As some of you know I am very interested in the direction the web is heading, especially the virtual meeting aspect.
There are studies that have shown you retain more information when you learn in a 3D immersive environment, and lets face it with the economy today flying everyone to one location isn’t always feasible. So no doubt there is a need and place for online meetings.
In the past I have worked with a few clients on designing meetings in Second Life (SL). While I think this is a great platform there are flaws. Mainly the learning curve. With SL you have to download a program to access the meeting space. This interface, while getting better over the past years, is still a little confusing to the non-computer user. Usually after about a half hour or so the user will learn enough to muddle though a conference successfully. Other issues have been lack of security and that there are many other activities going on in SL (some very non-business like).
Recently I was in attendance at the Virtual Edge Summit and had a chance to speak with 2 team members from HyperFair. This is a fairly new product that I was lucky enough to get a walk though demonstration. I have to say I am very impressed, they took the basic Second Life format and improved it for business. It works on a browser based system and the user interface is more business functional with graphics that are very eye pleasing and clean. I do think they could use a little improvement on the quality of skins and animations for walking, but I guess I am spoiled from using SL for so many years. Other great pluses is you can collect materials and business cards and save them to your account. They also claim you can have 10,000 attendees without the system lagging (slowing down), currently SL has a capacity of about 50-70 in one region.
I have seen a few other companies come and go but this is one that I defiantly think is worth a good look if you are shopping for a virtual meeting space.
To see more on HyperFair check out this video: http://vimeo.com/27993602
Other interesting findings on Virtual Meetings/Learning:
Case Study: IBM Meetings using Second Life
Best Practices in Virtual Worlds Teaching: See section 5 for Why to use 3D learning
3D Learning and Virtual Worlds: ACS