Category Archives for ThinkBalm Reports

How To Find Commercial Intent Keywords

I’ve been getting questions about keyword research, how to find “buying” keywords. I’ll give you the answer in two parts. First up are two popular keyword tools. The Wordtracker Labs Question Tool and the Google Keyword Research Tool.

For example, if your market is in the weight loss niche, just type in the root word ‘weight’ and look at the results.

The Wordtracker tool shows the questions that people are asking. Every one of these questions would make an excellent blog post, or article.

Put the question as the title of your page, or post, for maximum SEO benefit. Then proceed to answer the question in your content.

The Google tool is sorted by relevance when you open it. That’s a key point to remember.

Most people look at the numbers and sort by competition or searches. That’s the wrong way to go about it… at first.

The right way to find the content that should be on your page, is to not click on anything. The moment you search for your root word ‘weight’ the Google tool sorts by relevance.

The competition, number of searches, trends, etc, are all irrelevant at this moment. What matters are the keywords in the order they appear.

So if you scan your eyes down the keyword column, those are the keywords – according to Google’s LSI engine – that should appear in your pages and posts.

As for what to sell, go to Amazon.com. Type in your keywords, then click on the drop down menu where it says, Choose a Department to enable sorting. Choose to sort by best selling.

The resulting list from Amazon, features the hottest selling products in America right now. You’d be wise to feature similar products on your sales pages.

As for the second half of the question, about the “buyer” keywords, there used to be a tool by MSN to look up commercial intent. It’s constantly being hammered by bots, so it’s rarely available.

If you can’t get the MSN tool to work, you can use the Google tool as a “commercial barometer” of sorts. Once you enter your root term, look for the Columns button and select Show All columns. The results will refresh with new data.

Look at the estimated CPC or cost per click. That will show you the “commercial” keywords most likely to convert for the advertiser. The logic being, that most people won’t throw their ad budgets into non converting phrases.

To get true commercial intent though, we have to go back to the old school method. That means a combo of common sense, linguistics and server logs.

Here are some hot keywords with great commercial intent. They are very likely to lead to a sale.

Hot Keywords; refill, removal, service, solutions, retailers, store, sale, buy, where to, get, purchase, fix, rent, parts, repair, relief, cure, stop, replacement, reservation, reserve, book (as in booking a flight, or room).

Here are some warm keywords that are commercial in nature, but the intent isn’t quite as clear. They are more research based and informational in nature. They may, or may not lead to a sale.

Warm Keywords; help, tips, advice, information, news, recipes, articles, newest, improve, training, courses, prevent, create, prepare, instructions, learn, info, start, how to, compare, reviews, shop.

A few words you may want to avoid, because they’re competing on price alone are; discount, cheap, specials, prices. And a few words if you’re selling to businesses might be; bulk, wholesale, volume, suppliers.

As a general rule of thumb, but not always, long tail keywords that are very specific, are usually commercial in nature. The head of the search, which uses short generic phrases, are used for information gathering and research.

For example, the head phrase ‘cell phone‘ could be about anything. It could be about networks, tethering, GPS, accessories, makes, models, model numbers, comparisons, general info, history, GSM, technology, etc.

Even the phrase ‘buy cell phone‘ although commercial in nature and intent, leaves the search engine scratching it’s noggin wondering… Ok, what make and model number? New or used? What carrier? Retail or wholesale? Local or national?

To convert into a sale, the search needs to be more specific. Most likely it will be a long tail phrase. The research will be over. And the prospect will be in a buying mood.

For example, if someone is searching for the phrase ‘buy nokia n95 replacement battery‘ there’s little doubt as to the commercial nature, or their intent. You might even want to use that exact phrase as your page title. :-)

The same holds true for other accessories and parts. Words like; charger, adapter, handsfree, handsfree kit, leather case, antenna, passive repeater, power supply, wall adapter, etc.

If you combine a make and model number, along with an accessory, you’re pretty much assured that the searcher knows what they want. Then, if you add in a couple of hot ‘commercial intent’ keywords, and combine them with that make and model, you’re pretty much assured of making the sale.

What is an advertisement plan (and its contents)?

Question by windleox: What is an advertisement plan (and its contents)?

I am asked to become an advertisement plan expert for my marketing class. That is I have to know what an advertisement plan is and what contents are in the plan.

