Experientialization vs. Visualization in Immersive Development

July 12, 2009

I recently assisted ThinkBalm with their experiment in immersively displaying their recent business value of immersive technology study. They wanted a “tour” experience structure, requiring the displays to be “stations” along a path that participants traveled.  It was quite a challenge (and a ton of creative fun) developing stations that clearly, quickly, and interactively conveyed the core message of the result topic, while also attempting to maintain a thematic visual and conceptual strain throughout.  Here are a few thoughts & bits of learning from the experience:

Immersive displays require thinking experientially, not merely visually:

Quickly in the process of ideation and development I realized, this was not merely data visualization (as most people refer to this type of project).  The builds needed to be not only visual, but also possess dimensions of position, ordering, presence, interactivity, and consideration of self in relation to others (considerations not typical when developing webinars, visualization graphs, or powerpoint summaries of results).  True, participants would need to gather a large amount of the total message at a glance, so the visual was important.  But, more importantly, we had to explore & answer questions to address these additional immersive dimensions.  Questions such as:

  • From what position (Avatar & camera angle) would participants view the display?
  • Would different angles of view convey different meanings?
  • How many would be experiencing at a time?
  • How long do they need to remain to assimilate the message?
  • What would they converse about when cooperatively interacting with the display?
  • What do we want them to talk about?
  • How will what they experienced before impact how they interpret and experience what follows?

Early development sketch of the Barrier Gauntlet (ThinkBalm Data Garden display)

Know the core messages:

For every display, it is critical to identify the core message/primary take away.  For the Deploy-2-Save game, it was that businesses chose immersive tech over alternatives to reduce costs and increase engagement.  Every other creative decision/possibility was guided by this prime.  Ideas on shape, color, scale, position, transparency, rigidity, interactivity, automation, etc should be accepted or rejected based on whether it makes the core message easier or more difficult to understand.
TB Experience-Barrier Gauntlet 1

With text, less = more:

A picture is worth a 1000 words.  So avoid text when possible.  Use constructs that convey concepts, and then use them to replace text when appropriate.

Participants, not viewers:

An experience is worth a 1000 pictures.  So, in pulling reports, data, information, presentations into immersive environments, focus on what the participant will experience to insure the correct takeaway.  Also, remember to consider how that experience will be impacted/changed by collaborative participation.
Interactively display in ThinkBalm Data Gardens

Use textures to make colors accessible to colorblind:

I used a lot of color throughout to differentiate, communicate, and establish thematic throughlines.  During one of our first shakedown tours, one of the participants was red green colorblind, which dramatically impacted his experience. Sam (ThinkBalm) brilliantly applied a specific texture to each color of prim, allowing those participants with visual color disability to easily distinguish a “red” display element from a “green”.  It’s a great practice I will continue for all future builds.

If you would like to visit the experiment yourself, go visit the ThinkBalm Data Gardens in Second Life.  If you haven’t yet immersed yourself into Second Life and still want to see the results, watch the video tour.

2 Weeks in the ThinkBalm Innovation Community

September 6, 2008

For the last 2 weeks, I have actively participated in ThinkBalm’s Innovation Community.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this new community, here are my impressions:

What is it:

In a nutshell, it’s an online approach to inovation management.  Built on the Spigit’s serious game platform (see my earlier post explaining Spigit), ThinkBalm’s community focuses on generating and critiquing ideas relating to the immersive internet.  The ideas are refined through community member interaction and feedback.

How it works:

Take a brainstorming session, mix in equal parts of Wall Street, facebook, your favorite blogs, market economics, election politics, LinkedIn, and academic peer reviewed journals, hit purée, and you start to get a feel for what it is and how it operates.  Members have a range of methods to engage in the process, but it all starts with someone posting their idea.

The idea founder’s goal is to progress their idea through a standard process of peer review hurtles, structured much like a business startup, with a hopefully successful IPO and strong market capitalization on the game’s “spock” market.  Based on peer feedback, founders can refine their ideas and, if necessary, even recruit partners with “spock” ownership incentives.  Members provide feedback through discussion forums, by writing reviews, and by voting to “spig” or “scrap” the idea.  Your can choose to change your vote if compelling evidence is presented in discussion or if the idea’s team improves the idea.  You can also spig and scrap discussion comments, which not only voices you opinion of the comment but also impacts the reputation of the member that posted the comment.

The Performance Feedback:

The variety of performance feedback provided quickly draws you into the community’s “game” of innovation.  The leaderboard gives the low-down on member and idea performance, ranking both on reputation, popularity, and wealth.  It’s a thrill seeing your ideas and your name rise and fall through the rankings.

So, why you should pay attention:

It’s practical…

Sure, there is some pie-in-the-sky prognosticating (like one of my my ideas: Arrival of Ubiquitous Augmented Reality), but the collective wisdom of the vigorous community discussion always keeps the proverbial one foot on the ground.  I have discovered it is a great way to improve the ideas you’ve developed, as long as you are willing to listen and adapt.

