Category Archives for Blog Articles

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.

Club One explores immersive tech for delivering training

I first met Celeste DeVaneaux, senior IT manager with Club One, Inc., in September at the 3DTLC conference

in San Jose. Over drinks at a Linden Lab cocktail party, she told me about Club One’s experiments with immersive technology. Club One’s story piqued my interest because their innovations in the realm of fitness-related habit-changing are applicable to corporate learning and development efforts. In both cases, a trainer or coach is trying to change the behavior of the learner. In Club One’s case the learner is a member of the fitness club. In more common enterprise scenarios, the learner may be an executive, new hire, or employee learning a new process or learning to use a new piece of equipment. So in mid-October I followed up with a more formal interview with DeVaneaux, who is the creative director on the project, responsible for the vision, design, and direction of Club One’s products in this area.

Company and program background

Club One is a fitness club network with 18 branded clubs in California and more than 60 corporate worksite health and fitness sites and community centers across the country. Employees are located in 90 sites around the country. The company has more than 140,000 members. One challenge the company faces is helping its members break habits that negatively affect their health.

To address this, the company offers a 42-day program called Habit Changer. The Habit Changer is a system for changing habits, using gentle reminders and daily challenges delivered through email, text, and the web for 42 days.  It exposes the habits people have learned, helping make them aware of what they’re doing now and what they might want to do differently. Each daily challenge gets the participant to look at the decisions they make in their life from a new perspective, and provides them with the means to act in a different way.

A multi-phase approach to immersive technology

Club One’s work with immersive technology has been a multi-phase effort:

  1. Working with partner 2b3d to build a replica of a Club One fitness center in Second Life, to be used for sales and marketing
  2. Scripting animations and interactivity into the environment, and building custom avatars. With these, visitors can interact with objects like treadmills, yoga mats, and a swimming pool (see a video on YouTube — link is below).
  3. (Current phase) Creating a weight loss program to be delivered virtually by redesigning and incorporating Club One’s nutrition, exercise and Habit Changer programs and including a support group element to be delivered to distributed, remote participants
  4. (Future potential) Training the company’s 3,000 to 5,000 employees on everything from teaching exercise form to using equipment correctly to delivering personal training

Early lessons learned

Club One will be launching a pilot in January, during which three test groups of twenty people each will go through a 12-week program during which they will meet four times a week with nutritionists, exercise physiologists, and facilitators. Social interaction among the program’s participants, as well as learning through identification with one’s avatar, and concepts related to neuroplasticity, will be key focal points. The company is looking for a way to collect participants’ bio data (via scanning, measuring, or photos)  and upload that data  to generate an avatar that looks similar to the participant. Celeste DeVaneaux offers a few golden nuggets, based on her experiences so far:

  • Talk short timeframes and small wins. “Virtual world concepts are difficult for most people to understand so it helped to talk in terms of one phase at a time, DeVaneaux said. “If I had tried to sell my entire vision early on, they would have never bought it.” She presented one phase of her project at a time to decision makers while ensuring that each stage of the design would support possible future endeavors.
  • Choose your language carefully. As DeVaneaux talks about the work she is doing, she steers clear of words like “real” vs. “virtual.” She uses the term “carbon-based” or physical instead of “real,”  and “digital” instead of “virtual.” She steers clear of the term “virtual” as much as possible because it has many meanings, especially for people in IT. Instead, she simply refers to the virtual Club One as “Club One Island.” (See the related Sept. 28th, 2009 ThinkBalm blog post “To cross the chasm, we must close the language gap,” and the Sept. 23rd, 2009 report Crossing the Chasm, One Implementation at a Time.)
  • Look for creative ways to justify the investment. The company was considering having a physical 3D model built as a sales tool to be used during conversations with commercial real estate developers. To build Club One Island it cost about half of what it would have cost to build the physical 3D model. On top of that, Club One Island is interactive, collaborative, and can be used for many purposes. DeVaneaux found that what really grabbed the attention of the budget-holders at Club One was the possibilities for delivery of new services — and, potentially, new revenues.