I wouldn’t mind looking for reference in my school library, but I have no idea what keywords I should look for.

Any helps would be appreciated. Thank you.

Best answer:

Answer by ALASKA F

First you have to identify your market clientele Men/women/animals????
Then their demographics where they are what they do.
Target the group .Age, sex, preference, single married,……….
How do you reach them?
Sunbathers tow a banner on the beach……
Pilots at airport or flying magi zens……
scuba divers dive shops or magi zines…..
you get the picture
about 15% of your gross income should go back in to advertisement.
Be very careful where you spend you advertising dollar,
Possibly have a article written about your service in the trade publication for trade of the product, this only cost a small amount compared to the return,
Do some thing out-landesh to get attention, climb a tall building with your web site written on your back. hide out behind new paper reporters with your web site in the background.
Think if you were the one who wanted the product, where would you go to find it.
good luck there are a lot of people out there.

Know better? Leave your own answer in the comments!

How to Make Money with Videos

How to hit the YouTube home page and earn money from your viral videos.

I was watching a network news journalist interview a teenage girl and her family. Her silly music video generated over 250,000 dollars in the first couple of months alone.

Now her family is quarter million dollars richer! Not bad for an average teenager, with an average voice, and less than stellar video production.

How did she do it? With ads in the video.

As soon as you hit about 1,000 views, Google will ask permission to advertise on your video. When you login to your account you’ll see, “Apply for partnership to take advantage of your popular video.”

If you can make it into the “Featured” or “Trends” section, you’ve hit the YouTube jet stream. The highly coveted home page, in front of millions of people.

To get there takes a mighty viral push. You’ll need to wrangle the support of all your social networks, Facebook and Twitter followers. Here’s how…

SEO for your YouTube video depends on four things:

– How many views you get
– How many thumbs up you get
– How many comments you get
– How quickly you get all the above

Keep in mind the following tips…

A view counts if it’s over 5 seconds long. Make the opening seconds surprise and amaze.

Tell them in the text under the video, to click on the thumbs up icon, aka the “Like” button. Don’t assume they know what to do.

Make an emotional appeal to the viewer. Ask them to leave a quick comment. Even if its just a single sentence. Every little bit helps.

Notes on Viral…

Most viral videos are funny, amazing, surprising or entertaining. Without one or more of these, your video will sputter on the way to the jet stream.

How to Optimize Your YouTube Channel…

– Put your most important keywords in the video title
– Repeat the keywords in the description and tags
– Don’t use a fancy design or border around the video
– Keep the page design simple, with a white background
– Make sure the video preference is set to auto play
– Put a clickable links in video’s description (Facebook, Twitter)

Important Notes from TubeMogul.com
(The video syndication dudes.)

TubeMogul’s data shows that video has a short shelf life. They did a case study of 10,000 videos that had at least 1,000 views. The biggest traffic spike came at three days.

They suggest that you put out a lot of videos, because they peak early. The maximum views come when you do a series of short videos and upload a new one every few days. Thursday afternoon and Sunday evenings are peak viewing times.

They also suggest that you, “Put the name of your brand in the video title, because some services list only the title. It’s important to be consistent and put out topically related videos, as it increases your overall rankings in Google.”

Additional Promotion

In addition to doing the SEO for YouTube, ask your viewers to bookmark you on Delicious. If you make it to their “What’s Hot” home page, you can get a boost of extra momentum.

Be sure to monitor your keywords using Google Alerts and the Twitter home page. (AKA the Goobert method.) Participate in every discussion about you and your brand. Link to the video everywhere you comment.

Be voracious thank you note writers. Jot a note every time someone mentions you. Even if its just a couple of words to say thanks. It goes a long way.

Remember what TubeMogul said, the biggest spike comes at the three day mark. So upload that video and spend the next three days promoting it like crazy, using the strategies I’ve outlined above.

Who knows, maybe your video will hit the jet stream and go viral. Say yes to Google advertising and one silly video could generate all the coin you need for a lifetime. It happens to others. It could happen to you.

So be sure to take your video camera along and keep shooting, because you never know when something funny, amazing, surprising or entertaining will happen near you.

The Biggest Marketing Mistake

Are you permission marketing? In other words, are you sending email to people who’ve asked to receive it? There are still a few of you – you know who you are – that don’t get signups from people visiting your site.

