Thursday, December 24, 2009

If Forterra Systems and Metaplace have sparked a virtual world industry shakeout, the question is: Who's next?

So, unless you've been living in a virtual cave (and given our audience, that's actually a possibility), you probably heard the rumor this week that Forterra Systems laid off 60 percent of its staff, put its assets up for sale, and is shutting down.

A day after ThinkBalm analyst Erica Driver broke the rumor on Twitter, Metaplace announced it was closing its doors. Driver has since verified that Forterra Systems has, indeed, conducted a massive layoff.

Forterra burned through tens of millions in venture capital, yet could not achieve critical mass. Ditto Metaplace, which also burned through millions before folding.

What in the virtual world is going on? Industry observers, including ThinkBalm's Driver, agree: The virtual world industry shakeout has begun. Driver tweeted, "I expect to see more shakeup in this emerging market in 2010-2011."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tony O'Driscoll and Karl Kapp's 3-D Learning Archetypes in ProtoSphere

In Karl Kapp and Tony O'Driscoll's new book, "Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration," they describe 11 "3-D learning archetypes." These archetypes are what they consider the core ways organizations can use 3-D immersive environments for learning. Or in Karl's words, "These archetypes are some of the most effective methods of designing instruction to maximize the accordances of virtual spaces."

We're creating a space inside of our public demo version of ProtoSphere to demonstrate these archetypes. Karl and Tony will also be using it as part their promotional efforts for their book. Last week, I shared with Karl some screen caps of the progress we're making. You can take a look at them below too.

ProtoSphere 1.4 Feature Peek: Single sign-on with Active Directory integration simplifies logon

A new feature in ProtoSphere 1.4 is Active Directory integration. One of the core benefits of this is the ability to support single sign-on. Our developers have been hard at work at enabling this, and I wanted to share with you a sneak peak of the function in action.

If you’re familiar with ProtoSphere, you’ll recall that every time you launch the application, a login box appears that prompts you to enter your username and password. Once the credentials are passed to the system and checked, you’re allowed entrance into the environment.

With version 1.4 and single sign-on, however, we remove that process. You are already logged into your computer and company network. So when you launch ProtoSphere, it now checks Active Directory for your credentials, passes that information onto the ProtoSphere servers, and allows you to enter the environment.

Now, you might be thinking, Well what’s the big deal if I have to type in my username and password one more time? The added benefit goes to the system administrators of an enterprise-wide roll-out. There’s no longer a need to maintain multiple sets of credentials -- not to mention the nightmare of having to enter potentially thousands of user accounts into a new system.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Manage remote workers by building personal relationships

I wanted to share another tip from IBM's Jayne Nanavaty-Dahl about how to implement a successful remote worker strategy in your organization. Her recommendations are taken from lessons she's learned from implementing OTTO (Other Than Traditional Office), IBM's remote worker practice. Today's recommendation is manage workers by building personal relationships.

Why 3-D? It supports private, personalized training and learning.

Exploring the Why 3-D? question more ... I wanted to add that 3-D supports myriad interactive training methods that imitate real-world classroom instruction. In particular, it supports private, personalized training and learning. Meanwhile, 2-D screen share or Web conference limits you to just one training method of showing learners slides, pictures, etc. in a group setting.

For instance, one of the features that many of our customers request in their ProtoSphere environments is the private VoIP zone. Certain areas within a zone are deemed to be private, usually defined by some sort of signage or visual cue, and contain a small table with a few chairs around it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

James Cameron's Avatar shows parallels to immersive virtual worlds for business


It has been a word we have been using for awhile now to describe an anthropomorphized human network connection in an immersive virtual environment. However, the traditional definition is as follows:

In Hinduism, Avatar or Avatara describes the descent of a deity from heaven to earth. In English, we translate avatar to mean "incarnation," "appearance," or "manifestation." And for us computer nerds, we have known avatars as representations of ourselves or our alter egos. It could be in the form of a 3-D model, 2-D icon, or text construct as found in early online gaming.

I think after this weekend, the word will be more broadly understood by the masses, as James Cameron's new movie, "Avatar", opened across the country. Being a CGI (computer-generated imagery) fan from jump street, I of course had to go day one. How was it? In a single word, stunning. Go see it in a properly equipped digital theater, with the funky 3-D glasses, and you will be "immersed."

LIFE SCIENCES 2010: The Global Collaboration Imperative event co-sponsored by Microsoft and ProtonMedia

If you're in life sciences, I probably don't need to tell you that the industry is at a turning point. The jury is out on how it will recover from the global recession, and companies are under pressure to accelerate discovery, grow revenues, improve learning, and boost sales with a thin workforce.

However, as we have featured here on the blog, top life sciences companies are using new-generation collaboration technology to address their business needs and stay ahead of this new competitive landscape. In our experience, we've seen our life sciences customers take innovative approaches to online learning, teaming, and collaboration. And these approaches have yielded significant results in the forms of increased knowledge retention, decreased travel time and costs, improved communications, and more.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Learning in 3D" a must-read for those in learning and collaboration technology

Two of the leading thinkers in learning and technology -- Dr. Tony O'Driscoll, Professor of the Practice at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business; and Dr. Karl Kapp, Professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University -- are publishing their new book in January. It's titled "Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration."

It covers virtual immersive environments, and how they can redefine and improve the approach to learning and collaboration in the enterprise. I read the manuscript, and Tony and Karl asked me if I would write the forward. I was happy to do so. I think their book is a required reading for anyone in the learning and collaboration spaces. So we're doing what we can to help spread the word about it.