ThinkBalm seeks interviews about the technology selection process

Are you a business or technology decision maker who helped your organization choose an immersive platform or application during the past year? (A partial list of immersive platforms and applications is here.) If so, we would like to interview you for an upcoming research report. These interviews will contribute to our analysis for the upcoming ThinkBalm report, “The Enterprise Immersive Technology Decision-Making Guide.” We expect to publish the report in December and it will be freely downloadable from the ThinkBalm Web site.

If you would like to be interviewed for this research, please contact us at


More info about the study

We will be conducting research into how Immersive Internet advocates and implementers involved in the technology selection process picked the right solutions for their organizations.  The primary question we are setting out to answer for business decision makers is, “How do I choose the right enterprise immersive technology for my organization’s needs?” The resulting ThinkBalm report will be a tool to assist business decision makers in the technology evaluation process.

This report will not compare particular software or service offerings against each other or recommend one vendor over another. Rather, it will be a use case-based guide designed to help business decision makers ask and begin to answer the right set of questions for their particular situation. We’ll focus on use cases like meetings, learning and training, conferences, business activity rehearsal, collaborative design and prototyping, data visualization, system and facility management, and human resources management. You can find additional details about The Enterprise Immersive Technology Decision-Making Guide in this blog post.

Innovators ask good questions – BIF-5 Summit day two roundup

Yesterday was the second and final day of the Business Innovation Factory Summit (BIF-5). BIF-5 was an extraordinary meeting filled with lessons, insights, and inspiration. (For my take on day one, see the Oct. 7, 2009 blog post, “Lessons learned from innovators at the first day of BIF-5 Summit.”) I’ve been afflicted with the same bug as many of the other 300 people who participated: difficulty sleeping, and a compulsion to share the stories I heard. BIF founder Saul Kaplan warned us this would happen, and posted this on Twitter after the close of the summit:

Saul Kaplan’s tweet about “re-entry” after BIF-5

The theme from day 2: “Question”

The strongest innovators question everything. Some questions kept recurring during the presentations. These questions are relevant to Immersive Internet adopters and technology marketers, who are trying to effect change in an early technology market:

  • Why do we do things this way? Bob Schwartz, currently general manager of global design at GE Healthcare, asked himself, “Why does it have to be this way?” He was talking about the uncomfortable, “coyote” experience (cold, hard, emotionless stare) people have when giving blood at Red Cross blood mobiles. Stephen Tractenberg, president emeritus and professor of public service at George Washington University, commented on the legacy of the US higher education system. Why do we let a $2 billion university facility lie fallow for 4 months of the year? Our system is based on an agrarian model, as if students have to go home for the summer to help with the crops. Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED conferences and author of 82 books, insisted that the house lights be turned up and the stage spotlights turned down, after multiple previous speakers complained about the blinding lights. He said, “Why do we put up with anything? Why? If you have an itch, just scratch it, no matter where it is or where you are.” The lesson: the answer to “Why do we do things this way?” rarely is “just because.” If we dig deep enough, we may find an old, dead legacy. Understanding the legacy is an important first step for people trying to make changes.
  • What do you want to do? Dr. Alice Wilder, educational psychologist and TV producer who worked on Blues Clues and other shows for children, asked, “Are you a big idea person, or a common sense implementer?” Both types are needed for invention to become innovation. Bill Taylor ruminated on the “What do you want to do?” question while he and fellow co-founder Alan Webber were being interviewed about their experiences founding, running, and then selling Fast Company magazine. When they launched Fast Company they wanted to write about the world as it could be and they thought it should be. Patricia Seybold of Seybold Group described how the question, “What do you want to create?” is core to the philosophy of the African Rural University for Women, where she is a council member. Students work with their families to envision what they want and then put a plan in place for achieving it. The lesson: innovators may not know how they’ll get where they want to go, but they uphold a clear vision of what they want to accomplish.
  • Are you doing something you love? Bob Schwartz put it this way: “How do you find meaning in what you do? How do you give people rich experiences?” He was referring to work he’s done ranging from creating consumer product packaging at Procter & Gamble to redesigning the experience children have when getting an MRI using GE Healthcare equipment. Richard Antcliff, CTO at the NASA Langley Research Center, is one year into a management experiment in which he is letting the Strategic Relationships Office organize itself into teams. Employees and even contractors work (at least part of the time, in the case of contractors) on the projects they find interesting. Bye bye hierarchy. See the org chart below. Alan Webber, who has a new book out called Rules of Thumb, recommended that we all keep two lists: 1) what gets you up in the morning and 2) what keeps you up at night. By keeping these lists at hand, and living by them, we can make sure we are doing serious work that is meaningful. The lesson from all these storytellers: if people follow their passion and do something they feel is important, that are engaged and productive. And the world becomes a better place in the process.

