Forrester: Value of Virtual Worlds

by Lee Hopkins on October 26, 2009 · 8 comments

in academic research,second life,second life & 3d virtual worlds

I’ve finally been able to read and digest the Forrester report on virtual worlds from earlier this year: ‘The Real Value of Virtual Worlds’ by TJ Keitt.

It’s a great report that signifies where many (including your humble correspondent) have been getting it wrong when we trumpet the value of 3D virtual worlds.

Let me explain…

I, probably like many evangelists, have been trumpeting the corporate value of 3D virtual worlds (aka ‘3D VWs’) as arriving from being able to hold pan-global meetings and benefit from the immersive, multi-level interaction and psychological investment that comes from these immersive environments.

But as the Forrester report points out, such a focus is folly. The growth and development of bandwidth and concomitant technological capability means that merely positioning 3D VWs as ‘better-than’ replacements for traditional audio/video conferencing or web conferencing is misguided at best and totally dumb at worst; these technologies will continue to evolve and improve.

But where 3D VWs will shine, and the traditional conferencing tools will not be able to match, is in multi-dimensional complexity.

Diagrammatically this can be represented so:

conventional-vs-3dvw-conferencing

The challenge for us evangelists is that we haven’t been clear on the benefits that arise from the multi-dimensional aspects of this communication universe.

That is in part, Forrester argue, because we have been focused on attempting to be ‘separate’ from the existing conferencing tools, a ‘better than them’ approach.

What Forrester rightly point out (and I am the first to raise my hand and proclaim ‘mea culpa’) is that we are foolish to ignore the embedded technologies already extant in corporations.

Oh, and forget SMEs; I have come to realise after two failed business ventures that Small-to-Medium-sized-Enterprises just don’t have the financial capital (even if they have the intellectual capital) to invest in such technologies, partly because their clients are nowhere near ready to join them.

What we ‘should’ be trumpeting loudly from the parapets is the multi-dimensional and psychologically immersive nature of these 3D
VWs; but I agree that attempting to ‘sell the benefits’ in a workshop can be a hard slog without actually getting the participants ‘wet’, which takes bandwidth and a HUGE amount of time, which today’s workshops certainly don’t allow me (and I can’t see  many corporately or governmentally employed delegates signing up for a whole-day workshop on virtual world immersive communication! [grin])

Corporations and large government departments are focusing their energies on unified communications and collaboration (known as ‘UC & C’); we evangelists should be focusing on the benefits that come from these multi-channel and immersive interactions that happen IN CONJUNCTION WITH already existing UC technologies when you add in 3D VWs. Therein lies a foot in the door.

We should not be trying to COMPETE with the Microsofts, Alcatel-Lucents, IBMs, Avayas and Ciscos of this world for some (to our potential clients) slightly intangible ‘touchy-feely’ benefit; we should be aligning with and integrating any offering we present WITH these giant organisations, not trying to be a ‘Jack of All Communication Trades’ solution in the one box to them.

The report, if you haven’t already picked it up, is a cracker, and I thoroughly recommend you get hold of a copy. I thank Sarah at Forrester for being patient enough with me to let me sit on this report for a few months while I let non-virtual intrusions get in the way of compiling it. Thanks, Sarah – you are a gem.


  • http://www.feedingedge.co.uk/blog Ian Hughes/epredator

    I think it is part of the natural evolution of thought that people start with what they know, mirror it and try to make is bigger and better.
    It is a hard sell to people who have not yet tried to communicate live online with people for them to consider it might actually be better for some things and bring out whole new ways of working and operating.
    The classic conversation I have with those who are nearly (not early) adopters revolves around voice.
    Can we talk like on a telephone. Yes you can but… sometimes its better not to use voice. Cue sharp intake of breath. I then go on to explain that in a direct conversation with nothing else going on in the world around you voice is great, yet online you are able to thin slice tasks and talk to more than one person at a time. That is very very hard with voice and also breaks the social contract you form with those you communicate with.
    Being able to work between text streams as well as move a virtual representation around an environment give a whole host of other ways to get your point across and nobody feels ignored.
    If you are talking to someone at a conference and you mobile goes, if you pick it up and start talking you have lost the other persons trust and they feel left out.
    In a virtual environment responding to various back channel conversations with text keeps everyone engaged. The live but not quite instant nature becomes a shared context to work in.
    “But people might not be paying attention to …..?” correct, but they probably would drift off into a daydream in a regular office if the content and conversation is not engaging enough, so make them want to pay attention.
    There is also not one answer and avatars and islands is but a stepping stone to even richer human communication at distance, nothing beats real life but when you cant get everyones carbon atoms in the same place at the same time you have to do something else and make it as good as you can.
    .-= Ian Hughes/epredator´s last blog ..Art, U2inSL and experiences in Second Life =-.