At the very least, I hope the following numbers inspire you. The average reader is worth four dollars per year, as long as they stay subscribed. Some markets are worth more, others less. This is the average.

So if you built a readership of 10,000, that’s worth an extra 40,000 dollars per year. That’s over and above any website revenues. Does that inspire you?

Some complain permission marketing is hard to learn.

I disagree.

Permission marketing is easier than ever. It’s not like the old days when you had to figure it out for yourself. Now there’s all sorts of video tutorials and ‘how-to’ guides online.

Some complain that they don’t like writing. Usually it’s a small minority of folks, in niches they know nothing about. To them writing seems like a job.

You know what? If you don’t like what you’re doing… quit and get out. Time is the one thing in life you cannot get back. Life is too short to be trading it, for something you don’t enjoy doing.

On the other hand…

If you love what you do, you never get talker’s block. So why on earth would you get writer’s block?

If you don’t like to write, jot down a few notes, then open a video camera and talk.

What if you’re camera shy? There are alternatives.

You can report on what’s happened and just summarize what’s already been written. You could source a Youtube video of the week, or the day. Maybe source a quote of the day, a recipe of the day, or even a product recall of the day.

You can subscribe to the blogs and newsletters in your niche. This is especially important for affiliate marketers, because most major manufacturers have newsletters. You can know ahead of time, about new product releases, and have your advertising ready to go, the minute they hit the stores.

You could do interviews with experts and have them transcribed through castingwords.com. (That’s how they maintain their position as leaders and experts. They make themselves available for interviews and other media coverage.)

You can subscribe to Google Alerts and Twitter feeds, (AKA the Goobert conversational marketing method.) Then choose the best content you’ve read and aggregate it back out. You can paraphrase the mood, or comments, interject your own opinion, and fire it back out into the blogosphere.

As a last resort you can invite, or use, guest articles and posts. Or if you really must, outsource your writing to freelance talent on elance.com or odesk.com.

So in the end, it doesn’t matter what you send. The important thing is to get started.

And when you’re ready to start permission email marketing, join me through AWeber, because that way, if you ever need help, I can give you a hand. I’ve been using them to send this newsletter for over 11 years.

If you’re not permission marketing. You’re eating the appetizer, but leaving the meal on the table. This is the biggest mistake marketers make.

Promise yourself – starting tomorrow – that you’ll make permission marketing a priority. Make it commitment. Write it on a sticky note and paste it on your monitor right now. Do it!

And no matter what the economy decides to do, next year will be your personal best.

How Super Affiliates Think

Sell with Relationships

A customer of mine used to be a sales person for a medical equipment company. She sold everything from rubber gloves to high end items like wheelchairs.

I convinced her to stop working for someone else. That she’d be happier being her own boss, and selling the same gear as an affiliate marketer.

Like many affiliates, she struggled at first. She liked writing blog posts, and selling online, but she really missed the daily human contact.

I suggested that she take her affiliate business offline. She could rekindle the old relationships and not just rely on strangers trolling the web.

I told her to get proactive. Go where the customers are. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

Now she’s thinking like a super affiliate. She gets a flyer printed every two weeks and a catalog once every quarter.

She goes and visits all the retirement homes and long term care facilities in her city. They’re far more likely to buy from her, because they know her and trust her.

She belongs to a dozen different affiliate programs. That lets her offer a massive inventory, with more makes and models than any competitor.

She set up an arrangement with the suppliers, so that she uses her own affiliate link when placing orders. How smart is that?

She went from struggling hopeful to super affiliate, by walking away from the web and knocking on doors. Good old fashioned face to face selling.

Both parties get what they want. The long term care facilities get a flyer they can look at and order from. She gets to visit the people she missed and multiplied her income by 20X in the process.

Sometimes you just need to think different. If you spread your advertising across different types media, you can make a mountain of affiliate revenue.

Sell at the Right Time

Another customer of mine is an established public speaker. He gets paid a decent sum for the speaking gigs, but he wanted to increase his back end sales.

I suggested that he set up a computer at the back of the room. That way, people could sign up for his newsletter, or order his products, right after the talk, and all through lunch.

Now he’s thinking like a super affiliate. He tripled his back end sales, because he sells other people’s courses and books, in addition to his own. He also allows the attendees to book him for future talks on the spot.

How cool is that. Triple the sales and he’s never out of work. Just by capturing people at the right moment.

