Will "Immersive Internet' become the next buzz word ?

Or should I put it this way : Will the term "Immersive Internet" be the next buzz word to replace that of virtual worlds in the coming months ?

Like the term "2.0" added some glamor to the poor old web of researchers and academics, like the term "serious games" has made video games more politically correct to the anti-players, will "immersive internet" open a new era where real-time 3D surf will become hype and sexy …

An era that sweet and crazy dreamers who inhabit immersive platforms in the shape of all types of avatars will boast of being there first, missing those ancient times when the world sill had the flavor of the garden of Eden ... the time before the "market" ...

At the speed in which new technologies evolve and converge, change is imminent, although professionnals predict it will take two to five years to "cross the chasm", Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm), which separates the adoption of a technology by early adopters to a take-up (early majority).

In the same way that it gets more difficult to imagine ourselves working without internet, it should be the same in the next five years for immersive Internet. Soon, we will study and train ourselves in virtual campuses where immersion and simulation will provide unimaginable benefits for the understanding of situations and familiar or professional applications.We will do some part of our work in 3D environments where we can communicate, collaborate with colleagues all over the world, working to produce prototypes, visualize complex datas, interview and recruit candidates.

Our avatars will become more sophisticated, highly profiled and implemented with rich features enabling us to interact with each other and share informations, datas, social and virtual objects in a way that will become increasingly real. And in the same way that Internet has deeply changed our perceptions of time and location, immersive Internet will change our perception of work and relationships, adding a much more intense emotional engagement until to forget completely that we are separated by a screen - in fact increasingly thin.

So what reasons could push a company to integrate the immersive Internet today in its development strategy and what are the application areas where it can invest in this new technology focusing on a measurable return on investment?

The research firm ThinkBalm has just published a survey that reported on the creation of business value of immersive Internet for companies as diverse as IBM, Microsoft, BP, United Space Alliance, Preferred Family HealthCare, Town of LaSalle (Illinois), Michelin or Kelly Services. This detailed rigorous study puts into perspective the benefits received by those organizations, both by increasing revenues and improving employee productivity.

Reducing costs while increasing the level of engagement is mentionned by those companies as a main result. Uses currently focus on education, training, meetings and conferences. But the most advanced companies already consider the use of immersive internet as a platform for collaboration tools for data visualization, for 3D collaborative design and prototyping, for the rehersal of situations, or human resources management.

This study is extremely well presented in 3D in Second Life, and probably more didactic than the pdf !

The study clearly points out the quality of exchanges in immersive meetings, widely regarded as superior to the techniques of video-conferencing or any other forms of telepresence. These interactive immersion is much closer to face to face interviews.

My own experience and the studies I conducted on this subject (
Coaching et nouvelles technologies) are also going in this direction. The issues of non-verbal and paraverbal resonate differently inside a virtual world, resulting in the creation and formalization of a language based on other statements, other codes that the parties learn to decipher. The results are relevant and superior to any other form of exchange at a distance. The difference: interaction in the same virtual space is producing same type of results than a face to face meeting, talking about emotional interaction.

The other advantage I see in the use of this technology is, without doubt, the accession of the company to a sustainable development policy, thus reducing its carbon footprint, but also highly improving the quality of lives of internal and external actors involved in the operation of the company. By reducing the number of trips, automobiles, trains, planes, through virtualization trade (not all of course!), the company takes part of a green economy fighting against climate changes and can boast the creation of quality jobs.


Defining a clear strategy for the next 3 years.

Today, companies can undertake in the immersive world.They must do so with full awareness of the chasm that still separates the early adopters to mass users. They can do so by refraining from over-estimation of the objectives, and any underestimation of costs and barriers. Starting now, armed with a clear vision and strategy in the short and medium term, and accompanied by real professionals, businesses can expect to return on their investment, a unique experience, and quick visible benefits.

Unlikely years 2006/2007, companies should not only use immersive internet to create buzz for a P.R. campain, but clearly define strategies with precise mission to solve a business problem : commercial, marketing, communication, innovation, human resources etc..

Nothing really new for professionnals... but another technology to integrate into the toolbox. The main difference being that immersive internet plunges its roots in video game and virtual worlds, it will require special skills and understanding. Like email, intranet, internet, social media, and other collaborative tools adopted by the company over the past decade, immersive internet will slowly takes its place and profoundly change the way we work and collaborate. But in the end, the "challenge" will sure be rewarding for those who will have succeed in marrying transversality, experience and innovation, and simultaneously accompany changes arising. It should be even more successfull for those who will anticipate and start the adventure before the wave ...

Helene Zuili is co-founder of makemyworlds, a European company specialized in business solutions for virtual worlds. She is a Linden Lab Solution Provider for Second Life. You can email her at helenezuili(at)gmail.com


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