Moving Immersive Collaboration Forward

Today we are making not one but TWO major announcements, each of which represents the most important product announcements Teleplace has made to date. In fact, these may be the most important announcements made in the immersive enterprise collaboration space ever.

First, today we’re announcing a new product called Teleplace Connect. Years in the making, Teleplace Connect unifies the two worlds of enterprise collaboration and enterprise communication within a true multi-user platform. The vision behind Teleplace Connect is to provide teams with seamless, multi-user access to the entire spectrum of communication and collaboration technologies and business applications deployed across their enterprise, making these systems and technologies available in the flow of their daily activities.

We’re also announcing the initiation of a new open source project called OpenQwaq. Long-time followers of Teleplace will recognize the name Qwaq as the former name of our company. The code made available through OpenQwaq is equivalent to that currently used in our commercially available Teleplace product—a highly secure, immersive, enterprise-class, real-time virtual collaboration solution used by thousands of users across hundreds of enterprises worldwide. OpenQwaq is available for download and deployment completely free of charge, supported by our entire community of engineers, business partners, and end users.

Each of these announcements on its own represents a tremendous leap forward in enterprise collaboration. Combined, we believe these new offerings will completely reshape the use of immersive technology in the enterprise.

Admittedly, immersive technology has thus far failed to live up to the vision of some of its early advocates and visionaries. Reflecting some of those expectations, I recall a senior analyst at a well-known IT consulting firm once telling me he was certain that Second Life would beat out Facebook as the preferred platform for Web-based social interaction among consumers. That prediction was made in 2007, and he was just one of many who thought consumers would prefer 3D gaming environments over text and pictures when interacting with their friends over the Web. Online multi-user gaming was exploding at the time, and why wouldn’t users prefer a UI that more closely simulated the real world?

By the end of 2010, that analyst admitted he had been completely wrong. “In the end,” he said, “text and pictures won.”

But I think we should stop using war analogies when it comes to describing the business of technology. Winning and losing imply permanence. When it comes to high tech, there is no permanence. Just ask Microsoft and Apple.

Technology adoption is much better understood—and predicted — in the context of how it’s being used. When it comes to immersive technology, online gaming is a great example. I recently observed a group of kids playing a game with each other over the Internet using Xbox Live. These kids had never actually met in person. They lived thousands of miles apart. But the interaction between them was little different from what would have taken place had they been playing in their own backyard. It was highly interactive. There was a lot of shouting, with a few gestures thrown in for good measure. It was structured yet unpredictable. It demanded tremendous focus. The strengths and weaknesses of each of the players were readily apparent. Peer pressure was rampant. There was a clear pecking order, and alliances ended up separating the winners from the losers. In the end, it was a shared experience—not an individual one — and that’s what made it feel highly social even though the users were thousands of miles apart.

What I observed that day was far different from how those same kids interact on Facebook. Though we call Facebook a social network, social networking is not a good contextual description of how it’s used. Facebook is more like a hole in the fence of your backyard allowing you and your neighbor to peek in on each other from time to time. It’s certainly not about shared experiences at all. At its core, the Facebook experience is a clever amalgamation of voyeurism and narcissism. It’s either all about me or it’s about what I’m going to discover about you.

Of course, neither narcissism nor voyeurism is encouraged at work, and that may be why the concept of “Facebook for the Enterprise” has never really taken off. CEOs understand the concept of Facebook, but they struggle to see how it’s appropriate in the context of work.

Group interaction in the context of work has a lot more in common with what I observed in those kids playing Xbox Live than it does with Facebook. Work-based collaboration is highly interactive. It often involves a lot of talking and gesturing. It’s structured yet unpredictable at times. It demands focus. The strengths and weaknesses of other people are readily apparent. Peer pressure is rampant, and there’s always a pecking order—both formal and informal. Alliances often separate the winners from the losers. And in the end, it’s a shared experience and a shared outcome, not an individual one.

Though I’m a veteran of the social business software market, I’m convinced now more than ever that the asynchronous collaboration technologies most often associated with social business software will continue to fall far short of what’s needed for distributed enterprise collaboration. Those technologies are inappropriate for the context. Workers need technology solutions that more closely replicate how they interact in person. They need ways to make distance irrelevant without losing intimacy.  They need tools that enhance, instead of interrupt, the flow of their daily activities.

