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Collaboration shouldn’t be like driving by keyboard

Back in 1984 I was a manufacturer’s rep for a computer company called Apple and they had this new computer called Macintosh. Using the mouse was foreign to most people and we’d put on seminars to teach them how to manipulate a mouse and try out this new fangled computer and it’s graphical user interface or GUI (“OK everyone…now drag the arrow to the top left of the screen. Good. Now drag it to the bottom right. Good. Now click once on what looks like a manila file folder. Good.” Yes, it was that sort of brain-dead-simple movements that gave people a feel for a GUI since no one we were presenting to yet had a clue.

One of the metaphors I remember using to help people understand this new paradigm of controlling a computer was comparing this new mousing method — and how fluid, intuitive, fast and seamless it was — to driving using a computer keyboard and typing out commands vs. just using a steering wheel. I’d start off…

Imagine if we had to use a keyboard to drive a car! To start the car moving you’d type in “Go 30” and the car would begin to accelerate to 30mph. “TL 20″ for turning left 20 degrees” “Alt-B” for braking. Then “OH MY GOD, THERE’S A WOMAN WITH A BABY CARRIAGE!!” and I’d pretend to be all flustered and scrambling to quickly locate the Alt-B keys to stop the car (trust me…it seemed pretty funny 20+ years ago).

Using today’s virtual worlds is somewhat like typing commands vs. fluid steering with a wheel. While I enjoy Second Life (SL), the learning curve necessary to build an avatar, learn how to move through the SL space is far too daunting to all but the most highly motivated among us. While flying in-world is fun and it’s cool, getting around isn’t as easy as it appears in recorded SL videos or perhaps how devotees of SL would have you believe.

To use SL in a business setting for casual use isn’t practical (I’ve tried) since the training and learning costs are too high and get in the way of the intended reason and outcome of getting together to collaborate in the first place! Can’t tell you how much time I’ve invested with people to get them to stop flying and learn how to come back to ground and walk and I’m not terribly patient when it comes to coaching people through the basics when we’ve got stuff to be accomplished.

Qwaq understands these limitations and has a different approach…one that’s simple with relatively short learning curves. I’ve written about Qwaq before and their approach (e.g., building upon the open source Croquet engine), but haven’t looked at them for quite awhile. Did this afternoon and it’s clear they’ve been making great strides and even have an emerging ecosystem (e.g., 3D Templates).

Qwaq isn’t as high resolution or functional as an SL, but that’s not their target market and again, the biggest plus to Qwaq’s approach is that the learning curve is really short. Anyone with face-time in front of computer for any length of time can quickly get up-to-speed and use it.

Qwaq was just showcased in analyst firm Gartner’s latest report, “April 2008 — “Cool Vendors in Collaboration and Social Software, 2008 — and the software is worth a look if you’re connecting with people virtually and would like a persistent room (i.e., work on stuff and leave it there for future work), a virtual meeting space and an enterprise-ready virtual environment that emulates the real world nicely with all the advantages of a location agnostic collaboration space.

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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