A new Forrester Research report argues that the 3-D Internet will be as important to business in five years time as the Web is today.
The Getting Work Done in Virtual Worlds report released by the IT research firm this week concludes that executives should begin investigating and experimenting with virtual worlds soon because of their promise for remote collaboration, training and the ability to build and share 3-D models.
The report said that today's collaboration tools offer far more limited benefits to companies. For example, the inability to see the gestures of fellow meeting goers causes problems for attendees in different offices, the report noted.
In a virtual world, people can have their name, job title and business unit associated with an avatar that can attend meetings and have access to virtual buildings, rooms, equipment and people, Forrester said. The avatar is controlled by information in an enterprise directory and access control system, it said.
"You can easily direct your avatar to express gestures and emotions ... plus you can leave behind real-world unpleasantness such as the poor heat in your cubicle while your next door neighbour is burning or the loud guy talking the phone next to you," according to the report. "[In meetings] you always know who is talking and who's anxious to jump into conversation because they are waving their hand or jumping up and down in the corner of the room.
"In a virtual meeting room, you can see who is present, and more importantly, who is multi-tasking, who has raised a hand or who has been away from their keyboard so long that their avatar has fallen asleep," the report said.
The virtual model is especially important for professionals like surgeons, architects, engineers and product designers, who use CAD models or visualization systems to explore or create projects, Forrester said. In virtual meetings, these professionals can import models for discussion and modification, according to the report.
"You can release near-final designs to a limited group of external users and solicit feedback before starting fabrication," it said.
Starwood Hotels used Second Life to trial its new Aloft hotel concept designed for urban 30- to 50-year-olds, Forrester noted, while Princeton University has undertaken a similar project to manage distributed teams working on a large-scale astrophysics project.
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