Organising Virtual Events

On the 18th December 2007 Twofour Learning and the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester launched the Second Life Media Zoo project. The Island showcases a range of learning initiatives put forward by the Beyond Distance Research Alliance and is intended as a learning and research platform, aimed at gathering data on social interaction, behaviour and the importance of learning within a virtual 3D environment.

The event was synchronized between a virtual and real life launch at the University of Leicester and at the Media Zoo Island, within Second Life (SL). Many academics, company representatives, students and reporters attended both events. 42 avatars in total attended the launch at the Media Zoo Island, an extremely positive number as the Second Life architecture only caters for a maximum of 100 Avatars, with more than 60 causing increased lagg and decreased sim stability.

 

Launch_5

At the Twofour Learning offices we enlisted the help of four chaperones, and several well known pinnacle members of the community of Second Life also attended to offer help when required. We received a great deal of positive feedback from the event;

“Gilly Salmon's presentation was very interesting ... we were well looked after around the island - people offering help or to answer questions, extremely well attended!”

We did encounter a few minor problems with the audio stream, however, and one observed griefer attempted to disrupt the event. The Twofour Team were alerted straight away to his arrival and as the avatar in question was being monitored, he managed to only fire off a single comment before being ejected and banned from the Island. All other issues were subsequently resolved and the event continued as planned.

Integration between real and virtual events provides a great opportunity for people unable to attend events in real life, providing a deeper sense of “being there” - something we wish to see more of in the future. Attendees and fellow researchers were also observed expressing there own personal opinions of Second Life as a great technology to utilise for educational means.

“I think SL has massive potential, and if we could only overcome the technological barriers and find some way of including the FE sector (i.e. age limits), then SL could open the doors of education to many socially excluded people” Ladyjane Plympton

http://twofour.co.uk/learning

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7TMQzzFFdQ

http://www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/

Second Life Media Zoo link;

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Media%20Zoo/170/150/17


Comments on Organising Virtual Events:

Ren Reynolds says:

service announcement: Other fine virtual environments are also available,,,,

Posted Feb 13, 2008 7:00:24 AM | link

Andrew says:

Indeed there are, and my next post will be addressing a few of these. This is solely an evaluation/summary of the Second Life Media Zoo launch.

Posted Feb 13, 2008 9:20:22 AM | link

Tripp says:

Headline: 42 people attend virtual conference
Subhead: Server doesn't flinch!

It is good news that VWs are being used for things like this more often. But people aren't exactly beating a path. That's noteworthy.

To me, the most interesting sentence in the post was the last one. Really? SL can't really handle more than 60 people in one place at a time? I guess it's a good things people aren't beating a path.

Posted Feb 13, 2008 10:36:13 AM | link

Bob Moore says:

Yeah, I was wondering about the technical limit of players on 1 sim too. Is the following blurb from the Second Life Knowledge Base not accurate?

"Guide to Large Event Technical Considerations...
* The maximum number of avatars on a sim is still around 50. And the maximum any avatar can see is roughly 30.
* A 4-corners strategy (to get about 200 avatars) has drawbacks, since across-boundary info exchange and drawing will affect performance. Participants are still limited by the 30 avatar visibility limit."

Posted Feb 13, 2008 4:02:40 PM | link

Andrew says:

Well in regards to the Media Zoo Sim, it was designed specifically with lagg and performance considerations in mind, knowing that we wanted to organise and run virtual events.

At the peek (42 avatars) I did start to experience some performance issues (unknowingly I was probably only viewing 30). Bob you are correct about the 4 corner strategy, however I haven’t tested or experimented with it, so I’m unable to comment on performance issues that may arise.

You can actually set a region to a maximum of a 100 avatars (in the estate menu) but at 60 it would struggle! Yes this is an issue which needs addressing, you are able to ensure better performance by limiting the number of sculpted prims, particle effects and collider objects, to name a few. All of which I limited or reduced in preparation for the launch.

Asking visitors to remove attachments, is another some what unpopular route of maximising region performance.

I recommend reading this document on how to maximise region/sim stability;

http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Region_Performance_Improvement_Guide

However a concept I’ve been toying with; broadcasting between multiple virtual locations, this might provide a limited solution?!

Posted Feb 13, 2008 7:06:16 PM | link

dmx says:

Oh well. EVE-O shitting itself with more than 4-5 hundred in one place doesn't seem so bad after all then. (Mind you spaceships don't dance, so I imagine its a bit less info being zapped around the place)

How well does multimedia streaming work under these circumstances? Is it a wiser strategy to use out of band streaming for this sort of thing?

