Virtual buzz is difficult to catch, so are potential investors

Virtual buzz is difficult to catch, so are potential investors
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First Published: Thu, Jun 19 2008. 02 18 AM IST

New avatar: A grab from ArcelorMittal’s shareholder meeting in Second Life, the popular online virtual world.
New avatar: A grab from ArcelorMittal’s shareholder meeting in Second Life, the popular online virtual world.
Updated: Thu, Jun 19 2008. 02 18 AM IST
New Delhi: Even though conversation flowed freely at steel maker ArcelorMittal’s shareholder meeting in Second Life, the popular online virtual world, most of it was confused and uncertain.
“So, what happens now,” asked one avatar, as Second Life residents are called, half-an-hour before the meeting, looking around at the dozen-or-so people sitting meditatively at the venue.
Not many knew.
New avatar: A grab from ArcelorMittal’s shareholder meeting in Second Life, the popular online virtual world.
Second Life is heavy on experience, but light on activity. Flying is a great way of getting around, and passing time. But indoors, and at events like this, there’s little to do but sit down and hope for conversation.
On 8 June, ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steel maker, announced an “interactive shareholder event” in Second Life, billing it as an opportunity for potential investors to have a “real-time dialogue” with company management at its headquarters in Luxembourg City.
“This was a challenge for us,” said Jean Lasar, a spokesman for ArcelorMittal, on phone from Luxembourg City. “We want to rejuvenate our shareholder base, and this was one way to create interest, to show that we embrace new technologies.” The problem? Potential investors were hard to find; at least on Second Life.
“Most people here seem to be curious onlookers because of the media attention,” said Guiseppi Constantine, one of the avatars. “I don’t see too many to-be shareholders.”
Just around 50 avatars turned up through the course of the meeting, but Lasar said it was only a beginning. “...it was an experimental event, and from that point of view, we are extremely satisfied.”
Private island
The event was held in ArcelorMittal’s private island on Second Life: a stylish, curved structure in the shape of the company logo, hollowed out to accommodate an auditorium in its centre. Avatars flew, walked and teleported in throughout the 90-minute event, with company officials guiding, assisting and shepherding them as necessary.
Visitors arrived on the spacious lawns in front of the building. Touch-screen kiosks were placed haphazardly around the lawns, where avatars could download company chairman Lakshmi Mittal’s presentation.
The ground-floor doors led to an eerily empty café with glass walls, a large video screen staring ominously at any unintentional visitors.
Company officials, dressed in spiffy suits, chased visitors. “Are you here to attend the meeting?” they would ask, waiting for only half the reply before teleporting them to the first-floor auditorium.
The auditorium resembled a noisy classroom. Continuous text chatter drowned the sometimes dissonant instrumental music playing over the speakers.
Some avatars were politely asked to sit down as they flew around the room. One accidentally sat on the stage podium, and later apologized profusely. “I’m so sry. It’s my frst time hr,” he said.
So what happens now?
The gathering was diverse— bearded men in shorts, some in sweatshirts, pony-tailed women in overalls. And, regarding them in stoic silence, company officials in suits.
“So, what happens now?” came the question again. This time a little more insistent.
“You’re supposed to watch the video,” came the answer, from one of the suited stoics. “Mister Mittal is speaking.”
A video screen was placed in front of the auditorium, with live streaming video of the real-world meeting in Luxembourg. A company official took questions from the audience for Mittal, who then answered them in a “Second Life Q&A Session.”
The ‘real-time dialogue,’ however, was conspicuously absent. “I can’t see anything,” said one avatar. An attempted response was buried in an avalanche of murmured agreement. “Yeah, me too.” “I can’t see anything either!” “The audio keeps skipping.”
A few solutions were offered —update software, restart the video, log off and log back in. Little seemed to work. Perhaps it was starved bandwidth from India.
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First Published: Thu, Jun 19 2008. 02 18 AM IST