Qwaq Launches Virtual Workspace

Last week I was delighted to receive an offer to be in a hosted session with Greg Nuyens, CEO of Qwaq, to take a pre-launch peek at a secure, virtual workspace product called “Qwaq Forums”…a product built upon the open source Croquet project (site Croquet Consortium site here).

In April of last year I wrote a post entitled, “Is Second Life the Future of Collaboration and Social Software?” since I’d been thinking deeply about the implications of metaverse world’s like Second Life providing us with ever higher ability to be involved in an immersive, persistent, engaging, fun and creative space. But just like Skype’s proprietary protocol limits the ability to leverage their IP telephony or Apple’s closed iPod (and soon to be closed iPhone launch) limits the expansion, this seemingly needed control limits what organizations can (or will) do with technology.

Qwaq’s approach is that their product, Qwaq Forums, “…enhances the productivity of distributed teams by bringing critical resources together in a virtual place, as if they were in an actual physical location, and providing them with all the tools and collaboration capabilities they need to work more effectively together. With Qwaq Forums, users can work together to establish workflow steps, create or review information in software applications, and evaluate designs in 2D and 3D, all while discussing topics using built-in text and voice chat. Further enhancing employee productivity, Qwaq Forums virtual workspaces are always available so users can return to a forum at another time to access and view changes that have occurred since they last visited the virtual space.”

So what was my experience like and why should you be keenly interested? I think you might be surprised by my perception…

What they’ve delivered is a very important step in the evolution of collaboration, social spaces, accelerated creativity and for the delivery of a virtual space that we ALL will need for the work of the future.

The importance of this cannot be overemphasized. Our work will increasingly be virtual, always-on, completely often asynchronous (meaning we’ll need to get stuff done whenever we can by bopping into the world at a moment’s notice from wherever we happen to be), and one where we can engage more of our senses than sitting on a conference call watching somebody’s Powerpoint (Oh my God how my eyes glaze over when I’m in these!).

Let’s hope Avian flu, a dirty bomb or some other catastrophic event doesn’t befall us (especially since the Internet can just handle what we’re doing now!) since most organizations don’t yet have any sort of virtual, collaborative environments running — and people used to using them — enabling workers to throw stuff in a briefcase and work from home, a hotel or a coffee shop. If any of those tragic events DO occur, the demand for virtual spaces will explode (no macabre pun intended!).

Though disappointly crude graphically in comparison to metaverse engines like There or Second Life — or even many of the MMORPG’s we play in — that’s beside the point right now and left brain engineers aren’t known for their design and brushstroke skills anyway (Greg did mention that they’d not yet engaged with an accelerated body of artists and designers for in-world graphical creations). Those spaces are inherently geeky, have pretty steep learning curves, and are NOT something that 90% of Internet-connected humans would invest time, energy and effort in learning. The barriers and obstacles to mainstream adoption are simply too high.

What’s intriguing to me about Qwaq are the following unique pieces:

  • Within 5 minutes I had a good feel for how to navigate and much of the space was pretty intuitive. I said to Greg, “I could train someone in an hour how to use it and that is someone non-technical or inexperienced with virtual spaces“. This is very important for mainstream deployments in the enterprise since putting something in place that requires months or a constant use to remain fluent in the navigation and use of it just doesn’t fly (which most online games or other virtual environments require)
  • I loved how simple it was to “drag-and-drop” content into the workspace from my desktop. But what was *really* cool was the ability to have anything the Web could deliver displayed on the walls (or whatever metaphor you want to come up with when you design the space). Greg had my blog displayed and I could navigate around within a window. These windows could just as easily been some enterprise or Web application that Greg was showing me how to use and/or we were collaborating on
  • At one point we went “outside” the room and could have a private conversation. On the surface this doesn’t seem important, but it’s one of the key details that they’ve thought through among many, many others.
  • This is a hosted or, most importantly, a behind-the-firewall implementation that organizations can use, mold, shape, secure, and evolve within their organizations. This is MUCH different than any other approach currently and is the critical success factor for Qwaq.
  • They’ve got a deep management bench: “The Qwaq management team and key technical staff all share a deep background in developing and bringing to market highly scalable, distributed systems and have been involved in key industry developments such as graphical user interfaces, persistent networked objects, web services and Croquet. Qwaq’s team includes founder and CTO, David Smith, a 3D pioneer and chief system architect of the Croquet Project; Nuyens, former CEO of instant802, chief technologist at Inktomi and Xerox PARC alumni; and Vice President of Enterprise, Remy Malan, former marketing vice president at AtWeb and director at Sun Microsystems. Qwaq Advisory board members include Alan Kay, founder of the Croquet Project, winner of the Kyoto Prize, Turing and Draper Awards, and one of the earliest pioneers of object-oriented programming, personal computing, and graphical user interfaces; and Internet pioneer and Croquet architect David Reed.” These people know what’s up and what they’re doing.

