Is Nortel's Next-Gen Collaboration App Too Ambitious?


While it’s still in incubation stage, web workers will want to keep Nortel’s web.alive project on their radars. Codenamed “Project Chainsaw,” web.alive is virtual world software, but it’s aimed at online business collaboration and e-commerce applications.

Web.alive is being built by a team within Nortel and appears to be focused on next-generation extensions of many of the collaboration tools we’re already used to in tools such as online meeting applications. While it doesn’t appear to be focused on videonconferencing, there are some signs that Nortel means to make this application good.

There is already a YouTube video showing some early examples of how web.alive will work. It features the project’s chief architect, who discusses how it has security features that allow you to verify that the person you are talking to is who you mean to talk to, ways to identify those making noise on a conference call and muting them without muting others, and more.

The application clearly makes heavy use of avatars–which many users have been critical of in other applications, but some of the 3D graphics seen in the video are impressive. John Roese, chief technology officer at Nortel, said this in announcing the project:

“web.alive will help businesses deal with one of the major drawbacks of most communication technologies today – the ability to give users a ‘real-life’ experience that is more interactive and intuitive. For example, if you’re participating in a conference call today it is difficult to have sidebar conversations, to know who else is in the meeting, who is speaking and the relationship or business history of all the participants. web.alive will address those issues by pulling together the IT and telecom worlds to give each avatar access to a wealth of information in ways we have never seen before.”

Notably, the application is being built in such a way that it can be added to external web sites, “so that customer avatars can not only interact with each other but also with a company’s customer service avatar.”

Nortel has also announced its acquisition of DiamondWare, which makes proximity-based 3D positional voice technology for web applications. DiamondWare will be a key component of web.alive. Siemens and other companies have attempted to do very robust online collaboration tools that integrate advanced telephony features in the past. Most web workers I know have reached for leaner, more targeted, and often free applications instead, though. We’ll see if web.alive can be a game-changer.


Peter Brockmann

Nortel’s success in this kind of collaborative ‘wonderworld’ is totally dependent on being successful in a small number of vertical applications. I hope they’ll take the long view and focus, focus, focus.

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