AbGradCon 2009: Another attempt at Mixed Reality Conferencing
A mixed reality conference - split between a physical location and a single virtual world, occurred between the 17th and 18th of July 2009, when early-career astrobiologists met at the University of Washington in Seattle for the 6th annual Astrobiology Graduate Student Conference, colloquially known as AbGradCon.
The virtual world chosen for the meeting, was unfortunately, the beleagured Second Life, which made the issues that cropped up, all the more intense. Social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were also used for sharing information before, during and after the conference.
Window on World portals were set up via projector screens in the physical room, and via camera windows in Second Life, so that people from one environment could see and interact with those in the other, at various points in both locations. That novel set-up worked quite well.
The image above shows one such portal, leading from the SL ampitheatre to a webcam in the physical conference room. Unfortunately, it also shows the major problem encountered. Take a look at the number of people present in the physical event, compared to the number of remote-accessing individuals in the SL environment.
Again and again, this point needs to be hammered home. Until we are capable of having large crowds in BOTH the physical and virtual halves of any mixed event, tyhey are not going to be much use for the mainstream.
There are significant obstacles to overcome before virtual world meetings become commonplace, chief among them are the need for integrated audio communication amongst avatars, increased support for avatar density, and lower learning curves for entering and navigating virtual spaces.
Even with current limitations, AbGradCon drew participants from Portugal, Greece, Australia, Uruguay and the US who otherwise would not have been able to experience the meeting at all.