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Results from spring brainstorm on choosing immersive technology

In March and April of 2009 the ThinkBalm Innovation Community held two brainstorming sessions on the topic of choosing the right enterprise immersive platform. We held these events in the then-beta version of IBM’s Virtual Collaboration for Lotus Sametime (then called Sametime 3D). More than 30 community members participated in these two discussions.

Brainstorming topic 1: What should go on a requirements list?

In a total of 20 minutes – ten minutes each brainstorming session — participants came up with nearly 50 items that should go on a requirements list for enterprise immersive platforms. Participants submitted their ideas and then voted on the ideas submitted. The items that received at least one vote were:

  • Avatar and identity
    • Better gestures, more natural avatar behavior
    • Pre-made, customizable avatars
    • Non-human avatars to reduce fashion show workload
    • Interoperability for avatar assets
    • Detect or ask gender and set avatar gender automatically
    • Option to load photo onto in-world profile
  • Communication
    • Spatialized (positional) voice
    • Reliable media streaming
    • Back channel for audio and text support
    • Admin controls like muting voice, muting text, etc.
  • Integration: Import data from external sources and feed it back out easily
  • Ease of use
    • Easier navigation (e.g., “auto-follow” feature)
    • Browser-based clients
    • Minimized learning curve for new users, with easy orientation area
  • 3D assets
    • 3D object visualization for sharing component designs
    • 3D data visualization
  • Platform support
    • Support for multiple operating systems (e.g., Linux, Mac, Windows)
    • Thin client for mobile device access
  • Security
    • Granular access control over spaces
    • Public / private (firewalled or not)
  • Scalability: Maximum number of users

Brainstorming topic 2: What are generic “must-have” features?

During the two sessions, we generated more than 30 “must-have” features. You’ll see there is lots of overlap between these items and the items that should go on a requirements list. The must-have features that got at least one vote from participants included:

  • Communication and collaboration tools
    • Multi-user whiteboards
    • Drag and drop PowerPoint support
    • Session recording and playback
    • Voice and media work across firewalls
    • Dial-out support for including participants who just have a phone
    • Chat and voice, both group and private
    • Web camera support
  • Ability to launch from Web browser
  • Globalization (e.g., multi-language support, translation)
  • Ease of use
    • Camera stability and ease of use
  • Cost: reasonable acquisition and operational costs
  • Integration
    • Content management systems and document repositories
  • Standards support
    • Scripting in Java

Brainstorming topic 3: How do you choose in an emerging market?

During the two sessions, we generated more than 40 thoughts about how to choose an enterprise immersive platform in an emerging market. The items that got at least one vote from participants included (in order of number of votes, then alphabetically:

  • Cost
  • Demo the platform for your target users
  • Ease with which you can get people into and using the platform
  • Focus on concepts first, not technology
  • Choose open source
  • Community of IT experts
  • Reference customers
  • Size of vendor
  • Try as many of the products as you can in realistic situations
  • Business case
  • Capability maturity in relevant areas that integrate with the immersive platform
  • Customer service
  • Features
  • Hold off on investment until a stable, out-of-box solution is available
  • Look for vendor that has long history of offering collaboration apps
  • Match features with needs
  • Number of apps that are integrated with it
  • Out of box templates and processes
  • Use case and requirements
  • Vendor has security clearance experience

The outcome of these brainstorming sessions is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. These lists may be helpful to the enterprise immersive platform vendors, as well as to Immersive Internet advocates and implementers trying to make a technology decision. The enterprise immersive platform decision-making process is a complex one that should always start with, “What are you trying to do?” At ThinkBalm, we are now in the planning stages of a comprehensive research study that will result in a guide to making the right technology decision. Stay tuned for more info!

ThinkBalm Data Garden public tour schedule for June

We are pleased to announce our public tour schedule for the next few weeks for the ThinkBalm Data Garden on ThinkBalm Island in the virtual world of Second Life. Think of this tour as a next-generation webinar where you’ll learn about our findings and analysis from the ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Business Value Study, Q2 2009, which was published on May 26, 2009. The core question we set out to answer in this research was, “What is the business value of using immersive technologies in the workplace?” We’ll take you on a tour through a memorable, interactive data visualization experience.