You can get a sneak-peek preview of their book and pre-order it on now. Tony and Karl will also be starting a blog book tour on Jan. 11. More details on that, as well as updates on the book to come.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ProtoSphere 1.4 Feature Peek: Private VoIP zones for side conversations

I've recently been asked by a few different people to describe how private VoIP zones work inside of ProtoSphere 1.4. These zones let you have private, side conversations with other users, separate from the main conference that's going on. I thought a video on the subject might help illustrate this more:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ProtoSphere 1.4 Feature Peek: Single port NAT traversal keeps company networks secure

3-D virtual world products require companies to open numerous TCP/IP ports. This is how companies connect the virtual world platform to their network. ProtoSphere 1.4, however, will require just one port, port 80 or 443, to be opened. This is made possible through a technique known as NAT (network address translation) traversal.

If you're not familiar with TCP/IP ports, think of a port like a door to a house. The house represents a firewall. Since the firewall is the tool that protects intellectual properties, computers, and servers, the more "doors" (ports) you keep open, the more vulnerable your data, digital assets, and servers are to security threats.

We chose ports 80 and 443 for ProtoSphere v1.4 because most companies keep them open anyway. Customers can install ProtoSphere without bothering their IT department. All other 3-D virtual world platforms require companies to open multiple ports. One requires over 100 ports to be opened. I'm sure no IT manager would be happy about opening 100 ports. In fact, many IT managers will refuse to do so due to the security risks.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How to maintain good communications while working remotely

I wanted to pick up where we left off with Jayne Nanavaty-Dahl's guest articles on IBM's OTTO (Other Than Traditional Office) initiative. Last week we shared her article on why IBM decided to implement OTTO. Since launching the initiative in 2007, Jayne has since learned several best practices for running it. Her recommendations are good tid-bits for other organizations interested in starting or improving their remote worker strategy, and we'll be sharing them with you here on the blog. Today we bring you the first one: Communication is key.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Unified communications and collaboration (UCC): There's an app for that -- 3-D virtual environments

Last week I had the chance to visit with one of our clients, a global energy firm, where I met with a new group of about 15-20 people.

The firm is looking for justification for its unified communications and collaboration (UCC) strategy. In other words, why should it invest in UCC, and from whom? After three hours of material review, discussion, and Q&A, the essential feedback from the group was that they really liked ProtoSphere as a case study example to present to their line of business owners, because it illustrates a business application that would justify spending on implementation of the UCC infrastructure.

They were positively inclined about the ability for the ProtoSphere environment to combine so many UCC elements, including IM/text chat, VoIP, presence, video, SharePoint document access, e-mail/calendar integration, conferencing, and social profiles. This would give end users the flexibility to select which one(s) would get the job done the best/fastest.

They liked the concept of bringing the right people and the right real-time information feeds together, which could allow them to make optimal business decisions in the areas of manufacturing and production process management. This would add collaboration to those workflows.

I came away from the meeting thinking, UCC: There's an app for that ... and it's called 3-D virtual environments. And specifically, in this situation, ProtoSphere. But also, is this experience indicative of a larger trend? Is collaboration in 3-D the way enterprises will justify their UCC investment? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Social networking in the enterprise? Companies also looking to 3-D virtual worlds.

C. W. Thompson put together his round-up of social networking technologies for the enterprise in a VentureBeat article last week. He listed several popular tools, such as SocialCast and Yammer, but he didn't touch upon what I think is the most exciting area of online collaboration -- you guessed it, 3-D virtual worlds.

Companies are already measuring significant gains in engagement, speed of knowledge transfer, and team productivity by using 3-D virtual worlds for training and collaboration. (See our case study documenting a global pharmaceutical company's use of ProtoSphere to build a 3-D social network for onboarding.)

As I mention in the comment I left on C.W.'s article, the potential for enterprise 3-D virtual worlds is huge; so much so that developers of consumer virtual worlds, such as Linden Lab with Second Life, are now trying to figure out how to break in.

Click over to C.W.'s article for the rest of his list and more of my thoughts in the comments.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What makes IBM's OTTO (Other Than Traditional Office) initiative tick

We learned about IBM's remote worker strategy last month when we interviewed Jayne Nanavaty-Dahl (right), Manager of Workforce Enablement Communications for IBM. The company calls its initiative OTTO, or Other Than Traditional Office, which Jayne started in 2007.

We touched upon many facets of OTTO in our podcast, but if you're interested in more on IBM's strategy, Jayne has supplied us with a couple articles with more details. The first one is below, where she explains IBM's imperative for having a remote worker practice. Next time around, we'll share her recommendations for how to implement such a strategy. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why 3-D? Interactivity can't be had in 2-D -- and neither can its improved learning and collaboration

In my day-to-day conversations with customers, analysts, partners, and peers, a common theme that comes up is, Why 3-D? Why are 3-D virtual environments better than 2-D environments for collaborating, meeting, teaming, and learning? What can 3-D offer that 2-D just cannot match? I find similar answers arising out of these conversations to explain the business advantages of 3-D virtual worlds.

One of the primary ones is that 3-D enables interactivity that can lead to benefits such as higher retention rates, improved learning, increased collaboration, more productive brainstorming, and more efficient conflict resolution.

2-D Web conferences are mostly one way, or "half-duplex." Someone has the token, and they can talk and control the content. When someone else wants to interact, they get the token and then they talk or manipulate the document.

While ProtoSphere has this mode of operation too -- in our app-share, for example -- general communications are interactive, or "full-duplex," and ad hoc, like gathering at the water cooler. Think of how much people learn in those water cooler conversations (though the office gossip might not always be so useful).

Same idea holds true for learning. One-way learning consists of the instructor talking and leading learners through the material in the way she/he feels most appropriate. And we can do that in ProtoSphere too. However, the 3-D space lets users go through the material and learn in different ways (i.e., via exploration), depending on their learning style.

This also contributes to the higher retention rates that we are seeing, such as those experienced by one global pharmaceutical company when it used ProtoSphere to build a 3-D social network to significantly improve its onboarding process for new MBA candidates.

Interactivity also leads to the "social leveling" we see ProtoSphere users talking about. An example of this is when another pharmaceutical firm created the industry's first virtual poster session in ProtoSphere. Junior scientists approached senior ones, business people interacted with scientists, and employees of one generation engaged with newbies.

