Category Archives for Blog Articles

Digital prototypes help university team get $550k+ in technology funding

The U.S. Dept. of Labor has a program in place, funded by H-1B visa fees, to increase the competitiveness of the American workforce. This program, called Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED), has an initiative under way in the state of Ohio called the Ohio Valley Interactive Technology Alliance (OVITA). OVITA is focused on developing a creative and academically prepared workforce and establishing the region as a center of excellence and innovation in the field of interactive digital technology, which includes the Immersive Internet.

OVITA works with three state universities — Ohio University, Kent State University and Shawnee State University — as well as community colleges and high schools. As with any publicly-funded initiative these days, leadership has to work very hard to justify how money gets spent. Thomas Stead, the Associate Director for Education for OVITA and former department chair at Shawnee State University, recently shared with me some experiences he has had using immersive technology to positively influence budget decision makers. Continue reading

In the name of engagement, InXpo adds game features to its platform

Computer and video games are big—and they’re on their way to becoming big in the workplace. According to the Entertainment Software Association, people in 68% of American households play computer or video games. And according to the NPD group, a global provider of consumer and retail market research information, the average number of hours gamers spend online gaming has increased to 8.0 hours per week in 2010 from 7.3 hours per week in 2009.

When you combine this with the fact that people learn—and have always learned—new skills and information by playing games and engaging in competition, it becomes clear that game concepts and mechanics are destined to be transformed into business tools. It is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Games in the workplace can increase engagement and productivity; help employees set priorities, share resources, and meet goals; facilitate team-building; and help organizations discover untapped leadership skills. (For great insights on these and other aspects of games in the workplace I highly recommend the book Total Engagement (2010) by Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Read. Another great book on the topic is Learning in 3D (2010) by Karl Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll.)

InXpo recognizes this potential and is dipping a toe in the gaming waters

InXpo customers deploy the InXpo Virtual Events platform for a wide range of purposes such as trade shows, meetings and conferences, career fairs, learning and training, and persistent virtual offices. Today, InXpo announced a new offering called InXpo Social Suite. This add-on to the InXpo Virtual Events Platform, slated for general availability in early May, will incorporate games and social network integration. The thinking behind this is that by offering increasingly compelling content and activities, InXpo customers (let’s call them hosts) can increase the engagement of users (let’s call them participants), thereby obtaining benefits such as improved knowledge retention, higher customer satisfaction scores, and increased revenues.

InXpo is working with a game design team from Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy to create a set of lightweight, casual computer games. The first two games InXpo will offer are a trivia challenge and word scramble. InXpo hopes to have 5 or 10 games in its library by the end of the year. Event hosts will be able to configure the games to reinforce learning objectives or advertise event sponsors’ products, for example. The system will track participants’ points and advancement in the game and list high scorers on a leaderboard.

What it means for business decision makers

If you are looking for ways to increase engagement—for example, increase the amount of time prospects spend on your Web site or attending your virtual conference or trade show, or retain employees or customers longer—adding games to your interaction portfolio may be a boon. Especially games that have a strong social element and allow people to compete with each other in a fun, challenging way.

If you feel uneasy about incorporating InXpo’s game elements into live customer interactions, start with internal trials. Perhaps hold an all-hands meeting or a regional sales meeting in the environment and solicit feedback from participants about their experiences with the game technology.

InXpo’s efforts to incorporate games and game mechanics into enterprise software isn’t new; providers of 3D enterprise immersive software have been offering game mechanics in their products for several years. But the launch of InXpo Social Suite is another sign that the market is driving immersive software toward richer, more engaging environments, regardless of underlying technology.

Pseudo-3D immersive tech adopters illuminate business decisions

I recently spoke with three business decision makers who have been involved with deployment of pseudo-3D immersive environments in their organizations or for their customers. I spoke with Michael Doyle, executive director and editor of the Virtual Edge Institute; Kate Spellman, senior VP and managing director of UBM Studios; and Caroline Avey, director of innovative learning solutions at ACS Learning Services. We talked about why they are using pseudo-3D immersive technology rather than alternatives.

