Ambivalence regarding projects like Sametime 3D

Via SLTalk I just read about Sametime 3D, an ongoing IBM Research and Lotus initiative to integrate enterprise business applications with virtual world applications. This video shows the integration of Lotus Sametime with OpenSim.

According to IBM’s press release the main purpose of this initiative is to “make it easier for widely dispersed businesspeople to interact and collaborate without the time and expense of in-person meetings.” And here is another quote:

The new software overcomes several challenges that have existed for businesses wishing to hold meetings in virtual worlds:

  • First, businesses can collaborate the way in which they are accustomed, using software they may already have, such as electronic presentations, enterprise security, and instant messaging tools.
  • Second, IBM has prefabricated a variety of re-useable spaces specifically designed for productive meetings, making it unnecessary for adopters to painstakingly build meeting rooms each time they want to meet.
  • Third, these spaces are secure, overcoming privacy concerns manifest in many public areas of popular virtual worlds.
  • And finally, colleagues not wishing to participate in a given virtual meeting can still view documents, presentations and results from those sessions — or even snapshots of a previous meeting.

I have to admit that I’m somewhat ambivalent about projects like these, that is projects behind “closed doors”. I think it’s great that companies like IBM research and experiment with virtual worlds and possible mash up’s between 2D and 3D. And I do appreciate the need for especially private companies to operate on their own servers, securing the data etc.  – and this may also be appropriate in certain educational settings. My fear though, is that this sort of “closed door” behavior becomes the prevailing trend. If we all stay in our own little walled gardens, there’s no need to dub them “worlds”…

Of course I’m aware that there are de facto many closed doors in real life too, but I still believe that one of the major affordances of virtual worlds like SL is the inter-cultural openness in all aspects of the word. Where else do I accidently bump in to fascinating, clever and friendly people? Just this week I made two new acquaintances, Benjamin, who turned out to be a Danish US based e-learning consultant and Digi, a Scottish anthropologist with a special interest in freedom of expression :-)

In the MIL course that I ran in the fall ’08 I had planed several visits to both Danish and international colleagues, and I know that the students really appreciated these opportunities to meet, discuss and reflect on professional matters with people from different educational cultures – meetings that would have been impossible to realize outside SL.

I’ve always felt that if 3D virtual worlds were to make a really, really important and innovative contribution to educational technology the secret would lie in the community – the global community feeling in SL is what brings and binds us together. Quoting Lennon; You may say that I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one ;-)


4 thoughts on “Ambivalence regarding projects like Sametime 3D

  1. kkeeter March 12, 2009 / 11:49 am

    Hi Mariis- In the same way as companies will always want/need to do ‘marketing and sales’ and interact with the general public, they will always need to do ‘strategy and business development’ and other business functions in private- or they will have nothing to market and sell!

    One other thought- the affordance you talk about is also very real when you are working within a large company with many global/remove employees. When I attend “private”virtual meetings within IBM, I bump into and meet new people, as well as old colleagues. Check out this case study-

  2. Mariis Mills March 12, 2009 / 1:09 pm

    Hi Karen,
    Thx for taking the time to comment and inform me on this :-) Of course I understand your need to conduct certain business operations privately. We have the same need within the educational sector.

    I’m glad to hear that you experience some of the same affordances with regards to meeting new people, but I do believe there’s a difference between meeting new people from your own company and – as we did in the referred course – meeting people from different educational institutions and different communities (e.g. art scene and private businesses). I believe that meeting people with completely different views on life can be very beneficial in teaching and learning processes, but I also imagine that your meetings may be more convergent in nature in order to support a process of finding common grounds … anyways, I’ll have a closer look at the case you linked to. Thx for sharing!

  3. Anja P Nielsen March 17, 2009 / 1:41 pm

    I understand your concern Marianne – but I tend to agree with KKeeter, as this is how business work today. If we can get people in there – even in a private space, then they are easier to get out in the open space as well. On the meeting KKeeter is referring to, it was possible to chat with people outside the IBM servers, and we could go back and forth between secure SL, and Open SL, as we pleased.

  4. Mariis Mills March 17, 2009 / 2:15 pm

    Hi Anja,
    I agree – geeting people accustomed to 3D virtual worlds/spaces is the main objective for now in this emerging phase …

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