  • http://www.feedingedge.co.uk/blog Ian Hughes/epredator

    I think it is part of the natural evolution of thought that people start with what they know, mirror it and try to make is bigger and better.
    It is a hard sell to people who have not yet tried to communicate live online with people for them to consider it might actually be better for some things and bring out whole new ways of working and operating.
    The classic conversation I have with those who are nearly (not early) adopters revolves around voice.
    Can we talk like on a telephone. Yes you can but… sometimes its better not to use voice. Cue sharp intake of breath. I then go on to explain that in a direct conversation with nothing else going on in the world around you voice is great, yet online you are able to thin slice tasks and talk to more than one person at a time. That is very very hard with voice and also breaks the social contract you form with those you communicate with.
    Being able to work between text streams as well as move a virtual representation around an environment give a whole host of other ways to get your point across and nobody feels ignored.
    If you are talking to someone at a conference and you mobile goes, if you pick it up and start talking you have lost the other persons trust and they feel left out.
    In a virtual environment responding to various back channel conversations with text keeps everyone engaged. The live but not quite instant nature becomes a shared context to work in.
    “But people might not be paying attention to …..?” correct, but they probably would drift off into a daydream in a regular office if the content and conversation is not engaging enough, so make them want to pay attention.
    There is also not one answer and avatars and islands is but a stepping stone to even richer human communication at distance, nothing beats real life but when you cant get everyones carbon atoms in the same place at the same time you have to do something else and make it as good as you can.
    .-= Ian Hughes/epredator´s last blog ..Art, U2inSL and experiences in Second Life =-.

  • http://www.feedingedge.co.uk/blog Ian Hughes/epredator

    I think it is part of the natural evolution of thought that people start with what they know, mirror it and try to make is bigger and better.
    It is a hard sell to people who have not yet tried to communicate live online with people for them to consider it might actually be better for some things and bring out whole new ways of working and operating.
    The classic conversation I have with those who are nearly (not early) adopters revolves around voice.
    Can we talk like on a telephone. Yes you can but… sometimes its better not to use voice. Cue sharp intake of breath. I then go on to explain that in a direct conversation with nothing else going on in the world around you voice is great, yet online you are able to thin slice tasks and talk to more than one person at a time. That is very very hard with voice and also breaks the social contract you form with those you communicate with.
    Being able to work between text streams as well as move a virtual representation around an environment give a whole host of other ways to get your point across and nobody feels ignored.
    If you are talking to someone at a conference and you mobile goes, if you pick it up and start talking you have lost the other persons trust and they feel left out.
    In a virtual environment responding to various back channel conversations with text keeps everyone engaged. The live but not quite instant nature becomes a shared context to work in.
    “But people might not be paying attention to …..?” correct, but they probably would drift off into a daydream in a regular office if the content and conversation is not engaging enough, so make them want to pay attention.
    There is also not one answer and avatars and islands is but a stepping stone to even richer human communication at distance, nothing beats real life but when you cant get everyones carbon atoms in the same place at the same time you have to do something else and make it as good as you can.
    .-= Ian Hughes/epredator´s last blog ..Art, U2inSL and experiences in Second Life =-.

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  • Lee Hopkins

    “nothing beats real life but when you cant get everyones carbon atoms in the same place at the same time you have to do something else and make it as good as you can”

    And there, Ian, I think you’ve hit it on the head. There ARE plenty of other options out there for those times when we can’t all meet face-to-face, but virtual worlds, imho, are the best of the tools currently available.

  • Lee Hopkins

    “nothing beats real life but when you cant get everyones carbon atoms in the same place at the same time you have to do something else and make it as good as you can”

    And there, Ian, I think you’ve hit it on the head. There ARE plenty of other options out there for those times when we can’t all meet face-to-face, but virtual worlds, imho, are the best of the tools currently available.

  • Lee Hopkins

    “nothing beats real life but when you cant get everyones carbon atoms in the same place at the same time you have to do something else and make it as good as you can”

    And there, Ian, I think you’ve hit it on the head. There ARE plenty of other options out there for those times when we can’t all meet face-to-face, but virtual worlds, imho, are the best of the tools currently available.

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