Have you ever been involved in meetings at which a group of people is trying to make a decision (e.g., go/no go on projects, which person to hire, which of several options is the best strategic fit, what a list of priorities should look like, etc.)? You’ve got 5 or 10 or more people in the room, or on the phone, and you are discussing your options and trying to reach a decision. People make points and raise their opinions and objections, and the group tries to move more toward a decision or consensus. You probably know where some people stand, throughout the conversation — the extroverts, most likely. At least when you are together in person, rather than on the phone, because you have body language and other visual cues, in addition to peoples’ spoken words. When you’re on the phone, it’s a lot harder. The result of all this? It takes a long time to make decisions, and the decision is imperfect because undoubtedly not everyone’s point of view was incorporated. And sometimes the train of reasoning is lost as the conversation flows.
The MIT Media Lab has developed a solution as part of the work it is doing on new kinds of meeting environments (which the lab calls Information Spaces). Information Spaces take advantage of what’s new and different about 3D immersive workspaces — such as people representing themselves with avatars and being able to move around in space. We’re not talking about a 3D replica of a corporate conference room, with a dining room-style table in the middle, surrounded by a bunch of cushy chairs. Check this out: One of the lab’s efforts is an agree/disagree meeting space. It looks a bit like a football field, with a red-to-green agree/disagree space in the middle, where avatars can stand to express their viewpoint, and a gray area around the outside where avatars can stand without having to express an opinion.
A few highlights: As avatars move through the space, their position is visualized by a trail left behind that shows where you’ve come from and how long ago you moved. The space above the floor shows the text chat history. Messages float up and the older ones are the farthest off the ground. To capture the flow of opinion during the course of the meeting, an "average vote bar" rises up above the floor, like the chat messages — with oldest views being highest off the ground (the red bars in the sky in this snapshot). A cylinder appears beneath an avatar that has been standing in the same place for a long time, and grows slowly over time. When the avatar moves the cylinder slowly fades away. My take: it would take a few minutes for a Second Life resident to be able to figure out how to use this new meeting space, but once you’re over that hurdle the value could be enormous.