All of this can eliminate silos and break down cultural barriers that often impede collaboration and productivity. At the same time, users are able to get a glimpse of the person’s background with a right-click on their avatar to see their social profile.

The benefits of interactivity are also felt when it comes to brainstorming and conflict resolution. University of North Carolina researchers identified in a recent study two challenges when groups try to collaborate using video conferencing: Video conferencing is not the best environment for brainstorming, nor conflict resolution.

Why? Because, as the researchers found, people can't interact easily, bounce ideas off one another, negotiate, and bargain. Video conferencing tends to fall under the token-passing phenomenon we see with 2-D Web meetings. 3-D environments, on the other hand, lend themselves to the collaboration necessary to brainstorm and solve problems efficiently and effectively.

There are many other reasons we hear amidst our circles as to why 3-D environments have the advantage over 2-D environments. We'll continue to share them with you on the blog. And as always, feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FutureWork Institute's take on 3-D virtual worlds for global conferences

You might have heard about some of the work that global consulting firm FutureWork Institute has done with 3-D virtual worlds. The organization focuses on addressing workplace issues of diversity and work/life balance, and helping companies develop ways all employees can make great contributions to the enterprise (what it refers to as "inclusion").

One approach that FutureWork Institute has taken is using 3-D virtual worlds to help organizations create flexible, inclusive work environments. President and CEO Margaret Regan created a video after hosting a Virtual Diversity and Inclusion Networking Event that covered the use of ProtoSphere, Unisfair, and Second Life for large-scale meetings and global conferences. Thought I'd share it with you all here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

GRAP Clinic study shows virtual environments help smokers quit

When we talk about the applications of virtual environments, we usually focus on enterprise learning, collaboration, and training. But Canadian researchers are finding more real-world uses for virtual environments -- to help smokers kick the habit.

Researchers from Canada's GRAP Occupational Psychology Clinic and the University of Quebec in Gatineau created a virtual environment, where, for 12 weeks, smokers chased down floating cigarettes and crushed them. A control group of smokers crushed floating balls in another virtual environment.

The researchers found a significant reduction in nicotine cravings among smokers in the cigarette-crushing group. After 12 weeks, 15 percent of the cigarette crushers had abstained from smoking, compared to 2 percent in the control group.

The researchers couldn't quite explain why the cigarette crushers were more successful. But they believe the virtual exercise might have conditioned them to resist their cravings, motivated them quit, and gave them more confidence they could do it.

Interesting finding, especially with today being the Great American Smokeout! You can read more about the study in the CyberPsychology and Behavior journal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oldie but a goodie: "Did you know?" video brings back memories

I just came across the updated version of the "Did You Know?" video about globalization and the information age that went viral about two years ago. If you haven't seen it, or even if you have, it's worth another look. This might sound sappy, but I'll admit it was the original video that inspired me to look into the virtual world space, and particularly, ProtonMedia. Without it, I might not have found my way here!

The updated version:

The original:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ProtoSphere 1.4 Feature Peek: Dynamic billboard

One of our objectives with our blog is to leverage it as a way to provide our readers with insight into what our developers are working on in their "bat cave," and what might be coming down the pike. We're calling these insights "feature peeks." We'll be rolling out short videos that show you each feature peek as we develop them.

As a word of caution, I want to let you know we can't guarantee that everything we show you will make it into the next version of ProtoSphere, the version after that, or even at all. However, if something you see really blows you away, tell us in the comments. And likewise, if you think something is not so great or important, let us know too. We always strive to create our platform with our end users in mind, and if we're not meeting your needs, then we need to know!

So, without further ado, here is our first feature peek, Dynamic billboard. It's currently slated for the ProtoSphere 1.4 release. Dynamic billboards let you place text or image-based content onto whiteboards in your ProtoSphere environment. You can also drag and drop images from your desktop to the whiteboards.

This allows for persistence of that information. The content is always there until you take it down or swap it out for something else. It also lets you customize your environment on the fly.

We're working on developing support for many more file types, including Microsoft Office documents, .pdf's, other image formats like .jpeg, and video. This also opens the window for users to do remote desktop sharing, right in their 3-D space.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Laid-out version of our case study with a global 500 pharmaceutical company

The PDF version of our most recent case study is in. This covers how a global pharmaceutical company used ProtoSphere to build a 3-D social network to significantly improve its onboarding process for new MBA candidates. The company created a consistent, automated onboarding process across all locations worldwide, improved collaboration among candidates by 200 percent, and elimiated 100 percent of travel costs and requirements for candidates, among many other results that they measured and are included in the case study.

Feel free to download the PDF, share with coworkers/partners/prospects/customers/etc. If you're looking for just the text, we also posted it earlier.

Crossing the Chasm, One Implementation at a Time: Sam and Erica Driver's keynote from 3D TLC 2009

3D TLC 2009 was just about a couple of months ago, but the information presented is no less relevant. We're digging through our video footage from the show, and we grabbed the keynote presentation by ThinkBalm's Sam and Erica Driver. They discuss barriers to adopting immersive Internet technologies, share their research on the value these technologies hold for the enterprise, and present their recommendations for overcoming barriers to adoption.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remote working can be win-win for employees and companies: A study and recommendations from IBM's Jayne Nanavaty-Dahl

Remote working is a growing business practice with an estimated 10 percent of today's workforce telecommuting. Some companies have partially or completely done away with their physical offices in favor of virtual ones. One of those companies is IBM. Some 15,000 North American employees work remotely under its Other Than Traditional Office (OTTO) initiative.

That's a fast start, considering it launched just about two years ago. I recently talked to the leader behind OTTO, Jayne Nanavaty-Dahl, Manager of Workforce Enablement Communications for IBM. Our podcast is above.