Pseudo-3D is used for conferences and trade shows—but it doesn’t stop there

When you think of virtual event platforms from companies like InXpo, ON24, and Unisfair, what likely comes to mind is large virtual conferences and trade shows. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Virtual Edge Summit. This conference, which was focused on virtual events, meetings and communities, was held over two days in February, 2010—both online and in Santa Clara, California. Michael Doyle, the executive director of the Virtual Edge Institute, said that 400 people attended in person and 600 attended online.
  • COMDEX. COMDEX was a computer industry trade show last held in 2003. The event had become massive, with more than 200,000 visitors and 2,300 exhibitors. UBM Studios will bring COMDEX back this November as an online event focused on the show’s original audience: the high tech channel. Kate Spellman, senior VP and managing director of UBM Studios, said they expect to have about 35 exhibitors and 3,000 attendees.

While large conferences and trade shows certainly represent the bulk of usage to date, we’re starting to organizations use pseudo-3D immersive software software in other innovative ways. For example, ACS Learning Services held a launch event in January, 2010 for a new company-wide innovation program that leverages an idea management system. The company deployed the Unisfair platform for the launch event and now is leaving it up and running, for one year, to function as a portal for employees who want to learn about the innovation program and the idea management system. The idea behind the portal is to enable self-directed, discovery-based learning, a place to launch the program, a vehicle for social-networking to discuss ideas, and a front door to the formal learning via a deep link to both the learning management system and the idea generation system. The Unisfair platform provides a level of engagement above and beyond what people get from just the learning management system and a webinar.

Pseudo-3D technology meets requirements for scale and ease of use

Vendors like InXpo, ON24, Unisfair and others offer pseudo-3D immersive environments that can scale to tens of thousands of simultaneous users by giving participants the illusion that they are in a 3D environment, rather than delivering a full 3D experience. (See the related March 26, 2010 ThinkBalm blog article, “Pseudo-3D is a rising star, keeping barriers to adoption low.”) In a nutshell:

  • Hundreds or thousands of event attendees requires a highly scalable solution. About 600 people attended Virtual Edge Institute’s Virtual Edge Summit online, accompanying another 400 who attended physically. UBM Studios is expecting 35 exhibitors and about 3,500 attendees at this fall’s COMDEX trade show. Caroline Avey, director of innovative learning solutions at ACS Learning Services, said, “Because we have 15,000 employees located in 170 countries, there is just no way we could have brought everyone together for a physical launch event.” None of the 3D immersive technologies can support this number of simultaneous users being in the same virtual place at the same time.
  • Ease of use sometimes means that browser-based technology is the only real option. At ACS Learning Services, the project team had only six weeks to create the learning objects, design the experience, and customize the Unisfair environment. This required a solution that was simple to configure and deploy. Also, the team had limited insight into the computer setups and Internet access of employees around the globe. This required that a solution that adhered to the least common denominator; it had to be Web-based, with no plug-in.

Hybrid events will move beyond parallel experiences as technology and behavior evolve

A hybrid event is a meeting, conference, or trade show that some speakers and audience members attend physically while others attend virtually. Due to technical complexity and the habits of presenters and attendees, hybrid events are largely parallel events today. Networking activities are segregated: people attending physically mingle amongst themselves, apart from remote attendees. Speakers tend to address one audience or the other (physical or virtual)—not both at the same time.

With the Virtual Edge Summit, which took place in February, 2010, the Virtual Edge Institute has started to tackle some of these issues by:

  • Connecting attendees with electronic communication tools. The event producers set up a Twitter hashtag (#ve10) and encouraged attendees to tweet throughout the event. The producers set up a dedicated screen in some of the meeting rooms to display tweets in real-time, and tried to incorporate tweets into the Q&A discussion. InXpo, one of the virtual event platforms used during the Virtual Edge Summit, provides voice over IP integration with Skype, which enabled participants who were attending via InXpo Virtual Events Platform to communicate with each other via text, voice, or video chat. But participants attending via other virtual event platforms, or in person, had no way of joining in on these Skype conversations.
  • Attempting to cross the visual divide. The producers streamed video of speakers presenting remotely into the physical meeting room, where it was displayed on a screen. Likewise, presentations that took place on-site were streamed out to the virtual environments. Participants attending remotely could watch live video of the speakers presenting. This visual integration was limited to the presenters only. The on-site and remote audiences had no visual connection to each other.

