Enterprise Virtual World BOF

February 17, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Posted in collaboration, virtual worlds | 1 Comment

Please let me know if others out there are interested in a “birds of a feather” teleconference on internal business use of virtual worlds.  I’ve had a request from a client (in the financial services space) to host such a session to hear what other companies are doing, thinking of doing, or are prevented from doing in virtual worlds.  This wouldn’t be a presentation, but rather a facilitated meeting where we go around the virtual room and ask what each participant’s company is doing with regards to enterprise virtual worlds and then go into more details.  One potential topic could be the importance of regulatory issues.  I believe we could handle anonymous participation.

Just reply to this thread or email me if interested.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.


Virtual World Meetings: Qwaq Becomes Teleplace

September 28, 2009 at 8:25 am | Posted in collaboration, virtual worlds | 1 Comment

It’s been a while since I blogged as Burton Group analysts had a week-long offsite meeting last week.  We’re a pretty virtual company, so it’s nice to see everyone in person without a conference to distract us. 

But that’s not to say virtual meetings aren’t useful as well.  In fact, I just blogged about the new release and renaming of virtual meeting vendor Qwaq to Teleplace over at the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.  Here’s what I wrote:

In the virtual world, even your name is virtual.  Like a furry reskinning to a businessman’s avatar, Qwaq has renamed its product and company to Teleplace.  Good move – enterprise virtual worlds (EVWs) have an unusually steep hurdle to getting taken seriously so a practical, descriptive name is a good thing.

The new version adds business-friendly features such as support for AD and LDAP, archiving sessions as mp4 (“meeting DVR”), and a SaaS model with private options.

My upcoming Quick Start document on Enterprise Virtual Worlds (release date 10/21/09) states that uses for EVWs go far beyond  “people work harder when they’re having fun” or “kids out of college won’t want to work here if we don’t have this stuff.” When applied for specific situations in which EVWs are the best alternative, they can have real business value. And enhanced conferencing – as well as rehearsal and serious gaming – are prime use cases.  Enhanced conferencing has the advantage of being available in a secure, SaaS model so it’s the lowest risk way to try out EVWs.

Virtual World Usage at NASA

August 7, 2009 at 10:48 am | Posted in Catalyst09, Gaming, virtual worlds | Leave a comment

There were many great presentations at Catalyst this year, but the most fun for me was Charles White, Virtual Worlds Lead at NASA JPL.  In my presentations on enterprise virtual worlds I’ve talked about the usage patterns for virtual worlds (including visualization, rehearsal, and enhanced conferencing), the characteristics of virtual presence, whether it will ever hit the mainstream, and one has to look beyond Second Life to understand their true value.  All of these points were addressed and demonstrated by Charles.

Here are some notes (and links now that I’ve had time to hunt down the web sites he mentioned):

  • Charles showed images of the use of mirror worlds for science data visualization
  • Described NASA World Wind.  It’s a Google Earth-like tool for visualizing science data
  • Virtual reality is used to rehearse space missions
  • They also use it to visualize an exploding star
  • They use immersive synthetic environments as well – he showed an air traffic control tower with screens instead of windows
  • All major airlines have purchased simulators and pilots have to certify simulator time before they can fly.
  • 3 legs of value: immersive, communication, visualization
  • There’s a one third scale virtual model of the Mars Victoria crater
  • CoLab island is used for weekly meetings
  • Hyper-Reality by 3DInternet is an example of non-Second Life virtual world usage.  One example he gave was practice with installing a transformer
  • Will every company use it?  No, but those who need to inspire, innovate, participate will
  • Interesting presence comment from an attendee at a virtual launch event: “This is the first time I’ve been to a NASA event”.  Made the person feel like they were there.

Virtual Collaboration for Lotus Sametime

June 25, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Posted in collaboration, IBM, virtual worlds | 1 Comment

Some of the great research work that IBM was doing around virtual worlds has now made it onto enterprise desktops through IBM’s announcement of the availability of the “Virtual Collaboration for Lotus Sametime” plugin for Lotus Sametime 8.0.1 or later.  An OpenSimulator instance runs on the server and connects to Sametime through a bridge. There is a web client, although most users would probably use the SecondLife client.

The plugin provides 3 enterprise virtual world environments that I’d classify as virtual collaboration: collaboration spaces, boardrooms (meeting rooms), and theatres (see details in the slideshow below or the YouTube video).

It looks like neat stuff to me.  And from what I can tell, there’s no cost to Sametime users to add this since OpenSimulator and the SecondLife client are free.  Even though this has moved from research to general availability, I still consider it an experiment.  Now is when early adopters can start playing around with this, find good uses, and report their stories back to start assembling a business case.  I haven’t had a chance yet to read the “Business Value Study” they reference. From my research last year, the best business cases were around rehearsal and training, not virtual collaboration, but I look forward to seeing what they came up with once I get past Catalyst season.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

Could Simulator Training Have Averted the Crash of Flight 3407?