Our conversation would be helpful for anyone interested in starting a telecommuting program or looking for ways to improve one already in place.

Jayne talks about her just-completed study with the Marketing Group at Northeast University's College of Business Administration. (Read about it in MIT Sloan Management Review.) Over the past two years, they have been analyzing remote working strategies at IBM and other organizations. Their goal was to identify employee and organizational challenges with remote working, such as lack of physical interaction and visibility with manager and coworkers, and work-life balance issues.

The researchers also found several management strategies to overcome these challenges, including having managerial flexibility and using online networking tools. It's Jayne's opinion that a remote working strategy is a requisite for large global companies. She herself works from home 80-90 percent of her time, and finds herself to be more productive and efficient, especially because she frequently works with people oversees.

In our podcast, Jayne also provides her recommendations for organizations who want to implement a remote worker strategy. She gives her perspective on whether there's an application for 3-D virtual environments when it comes to remote working.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The line between video conferencing's success and failure

As we talk about human factors here on the blog, I was reminded of a white paper I read that covered the findings of a study on video conferencing. In the study, University of North Carolina researchers identified recommendations for planning and implementing video conferencing to support interaction and collaboration among large groups.

You can click over to the white paper to read more about their suggestions, which I thought were insightful. But I was particularly interested by some of the background studies that the white paper referenced. These studies identified two challenges when groups try to collaborate using video conferencing, both of which arise from human factors:

One, video conferencing is not the best environment for brainstorming. And two, video conferencing is not the best environment for conflict resolution. Video conferencing tends to be an environment where just one person is comfortable talking at a time. It can be difficult, as the studies find, to share information, bounce ideas off one another, negotiate and bargain, ask questions, resolve disagreements, and make decisions.

All of this can obviously hinder collaboration, which takes me back to an argument I've made before on the blog: If you blend live or prerecorded video with other collaboration tools unified by a 3-D infrastructure, video becomes more useful, less complicated, and far less costly. Video conferencing might be justified as an investment for large conference rooms in global businesses, but it fails to address the human and cost factors that have, to date, prevented large-scale video deployments from achieving critical mass in the enterprise.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Getting ready to present at the MAC Conference today

I'll be heading down to Center City Philadelphia soon to present at the Mid-Atlantic Capital (MAC) Conference as part of the Featured Companies tracks. If you're not familiar with the conference, it's the oldest, most established venture conference in the Northeast. It draws some 1,100 people from the private equity and entrepreneurial communities. For more on my presentation and the conference, I've pasted the press release we issued below.

Monday, November 2, 2009

ReadWriteWeb deems ProtoSphere "the most advanced collaboration environment "

On Friday I demoed ProtoSphere to Alex Williams of ReadWriteWeb, and judging by his article, I think it's safe to say Alex was impressed. He writes, "It is the most advanced collaboration environment we have seen in the market. We say this without hesitation."

Thanks again, Alex, for taking the demo. See what else Alex had to say about ProtoSphere by clicking over to his article.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Global 500 pharmaceutical company boosts retention of MBA candidates with 3-D social network powered by ProtoSphere

We have another client on the record. Here's our latest case study detailing a project that a global 500 pharmaceutical company launched with ProtoSphere. We don't have permission (yet) to use their name, so we scrubbed the case study of all identifying elements. Other than that, everything documented here is real and in the customer's own words. We have a nice graphically designed version coming, too, but we wanted to share the data with you now. Once we have permission to use our client's name, we'll post an updated case study here.

Gaming insights at 3D TLC from Spil Games' Floris Jan Cuypers

While we've focused on covering the enterprise side of the 3D TLC show, there were also many exhibitors and attendees there from the consumer gaming industry. One that I spoke to was Floris Jan Cuypers, Senior Business Development Manager for Spil Games. The company is one of the largest online casual gaming networks, with 100 million unique visitors each month.

Pay no mind to how I butchered his name in the beginning of our podcast (Sorry Floris!!! I tried to get it right before we started recording, but that didn't help much.). But do listen to how Floris explains what brought him to the show and what he learned from some sessions he attended.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Avatars help bring context to content in enterprise virtual worlds

When we develop environments in ProtoSphere for clients, we invest a lot of time and creativity to ensure our avatars accurately resemble the people behind them, and properly reflect the corporate culture of the world they inhabit.

It's an important human factor that facilitates effective communication in an enterprise virtual world. Business journalist Kara Ohngren picked up on this crucial aspect of virtual worlds for business when she covered ProtoSphere in general, and our avatars in particular, in a piece for Entrepreneur Magazine. It's a good read!

Windows 7 gives rise to new opportunities for virtual meeting and collaboration

Last week Ian Lamont of The Industry Standard and I connected to discuss how Windows 7 might change the landscape for virtual meetings, and our Q&A was published today.

We talked about the opportunties Windows 7 will create for virtual meetings and collaboration, and how ProtoSphere in particular already plays well with Microsoft platforms in the enterprise -- our SharePoint integration, for example. Ian also features a video of basic ProtoSphere navigation in his coverage. Sweet!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Enterprise adoption of Windows 7 good news for ISVs

Some things just can't be ignored. The launch of a new Windows operating system is one of them. Of course, you know that Microsoft officially launched Windows 7 yesterday.

The press was looking for some insight on what this means to the enterprise. I shared my thoughts with TechNewsWorld's Erika Morphy yesterday about how the success of Windows 7 will ultimately be measured. Her article provides a great overview of opinions, including my insight.

I believe Windows 7 will satisfy pent-up demand among enterprises. That's good news for ISVs selling into an enterprise customer base, who too often encounter C-level executives ready and willing to sign on the dotted line, only to be gated by large legacy installations of ancient OSes (Windows 2000 and older). If 60 percent of all business are, in fact, planning to jump on the Win7 bandwagon, that's great news for ISVs, and for users who will benefit from contemporary solutions such as ProtoSphere.

