While Nortel faces financial struggles and unprecedented debt, there are bright spots in the company's portfolio which most reporters will ignore because - well good news doesn't sell. I for one think it is always worth exploring the silver linings in every dark cloud - even if the notion seems unpopular.Recently I participated in a virtual world demo with Nortel where they showed me what they call web.alive -- a business oriented virtual world. Complete with avatars, this immersive experience is similar to Second Life but without the need to download software.
You simply go to a web page and logon and you are immediately transported into a virtual 3D world where you are able to really simulate reality.
How a typical web.alive staff meeting could look
While it is easy to dismiss the notion of virtual worlds for business as Second Life seems to be an environment where people want to escape work (and everything else), I can tell you that I remain impressed about the future of this technology. I imagine it will be bigger in a decade than we can currently imagine but in the near term, I am not sure how popular such an environment will become.
As you know from my prior writings there is full DiamondWare 3D stereoVoIP technology built-in. I have touted DiamondWare's patented technology for over half a decade and it is as impressive now as it has ever been. It allows you to have your voice volume increase and decrease as you get closer or move farther away from others. It also allows you to hear people on the left or right when they talk and it seems these people are really speaking from one direction or another.
A decent distance to keep in order to hear one another well
Check out the omnivoice supporting stage in the distance. Is this the future of trade shows?
In certain rooms there are omnivoice areas meaning when you stand there, your voice gets amplified to all people in the room. To reduce the feeling that people are sneaking up on you, there are ears that pop up with names next to them as people come up behind you or stand next to you out of viewing range. There are multiple views allowing you to see yourself from a third person perspective if you decide.
In this virtual world you can jump, raise your hand, bow, fall asleep, clap hands, nod, shake your head, walk backwards, sideways and most unshockingly, forwards.
Some great features are the ability to embed PowerPoint right into the environment. You can do the same with documents and videos as well. Others can easily zoom in on areas in the environment - a useful feature if you are sitting in the back of a busy auditorium.
Your slide seems a bit distant. Let me rotate my mouse scroll wheel to check it out.
See that video in the distance -- think we should walk over and press play?
I am sorry Arn, until you authenticate -- I refuse to listen -- blah, blah, blah... I'm not lihhhh-stening.
You can also look to see if others are authenticated via FaceBook, Active Directory or some other mechanism. If they are - an authenticated sign will pop up next to them.
You can also assign access rights restricting for example who can go onstage and become the "omnivoice."
The way the system works is when you are using it actively, your mouse changes your view around the environment. When in web.alive, people typically move constantly. When you switch to another application, you stop moving and this is a dead giveaway that you may not be paying attention. This is frighteningly like the real world.
Wait -- you have a telepresence room in here too. This really boggles the mind. Now I don't have to leave my house to go to the telepresence room? Actually web.alive isn't connected to live telepresence at the moment but imagine the integration potential.
The four of us (you can't see me) are in a private meeting room and the person (avatar) on the other side of the glass cannot hear us unless we go close to the door which automatically opens. At this point we are alerted that our "room of silence" is gone.
When people speak - you can tell who it is because you will see a left and right channel on them showing you how loud they are speaking. This can be very helpful when determining who might be generating background noise. I know that occasionally on multiperson conference calls I feel like there is an obscene caller on the line because of heavy breathing. Now you can find the person who is making the noise and ask them politely to mute themselves.
Movement is very videogame-like so the W, A, S and D keys move you forward, left, backwards and right respectively. This allows you to keep your mouse in your right hand and is better that using the arrow keys but takes a bit of getting used to.
The system allows you to tie into a white board and have rooms for private conferences or even keynote speeches. It is very slick and now you can even change the clothes on your avatar. This can be useful to alert others to who you are speaking with.
During my conversation with the web.alive team, a few other Nortel staffers followed us into various rooms to speak with the people I was communicating with. Get this - they realized their coworkers were dressed up (due to the meeting with me) so they knew not to interrupt. Pretty cool.
So will virtual worlds become more popular in business? I have to say yes. I see penetration growing among millennials and these people will soon be in the workforce. Besides, it is just so easy to see this environment popping up on your computer when you receive a call -- CTI or Screen Pop 2.0 anyone? From there, you will get used to seeing it and then start exploring and inviting others to join.
I really feel like Nortel is onto something here. This could just be a short-lived fad but it just seems like there is just so much productivity boosting that can be done with virtual business worlds - it just has to happen.
One other sign that there is great potential here is the media (myself included) has been a bit critical of virtual worlds. Generally technology takes off when the media isn't looking. This happened with ecommerce and VoIP so I have a good deal of experience in these matters.
Will web.alive alone save Nortel from its financial problems? Definitely not. It will take too long to monetize. But what it can do if Nortel plays its cards right is convince customers the company is light years ahead of stronger competitors when it comes to the future of communications. This includes selling to carriers by the way - an area where Nortel needs any and all assistance it can get.
I have yet to see Cisco, Avaya show me something similar, so I have to say in the area of B2B virtual worlds being promoted by communications companies, Nortel is the company to watch.