And when I say something isn’t going to work, I’m usually correct, a gift I inherited from my mother. Which is why I make a point to never tell her what I’m doing, that gets me a much higher success rate.
Linden Research consistently plugs Second Life as “Web 3.0”, as a collaborative environment for corporate use. It ain’t gonna work. Not because the platform is unstable (though it very much is) but for simple, fundamental reasons rooted deeply in how human interaction works.
But to explain it better, let’s do a history lesson.
The very first patents in video telephony have been granted back in 1955, fairly soon after television was introduced. They were popular in fiction since much earlier, at least the 30s, and were a mainstay of science fiction gadgetry ever since the idea science fiction was first televised.
The costs were largely prohibitive, because of the requirement for higher bandwidth, but if they were really ‘The wave of the future’, costs would have been driven down rather quickly. I remember seeing first practical video telephones that could be used over ordinary phone lines on an exibition well before the 90s rolled in. Entire towns were given video phone services and then the services were quietly discontinued.
For the very simple reason that you can’t spend the whole day made up for the off chance someone might call you for a videophone conversation. You don’t really need that kind of fidelity for business communication — in fact, you’d best have less, so it doesn’t distract you from other work you have to do. There are certain applications where much higher fidelity is desired and needed — for communicating on a highly personal level, between members of a family, between very close friends and lovers.
And that niche is filled nicely these days by Skype and it’s ilk.
Early science fiction imagined all books as audio books, self-contained players which would read text aloud to the user. The technology made that feasible at least as early as the introduction of the cassete players.
And yet, audio books failed to drive the printed ones out. You can read much, much faster than you can hear a story, you can use the much higher bandwidth of your visual senses to get coded and preprocessed information, and learning to read is a small price to pay to have that faster access. Audio books have a niche of their own now. They’re very popular among the people who need their visual senses while driving, but still want the story.
Second Life and other virtual world systems provide for the communication on a deeply personal level, allow you the opportunity to send a high bandwidth visual image that is under your direct conscious control and express what you actually want to express instead of you might be expressing otherwise in a direct face to face meeting.
But for a business meeting, this is extraneous. Even assembling people in one physical world room actually results in lots of time wasted getting there, lots of time wasted while they’re waiting for the speaker to get their message through low-bandwidth voice. Instead of doing useful work, they’re trying not to fall asleep. What would serve a business meeting far, far better is a combination of IRC, a presentation system and a networked whiteboard. Because that allows people to actually devote resources to other tasks while a meeting is in progress, actually gives them a moment to think and look things up in relation to what the speaker is saying.
I remember lots and lots of experiments with 3D web back in the dotcom boom. They’re the reason VRML even exists. They all failed not because hardware couldn’t cope, but because for processing large amounts of rich content, 3D doesn’t offer any advantages and taxes the brain much more. For getting a lot of information, fast, nothing beats well-typographed text with a few pictures. A virtual world is just as useless for what web is good for as a videophone does not really offer substantial improvements over a normal phone in day to day business communication. You don’t want to see the face of the pizza delivery receptionist, and they certainly don’t need to see yours! A virtual world allows two people on the opposite edges of the world to be as close as nothing else can ever get them. Business people don’t need to or want to be that close.
It’s as if Linden Research is trying to sell warm fuzzy shawls to corporate executives saying they help keep the office relationships warm. And while the logic is sound, and it does look like a good idea for a while, it doesn’t really work. Eventually corporate executives notice that with AC on the shawls are a nuisance and don’t offer any real benefits. So first they find excuses to take the shawl off and then stop replacing them when they wear out.
But back at home someone is freezing without a warm, fuzzy shawl…