Ambient Video Awareness…Big Idea? Or Big Brother?

One of the lures of web working is that we have the privacy to let our creativity and productivity flow at its own pace and in its own style. One of the disadvantages of web working is that we lose the visual cues that let us know what our co-workers are doing at any given time. Jon Udell reports on a project by the Center for New Media called Hexagon that attempts to address this shortcoming in the remote worker’s environment by creating a persistent video presence:

The idea is that a distributed team of webcam-equipped collaborators monitor one anothers’ work environments — at home, in the office, on the road — using hexagonal windows that tile nicely on a computer display.

The software itself is a prototype and not currently available, but there is a public demo to try out. For remote teams that work closely on projects, something like Hexagon has the potential to save countless “Are you busy?” “Have a sec to talk?” and “Not now, I’m on the phone.” IM messages. You can see for yourself whether a person appears to be accessible…just like popping your head over their cubicle.

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Hexagon hasn’t caught on, according to the chief researcher behind the project. Perhaps it’s because the project appears more voyeur than collaboration in its current form. For now, setting our IM status accurately and calling on-demand web conferences will have to suffice.

Isolation and loneliness are two of the biggest challenges to the web worker life. For many, it’s the barrier to entry. We use things like IM, video chat, email and Twitter to keep ourselves present and connected to our professional world…how close can technology get to the real thing before it’s just too much information?

Would you be willing to give up working in your underwear in exchange for increased visual connection to your co-workers?

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