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3/13/2007
09:46 AM
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Virtual Worlds 2007 ? Setting the Stage for 3D Collaboration

Virtual Worlds 2007 is taking place March 28-29, 2007 in New York City.  The conference is the first of its kind and brings together business leaders from fortune 500 businesses and technology companies to help understand and maximize the use of virtual worlds to enhance a company’s marketing and business strategy. 

  • Some of the companies in attendance will include: MTV, Disney, AOL, Pontiac, Nickelodeon, Leo Burnett, Sundance Channel, GSD&M, IBM, and American Cancer Society.
  • Some of the Virtual World companies in attendance will include: Second Life, There.com, Multiverse, Forterra Systems, Whyville, ProtonMedia, Entropia Universe, Habbo, and Areae.
  • From the last I have heard, over 400 people have already signed-up for Virtual Worlds.  I will also be attending the conference and reporting back to all of you.

Virtual Worlds 2007 really excited me because I believe there are many possible opportunities for Collaboration vendors to integrate and leverage virtual world technologies as part of a more enhanced collaboration tool set.  Although collaboration is not one of the primary topics of discussion at the conference, the conference coordinators seem very interested in investigating possible angles for their next year’s conference.  For now, I will be listening and learning and helping prepare the stage for next year.

The following are some thoughts regarding some areas where I think Collaboration technologies will benefit from leveraging or integrating with Virtual Worlds: 

1. 3D Virtual Workspaces – Currently, team workspaces are 2D and include 2D presence awareness.  Although there are many benefits to today’s 2D tools, there are several limitations regarding presence awareness, face-to-face personal interaction, 3D modeling, and environmental queues.  Sun and other companies are experimenting with 3D technologies in an effort to overcome these limitations of current 2D tools.  

One of the most innovative projects around 3D virtual workspaces is Sun’s “Darkstart” open source virtual world project.  One of the projects built on Darkstart is MPK20: a virtual 3D office that includes a virtual workspace that is shared by the 3D office workers.  The workspace allows users to interact with each other, share documents, co-edit documents, converse over VOIP, and view presentations.  It will be interesting to see how Sun’s project evolves and what benefits they realize from their experiment. 


 
Concreate is another company that focuses on a team workspace for engineers and has integrated 3D technology into their workspace.   Engineers can now collaborate on building machinery in 3D directly from their collaboration application.  A 3D modeling designer is used for engineers to jointly work on architecture specifications. 

2. Virtual World Collabortion Mashups – Combining the power of wikis, widgets/gadgets, tagging, social networking, and Virtual Worlds into one mashup is a concept that has started to be explored and whose benefits already have started to be realized.  Hiro Pendragon created a 3D wiki that allowed residents of second life to work together in redesigning and developing a real park.  The wiki integration allowed residents to work together on the park in their own time, and then versions of changes were stored and made available for later review and possible roll back.  The park design went on to be implemented in real life.

Other companies have started to explore tagging in virtual worlds.  Some of these include: Platial, Community Walk, ZoneTag and Flagr.  The most prominent tagging technology leader is SLurlMarkers, who created a solution for virtual location tagging so users can tag a second life location and later return to it from a website. 

3. Video, 2D Web, and Virtual World Convergence – Media and retail companies already have started to see the benefits of integrating video, 2D web, and virtual worlds.  Companies in the past could capture user attention with video allowing for personal exploration using 2D websites.  Now companies are looking to 3D virtual worlds to help increase the interaction and collaboration between 2D community members and company representatives in a 3D world. 

Viacom and CBS are heavily investing in integrating their TV, 2D web and 3D virtual communities.  CBS recently invested $7 million dollars on Sheep, a virtual world that is developing its technology for mainstream consumption.  Companies like Nike, Nissan, and Starwood have presences in second life, and some are testing their products in second life prior to releasing them to the public.  

Another example of a company leading this 3D convergence is Dell. When you buy a PC from Dell, you can select second life as one of your countries.  Dell points members to their second life island where customers can get trained on Dell products, watch presentations, and get help from Dell. 

4. Evolution of Web Conference –  Current web conference solutions are many, but limited.  Participants cannot social network with each other or effectively interact during the presentation.  Web conference solutions have come a long way but face-to-face conferences still provide many advantages.  Using 3D technology, Tixeo, a French company, has started to lead the web conference evolution.  Users cannot only use 2D web conference technology, but they can also enter a 3D conference room and participate in the conference as if everyone were in the same room.

The opportunities and areas to explore are plenty as virtual worlds converge with collaboration technology.  It will be interesting to meet different companies and vendors who are leveraging virtual worlds to enhance a person’s collaborative capability.  We are just at the beginning of a new evolution of collaboration.  Will this convergence enhance our collaborative abilities and maybe change the collaboration landscape?  I will keep you posted. 

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