My take: pseudo-3D immersive technology meets some burning business needs

My conversations with these early adopters confirm what I’ve been hearing from others. First, pseudo-3D technology meets requirements for scale and ease of use. When it’s not practical or possible to bring thousands of people together physically, pseudo-3D immersive technology provides an alternative. Full 3D solutions cannot scale to meet this need (yet). Second, pseudo-3D immersive technology will increasingly be used not just for large conferences and trade shows but other things as well, such as training. ACS Learning Services’ use of the technology as a learning portal is a great example.

And third, while hybrid events are largely parallel experiences today, they will move beyond this as technology and behavior evolve. I envision a time in the not-too-distant future when the walls of physical meeting rooms will be lined with displays showing the virtual audience’s communications (and avatars, when they exist), and the virtual meeting rooms will display not only streaming video of speakers but of the entire physical audience. Communication tools and networking opportunities will be available to all participants, whether on-site or remote. Speakers will become accustomed to having distributed audiences, and will more naturally be able to include them in their presentations and discussions.

Pseudo-3D is a rising star, keeping barriers to adoption low

As analysts covering work-related use of immersive technologies, we have long wrestled with terminology to describe the trends we are tracking and put some bounds around an emerging software market. We aren’t the only ones; naming conventions continue to be a popular topic of discussion at meetings and conferences (see the Sept. 28, 2009 ThinkBalm blog article, “To cross the chasm, we must close the language gap.”) The question always seems to come back to, “Do we call it virtual worlds?”

Our answer has consistently been no. We use the term Immersive Internet to describe the big picture. 3D virtual worlds are, of course, an important part of the Immersive Internet—but they are not the whole picture. A glaring example is the adoption of pseudo-3D virtual event platforms from companies like InXpo, ON24, and Unisfair. Enterprises are utilizing virtual event platforms for marketing events, trade shows, training sessions, and more—all use cases that are also targeted by providers of 3D immersive software.

The name game is a red herring

The more important issue is, “What do the trends in adoption of immersive technology mean?” Our recent research findings shed light on our position to include both 3D and pseudo-3D in our coverage of enterprise immersive software:

  • Look where the money is. In our January 19, 2010 ThinkBalm report, The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide, we sized the enterprise immersive software market at $50M USD in 2009. A substantial portion of this number revenue was from pseudo-3D virtual events.
  • Production deployments tell a story. All together, the virtual event platform vendors hosted several thousand virtual events in 2009—InXpo alone delivered more than 1,000 500 and ON24 delivered more than 300. We don’t see any evidence of the pseudo-3D virtual events market slowing down.
  • Customers are lumping it all together. The customers who buy immersive technology are placing little distinction between 3D and pseudo-3D (depending on the use case, of course). They want to solve their business problem; they don’t care about the nitty gritty of how it gets done. Many times we have talked with decision makers who are looking at both 3D and pseudo-3D solutions for bringing a few hundred people together for a virtual off-site event.

Pseudo-3D faces fewer barriers to adoption than 3D

When pseudo-3D wins out over a 3D virtual world (e.g., Second Life or ReactionGrid), 3D collaboration environment (e.g., ProtonMedia or Teleplace), or 3D immersive learning environment (e.g., ARI PowerU or SAIC’s Forterra OLIVE), it’s often because the barriers to adoption were lower (see table). (We covered barriers to adoption, and springboards for overcoming them, in depth in the September 23, 2009, ThinkBalm report, Crossing the Chasm, One Implementation at a Time.)

