Who, What, Why?
Enterprise uses of Immersive Environments and Virtual World technology for collaboration. As CTO of vComm Solutions and co-founder of Flying Island I'm particularly interested in the ways that collaborative 3D immersive environments might help bring dispersed teams together

Neil Canham
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View Article  The Power To Point - Why immersion can bring teams together
So Second Life Enterprise is launched, in beta at least (great moderation by Dusan Writer during the presentation too).  More about that soon, but here's what I think an audience unfamiliar with this stuff should have been told.  See, I've discovered that immersive environments are, erm, immersive.  Maybe I should back up a bit. During the recent crazy round of activity which has kept me away from the blog, I spent some time giving presentations using WebEx.  At the same time I got to give a presentation on Collaboration at the Beta Business Park conference in Second Life last week. I reflected on why it was that the WebEx presentations hadn't made me feel in anyway connected to the people I was presenting to, and how different that was to my experiences of presenting and collaborating in immersive environments.

Here's my thesis - WebEx feels less immersive, less like you are sharing a space with others than even a telephone call or IM chat.  In a phone call you create a kind of mental shared audio space (teleconferences often fail to achieve this, for me at least), and pure IM can do the same, some kind of shared mental dialogue space.  However, when you use something like WebEx to 'share' a desktop or give a presentation, you force yourself to be in your office interacting with the flat screen of the computer.  When I present using WebEx I have to fight the urge on every slide I present to say 'OK, I've changed the slide, can everyone see that?', and it's a natural urge because I get no confirmation that the magic broadcasting is actually taking place.  When I point at something on the slide, I don't feel like I'm pointing it out to the audience - I know logically that I am but I don't feel it.  Even if the presentation has a quality audio channel, this interaction with flat stuff on my flat screen in my office at my desk drags me out of my shared experience.  I'm going to suggest that if your aim is to make people feel closer, WebEx actually hinders rather than helps!  Presenting in a virtual environment like SL is totally the opposite.  The illusion of a shared space, of being together is so convincing, so powerful that I never used to check if everyone was seeing the slides or the movie or the web page - because "obviously" they are. It's utterly clear to me that when I use a pointer or even my avatars arm to point out something, I'm pointing it out to everyone. Why? Because to my foolish ape brain, we're all looking at the same screen in the same space!  Except of course we aren't, it is just an illusion and I should be checking at least at the start that everyone is having the same experience.  Indeed, the illusion is so strong that you don't have to be presenting anything, you can just 'be' together.  This "Togethering" is the essential quality that distinguishes the immersive environment - so if you want to do more than just transmit information, you want to actually keep a team bonded and whole, look beyond the WebEx and explore the power to point.
View Article  Beta Business Park - Business Community Plus

I had the great pleasure last night of attending the launch night of the Beta Business Park in Second Life.  Given that there are already a number of businesses established there, the 'launch' was more like an official public acknowledgement. The event itself was well organised with a constant stream of live music in the Black Sun club in the Park and demonstration tutorials in the lecture theare. Gwyneth Llewelyn and Gayle Cabaret were extremely helpful in talking me through the concept and it's an interesting model.    Fundamentally they are setting out to provide businesses that want a presence in SL with everything they need in a community of other businesses.  What sets this apart from other business-oriented communities is the services that the team can provide as part of the package.  The most significant of these is the orientation services for new users, ranging from self-guided 'read and click' exercises to video tutorials to live classes.  The team claim to be on hand more or less 24hrs a day, and can be summoned in a variety of ways.  It'll be a while before I hit a huge gong again 'just to see what happens'...

More on this soon.
View Article  Media Plugins For SL (updated)
Mark Kingdon has announced a new Media Plugin API for the SL viewer. I know it's controlled for just this reaction, but I do like the sense of progress that this gives - only yesterday I was reading about the promised land of support for viewing documents, proper web browsing and new media formats in the presentations from SLCC, and thinking it'd be late next year, then the very next day this.  Predictably the comments section of the post is a mass of 'Yay, awesome' and 'Boo this sucks'. 