In the view of our developers, there are several compelling  aspects of Windows 7. First up is improved performance. It boots up faster, runs apps more quickly, and makes efficient use of multi-core processors. Improvements to Remote Desktop (video & game support) are impressive. RD was previously available as a separate component available in Vista SP2 and XP SP3, but is now integrated with the base platform on day one.

Everything else to end-users (and ISVs) is marginal -- nice to have, but not compelling enough to upgrade. For the purists among us, we plan to have ProtoSphere release 1.4 certified for Windows 7.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Inside ProtoSphere's Contact Center Zone

We updated our ProtoSphere demo build to include the "Contact Center Zone," a virtual call center. Each rep would be assigned to a particular cubicle space. These spaces are encompassed in their own private VoIP zone. Every set of cubicles is color coded and assigned to teams.

A big advantage of Contact Center Zone is that it can serve as a platform for getting real work done, and can also be a training space. Managers and trainers could easily use the environment to role play, train reps, monitor performance, and provide feedback.

Here's a screen cap of the center's main floor from our demo build:

We have three teams in the example in our demo build. An organization's manager would control the content that appears in each team's media carousel by accessing it in his/her office space.

This is what the manager's office might look like:

With the private zones, a manager can walk around the space and converse with employees individually, and even listen in on a call.

Here's the view of the main floor from the manager's office:

You can explore the Contact Center Zone more in our complete ProtoSphere demo.

Verizon and Cisco miss the mark on advanced collaboration tools

InformationWeek covered a recent study commissioned by Verizon and Cisco (carried out by Frost and Sullivan) that focused on the use and value of "advanced collaboration tools." I wrote my thoughts in a comment on the article, but also wanted to share them here.

Quite honestly, I think that Cisco and Verizon (companies I respect greatly, don't get me wrong) are really pushing the envelope in calling VoIP, instant messaging, and high-definition video meetings "advanced collaboration tools." These are commodity technologies that exist all over the country.

The study should really include a look at truly advanced collaboration technologies, a.k.a., 3-D immersive collaborative worlds. Tools like ProtoSphere have to be considered in this discussion, especially considering that it integrates all of these "advanced functions" into a single, engaging interface.

I have an admitted bias because my company provides this technology, but I'm not the only talking about the power and benefits 3-D immersive worlds can provide. We're doing our own research that shows real business metrics and results from using 3-D immersive environments. The early adopters have not been small players either, but rather, large enterprises in entrenched industries like pharma and energy.

It's an interesting study that gets to the core value of collaboration technology -- ROI -- but it is not inclusive enough to paint an accurate picture for enterprises.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nokia's interest in virtual worlds driven by consumer demand?

You might have heard that Nokia is looking to invest in gaming and virtual worlds, among a couple other verticals. More details are covered in the Digits blog on WSJ. I found the news interesting. And not because virtual worlds are not essential to unified communications -- they are. Like I wrote in my comment on the article, while Nokia is clearly interested in the wireless/mobile aspects of virtual worlds, I suspect that their interest may be more consumer driven. From our standpoint, virtual worlds provide the most value at the enterprise level, helping businesses with their collaboration problems.

Mark Oehlert of Defense Acquisition University looks at immersive learning environments

With the e-learning industry exploring ways to improve training, retention, and performance, one new approach under consideration is immersive environments. Mark Oehlert talked to Ron about it during the 3D TLC show. Mark is an Innovation Evangelist at the Defense Acquisition University, a U.S. Department of Defense university focused on improving the learning outcomes for over 150,000 acquisition personnel.

Marks discusses what's next on the e-learning front, and the need to move to new technologies to improve learning and performance. The mistake will be bolting new learning paradigms onto old technology, instead of thinking about the new technologies available to us.

For more from Mark, you can turn to his blog, e-Clippings, and follow him on Twitter @moehlert.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Telepresence and live video: From intrusion to invaluable

In my last post reacting to the Cisco-Tandberg deal, I promised to explain why Cisco's push to bring video to the desktop won't break out of the enterprise's largest conference rooms.

Here are several reasons why, all of which arise from the human factors of virtual collaboration.

Modern teleworkers don't always dress for success. I'm writing this post, taking calls, and "collaborating virtually" at a time of day when my mind is sharp, but my appearance might not be. Maybe I worked until the wee hours of the morning, caught some sleep, and am now back at it. I might look tired. I might need a shave. I might not be wearing a tie. I might be grabbing breakfast at my desk.

I certainly don't want to be on a video conference right now. Of course, if I knew there was a board meeting, I'd be prepared, and telepresence or other live video would be fine with me. But collaboration mostly happens without an appointment, without a formal meeting, often without advance preparation, at all hours of the day and night.

The last thing most workers want is to have the red light go on when they least expect it, or when they don't believe they are as presentable, appearance wise, as they want to or should be. Human factors 1, telepresence 0.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Transcript of our interview with 2b3d's Randy Hinrichs at 3D TLC 2009

Can't watch Ron's video interview of Randy Hinrichs at 3D TLC? Read the transcript instead.

2b3d's Randy Hinrichs on key design elements for a virtual world for training

When it comes to designing a 3-D virtual world for training people, Randy Hinrichs has some pointers on what elements to include. He's Managing Partner of 2b3d, which provides development and consulting services for corporations and educational institutions on how to leverage virtual worlds and social networks. He's also Advisor to Virtual Worlds at the iSchool at the University of Washington.

Randy talked to Ron during the 3D TLC Conference about what he thinks are the key aspects to incorporate into a virtual world to create an effective educational experience.

GigaOM profiles key players in enterprise 3-D virtual worlds space

GigOM put together a round-up of the companies it sees as the major players in the enterprise 3-D virtual worlds space. Thanks to the editors for including ProtonMedia!

