around it.
I think our events business was successful in presenting compelling content and engaging audiences. But there was a lot going on in UBM a few months ago, and the company had to focus on other things and move on. We shut the virtual events business down.
So I was excited when I learned, not too long ago, that UBM is getting back into virtual events. It's a different approach, and a different platform, managed by different people, but the same general philosophy: Bring a group of like-minded people in to experience the same event together, in real time, where they can interact with presenters and with each other. This time, the events are being managed by TechWeb, the subsidiary of UBM which InformationWeek is part of.
We're using a different platform this time. Not Second Life but InXpo, technology that's optimized for doing virtual conferences on the Web.
We're using InXpo to bring you the InformationWeek 500 Virtual Conference, this Thursday, Sept. 25, from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Eastern U.S. time. You'll be able to hear a live discussion between InformationWeek editor-in-chief Rob Preston and Ulrich Seif, CIO of National Semiconductor. We named NSC Top Innovator in the InformationWeek 500 survey.
You'll also be able to watch live video recorded at last week's InformationWeek 500 real-life conference in Monarch Beach, Calif., including a discussion with CIOs about doing business in a global market, a conversation with the CIO and CEO of Harrah's, and the funny and insightful Get to the Point debate between Toby Redshaw, CIO of Aviva, and analyst Rob Enderle. I'm particularly looking forward to Get to the Point myself -- I had to miss the debate in real time because I was writing, but I kept hearing afterward how great it was.
You'll also be able to stop by booths and talk in real time to representatives of sponsor companies, and InformationWeek too -- several of our editors will be on booth duty, including me. (Yes, I finally get to be a booth bimbo. My mother would be so proud.)
Several of us on InformationWeek editorial got a quick orientation on using InXpo on Monday. It looks like a good platform, with some trade-offs compared with Second Life.
Both platforms let you interact in text chat, watch videos, and take in real-time discussions in voice or text. On both platforms, you can chat with presenters or with fellow conference attendees, and you can download documents and multimedia files.
Which is better? I don't know yet -- ask me again after I've been to the event on Thursday. I can see advantages and disadvantages to each.
Advantages to Second Life: Second Life is more immersive. It's a simulated 3-D environment. Your avatar looks like a 3-D body, which you can move in any direction, and you can see the 3-D avatar bodies of other people around you. Second Life gives you the illusion that you're someplace else, interacting with other people in the same place at the same time.
Disadvantages to Second Life: It requires a heavyweight dedicated client, which users must install, and that's a big obstacle for many users, especially in a corporate environment where IT departments keep a tight leash on what software users are allowed to put on their computers. Also, Second Life takes time to learn.
Advantages and disadvantages of InXpo: It's 2-D -- you're basically looking at a picture of a conference. You move around by clicking in your browser. Avatars are 2-D images or photos, like Facebook or Twitter avatars. The 2-D nature of InXpo makes it less immersive than Second Life, which is a disadvantage. On the other hand, InXpo is simpler than Second Life. It runs on a standard PC or Mac, running a standard Internet Explorer or Firefox configuration. You don't have to install anything special to use InXpo, just the browser, Macromedia Flash, and a media player, which you probably already have. InXpo is much easier to learn than Second Life. Second Life events are over when they're over, but InXpo events stay up on the Web until someone takes them down.
Also, InXpo events have much greater capacity than Second Life events. SL events max out at about 100 people. You can finagle that -- you can offer videos and audiocasts afterward, and you can stream the audio and video onto the Web to give you a potentially unlimited audience. But only about 100 people, at most, can actually attend the event in Second Life. InXpo events have unlimited attendance; we've got nearly a thousand people signed up for the virtual IW500 and we're expecting more.
Virtual events look like potentially a powerful new medium for the Internet. Successful Internet phenomenon extend activities that people like to do in real life: Blogging extends traditional publishing; Facebook is a digital version of a college directory; Twitter is like one big, global, 24-by-7 cocktail party. Virtual events have the potential to extend well beyond the enterprise, to include anything that people like to do together: Watch sports, listen to and create music, watch movies, and more. I've seen all those things in Second Life.
Join us for the InformationWeek 500 virtual conference on Thursday, and help us explore this new medium. Stop by the InformationWeek booth and say hi; I'm on booth duty from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, and again 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Let us know what you think.