Sell in Bulk

Another customer of mine, used to sell individual items to consumers. He worked very hard for small commissions.

The packaging, serving and cleaning supplies he sold, were also used by caterers, restaurants and hotels. I suggested that he try selling to businesses instead of consumers.

Now he’s thinking like a super affiliate. Sell by the caseload. Same amount of work. Much bigger commissions.

Now he’s got customers in all corners of the hospitality industry. Everything from motel chains to food factories.

Things are going so well, he’s considering setting up a warehouse and importing the goods. Then setting up his own affiliate program.

I told him to keep in mind… that businesses, governments and organizations are run by people. Those people source product suppliers on the internet, just like you do.

No matter how big the company, it all boils down to one person. They make a purchase decision and place an order online, just like anyone else.

Consumers order a quantity of one. Businesses order case loads and pallets. Which would you rather get the commission on?

Sell the Niche

Another customer could be called the original spice girl. She knows more about cooking spices than anyone I’ve met.

She didn’t think she could compete in the space though. It was the usual excuses of… too many people already doing it and not enough confidence.

(If you’d like to discover your passion and learn how to monetize it, download The Uncovery workbook http://www.theuncovery.com .)

I told her to swallow her fear and doubt. Just do it. She started blogging and selling spices, but not the usual stuff, because I told her to ultra niche it.

Now she’s thinking like a super affiliate. She’s selling dried peppers flakes and hot sauces, everything from Szechuan to Sassafras. Other people sell spices, but she knows how to thicken your gumbo.

If you know a lot about something, there are people who want to learn. When you help them by telling, not by selling, they’ll automatically want to buy from you.

Sell Your Passion

Another customer of mine owns a small hobby brew place. He helps you make wine and beer on his premises. You bottle it and take it home when its done.

He wanted to take his “dirt world” business online. To go beyond what he could reach with local advertising.

He took my advice started putting videos online. He shows you how to mix up the batch, attach a fermentation lock, sterilize and fill the bottles. Short 2-3 minute clips with one key concept in each.

He uses a basic no-frills hand held video camera. Then dumps the recording into iMovie for a quick edit before uploading them to Youtube.

He’s positioning himself as the leader in beer making knowledge. That makes people subscribe to his newsletter, shop in his store, and trust him.

Now he’s thinking like a super affiliate. Instead of stocking massive inventory, he uses affiliate links to sell everything from hops to brewing kits online.

The videos do the “cold calling” for him. Because of the knowledge he gives away freely, people know they can trust him when it comes to product recommendations.

So when there’s no customers in his retail store, he’s in the back room on the computer. Busy building an affiliate empire around his passion for beer.

What are you passionate about? What do you love to do? If you have confidence, you can transfer it to others. That’s a key secret to making a sale.

Learning How To Sell

None of these people started as super affiliates. The difference was having someone to talk to. Someone who understands advertising, sales and marketing.

If you’d like to know more about advertising, sales and marketing, give me a call. Once you’re a Dynamic Media member, I’m just a phone call away.

Change is under way at ThinkBalm

Disruptive-thinker-bus-SMALLAt ThinkBalm we’ve had a couple of great years as industry analysts dedicated to covering work-related use of immersive technologies—an early-stage, emerging technology market. We have worked with some terrific people at great client organizations like Altadyn, BP, Chevron, Forterra Systems (now part of SAIC), Linden Lab, Moondus, ProtonMedia, Teleplace, and Tandem Learning. We’ve published nine comprehensive reports spanning market overview, business value, technology selection, barriers to adoption, and best practices—and made this research freely available via our Web site. We launched the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, grew it to more than 470 members, and hosted more than 35 facilitated work sessions, training sessions, and networking events. More than half of our research reports arose directly out of ThinkBalm Innovation Community activities. Continue reading

Immersive tech for meetings/conferences must be scalable and easy to use

In our January “trends” blog post, we predicted that 2010 would be a year of churn in the emerging enterprise immersive software market. It’s only a few months into the year and already a rapid-fire series of events has occurred, setting many industry participants on edge:

  • Forterra Systems was acquired by SAIC (see our February 8, 2010 post about it here).
  • Oracle discontinued funding Sun Project Wonderland (now called Open Wonderland) (see our March 1, 2010 post about it here).
  • Key roles on Linden Lab’s enterprise team were folded into the broader organization and several folks on the enterprise team have moved on, including former general manager Chris Collins.
  • Virtual Worlds Management, the company that has held Virtual World Expo and 3DTLC conferences since 2007, renamed itself Engage Digital Media and has de-emphasized its focus on virtual worlds. The 3DTLC conference and 3DTLC.net blog have been suspended. 3DLTC.net editorial content has been folded back in to VirtualWorldsNews.com.

