The Great Chain of Being There

By Tom Peters |

An amazing thing happened to me last Saturday--I attended a few events at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver from the comfort of my own home here in western Missouri.  How is that possible, you ask?  The last time I checked, there is a small landform called The Great Plains  between my home and Denver.  Several of the Midwinter events were offered simultaneously on ALA Island and other venues in Second Life.  The meeting that really got me revved up about the possibilities for "combo conference events" (that is, events that occur simultaneously in two or more venues or "realities") was the meeting of the ALA VCL MIG (Virtual Communities and Libraries, Member Initiative Group) late Saturday afternoon.  Full disclosure:  I'm one of the "Designated Organizers" of the VCL MIG.

Here's what happened:

Lorelei Junot, Kay Tairov, and Oberon Octagon (all SL avatars) worked on the real-world ("in-Denver") logistics of the meeting as well as the Second Life ("in-world") logistics.  The in-person meeting in Denver was held in a computer lab in the Auraria Library.  Hats off to them for hosting the meeting.  The "in-world" meeting location was the Galen Noltenius Sky Platform hovering above ALA Island in Second Life.  About 12-15 people attended the meeting.  

Because they were in a computer lab, most of them were also attending the in-world version of the meeting in Second Life.  A total of 32 people were participating in the meeting on the Galen Noltenius Sky Platform.

That's right--more people were attending only the Second Life version of the meeting than were attending in-person as well.  One attendee was in her hotel room in Denver, but I think everyone else attending in Second Life was hundreds of miles from Denver.  They were able to participate in the meeting and contribute in real-time to the work of the ALA VCL MIG without physically attending ALA Midwinter.  The  quality of the audio was excellent and we had a productive meeting.  A couple of people gave mini-presentations and reports with presentation slides and web-based demonstrations.  They worked well, too.  It felt like a real meeting.  

So, my Midwinter routine last Saturday consisted of waking up in my own bed, playing with our four children a bit, running some errands as a family, watching a bit of the movie Wall-e (the current favorite at our house -- when you have three four-year-olds, be prepared to watch their favorite movie ad infinitum), popping into SL to participate in the joint ALA/FINRA press conference from Midwinter, walking the dogs, coming back into Second Life for the ALA VCL MIG meeting, followed by supper and evening relaxation with my family, and (in the words of Samuel Pepys) "so to bed."  Attending a conference in a remote city can be fun and invigorating, but being able to stay home is a nice option, too.

Granted, I missed all the other sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and unclassifiable experiences of ALA Midwinter in Denver.  The "in-Denver" attendees of the ALA VCL MIG meeting went out to dinner afterwards.  Evidently, a good time was had by all.  Also, all of the "almost simultaneous" ways of experiencing and gaining value from ALA Midwinter (for example, the Twitter tweets, the Flickr photos, and the blog posts) are good, too.  But, in perhaps what I would sheepishly call the "Great Chain of Being There," attending ALA Midwinter in Second Life was the next best thing to actually being there in person.  In some ways, it was better.