DigitalSpace Virtual Meetings

Elements of a Virtual Meeting


Avatars are the visual embodiment of people in Cyberspace. Your attendees at virtual meetings are all given a choice of avatars to represent them. Avatars can be quite fanciful or down to earth. Avatars are a big step beyond simple chat or videoconferencing as they efficiently embody such important aspects of human communication as gestures, proximity to the group, and emotion. The virtual worlds in which avatars can be used can be very powerful in supporting collaboration and complex work and learning processes. Virtual worlds are not merely transmissions of one real world place to another, they are new spaces that we enter, spaces that exist nowhere else but Cyberspace. Virtual Worlds and Avatars are uniquely suited to support virtual meetings, from small gatherings up to cyber-tradeshows with thousands of attendees connecting in from all over the Earth. For examples of virtual meetings DigitalSpace has recently produced, see Avatars98 the Terence McKenna ALLChemical Gathering and TheU Virtual University Architecture Competition.

Virtual Meeting Spaces

Private Auditorium Spaces

Multisession Meeting Spaces

Conference Center

There are as many styles and shapes of virtual meeting spaces as there are "function spaces" in traditional settings. Three types are pictured here: the private auditorium, where one to many presentations are done to usually closed audiences with the assistance of bot-driven slide shows or audio; the multisession meeting space, where a larger open attendance experiences a two way interaction with one or more speakers during a track of related topics, supported by web links, live video and audio streaming and backchannel chat for questions and answers; and lastly, the conference center, which hosts a pass through crowd usually on the way to more specific events or who are in need of help or directory assistance to the larger conference hall or current events.


Booth Booking and Design

Exhibit Hall

As in a physical tradeshow, virtual exhibitions permit a large number of organizations to present their wares, offerings or interesting content to a walk-by audience. Pictured here is a sampling of a 16 by 16 meter sized booth from the web-based booking page and completed booths by companies such as Boeing that appeared along one island in the Avatars98 conference hall. Booths (sometimes called "stands") can be occupied full or part-time by a person from the sponsoring organization. In some cases, bots (automated conversational agents) can be present in the booth and seek to get the attention of passers-by, present a number of simple options and answer questions, or drive the visitor's web-browser to retrive their conference pass information and perform a "card swipe" operation in exchange for sending information or free gifts. Lastly, booths can serve as portals into either the organization's website or to custom built virtual worlds where special talks or events might be sponsored on the day of the conference.

Crowd Flow and Management

Bigboard Schedule

Attendee Flow and Management

As with large event spaces like a conference hall or theme park, giving people clear directions and updates is very important to them walking away with a coherent experience. One difference in a virtual conference space is that visitors can instantaneously "teleport" or "warp" from one location to another. This is akin to taking an elevator (an analog for teleportation, taking the visitor seemingly instantly from place to place) or an escalator (the more gradual and visible ways that visitors are moved usually within adjacent areas). Signage indicating short distance warping or longer distance teleportation between worlds must be consistent and act only at the visitor's request (usually by the click of a mouse). Innovations like the ones pictured here help to route visitors to larger event spaces: on the left is a "big board" conference schedule, borrowed from Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, this is a tall 3D billboard of events listed right to left in Greenwich Mean Time and local time while the top to bottom row indicates which multisession meeting space the event is occuring in. Clicking on any panel on the Big Board will warp the visitor to the appropriate space. On the right is an elevator shaft that routes visitors up or down floors in a cylindrical building full of meeting spaces and private auditoria constructed for a European health insurance company. One of many other interface affordances for crowd management is broadcast chat messages that will reach every attendee with updates, time announements and other key event milestones, with instructions on how to move to an announced location. Providing conference directory objects within view of every location in a conference hall gives visitors the option to click on a directory and access the parallel Web browser page for the event. Web pages will also have URL links which can warp or teleport visitors within the worlds.

Extra Events

Art Gallery

Mutipoint Webcast

Extra events add more value to a larger cyberconference or tradeshow. Here we see two such events, including an art gallery permitting the public to submit 2D artworks or photographic images for display, or a "webcasting wall" to display live camera views of a number of participating real-world locations or news broadcasts.

Live Webcasting

Live Broadcast

Video and Audio Streaming

Web casting can provide streams of video and audio from real-world locations directly onto surfaces in the virtual world (seen here on the left is a CNN broadcast of returning astronaut John Glen in orbit in 1998) or onto parallel web pages (seen on the right). These mediacasts are often very important to create context for the event and can be featured in session spaces to stream speakers out to live "in-avatar" audiences who may be talking back by text chat or shared voice channels.

Production Team and Physical Location Management

Team Room Setup

Live Crowd Enthusiasm

Crew and Show Control

Integrated video and virtual world broadcasting

Every virtual meeting will have some physical team locations, even if to merely coordinate the action in-world. The proper definition of roles, clearly posted information about schedule, group dynamics and a culture of respect and quality hosting, handling fatigue after hours at the keyboard, and providing interesting visuals by webcasting from the "operations center" all bring a virtual event to life. It has often been said that some of the presence of the "people behind the avatars" can be felt at well run events, and good team management and motivation at the physical locales is a key to producing this general feeling.

Electronic Cafe International node for Avatars98, photos credit Raiven (Seth Dobie), site consultant, avatar developer

Elements of a Virtual Meeting

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