April 16, 2010

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.

“Light immersive” (pseudo-3D) technology has advantages

From our perspective, this period of churn applies primarily to 3D immersive software, which we’ll refer to as “rich immersive.” Vendors that offer pseudo-3D technology (e.g., InXpo, ON24, Unisfair, and others), which we’ll refer to as “light immersive,” are largely unaffected—in fact, indications are that the leading vendors in the light immersive segment are in a growth spurt.* Why? Two reasons:

  1. Two of the most common use cases for immersive technology are meetings and conferences (see the May 26, 2009 ThinkBalm report, ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Business Value Study, Q2 2009).
  2. For meetings and conferences, ease of use matters a lot. And for all but collaborative meetings (which are by definition small), scalability matters a lot. As a category, rich immersive technology has not yet been able to deliver on these requirements to the same degree that light immersive technology has (see the September 23, 2009 ThinkBalm report, Crossing the Chasm, One Implementation at a Time).

In many cases, rich immersive technology offers a level of engagement that is hard to achieve with light immersive technology. Some use cases absolutely depend on 3D—like training simulations, some business activity rehearsal, collaborative prototyping, 3D data visualization, and remote facility operations. Collaborative meetings, which by definition comprise a relatively small number of people, also benefit from a strong sense of presence and collaboration, communication, and productivity tools built into 3D environments. But for presentation-style small meetings, and large meetings and conferences, the market is speaking loud and clear: ease of use and scalability are higher priorities than deep immersion.

Early majority in 2013: not for rich immersive software

Due to this string of events—and with more events sure to unfold as 2010 rolls on—we’re modifying our soft projection that work-related use of immersive technology will reach the early majority adoption phase in 2013. We made this projection several times, most recently in the January 19, 2010 ThinkBalm report, The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide. By early majority we mean that enterprise immersive software will have “a significant installed base within Global 1000 companies and large public sector organizations and at least a few successful very large-scale implementations.” We think our projection still holds for light immersive technology, but not for rich immersive (3D) technology. Early majority adoption of rich immersive technology will take longer than this. (Belgian Journalist Roland Legrand wrote about this trend in his recent blog article titled, “Early mainstream work-related adoption of immersive software: 2013 is a bit too early.”)

What it means for immersive software vendors targeting meetings and conferences

A few things are clear:

  • Design decisions should favor ease of use. The user experience must be hassle-free and intuitive from the moment a participant RSVPs for a meeting or event to the time they fill out a post-event feedback form. Populating the user profile, navigating in the environment, moving from one meeting room to another, accessing and downloading meeting materials, communicating with speakers, and networking with others must all be straightforward experiences.
  • A browser interface is a must. For the optimal user experience, technology providers must offer a web-based interface for meeting and conference attendees and participants. Ideally, no browser plug-in is required, either, because many workplaces shut down this option for their computer users.
  • Scalability means thousands. Vendors targeting large meetings and conferences must offer the ability to bring not just tens or hundreds but thousands—or even tens of thousands—of people together in the same virtual place at the same time. By this we mean all participants should be able to be in the same keynote or general session together, watching and listening to the presentation and communicating with others around them.

Sam Driver

Sam Driver was a co-founder and principal at ThinkBalm. He 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.