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Here come Virtual World Intranets… Seriously

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Online worlds on the Internet? That’s so last month ago. Judging by recent initiatives from Sun and IBM, the latest trend is a corporate-controlled, business-centric virtual world architected for internal use only– call it the intranet metaverse. In Sun’s case, it’s MPK20, a “a virtual 3D environment in which employees can accomplish their real work, share documents, and meet with colleagues using natural voice communication.”

The idea is to bring remote workers in Sun’s worldwide offices together into a single embodied space, “where the spacial layout of the 3D world coupled with the immersive audio provides strong cognitive cues that enhance collaboration.” (Via 3pointD, where blogger Mark Wallace has worthwhile commentary.) In IBM’s case, it’s a rough-and-ready 3D environment created by their Innovate Quick team, using the Torque graphics engine from Garage Games.

“The project team is exploring ways to scale, and also applying different models of operation,” Ian Hughes of IBM’s UK branch tells me. “We are building a user base of interested users and developers as part of our CIO office technology adoption program.” Hughes spearheaded IBM’s early explorations of Second Life as a private development lab for the future 3D Internet, where the team creates cool applications like a universal language translator for avatars.

In SL, Ian goes by the unlikely Resident name epredator Potato, and looks less like an IT specialist than an alien hunter the Governor of California memorably dubbed, “One ugly mother****er.” The trouble with using Second Life for IBM business, writes Hughes, is that it’s inaccessible behind Big Blue’s firewall [some intranet, internal applications cannot be reached from Second Life], and they were looking to bolster the companies existing internal communication channels. “What we need is the ability to gather some people together and use the human aspects of the avatar interaction to be more effective in our communications.”

While some Net pundits have quickly dismissed Fortune 500 interest in virtual worlds as mere marketing hype, it’s projects like these which suggest that high tech companies are serious about their potential to transform the Internet. If they privately come up with new protocols and technology that adds real value to the way they do business, the future of the broader Net as a 3D medium is all but insured. By the same token, they may just end up adding another level of aggravation to the conference call.

8 Responses to “Here come Virtual World Intranets… Seriously”

  1. bequiet andgoback towork

    The Governor of California did not utter those words, a character played by the same person playing the govenor of California, uttered those words.

    You can express opinions but if you misrepresent facts, that’s where you can get into legal troubles and all those things and such.

  2. Paul Sheldon

    I have been excitedly participating in a list of croquet users.

    Alan Kay had an educational interest in croquet and funded research in it to inspire the minds of children and folks who had thought their maturity precluded “childish” inspiration.

    His doing with images makes symbols on google video
    (you may have to struggle to get part 2 where the meat is
    in just about 20 minutes excerpt) speaks of his teaching philosophy.

    Alan Kay invented object oriented programming and croquet is a virtual world creator that really is an open operating system running on a squeak virtual machine, so the child in us can learn to create, not only virtual worlds, but also open object oriented operating systems.

    I got into it when I remembered a Tim Gallway movie about someone learning choral direction by moving from a natural dance form. I saw someone do that last year in a choir camp and recalled the movie around 1984 and started tracking down what Alan Kay was doing nowadays.

  3. This is the first article where my epredator has managed to get linked with the governer of california :-)

    I should just add that Second Life itself is accessible form inside IBM. However we have intranet, internal applications that cannot be reached from Second Life.

  4. Second Life and other virtual worlds demonstrate what is possible with 3D environments – and are the precursors of more sophisticated worlds that will emerge in the next few years.

    Why is SL of interest to business? For me, as an employee of a global company, the first (and quick) answer is cost reduction. If only a tiny fraction of meetings are held in 3D spaces the savings in travel time, cost and carbon miles delivers a rapid return on investment.

    But it goes much further. Communication within large companies can be very difficult. EG: How do you find the folk who can help you with a particular topic? The casual, ad hoc teams and interest groups that can come about in social spaces can address this.

    Also, 3D literally adds another dimension to visualisation. Conveying complex relationships (data models, business processes etc) can be more effective if done in 3D. Also, “metaphor models” (using familiar objects to explain the complex) work better in an environment with which we are familiar. We live in a 3D world, so 3D models are more intuitive (if done well!).

    Finally, 3D worlds provide the opportunity for presentations and trade shows where a company can field their senior executives (whose time may be too tight to spend on otherwise lengthy business trips) and place them in direct and immediate (pseudo-)face-to-face contact with their clients and prospects.

    There are many other features – but that will do for now!

  5. I think it’s great that companies are exploring and experimenting with these virtual mediums. While SL is fun and interesting to use for a few hours, some companies are finding it to be ineffective and inefficient. Linden Labs does has to cope with server load issues and community developments. I would give it a couple of years before we see some great virtual worlds that can act as an intranet.

  6. There is definitely a move towards getting your business involved in virtual type worlds. I have heard of business having virtual meetings but this who virtual intranet is taking it even further. Being a virtual world addict I think this is fantastic. The technology is really exciting and sure it is new and buggy but it will only get better.