ThinkBalm Data Garden public tour schedule for June

All times listed below are Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), which is the same as Second Life time (SLT). Here is a link to the Time Zone Converter Web site, should you need it. Admission to the tour is first-come, first served so it’s a good idea to arrive a little early.

  • Wednesday, June 10th from 8:00-9:00AM PDT
  • Wednesday, June 17th from 8:00-9:00AM PDT
  • Wednesday, June 24th from 8:00-9:00AM PDT

Please join us!

ThinkBalm Data Garden tour for our friends in Asia-Pacific region

We are pleased to announce our public tour schedule for the next few weeks for the ThinkBalm Data Garden on ThinkBalm Island in the virtual world of Second Life. Think of this tour as a next-generation webinar where you’ll learn about our findings and analysis from the ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Business Value Study, Q2 2009, which was published on May 26, 2009. The core question we set out to answer in this research was, “What is the business value of using immersive technologies in the workplace?” We’ll take you on a tour through a memorable, interactive data visualization experience.

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ThinkBalm Data Garden public tour schedule for June

All times listed below are Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), which is the same as Second Life time (SLT). Here is a link to the Time Zone Converter Web site, should you need it. Admission to the tour is first-come, first served so it’s a good idea to arrive a little early.

  • Wednesday, June 10th from 8:00-9:00AM PDT (in the past)
  • Wednesday, June 17th from 8:00-9:00AM PDT (in the past)
  • Wednesday, June 24th from 8:00-9:00AM PDT (in the past)
  • Just added: Monday, June 29th from 6:00-7:00PM PDT — scheduled especially for our friends in the Asia-Pacific region of the world. Above is a link to the Time Zone Converter Web site.

Please join us!

The ThinkBalm Innovation Community is expanding to LinkedIn

Since its launch in August of 2008, the ThinkBalm Innovation Community has evolved into a mix between a social network, a collaborative laboratory, and a guild. The mission of this community, which currently has more than 280 members, is to propel work-related adoption of the Immersive Internet forward. With the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, ThinkBalm industry analysts Erica Driver and Sam Driver are fostering a productive, marketing-free zone where professionals can collaborate and communicate about the Immersive Internet, sharing experiences, collaborating on experiments, and identifying best practices that advance work-related adoption of immersive technologies.

Professional networking is a hugely important aspect of life in the community and lately we’ve fielded lots of requests to create a LinkedIn group for the community to make it easier for people to get and stay connected. The people have spoken, and a ThinkBalm Innovation Community LinkedIn group is now live. It is available from the groups search function at LinkedIn, and we’ll be sending out invitations to current ThinkBalm Innovation Community members. We encourage anyone with an interest in work-related use of immersive technology to request membership in the group.

Here are links to some ThinkBalm articles and reports that reflect ThinkBalm Innovation Community activity:

Join us for public tour of ThinkBalm Data Garden

We are pleased to announce a public tour of the ThinkBalm Data Garden on ThinkBalm Island in Second Life on Monday, June 8th from 11:00AM-noon EDT, which is 8:00-9:00AM PDT and Second Life time. Here is a link to the Time Zone Converter Web site, should you need it. Think of Monday’s tour as a next-generation webinar. Via an interactive data visualization experience, ThinkBalm analysts Erica Driver and Sam Driver will share with visitors the findings and analysis from the ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Business Value Study, Q2 2009, which we published on May 26, 2009. We think we’ll have room for about 20 guests, so please arrive early

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ThinkBalm Data Garden is live!

ThinkBalm has launched a new experiment on ThinkBalm Island in Second Life. The ThinkBalm Data Garden is a data visualization experience built around the ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Business Value Study, Q2 2009, which we published on May 26, 2009. The ThinkBalm Data Garden was designed as a proof of concept for the next-generation “webinar.” Creation of the data displays was a collaborative effort between the two of us and several members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, including Jeff Lowe and Jonas Karlsson. Please come visit!

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ThinkBalm Innovation Community leaderboard is in 3D

One of the elements of the InnovationSpigit(tm) software that ThinkBalm uses to run the ThinkBalm Innovation Community is a leaderboard. The leaderboard displays the leading ideas, prediction markets, and community members (see Figure 1). Because the ThinkBalm Innovation Community is all about immersive environments, we recently hired OpenSim guru Chris Hart, CTO of ReactionGrid, to bring three of the most important elements of the leaderboard into 3D (see Figure 2). Our 3D leaderboard displays the top ranked ideas, the users with the highest reputation score, and the most popular posts. The leaderboard, which updates hourly, is on display on the ThinkBalm region on ReactionGrid. Come check it out!

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The Coaches Centre pilot: 14X revenue generation, travel costs reduced by $1M CAD

The Coaches Centre is a new immersive environment for sports coaches and coaching education professionals worldwide, in affiliation with the International Council for Coach Education (ICCE). The ICCE’s mission is to create awareness of sports coaching as a profession, standardize coaching education requirements around the world, and provide insight and advice for rules committees and sports-related organizations. The mission of The Coaches Centre is to cultivate sport coaches around the world via a unified destination and foster collaboration and knowledge sharing across the spectrum of sport coaching disciplines.

The Coaches Centre has the potential to modernize the sports coaching profession. Initially, sports coaches and coaching educators will use the immersive environment to deliver self-paced learning, 3D real-time interactive collaborative learning and training, and face-to-face meetings and events. Coaches and coach education professionals will be able to deliver theoretical, practical, and physical coach education — the latter typically requiring a coach educator to travel on-site, today. The Coaches Centre has plans to ultimately turn the immersive environment into a major online destination for a huge swath of the global sports coaching economic ecosystem.

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The Coaches Centre will enter broad-scale pilot with 4,000 to 6,000 participants in March of 2009 and the ICCE has plans to take it global by the end of 2009, with premium for-fee services. This pilot will include three courses: one collaborative synchronous education program called “Making Ethical Decisions” and two asynchronous 2D self-paced training programs called “Plan A Practice” and “Nutritional Development for Athletes.” By the end of 2009, The Coaches Centre intends to deliver premium services like sports management, registration, and collaborative training services like coach-to-athlete, coach-to-coach, coach-to-parent, and coach-to-organization education programs.

Preliminary pilot results show tremendous business value

In mid-February, we spoke with The Coaches Centre president Peter Meli about the business drivers behind his decision to make a massive Immersive Internet investment (we’re talking several million dollars Canadian U.S.). To test and document business value, an ICCE The Coaches Centre  executive team ran a pilot in Canada comparing a two-day coach education program delivered in person with the same program delivered via the Immersive Internet. With the immersive environment, the ICCE was able to evidence a 14X greater return in income to sports association partners (Canadian national sports federations and territory partners) while saving participating coaches in aggregate of $1 million Canadian, compared to the traditional two-day program.

Now keep in mind that Canada alone has 1.7M sports coaches, from local schools through national and international teams, roughly 120,000 of whom go through the education process annually (which amounts to about $60 million Canadian in transactions). Now, picture more than 40 countries involved. The ICCE currently consists of 53 national member groups with an estimated 60 million coaches at all levels from volunteer youth coaches to scholastic and elite level coaches. If the numbers from this initial pilot hold true when The Coaches Centre goes into production, the economic impact could be staggering.

Keep your eye on this project

The Coaches Centre is well worth following for any advocate of the Immersive Internet at work because of the project’s potential to deliver:

  • Innovative solutions to the challenges of working with people in far-away places. As even small-town coaches are given access to the broader world via the Internet, the way they do their jobs is changing. New professional networks and an opportunity to develop personal brand will elevate individuals to new star players. Coaches and coach educators will be able to learn from each other and share best practices, no matter where they are based. Athletes will be able to interact with coaches, peers, and even competitors without getting on planes and leaving home. Lessons learned from this effort apply equally well to people in banking, architecture, IT, or pretty much any other sector — people who need to work together on projects or teams across industries and geographies.
  • Lessons learned that will be applicable to other sectors. As the Immersive Internet goes mainstream, early adopters will leapfrog competitors by learning from others outside of their core industry and geographic region. The Coaches Centre has challenges ahead; its target market may not be the most technically savvy — and certainly not in a consistent way across all 40 nations in which it has members. Not everyone who wants to participate may have a computer that can run a non-browser-based immersive environment at an acceptable performance level. And — very importantly — how well will the technology scale? (Pearson Learning Solutions built The Coaches Centre on the Nexus technology developed by Engineering & Computer Simulations (ECS).)

Based on findings from the initial Canadian pilot, the cost savings and revenue generation potential for The Coaches Centre is huge. But the potential benefits don’t end there. With vast quantities of performance data and research available to ICCE members who use The Coaches Centre, the coaching process and coach development could be improved. The ICCE says it will put 90% of the proceeds from The Coaches Centre back into each country’s coaching system, which will help countries better identify athleticism at a young age and monitor athletes’ development. Creating a hub for coaching could also create a whole cottage industry of affiliated businesses. This is just conjecture on ThinkBalm’s part, but imagine collective bargaining groups forming to secure lower prices on equipment and sports services. And direct communication among national sports organizations could pave the way for larger international clubs and leagues. We’ll be watching The Coaches Centre closely as it moves forward.

Meet the ThinkBalm Innovation Community expert panel

A few members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community have black graduation caps among their badges and have reputation scores of 100%.  This is our expert panel. Our experts:

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The InnovationSpigit(tm) expert badge

  • Have agreed to help to review and promote ideas through the idea lifecycle. Before an idea on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community Web site can graduate from one phase to the next, an expert must review and approve it. Each of our experts has responsibility for one or more idea categories like Events, Future of the Immersive Internet, and Business Value / ROI. If you’ve got an idea moving through the system, don’t hesitate to ask for an expert review. You’ll need it, and it is a great way to keep an idea moving forward.
  • Are hand-picked by ThinkBalm co-founders and principals. We have had great experiences working on idea teams and sometimes other projects with each of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community experts. Each of them is a die-hard Immersive Internet advocate and truly stands out in his or her field.
  • Are a living panel. Unlike serving as a U.S. Supreme Court judge, the expert panel isn’t a lifetime commitment. People are busy. They change jobs. Their availability fluctuates. And as our community grows, we’ll need more experts. You’ll see the names on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community’s expert panel change over time.

ThinkBalm Co-Founders and Principals

You’ll see that ThinkBalm co-founders and principals Sam and Erica Driver are on the list. We don’t pretend to be experts in all idea categories, but we keep tabs on all the ideas percolating in the system and are involved in most if not all of the idea teams. We are industry analysts and strategy consultants who have operated the ThinkBalm Innovation Community since August of 2008, held dozens of immersive events, and written many reports and articles about the Immersive Internet, all accessible from www.thinkbalm.com.

  • Erica Driver, co-founder and principal at ThinkBalm. Erica is a leading industry analyst and consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in the IT sector. She is quoted in mainstream and industry trade press including the Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CIO, and Computerworld. Prior to co-founding ThinkBalm, Erica was a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, where she launched the company’s Web3D coverage as part of her enterprise collaboration research. She was also the co-conspirator behind Forrester’s Information Workplace concepts and research. You can contact Erica for help or guidance in any idea category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Erica’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Sam Driver, co-founder and principal at ThinkBalm. Sam is an inventor and entrepreneur whose take on the Immersive Internet is heavily influenced by science, game theory, and science fiction. At the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Sam was part of a team that discovered RNA interference (RNAi) which was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. He founded QIK Technology to develop intellectual property (IP) holdings in functional genomics and co-founded a small Rhode Island-based residential real estate investment partnership. He also founded and operates Evil Minions Games, an IP and product development company, and established and runs a regional gaming organization. He’s also an instrument-rated private pilot. Sam earned his BS at Ohio Wesleyan University and a masters in genetics from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. You can contact Sam for help or guidance in any idea category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Sam’s LinkedIn profile.

ThinkBalm Innovation Community Members

  • Jeff Lowe, project manager for the University of Oklahoma Center for Public Management. Working for the outreach division of the university, Jeff partners with a variety of public and private organizations to enhance their employee development programs, orchestrate their events, better engage their clientele, and improve their operations. In serving his clients, he takes on the following primary roles: video producer, event planner, public relations consultant, social media consultant, collaborative technology consultant, virtual tool developer, and web developer. You can contact Jeff for help or guidance on ideas in the “future of the Immersive Internet” category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Jeff’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Kyle Gomboy, Owner, G Squared (G2). G2 was founded over a decade ago to blend data with visuals online. G2 founded and operates the OpenSim grid ReactionGrid. With the creation of tools such as Second Life, OpenSim and others G2 has been able to combine its ASP.NET and SQL Server database technology with 3D visuals to help companies and individuals network and educate themselves and others while having some fun on the way. Kyle was US Navy trained to repair any type of electronic system while at sea without spares and/or technical documents & tools. He specialized in Poseidon and Trident SSBN Ballistic Missile Submarines & Los Angeles Class Fast Attack Submarines. He had training in Ticonderoga Class Aegis Radar Systems and his DoD security clearance was the highest available for NATO shared documents. You can contact Kyle for help or guidance on ideas in the “technologies” category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Kyle’s profile on the community site. Link to Kyle’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Philippe Barreaud, Chief Enterprise Architect at Michelin Group. Philippe has 19 years of experience managing both IS/IT and business functions in Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia. Prior to joining the IS team at Michelin to lead the Enterprise Architecture initiative for the group, Philippe was managing Michelin’s operations in China. You can contact Philippe for help or guidance on ideas in the “business value / ROI” category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Philippe’s LinkedIn profile.

So if you’re a member of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community who’s working on an idea and want to see it evolve, feel free to call on one of the experts in your idea’s category. Experts can help you figure out how to make your idea more actionable or more bite-sized. They might have recommendations for other community members you could invite to join your idea team to further the idea along. The InnovationSpigit™ software our community site is built on allows you to contact experts (or any community member, for that matter) by visiting their profiles and clicking “Email User.” If you’re not sure who to reach out to, you can always email ThinkBalm principals Erica Driver and Sam Driver at info@thinkbalm.com. If you’re not yet a member of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, we hope you’ll consider joining us. Happy innovating!

Virtual office: A window looking in on my world

Last month I ran a little experiment. For about two weeks I stayed logged into ReactionGrid to see if it would lead to valuable serendipitous interactions. (I wrote about this in the related article, Lightbulb moment: for serendipity, stay logged into the immersive environment.) What I found: staying logged into my virtual workplace made me feel like I have a window looking out on my world — rather, looking in on my world. And yes, staying logged in did lead to new and deepened relationships.

By staying logged in I connected with at least 10 people who already were — or now are — members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community. I got to know things about people and tell them a bit about who I am and what I do, thereby building up the all-important foundation of trust. I learned about projects other people are engaged with and went over to visit works in progress. And I had a conversation with someone who happened to stop by that is on the way to turning into sizeable business for ThinkBalm. I learned a couple of other lessons, as well.

Having two monitors really helps balance the pros and cons of interruption

I have a monitor on my desk above my laptop and I left my Hippo OpenSim viewer running there. Usually, nothing happened in my view. I focused my attention on my regular work done, on the lower monitor, looking up only when out of the corner of my eye I saw an avatar fly into view. Without the dual monitor, I wouldn’t have that sense of awareness of people coming and going unless I ALT+TABbed to Hippo, in which case I’m no longer focusing on my regular work. Sometimes I would see avatars walk or fly by on their way to somewhere else. Other times, they approached me to start a conversation. It’s  the virtual equivalent of seeing colleagues walk down the hall past your office.

 

Having an “I’m busy” space required more effort than it was worth

If I’m looking at my screen I can see who comes by my space while I’m busy, even if they choose not to leave me a message. But I don’t really like the space I originally created (for a picture, see the related article, Here’s a way to communicate “I’m busy” in immersive environments). While the circular wall was translucent, it still felt like a wall and I didn’t like having the image of my avatar sitting inside the space up on my screen. More importantly, it turns out the “I’m busy” space may be more trouble than it’s worth. I had to remember to park my avatar there when I was interrupted or going to be away from my desk. And in ReactionGrid, which is based on OpenSim and therefore works very similarly to Second Life, when someone doesn’t interact with the environment for some period of time — say, 5 minutes — their avatar looks like it’s fallen asleep standing up (see Figure). If someone stumbles across my sleeping avatar they can always send me an instant message. I don’t think I need much more than that.