I dropped in on the open house taking place on USC’s new Annenberg Island they have built in Second Life as a virtual counterpart to their real world Annenberg Center for Communication. (Thanks for the heads up, Hamlet.)
The Annenberg folks did a nice job creating the virtual version of their center. However I assume the actual center at USC does not feature stunning views of the pacific or trays of sushi and japanese beer lying around. In the virtual Annenberg, a DJ was spinning oldies and the place was abuzz with chit-chat. Avatars were rezz-ing in from all over.
The main event was an awards ceremony for their contest to "reinvent diplomacy through games." They has a big screen set up to simulcast the RW event in Second Life. I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, but it looked like a well-organized panel.
That said, I’ve been to a few of these Real World / Second Life events, and I think there are real challenges that need to be addressed. The hardest part about these RW / SL happenings is mediating between the two spaces.
Getting the avatars in SL to feel as if they are really at the event instead of observing it from afar is not easy. I find that the silly cross-chat tends to drown out the actual speakers, and people continually coming and going leads to lots of "who’s speaking now?" and "gotta run" commentaries.
In the RW, the challenge is getting people to realize that there are virtual participants who are "there." A live feed of the chat session would probably be too distracting, but might mitigate some of the worst cross-talk and chatter.
The Q&A is the most important part for a lot of participants. At the very least, people in the RW audience posing questions should be encouraged to use the mic so the virtual participants can hear them as well. If there were a way during Q & A to display people’s avatars as SLers were asking their question that would help a lot.
Obviously we are all making this up as we go along. But an evolving set of guidelines and best practices on how to create a successful RW/SL event would be helpful to create. We’re still pretty far from the "death of distance," but we’re getting closer.