Monday, January 18, 2010

Do virtual world evangelists REALLY want them to go mainstream?

Happy new year, everyone. Looks like I'm gonna start 2010 with a rant...

A few weeks ago, I submitted a session on virtual worlds for the Enterprise2.0 conference in Boston this year. There were 465 proposals submitted, which I think is A LOT. When I submitted my session, I did a search to see how many other proposals related to virtual worlds had been submitted. Out of 465? Three. One on virtual events, one on how the military has used virtual worlds, and mine.

Even worse (and I could have a whole separate rant about the voting system), there's a community vote to get sessions included into the conference. You don't have to attend the conference to vote, just register on the site. Now, I can't vote for myself, and I know at least 8 or 9 of the people who voted for my session (including my mom)...and I've been pimping this session for the last few weeks on Twitter and Facebook. I have a lot of people involved in virtual worlds who've followed or friended me. Total votes for my session? 15.


Even if you think my session description was crap, hell, sign in and tell me and the rest of the world how bad it is. Better yet, propose your own session. I'm sure someday I'll be irritated by the number of people submitting competing sessions, but it would be a welcome change from virtual world sessions being less than 1% of submissions at a mainstream conference, when we should all be promoting this technology that we all talk about as the future of communication, collaboration, learning...

I've been in an interesting position in the learning space, being one of the only people who's been running around trying to talk about how virtual worlds could be leveraged for enterprise learning, one of the only people who has spent an ungodly amount of time in-world experimenting, studying motivation, pushing the technological capabilities, and getting to know all of the available platforms. I have attended and/or spoke at every virtual world conference I've known about for the last two years, I've met almost every other evangelist of serious virtual worlds. I love this technology, I love the vision and the excitement and the conviction of the people who use it and advocate for it. But I've come to a conclusion that really bothers me.

I think too many of the virtual worlds evangelists are actually virtual worlds snobs.

What happens when virtual worlds go mainstream? We lose control. We're no longer visionaries. We become the grumpy old timers who reminisce about the old days. Our specialness, our perspectives, our unique insights will be swallowed by the masses, who will commercialize and change and make mainstream what has been a fringe technology for so long.

But that's what we supposedly want, right? We want everyone to understand why we believe in and advocate for virtual worlds. We want people to realize their potential. We want to see amazing new innovations that spring from widespread adoption. We want standards and security and easy access. We want our parents to understand what we're talking about and for Oprah's avatar to broadcast her show from her island or grid. We want everyone to log in every morning and share a virtual coffee before teleporting to a meeting with their boss. We want everyone at our family reunions to actually "get" what we do.

Don't we?

Or are we all too busy talking to ourselves, preaching to the choir...and not REALLY evangelizing.

I don't know if my session will be included in the Enterprise2.0 conference, but I do know one thing. We should all be looking outside of our current virtual worlds circles if we want this technology to experience widespread adoption.

Unless we really don't.


  1. This is the depreciatory nature of technology in general - what appears today to be innovative quickly loses its "indie cred" once the use case becomes more mainstream. Some folks resent that and prefer to sequester their supposed "visionary" status. I don't get it, either.

  2. Koreen, all I can say is I hope you are wrong and there are other reasons stopping people from standing up and speaking out. I recently submitted a proposal to speak at Virtual Edge in February, my first speaking engagement, but hopefully not my last.

    What keeps me from doing more is that most of these opportunities to speak are all using out-of-pocket funding for travel/hotel. Having been recently downsized out of a full time position, I will have to pick and choose carefully where to spend my money.

    aka Georgianna Blackburn in SL

  3. You make a good point. Part of it may also be that the air went out of the hype balloon and, try though we might, to bring attention to VR, the press has moved on. Not to worry, many of us will keep trying and we will succeed!

    Another part of it is the unfortunate connotation of the word "virtual." ie, "it's not real." I am suggesting an alternative. "Web3.0" or "3D Web"

    Charles Henderson
    Charles2 McCaw