Spend some time wrapping your head around what they’ve delivered, what it could do for you and why today’s announcement is such an important leap forward. Qwaq Forums isn’t the end-game….it’s just the beginning.

When I think about sitting in session at the Federal Office Systems Expo in Washington DC in 1991 and seeing some Adobe executive pontificating about this cool project, Carousel, it was about 10 minutes into the session when the light bulb switched on above my head and grew brighter as the session went on. The huge problem Carousel was solving was the clear move to digital documents (and there were tons of other solutions and approaches at the time that weren’t all that effective) created by a plethora of platforms, operating systems, fonts, graphic formats and more. Carousel was the code name for Portable Document Format (PDF).

Here we are 15 years later and PDF is the standard and is now an open source format.  I’ve been closely following Adobe’s Apollo project (to take the container concept made popular by PDF and do the same thing for HTML, Flash, Javascript, etc. in one, cross-platform runtime container) and I’m even MORE excited by what Apollo will do then I ever was for Carousel.

Will Croquet be the engine/standard? I’m not yet competent to render an opinion but I’m very enthusiastic by their approach AND that they’re open source (a huge plus in my view). One thing that the Croquet team seems to comprehend is that these worlds require large-scale, distributed multi-user virtual 3D applications and metaverses to be delivered and its architected in just such a fashion. If the ecosystem of developers embraces them, a standard could emerge.

Qwaq will get traction only because they completely understand that giving someone a semi-trailer truck (i.e., an engine like There or Second Life) doesn’t do much good if the person has a small garage and needs a vehicle to go get groceries and tool around  (90% of collaborators). Qwaq Forums is a powerful, easy to use and navigate, co-creation space that the rest of us can use.


  1. The Meshverse Journal on March 13, 2007 at 11:36 am

    How Important Will Qwaq Forums Be?

    Steve Borsch(gonna have to steal borrow the opening paragraph of his about page)  says:
    What theyve delivered is a very important step in the evolution of collaboration, social spaces, accelerated creativity and for the delivery of a virtual sp…

  2. Open IT Strategies on March 17, 2007 at 3:04 am

    WebEx 2D vs. 3D

    The key feature that I (and others) think is a winner is persistence, e.g. having a virtual war room where you can resume a meeting with all the documents on the wall where you left them. Blogger Steve Borsch thinks such asynchronous collaboration is…

  3. Joel West on March 17, 2007 at 3:06 am

    … The key feature that I (and others) think is a winner is persistence, e.g. having a virtual war room where you can resume a meeting with all the documents on the wall where you left them. Blogger Steve Borsch thinks such asynchronous collaboration is essential for virtual distributed work. (Borsch claims to have grokked Adobe’s Carousel back in 1991, when I wondered what they were smoking).

  4. A Donkey on the Edge on May 21, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    links for 2007-05-21

    Pipes: Rewire the web (tags: programming socialsoftware mashup tools web2.0) Connecting the Dots: Qwaq Launches Virtual Workspace (tags: community socialsoftware online social) Operator11 — Become a net-star! (tags: socialsoftware voice web2.0 video) …

  5. Denis on September 21, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    You can also have a look at Tixeo’s solutions WorkSpace3D and Meeting for similar concepts.

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.