Continuing the theme I blogged about recently (see Second Life for Science and Scholarship), here is an example of a virtual conference that will be held in Second Life:
Virtual Conference on Climate Change and CO2 Storage
The organisers of this particular conference have an interest in getting the conference delegates to the "venue" with the minimum of travelling, so organising a virtual conference is the obvious choice.
The trend towards having virtual conferences is in its early stages, but there will be a lot more of this sort of thing in the future. There are many conferences that you would like to attend in person, but which would involve a lot of travelling/expense/fatigue/etc so you don't bother going. I can think of many annual conferences that fall into this category for me, but then I hate travelling. Perhaps there could be some sort of hybrid real/virtual conference to allow such people to attend conferences that would otherwise be difficult to attend. Of course, a purely virtual conference would be much easier to organise, and would present a very low barrier to attendance.
Currently, the main inhibiting factors working against the adoption of virtual conferences are unfamiliarity with the possibilities offered by the virtual medium, low quality of virtual reality compared to real reality, lack of communication cues that are only available in interactions between real humans, and so on. I would have thought that all of these inhibitors would reduce with time, so virtual conferencing will inevitably take off sooner or later.
The so-called "conference call", where multiple participants connect their telephones to have a multiway conversation (if it works at all!), will seem positively archaic in comparison with virtual reality.