Barriers to adoption of 3D immersive technology Effect these barriers have on pseudo-3D immersive technology adoption
Technology pre-requisites:

  • Graphics card
  • Computer processing power
  • Disk space
  • Computer headset
  • Permissions to install client software or browser plugin
Pseudo-3D technology runs in a Web browser, with no plugin required. High-end graphics cards and computer processors are not needed.Computer headsets are not necessary (though may be desirable) because users are typically not speaking to each other via voice. Audio from presentations can utilize built-in computer speakers.
Technology pre-requisite: high-bandwidth Internet connection While rich 3D graphics are not being rendered in pseudo-3D environments, video streams are common and can be bandwidth hogs in locations where multiple people are watching video from separate computers simultaneously.
Firewall prevents users from being able to interact with others or the environment. Because the software runs in a Web browser, the needed firewall port is already open.
The user experience:

  • Non-gamers struggle with the user interface
  • Common input devices (e.g., keyboard and mouse) are ill-suited to 3D environments

 

The user experience is familiar to anyone who’s used a browser and attended a web conference. People are accustomed to using keyboards and mice to interact with the Web.

Our take: pseudo-3D is on the rise

  • Market forces support an inclusive definition of immersive technology. Some immersive environments are virtual worlds, but an increasing number are not. They are 3D or pseudo-3D collaboration tools, learning environments, or event platforms. We anticipate that over time, the lines between 3D and pseudo-3D will blur. 3D technologies are constantly pushing the limits of scalability and vendors are starting to include measurement tools, while pseudo-3D vendors are going after training use cases and always-on, persistent environments.
  • Mainstream adoption will follow the path of least resistance. Tremendous power is built into 3D environments, especially when they are combined with communication and collaboration tools. But technology adoption has to be simple for the end user. A “DIY” toolbox or a super-rich 3D environment may not be the path of least resistance. If pseudo-3D continues to outpace 3D in ease of adoption, this is where the customers will go.
  • The technology has to be browser-based—or as easy to use and manage as a browser. Our research has illuminated a number of barriers to adoption of 3D environments that could be circumvented with a simpler, more familiar user interface and streamlined deployment options. Browser technology minimizes installation issues, firewall port issues, and a number of other practical problems. On top of that, browser-based immersive technology fits in with the way people are already working; business applications are increasingly web-based, as are collaboration tools and office productivity software.

Without financial backing, Project Wonderland’s future is in question

At the end of January, Project Wonderland development lead Nicole Yankelovich broke the news that Oracle would no longer be applying development resources to the Project Wonderland enterprise immersive software platform. (For more information about Project Wonderland see the January 19, 2010 ThinkBalm report, The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide.) Oracle laid off most if not all of the Project Wonderland team, which was part of Sun Labs.

In the last few weeks, we spoke with Nicole Yankelovich as well as executives from three small companies Yankelovich cited as third-party software vendors or service providers that offer software products or custom solutions based on Wonderland: Amphisocial, Green Phosphor, and Indusgeeks. Yankelovich is currently working with the open source community to establish a non-profit organization and is pursuing a vision of creating a vibrant ecosystem where third parties can create Wonderland content and contribute to the platform — where people can even distribute entire virtual worlds. But many aspects of Project Wonderland’s future are up in the air.

Our take:

  • Oracle’s move to cut Wonderland funding wasn’t altogether surprising . . . Oracle uses immersive software for some internal and customer-facing events – the company has held conferences like Oracle Developer Day and Oracle Enterprise 2.0 online using virtual event platform Unisfair. But the company does not have immersive technology in its product portfolio and has not been a part of the Immersive Internet discourse to date. And in general, we don’t think of Oracle as a company that has a strong history in developing experimental new technology in-house. Instead, Oracle tends to make acquisitions to flesh out its product portfolio.
  • . . . Though a role exists for immersive technology in Oracle’s portfolio. With Oracle’s focus on enterprise applications, middleware, and now hardware (with the Sun acquisition), opportunities exist to incorporate immersive technology into the company’s portfolio, thereby massively differentiating Oracle products in the market and helping customers decrease their costs and increase user engagement. Some of Oracle’s opportunities include incorporating immersive technology into Oracle Business Intelligence Applications, for 3D data visualization, and into products like Oracle Beehive or Oracle Communications Converged Application Server, for next-generation unified communications solutions.
  • This action does not shed much light on Oracle’s perspective on immersive technology. Oracle may have made the decision to cut funding for Project Wonderland for a variety of reasons. Project Wonderland was an open source project, not a revenue-generating software product; no model was in place for deriving revenue from it. Perhaps Wonderland didn’t have traction in the markets Oracle most wants to pursue — though Wonderland had achieved its greatest traction in the education sector, which is one of the industries Oracle serves. Or it could be that immersive technology is simply too early-stage to pique the interest of the strategists at Oracle.
  • Unless Project Wonderland finds another major backer, it will not remain competitive. The core Wonderland project team is working to secure new backing. If the team can pull together a funded organization, then Wonderland may have a bright future. If, however, the core team move on to new full-time positions, then the outlook for Wonderland is grim. Without development resources devoted to the project, Wonderland will be slow to add new core features and functionality. It will be up to third-party software developers, like Amphisocial, to add new features through Wonderland’s module layer. Without backing for Wonderland’s core development team, the project’s competitors — both open source and commercial — will catch up in areas where Wonderland is currently strong, like security features, platform independence, Java support, and audio/video capabilities.
  • Loss of major backing has eroded confidence in the Wonderland platform. While Yankelovich said that Wonderland supporters — particularly in the education sector — have stepped up to donate hardware and other resources to the project, these donations aren’t enough to fund substantial new development, marketing, and project coordination. Sid Banerjee of Indusgeeks summed it up this way: “While no big company is backing Wonderland, it would be difficult for Wonderland to compete as an enterprise grade platform. Though we still believe it can thrive as an open source platform for the education sector.”
  • Further consolidation is inevitable in this emerging technology market. At the beginning of February, SAIC announced that it had acquired Forterra OLIVE (see ThinkBalm’s posts about it here and here). The market is filling with an increasing number of enterprise immersive software products — we are covering nearly two dozen. We sized the enterprise immersive software market at $50M USD in 2009 — too small to support such a large number of vendors.[1] The business decision maker’s job is hard enough when adopting new technology. Consolidation in the market is inevitable and necessary. There are simply too many vendors in this space for business decision makers to easily choose appropriate technologies.

For Java shops that want to engage in low-cost experimentation, Project Wonderland continues to remain a solid enterprise immersive platform. But given Project Wonderland’s current state of upheaval, we recommend that business and technology decision makers looking for software for a pilot or production approach Project Wonderland with caution unless and until Project Wonderland receives substantial backing.

© 2010 ThinkBalm. All rights reserved.


[1] This conservative number includes only revenue from software licenses and maintenance fees, appliance sales, and subscription fees collected from customers who were using the software for work (as opposed to recreational uses). We did not include revenue from professional services (e.g., custom development projects and implementation services). For more information, see the January 19, 2010 ThinkBalm report, The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide.

Highlights from “Learning in 3D” book: steps to successful adoption

Karl Kapp, professor and consultant at Bloomsburg University, and Tony O’Driscoll, professor of the practice at Duke University, have a new book out titled Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration. ThinkBalm contributed an essay to Chapter 8, which is all about steps to successful enterprise adoption. We’d like to call out and comment on a few points from this chapter.

