Theoretical and Practical Aspects of Conducting Meetings and Events in Virtual Worlds

Theoretical and Practical Aspects of Conducting Meetings and Events in Virtual Worlds

Arhlene A. Flowers, Kimberly Gregson
DOI: 10.4018/jsita.2012100104
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Whether businesses will make use of virtual worlds for meetings, training, and events is not just an academic question. Use of existing and newly developed virtual worlds is expected to grow for the near future. International companies are entering a variety of virtual worlds to promote collaboration among their geographically dispersed workforce for training and meetings, as well as for business-to-business and business-to-consumer applications with internal and external audiences. These worlds provide engaging experiences that can be enjoyable and memorable. This article addresses opportunities and challenges in conducting meetings in virtual worlds. It covers the evolution of technology for virtual meetings, a theoretical analysis of technology acceptance, case studies on organizations utilizing virtual worlds, and practical considerations for conducting virtual meetings and events.
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The evolution from videoconferencing to Internet technology, particularly in virtual worlds, has provided more affordable and efficient technology for organizations to “meet” and communicate from multiple locations for lectures, conferences, staff meetings, training, and other business-to-business and business-to-consumer applications. Virtual worlds, such as Second Life, are predicted to grow in popularity in the near future among all age groups (Gartner, 2007; KZero, 2009), because they let organizations create environments where people can interact in ways that work with existing work flows. Virtual worlds have opened up unique communication platforms for organizations to connect “face to face” with the online world's growing number of residents through events, demonstrations, exhibitions, market research, online distance learning, and other collaborative platforms. In a survey conducted by Unisfair of 550 U.S. marketers in 2011, 60% indicated that they will increase expenditures for virtual worlds; 87% predict hybrid virtual/physical events will include approximately half of all events held over the next five years, while 42% will decrease spending on real-world conferences (Salomon-Lee, 2011).

Today's virtual worlds emulate elements of experiences that were once considered pure fantasy—from the holodeck, an entertainment room with holographic simulations in Star Trek, to the metaverse, a futuristic virtual world in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash from 1992. Teleporting is a reality in Second Life, where avatars can be beamed instantly to different locations. Collaborations for businesses, nonprofits, and governments can be realized with virtual face-to-face transactions in three-dimensional immersive worlds.

This article reviews technology from picture phones to virtual worlds, including Second Life, used to facilitate collaboration in organizations with geographically distributed members. Four case studies based on interviews with a variety of stakeholders describe elements of the process. It concludes with practical considerations on how organizations can select the most appropriate virtual world venue, provide training and resources, establish guidelines, address privacy and security issues, document and promote in-world activities, and utilize collaborative opportunities.

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