Kim Smith, CEO of World2Worlds (formerly RMMS), found her way into virtual worlds the same way any protective mother would—by playing online games with her sons to keep them out of trouble. Smith was not new to the world of technology, having founded Office Automation Training with her mother in the late ‘70s, and then moving on to Architecture and Engineering work for firms such as CH2MHill and Tetra Tech. So by the time her sons came along, she was interested in experiencing the new interactive media of gaming. The social aspect of it allowed her to see the far-reaching possibilities for business applications. It was ironic, she says, that 3D models were the perfect medium around which collaboration could occur, and yet most businesses were unaware of them. When Second Life hit the scene, Smith saw her chance and dove in.
Along with Advisory Board Chairman John Jainschigg, Smith created a series of events in Second Life for United Business Media, including the Life 2.0 conferences for Dr. Dobb’s Journal. Along the way, they pioneered technologies that are now commonly accepted as best practices: web-based registration portals, access control, inworld presentation infrastructure, interactive chat bridging, and others. Their clients have included Sun Microsystems, Ciscso, IBM, Intel and Microsoft.
World2Worlds offers a wide array of services. Business consulting is only the tip of the iceberg. They also provide audience development and registration—what Smith calls part of World2Worlds’ “tech publishing and social networking DNA.” Marketing and PR, as well as engineering and design work are included as well, along with infrastructure development and maintenance. They also offer the training which will allow clients to eventually become more independent users of the technology. Currently, World2Worlds is involved in the creation of virtual sales environments which are designed to encompass all necessary features for effective presentations. “The idea,” says Smith, “is to enable top salespeople, product specialists, engineers and other experts to meet with customers conveniently in an environment that delivers both the social and learning benefits of a real world visit.”
When creating a compelling experience for the user, Smith relies on the mantra that “the best virtual world presentations always turn into conversations.” With that in mind, the technology allows audience members to provide feedback to a speaker during a presentation. Experienced speakers find that being able to “take the audience’s temperature” is an extremely helpful way to fine tune their message. This capability allows for a certain amount of improvisation, what author Stephen Little calls “the Milkshake Moment,” whereby a presenter has the latitude to veer from a planned text for a moment and address real problems in real time.
One of World2Worlds’ great successes initially came about as an experiment. In April of 2007, they created Life 2.0 for United Business Media, the first virtual event “to focus on tools and techniques for developing in virtual worlds.” As the first event of its kind, the questions were numerous: Could they develop an audience? What would be the most effective format? How would sponsors react? After building an environment on a large physical event-type scale and promoting it via Dr. Dobb’s Journal readership rolls, the response was overwhelming. All the important metrics—quality of registrants, quantity (900), hours of engagement per person—surpassed expectations. Subsequent events grew at an impressive rate: September ’07 (1600), March ’08 (2200). And additional technologies were developed in the process—broadcasting content to the web, two-way chat between the event and video users, as well as the refinement of presentation and security infrastructure.
While publishers currently provide the ideal resources to promote virtual events, that may change. Smith believes that the promotional opportunities from social networks, blogs and strategic ad placement will prove valuable tools in the future. Meanwhile, World2Worlds is focusing on its Second Life presence. They are also, however, experimenting with Sun’s Wonderland platform, and they eagerly anticipate the release of Metaplace, a “zero friction of entry, 2.5D, Flash-based platform.” Smith, like so many in the virtual world industry, predicts big things for the future. The economic downturn coupled with environmental concerns will propel many businesses to forgo the expense and travel of physical events in favor of virtual alternatives which offer, in Smith’s words, “a powerful platform for immersive experience and rich interaction, ideally suited to businesses whose thought leaders, experts and visionary leaders really want to engage.”