MuniGovCon09 – A Virtual Conference for Government

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:


Conferences, World of Warcraft, and Professional Achievement

Lately my mind has been preoccupied with thoughts of conferences (going to GreenBuild 2008), public works and engineering, World of Warcraft (WoW), family, and social media applications. With all that jumbled up inside there, it was inevitable that these subjects would start bumping into each other. One of these collisions involved this idea: “Blizzard wants people to play their games; employers want their employees to produce.” Blizzard has been successful at getting millions to not only play their games, but pay to do so. How can businesses leverage their success?

To explore Blizzard’s success, we need to ask ourselves, “why do people choose to play WoW.” I imagine you would get many different responses from the millions of registered users, but in the end, I believe it all comes down to the fact that people like to think they have achieved something. The foundation of WoW is that you choose a representation of yourself, choose abilities and professions, then achieve the goal of getting your character to an end level by completing duties or “quests.” According to my son, the end result is that you have achieved the highest level and can outfit yourself with awesome and enviable gear.

Blizzard seems to have recognized this basic need to achieve accomplishments because with their recent release they added “Achievements.” Now players are awarded points and badges in their achievement tab for completing regular game activities such as fully exploring an area, defeating a specific monster, completing so many quests in a day, etc.

This system of awarding badges for achievements reminds me of the badge system in girl scouts and boy scouts. Remember how we would complete specific tasks for the purpose of earning a badge, and how important it was to have the badges displayed on a sash or other item? Scouting uses the system to encourage leadership and good citizenship; Blizzard is using it to encourage more subscriptions. But they are both using the same system to achieve their goals

Even with our children, we are taught to use rewards like stickers on a calendar that can be traded in for something at the store. This idea of using rewards to motivate children has been picked up by all the online media that targets kids such as Webkinz and Club Penguin. Players are assigned duties and given digital badges and items as their rewards.

So in the end, if all this works as we are growing up, why are we abandoning it as adults? Maybe because we feel silly giving out rewards for everyday accomplishments – maybe because we feel the salary or pay should be reward enough. But is this working? We all are brought up to expect and understand the reward system, and then at age 18 it all fades away, and we are expected to stay motivated only for the purpose of getting a paycheck.

So, trying to put aside the traditional approach and going out on a limb, I thought what types of simple things could we do in the workplace to incorporate this reward system? Remembering that these rewards could be set up to be actual objects like badges or digital representations that people can display on desktops or Webpages.

  • Give out badges for number of letters written or e-mails sent. Achievements could also be given to reward timely responses.

  • Conferences should give out badges for attendance. (I also like the idea of sending out something like pins or ribbons that say something like “Attending GreenBuild 2008” so attendees can network, if they choose, on the way to the conference.)

  • In my field, I would like to give out badges for number of potholes filled, garbage cans emptied, water breaks fixed, water meters installed, complaints handled, etc.

  • Microsoft could help promote this in the workplace by offering an option to incorporate an achievement type system like that used in WoW into MS Office. Then I can get an achievement badge in MS Office after making so many Powerpoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, or even using some of the more advanced tools in my work.

  • Professional associations could encourage these achievement systems by awarding mega badges based on conferences attended – a water badge for attending all the major water-related conferences in a year. Or in the spirit of creating a digital persona that displays your accomplishments, allow for the setup of a digital character that is rewarded items based on your professional accomplishments.

  • Those are only a few simple examples; the idea is to remember we have been programmed growing up to receive rewards for our achievements. Let’s understand how other industries have used this basic concept to successfully motivate, and then let’s apply it in the workplace to increase production and a sense of accomplishment in our employees. Is it really all that silly if it works?

    A humorous aside to all this discussion of achievements: Someone has applied this idea of achievements to the presidential election by portraying President-elect Obama gaining an achievement in WoW.


    Science Conference Held in Sewer

    The second day of the World of Warcraft Science Conference was held in the sewers in the Undercity. Wow, for a civil engineer like me, it doesn’t get any better than that. How can you not love a conference held in a sewer? Unfortunately my husband and I had to show up late because we picked up our daughter earlier that morning from college and brought her home. At least we hit the tail end of the presentation and then were able to participate in the expedition.
    Science Conference in the Sewers of the Undercity
    My husband said it was the best conference he has ever been to. But I can’t help but wonder what the state licensing board would think if I tried to turn in professional development hours for it.


    Cyber Trade Shows

    Ok, I have finally attended a 3D virtual trade show related to the engineering industry. Unfortunately it was not held in Second Life. One of the attendees at our weekly engineering meeting, Kelvin Glimmer, brought up this Website where he had seen the trade show advertised. Since this is something that I have been waiting to see implemented, I definitely went to the site and signed up for the free registration so that I could attend the show.

    This trade show, which covers the coatings industry, is being held from Oct. 15th through the 26th and can be accessed by signing up at:

    I attended on the night of the first day (having been outside on construction all day long at work). Attendance required me to download a client software. Upon launching the software, I appeared to enter the 3D virtual world of Active Worlds. However, this software seems to only bring you to the trade show, and it does not appear that I can go off to explore the other areas of Active Worlds.

    Even though I still think that a trade show held in Second Life would have been so much more realistic and frankly, just so much more awesome, I have to commend the person who set all this up. There were definitely big name companies and organizations from that industry exhibiting such as George Koch Sons, Dupont, The Society for Protective Coatings, Vulcan, and Sherwin Williams. These companies should also be commended for seeing that this delivery system for trade shows has great potential.

    Although there were many differences from Second Life, one aspect that was disturbing to me was that there seemed to be many people there, but most were not real people. After being in SL, you get used to the fact that if you see someone, that person really is someone – not some computer-generated robot. At this show, I only saw about 3 or 4 real people. However, I did attend "after hours." The show coordinator told me he had seen about 70 people show up that day.

    So because I am also attending the Illinois Municipal League convention in Chicago this week, theoretically I am in more than one place at the same time. Due to this technology, I can attend the municipal convention in Chicago and the coatings trade show in Active Worlds and still visit with my family at night in Second Life. Now if only these companies start to realize what could be done in Second Life.