Fun with Next-Gen Collaborations

Fun with Next-Gen Collaborations

By Neal Shact October 15, 2010 Leave a Comment
Neal Shact
Fun with Next-Gen Collaborations by Neal Shact


How many enterprise technology products are fun to use? Prior to the launch of Avaya’s web.alive (pronounced web-dot-alive, collaborations product, the answer was none. There is nothing else like it and it provides a uniquely captivating experience.

web.alive is a 3D, immersive internet, virtual collaborations and conferencing environment. It offers a new type of communications experience, a virtual environment substitute for face-to-face interactions which is ideal for collaborations, brain storming, training and marketing. 

A collaborations session begins by entering an immersive internet space. Options range from a basic conference room to a series of highly customized environments and are available as an enterprise product or as a hosted solution. The meeting space is “persistent,” like having a dedicated conference room. Participants in a collaborations session can leave and later return and re-enter the collaborations session.

Upon registering, users are assigned an avatar which is a relatively quick and easy process and only takes a few minutes. The avatar is the user’s representation in the collaborations space just like a blinking cursor typically represents the user on a computer screen. 

The “fun” elements come from the clever use of two powerful immersive technologies to create an enveloping collaboration experience. The melding together of these technologies to more effectively duplicate a real, live conference forms the core of an immersive platform with immediacy and an unprecedented collaborations experience. Comparing this to other communications experiences is like the difference between watching television and being immersed in a simulator.

The first is rich 3D visual capabilities. The web.alive team has leveraged the advances in consumer technology by building the collaborations platform on top of a proven consumer game engine, the Unreal Engine from Epic. This platform has already proven itself as meeting gamers’ craving for an intense experience with superior graphics to create a realistic visual world. Another benefit of using proven game technology--it is fun to use, and users don’t have to be forced to learn to use it or go through complicated training programs. It is more like a video game, an industry whose success has revenues that exceed Hollywood and users that number in the tens of millions.

The second is advanced 3D spatial audio capabilities that came from Nortel/Avaya’s DiamondWare acquisition. By using a stereo headset plugged into a PC, the audio from other collaboration participants appears to be coming from the location where they are represented on the computer screen. Participants on the right sound like they are on the right, those on the left, sound like they are on the left. As participants move and change location, their voices appear to move as their positions change.

Another aspect of spatial audio, volume is proximity based. The closer characters are together, the louder the volume, just like in real life. Leaving one “conversation” and joining another is a matter of moving the avatar from one group to the next; as you approach the new group or collaborations session, the volume gets louder. The feeling is somewhat similar to being at a cocktail party and moving from one conversation to the next. An added benefit is that users can have a “side bar” conversation just among themselves, just like people whispering to each other, while still listening to the conversation talking place around them.

web.alive is ideal for brain storming sessions with participants located in diverse locations. Usually this requires an in-person meeting with the expensive associated travel costs. Videoconferencing is another option, but it’s a much more formal medium and better suited to formal give-and-take discussions. Brainstorming requires a medium that facilitates unscripted, sometimes chaotic communications, and is where web.alive really excels. The graphics help people feel a sense of inclusion and that they are really part of a group that is in a meeting. The audio capabilities allow the virtual meeting to have the same dynamics as a live meeting. A true advantage of web.alive over other types of collaborations equipment is its ability to deal with interruptions and multiple simultaneous speakers without having the audio drop and the need for participants to have to repeat themselves to compensate for over-talk.

This is a great tool for businesses that are concerned about their growing numbers of remote workers feeling loneliness and isolation. web.alive minimizes this by providing a holistic, multi-sense environment that makes remote employees feel more part of the organization’s informal social fabric. Being part of the “water cooler” types of conversations is also important because many important organizational advances come from these types of spontaneous and informal interactions among employees.

For those thinking that this technology is interesting but too “out there,” consider that some of the most enthusiastic users are the U.S. Military and Government. There are a number of interesting applications where this technology has been deployed. Uses range from training and education to collaborations. There is so much interest in the power and potential of immersive internet within the government that there is even a user group within the government, the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds, housed within the National Defense University.

While web.alive is not for everyone or all types of collaborations, it offers a new type of experience with an innovative approach to collaborations and team building while eliminating expensive business travel. Nic Sauriol and his team at Avaya deserve great credit for bringing this revolutionary product to market. This feat is even more amazing given that this project began at Nortel and survived the budget cutting that took place during Nortel’s final days.   


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