Here come Virtual World Trade Shows… seriously

Iris Ophelia in business wear
Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d read outside a cyberpunk sci-fi novel: “Should my catwoman avatar wear a business suit at the virtual interview with Microsoft?” But that’s become a serious question, thanks to the growth of corporate events, meetings, and conferences held within online worlds– Sun, IBM, other major tech firms hold them regularly in Second Life, and as the Wall Street Journal just reported, TMP Worldwide Advertising recently hosted an SL-based job fair with reps from HP, Verizon, and other major players in attendance. (On my own blog, metaverse style correspondent Iris Ophelia just published a perfectly-timed, gorgeously illustrated business wear-for-avatars fashion guide.)

But as the Journal notes, while such a venue has its advantages, Second Life in particular still has numerous stumbling blocks– it requires a separate client install, and the complicated user interface may make the interviewee end up looking like a helpless noob.

Enter Unisfair, a relatively new start-up offering virtual events in a web-based environment. (The pitch: Second Life meets Webex meets LinkedIn.)

Boasting clients like IBM and Nortel, the site recreates real world conference in three dimensions. They’ve already had about 310,000 visitors, according to spokeswoman Jennefer Traeger. On a single day, she says, one of their enterprise clients generated 1701 leads who spent around 168 minutes on average in the 20 locations Unisfair created for them. “Cost of virtual event,” says Traeger, “less then total shipping costs for physical events they had done in the past.”

But why a virtual space, as opposed to say, teleconferencing or IM chat? “Participants can ask questions and receive immediate responses, network and generally be a part of things via chat, IM, email or voice,” Traeger argues. “Also, 3-D is engaging– making participants feel more as if they are at a live event.” And unlike Second Life, no cat people or women with robot arms to scare off more conservative companies.