Meerkat Viewer – The Buggy Coolness

August 23, 2009

Downloaded and tested the Meerkat V0.1.6 viewer this weekend.  Despite the occasional crashes and inoperable extra features, I like what it has to offer.

Avatar List

Accessible via the “Meerkat” dropdown menu on the top bar, this little window tool gives some pretty handy features.

  • Shows all nearby avatars
  • Allows you to mark, track, get key, and instantly TP to avatars

Avatar List

Chat Bar as Command Line

Probably my favorite little extra.  With it, you can set your own custom chat-based commands.  The Teleport to camera position is great fun, however your mileage may vary.  After I TP’d a few times, other avatars could not see me.

Command Line

Visual Environmental Settings

This one is a immersive photographers dream.  Via the Arrowed button at the bottom toolbar, you can pull up a rather lengthy list of environmental settings that change the way the world looks.

Environmental

Make your region look ghostly…

Ghost

…or all funky alien-like.

Alien

Again, your mileage may vary.  I encountered several inventory locking quirks that I suspect have something to do with the viewer.  It also crashed on me once when selecting one of the environmental presets.  However, the neat extras make up for the early-version bugs.  I won’t be using it for a business meeting or event yet, but for the fun experimenting times, it’s great.  I’m definitely keeping my eye on this viewer.  Visit the Meerkat development home to download and try it out yourself.

Have you tried it yet?  What were your impressions/favorite features?


BrainBoard Training Modules

May 3, 2009

In preparation for the upcoming release of the BrainBoard V1, I prepared 3 videos to help people get the most out of their use of the tool.

The user orientation is under 3 minutes and will prepare users to fully collaborate on the board.

The two owner/moderator orientations are roughly 2 minutes each, and cover how to import/export, adding a 2nd board, Collaboration vs. Moderator Modes, and a few other basics.


I also posted a text reference sheet covering the basics in one page.


Designing in 2D for 3D Adoption

April 7, 2009

Sounds confusing and counter-intuitive, but sometimes designing virtual collaboration tools in 2D can lead more to 3D thinking & adoption.  Hear me out…

A few months back, I worked with multiple clients to run a brainstorming event within Second Life® using the Ideaographer mindmapping tool.  When we demoed it for them, they just didn’t “get it”.  They asked if we could flatten it so they could see it better.  They wanted something familiar, like a whiteboard they use in physical world sessions.

My lesson…never underestimate how overwhelming a virtual environment can be for a new user.  Sometimes having a bit of familiarity in the environment and the tools can breed comfort and ease acceptance.  These new users couldn’t effectively navigate the space, they couldn’t ALT+Click to control their point of views, and they were relatively unfamiliar with the client interface.  They lacked the skills necessary to benefit from the use of the 3D tool.

Please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that to be new-user friendly, tools must always be 2D.  But for broader adoption and ease of acceptance among new users, I’ve found using a somewhat familiar 2D approach is effective.   (However, never allow your design to be limited by the 2D.  Always identify the core need and working outward from that, pushing the envelope of the expected and commonplace.)


3 Virtual Brainstorming Best Practices

March 1, 2009

I recently moderated a brainstorming session with two large clients in Second Life.  It seems like everytime I attend or conduct a virtual event, I always learn something new.  To share some lessons, here are 3 best practices to consider before conducting your next in-world brainstorming session:

1. Conduct A Participant Orientation

If you are planning a virtual event, particularly one involving high levels of interaction, you must insure all participants know the basics of the virtual environment.  By basics, I mean how to move their avatar, how to participate in open chat conversations, how to send a private IM, how to adjust their camera angle, and effective voice management techniques (like don’t leave your Talk button engaged & move your speakers away from your mic to reduce echoes).  Never underestimate the knowlege and skill needed by those new to virtual environments and the time it will take to convey it to them.  The most successful approach I’ve found is to have a separate participant orientation session, well before the day of the event, to insure all can successfully operate their virtual environment interface.

2. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Broadway performances require numerous rehearsals to insure consistent, expected outcomes…same applies to virtual events.  Sure, this takes more time for the clients and all parties involved, but it is essential in clarifying expectations and identifying potential problems before they happen.  At minimum, you should walk through the entire agenda as if you were actually conducting the event.  Use the tools, display the information, and travel to the locations planned for the event…and look for potential problems so you can proactively address.

