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Amazon Web Services Presentation in Second Life

Early this week I did the first-ever Amazon Web Services presentation in Second Life . I was a guest speaker at a meeting of the Kuurian Expedition, a group of scientists and researchers sponsored by the Synthetic Worlds Initiative at [Indiana University]. Also present were folks from the Electric Sheep Company as well as three of my colleagues from Amazon.

I had prepared and uploaded my PowerPoint earlier in the week. I used a slightly abbreviated version of my usual AWS presentation, because I had an hour and I didn’t know how quickly I would be able to present when I had to type out my entire talk. I removed some of the detail slides and added in some screenshots of some AWS-powered applications that are already running in Second Life.

Earlier in the day I spent some time gathering and organizing a number of gestures. I wasn’t sure if I would have the time, opportunity, or the presence of mind to use them, but I wanted to be prepared. I also created a little cheat sheet so that all of my gestures (and their associated function keys) would be close at hand. The Second Life gesture mechanism adds considerably to the realism of experience, so I made sure that I could point to the audience, bow, laugh, nod yes, and nod no as needed.

We had a really nice presentation setup on an island called Learning. This is the publicly visible version of the incredible New Media Campus. As an aside, this campus currently occupies one island / sim. I heard via a podcast earlier this week that it will be growing to a total of 7 sims later this year. That’s a real sign of their success, since they are funded by grant money.

The meeting started at a few minutes past 7. At the request of the meeting organizer, I drove up in my Toyota Scion, jumped out of the car, and took a bow. Here’s what I saw as I talked:

I typed non-stop for over an hour, pausing just a few times to answer questions. I had briefly considered writing out my talk in advance, but decided against it. In a small gathering like this one, I like to encourage the audience to ask questions as I talk and to then answer them in-line and also slant the presentation ever-so-slightly in particular directions based on the questions that I get. Having it canned wouldn’t have allowed me to do this or to address certain participants by name as I answered their questions and pointed out certain things to them later in the talk.

I did remember to use my gestures, and I heard later on that this added considerable value to the talk in two ways. First, it made me seem a bit more realistic standing up there on the stage. Second, it showed that I truly understood Second Life and that I wasn’t an outsider simply dropping in for the evening.

The audience was also gesturing, standing up, sitting down, and even dancing at one point! I should mention that delivering this talk was a really intense experience for me as a presenter. I had my main desktop PC in front of me, and my travel laptop to the side (logged in with another identity) to the side. I actually had to ask my family to stay out of the room because it took a ton of concentration to juggle the text, slides, gestures, and questions. I was certainly fully engaged, and the audience seemed to be in the same state.

At peak we had about 40 avatars in attendance!

Here’s a picture that my wife took before I had to ask her to leave:

We then switched to Q&A mode which lasted for about an hour. To me, the most important thing is that this felt just like one of my usual presentations. The audience interaction was unbelievable and the questions just didn’t stop coming. We had some Amazon S3 users and someone who wanted to be in the Amazon EC2 beta. EC2 actually garnered a lot of questions. At one point I had the main IM window running and another 9 private chat sessions flowing, leading to the aforementioned level of mental stress. Again, this was real, it worked, and it was intense.

I talked about 3 different AWS-powered applications in Second Life and about my AWS Outpost. Here are some SLURLs:

The most intense line of EC2 questioning came from a guy named Babu Baba, who was wearing nothing but briefs with a green stripe down the front:

Finally, I thanked everyone one last time, got in my car and drove away:

I had a slight mishap as I drove away, though (the campus is better for walking than for driving):

There’s even more coverage (and some good screen shots) on Rik Riel’s blog. Here’s a quote from that page:

“Jeff was clearly excited to be hanging out with a bunch of interested and informed geeks in Second Life. Glad to see Amazon taking such a strong interest in virtual worlds, not just from a marketing and sales perspective, but also as a way to network with a larger developer and programmer community around the globe.”

Ok, so what did I learn?

  1. First and foremost, I now believe that my hypothesis, that I could do genuine and effective AWS evangelism in Second Life, is correct.
  2. Second Life rocks as a presentation vehicle and it attracts the edgy, creative types that are receptive to the AWS message.
  3. As always, preparation is key. Having the preso ready, and having good gestures cued up made a huge difference.
  4. Online presentations can be fun, they can be engaging, and they can impart good information.
  5. There’s no reason to ever leave my house again. Send me food and money and I’ll take care of the rest from home!

If you missed this talk, don’t worry — I will be doing it at least one more time this month, and with any luck many times to come. You may also enjoy reading the transcript.