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Why play in the Virtual World schoolyard?

One of the first questions I’m typically asked when I show people various aspects of Virtual Worlds, besides “what’s that?”, is “why would I use that?”. It’s a fair question and one that I can’t always provide a direct, succinct answer. Sure, I have a list of 4-5 bullet-points I could rattle off (collaboration, serendipity, distributed teamwork, etc.), but recently I keep coming back to a quote I read several years ago from Juniper’s CEO Scott Kriens. I don’t recall the exact wording, but it was around the time that Juniper was beginning to win a few deals (before the Cisco CRS-1) and other “Gigabit Router” companies were announcing their intentions. When asked if he was concerned about those companies, he said “..no, because the only way you really learn in this market is to be out on the playground.”As we’ve learned from technologies in the past, instead of staying in the classroom and theorizing about new behaviors, we’ve got our play clothes on and we’re seeing what it takes to make the merry-go-round go faster and the teeter-totter go up and down. Not only have we build an impressive and active presence in Second Life, but we’re using Network Virtual Environments internally as well. So what are some of the early lessons we’re learned? I don’t want to give away the farm, but here’s a few that we hadn’t expected: - We hold all team meetings in Virtual Worlds. It took a little bit of convincing to get people to adopt the new technologies, but we learned alot about how to clarify its value to a broad group of people (hint: cool technology isn’t it) and how to narrow our focus for input and improvement. - While it’s not a face-to-face meeting, or a Cisco Telepresence, the visualization of seeing other participants in a space should not be overlooked. People like to know that there are others listening, participating or engaged at the other end of the wire. It tends to keep you engaged in the conversation instead of having numerous distractions at your desk. - Since we get some visual indication of who is speaking, or about to speak, the flow of the discussion is alot smoother and people tend to not talk over one other. Just eliminating the “can you repeat that?” and “I’m sorry, you go ahead” from meetings saves alot of aggravation. - Viewing lists of information isn’t helping me with the information overload. Being able to view it in 3D, walk around it, see it from different angles, and see the indirect linkage between it…..now that brings a whole new element to “Knowledge Management”. We obviously don’t have all the answers to the question of “why would I use that?”, but being on the playground is giving us alot of experience, scars and stories to tell.

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