February 10, 2009

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.

Erica Driver

Erica Driver was a co-founder and principal at ThinkBalm. She is a leading industry analyst and consultant with 15 years of experience in the software industry. 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. Prior to her tenure at Forrester, she was a Director at Giga Information Group (now part of Forrester) and an analyst at Hurwitz & Associates. She began her career in IT as a system administrator and Lotus Notes developer. Erica is a graduate of Harvard University.