For example, we conducted 3 separate rehearsals for the recent client brainstorming event.  Since I was the moderator capturing and inputting discussion points into the BrainBoard while a facilitator guided the voice conversation, it was vital for us to coordinate effectively.  The facilitator had to know the capabilities/limitations of the virtual tools being used & how the information discussed would be displayed.  And I needed a clear sense of the agenda flow, what elements of the discussion were vital to display at what times, and when to engage certain features.  A rehearsal allowed us to fine-tune our approach to the event and even develop outlines used to pre-populate the boards.

3. Increase Engagement With Distributed Collaborative Input

Whenever possible, use tools and techniques that allow participant contribution and interactivity.  The death of many virtual meetings (and physical meetings for that matter) begin with a talking head presentation and a powerpoint show.  Sure, there may be small segments (like a quick Industry Overview) that a power point-like slide show would be appropriate, but keep those to a minimum!  For brainstorming, it’s all about the interaction.  Our clients chose for voice to be the nearly sole vehicle for discussion, and for a single moderator to input the discussion information into the BrainBoard.  While this allowed participants to focus solely on the voice discussion, I believe it limited their engagement in the discussion and thus resulted in less than optimal results.  True, they saw their ideas eventually appear on the board, but it was based on what I heard via their voice discussion and what I typed.  Allowing participants during brainstorming events to input their own ideas/suggestions, edit theirs/others, & rearrange/reorganize contributions helps to engage more of their senses, to utilize more of their reasoning centers, and to feel that their contribution is valid and appreciated.


Mind Mapping during Virtual Brainstorms

November 9, 2008

The ThinkBalm Innovation Community is doing incredible work advancing the use of the immersive internet.  As a member, I’ve thus far participated in three sessions of the virtual brainstorming series.  We utilize a 3D mindmapping tool I developed, a 3D instant polling tool, voice & text chat during the events.  After the last event, I successfully exported the 3D map of our discussion into a text outline and imported that outline into a MindMeister map…here’s the result.

how_can_i_get_newbie_professionals_started_with_second_life_1


Immersive Brainstorming: The Tool We Need

September 29, 2008

Friday afternoon I helped conduct the first in a series of brainstorming events organized by members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community. Our goal with the events is both to develop and refine a best-practices approach to conducting brainstorming within virtual environments and to provide opportunity to experience the collaborative brainstorming capabilities of various immersive platforms (such as Second Life, Open Sim, and 3DXplorer to name a few).  I’ve also been developing a simple brainstorming note-taking tool for use in Second Life.  So, the process of brainstorming has been on my mind lately.

The Challenges of Brainstorming

These common challenges face any group, whether they meet physically or virtually, that seeks to produce ideas on a specific topic in a short period of time (aka brainstorming):

Effectively Communicating Concepts: Voice is arguably the most flexible and familiar tool. However, it is easy to misrepresent or misinterpret, especially if you do not have visual nonverbal cues to support (like physical posture, hand gestures, facial expressions). And even when you do have those cues, they sometimes can be misinterpreted, skewing the meaning of your contribution. Using visual elements can play a large role in helping to convey complex concepts (a series of photos, a flowchart, even a sketch on a whiteboard or napkin).

Time Limitations: There never seems to be enough time to thoroughly explore a challenge or problem, yet we are often expected in short brainstorming sessions to “step out of the box” and generate truly innovative game-changing ideas. Time is the most precious commodity to often overworked staff, so making the most of the scheduled time is of extreme importance.  A major limitation with voice is that it is asynchronous. It does not allowing for multiple simultaneous contributions.

Getting and Staying Focused on the Core Topic: Having too broad of a topic to focus upon inhibits the discussion from the beginning, since no one knows where to begin. It also rarely leads to significant ideas since the discussion is so broad and variable. On the flip side, having too narrow of a topic restricts participants creativity.  Although, chasing those rabbits down paths that seem to lead nowhere can often lead to some of the most creative and innovative ideas.

Recording the Exchanges: It’s always tough to capture the ideas and rationale in discussions for practical future use. Audio recordings and transcripts of sessions are one way, but who has the time to dig back into these?  Human notetakers are extremely useful, however must interpret and synthesize much of what is expressed.  It often falls on them to bring order and structure to the chaos of the discussion.  But if they misunderstand some key element or concept, much is lost in the translation.

