Yesterday the MuniGov group held the first virtual conference for government in Second Life. This event was the result of about five months of planning and hours of volunteer work by members of the group. Registrations for the event totaled 166 people representing all levels of government from the U.S., Canada, and other countries along with some vendors. In the end, the number of people who actually attended and stayed throughout the day averaged about 77.
Panelists also represented local, state, and federal levels. Their presentations covered government use of wikis, virtual worlds, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools. Discussion and questions touched on implementation, policy, and legal challenges. One of the MuniGov members taped the conference so the entire video will eventually be online for anyone interested in viewing the event.
Because people will be able to view the conference for themselves, I wanted to highlight some of the observations and issues not covered by the actual presentations. By doing so, I hope to give people a better idea of what to expect from a virtual conference along with hopefully encouraging others to try attending one in the future.
One exciting aspect of this event was the fact that the majority of the people attending were either learning to use Second Life for the first time or had only visited this virtual space a limited number of times. Because of this, several MuniGov members dedicated time to offer orientations for newer members during the months leading up to the conference. These orientations focused on the initial skills needed to move and communicate in a virtual world. Topics covered walking, flying, teleporting, talking, chatting, using IM, and altering their avatar’s appearance.
Another decision that had to be made early on was where to hold the actual conference. Our normal meeting area can only comfortably accommodate about 60 people or so. Fortunately Paulette Robinson with the National Defense University offered us the use of her agency’s island in Second Life. This center could hold about 200 avatars.
Because everyone was so new, there were some issues at the beginning with making sure everyone could hear and that their own speakers were muted or turned off during presentations. This took some time and for future events, someone advised setting aside time prior to the event for troubleshooting communication issues.
After the conference, people were encouraged to visit the MuniGov area where we regularly meet on Wednesday nights. There we had vendors exhibiting in virtual booths representing the first virtual trade show for government. We had also set up typical Second Life type amenities such as water slides and games to showcase how avatars can interact with virtual objects and how these objects can emulate real life. People could also visit the “govpods” or virtual offices members have set up to represent their agencies.
Overall, everyone seemed pleased with the conference. The cost savings to offer this event virtually rather than in a more traditional venue was about $1500 per person. People could attend from their offices or homes, and many had others in the room with them so actual attendance was probably more than the average 77 avatars in the Second Life space. And most importantly everyone attending had the opportunity to interact with other government professionals from all levels of government. They could also meet with representatives from companies serving government. CDWG, Microsoft, ActiveGovernment, Municibid and Earth911, all had virtual booths at the MuniGov Center.
Of course, because the event was held in Second Life, there were the typical amusing extras that you just don’t get at a regular conference. From Alan parachuting into the MuniGov area at the end to his sitting on the rotating trade show sign while we all networked. And I don’t think I will ever forget one presenter who paused during her presentation to “put us on hold” to take a call from her boss. That could only have been done within this type of venue.
Thanks to everyone – it truly was a monumental and memorable experience that I hope is just the beginning. Below is a scrapbook I made of the event: