In Mark Kingdon’s first blog post after taking over the helm at Linden Lab, he said of his first first staff meeting that “It was a remarkable first meeting with the team and I can tell you I have never attended another staff meeting like this anywhere. It was visually arresting and very engaging. Second Life’s communication tools (text chat and voice) worked brilliantly for a meeting like this – far superior to a video conference or web-enabled teleconference. If we had wanted visual aids, we could have screened a Power Point show, a web page or a video inworld. Philip even did an audience poll. I imagine this is why businesses and educational institutions are buying a lot of land. Inworld collaboration is going to be a killer application.” (emphasis added)
Recent announcements from Linden Lab underscore its new focus on broadening the collaboration capabilities of Second Life. First, there’s SLim™, a new IM client for conversing with users in Second Life from behind an SL-unfriendly firewall. There’s also a separate technology to give every avatar a phone number so that their owners can communicate with mobile users via SMS and with all phone users via SL’s VoIP service. This phone capability has previously been demonstrated by Vodafone and separately by NEC. Even the OpenSim community has demonstrated integration with the Asterisk PBX. The third element of the broader collaboration vision is the development of the Open Grid Protocols to provide an integration framework for Opensim, realXtend and other virtual worlds. These worlds are increasingly likely to be implemented inside corporate firewalls to protect corporate IP (intellectual property) and preserve confidentiality. But these technologies will also be used outside the firewall to interact with customers, channel partners and global suppliers. It’s vital that these worlds be able to interoperate like our standardized phone systems rather than our old analog TV systems.
Cisco, which has seen great success with its high definition Telepresence systems, has partnered with Musion to resell the Musion Eyeliner Holographic Projection System. Telepresence is aimed at small meetings (1-on-1 up to maybe 8-on-8) in a format that places the parties on the opposite sides of a conference table. The Musion system fills another virtual presence niche by projecting the lifelike presence of a remote participant (often a celebrity speaker) onto a stage in front of a large audience.
Nortel, very mindful of Cisco encroaching in its space, and well aware of Cisco’s interest in virtual worlds, has acquired DiamondWare to leverage its 3D spatial sound software for its planned web.alive enterprise collaboration offering. Nortel says “web.alive will leverage voice, HD audio, presence, identity and corporate security technologies to bring boring conference calls to life in a virtual world within the security of each corporation’s own network. It also eliminates call confusion over – who’s speaking? What did they say? Who else is on the call? What chart are they on?” Nortel is already using it internally for training, collaboration, and other applications as well. You can photos and video of the web.alive system on the web.alive blog.
I’m not sure that I would use that turn of phrase, but anything that increases engagement and participation in virtual meetings is a worthwhile improvement over the current solutions.
It should be an interesting battle. Nortel is not recognized as a player in virtual worlds, but it does have existing relationships with the CIO. Its phones are on many desks in enterprises around the world. Cisco has a big presence in Second Life and uses the Unisfair virtual exhibition platform for its channel partners, but it has no virtual world product yet. However, Cisco is trying to grab some of Nortel’s desk space with VoIP and video conferencing phones. Cisco often finds itself in direct competition with Microsoft which has carved out a respectable position with its Messenger & Communicator client products and its LiveMeeting / Unified Communications Server on the server side. Microsoft has no virtual world offering yet, but is expected to integrate something with SharePoint perhaps in 2009. Following the recent launch of SQL Server 2008 in Second Life, Microsoft has undergone a religious conversion about virtual worlds. Its Project Manhattan effort to build a grid of Opensim servers running on Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server is advancing rapidly. (Does the name signify a secret weapon of unimaginable power?)