First: mainstream adoption is not a matter of if, but when. Kapp and O’Driscoll write, “There was a time when computers themselves were thought of as toys or novelties; now these devices are indispensable business and education tools. There was a time when the Internet was not a part of our daily lives. It’s hard to reach back and remember the time before these technologies became ubiquitous — when the same type of implementation and adoption concerns existed for those technologies [as for the Immersive Internet].” ThinkBalm’s prediction is that in three years’ time, adoption of immersive software in the workplace will have reached the early majority adoption phase. (See the November, 2008 ThinkBalm report, The Immersive Internet: Make Tactical Moves Today for Strategic Advantage Tomorrow). To be sure, the path to mainstream adoption is marked by barriers — but early adopters are finding springboards for overcoming hurdles. (See the September, 2009 ThinkBalm report, Crossing the Chasm, One Implementation at a Time.)

Second, Kapp and O’Driscoll offer great advice to early adopters in this chapter and we’d like to call out a couple of highlights:

  • Focus on compatibility with existing technology and modes of work. In a discussion about how to make immersive technologies attractive to target stakeholders and users, Kapp and O’Driscoll say, “Positioning virtual immersive environments as a natural extension and convergence of existing technologies such as synchronous learning tools, video games, Web 2.0, and social networking — and not as a science-fiction-dream-come-to-life will go a long way toward the concept of compatibility.” Think of immersive software for meetings or learning and training as expansions of the worker’s toolkit. Immersive software will extend the reach of current investments with new features and functionality. One of the ways this will occur is through integration with existing communication and collaboration tools. (See the January 6, 2010 ThinkBalm blog post, “Immersive software for meetings will expand the information worker toolkit.”)
  • Choose the right group of people to participate in a pilot. An immersive software pilot project is a test run during which people conduct real business activities in the environment and report feedback about their experiences to the project team. Kapp and O’Driscoll offer good advice about how to assemble the right pilot group. They recommend choosing a relatively small group; creating a mix of people who are comfortable with technology and those who are less comfortable; involving people from IT as well as legal and regulatory departments from the beginning; selecting people who are interested in the potential of virtual worlds; and focusing on people who will be willing to share their feedback with the project team.

This blog post is part of the Learning in 3D blog book tour. Book publisher Wiley is offering a 20% discount to blog book tour attendees. There will also be a book summary published very soon, which I recommend for further reading.

Forterra Systems layoffs have implications for the enterprise immersive software market

Today I spoke with Robert Gehorsam, president of Forterra Systems, about changes taking place at the company. In light of what Gehorsam termed challenging economic times, the company has laid off nearly 50% of its workforce (not quite the 60% I had posted in my December 18th tweet) since November 20th, when Forterra briefed ThinkBalm for our upcoming report The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide. Many of the layoffs took place last week. Forterra now has 20 employees, which includes most of the core engineering team and others focused on delivering billable work to government and corporate customers.

Gehorsam said that the company plans to continue operations, fulfill its contracts, and meet its obligations. He would not confirm or deny that the company’s remaining assets were being prepared for sale. He did say this: “We are always looking for ways to accelerate growth and adoption of virtual world platforms in organizations. We will look at ways to do that the best. We haven’t decided anything. It might be acquisition, further partnerships, further investment from investors, or organic growth over time.”

My take and recommendations

  • Forterra’s position in the enterprise immersive software market has softened. Among those let go last week was Chris Badger, VP of marketing. Others who were in commercial sales and core R&D were also laid off. Without resources focused on selling and marketing OLIVE and Meeting Labs, Forterra will have difficulty maintaining its position in the emerging enterprise immersive software market. My take: in 2010, Forterra Systems’ revenue split will be weighted heavily toward professional services, with a smaller percentage coming from software license, subscription, and maintenance fees.
  • Forterra Systems is a prime acquisition target. Likely acquirers include defense contractors and consulting companies that serve the government sector, given Forterra’s strengths and history. We’ve already seen acquisitions like this occur. Lockheed Martin acquired 3DSolve (3D Learning Solutions) and Applied Research Associates acquired Virtual Heroes. Given this possibility, project teams evaluating immersive software for use in non-government and non-defense related organizations should approach Forterra with caution. Current Forterra customers on the commercial side should meet with Forterra’s executive leadership team to discuss the implications of recent changes and the company’s future direction. Current enterprise customers should put a contingency plan in place in case Forterra is acquired by a company that plans to take OLIVE in a new direction.
  • Expect more market churn in 2010. Many enterprise immersive software vendors are actively seeking outside funding. Not all of them will receive the investment they require to reach potential customers in this small, crowded market — or even to continue operations. We expect 2010 to be a busy year, with mergers, acquisitions, and even some business closures. This will be accompanied by new entrants getting in on the game. Within just the last few weeks we encountered new players Amphisocial and A World for Us (Assemb’Live). Organizations seriously evaluating enterprise immersive software can mitigate risk by speaking with reference customers (this is a must), using open source software (which doesn’t leave the custom dependent on any one vendor), escrowing the source code of products they license, or even making a financial investment in the company whose software they license.

