Virtual Meetings Gain Steam…but not in Business

    May 5, 2006

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the news that Skype has finally released its long-awaited SkypeCast service.

In case you hadn’t heard, SkypeCast lets Skype users conduct online meetings with up to 100 people from anywhere in the world for free. Skype has teamed up with SixApart and other companies to create this capability, which many have taken advantage of even in its first few days of beta testing. As I write this, there are 160 Skypecasts scheduled; some of those already held have included an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for people who can’t make it to meetings. USA Today writer and blogger Kevin Maney thinks his band can perform a concert using a SkypeCast.

The same capabilities have been around for years for those willing to pay phone companies to host them. The ability to do it for free can save companies bundles of cash-yet among those 160 or so SkypeCasts scheduled, I didn’t see one from a business. Admittedly, I didn’t scrutinze the list that closely, but if there were any, they were certainly among the minority.

This is no surprise. Big business is notoriously slow adopting new technologies, which is why I don’t expect to see corporate meeting rooms or conference centers set up any time soon in Second Life, even though it seems like a no-brainer to me. Podcasting innovator Adam Curry has built a castle in the popular metaverse and is inviting listeners to drop by whenever he happens to be “home.” His listeners hail from all four corners of the globe and many would love the opportunity to get together with him. Now they can, even if what they see is his avatar.

All this will sound familiar to fans of Neal Stephenson’s classic “Snow Crash,” where the word “metaverse” was introduced. Second Life comes hauntingly close to Stephenson’s vision; add 3D goggles and the ability to control your movements without a keyboard and Stephenson’s vision will be realized.

In Second Life, you can purchase real estate with Linden Dollars you buy with your real dollars. So why shouldn’t a company buy some land, build a conference center, and invite globally dispersed employees to gather for a conference or a meeting? Why shouldn’t IABC charge admission for a daylong event with speakers and presentations?

Some smaller organizations are figuring out, according to a BusinessWeek story by Rob Hof:

Justin Bovington, chief executive of the London marketing firm Rivers Run Red, for instance, uses Second Life as a virtual meeting place where ads, posters, and other designs can be viewed in 3D settings by clients and partners around the world in real time. That saves the weeks it would take to shuttle physical materials back and forth.

Wells Fargo has created Stagecoach Island in Second Life, a place where Second Lifers can play games that teach them about finance “while hanging out with friends.” That’s a great marketing ploy; I’m waiting to hear that Wells Fargo’s next worldwide controller’s meeting will take place in Second Life.

Until then, what about Global PR Blog Week III? We could hold it on PR Island, where the sun always shines and the water is always warm.

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.