Posted Feb 14, 2008 1:33:54 AM | link

andrew says:

Well the reason behind all of this; SL’s content is user generated and driven, the graphics and world are ever changing and evolving therefore the content needs to be checked and re-rendered every few seconds! (Unlike EVE-O and other MMORPG’S, which are pre-rendered, meaning the environment is predefined by the designers and the only thing changing is the avatars or spaceship and action happening).

@dmx; we didn’t have any problems streaming video in or viewing, even at 42 avatars, but I’m assuming this is dependent on each client machine and internet connection. (Mine is pretty high spec, I must admit).

Also depending on the encoding process, bit rate, streaming server and codec used, streaming of multimedia can be tweaked for fantastic performance in SL. To do this externally to SL or any virtual world, I feel defeats the point, don’t you think?

The audio stream (from the live event) was also fine, no one complained about not hearing it, so I’m confident it didn’t cause to much additional strain on the region performance.

Posted Feb 14, 2008 5:26:29 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

You can get 40 on a mainland sim, and 100 on an island sim. If you put 4 islands together, you get 400. The experience deteriorates after about 60, however, on an island, and after about 30 on a mainland.

You can extend the capacity by having a shoutcast or other type of server and a URL you hand out to people -- but those servers then also have their limitations of 100, 300 or whatever more listeners.

It's routine now for events to have, say, 300-400 at a 4-corners, and then hand out a URL to a server that has another 300 or more so that people can have other venues with audiences also up to 40-100, depending on whether they're on the mainland.

SLCN.com has extended the capacity further by streaming the video to their website, usually to watch later.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: why are you going for giant audiences? If you want to broadcast something, on on radio or television. An NPR or educational stations or C-span will simply have much broader audiences.

Are you trying to run a football stadium with a political speaker or a mega-church with a preacher here?

Or do you want *interactivity* and *user-generated content*. What can 400 people in spaceships *do* but collide into each other and shoot each other?

I see nothing wrong -- and everything right -- with using Second Life for small meetings of between 25-50 people to actually *talk* and not only save on airfare or carfare, but have the ability to multi-task to other applications easily, and inworld, prototype and build together.

Posted Feb 14, 2008 1:20:20 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Bob, BTW that official information must be outdated. The class five servers have 100 easily, it's up to you to set the limits. I was at event last night with the 400 at corners, and one the other day with about 320 with 80 on each of the 4, it's routinely far more than 50 now on islands.

Posted Feb 14, 2008 1:22:19 PM | link

Tripp says:

Well, if you're right, P. Neva, then that's respectable. A few hundred is good.

But I also think it'd be nice to put 5000 together to virtually attend a presentation, etc.

But that presents other issues too (well, for 10 it does as well), especially the ones presented so clearly by folks like Something Awful and other vandal types.

Posted Feb 14, 2008 11:21:43 PM | link

dmx says:

Oh god. I'm about to agree with Prokovy. If you are having that many people, why chose second life if not for the gee-wiz factor. It does seem like an awfully onerous challenge for something that in the end isn't really what SL excels at. If you do come up with a way to have an 'interactive' conference with that many people, well OK then. But to just deliver a presentation, I half suspect Google Video is probably far more scaleable.

Unless you want gee-wizz factor I guess.

Posted Feb 15, 2008 8:15:39 PM | link

Clement Song says:

I wonder how many people wanted to attend the virtual events but didn't manage to attend due to relative high entry barrier to SL for non-techies. I would have guessed if I randomed invite 10 people on the street to attend a virtual event, only a small fraction would be tech savvy enough to do it. What are you thoughts?

Posted Feb 17, 2008 12:53:43 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Clement, well, I'm not a tekkie yet I have figured out how to do it. Many younger people these days play online games or video games and it comes naturally to them. The interfaces for new worlds like Vside or Twinity are dirt simple, you just basically log on and arrow-key your avatar around.

I just keep failing to see what the problem here is, and the exasperation with Second Life. It's not at all that I'm drinking any Kool-Aid.

In real-life, what are the things that I'd go to that would involve 5,000 people?

o concerts in Central Park
o baseball games at Yankee Stadium

ummm ok I'm not thinking of anything else. The subway? With messages over the PA system everyone can hear? In real life, it's just not that often that you seek out a setting with 4,999 other people?

So...what is there already on the Internet that can have 5,000 people? Interacting? Nothing. Or...is there some mega-chatroom I don't know about somewhere? There just aren't 5,000 of *anything* on the Internet in one place interacting -- as distinct from watching TV or listening to the radio. So why bring that expectation to virtual worlds?

I guess because they have countryside, land, realism, that people think, well, now, why can't I build a big stadium and have 5,000 people come and listen to my political lecture?

But why? If they wanted to do that, they'd turn on the TV and at least munch some chips. In SL, it just makes more sense to use this capacity to have smaller meetings.