Rich Antcliff’s org chart for the Strategic Relationships Office at NASA’s Langley Research Center

To cross the chasm, we must close the language gap

One of the themes of the 3DTLC conference last week was language. This was a recurring topic from the April, 2009 3DTLC conference, but the focus has shifted. Half a year ago the discussion was about whether we should use the term “virtual worlds” or something else. Last week, it became clear from the presentations and conversations that the next wave of adopters — the pragmatists — speak a different language from the early adopters. This language gap is a barrier to adoption of immersive technologies in the workplace; it’s a facet of facing “the chasm,” to use the terminology of Geoffrey Moore (see the book, Crossing the Chasm). (For more insights on how to overcome barriers to adoption see the Sept. 23, 2009 ThinkBalm report, Crossing the Chasm, One Implementation at a Time.)

Immersive Internet technology marketers, advocates, and implementers who are successful at closing this language gap will be competitively positioned to cross the chasm. The way to accomplish this is to speak the vernacular of target business sponsors, stakeholders, and users. As an example, Kevyn Renner, senior technology consultant at Chevron, said it well in his presentation at 3DTLC. When talking with people about the refinery asset virtual environment (“RAVE”) his team is piloting, he describes it using the terminology of the oil refinery — not Web 2.0 or 3D Internet language.

While Kevyn’s example is industry-specific, we can also change the way we talk about immersive technologies in a generalized way. The words we use should convey what people at work can do with the technology, more than describe the technology itself. For example, when talking with business decision makers we use the term email, not SMTP traffic crossing the Internet. We talk about instant messaging, not real-time extensible communication protocols. Likewise, to successfully communicate about immersive technologies to pragmatists we should be talking about collaboration spaces, operations centers, and building blocks rather than virtual worlds and prims.

Below, we offer suggestions to serve as a starting point for discussion. Included are generic terms intended to appeal to business decision makers. We recommend leaving behind terminology that commonly draws negative associations and words that arose out of science fiction. Of course, if your audience is in IT, it’s okay to talk tech — but remember that even IT pros will not likely be familiar with virtual worlds-specific terms. If your audience is a hospital administrator, HR manager, or sales manager, speak the language of their business and job function. In the end, the specific language you choose should depend on your target audience. 

Immersive Internet terminology map

Terms to avoid Suggested alternatives
  • Virtual world
  • Holodeck
  • Holoscene
  • Metaverse
  • Collaboration space
  • Studio
  • Practice room
  • Interview room
  • Meeting room
  • Conference center
  • Control room
  • Operations center
  • Bridge[1]
Virtual (when used in opposition to “real”)
  • Virtual, as distinguished from physical
  • Immersive
  • Non-player character (NPC)
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Bot
Clerk, doctor, officer, customer, or whatever role the non-player character /AI / bot in the environment represents.
  • Building block
  • Object
  • Part
Texture (when used to describe an uploaded image)
  • Image
  • Picture
  • Online
  • In the immersive environment
  • In real life (“RL”)
  • Real-world
  • Real (as distinguished from virtual)
  • In the flesh
  • In the physical workplace
  • In-person
  • Physical (as distinguished from virtual)
  • Simulation
  • Game
  • Practice tool
  • Rehearsal environment
  • Interactive scenario
  • Create
  • Design
  • Construct
  • Build
  • Model
  • Resolve
  • Paint
  • Appear
  • Create
Teleport (“TP”)
  • Move
  • Go
  • Transition
  • Navigate
Machinima Video


[1] For more information about the concept of a bridge (based on the bridge on a ship) see the August 14, 2009 ThinkBalm Innovation Community video “The Bridge.”