Friday, October 9, 2009

ACS's Caroline Avey on the evolution of learning in the enterprise

Learning in the enterprise has greatly evolved over the years. And Caroline Avey, Learning Strategist at ACS Learning Services, put it well when she talked with Ron at 3D TLC. She says the enterprise learning model has changed from "tell me what to do," to "show me what to do," to today's "I want to do it myself," using a hands-on approach, peer-to-peer relationships, and collaborative environments.

You can hear Caroline expand on that thought in the video below. Ron and Caroline also discuss how collaboration has become more widespread throughout the enterprise, and is not focused on just one or two departments. Caroline answers the other big Proton question, What do you think of ProtoSphere's integration with SharePoint? For more from Caroline, you can follow her on Twitter @AveyCa.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Transcript of our interview with Dr. Eilif Trondsen at 3D TLC 2009

Missed anything in Ron's interview with Dr. Eilif Trondsen at 3D TLC? Here's the transcript.

Learning and collaboration: A more perfect union in 3-D virtual worlds, says Dr. Eilif Trondsen

Learning and collaboration go hand-in-hand in 3-D virtual worlds. And lately, there's been more hand-locking going on. Eilif Trondsen, Ph.D. talked to Ron about it during the 3D TLC show, video below. Dr. Trondsen is the Director of Virtual Worlds @ Work at SRI Consulting Business Intelligence. Virtual Worlds @ Work is a global consortium and network of thought leaders and early adopters of virtual worlds.

In the interview, Dr. Trondsen discusses how he is seeing learning and collaboration come together in the 3-D virtual worlds space. The industry is moving beyond talking about concepts of 3-D virtual technology, to actually implementing it in the enterprise. And while it's yet to be determined whether we are at the tipping point of mainstream adoption, Dr. Trondsen thinks the industry is strengthening with the growing number of use cases in the books. For more from Dr. Trondsen, you can follow him on Twitter @eiliftrondsen.

What it will take to get the industry across the chasm, according to Dr. Tony O'Driscoll

Next up in the Ron Burns hot seat is Dr. Tony O'Driscoll from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Ron talked to him at 3D TLC to get his perspective on what it will take to get the industry "across the chasm." Dr. O'Driscoll presented on this topic during the show, and we'll have that video for you soon. It's also the subject of his new book, "Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration," which he co-authored with Karl Kapp. You can read more on his insights and musings on his blog, Learning Matters!.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cisco's Tandberg deal: Big ambitions, big challenges for telepresence

So last week Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) announced a definitive agreement to acquire all outstanding shares of Tandberg (OSLO: TAA.OL) for $3.0 billion in cash (that would be 153.5 Norwegian Kroner per share).

Company officials positioned Cisco's motivation for the deal as helping Cisco "expand its collaboration portfolio" so the company could "offer more solutions to a greater number of customers," and accelerate market adoption.

Let me scrub the public relations spin off of that, translate into plain English, and reveal Cisco's real motivation for this pretty sizable acquisition. Cisco has a problem. Their big push to bring video conferencing to the enterprise hasn't been able to break out of the largest conference rooms within an organization.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Congratulations to Nigel and Melissa!!

Nigel and his wife, Melissa, welcomed their first child into the (real) world yesterday at 2:37 a.m. Big congratulations from everyone at Proton and the blog!!!! Here's a pic of Hayden Chase Downer.

I wonder how long it'll be before Hayden has an avatar of his own ...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Transcript of our podcast with Evolver's Brian Nilles

If you'd rather read the podcast interview I did with Evolver CEO Brian Nilles at 3D TLC 2009, here's the transcript. We'll be posting transcripts to all of our podcasts and videos as well.

Avatars: How real is too real? Evolver's Brian Nilles replies.

Most industry folks would probably tell you that it's important to make avatars look realistic. After all, if you're in world, you have to be able to identify yourself, as well as others. And a realistic-looking avatar helps create a real-world feel and experience. But is there a point where real becomes too real? Like to the point of "you're-really-freakin'-me-out" real?

The more official term for this phenomenon is "uncanny valley," and I had to ask Brian Nilles about it when we crossed paths at the 3D TLC Conference. He's the CEO of Evolver, an online portal that lets you create an avatar of yourself which can then be used in a number of 3-D and 2-D settings. The unique aspect of Evolver is how realistic and detailed these avatars look. Hop over to their site to get a glimpse.

Obviously, Evolver has built a business around this technology. But in my interview with Brian, I ask him if he thinks Evolver avatars are potentially crossing the "creepy" line. We also talk about the latest technology coming out of the company, and how he's been occupying his time at the show.

Friday, October 2, 2009

ProtoSphere screen caps from demo at 3D TLC

Dom pulled these screen caps from the demo video Ron presented during his address at 3D TLC. You can see how things look in ProtoSphere, including conference rooms, meeting spaces, avatars, and more.

Photos from 3D TLC 2009

For your viewing pleasure, our photos from 3D TLC.

All of ProtonMedia's photos, plus screencaps of ProtoSphere, will be stored on the company's Flickr page.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Unified Communications: On a clear day, you can see the chasm

Some things never grow old. It's been 18 years since Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" was published, yet his basic premise rings as true today as it did when the book first hit store shelves.'s description puts it well: "[Author Geoffrey Moore's] chasm theory describes how high-tech products initially sell well, mainly to a technically literate customer base, but then hit a lull as marketing professionals try to cross the chasm to mainstream buyers."

But you can't cross the chasm on marketing factors alone. There are interesting human factors involved. And even if the UC industry meets its marketing challenges, the human factors will, I believe, prevent unified communications from achieving critical mass in the marketplace.

That's the bad news. The good news is, these same human factors are driving, slowly but steadily, increasing adoption of virtual worlds in the enterprise. We have to do more formal studies on this, but the anecdotal evidence from our customers is compelling. (And more studies are coming.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Avatars vs. video and what IBM's Chuck Hamilton thinks of ProtoSphere's SharePoint integration

The interview was a case of big software vendor vs. little software vendor, but they seemed to be on a level playing field when it came to their thoughts on virtual worlds. Chuck Hamilton, Program Manager of the Learning and New Media Program at IBM, spent a few minutes talking with Ron at 3D TLC about what he's seeing in the virtual worlds industry and the promise the technology holds for the enterprise.

