Art as (Second) Life

Don’t ask me why, but Avnet has gone virtual. The component distributor has launched a simulated version of its Phoenix-based technical museum in the virtual world known as Second Life.

In a press release, Avnet’s director of multimedia services (what, your company doesn’t have one?) Bryan Carter suggested the recreated would drive traffic to the otherwise infrequently visited museum.

In trying to explain why the company is underwriting the costs from its R&D budget, Jan Jurcy, Avnet’s vice president of digital communications (you probably don’t have one of those, either), said, “We look at this as another piece of the social media revolution.”

And here you thought they were in the business of selling components.

A scene from Avnet’s virtual museum

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

5 thoughts on “Art as (Second) Life

  1. Hi Mike,

    I’m the very same Bryan mentioned in that press release. I just happened across your blog post indirectly via Technorati and wanted to make some observations. First some background. Both Jan and myself are apart of the Corporate Communications team at Avnet, Inc. and we are tasked with communicating information to both our customers and to our 11,000 employees that are spread out over 73 countries. One of our primary jobs is to manage the corporate web presence.

    Beyond that, my job includes managing and co-ordinating methods of delivering all forms of content both inside and outside the company, be it video, newsletters, RSS, interactive flash presentations, etc… A small part of that work involves exploring new, up and coming communications vehicles to evaluate their value to the business to both improve efficiency and/or clarity of communications. Technology changes daily and both customers and new employees have ever evolving expectations about how to communicate.

    Virtual worlds are a growing segment of the many new communications platforms available to businesses, and while you many not personally see value from a B2B or B2C perspective. More companies than you might think are making substantial investment’s in this space. A good amount of that work is for using this platform for collaboration, such as employee meetings, on-boarding, training, etc… Not to mention the numerous colleges, universities and science organizations establishing remote learning curriculum.

    In our case our goals were not nearly so lofty though. This project’s primary goal was to create a virtual recreation of the real museum in order to give the information presented there more exposure. That was it. Second Life is not the star here. It is purely the platform that allowed us to deliver the end result, and explore new methods of communications in the process.

    Finally, “selling components” is only one aspect of our business. You should stop by the museum and learn more about who we are.

    Thanks for mentioning us though. No hard feelings 🙂

    Cheers,

    Bryan Carter
    Director, Multi Media Services
    Avnet, Inc.; Corporate Communications

  2. Thanks for the comments, Bryan, and I’m glad you didn’t take my (light) jabs personally. But I will stand my ground: Why present a virtual representation? I think Avnet would be better off letting Web users view the museum live, using user-manipulated cameras, and so forth, to navigate the space.

  3. No offense was taken at all. I see it as a chance to educate. I hope you don’t mind my lengthy replies. 🙂

    You have valid questions that are easy to answer. A virtual version allowed us to present the tremendous amount of information from the museum in a compact and navigable manner that just wasn’t possible in other formats. Without actually seeing either location it’s hard to convey just how much information is presented. Between physical objects, presentation boards, videos, and audio it’s easy to spend significant time exploring the space.

    To your other comment. We actually considered installing web cams. In fact, we looked at video cameras, QuickTime VR, we even considered doing a library of static pages where you could click through each item. We really found all of them lacking in some regard in the context of bringing the full experience to visitors in a manageable form.

    In the case of a web cam, users are limited to what can be seen from the perspective of the mounted camera, even if it can be rotated (and if you have multiple viewers allowed, that complicates matters). That camera is only going to give you so much resolution and anything at a great distance is going to be hard to see in detail. Even mounting cameras in each corner woulnd’t really resolve these issues. Furthermore there was no real interactive element to this presentation idea short of a potential camera pan. Additionally, each item has a description plate mounted to it which would not really be readable from a web cam, and providing the rather significant amount of text on the same page as the video window would be very unusable for a visitor to make any use of. Also, most of the items have been presented in such a way where people can look around at most sides of the item on display… another thing lost when going to a pure 2-D rendering.

    As far as cameras navigating the space, anything more sophisticated than fixed cameras starts to get quite pricey, and as you introduce more mechanical elements, you also increase the chance for failure, insuring on-going equipment costs. Not only that, depending on how you construct the rigging you have to deal with intruding on the RL visitors experience.

    I’ve been doing web work since 94′ and believe me, I’ve seen camera installs like this done before and the reality is, people don’t watch these things unless you’ve got something happening in the video like a chicken walking around or a girl in a bikini. 😛

    The return on investment on a cam system is very poor, as is the user satisfaction, and let’s not even talk about user engagement.

    The virtual museum allowed us to achieve an immersive experience, and we actually were able to expand on the museum content by taking advantage of the platform to actually complement the RL location very inexpensively since we kept the scope of the project simple and focused strictly on the museum itself. Oddly enough our #1 request related to this has been people telling us it would be cool to have a computer in the RL museum for people explore the virtual one. Go figure.

  4. Hi Mike;

    As a marketing guy bringing an old-world business (EMS) online, I applaud Avnet’s foray into Second Life. We don’t yet know what benefit many of these new social media tools will have to the bottom line, but without companies like Avnet willing to try, we will never know.

    Avnet may be in the business of selling components (as well as other things), but marketing and selling is really about connecting up with your customers and showing them that you understand them and that you will give them good value. This certainly has the potential to connect with customers and demonstrate to them that Avnet does understand them. That will lead to a better, longer-lasting relationship with those customers and ultimately, more component sales.

    I do wonder if enough hardware engineers and purchasing folks spend enough time in Second Life to make it work, but us marketers need digital adventurers like Avnet to help answer that question.

    Duane Benson
    http://www.screamingcircuits.com

  5. I wouldn’t be caught dead visiting a museum in Second Life. I’m too busy leveling up in First Life. It’s a shame that R&D money is being wasted on a passing fad such as this. If they must spend their money on giving the information in the museuem “more exposure”, by which I guess they mean showing the museuem off to people who would never leave their house in the first place, you would think it would come out of the marketing budget. But hey, it’s not my cash, what do I care.

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