Software

Virtual worlds invade the average business meeting

During his VoiceCon Orlando 2008 keynote, Rhodin demonstrated a 3D virtual meeting room complete with conference phone, presentation screen, and faux leather chairs. Bill Detwiler, TechRepublic's Head Technology Editor, explains why he's skeptical 3D meetings will become the office standard anytime soon.

While video conferencing and telepresence seem to be the up-and-coming collaboration technologies, IBM is keeping its options open and exploring alternatives.

During his VoiceCon Orlando 2008 keynote, Rhodin demonstrated a 3D virtual meeting room complete with conference phone, presentation screen, and faux leather chairs. (Okay, the chairs might have been real "virtual" leather.) Meeting attendees appeared in the room as avatars-think Second Life without the purple hair and wacky clothes. Partnering with Forterra Systems, a developer of virtual environments, IBM plans to integrate Forterra's On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment (OLIVE) 3D platform with Lotus Sametime.

"We are committed to meeting the requirements of both public and private sector organizations for an easy-to-use, trusted, secure collaboration platform, and we are confident that this announcement allows us to take the lead in meeting the demands of a new market trend," said Dave Rolston, CEO of Forterra Systems, in a March 20 press release.

Forterra Systems and IBM demonstrate 3D meeting room within Lotus Sametime

Forterra Systems and IBM demonstrate 3D meeting room within Lotus Sametime

Credit: Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic.com

I admit the demonstration was eye-catching, but I'm unconvinced businesses are ready to accept a meeting room that looks and feels like a "computer game". I put this question to Robert Gehorsam, Forterra Systems President, during an interview after Rhodin's keynote. Gehorsam cited the success of virtual 3D environments in training and collaboration among intelligence agencies as evidence many organizations recognize that virtual worlds can be used for more than social networking or gaming.

Despite, Gehorsam's enthusiasm, I'm still not convinced a virtual 3D environment and human avatars will ever be more effective than video conferencing or telepresence for the average office meeting. As an avid computer gamer, I understand the allure of online virtual worlds. But, I also like seeing the faces of the people I'm meeting with. Even photo-realistic avatars can't accurately replicate the fully emotional range of the human face.

Virtual 3D environments are excellent training tools for situations that would be too costly, too dangerous, or impossible to regularly reproduce-battlefield operations, tactical response scenarios, flight simulations, emergency response exercises, and so forth. But, the average office meeting seems better served by face-to-face interaction-even if it's through a video conferencing system.

I applaud IBM and Forterra for pushing the boundaries of collaboration and exploring new uses for virtual environments, but I'm skeptical that people will prefer holding business meetings through an avatar. What do you think?

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

6 comments
varapetra
varapetra

Virtual worlds are as pointless as some of the content in them. Second Life's average user login time is 12 minutes. You can probably get as much work done with a virtual phone system or a gotvmail. The rates for that kind of thing are probably a 10th of the cost of a virtual world subscription for all your meeting members. It's a fad.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

During his VoiceCon Orlando 2008 keynote, Rhodin demonstrated a 3D virtual meeting room complete with conference phone, presentation screen, and faux leather chairs. Given the choice, would you prefer to hold business meetings via a virtual 3D environment or video conference? Share your opinion in this poll on our Mobile Enterprise blog: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/wireless/?p=225

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'd prefer to hold meetings live, everybody face to face in the same room. Lacking that, either of the two offered alternatives is equally less than satisfactory. As to someone setting up a 3D meeting with conference phones and fancy chairs, I don't see why those amenities could be provided for a video conference.

transmkg
transmkg

What is the point of "attending" a meeting as an avatar unless you don't want to show your real self? Would you have to login with a DNA scan or some Gatica- esque security measure so a competitor couldn't crash the meeting and steal company secrets? Seriously, I would run -- as fast as my "real" legs would allow -- from any company that expected me to talk to a bunch of avatars as SOP for a business meeting. I draw the line right here. Enough already. Don't we have enuf problems caused by ineffective communication in the workplace? This one ticks me off. Thanks for opportunity to vent.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

I'm with you--face-to-face is always the best option. Perhaps I'm just old-fashioned, but I like seeing the expressions of the people I'm talking with.

tjohnston
tjohnston

... Remote meetings are only going to increase. High Gas prices forces consumers to travel less, rearrage their schedules to make the most of their trips, or even eliminate their vehicles all together. Businesses feel the cruch too. Many aren't able to significantly cut their oil-sucking activities (How does UPS or Delta travel less?) but one thing they can cut down on is Sales/Support Travel. Depending on the size of the organization, between air fair, rental cars, fuel, hotel rooms, etc, it could be conceivable to pay for a digital conference room with cameras and the like with a single year's travel budget. I don't see this business sector getting anything but bigger in the coming years.

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