Ron also asked Chuck point blank what he thinks of ProtoSphere's integration with Microsoft SharePoint. (But you've got to watch the video to see his answer. I know, sneaky, sneaky. :)) The conversation turned to the topic of human factors in a virtual environment, and the idea of using an avatar vs. video while in world. And if that leaves you hanckering for more, Ron is actually in the midst of working on a post about human factors now, and we'll have that for you on the blog soon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dusan Writer's Metaverse breaks down and stacks up 3-D virtual worlds

Doug Thompson, blogger for Dusan Writer's Metaverse, took a look at the various feature sets of several 3-D virtual worlds platforms. Click over to his post for more on how he sees platforms including ProtoSphere stack up.

Transcript of Ron Burns' interview with ThinkBalm's Erica Driver

If you missed anything Erica Driver talked about in her interview with Ron at 3D TLC, you can catch the transcript here.

Ron Burns goes one on one with ThinkBalm's Erica Driver

Although Ron and Erica Driver could talk shop for hours (and have -- exhibit A being at one of the lunch tables at 3D TLC ;)), I caught a snippet of their conversations from the show in the video below. Ron and Erica sync up on the latest research out of ThinkBalm, "Crossing the Chasm, One Implementation at a Time," which she and Sam presented during their keynote earlier that day.

(P.S. -- Like I said before with Ron's presentation video, I didn't realize the blog link was displaying throughout the whole video. Didn't mean to have that in your face the whole time! :P Our future videos will just display it for a few seconds ...)

Ron Burns demos ProtoSphere's SharePoint integration during 3D TLC address

Now that we're back at our desks in our humble East Coast home, we're going through all of the footage and content we gathered from the 3D TLC Conference in San Jose, and rolling it out on the blog. ProtonMedia's big splash at the show was unveiling ProtoSphere's new SharePoint integration capabilities. So the first item we're posting is that very moment recorded on video.

Below is Ron Burns' presentation at the show, which followed Erica and Sam Drivers' keynote (video of that to come). He covered the state of 3-D virtual worlds technology, and what needs to happen to increase enterprise uptake. That includes SharePoint, and, well, I'll let Ron and his honorary guest, Craig Lieboff (Technology Strategist at Microsoft) take it away.

(P.S. -- I didn't realize the blog link was displaying throughout the whole video. Didn't mean to have that in your face the whole time! :P Our future videos will just display it for a few seconds ...)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

ProtoSphere now integrated with Microsoft SharePoint

A few hours ago, Erica and Sam Driver, Principals of ThinkBalm, wrapped up their presentation here at 3D TLC, where they talked about the biggest barriers preventing immersive environments from reaching early majority adoption. Some of the challenges they cited included security issues, lack of proven metrics and benefits from real case studies, and lack of integration with mainstream enterprise platforms. While Sam and Erica provided recommendations for overcoming these barriers, it was still a rather grim picture of the state of 3-D virtual world technology.

But then Ron stepped up to the mic for his presentation, and announced ProtonMedia's big news: ProtoSphere now integrates with Microsoft SharePoint. This is the first time SharePoint services and content have been combined with a 3-D virtual collaboration platform.

Although no one knew the details of Sam and Erica's presentation, Ron's news turned out to be a fitting, and uplifting, follow up. The ProtoSphere-SharePoint integration addresses one of Sam and Erica's major adoption barriers.

The audience was all ears, and it felt like a collective feeling of relief and hope washed over the room. But if you weren't there, I video taped the entire session, and I'll be posting on the blog shortly. We'll also have demos of the ProtoSphere-SharePoint technology coming out soon too.

Just after Ron's presentation, we issued a press release announcing the SharePoint integration. It's pasted below, where you can read more about how the two platforms work together and the value it can bring to the enterprise.

And now, it's on to the show floor to talk to some attendees!

Unified Communications: A Solution in Search of a Problem?

I'm driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, in a downpour, heading back to our Lansdale, Pa. offices from a meeting. I'm running the meeting through my mind, analyzing the conversation, and thinking about next steps. It was with a potential client who is interested in virtual worlds as a way to improve the productivity of their teams.

During the meeting, one of the guys at the table mentions unified communications (UC), and asks who really needs it? And that got me thinking. Unified communications is almost always presented by vendors and understood by businesses as a technical telephony solution.

But there's a real disconnect (no pun intended) between focusing on telephony technology as a means unto itself, as opposed to helping businesses improve collaboration within and between teams--which is the real requirement I see businesses wanting to achieve.

Enter: ProtonMedia's blog

Even though we've been writing for ProtonMedia's blog for a little while now, we officially debuted it to the public at the 3D TLC conference. ;) We announced it in a press release today, which I'm pasting below for all interested!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

PDF case study of top pharma company's experience using virtual worlds

I told you yesterday about the case study we did covering a top five global pharmaceutical company's implementation of ProtoSphere. We received the layout from our designer today. Here's the PDF, which you can download, print, and share.

UPDATE 3/9/10: We've also designed the PDF into single-page layout, so it's easier to read online.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Top five global pharmaceutical company conducts industry's first virtual poster session in ProtoSphere

One of the challenges the industry is facing is taking 3D virtual worlds from early adopters to mainstream acceptance. A crucial way we'll do that is through research, studying early adopters' strategies, and identifying core metrics that businesses can use to drive decision making.

Some analysts and researchers are doing good work in this area, and we hope to highlight and fund projects like these in the future. But there are also things we can do now.

One initiative Proton is doing is working with our customers to bring their research to the forefront. Recently, we did this with a top five global pharmaceutical company. We're waiting for approval to use their name, but in the meantime, here's our draft of a case study that omits their name and any other identifying elements. (Our designer is working on laying out the case study in a spiffy PDF, which we hope to have ready to post in the next day or so.)

