Top 5 Highlights from the Virtual Worlds Expo

kaneva.jpgI still haven’t gotten around to unpacking from last week’s Virtual Worlds Expo in San Jose, Calif., but I have had time to streamline the biggest takeaways from the conference into a personal top five list:

Big Tech Doubles Down on Virtual Worlds: IBM (IBM) announced a partnership with Linden Lab, and joined Cisco (CSCO) and others to push for interoperability between multiple worlds. [digg=]

Rather than focus on marketing opportunities, Cisco’s Christian Renaud emphasized the need for this medium to attract a mass audience, and to standardize the way they’re described — he even used his keynote talk (see summary here) to promote the Metaverse Market Index, a non-profit initiative to create a standardized MMO-related index consisting of virtual world data, much like a real-world stock market index.

Less Hype, More Hard Experience: The first Expo was held a few months ago in New York, and judging from metaverse gadfly Peter “Urizenus” Ludlow’s scabrous account, it was largely attended by bemused Fortune 500 execs terrified they were missing out on a phenomenon they didn’t understand. That sense of panicked enthusiasm wasn’t in much evidence this time around, with most attendees already experienced with the medium, as aware of its current limitations as its future possibilities. (During a keynote, when asked how many were regular MMO users, some 90 percent of the audience raised their hands.)

HiPiHi Rising: Largely dismissed as a Chinese Second Life knockoff just eight months ago, HiPiHi seems to have come into its own at this conference. A brief hello was all I got from CEO Xu Hui and his policy director Zhang Anding; after that, several Expo attendees told me they’d been whisked from one meeting to another. Some big HiPiHi-related announcements seem likely.

Third-Party Second Life Viewer Swallows the Web: Set to be launched in conjunction with an upcoming Second Life-related episode of CBS’ “CSI:NY”, The Electric Sheep Company debuted a user-friendly version of the notoriously difficult SL client. At first, I worried that this would just provide an AOL-ized variation of Second Life, but a hands-on demo at the Expo suggested otherwise — re-imagining the program as a web browser as they did now strikes me as a brilliant design decision. And while I’m an obvious Second Life chauvinist, I still have to say: This may be the thing that finally moves the metaverse into mainstream use.

The Virtual World Industry Gets a Convergence Culture: This was one of those rare tech conventions where goth babes regularly shared the same room with schlubby game developers and Silicon Valley executives in long sleeves — but none seemed out of place. If I had to quantify the composition, I’d describe the Expo as 25 percent SXSW-Interactive, 25 percent GDC, and 50 percent Techcrunch 20. (It was such a strange combination, a hotel receptionist peered over the counter and asked me point blank, “What are you guys, anyway?”) Hard to know if this unique ménage à trois can last, but I have to think this still-niche industry won’t grow unless it does.

So that’s my top five, at least. Under the energetic editorship of Joey Seiler, the Expo’s Virtual World News blog is brimming with further reports. If you went or were following it closely, what were your highlights?

Image credit: Disclosure: My Second Life blog was a “media partner” with the Expo.