May 13, 2009 at 1:37 pm | Posted in virtual worlds | Leave a comment

I’m as shocked as anyone to read the transcripts of the flight talk on the doomed flight 3407 to Buffalo that crashed apparently due to wrong maneuvers by the pilot.  Apparently when a stick pusher tried to avert a stall by diving, the captain forced the plane to do the opposite and crashed.

As someone who travels frequently (and sometimes on “puddle jumpers” like this one) it’s pretty scary to see this can happen.  I don’t normally use this blog to vent my own fears and anxieties, so I’ll tie it to one of my coverage areas: enterprise virtual worlds.  Last year I spoke with Arnaldo “AJ” Peralta of Icarus Studios, a designer of virtual world strategies, who demonstrated the value of simulation and rehearsal by talking about a Jet Blue flight that made a successful landing with the front wheels stuck sideways.  He told me the captain of that flight claimed he was able to land the plane safely because he had learned from three previous crashes – in simulation.(I haven’t found an online reference to verify that, although a commenter here describes hearing the pilot mention the value of the regular training simulations they do).

This presents us with an unfortunate example of the value of virtual environment simulations in preparing for catastrophic events in a manner that allows for safe mistakes. Kurt Squire in 2003 (cited here) worded this type of learning from mistakes in safety as “provid[ing] choices and consequences in simulated worlds.”

These types of simulations are not strictly learning (acquiring new information and skills), but are rather rehearsal.  Rehearsal follows training/learning just as rehearsing for a play follows the actors memorizing their lines.  The rehearsal pokes, prods, and tests whether the user can retrieve and apply that information in the correct situations.  It also solidifies the information by connecting it to real experience and allows for iterative learning from mistakes in an environment where failures have no costs.

Scaling down the nature of the disaster, one can see the value of providing enterprise virtual world simulations of situations they may encounter, such as a reactor overload at a nuclear power plant, a chemical spill on a major freeway, or a fire on an oil rig.

Unfortunately, according to the WSJ, the simulators used at Colgan (the operator of the doomed flight) didn’t cover this scenario:

Colgan’s standard training program stops short of demonstrating the operation of the stick-pusher in flight simulators. Without such hands-on experience, safety investigators argue, pilots could be surprised and not react properly when the stick-pusher activates during an emergency. The FAA is required to sign off on all airline training manuals.

On Sunday, Colgan said its FAA-approved program includes “comprehensive” classroom training on the stick-pusher but emphasized a demonstration in a simulator “is not required by the FAA and was not part of the training syllabus” Colgan received when it obtained its Q400s.

There’s nothing that can be done now to help those aboard flight 3407.  But enterprises can take the comparison between a disaster in an emergency situation that the pilot had not run in simulation and a successful avoidance of disaster from a pilot that had simulated the incident.  That’s an over-simplification to be sure (every situation is different, lack of sleep was involved as well, compliance to policies was not monitored or enforced, etc.), but I believe the value of rehearsal through virtual simulations can be distilled from this incident and applied to other common business and government scenarios.

The Hype Pendulum

May 12, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Posted in Analyst biz, virtual worlds | Leave a comment

I’d like to follow on to yesterday’s posting about how Second Life articles seem to have veered from overly glowing to overly cynical and are now mildly positive.  I’m sure mildly negative is next before they settle in on a reasonable, non-hype-driven, balanced view. 

What this reveals to me is that the Gartner Hype Cycle isn’t as good a model as a pendulum.  While the hype cycle consists of a single “up, then down, then plateau”, I think what really happens is like the plucking of a string or the movement of a pendulum.  An event starts it in motion and it goes from very positive, to very negative, to slightly  positive, and so on, all the while eventually seeking the center.  The number of swings is determined by the size of the story. The virtual world topic plucked the string fairly loud, so it has swung to the positive side twice already. The hype cycle may be accurate for a small enough story where there is one iteration of high, low, then center.  But Second Life demonstrates that for larger stories there are multiple iterations before it centers. 

I’d also argue that there is a natural downward sloping trend for visibility for all technologies rather than a horizontal plateau as shown in the hype cycle.  To be more exact, it is exponential decay. Put ’em together and you have something more like the figure below.

hype pendulum

Second Life Articles Take One Step Towards Reality

May 11, 2009 at 8:54 am | Posted in BurtonGroupCatalyst09, virtual worlds | 1 Comment

Back in 2007 I wrote A Guide to Writing About Second Life, a tongue-in-cheek how-to guide to lazy journalists that want to write a story about Second Life based on my experience of reading way too many articles of this type and their lack of depth.  It offered a few choices, such as how to write “the positive, glowing update”, followed by “the negative, cynical slam”, and maybe “the deep thought piece” to get philosophical about it. My point was that the mass media seemed to follow each other like a herd, veering toward glowing tributes first, then all getting cynical next.  And they all use pretty much the same list of talking points, that are both true simultaneously if one were to write a more balanced piece (why don’t they?). 