I went to a very painful rendition of Metaverse U today where not even 50 people could get get a video or audio stream of any reliability, and the issue essentially seemed to be about the company doing the streaming not being familiar with SL, and the university not wanting to turn over the bandwidth that SL requires.

Posted Feb 17, 2008 10:18:55 PM | link

Andrew says:

@Prokofy Neva

I was browsing over at massively’s blog as I often do on a Monday night, considering your points and I realised you left one off your list…

o concerts in Central Park
o baseball games at Yankee Stadium
o … Protesting at IBM

Moo Money reported this story earlier today and I must agree “I couldn't take my eyes off of this video because it made a difference.” And I felt it had a lot of weight to be included in our discussion.

Original post;
http://www.massively.com/2008/02/18/cinemassively-virtual-strike-of-ibm-by-employees-yields-real-re/

Video;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dja5rlSGo0s&eurl=http://www.massively.com/

But back to the point in hand, I must agree with you, virtual worlds don’t need to support any more than a few hundred, maximum!

@Clement

Yes I must agree there is a relatively high entry barrier to SL for non-techies. But if you’re a non-techie, you’d probably find any VW difficult, I wouldn’t pin it on SL alone, however in SL’s defence many companies (ESC/On-Rez) and even Linden Labs (Windlight client) are addressing the UI issues.

In-regards to the MZ launch on the 18th Dec, firstly I must clarify. It was a soft launch. We didn’t publicise it a great deal, academics, reporters and other company representatives were contacted directly to attend, either the real-life launch or the Virtual.

I had two people phone me, who weren't able to access SL, one I couldn’t help (due to internet connectivity issues) and one I did, everyone else seem to manage ok. We did provide documentation and help fact sheets to everyone invited, including my office contact details!

A further launch occurred during the BDRA (Beyond Distance Research Alliance) Conference at The University of Leicester.

Finally to note, increasingly the average “gamer” is now 34 years old, so I think you’d be presently surprised by your ten random people. We are hearing the term “digital natives” more commonly these days; people are more attuned to using VWs and game style technologies, be it for recreation or education. The skills they learn in one MMOG or MUVE are transferable between another. Do you agree?

Posted Feb 18, 2008 3:03:30 PM | link

Prokfoy Neva says:

Andrew, I'm not impressed with the IBM example as somehow a bona fide use case of virtual worlds for union organizing.

I think they had a special situation here. Knowing of IBM's immense interest in virtual worlds, their heavily-publicized presence in Second Life, and their investment in the platform, the union figured it would be a useful means of publicity to get into the virtual world itself and hold strikes. IBM workers aren't exactly chopping chicken or driving trucks, so it's easy for them just to mouseclick while being online anyway, and being very familiar how to use a virtual world.

I don't think if you tried to get this going at Teamsters Local 287 in Queens, for example, that you'd get quite the same robust participation or desired effect. It might be interesting to try!

I felt it was a media gimmick, i.e. a calculated media hype banking off the "first" aspect and riding the coat tails of pre-existing hype around IBM and SL. The average union couldn't hope to repeat this, most likely.

Posted Feb 19, 2008 12:39:17 AM | link

parker mcteague says:

when you're planted in a chair, watching an avatar of a speaker who is too busy speaking to control an avatar, and you're so laggy all you can do is watch the chat history window, why bother even using second life? especially if it's just a video. admittedly i haven't been to very many large presentations, but i haven't seen any which really benefited from being in a 3d space.

Posted Feb 19, 2008 11:32:13 AM | link

Clement Song says:

@ parker
I agree that presentations where one person broadcasts and the rest listens doesn't really benefit from 3D. They could use far better accessible technologies than SL for that purpose. I think 3D environment is well suited for multiple group discussions in one space where users chat with people who are near them, and where they need synchronous attention. e.g. walking through a gallery and talking to a guide, etc.

Posted Feb 19, 2008 1:57:10 PM | link

Jan says:

This is a really good idea. What I'm wondering about is the pure logistics of the event. Considering how hard it is to get people to come to a real-world event, how does it compare to virtual events? People need the Second Life software... would anyone install it to attend?

The fact that you had to monitor and ban an avatar during the audio lecture is interesting as well. It's so much easier in the virtual world!

Posted Feb 22, 2008 5:48:18 AM | link

Andrew says:

Hi Jan

Well I can't give you specific details on the logistics, however for everyone we did invite to the event, for the most part, they were all relatively new to the concept of “Second Life” and yes they did have to install the client software to attend. (Documentation was provided, as mentioned)

We are continuing to organise and run virtual events for several clients and in-conjunction with Leicester University, so I’ll be happy to share any further research and or justification/publications with you on this subject.

Feel free to drop me an email, anytime andrew.jinman -at- twofour.co.uk

Posted Feb 25, 2008 9:32:44 AM | link