Though some very interesting products, such as what we have been offering at Teleplace, have attempted to deliver against these requirements, it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done. More people need to be exposed to the technology. More people need to add their insights about how the technology needs to evolve. A platform needs to emerge that can be embraced by a broad community of developers, users, and solution providers that collectively have full confidence that the platform will continue to be enhanced for a long time to come. And that’s why we decided to initiate OpenQwaq. We have decided to provide the world’s first enterprise-focused, fully functional, tightly integrated, commercial grade, AND completely free of charge immersive collaboration platform in the market. See for yourself by downloading it at http://code.google.com/p/openqwaq/.

In addition to the need for a freely available commercial-grade immersive collaboration platform, it’s equally clear there are too many redundant and competing communication and collaboration technologies being used within each enterprise. Communication and collaboration can never be unified until the individual components are first standardized. But standardization can be tough to pull off. Text messaging is a great example. Skype, Sametime, Lynx, Twitter, Facebook, WebEx, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN, Google Talk, Yelp–the list of choices goes on and on. Which one should you use when you want to quickly chat with a colleague at work? Nobody ever seems to know. While this broad selection may be fine for personal communication, it’s not okay for enterprises. Enterprises need to deal with compliance laws and retention policies. They need to apply security and access controls. Management needs to be able to measure and monitor what’s going on. And workers need to be able to easily find and connect with each other. They shouldn’t have to know what technology they should be using. It should be seamlessly and instantaneously presented within the flow of their daily activities. It turns out the technologies best suited to do that have more in common with Xbox Live than with Facebook.

At Teleplace, we have been offering a solution that effectively demonstrates how this should work. It includes all of the required communication and collaboration technology components – voice, video, chat, documents, applications, social media, laser pointers, digitized meeting artifacts, activity streams, and so on. It’s all there, tightly integrated, highly secure, and performance optimized. But in some ways it competes with the other communication and collaboration standards in an enterprise. That’s why we developed Teleplace Connect. What’s different with Teleplace Connect is that we’re now allowing customers to plug in their own standard components. And we’re making it all accessible from within a browser (or from within an app on a mobile device). Yes, you read that correctly.  Teleplace Connect runs in a Web browser!

We’re kicking off the plug-and-play integration capabilities of Teleplace Connect with “out of the box” support for SharePoint and other native Windows applications. A SharePoint Team Site can now become an entry point into a Teleplace virtual workspace. People, permissions, identity, and content flow seamlessly between the two systems. Any native Windows or Web-based application can now be presented within Teleplace Connect, and all users present in a virtual workspace have multi-user access to any of the applications presented in the workspace.

Though we’re starting with SharePoint and other native Windows apps, our intent in the future is to allow any business application—not just SharePoint—to become an entry point into a Teleplace virtual workspace. In addition, we intend to make any communication, collaboration, or application technology deployed in the enterprise instantly accessibly by Teleplace Connect users. With the inclusion of mobile device support, users will get anytime, anyplace, any content, any application, any communication channel, always-on access from any device and from within any application. Teleplace Connect represents the ultimate enterprise collaboration system.

Teleplace Connect is initially being made available under a development license to select business partners and customers. Users of the current Teleplace product, which is licensed on an annual term basis, have the option of moving to an OpenQwaq license with no disruption of service. The OpenQwaq community and the Teleplace partner community are both enabled to provide a variety of service and support options to meet the needs of even the most sophisticated users. Once Teleplace Connect becomes generally available under a production license, users of OpenQwaq will be able to migrate to Teleplace Connect at their option.

This is a lot to digest, but as you can see this is a big day for immersive technology in the enterprise.  I hope you’re as excited as we are.

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4 Responses to Moving Immersive Collaboration Forward

  1. Mark says:

    Congratulations to Teleplace on this bold move into open-source! This is indeed a great day for immersive technologies — I hope that Teleplace (the company) profits greatly from this decision!

  2. picomiles says:

    Congratulations, really a great day :)

  3. Great news! I look forward to learning more about OpenQwaq.

  4. Pingback: OpenQwaq « teleXLR8

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