Little blurry, because I held my phone to my side when I snapped and blogged this. From left, Sean Ryan (Meez), Tim Stevens (Doppleganger), John Barret (Parks), and Me (ad whore).
Straight up, it was a panel on 3D avatars/virtual worlds and business models. Meez lets you create 3D avatars you can display on your webpages, mobile phone, wherever. Doppleganger builds 3-D environments. Parks does a lot of work on "the digital home" and immersive worlds.
Second Life (SL) came up. While SL has taken some knocks, what's most interesting to me about it as a marketer/agency guy is that it has forced the brands that play there to recognize that effective social networking isn't a one-off - it requires sustained presence, commitment of resources, and a strong perceived value for its users. If you are prepared for those things, you've got a fighting chance. If not, you'd be better off putting your ad dollars in a bag and burning it, because at least then you could warm your hands.
We had some froth about how exciting virtual worlds/social networks are. And in actual fact, many brands are actively building their own virtual spaces/social networks.
WHY? Why should I give a rat's ass that brand 'x' has created a branded virtual playground for me? I have a virtual playground - it's called the web. or my video games. or facebook. or eBay, for gosh sakes. Unless there is a rock-solid, kick-ass benefit for me investing my time in another virtual world, I WON'T. And just because its got 'anything anyone would want', that DOESN'T MATTER. So does San Francisco, and I'm not going to move there.
Remember Walmart's "The Hub"? That was where young "hubsters" (their term, and pictured below) could 'create their own pages and interact with other cool hubsters'. This bald-faced attempt to ensnare children in Walmart marketing was DOA: to join, you had to get YOUR PARENTS' PERMISSION. To post to your page, your post would be sent to your parents. FOR THEIR APPROVAL. It was rightly vilified in the press, and resoundingly ignored by kids. SCORE! This of course just after their fake blog (yep - singing their praises) was unmasked, helping spawn the term "Flog" (for Fake bLOG). SCORE! Next up for social netowrk digi-blivion is "Yourvoiceyourchoice.com", FinishLine's "social network". WHY, GOD, WHY?
For sheer hilarity, above is the picture formerly featured on "The Hub" homepage of "Hubsters", a clip art aspirational target demographic dug up by some eager beaver in the marketing group or at their beleaguered agency. Oh those crazy wired kids who won't slow down - except TO ASK THEIR PARENTS FOR PERMISSION TO POST TO THE HUB, when they can upload nude pics of themselves to Xanga.com
If I strain, I can imagine room at one of the virtual world/social networking spectrum for an immersively branded environment (in the real world, people do fly to Disneyland and visit the Hershey's store in Times Square, NYC). On the other end of that same spectrum are folks quite happy in the worlds and networks to which they already belong, and who aren't actively searching for an new time suck. These are the folks you get by developing cool apps for Facebook, or new MySpace backgrounds, etc.
By providing value at all points on the spectrum.
I'm pretty sure we talked about other brilliant things, but I can't remember most of them.