Stay on the cutting edge of innovative virtual environment thinking…

If you are interested or involved in virtual environments, whether it be for education or the enterprise, the community is an excellent source of innovative cutting-edge thinking.

Games are the future of work…

I’m very impressed with the way this “game” approaches the process of innovation.  It’s not a top-down, let’s-meet-to-discuss-ways-our-organization-can-step-out-of-the-box, typical enterprise approach to promoting innovative thought and action.  It’s a fun, grass-roots, games approach to gathering innovations from the workforce, which is often the source of the most significant innovations.

It’s fun…

Even after a long day of work, I still enjoy logging on and contributing my thoughts.  It’s just plain fun.  And any tool an organization can deploy that taps into the heart of their stakeholders has enoromous potential.

Tools of the Trade: Google Apps as a Production Planner (part 1)

August 30, 2008

The Background

I produce a monthly satellite broadcast show for one of my clients focused on informing, developing, and motivating their statewide employees (see some production shots at my flickr site). The final showreel is assembled from segments and stand-up shoots developed by multiple producers. We end up interviewing roughly 10 different employees, highlighting multiple divisions & programs, and visiting roughly 6 different locations during the month’s production. Naturally, sharing information quickly, timely, and effectively is key to keeping everyone (Client, Production Crew, & myself) on schedule, on budget, and focused on producing a cohesive and high-quality end product.

The Story

My first step to improve coordination of the production for the client was to develop a Google Apps site. I learned a few tricks from my own personal projects on how to setup wikis, schedules, simple databases, and published documents using Google Apps, so I was eager to apply the knowledge.  We needed one central location to store and display all information relating to each month’s production. It also needed to be easily accessed and updated by all involved with the production. So, I began development.

I started by brainstorming a running list of features that I knew from experience the site could provide and that were relevant to the production needs.

  • Multiple Calendars with customized viewing and updating features
  • Centralized communications platform allowing message posts, comments, idea log, and concern record.
  • Online location for documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF)
  • Ability to web publish and update simple spreadsheet databases

Of course, the site will not meet all needs and will never replace traditional communication tools, but it addresses some of the key challenges of coordination and rapid information sharing.

The Status

Thus far, I have deployed about 25% of the planned solution.  We are currently using a published spreadsheet to summarize each month’s production plan.  The client, producers, and crew can view the month’s plan from any browser.  Key production personnel can update the plan via a web form or a form embedded in an email.  The summary sheet automatically updates with the most current information.  This may not seem like much, but read below if you want to learn some of the challenges developing this deceptively simple spreadsheet solution.

Developing the Monthly Production Summary Sheet in Google Spreadsheets

Form used by clients to update production plan

Form used by clients to update production plan

In a nutshell, it was difficult.  I knew I wanted a summary sheet on the web that did not require my constant maintenance and updates.  I also wanted a solution that only a few key people could update, but viewable by many.  Here are some lessons I learned:

1.  Google spreadsheets allow only one form per file.

My initial plan was to use one file with sheets for each month and one master sheet showing a summary of the entire year.  Neat, clean, and simple.  Well…since only one form was allowed per file, the necessary update form would have been huge, thus I had to split it up.   Each month needed its own spreadsheet file saved in Google Docs.

2.  Google Forms are thus far not customizable

They are functional, but they do not look pretty, and currently you cannot customize the look or layout.

3.  Forms for updating and adding information to Google spreadsheets require their own sheet within the file.

Data inserted into sheets via a form require a horizontal orientation and are quite ugly.  I wanted my summary sheets in a more condensed readable format (vertically alligned).  So, I gave the form its own sheet.  When information is submitted via the form, it is added to the sheet in the lowest empty row.  The summary sheet displays only the most updated production information in the form sheet.

Production updates submitted via a forms into this sheet

Production updates submitted via a forms into this sheet

4.  The spreadsheet formula to display the last entry in a column should have been easier to develop (I blame both MS & Google)

So, in order for the Summary Sheet to display only the most recently updated information, I needed it to pull values from one row in the Form Sheet.  The cells in that one row needed to display only the most recently updated information in each column.  After a few hours of research & experimentation, here is the formula I developed:


This formula is placed in each cell in the 2nd row of the Form Sheet (with some adjustments to each formula based on location).  It returns the last non-blank value in the column.

To Be Continued…

I will update you occasionally as I make more progress on this project.

Tools of the Trade: Spigit’s innovation management applications

July 12, 2008

Most organizations are incredibly inefficient at utilizing the collective creativity and knowledge of their employees and customers.

Juxtapose the dynamics of organizational relationships with social relationships outside the workforce. Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Second Life or any number of socially enabling technologies help us not only stay connected, but enhance our ability to share experience and thought.

Spigit applys these social concepts to the workforce. Their enterprise software IdeaSpigit & InnovationSpigit allow workers and customers to not only easily share ideas & concepts, but to also evaluate, contribute, and rank the contributions collaboratively. Those that make positive contributions gain in reputation, effectively increasing their workplace social capital. Effectively deployed, I can see how this would move brainstorming and innovative thinking away from meeting-centered to a daily routine (and who wouldn’t want a workforce that constantly thinks innovatively).

