So I was pondering the realm of the 3D Web, virtual worlds and the like the other day and wondering how far they had come over the last 10 years or so. I remember when Second Life (SL) was first launched in 1999, and how it magically transformed the humble text chat sessions into something akin to being in your own movie. I was working in the Market Research industry and was curious to see what options were up and coming for consumer engagement and if there were smarter ways to conduct research – to put it in context I am talking about a time before web surveys were mainstream and 99% of research was done on the telephone or face-to-face. For me, having a virtual world where consumers and brands could connect from anywhere on the planet was amazing and opened up new opportunities to find out what consumers thought of products before they were created in real life.
There were two European market research agencies at the time experimenting with surveys in this medium. I vividly recall in one instance being interviewed by a rock that came to life to talk about my in-world experiences! Novelty factor aside, the ability to show 3D models and mock-ups of new products or see an ad concept on the screen allowed a researcher new avenues to explore. From a learning perspective having the ability to join in a seminar where there was a ‘real’ person on screen showing a new software package or piece of hardware was (almost) priceless, again you have to remember this was before video conferencing and webinars were widely used.
Having this experience over 10 years ago I was fascinated to see how far things had progressed and what new opportunities were available. Surely the worlds would be almost photo-realistic, more engaging and it would be easy to pull in external files to share & collaborate on.
What a disappointment.
Yes it was still impressive and you could talk to people but it seemed to be stuck in a time loop. The quality of the environment doesn’t appear to have changed much, maybe Linden Labs were so far ahead of the game when they made it that this is as good as it gets with current technology. Movement is still keyboard & mouse driven with predefined avatar motions used that are, to be honest, clunky at best. I am hoping that with the release of Kinect for Windows that we will see more realistic movements and the interface will become well, ourselves.
When this happens I think the purpose and functionality will change and we may see it adopted more. There is fortunately some research already being conducted into interfacing the Kinect sensor with SL (examples here and here) which can only lead to more immersive and collaborative platforms right? One business-focussed virtual world that I have recently discovered is the Avaya webalive platform. For me this seems a nice mix of Second Life & other virtual worlds and business necessities such as file sharing. It can be easily customised to fit the corporate brand and uses VoIP and text chat. I do wonder though the value of using something like that as opposed to say, Microsoft Lync, Cisco Telepresence or Citrix Goto Meeting.
I am not a gamer, never have been and not likely to be in the foreseeable future which is why I think I struggle to see how this medium adds more value than the aforementioned web collaboration tools, or even the humble wiki or document sharing sites. Saying that, the Gen Y generation who grew up with this type of gaming environment would probably adopt it more readily and find value where I can’t. There is no doubt that virtual worlds can support collaboration. My question though is it more gimmick than genuine business tool? Would you use it in your daily business life to collaborate and communicate with a customer or supplier?
Let me know your thoughts.