This week I had a 2 ½ hour conference call with one of our clients. Normally I wouldn't blab to the world who we work with. But I think it's necessary here in the spirit of full disclosure — I'm about to rave about a first-time experience I had during a meeting with Microsoft using a Microsoft product called RoundTable.
A couple of my Forrester colleagues and 6 or 7 people from Microsoft were in a conference room in Redmond, Washington and I was in my home office in Rhode Island. Microsoft set up a Live Meeting Web conferencing session and had a RoundTable audio/video conferencing device on table in the meeting room. During the meeting, I had a screen like this one on my desktop (see screenshot below). It showed the PowerPoint slide we were discussing as well as a panoramic video of everyone in the conference room and a close-up of whoever was making the most noise in the room at the time. If we had been using the voice capabilities of the RoundTable device, rather than a separate conference bridge, the video close-up would have switched to whoever was speaking at the moment (including me, if I had had a Web camera on my laptop).
I'm doing a lot of research on using virtual worlds for work these days and have been spending some time in Second Life. One of the characteristics I notice is that there seems to be a dearth of people (avatars) around. Does it matter? Well, it depends what your expectations are. If you think of Second Life as "sort of like the Web," where you can teleport alone (surf the Web) from island to island (Web site to Web site) then it shouldn't matter that most islands you'll visit are devoid of human presence. Think about audio and Web conferencing tools: an audio or Web conference is "vacant" until one or more of the expected parties join in, and we consider that perfectly acceptable. But if this is your expectation, it may freak you out more than a little bit if you see an avatar fly by you unexpectedly or an unknown avatar suddenly materializes next to you and addresses you via the chat window.