Props to Erica Driver of ThinkBalm for pointing me towards this fascinating suite of applications.

Tools of the Trade: Jott.com

June 27, 2008

“Who would you like to jott?”

Jott.com is a thus far free service that converts your short phone messages into text, then sends that text to any of your pre-established contacts. I primarily use it to take quick notes or set reminders for myself while I’m on the go. I also have a setting to automatically post messages onto this blog and a setting to text my wife. There are a multitude of applications…imagination is your limit.

Most recently, I’ve set up a system that will allow me to easily track my mileage for work. When I get to the location, I simply look at the odometer, and state the mileage in a jott message to myself. When my outlook receives the jott message about mileage, it auto transfers it to the mileage folder. Then, at the end of the month I can easily process all the mileage claims.

I’ve been impressed with the accuracy of the voice-to-text conversions, although I do keep the messages brief and simple. It sometimes converts “too” as “2” and vice versa. On difficult words, it allows you to say the word, then spell it out (eg “watt… However, the converted text in such an instance only displays the word, “watt.”

Happy Jottin!

Today on Tomorrow: Orchestrating Information in 3D

March 1, 2008

We are stuck in the past, in an antiquated paradigm. We are sipping through a tiny coffee stirring straw while we remain parched. We require a new information processing model for individuals, one with the ability to match the ever increasing levels of available information produced by our world.

We google search, read feeds, watch TV News, browse websites, read and write blogs, store bookmarks to sites, scratch notes onto paper, daydream while commuting, read/write/reply/forward emails, stuff thumbdrives, get managed by planners, cram papers into binders, interact over the phone, IM statements, attend meetings, record meetings, set more meetings, (did I mention meetings?), read & write books, have truly brilliant ponderings that evaporate in an instant before recording, wandering wikis, absorb excel spreadsheets, record/revise/file way word documents, solidify filing cabinets, hear podcasts, watch vodcasts, and so on. And while we do, all too often brilliant innovations vanish before birth due to the lack of the individual’s ability to weave the disparate multi-disciplinary bits of information into a cohesive meaningful construct of knowledge. And not only that, even if and when we do achieve some semblance of a construct of understanding, new information always arrives to erode or eradicate the order.

Information orchestration models and tools of the future will empower individuals to navigate the oceans of information, assimilate useful streams of information, organize these streams into rapidly understood and useful forms, process these forms into useful and timely knowledge. Whatever these models will be, they will undoubtedly utilize more of our bodily senses in an effort to optimize the transaction (improve efficiency of throughput) between the human individual and the tool.

Imagine in the future immersing yourself into your Personal Knowledge Garden, a virtual 3D space containing spacially arranged plants. These plants are repositories of compiled and purposfully sorted information, varying in topic with each different species. Each plant in your garden is of different sizes, shapes, colors, feels, and smells. These differences are not merely cosmetic…the differences represent changes in a certain topic of interest. Grasping one flower, you are instantly exposed to a graphical summary of not the contents, but the changes, the growth of emphasis on one aspect of the topic (i.e. a flurry of information in the world relating to this topic). Further examination of the grown flower petal allows you to see the source information contributions to the plant. A graphical immersive representation of massive amounts of information like this garden would allow humans to utilize their full senses to more efficiently translate massive information into useable knowledge.

Tools of the Trade: Ajaxlife.net

February 24, 2008

Problem: Got a work computer, or a laptop, that doesn’t have the graphics muscles to run Second Life? Do you need to chat with your contacts/friends in Second Life, but don’t really need to eat up processor time?

Possible Solution: Ajaxlife.net

My Observations: Accessing Second Life (an Multiple User Virtual Environment) normally requires downloaded software. To experience the world in all it’s 3D glory, you do need a somewhat beefy graphics-capable computer system…something I do not have in my work office. Enter from stage right Ajaxlife. Ajaxlife is a web based interface for Second Life. You don’t get all the pretty pictures, or get to move around, or voice talk, or even see anything for that matter. What you do get is this:

Access To

  • Your inventory (and the ability to sort)
  • Avatar profiles (and thus the ability to contact them)

Search Capabilities

  • You can find non-friend Avatars


  • Local Chat (Text chatting with avatars located near you in the Second Life sim world)
  • Instant Messaging (think of it as a person-to-person text chat)


  • Scan for nearby Avatars (since you are blind, comes in real handy)
  • Stats (tells you when there is serious lag in world)


  • Ability to TP to another location via the map

Incredibly useful tool for those needing access to the communication features of Second Life when they are away from a graphics-capable machine. It is very difficult to Teleport to another location, since you are as blind as a bat (my apologies to all the bats out there), which may prevent widespread use. No download required! Fairly simple to use (EXCEPT for traveling).

…and btw…this was developed by a teenage girl!