ThinkBalm storytelling series issue #1: “Role-play redux: ‘Convince the curmudgeon’”

On December 4, 2008, fifteen members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community gathered in an immersive environment for 90 minutes to try to convince our curmudgeonly “boss,” a role played by community member Christopher Simpson of George Brown College, that our fictitious organization should be making Immersive Internet investments. The group met in the community’s region on ReactionGrid, an OpenSim grid. We met at “The Precipice,” a simple meeting space ThinkBalm set up atop a cliff, designed to be conducive to risk-taking. We sat around a large board room table, with Christopher Simpson at the head of the table sitting up a little higher than the rest of us. Christopher started the conversation by stating some of his objections to enterprise use of the Immersive Internet, and then the rest of us jumped in and fired off a steady stream of arguments in favor of it.

With the help of seven eight ThinkBalm Innovation Community members — Alexander Casassovici, Chris Hart, Christopher Bishop, Donald Schwartz, Jeff Lowe, Leslie Ehle, Marc Sirkin, and Robin Gomboy — we wrote ThinkBalm’s first issue in the Immersive Internet Storytelling Series, titled “Role-Play Redux: ‘Convince The Curmudgeon:’ The ThinkBalm Innovation Community Shares Lessons Learned.” For a PDF of the article click this link or click the image of the article’s cover.

New video: The “global” un-lecture event

Today ThinkBalm published a new ThinkBalm Innovation Community work product: a seven-minute video titled, “The ‘global’ un-lecture: a ThinkBalm Innovation Community event.” This video is a record of an un-lecture event held on November 6th, 2009 in the virtual world of Second Life. The un-lecture event format consists of four ten-minute presentations, demos, or tours about work-related use of immersive technologies, held in an immersive environment. The theme of the November 6th event was “global.”

This video describes presentations by:

  • Dr. Yesha Sivan. Dr. Sivan is a senior lecturer at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and founder of Metaverse Labs. Dr. Sivan shared insights into Immersive Internet adoption trends in Israel. Some of the barriers Israeli early adopters face are the same as those around the world: technology and perception. Other issues are specific to the region. Yet a handful of immersive technology efforts are under way in Israel and Metaverse Labs is hard at work on technology standards.
  • Sid Banerjee. Sid Banerjee is CEO of Indusgeeks, a virtual world development and services company based in Mumbai. Sid gave insights into adoption trends in India. A point Sid wanted to express was that India is an excellent test bed for immersive projects. He made this point: “If you can sell Immersive Internet in India you can sell it anywhere!”
  • Claus Nehmzow. Claus Nehmzow is managing director of ALCUS, in Hong Kong. Right now in Asia, the initial focus for immersive technology is on the consumer side, with a number of recreational public virtual worlds and games. Claus’s perspective is that businesses in Asia want to capitalize on the power of immersive technology but explorers are uncertain how to move forward.
  • Barbara Westmoreland. Barbara Westmoreland is founder and CEO of nTeams. nTeams provides consulting to help companies develop more cohesive, unified teams. The heart of Barbara’s presentation was a short demo of a part of nTeams Island, which her organization uses to help teams work through issues around values. At the end of the un-lecture event, Barbara and her team gave a magic carpet ride tour around the rest of the facility.

