The Tool That Made AfroTech World Truly Immersive 

Users could experience the event in the way they wanted.


December 8, 2020

AfroTech World is one of the largest multicultural technology conferences in the US. Engineers, recruiters, and more exchange ideas and help build a strong Black tech community. Last month, AfroTech World went virtual, using the tool Virbela to create an immersive trade show-style event with a Sims feel. 

As a Diamond Sponsor, TWDC was well represented with a booth and speakers from across the company. We chatted with one, Studio Technology’s Sonia Doshi, to get a glimpse of the world and user experience.

You start by creating an avatar, which could be customized by skin tone, facial features, hairstyle, and wardrobe just for you! While there were an assortment of options, one area for improvement could be Virbela’s UI for the avatar — making gestures more intuitive, like waving or handshaking.

As an attendee, you could explore the convention grounds, walking through the indoor and outdoor spaces like you would in the real world (well, except you’re operated by a mouse and keyboard arrows). There’s also a shortcut to get around. You just select the location from a directory and you’re immediately teleported.

The breadth of spaces added to the immersive environment — from presentation halls to a showroom floor. When attending live talks, you could actually sit in the audience (in chairs!) and listen in with other attendees. And when entering the showroom, you could find individual booths with vendors. Some played pre-recorded videos as you walked by, while others sent you to a YouTube video with one click. Doshi noted that all these different opportunities “made the conference feel like you were physically there and not watching a screen from your home.”

When passing guests, you could even overhear their conversations, which also added to the realistic setting. But, sometimes this was unbeknownst to them. It was a bit unclear which areas Virbela truly made private, even when designated as such.

Overall, while Virbela may benefit from a few tweaks, virtual AfroTech World proved to be a rich environment that we’re all looking for right now. Doshi said what made it feel most like an in-person conference “was the feeling that you had the autonomy to decide how you experienced the world to learn and network in the way you wanted.” And of all the virtual events she’s attending, this was by far the most immersive.