a new report into the use of virtual worlds in the workplace. The report makes the big claim that "within five years, the 3-D Internet will be as important for work as the Web is today". But before we get too carried away, the report also notes that right now virtual worlds are not user friendly to the enterprise crowd - "youve practically got to be a gamer to use most of these tools", Forrester notes.Forrester has released
The report, entitled 'Getting Real Work Done In Virtual Worlds', states that Virtual worlds like Second Life, There.com, and "more business-focused offerings" are on the verge of becoming valuable work tools.
Forrester cites investments in this area by big organizations like BP, IBM, Intel, and the US Army. The use cases include:
"Information and knowledge management professionals should begin to investigate and experiment with virtual worlds. Use them to try to replicate the experience of working physically alongside others; allow people to work with and share digital 3-D models of physical or theoretical objects; and make remote training and counseling more realistic by incorporating nonverbal communication into same-time, different-place interactions."
The report goes into great depth on this trend, but the best way to illustrate it is to see what some forward-looking organizations are doing. There's some great stories of the 3-D Web being used for healthcare, training and simulation. But here's one about using Virtual Worlds in a corporate context, specifically Sun, Vivox and Intel:
"On any given day, 50% of Sun Microsystems workforce works remotely from home, the road, or a customer site. The company is constructing a virtual campus building called MPK20 using Suns Darkstar game server infrastructure and Project Wonderland 3-D tool for building virtual worlds. While the project is still underway only the small team at Sun that is building the system is using it for meetings right now Sun plans to create a virtual world where all employees can gather, meet, and collaborate. In other examples, Vivox, a technology company that provides integrated voice and communication services for virtual worlds, including Second Life, tells us that its employees meet in Second Life at some point during every business day. Early adopters at Intel use Qwaq Forums to improve their teamwork. And, understandably, most of Linden Labs internal meetings also take place in Second Life."
Hmmm, perhaps the ReadWriteWeb team could do this too! We're far flung all over the globe (well I am anyway).
It's clear though that there's much work to be done before the mainstream enters the 3-D Web. Forrester points out that many people, especially "those in their 30s or older", view virtual worlds as "frivolous games or places where deviant personalities exhibit their alter egos." I don't know about the deviant bit, but certainly most people over 30 aren't comfortable using virtual worlds. Forrester also states that set-up and actually using Virtual World software is difficult. So there are a lot of hurdles yet to clear: attitudes of users towards virtual worlds, the technology (e.g. integration with other workplace software), bandwidth, ease of use, and more.
Forrester encourages organizations to experiment with virtual worlds, but using guidelines and policies to control this -- which is much the same advice that Forrester gives for any 'web 2.0' tool. But also Forrester notes that you don't have to go full-bore and use Second Life and 3-D avatars. A "more modest or targeted application", such as Qwaqs virtual world technology or Unisfairs virtual conference technology, may be a better introduction to "getting real work done in virtual worlds."