The advantages of a virtual conference in SL is that it brings the vaunted presence of each person via their avatar to a social gathering unobstructed by the cost of transportation and hotel accommodations, which are real issues in these economic times. Further, any association member should very well feel overlooked or even exploited when so many resources, paid for with their dues, are used for face-to-face continuing education programming and business meetings. This practice serves a minority of members, leaving the rest of the members to catch as catch can through Web-based solutions. I forget, do we call them "virtual members" because we do virtually nothing for them?
View of ALA Island where programming and events have taken place for three years.
Let's consider a concept I call the never-ending virtual conference. Never mind how it's set up in Second Life and Moodle--let me have some details to forward my own consultancy, okay?
A face-to-face conference that never ends is a scary thought! I always loved going to conferences and meeting the faces behind the emails and blogs and Twitters, but to do it every day in and day out? Somebody shoot me! Nonetheless, in the virtual world, the never-ending conference is a concept worth exploring very closely. Not only in terms of programming and educational content but in the basic business operations of a membership organization. I would go so far as to say that the never-ending conference is the undeniable future of associations.
The never-ending virtual conference will make the weaknesses of Second Life-like platforms strengths. Large gatherings crashing the sim? Maintain small groups, which are more ideal for learning and networking anyway. By spreading programming, meetings, and other events over the course of a year, groups will evolve through mutual interests and levels of skill for effective learning situations. The side benefit of such networking will be a strong desire to meet the person behind the virtual person and help attendance at face-to-face events.
This can be done on the Main Grid, in an OpenSim situation, or using the new enterprise version of Second Life. Numerous organizations have already forged into this new frontier with varying amounts of success--I will not cite their stories here.