With the exception of making the source anonymous, all of the data is real. I find the results compelling, and I think you will too. If you understand the power virtual worlds can bring to teaming and collaboration, feel free to use this information to spark interest and initiate adoption.

We're confident our customer will let us use their name, and we'll post an updated version of the case study soon with those identifying elements included. We also have several other case studies in development, which we'll be posting here as well, so watch this space.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Roundabout ProtoSphere's 3-D Media Carousel

If there's one feature of ProtoSphere that always generates excitement during presentations and demos, it's the Media Carousel. The Media Carousel makes it easy for teams to share information, without having to navigate complex folder hierarchies or decipher obtuse file/folder names. Instead, all of the documents a team is working on and which are relevant to their mission are within arm's reach in the 3-D virtual environment.

If you've ever pondered the question, "Why 3-D?" (and who hasn't?), or if you're a 3-D evangelist trying to educate a colleague on the benefits of 3-D worlds for business, hand them a copy of our Media Carousel User Guide. While there's no substitute for experiencing virtual collaboration first hand, I think the User Guide quickly communicates the stark difference between content sharing in the traditional way (files and folders, attachments, screen sharing, etc.) versus with context in a 3-D world.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Your people are your best asset

"The desire, and the ability, of an organization to continuously learn from any source, anywhere, and to rapidly convert this learning into action, is its ultimate competitive advantage."

That's a quote from GE's former CEO and Chairman, Jack Welch. You might have seen it before, and it was recently brought to my attention when I saw it in this IVCi Newsletter article. I was struck by how succinctly it captured our value proposition.

What we offer in ProtoSphere is not about 3D technology. It's about connecting people in a meaningful way and overcoming the challenges of distance and time. For instance, when it comes to learning and training in ProtoSphere, we create environments that emulate the classroom experience. Voice over IP (VoIP), text chat, and video broadcasting facilities let trainers and learners communicate.

Built-in blogs and wikis let employees create teams, projects, and workgroups around the business’ activities and challenges. Employees can post documents and files for peer review and modification. The environment is always on so that employees have on-demand access to knowledge, which enables continuous learning.

Your competitor might be able copy your product, but they can't copy your people. Tapping into their wisdom and capabilties can be a sustainable competitive advantage.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Look for me at 3D TLC

The other week, we wrote about our exhibition at 3D TLC and my speaking engagement at the show. We issued a press release today to "officially" announce the news. Check it out below for more details on what you can expect from us at conference. See you in San Jose!

UPDATE: My address is 10 a.m. on the 23rd, not 10:30.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

ProtoSphere demo video, new and improved

As they say, there's always room for improvement. Well, we tweaked our original ProtoSphere demo video to clarify some features and benefits. You can watch the updated version below. If you're unable to watch YouTube videos at your current locale, you can also download a high-res copy from our Web site.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

3D TLC, here we come!

We'll be packing our bags for San Jose, Calif., in a few weeks where the 3D TLC @ Engage! Expo awaits. The show covers all things virtual worlds, and how businesses can maximize business strategies using them.

We're a Gold Sponsor and will be exhibiting ProtoSphere at booth #36. I'm going to enjoy 30 minutes of fame at the show too, when I present right after the opening keynote on the first day. My time slot is 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 23. UPDATE: My address is 10 a.m.

If you're able to stop by, you'll be privy to a very exciting announcement from us. And unfortunately, that's all I can say for now. I have to leave you on the edge of your seats because we don't want to spill beans before my presentation! If you can't make it, fret not, because we will be putting a press release on the wire announcing the news.

Our blogging team will be on hand covering the show and capturing the sights, sounds, and people of 3D TLC. We'll have podcasts with attendees, video of my presentation and expo floor happenings, pictures and more, direct from the ground. We'll be rolling it all out on the blog in the days following the show.

So lots of things going on for us at 3D TLC. If you've registered, see you there! If you haven't registered, you can do so online. The show runs Sept. 23-24 at the San Jose Convention Center.

Monday, August 10, 2009

ProtonMedia welcomes Cheng T. Chen

We take virtual worlds technology seriously here at Proton, and it's thanks to our people. Some of the best technologists in the industry have helped make ProtoSphere what it is today, and they're committed to making it even better for tomorrow.

Now leading that charge, I'm honored to say, is Cheng T. Chen, who's recently joined ProtonMedia as CTO and VP of Engineering. Cheng has been driving force behind the development of major telecom technology for more than 25 years, and will now be bringing his experience, skills, and vision to Proton and ProtoSphere.

We issued a press release today to announce the news, which you can read below. Welcome, Cheng!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

PDG Momentum conference 2009 wrap-up

I had the opportunity to present at the PDG Momentum conference 2009 in Philly yesterday. PDG (Performance Development Group) is one of ProtonMedia's partners, and they put on the conference to showcase client success stories and how they've helped organizations solve challenges surrounding training, learning, and performance. I spoke and presented ProtoSphere after keynote Karl Kapp, a well-known consultant, speaker, scholar, and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. For more on how things went, Karl covered his keynote and the conference on his blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Keystone Edge reports on our financing round

Keystone Edge interviewed me about our latest financing round. The story is published online for some more insight into what we'll be doing with the funds. The pub also included us in their Growing Companies directory, which you can click to for a quick read on our background and video demo of ProtoSphere. Thanks to Keystone Edge!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ric Andersen joins our board

Can you tell we're growing? ;) We have a new member of our Board of Directors, Ric Andersen, who is Managing Director of Silver Lake. He's the first independent member of our board, and I wanted to say welcome to our team, Ric!

Ric has spent 25 years consulting to and working as a senior operating executive within Fortune 500 global enterprises. We're excited to have him with us. If you want to read more about Ric and what he'll be doing for us, scroll down to our press release.
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