This weekend I listened to a great panel discussion about virtual worlds and their impact on the future of work at the MetaverseU conference at Stanford University . The panelists were Byron Reeves, Co-Director of Stanford’s Human Sciences and Technology Advanced Research center, Christian Renaud, Chief Architect of Networked Virtual Environments for the Cisco Technology Center, and Reuben Steiger, CEO of virtual worlds agency Millions of Us. The key takeway from the panel: work is changing dramatically and virtual worlds have a potentially — though not inevitably — huge role to play.
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.
Yesterday a small group of Forrester analysts and research associates held a team meeting in Second Life to try to figure out whether meeting this way is a viable alternative to the usual teleconference. Teleconferences are terrible. While we're talking and listening, there's not much to look at but our computer screens (which are constantly blinking at us with new emails and IMs and reminders of all the tasks we haven't completed yet) so inevitably we end up multi-tasking. And in teams that have been around for a while people know each others' voices but not so for new teams. So when people on the call forget to introduce themselves before they say something, the first few words are lost while listeners try to figure out who's talking, and then the next few words lost while you try to recreate the first few words.
While we had some fun yesterday trying on free T-shirts, teleporting to otherworldly locations, and taking some carnival rides, the sentiment of most of the participants was that Second Life isn't really ready for prime time team meetings. If it was tough for us it will be tough for other information workers. Here's why:
I picked up a book at the airport last week because 1) It had a pretty cover, and 2) The title was Juicing The Orange: How To Turn Creativity Into A Powerful Business Advantage. I've been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between the stuff that information and knowledge management (I&KM) pros are doing at work and the business movement toward organizations that are creative and have a heavy emphasis on innovation and design. Juicing The Orange turned out to be about lessons learned specifically in the advertising industry — not exactly my area of expertise. But I couldn't put it down! Many of the points authors Pat Fallon and Fred Senn raise are directly applicable to the efforts I&KM pros are undertaking — especially those who are or who work directly with HR, chief design officers, or other "culture players," as they are described in Juicing The Orange. In particular:
As part of the run-up to the Business Innovation Factory summit (BIF-3) currently going on in Providence, Rhode Island, attendees participated in an online social network. On the social networking site, the most common one-word answers to the question “What are 5 keys to innovation?” were rolled up into a tag cloud (see figure). Words that rose to the top of the list included creativity, collaboration, and passion. These are all good.