Continue reading

SAIC/Forterra acquisition: what it means for the enterprise immersive software market

On February 1, 2010, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) announced that it had acquired the OLIVE product line from Forterra Systems. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. SAIC had been working with Forterra on and off for the past six years and SAIC had been working with OLIVE internally for the past year and a half. Moving forward, the company plans to offer OLIVE solutions to customers, as well as to use it internally.

On February 4th, we spoke with executives at SAIC about the acquisition. Our takeaways are:

  • SAIC’s industry focus for OLIVE will be government, energy, health, and other commercial markets. SAIC’s focus on these industries closely mirrors the industry focus Forterra had — so we don’t expect the OLIVE customer mix to change much in 2010. SAIC also says it will continue to work with channel partners with whom Forterra had relationships. Forterra had regional resellers in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as associations with companies like ACS Learning Services, Lockheed Martin, and Carahsoft.
  • The primary internal and external use cases will be training and business activity rehearsal. SAIC has a long history in modeling and simulation, going back two decades. The company’s primary customer, the US government, has been putting increasing training emphasis on the interpersonal realm. OLIVE fills a gap in SAIC’s existing modeling and simulation offerings: strong support for interpersonal interaction. OLIVE gives SAIC a collaborative, multiuser 3D immersive environment. SAIC has already integrated OLIVE with systems like the US Army’s OneSAFTM (One Semi Automated Forces) simulation solution. The company is likely to integrate OLIVE with additional systems moving forward.

What it means for business decision makers

As we have detailed in the past here and here, the enterprise immersive software market is still emerging and 2010 will be a year of churn. We see the acquisition of Forterra Systems by SAIC as a positive step in the maturation of the market. While it is difficult for those who are personally involved, the industry will benefit from having a smaller number of stable, well-capitalized technology providers.

  • OLIVE just gained momentum in government and military and has promise in health and energy. Now offered by SAIC, a Fortune 500 company, OLIVE has a better shot than ever of penetrating the government and military sectors. If SAIC chooses to fully develop market opportunities in the energy and health sectors, OLIVE will remain a formidable competitor to products like American Research Institute’s PowerU, Linden Lab’s Second Life Enterprise, Teleplace’s Teleplace, and ProtonMedia’s ProtoSphere
  • As with any acquisition, change is inevitable. Given that the acquisition just closed this week, many open questions remain. Existing and prospective OLIVE customers should keep an eye out for changes to product pricing, packaging, and status (e.g., Meeting Labs was a new hosted offering from Forterra and its future is unclear), as well as SAIC’s relationships with Forterra’s channel partners (some of which compete directly with SAIC).

ThinkBalm publishes immersive software decision-making guide

Today ThinkBalm published The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide, a powerful tool for business decision makers selecting immersive technology for use in the workplace. To view or download a PDF version of this 29-page report, click this link or the image below.

Enterprise immersive software is a collection of collaboration, communication, and productivity tools unified via a 3D or pseudo-3D visual environment. In this computer-generated environment, one or more people engage in work activities like meetings, conferences, and learning and training. The software provides a shared, interactive, multichannel experience through presence awareness, voice chat, active speaker indication, text chat, and many other features, often including avatars.

The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide is a use case-based guide designed to aid business decision makers in the enterprise immersive software selection process. In this report, we present “if/then” scenarios and highlight good-fit vendors for common situations, with a focus on the most prevalent use cases: meetings, conferences, and learning and training. The report offers guidance on how to: 1) ask core business questions to frame the discussion, 2) choose a research-and-demo, do-it-yourself, or combination approach, 3) identify requirements based on your use case, and 4) filter your options based on important limiters.

