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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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 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:
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|
||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:
|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.|
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
[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.
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:
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: