Back home now, with the luxury of a little time to think about it, these are my main takeaways from Virtual Worlds Expo:
Interoperability/open standards: Everyone was talking about this, in all it's iterations:
* A shift from "walled gardens" to interoperability, which could mean the ability to move your avatar and/or identity from one world to another, from a virtual world to a traditional website and back again, from virtual world to mobile phone and back
* Making virtual worlds work like the Web
* Having a common client for virtual worlds
* Having greater accessibility to your online and in-world friends from any world, site, or phone
Measurement and research:
Who's there? What drives them? What keeps them coming back? There was a lot of discussion about the "early adopters" in virtual worlds, although to mind this is wrong -- the early adopter are just *now* getting there. According to the original Everett Rogers adoption curve, it's the Innovators who are currently best represented in virtual worlds populations.
Some thought-provoking numbers were put forward by those on the Demographics panel:
* Michael Cai from Parks Research had numbers (from a 9,500 user study) on what people do less of in the real world while they participate in virtual worlds. The runaway winner was "don't watch as much TV" with 60% -- implications for advertising and brands are very clear there. The number I found thought-provoking as well as amusing was "16% don't know what they do less of" which seems to indicate that a pretty large percentage of people just don't really know how they spend their time!
* Mary Ellen Gordon of Market Truths had some interesting research results (though from a small sample) that indicate Second Life is a good place for a brand, if done right: 57% of respondents considered buying a real-life product as a result of a recommendation they received from someone in Second Life (which actually speaks as much to the power of word of mouth as it does to the value of using Second Life as a marketing and branding platform). Additionally, her research showed that:
55% recommended a real-life product to someone they were chatting to in Second Life.
25% have gone to look at a product in real life after seeing it in Second Life.
9% have purchased a product in real life after seeing it in Second Life.
8% have bought a real-life product in Second Life.
Segmentation (or not) between entertainment and "serious" purposes
Across a number of different panels, but particularly in the Community and Customer Service panel, there was discussion of just what it is that "drives" virtual worlds, that makes them so compelling. The aggregate answer seems to be that virtual worlds' growth is fueled by community and narrative (or story). This would seem to suggest what at least panelist Raph Koster of Areae said out loud, which is that there is no real differentiation in virtual worlds between entertainment and "serious purposes". This is actually also true in the non-virtual world as well, but the virtual world, like gaming, is perhaps the first platform that started out that way.
To read all Awareness Is Everything posts on the Virtual World Expo, go here.
This link goes to a Virtual Worlds News wrap-up post that links out to a ton of conference coverage, including ours.