The following vendors are covered in this report:

  • A World for Us (Assemb’Live)
  • Altadyn (3DXplorer)
  • American Research Institute, Inc. (ARI)
  • Amphisocial
  • Avaya
  • Forterra Systems (now part of SAIC)
  • IBM
  • InXpo
  • Linden Lab
  • ON24
  • Project Wonderland
  • ProtonMedia
  • ReactionGrid
  • Rivers Run Red
  • Teleplace
  • Unisfair
  • VastPark
  • VenueGen
  • Virtual Italian Parks (Moondus)

 

To develop this report, ThinkBalm analysts held structured briefings with nineteen enterprise immersive software vendors and conducted interviews with fifteen early adopters who were involved in the technology selection process. Some of the briefings took place directly in the vendors’ immersive environments. We combined our insights from these discussions with our hands-on experience using immersive software and our interactions with our clients and members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community. The ThinkBalm Innovation Community currently numbers more than 400 Immersive Internet advocates, implementers, explorers, and technology marketers.

This research was made possible by sponsorship from Linden Lab, ProtonMedia, Teleplace, and Virtual Italian Parks.

Enterprise immersive software trends for 2010

Enterprise immersive software is a collection of collaboration, communication, and productivity tools unified via a 3D or pseudo-3D visual environment. In this computer-generated environment, one or more people can engage in work activities such as training, rehearsing business activities, delivering or attending presentations, collaborating on documents, brainstorming, visualizing data, building or testing prototypes, and attending conferences and trade shows. The software provides a shared, interactive, multichannel experience through presence awareness, voice chat, active speaker indication, text chat, and many other features, often including avatars. The software can be installed behind the firewall, delivered on a hardware appliance, or accessed via a software as a service (SaaS) offering.

The term “enterprise” in the category name indicates that solutions are suitable for use in the workplace, as opposed to recreational use (e.g., consumer video games and recreational virtual worlds), and are scalable, secure, and stable enough for at least some work-related use cases. Because the enterprise immersive software market grew out of four distinct ancestral origins (virtual worlds, serious games, business applications, and learning simulations), the software products in the category vary widely in features and functionality.

ThinkBalm’s predictions for 2010:

  1. The market will remain in the early adopter phase. The enterprise immersive software market has passed through the innovator phase, when nearly everyone who was experimenting with the technology was a technologist or virtual world enthusiast. In contrast, the bulk of the attention today is from early-adopter business people in functions like sales and marketing, human resources, and learning and training, as well as IT. We expect the market to remain in this phase until approximately 2013, when it will transition to the early majority adoption phase. This transition and timing assumes the industry is successfully able to “cross the chasm,” in Geoffrey Moore’s parlance.[1]
  2. Cash will be king. Enterprise immersive software vendors made significant strides in 2009 in features and functionality, scalability, and stability of their offerings. New and updated products emerged every quarter. While vendors will continue to improve their offerings in 2010, a focus on financing may curb the pace of change temporarily. Many of the vendors in this small, volatile market are actively seeking outside funding. Not all will receive the investment they require to reach their target customers or even continue operations. Executives will be out on the road, raising money and trying to encourage customers to move pilots to paid-for production deployments.
  3. The year will be marked by churn. We expect 2010 to be a busy year, with new entrants, mergers, acquisitions, and even some business closures. Most of the enterprise immersive software vendors are small. Avaya, IBM, and Sun Microsystems are larger players, but their immersive software project teams are no bigger than those of the small vendors in this space. In 2010, new vendors will enter the market and some vendors that are undercapitalized will exit, often through acquisition. Product life-cycle management (PLM) vendors are keeping an eye on this emerging market as a natural extension of computer-aided design and prototyping. Unified communications (UC) vendors are also keeping an eye on — or getting involved in, in the case of Avaya — the market. For UC vendors, immersive software could be a new way to deliver unification of services.
  4. Implementations will break out of the experiment-and-pilot ghetto. In April of 2009, we conducted a small survey of Immersive Internet advocates and implementers and found that about 2/3 of projects in 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 were what we call pre-production: early experiments or pilots.[2] In the same survey, nearly 75% of respondents (47 of 64) said their organizations either might or will increase their investment in immersive technologies in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, we expect to see more large-scale production deployments follow on the heels of 2009’s trend setters. In September of 2009, Cisco Systems held its annual sales kickoff meeting online using a virtual event platform, with 19,000 attendees.[3] IBM’s CIO office has a vision of deploying immersive technology to the entire workforce — that’s nearly 400,000 people. And BP extended its 2009 Game Changer program, which has been focused on the Immersive Internet, for an additional six months because the company was seeing so much value from it.
  5. A wave of products will move from alpha and beta into general release. While some vendors could emulate Google and offer beta products in perpetuity, most of the vendors that have early-stage products will take a more traditional route and move their enterprise immersive software products from alpha or beta into production this year. In 2010, we expect to see generally-available (GA) products released by A World for Us, Amphisocial, Avaya (assuming the company moves forward with web.alive, which it has acquired with Nortel), Linden Lab (Second Life Enterprise), VastPark, and VenueGen. We may also see a GA release of Meeting Labs, if Forterra Systems moves forward with this new hosted offering.
  6. Customers will demand more integration with existing systems. Some of the vendors already provide interfaces to various back-end business systems. Several vendors provide lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) integration: Altadyn, Avaya, IBM, Forterra, Linden Lab (with Second Life Enterprise), ReactionGrid (with Harmony), Sun Microsystems, and Virtual Italian Parks. ProtonMedia and Teleplace also integrate specifically with Microsoft Active Directory. Another common integration point is office productivity software. A World for Us, Amphisocial, Avaya, Forterra Systems, ProtonMedia, Rivers Run Red, and Teleplace allow users to upload or drag and drop Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org, Google documents and spreadsheets, or other types of files into the environment. American Research Institute (ARI), Forterra Systems, and ProtonMedia commonly integrate with their customers’ learning management systems. Amphisocial, InXpo, ON24, Unisfair, and VastPark provide integration with external social networking tools, like LinkedIn and Twitter.
  7. The base feature set for the most common use cases will begin to standardize. Because the enterprise immersive software market grew out of multiple distinct ancestral origins, the software products in the category vary widely in features and functionality.[4] Despite this, we are starting to see a standard feature set emerge for small, presentation-style meetings, which is the simplest use case. All of the products that address this use case provide meeting spaces, local text chat, and either file sharing or screen sharing. Most also provide 3D meeting spaces, 3D avatars, and local voice chat. In 2010 and beyond, vendors will coalesce around a richer set of features for this use case and fairly standard sets of core capabilities for other use cases, primarily small, collaborative meetings, large meetings and conferences, and some forms of learning and training.
  8. Pricing models will go through a transformation. To date, most immersive software deployments are pilots – not large-scale production deployments. Most customers are not yet making large, strategic investments. As a result, vendors have not yet received much feedback from the market about pricing, and lots of experimentation is under way. Some products are open source and therefore free, if you don’t include the cost of building applications and supporting the environment. Some vendors charge based on number of concurrent or named users, while others charge per user, per hour. Some charge per month, others per year, still others per virtual event. Some charge a traditional up-front license fee plus an annual software maintenance fee. As the market evolves, pricing strategies will also evolve to align more closely with customers’ expectations of enterprise software, whether it is installed on-premise or delivered via a hosted service.
  9. Early attempts at mobile device support will focus on a subset of features. With a few exceptions, enterprise immersive software products do little to support mobile users. A few vendors (like ARI, Forterra Systems, and Sun Microsystems) provide telephony integration so mobile users can join immersive meetings and training sessions via voice. Several third-party vendors have created iPhone apps (e.g., Sparkle IM and Touch Life) that are slimmed-down Second Life clients. VastPark is working on apps for the iPhone and Android. Other vendors are likely to provide mobile device support for their products, as well. The mobile applications will not likely have all the same functionality as the full apps, but at minimum will provide presence information text chat, and voice chat. With the rise in the tablet computer format in 2010, which will have a larger display than mobile phones and will have built-in support for broadband Internet and Wi-Fi, we expect to see some exploration into this new hardware category, as well.
  10. New alliances will form, creating new value. We hope this is more than wishful thinking on our part. But wouldn’t it be nice if . . . enterprise immersive software vendors partnered up with unified communications vendors and virtual event platform vendors? We see many crossovers already between enterprise immersive software and unified communications. (See the January 6, 2010 ThinkBalm article, “Immersive software for meetings will expand the information worker toolkit.”) Imagine an immersion layer that presents a simple, natural user interface that truly unifies communication and collaboration among information workers. Also imagine alliances between vendors that offer 3D environments and those that offer pseudo-3D environments for large-scale events (e.g., InXpo, ON24, and Unisfair). You’d be able to augment the unfettered access provided by pseudo-3D environments for large-scale events with the collaborative power of 3D for smaller breakouts and training sessions.
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