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Are Virtual Worlds the Future of Work? Collaboration? Play?

Me as "Mojo Fisher"...fishin' for my mojo

While the Collaborative Technologies Conference was quite good and virtual worlds were touched upon, much of it felt staid and, dare I say, old? Mainly this occurred because of how much I’ve learned, understand and have seen in this space…and I’m most comfortable living and thinking in a strategic place so am usually two or three years out in the future with respect to technology and its uses.

What I’m realizing is that the participatory culture of which I’ve written extensively (in the search box at the upper right of my blog just type in “participation culture” to view previous posts) is accelerating demand for a whole host of new approaches and technologies. Blogging, podcasting, vlogging, MySpace, TagWorld, LinkedIn, and all the other ways to connect people are causing me to re-evaluate and re-think many of my assumptions about how virtual connections should work.

Using flat, two dimensional collaboration offerings are powerful and all of the new, Web 2.0-ish providers Foldera, Central Desktop or even Basecamp are providing extraordinarily easy to use, centralized and at-your-fingertips products which anyone who has mastered a mouse can access. For the next several years, these types of offerings will be THE way most people collaborate.

When I started evangelizing blogging and podcasting a couple of years ago to “C” level executives, they looked at me like I had three heads…until articles about it hit the cover of Business Week and within the pages of Forbes. Next up came my casual mentions of virtual worlds. Again, I could just see the bemused looks on their faces…again until Business Week had a major cover story just a few weeks ago.

Just like real life, Second Life is hosting parties, sexfests, but most germane to this blog are the collaborations, meetings and meetups that are occurring.  Stanford Law Professor, Larry Lessig lectured. Cory Doctorow held his book launch party “in world”. This SL blog lists 3-5 events every week.

Blogs like 3PointD, Collaborative Strategies,  and someone (Robin Good) who watches this space and has an intriguing article here. Even a former audio/videoblogging guy, Eric Rice, has really invested in Second Life and the virtual space.

All this said, I have a challenge getting my clients up-to-speed with wiki’s, content management and forums…let alone suggesting they buy an island in SL and build a virtual collaborative space! Plus, if you look at my avatar (Mojo Fisher), it’d be pretty hard to take me seriously if I was holding a business meeting of some kind in world (though I could dress him up in a suit, shave those sideburns, and get rid of the skin tight trousers).

People have been experimenting with mapping faces onto their avatars (pics of their actual faces). Audio and even video is being delivered (I’ve seen faux TV shows on TV’s, a drive-in movie theater under construction, and advertisers are paying to on signage and other locations in popular spaces in-world). So you can see the potential once a few things occur:

  1. Resolution gets better. While phenomenal right now, the rendering speed, texture maps and quality of movement (dependent upon internet speed, graphics rendering in your computer, and the server speeds at Linden Labs, creators of SL) will enhance and make the experience incredibly good
  2. Voice over IP. Once I can actually talk to someone vs. typing…it will be close to real-time communication
  3. A way to offer guest accounts that provide base-case avatars and an easy way for someone to try out SL, attend an event or gathering, without having to invest alot of time in building the avatar and figuring out the rules of the world.

Of course, alot of this is a non-issue with younger, completely tech savvy folks who are incredibly comfortable with virtual spaces and online behaviors. As bandwidth, computing horsepower, and system efficiencies accelerate (and you know they will!), I’m already convinced that virtual spaces will be the work, collaboration and play spaces of tomorrow.

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

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