I think the plugin idea will advance media support much more rapidly - I can see plugins for remote desktop viewing using VNC, and displaying PDFs both coming quickly. For education and enterprise uses, this makes a lot of sense.  For a social, open to all platform it makes less sense - now you can't be sure that everyone can see your content - what will they see if they don't have the plugin?  But we'll get over that - we did on the web, Flash and Java being the obvious examples.  The mechanism for downloading the plugins and keeping them up to date must be transparent and flawless.  How this will work for large estates with tight policies on software rollout, like university campuses and corporations is another matter.

But where it gets interesting is to look at the details on the wiki.  The announcement seems to be focusing on 'viewing' various sorts of media, as identified by it's MIME type.  But looking closely at the messages that can be sent between viewer and  plugin you'll find mouse, keyboard and scroll events as well as cursor and focus - so clearly the infrastructure is being put in place for properly interactive media surfaces.  This is hugely exciting, and raises tons of questions - the concept of a surface having focus simply doesn't exist in the viewer right now to my knowledge, how will this be indicated and managed?  How will I swap to chatting from entering text in my Google Doc? I suspect it will be quite a while before those things are implemented in the main SL viewer.  Until then there is the Roobaab clickable, scrollable browser, of course :-)

Update 24th August...
Well it didn't take long - Aimee Trescothick has created a media plugin for SL based on the new llMedia API for viewing the VNC desktop sharing protocol. 

Now we just need a release of the viewer that supports it, and we can view shared desktops in SL.  Of course it is already possible with high quality video streaming, but you need a huge bandwidth and an expensive hosting account to do a desktop at reasonable resolution.  So this is a big step forward for SL, and will bring it in line with realXtend that I believe already supports VNC, along with Wonderland and Qwaq Forums.  Nice one Aimee.
View Article  Roobaab Season is upon us
Roobaab is a new collaboration tool to bring a team together without bringing the team together. Work collaboratively with a powerful, easy to use community collaboration and publishing tool, then when you need to meet your collaborators, launch a fully integrated 3D immersive meeting space, in either Second Life or a private OpenSim instance. The content to be discussed is immediately visible to all attendees on a clickable, scrollable browser. Participants can converse using built in VoIP and text chat is logged as meeting minutes back to the community site. Other tools include 3D pointers and an interactive notecard board. Read on for high quality video and detailed description   more »
View Article  The Lab gets serious about work
Linden Labs have revamped their 'serious' virtual world marketing with the release of a new subdomain http://work.secondlife.com/ - and it is miles better than the old 'Second Life Grid' material.  There are reams of examples, case studies and quotes, and much more professional looking graphics.  One interesting ploy is mixing photos of real people over scenes from the virtual spaces, perfectly emphasising the immersiveness.  I recommend anyone thinking of getting involved with virtual worlds for real work to check it out.  It makes a compelling case.  I guess this is all leading up to the release of the 'Nebraska' behind-the-firewall SL solution coming in the autumn.  Rumoured to be priced between $50k and $80k, it will need a polished marketing campaign and a solid value proposition. One thing that for me is missing though is photos and videos of real environments in use.  It's hard for those evangelists amongst us to realise, but a text description of this stuff almost never gets the point across to folk who haven't already experienced it.
View Article  IBM Lotus SameTime 3D - 4 Regions of OpenSim for $50k
An interview on Hypergrid Business reveals the pricing of the new IBM virtual meeting solution based on OpenSim.  It's worth a read, and I'm fairly convinced of the usefulness of the product.  I haven't yet seen anything describing content integration though - how are the presentations, videos, task lists integrated with Notes (or heaven forbid another 2D knowledge and organisation tool)?  We think this is crucial, and we're working hard with Roobaab to bring about good integration with the 2D web. 

One minor point - IBM say they chose OpenSim in order to allow writing on a prim - we've done that in SecondLife to create a notecard board, one prim per notecard.  Video coming soon :-)
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