Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Virtual Worlds 2008 Absent Interoperability

I have been reviewing the structure of the upcoming Virtual Worlds 2008 Conference to be held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York on April 3rd-4th. The conference is broken down into five tracks: Kids and Teens, Marketing and Entertainment, Virtual Law Conference, Enterprise Round Tables and Technology and Results. I zeroed in on the Technology track, anxious to see what progress has been made in the interoperability arena.

At the Virtual Worlds Fall conference in October, interoperability was the darling buzz word. IBM, Cisco, Linden Lab and many other technology organizations held hands at an invitation only "interoperability summit" born on the back of an IBM- Linden Lab announcement that had "intent to develop new technologies and methodologies based on open standards that will help advance the future of 3D virtual worlds."

t the conference itself, Cisco's Christian Renaud waxed about ubiquity, common identities, common denominators such as Nick Wilson and Robert Bloomfield's Metaverse Market Index, common platforms and the promise of integration across worlds and told us to "Take a deep breath, find your happy place..".

Like Raph Koster, I was immediately skeptical about the vision of interoperability as it was evangelized by the technoluminaries. However, the VW conference provides the next logical check in point to find out about things such as the progress of the MMI. I dove into the conference schedule to see how interoperability was transforming virtual worlds.

The Technical Track seemed like a logical place to stuff interoperability. The "Technology and Results" track starts with keynotes by a General Manager/SVP and a Senior Brand Manager, that must be an ice breaker. The rest of the schedule is as follows:

Stardoll: The Next Level of Engagement
Virtual worlds have quickly evolved into one of the most engaging marketing platforms on the Web. Index Ventures- and Sequoia Capital-backed Stardoll has emerged as a leader in the space, presenting brands with a unique opportunity to develop deep and seamlessly integrated campaigns in a vibrant community of more than 15 million members across more than 200 countries. This session explores how Stardoll has effectively partnered with the likes of DKNY, Sephora, Disney, Fox Walden, Heidi Klum, Faith Hill and Dualstar Entertainment Group to deliver creative, compelling and engaging marketing programs.

Introducing Electrotank® Universe Platform
Electrotank Universe Platform™ (EUP) is a flexible platform used to create unique virtual worlds. In this session you will be introduced to EUP and will get a glimpse into how it can be used to shave months off of development time while providing unprecedented flexibility and performance.

MTV Networks: Case Study Featuring Ford Models and Elizabeth Arden
For the ultimate case study in how to bring a brand to life in-world, MTV Networks, Ford Models and Elizabeth Arden present a panel discussion that demonstrates what happens when three iconic brands team up to create a deeply immersive experience for virtual world users. Representatives will discuss the first-ever M by Mariah Carey's "Virtual Ford Model Search," which helped crown the new face of MTV's Virtual Hills. In this interactive session, hear directly from marketers and media execs who can offer first-hand tips about how to create meaningful and engaging in-world initiatives and how to extend that campaign to 2D environments and to the television screen, generating even further exposure for the brands.

Winning Strategies to Optimize Online Revenues - Leading initiatives in MMOGs/Virtual Worlds
Listen to leading MMOG/virtual worlds thinkers present winning strategies regarding business models, user experience, worldwide reach, billing solutions, lessons learned, current issues and fraud prevention. Hosted by Paynova.

Real Results from Virtual Advertising:
A New Generation Advertises in the Virtual World
With traditional advertising in turmoil over ever-diminishing returns, how far-reaching will advertising in virtual worlds be? Immerse yourself in this fascinating discussion on the new way that products and brands will deliver their messages in the virtual world and how that translates into real- world brand awareness and sales. The discussion will focus on “push vs pull” advertising methodologies, “Empowered Engagement,” and effective marketing strategies that mutually benefit both advertiser and user. Additional coverage includes the use of true metrics and visitation analytics and how they can effectively measure Returns on both Investment and Objectives as well as open new doors for sales only viable in a virtual world. An open discussion with the panelists follows a brief presentation.

Is it just me or do the above all look like strategic marketing topics, and not so "technical"? I see several forms of the word "engage" sprinkled throughout and not a single mention of "interoperate". Am I looking in the wrong place?

Scanning the other four tracks, and I see that interoperability, or any sort of follow up from the most resounding parts of the Fall conference is missing. Search the show blog Virtual World News and you will see the most recent post containing "interoperability" was February 4th on the IBM-HiHiPi parternership annoucement.

If I look over the rest of the conference schedule, I see that most is dedicated to branding, marketing, advertising and interestingly enough, case studies highlighting walled gardens. What does this tell us about the prospects of virtual world development and evolution? Where is Miss Interoperability - our virtual worlds debutante, the belle of the ball? If someone knows where I can find Cinderella, please let me know.

I want to advance our understanding of the interplay between social and technical architectures and as such, understand the efforts and ideologies of those influencing interoperability on a larger scale. We must raise the level of dialog to that of the interested community, out from behind the closed doors of large technology organizations and conferences.

For now, I am off to watch the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Hearing on Online Virtual Worlds.

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