In the briefing room: Venuegen

I recently had the pleasure of attending a meeting on the deck of a sailing yacht; the sky was clear and the waves lapped pleasantly on the boat’s hull as I listened to our host explain his company’s vision for the future of enterprise collaboration.

And it never needs cleaning...

And it never needs cleaning...

At times, he got rather excited, gesticulating and laughing at jokes.

The amazing thing was, I did this all without leaving my office.  Instead, I was immersed in a 3-D virtual environment.

Meetings have been taking place in online environments, such as Web conferences, on a regular basis since PlaceWare was launched in the 1990s.  While there have been some significant improvements since then, the basic model hasn’t changed.  Meetings remain a combination of screen sharing, audio call in, and perhaps some integrated functions such as chat, hand raising, and polling.  Unfortunately, many subtle communication cues are lost due to the lack of a richer interface.  Advanced telepresence solutions are available to a limited few, but the cost of these solutions will not lead to mass adoption in the near future.

Second Life, a pioneer in 3-D virtual environments, has struggled to find a compelling business niche.  Indeed there was an initial land rush to set up virtual store fronts and facilities in Second Life but most people seem to have moved beyond.

The Venue Network is a company that developed Venuegen, an immersive, browser-based 3-D environment that is strictly business.  The system is simple to use and manage and offers a variety of meeting environments, such as conference rooms, lecture theaters, a coffee shop, the set of a late night talk show, and of course, a yacht.  Venuegen offers useful functionality that allows organizations and users to personalize the meeting experience.  One example: users can upload a personal photo that is then used to create a life-like avatar.   As with more traditional systems, Venuegen supports a variety of content, including slides, documents, flash content, video, and integrated Web browser and chat.

Avatars also have a wide range of facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language options that can be either randomly generated or manually controlled.  Slider bars are used to set levels of interest, intensity, and posture.  The on-screen avatar reflects these settings with remarkably lifelike movements and gestures, a manager can express anger or happiness while speaking with sales agents at a meeting, meeting attendees can express their impatience with an overly long speech or laugh at jokes.

Venuegen is a huge leap forward in enterprise-level 3-D virtual meetings, primarily for the features that personalize and bring a human element back into the meeting.  We have lost many of the visual cues that play such a large role in human communication as we have moved towards more online meetings, and Venuegen may truly be an idea whose time has come.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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