Establishing and Maintaining a Safe Environment: Stepping out and expressing that bizarre idea takes courage.  You have to trust that the other participants will accept the contribution and not think you mad.  Having a safe environment should not be underestimated.  One strongly critical comment could shut down participants and inhibit truly creative expression.  But establishing trust, particularly among strangers and in short periods, is a difficult challenge.

The Ideal Virtual Brainstorming Tool

So, any tool built to facilitate brainstorming in a virtual environment must somehow address these basic challenges.  Here are my thoughts on the key elements needed in an immersive brainstorming tool:

Must be Quick: During a vigorous discussion, ideas come fast.  The tool must respond quickly to user input, or it becomes a roadblock to the rapid ideation process.

Allows for Synchronicity: Voice is useful, but an attention hog.  The tool must allow multiple users to both input as well as review ideas and thoughts synchronously.

Easy to Use: If you barely have the time to conduct the brainstorming meeting, then you certainly don’t have the time to spend on training people how to use yet another tool.  It must be intuitive to operate, especially for those new to virtual worlds.

Exportable Results: Sometimes it may not be possible to return to the virtual environment to review the results.  The compiled results must be easily brought into the physical world for use.  This may mean exporting via text, image, 3D construct, or some other method.

Add Unique Value: If it can be easily replicated in the physical world, then why bother with an immersive solution?  The tool must provide unique value that is difficult or impossible in the physical realm.  Perhaps that is providing a unique construct where differing perspectives reveal different meanings, or a “place” for distributed participants to meet to deposit and review contributions.


Why I Use Twitter

September 21, 2008
Who I Follow

Who I Follow

Like any cool web tool, Twitter can be a great help or an equally great waste of time.  It all depends on how you use it…and why.  At my most recent conference, Twitter was the hot topic among paraticipants.  I ended up explaining to multiple individuals why I use Twitter and how it has impacted my personal & professional life.

Question:

Why do I use Twitter?

Quick Answer:

First, because I see very beneficial business results.  Second, because it’s fun.

Detailed Answer:

1.  It augments my listening ability

By following those clients that use Twitter, I easily stay updated on their professional projects and personal lives.

By carefully following the right experts, I’m daily learning of new products & new techniques that will help me provide better solutions to my clients.

We have recently acquired technology that will soon be deployed for us to use in better serving our clients.  I currently have a RSSed twitter search on the technology fed to my Google Reader.  To put it simply, anytime anyone on Twitter mentions this technology (using it, installing it, troubles with it, successful applications of it), that twitter message is automatically sent to my Google Reader.  I can then read what others are saying about the technology.  This also allows me to identify potential user experts to contact in the future.

Speaking of RSSed Twitter searches, I also have them established for my clients divisions and keywords relating to their core business.  This really helps me know who is talking about our clients and what they are saying.

2.  It enhances my relationships with clients

Knowing a little personal information about clients, and vice versa, somehow seems to “humanize” us humans.  It makes us more approachable and more comfortable with one another.  It begins to establish in some small way a level of trust.  A paraphrase of a statement made by one of my clients, “Sure, it’s not mission critial for me to know that you frequently like to make your own sushi on Sundays, but it helps me to feel more comfortable with you.”  And likewise, me knowing that the client hopes their 8-year-old never grows out of their McDonald’s phase won’t solve the challenges presented by budget reductions, but it does help to foster the kind of safe environment needed to discuss and solve those difficult challenges.

3.  It’s an easy way to share knowledge

It’s extremely easy to share links to sites, videos, articles, blogs, you name it via Twitter.  I’ve used it to direct clients to information I’ve discovered pertinent to an ongoing project or effort.

4.  It increases serendipity

Often I find incredibly useful information, resources, and contacts via Twitter by chance.  For example, one of my clients follows numerous PR professionals in the OKC area.  I decided to follow a few to see what they had to say.  A few weeks later, a different client needed a panelist on short notice that knew the ins and outs of corporate volunteering programs.  Surprising enough I remembered that one of those PR professionals I followed (Sam Sims) had both a head and a heart for volunteering.  Problem solved, panelist secured…thanks Twitter (and Sam).

5.  It helps to promote my work

I like to Tweet when I complete work or start work on a major component of a client project.  It’s not only a simple way to keep client’s updated, it’s also a good way to promote the type of services you are capable of providing.  Of course, on sensitive projects the Tweets are kept generic enough to maintain confidential information (or not Tweeted at all).

For personal promotion, I send out a Tweet every time I post a new blog entry (like I just did for this one).  My page viewership typically jumps above 200% the day I Tweet.