Virtual sex: the futurist perspective

Ross Dawson is an Australian futurist, prolific public speaker and creator of frameworks that assist in understanding trends. I’ve spoken on virtual worlds at a couple of get-togethers he’s organised and he certainly understands the field broadly. He’s recently launched Future of Sex, devoted to the future trends in sex. Virtual worlds feature as a key component but the site covers a lot more than that. Whether it’s interspecies virtual sex, robot unions or teledildonics, the site is focused on covering it.

Ross himself is up front on one of the main reasons he’s created the site:

As a publisher, we look for where there is a solid business model. Just over 5 years ago now I wrote a blog post about massively multi-player sex games, commenting on the broadening scope of virtual worlds. Since then, continuing until today, I have received thousands of visitors a month to that post from Google searches on related topics. Since we put into the post an affiliate link to the largest virtual sex world Red Light Center we have been making some very healthy pocket money off just that one post.

There’s no doubt virtual sex is only going to grow in both financial and public awareness terms – and as always its likely to drive innovation in virtual worlds as well as push the boundaries in areas such as avatar rights and the right to expression.

Growth predicted in virtual events for enterprise

on24 A survey released a couple of weeks back by virtual event solutions provider, ON24, shows again the momentum in virtual worlds for enterprise. ON24 surveyed ten thousand or so enterprise executives – no details are provided on the survey sample demographics or method. We’ve contacted ON24 to clarify that and will update this story with any response they provide.

Update: ON24 have responded with the following: “The survey sample included 10,000 decision makers of corporate events and marketing within the Fortune 2500 segment in North America. The sample included all industries.”

ON24 provide four key results from their survey on trends in meeting attendance:

42% expect participation in physical trade shows to be down by as much as 50%
64% expect to have fewer physical sales kick off seminars – or none at all
60% expect training, management and other internal events to be down 20 – 50%
A full 76% said their company has already begun using virtual events (53%) or plans to begin using them (23%) to supplement some of their physical events in 2009

The promising findings in regard to views on virtual meetings were:

While 61% said they would miss seeing people in person, less than half felt they would miss traveling to other locations (34%), enjoying the social activities (36%) or seeing speakers in person (20%). Respondents found several aspects of virtual participation to be particularly appealing:

75% appreciated that there is no travel required
64% liked that they can attend the virtual sessions on their own time schedules
58% found it useful to be able to “forward” to their colleagues virtual sessions that they thought would be of interest to them

More than one third of respondents cited the social networking benefits of virtual events, including the ability to see a list of all attendees in advance (35%); to contact other attendees online throughout the event (40%) and to get information on people (32%) and companies (34%) they meet electronically.

Essentially, the argument is that the economic difficulties business faces at present will make virtual events more desirable from a cost viewpoint. This is a very valid argument, but one that needs to be made in combination with a well-integrated virtual meeting solution. Those are already hitting the marketplace, so perhaps virtual worlds for enterprise will continue to defy the economic trends in the real world.

Locally, Ross Dawson’s Future Exploration Network is running its Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum again this year. I had the pleasure of facilitating a small-group discussion on virtual worlds and business last year and I’m looking forward to doing something similar again this year by facilitating a 20-minute mini-workshop.

Thanks to VW News for the heads-up on the ON24 survey.

A timely treatise on virtual worlds and enterprise

I’ve mentioned next week’s Enterprise 2.0 forum in Sydney previously. At Stanford University in the US, an event called MetaverseU is well underway and in recent hours a session was completed on the role of virtual worlds and work. It’s a timely coincidence of events. This excellent report is worth a read but I thought I’d highlight some of the key points from that information:

“The opportunity for these worlds to be entertaining pales in their opportunity for work,” said Reeves. “If we could figure out how to entertain a couple thousand call center employees and keep them in a virtual world while they were working and they stayed around for three months longer at their jobs, I think we’d have a multi-million dollar business on our hands.”

This is a key component that most businesses fail to grasp with virtual worlds and enterprise: it’s one of the likely ways in which productivity can be enhanced whilst ensuring some degree of entertainment. I doubt anyone would argue the reason for widespread use of the internet for non-work purposes on work time is anything other than boredom and a time-constrained lifestyle. Imagine a call centre employee being able to interact with a customer in a virtual world context, demonstrating the product they’re supporting or selling.

“Something the industry needs to understand is to put yourself in your customers shoes,” he explained. “They have a lot of risk in taking this technology on. They might get a lot of benefit, but there’s the risk that this technology isn’t going to be there tomorrow. We need to, as an industry and as customers, put a lot of work together to make this more of an affirming cycle.”

There’s no doubt that the majority of customers don’t see virtual worlds as an obvious business route, but as the opportunities that route offers combines with easier access and improved usability, the business equation becomes a lot more attractive.

The immediate use case for virtual worlds in the enterprise, said Steiger, isn’t dealing with his clients and partners. 70% of his business is with people he’s never met. The difference is in an employee-to-employee relationship. A hosted, behind-the-firewall solution could make that easier.

And that’s where the big success stories like IBM have demonstrated their key wins and why Australian companies like Westpac have made the investment.

“You can’t understand the primitive engagement that comes from puppeteering a cartoon character that looks kind of like us,” said Reeves. “When you look at the physiological response when an avatar gets touched, there’s a complementary reaction in the user. Brining those responses in for an ROI presentation is tough, but those responses that we see in the lab give me confidence that the bandwidth for communication is a value add for the engagement.”

Business is rightly skeptical about anything proposed for core operations that can’t demonstrate ROI – but the intrinsic nature of human interactions and the power virtual worlds bring to that can’t be underestimated. And the key point from the presentation for me:

The scary thing for executives, he says, is that guild leader gamers could be reporting to stockholders.

“IBM just did such a survey [looking for those gamers in management] and found 1000s,” said Reeves.

As the gamer generation is growing up and leading the workforce, game mechanics become much more appealing than spreadsheets for getting work done.

“To do that is not going to be quick in the enterprise,” said Reeves. “One strategy we’re looking at is to look at the recipe for why these worlds are engaging or why games are engaging and see what you can extract. Can you take the economies from the virtual environment? They’re fun and we know they light up the same neurological regions in the lab as real money does. They leave behind self-representation and 3D environments, but they’re worth looking at.”

It’s fair to say that developments in virtual worlds are something that enterprise needs to be at least aware of. Ideally they’ll have the resources to dip their toe in the water or even jump right in. The only option not on the table from an enterprise viewpoint is denial.

Enterprise 2.0 forum – Luna Park’s the perfect venue

On Tuesday 19th February, Luna Park will play host to the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum. Hosted by Ross Dawson’s Future Exploration Network, this is a forum where Australian business will hear about the innovations occurring with Web 2.0 and virtual worlds like Second Life.


Yours truly is attending as a media partner for the event and I’m looking forward to discussing with attendees both the challenges and opportunities that virtual worlds provide. If you run a business that’s interested in innovation, it may be worth investigating a late registration for this event.

So why is Luna Park the perfect venue? In the lead-up to next week I was interviewed by Des Walsh from the newly launched Social Media Show. We talked on everything from business interest in virtual worlds to a 3D walkthrough of a human testicle in Second Life – but one point I made was that Luna Park was a metaphor for how businesses tend to see virtual worlds as a game. The reality is a lot different and event’s like next Tuesday’s will help to bring clarity to the issue.

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