Second Life for a Cisco virtual press conference: fly on over!

When Cisco Systems Inc. said it would announce the winners of a networking technology innovation contest called Connected Life inside a Second Life simulation, it seemed like the place for me to be, if only to see how major companies might use this virtual world.

Cisco has been staging virtual meetings in Second Life for more than a year with developers meeting with channel partners, but this presentation was the first time that I had heard of a reporter being asked to cover a meeting there. 

I am probably an SL noob  by most standards, but at least had already loaded the SL client on my laptop and had created a avatar named Matt2 Ultsch.  I thought I knew most of the ways to move, run, and even fly in SL, and to search out islands and events. 

The day of the actual event on Oct. 30, I arrived early and got a new VoIP stereo headset to work so that I could talk in voice to a Cisco spokesman, but only after several tries and realizing that I was talking loud enough to interrupt others nearby.  The gathered crowd included a number of apparent journalists, contest finalists, and Cisco workers, most with avatars dressed in business casual. One came as an alligator.

Attendees sometimes flew in and out, and several had trouble launching a catchy, hip video that Cisco presented on ideas for new technologies.  Many in the audience apparently didn’t realize that the SL text chat function allows a user to either chat with everybody at once, or just to one person, so that the entire hour-long presentation was interrupted by text cheers for the winners, comments on rock music, and several comments about how great it was that Canada had so  many contest finalists. 

There was no audio from the presenter, ThomasB, whose Real Life (RL) name is Thomas Barnett, a senior manager at Cisco, so he texted names of finalists and eventually the grand prize winner of $10,000, a man named Amir from North Carolina, who had proposed the idea of the Personal Digital Butler to have all the devices (heating, cooling, lights, doors, TVs, games, alarms and more) in his home  integrated with a Cisco router and command center.

Amir’s full name and business affiliation was not given, but his avatar did come on stage to receive the award and quipped that he might buy Cisco stock with his winnings.

Afterwards, we were invited to try out a concept of the Personal Digital Butler, but twice when I tried to activate it, SL lagged and I could not see much.  During the lags, my avatar was mostly frozen in place for lateral moves, but I could still fly upward. (I was told later that the many participants activating the demo caused the lags.) Each time I lagged I eventually gave up and relaunched SL, which took a few minutes.

In all, I would say the Cisco event sparked my interest in the SL virtual meeting format. However, I was concerned how my attention was focused on making things in SL work smoothly instead of being able to focus on the material, the contest winner and his ideas. 

 Come to think of it, however, that confusion happens often with RL press conferences  when 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.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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