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Second Life: Different World, Same Stuff

A virtual press conference in Second Life proves to be the same but different

November 14, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Cisco Systems Inc. has been staging virtual meetings between developers and channel partners in Second Life for more than a year, but this invitation was a first for me. So a presentation announcing the winners of a networking technology innovation contest -- inside a Second Life simulation -- seemed like the place to be.

I'm probably an SL noob (for newbie) by most standards, but I've spent enough time there to know most of the ways to move and how to search out islands and events.

I arrived early and tried on a new VoIP stereo headset so that I could talk in voice to a Cisco spokesman, but it worked only after several tries. Then I realized that I was talking loud enough to interrupt others nearby. The attendees included a number of apparent journalists, contest finalists and Cisco workers, most with avatars dressed in business casual. One came as an alligator, though.

The hour-long presentation was, uh, different. Attendees flew in and out, there was trouble launching a catchy, hip video.

Many in the audience apparently didn't realize that the SL text chat function allows a user to chat with just one person or with everybody at once. As a result, the presentation was interrupted by text cheers for the winners as well as all kinds of random comments.

The presenter, ThomasB -- a senior manager at Cisco whose Real Life (RL) name is Thomas Barnett -- eschewed audio and texted names of the finalists and the grand-prize winner, Amir.

Amir, whose avatar came to the stage, had proposed the idea of the Personal Digital Butler, which would integrate all the devices in his home with a Cisco router and command center.

Afterward, attendees were invited to try out a concept of the Personal Digital Butler, but both times I tried to activate it, SL lagged, my avatar was frozen in place and I had to relaunch SL. (I was told later that the many participants activating the demo simultaneously caused the lags.)

In all, I would say the Cisco event sparked my interest in the SL virtual meeting format, but my attention was focused more on making things in SL work smoothly than on the material presented.

Come to think of it, though, RL press conferences present similar challenges: Reporters jam into tight, loud spaces and have to fight to hear over side conversations or to get the spelling on the name of the presenter. It ain't always easy getting at the truth, real or virtual.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless technologies, handhelds and laptop PCs, and networking for Computerworld.

Read more about Networking in Computerworld's Networking Topic Center.

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