by Erica Driver.

I am chomping at the bit about the 3D Internet (of which virtual worlds and massive multi-player online games are early iterations). What I see is its potential to improve my work experience dramatically — and the work experience of information workers world-over. Not that I’ve got it rough — I am privileged to be able to work from my home office in rural Rhode Island when I’m not on the road. But working remotely has two major downsides:

  • A dearth of social interaction. I miss out on valuable social interactions with my colleagues, including people who work in other departments at Forrester. I miss hanging out in the lunch room and going out for coffee in the afternoon or a drink after work.
  • Less-than-optimal meeting effectiveness. Meetings (e.g., client inquiry calls, vendor briefings, etc.) and collaborations with my colleagues on reports and consulting projects are often clunky, even with the array of tools I have at my disposal: my own conference bridge, calendaring and email, team workspaces, Web conferencing, and instant messaging. These tools don’t even come close to replicating the level of communication and idea and information exchange that takes place when I’m meeting face-to-face with people. And sometimes the technology actually slows us down.

Here’s where virtual worlds come in. Picture this:

  • Your organization and its people have 3D replicas. Your organization has a virtual representation of itself, maybe in Second Life or perhaps in a more controlled, private 3D Internet environment. The company has a virtual campus — buildings, plants, meeting rooms, etc. You and all your colleagues have avatars that look like you – perhaps even photographically so. Your real name and job title is associated with your avatar. Your access to virtual buildings and rooms, as well as people, is controlled by information in the enterprise directory and other security systems.
  • Your experience in the 3D Internet imitates the physical world — in a good way. You speak with your colleagues via text chat or built-in voice over IP. When an avatar standing to your avatar’s left says something, you hear the voice to your left. The voices of people whose avatars are close to yours are louder than the voices of those standing farther away. You can easily have your avatar express gestures and emotions (e.g., smile, shrug, sigh, raise your hand, clear your throat, nod, shake your head, giggle, frown).
  • You and your colleagues all have virtual offices. You can see who’s in the office at any time by "walking by" (or "flying by") their office. You can personalize your virtual office any way you want (within good taste, of course). Not only can you find people in their offices, you can stop into the virtual café to see who’s there, and join in on ad hoc conversations.
  • Participants are fully engaged in virtual meetings. To have a brainstorming session or collaborate on a document, you and your colleagues’ avatars can meet in a virtual conference room where you can do anything you can do today via the 2D Web: talk, upload and view documents, draw on a whiteboard, watch videos, etc. You can even drink a virtual latte. You can see a 3D representation of the people you are meeting with and glean insights from their expressions and gestures. You always know who’s talking, and can tell who’s anxious to jump into the conversation. Meetings on the 3D Internet will be to today’s phone and Web conferences what a 24-speed mountain bike with a cushy gel seat is to the one-speed, banana seat Schwinn you probably had when you were a kid.

But, sadly, Second Life has a long way to go. At least for newbies like me. Last night I decided to spend some time trying to make my Second Life avatar (Erica Burns) look more like what I think I look like in real life, and go out and explore Second Life. A couple of hours in and I still didn’t get very far with my avatar (see photo and Second Life snapshot). And that was the least of my concerns. While I located a few islands that look like terrific places to experiment with new ways of working (e.g., IBM’s executive briefing center and EOLUS One), I didn’t see any avatars in them while I was there. Erica_closeup_7 Erica_burns_avatar_snapshot_10407_7

And I got caught up in a bunch of junk along the way. Even when de-selecting "mature content" I came across way too many avatars with not-enough clothing on, even on the public help island. My avatar was even attacked, yes, attacked, on the public help island by some weird red monster thing brandishing some sort of fiery-looking stick and carrying a placard about the Burmese people. All this while I stood with a small crowd of other avatars trying to figure out the meaning of a bloodied, dead avatar surrounded by yellow "crime scene do not cross" police tape.

Call to action for Second Life developers: Help business people like me find ways to benefit from all the great things virtual worlds have to offer, while at the same time shielding me from the anarchic nasties. Help me easily get to freely-accessible, though private-while-I’m-there, conference and meeting rooms so I can begin to experiment with the 3D Internet. In return you’ll have a shot at the eye and ear —  and keyboard — of multitudes of information workers jonesing for a better way to work.