Now I see the third iteration: the “c’mon, it’s not that bad, let’s be reasonable” story in Information Week.  The story is called “Rumors Of Second Life’s Failure Are Just Lousy Journalism“.  He’s right that journalism here has been lazy and many of the slams were overstated.  There’s good and bad to say about Second Life, like anything else.  I am working now on a short document to give a quick view into where we see Enterprise Virtual Worlds and their potential value.  I’ll try to jump past the one-sided views and get right to a more moderated view of pros and cons and where I’ve seen real business value today.

This is especially timely as we are in contact with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to speak at our Catalyst conference about their use of Second Life.  Here’s the presentation abstract:

Virtual Worlds for Inspiration, Innovation, and Participation
Charles White, Senior System Designer and Lead for Virtual Worlds for Engineering and Science, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA has used simulator worlds as training environments for many years, but now virtual worlds offer new opportunities to interact with the public, and offers a new canvas to visualize real scientific data. Explorer Island in Second Life is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s entry into virtual space. Charles White (Aka: Jet Burns) shares observations and lessons learned from over the virtual horizon.

I hope to see you there!

Good-bye to Metaverse Evangelists

March 2, 2009 at 8:59 am | Posted in IBM, virtual worlds | Leave a comment

The Silicon Alley Insider reported today that Ian Hughes, “IBM’s ‘Metaverse Evangelist’ and point man for all things IBM and Second Life” has resigned.  The article doesn’t mention there was a second chap at IBM with that title as well: Roo Reynolds.  Roo resigned on August 18th. The article then questions IBM’s ongoing commitment to Second Life (which was surprisingly strong).  I’ll agree, this does seem be turning down the volume on their virtual world involvement.  Especially compared to when they cranked up the volume in 2006 (for example, see “MEDIA ALERT: IBM Expands Its Virtual Worlds Initiatives With a First-of-Its-Kind Virtual Block Party in Second Life“).

Last year, Roo told me that the title of “metaverse evangelist” wasn’t really an evangelist to the general public as often assumed.  It was mostly to be an internal evangelist within IBM to convince and help the myriad groups within IBM to use virtual world technology (not exclusively Second Life).  This is a common modus operandi for IBM.  I’ve seen them set up horizontal evangelists with Java and XML as well.  By having an internal evangelist, various groups get exposure to a top mind in the field.  As a sample result, Lotusphere this year had several virtual world projects on display.

I agree with the article that this is a data point for the deflation of the fad part of virtual world’s popularity.  There’s still a real part of their popularity as well that won’t be affected by this and will continue to grow over time based on actual use of the technology. It’s just a shame that my son won’t have the opportunity to grow up to have what was frequently hailed as the “best job” to have: metaverse evangelist. 

Enterprise Virtual Worlds for Collaboration

February 10, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Posted in collaboration, communication, Gaming, virtual worlds | 3 Comments

I was happy and surprised to see that the University of California at Irvine announced on Tuesday a $3,000,000 grant for Walt Scacchi,  Richard N. Taylor, Alfred Kobsa, Cristina V. Lopes, Gloria Mark, Bonnie Nardi and David Redmiles to study how virtual gaming worlds can help organizations collaboration and compete.

The “happy” part is because, as readers of this blog know, I am a strong proponent of how enterprises and non-gaming vendors can learn communication and collaboration lessons from online gaming.  In my entry Enterprise Communication Meets the World of Warcraft I described how communication in World of Warcraft is highly advanced compared to enterprise counterparts with regard to channels, chat modes, presence, mail, and emotes.  I also wrote a “short story” on How the Enterprise Colonized the Virtual Worlds: A Sort-of Science Fiction Story to illustrate how virtual worlds may conquer the enterprise.

I’m very interested to read what comes out of this study.  I’m a fan in particular of Gloria Mark and the work she’s done on information worker processes and interruptions, so I’m encouraged to see her on the list.

The “surprised” part is because that’s quite a financial commitment.  Compare that to the public-facing side (mostly social and gaming worlds) where, as I referenced in January, this comes on the heels of a 58% reduction in venture capital and media investments in virtual worlds.

The New University article on the grant acknowledges the size and timing of the grant with the statement “Although the argument could be made that putting aside such a large sum of money for researching a game is a waste of tax dollars …”  It correctly points out that lots of academic research uses gaming for anthropological studies, but I can’t comment on what amount would be correct.

Still, I recommend that anyone writing a grant proposal involving virtual worlds get in touch with whoever the grant writer is at UC Irvine because she’s worth her weight in gold pieces.  Not just for this, but they also received grants in 2005 and 2008 for enterprise virtual world research:

  • $80,000 grant for Bill Tomlinson in 6/05 for the “virtual raft project”. The press release said “His novel computer-technology project allows people to use a tablet PC as a handheld raft to transport animated characters between “virtual islands” on desktop computers.”
  • $100,000 grant in 9/08 for Bonnie Nardi and doctoral student Yong Ming Kow to analyze collaboration in virtual world gaming. (link)
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