Avaya web.alive Adds a New Dimension to Collaboration
The ultimate success of web.alive will be based on Avaya's ability to teach their customer base how to integrate the virtual experience into workflow.
Today Avaya launched its "web.alive" product that it acquired as part of Nortel (shouldn't it be Avaya collaborative work space environment with the web.alive experience--following the tablet naming???)--an environment to allow people to collaborate virtually from any location. While it's not quite VWorld from the TV show, Caprica, my time spent in web.alive was interesting and eye opening and I thought I would share my experience.
Avaya's web.alive is similar to the concept of SecondLife. That is, a virtual world where each individual creates his or her own avatar and walks around and interacts with people virtually (if the camera adds ten pounds, the virtual world removes as much as you want!). The difference with web.alive over SecondLife though is that the world is a dedicated to replicating the feeling that you're in a building or conference facility walking around interacting with one another. In short, it's a professional, dressed up version of a virtual world rather than one geared towards consumers surfing, shopping or hanging out at a virtual 7-11.
While I fundamentally believe that the richness of the environment can improve collaboration, I also think it's not obvious to most people as to how to make that happen. What I can envision happening is similar to what happens on web conferences today: People logging in and then ignoring the window while they work on e-mails, talk on the phone or do other work. Simply being in a virtual environment isn't really going to make anyone pay any more or less attention--unless the dynamics of the meeting change.
For example, in the demo, Avaya was presenting a number of slides to me and had slides on different virtual screens. The presenter walked up to the first screen and talked about the slide. When he did that, everyone turned their avatar to focus on that slide. When he walked to the second screen, everyone that was paying attention turned their gaze as well. Anyone that was off doing email would be caught because they were now staring at a blank screen. This allows the speaker to get immediate feedback on who is engaged and who isn't and then call the person out to re-engage in the session. In this case the virtual experience would allow the speaker to get a level of feedback greater than an audio only or audio plus web conference, increasing the effectiveness of the meeting.
Avaya is also trying to use this tool as a way to create more ad hoc meetings in the virtual world. For the record, I really do not like virtual trade shows, analyst conferences, etc. I get tired of being on line for several hours and not interacting with anyone. The thing I like about live shows (like the upcoming Enterprise Connect--which all you readers better be at my panel), is all of the sidebar conversations that you have away from the formal sessions. Everyone gets value out of these, even if all it does is remind you that you need to catch up with that person at a later date.
Avaya has tried to address this by having everyone "enter" web.alive in a lobby and then "walk" over to the room you need to be in. Along the way, you might run into other people that are hanging around in one of the other virtual rooms or in the hallway, allowing people to create those ad hoc meetings. To enhance this, Avaya has added full spatial audio as well, so if I hear Eric Rossman’s voice from across the hall, I might just divert my path to go over and say hi and ask him how the growth of DevConnect has been (that is, the Avaya Developer Environment with DevConnect experience). Whether people will actually "hang around" in a virtual world is yet to be seen, but the potential is there to actually have virtual trade shows that are more satisfying to people like myself, who like the ad hoc meetings.
The ultimate success of web.alive will be based on Avaya's ability to teach their customer base how to integrate the virtual experience into workflow. It's an innovative collaborative tool with a lot of potential, but "If you build it, they will come", it's not. It's more, if you build it, and you host them, and you show them how to use it, then they'll come. I must admit, I was favorably impressed with web.alive; it's much better and more usable than I thought it would be and I would encourage anyone that has a chance to try it to do so.