About 25 people participated in this un-lecture event. Participants joined us from all over the US and from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In one hour’s time, we learned about the potential opportunity for adoption of immersive technology in emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East, as well as barriers to entry. We got a first-hand glimpse of the way immersive technology can transform how global teams work together. And we formed new or reinforced existing connections with other innovators and early adopters. If you’re interested in attending future ThinkBalm Innovation Community events, send us a request to join the community via our LinkedIn group.

When is Second Life Enterprise beta right for you?

[Edited Monday, November 9th, 2009 for content — correction and clarification of pricing model and definition of Web-based solutions]

On November 4th, Linden Lab announced that its behind-the-firewall immersive platform, Second Life Enterprise, is now in open beta. Think of SL Enterprise (formerly code-named “Nebraska”) as a micro-Second Life — except it runs on a hardware appliance that resides inside your organization’s data center, is integrated with your enterprise directory, and has been designed to be used for work. The beta version features a Web-based administration interface, professional-looking avatars, various meeting and collaboration spaces, and a couple of basic collaboration tools. Linden Lab also announced that in the first half of 2010 a Second Life Work Marketplace will become available, where customers can buy third-party tools, applications, and content to use with SL Enterprise. Fourteen organizations are currently participating in the SL Enterprise beta program including IBM, Northrop Grumman, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and Case Western Reserve University.

ThinkBalm recommendations

We’re chin-deep in market analysis and vendor recommendations for client projects and a report we’re working on due out later in the year, tentatively titled, “The Enterprise Immersive Technology Decision-Making Guide.” In light of the fact that prospective SL Enterprise customers have nearly two dozen alternatives they could choose from (see a partial list here), here are some recommendations to put the SL Enterprise announcement in context:

Q: When should SL Enterprise be on my product short list?

A: The more of the following are true, the more likely it is that we’d recommend SL Enterprise to be on your shortlist. Your organization requires:

  • The ability to create and modify, at reasonable cost, custom immersive experiences like learning simulations, team-building scenarios, games, data visualization, and process design
  • The ability to create from scratch, and possibly animate, virtual replicas of your organization’s buildings, products, or other assets for acculturation, training, or prototyping purposes — without a seven-figure budget and legions of consultants
  • A solution that enables you to leverage existing Second Life building and scripting skills, and existing Second Life digital assets your organization already owns
  • The ability to hold company events during which 300-400 avatars can be in the same virtual space at the same time (such as for a keynote address)
  • Built-in, spatialized voice over IP
  • Built-in social networking (the ability to “friend” people, peruse users’ profiles, create groups, etc.)
  • Privacy for all content, data, and communication taking place in the immersive environment
  • Integration with the enterprise directory for access control and identity management
  • Access to a wide range of third-party content, tools, and applications (eventually, as the Second Life Work Marketplace launches and gains momentum).

And you have $55,000 to spend one time front on the appliance and software license for 100 avatars,  on the license fee every year, just to keep the appliance up and running, plus an annual recurring fee based on the number of users licensed (starting at $175/user with discounts based on volume), plus a per-user cost once you have more than 100 named users, plus any third-party applications or content and third-party custom development costs.

Q: In what circumstances might an alternative product be more suitable?

A: The more of the following are true, the higher the chances that an alternative offering might be a better fit.  Your organization requires:

  • The ability to reuse a portfolio of existing 3D assets, like computer-aided design (CAD) models, in the immersive environment
  • Direct access from the immersive environment to the diverse community that exists in public virtual worlds
  • A very low-cost solution
  • A solution that does not depend on IT involvement
  • A full-fledged set of business applications for meetings, learning and training, and other use cases, right out of the box
  • Easy-to-use, fully-functional document-oriented collaboration tools (e.g., drag-and-drop sharing, collaborative editing, and integration with enterprise document repositories)
  • A Web-based solution A solution that runs in a Web browser
  • Hyper-realistic graphics
  • A product that has been generally available for a couple of years.