Digital Space Papers
Avatars98 The first conference held inside cyberspace
Bruce Damer,
Digital Space Corporation
343 Soquel Avenue, Suite 70
Santa Cruz CA 95062
+1 831 338 9400
www.digitalspace.com
Stuart Gold,
Contact Consortium
343 Soquel Ave, Suite 70
Santa Cruz CA 95062-2305 USA
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View of attendees standing at the "ground zero" at the Avatars98 conference and tradeshow Exhibits for companies and participating organizations such as Boeing
Art Gallery with streamed JPEG images Behind the Scenes at the Avatars '98 Educators' Track
Active Worlds browser showing the 3D view with conference chair Bruce Damer waving in his custom avatar floating by the schedule board, chat window below, webpage showing the exhibit hall to the right and a list of active users on the left. Session attendees in the "speaker pod" at the Avatars98 conference
Introduction
On November 21, 1998, the Contact Consortium (www.ccon.org) hosted the world's first conference and tradeshow inside cyberspace. By "inside cyberspace" we mean that the main interaction of the conference was carried out within 3D virtual worlds on the Internet. Avatars98 was not just a connection of sites by streaming video; attendees interacted in real time within the 3D space employing "avatars" or digital representations of users online. This session will briefly review the logistics, design, social engineering, hosting and analysis of the event, which hosted 4,000 attendees in a 3D online virtual world with 6 speaking tracks, an exhibit hall, art show, parallel webcasts, and 40 globally connected locations. For full documentation on the event see: www.ccon.org/conf98/.
Background behind the event
Avatars98 was produced by Digital Space Corporation www.digitalspace.com for the Contact Consortium, which is a global forum on the development of inhabited virtual world cyberspace. The Avatars98 conference was the third in a series of annual conferences hosted by the Contact Consortium and its corporate, institutional and individual membership. The first two events were held in traditional facilities in San Francisco in 1996 and 1997.It was decided to put the medium of inhabited virtual worlds to the test and hold the entire conferenceonline in 1998.

Technology platforms and operation A number of virtual world platforms and webcast technologies were uses but the main focus was the "AV98" conference hall in the Active Worlds platform. The Avatars98 world was designed to be usable by attendees on low end (Pentium 100) computers on minimal net connections (14.4 BPS speed modems). The Active Worlds technology provides streaming and reuse of 3D objects in a Lego-like manner and so the designers produced a series of components (struts, signs, potted plants) that were put together to make the conference hall. Avatars, animated 3D models of users, were also specially designed (some wearing conference t-shirts). Once these objects streamed into the cache of attendees' hard disks, rendering would be done locally. Streaming webcasts were presented on some of the 3D surfaces to bridge some of the 40 physical locations into the virtual attendees within the world. Communication was carried out by text chat, which was also logged for the conference proceedings.

Visiting the Avatars98 Virtual World and Conference Report You can still visit this space by dowloading and installing the browser from www.activeworlds.com and selecting the AV98 world. A full report on the event, including proceedings, is located at: www.ccon.org/conf98 The Avatars98 Virtual World The AV98 world is a one kilometer square space into which a conventional conference hall was constructed. Digital Space worked with dozens of volunteers, including the prime object and hall design team of Koolworlds (brothers Max and Dax from Vancouver Washington in the USA) under the guidance of Digital Space partner Stuart Gold, an trained architect in London UK.

Art Gallery with streamed JPEG images from artists all over the web Within the conference hall were built a "ground zero" landing zone for new attendees, a series of 48 exhibits for participating companies and organizations, an art gallery, a webcam wall showing two dozen webcasts from participating locations, a "big board" conference schedule, an awards area, and six "speaker pods" for parallel tracks in virtual "breakout rooms".

Presenter Margaret Corbit of the Cornell University Theory Center presenting in the "speaker pod" to a collected audience of educators interested in the use of virtual worlds in the learning setting. Margaret's slides are being changed in real time by session coordinator Bonnie DeVarco The Avatars98 Educators' Track was one of the most well attended and best produced of the tracks at the conference. Bonnie DeVarco, track coordinator, will review the behind the scenes planning and operation of the track, covering the following points: Introduction to the pod, the track and the speakers Setting up a speaker series in Cyberspace Realtime slide shows and panel discussion in a distributed environment Student experiences from the panel Instant logging and posting of conference proceedings.

You can see a full report and transcript of the Educator's track and other sessions at www.ccon.org/conf98/report/writings.html#pages What was Learned Avatars98 exceeded all expectations: attendance calculated at over 4,000 visitors was ten times that of the previous "physically located" conferences. The budgetary outlay, excluding the extensive volunteer time costs, was 10% of the previous years. By moving the conference inside cyberspace, we empowered local groups and organizations to host their own events. Art museums had public openings with the virtual worlds displayed on the walls, cybercafes created evening parties and discussion, school and university classes convened and connected in, and people hosted gatherings in their own homes.

Attendees reported to us that they had enjoyed presentations and discussions in the parallel tracks and other areas such as the art show. Order was kept by a volunteer organization "the PeaceKeepers" who disciplined unruly attendees by ejecting them from the world for periods of time. No attendee reported undue offense or disappointment with the event other than reflecting the sometimes slow performance of their browser in heavily populated areas. The sale of booth space in the exhibit hall raised funds for the Consortium (although much of this space was donated, as the exercise was still very experimental).

The use of "bots" or automated agents helped answer some questions, direct attendees, and provide entertainment in the form of marching bands. Bots will be used more extensively in the future to occupy exhibits and interact with attendees, offering them web tours, video promotions, capturing visitor data in "card swipe" fashion and awarding prizes. The hosts of exhibits found that they did not want to stay in their booths the whole time but instead mingled with the crowds at the "ground zero" and elsewhere. We will also attempt one way audio broadcast for speakers in a future event. In conclusion, while quite labor intensive, virtual conferences and tradeshows modeled after Avatars98 will produce wide coverage an easy access for large audiences, could be packaged for a number of themes including a cyberspace extension to existing "real world" events, and some of the most interesting activities yet offered on the Internet.

We expect events like this to be increasingly part of the on-line time of ordinary and business net users alike as cyberspace

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