Postulate on the Importance of Avatar Visibility

January 30, 2010

All the recent improvements in the ways we as humans interact with the digital (see Project Natal for a good example), and Cameron’s Avatar movie which depicts a direct brain interface control, got me to thinking…how important is it really to see the avatar you control?

Most immersive environments either show your avatar within the environment (3rd person overhead view), or show the environment directly from the avatar’s eye (first person, mouse look view).  Many give you options to change between viewpoints, and some allow you to “disconnect” your viewpoint from the avatar (like a movie depiction of an outer-body experience).  A view of the avatar helps the user control the avatar, making it easier to move & interact.

I postulate that the importance of seeing your own avatar decreases (and seeing others avatars increases) as it becomes easier to make your avatar mimic your own body.  Here’s a simple little infographic I sketched this afternoon to convey my thought:

I would be interested in hearing if others agree or disagree, and their rationale.

Immersive Collaboration: Casting Presence in a Leading Role

October 24, 2009

NY TheaterOn Thursday, I experienced a wonderful example of effective training in Second Life.  During the weekly Train For Success meetup, Mark Jankowski of Virtual Training Partners conducted a portion of his negotiations training course and gave a tour of his training grounds.  It was impressive not due to fascinatingly complex scripted objects, or remarkably crafted beautiful works of practical art that bring “ooohs” and “ahhhhs”.  It was impressive due to the way Mark used the varied settings to reinforce & complement the core learning dialog.

It got me to thinking…what role does “presence” play in immersive collaboration?  And, how best can we utilize it?

Presence is defined as, “The state or fact of being present, as with others or in a place.” In other words, a sense of self and other…that you the participant are in a “real” and “tangible” space with other intelligent (or semi-intelligent) beings.

Many folks designing and deploying immersive collaborative experiences (learning being one such) miss out on on one of the most powerful aspects of this technology by failing to intentionally design for presence.  All too often I see small group interactions and trainings that require nothing more of the participants than merely talk, look at a slide/image, and type.

Presence is precisely why immersive environments can be far superior to many traditional technology-enabled approaches, like webinars, conference calls, online forums, email, IM, and the like.  There is a higher potential sense of presence due in part to more human senses being engaged.  Also, the mind must process spacial orientation within the environment, which some acknowledge increases subject matter retention (most notably analyst Erica Driver of ThinkBalm in a recent blog post).

But presence does not necessarily require highly realistic builds.  Simple spaces with a few images, builds, and tools smartly (and intentionally) laid out can often be more compelling than an intricately built and near-photo realistic space.  And, from Mark’s example above, the context in which the setting occurs (a baseball skybox overlooking the field during his explaination of the baseball negotiation case study) plays a powerful role as well.

So how does presence play into immersive collaboration?  And how can we best use it?  With collaboration, communication (sharing of thought & intent) between individuals is key.  Crafting an experience that makes one feel more like they are “in” a space among others increases a groups capacity to effectively communicate, allowing for a multitude of methods/channels more closely resembling that of communication in an actual physical presence.  As anecdotal evidence, I’ve consistently found my geographically-dispersed development team accomplishes more in 30 minutes in an immersive meeting than hours, even days, spent in a web-based collaboration application.

Remember, this is still a relatively new technology and thus the industry is still trying to figure out best practices.  As a start, here are some guiding questions that may help you better design for presence:

  • Are my goals for the experience clearly defined?
  • How can the setting, the builds, and the tools within the space help me achieve the goals?
  • Is there a setting(s) that best complements the topic?
  • How will the overall setting impact participants?  What impact do I need it to have?
  • How do I feel when I see/interact with/move about the area?
  • What kind of interaction do I need participants to have with the setting/with the presenter/with each other?
  • Is it important for participants to see one another’s avatars? Why or why not?
  • What’s the difference between conducting it here in the immersive environment and conducting it as a webinar?
  • What if participants are flying around?  Will this change my build/the interactions/my presentation?
  • How much movement/navigation will I require of participants?

iED Presentation on Immersive Collaboration Tools

July 24, 2009

For my presentation on the most practical immersive collaboration tools available for Second Life & Open Sim at Monday’s Immersive Education Day, I will not be showing them via powerpoint, but rather as a tour in the immersive environments.  I’ll post more on the tools I chose to highlight in a later post.  For now, here are locations and instructions on how to join the tour in-world.

Second Life

Time: approximately 1pm CDT
Location: ThinkBalm Island

  • We will spend our time in Second Life surveying tools at the top of the ivory tower on the west island.
Second Life location of the iED presentation

Second Life location of the iED presentation


Time: approximately 1:30pm CDT
Location:  Jeff Lowe Region

  • When you login for the first time, you will appear in the welcome sim.  On the platform, there are touch-click teleports to several of the core regions.  Click on the region “Jeff Lowe”
Where you will first arrive

Where you will first arrive

  • When you arrive to the region, you should see the tour platform near the volcano lab.  That’s where the demo will occur.

ReactionGrid Demo Area


Here is a link to my field notes on each of the tools I will cover:

The DIY Immersive Laserpointer (or, the Pinoochio Technique)

May 25, 2009

pointing presenter

Anyone who has presented, trained, or demonstrated a tool within an immersive environment knows just how difficult it can often be to reference a specific position when communicating to others.  There is no simple physical world equilivant to pointing your arm and hand, or using a laser pointer to highlight focus.

Although I have just released a 3D Pointer tool, I also wanted to provide a simple, but limited in functionality, alternative for those do-it-yourselfers (or cheapskates) out there.

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to make your own laserpointer for the SecondLife & OpenSim immersive environments:

1.  First, create (rez) a cone.

Laser Pointer 1

2. Now, increase the height SIZE of the cone (the Z axis) to about 5 meters.

Laser pointer height 2

3. With the mouse, RIGHT CLICK on the object, and from the Pie Menus select MORE>, ATTACH>, HEAD>, NOSE.  This will attach the object to your nose.  This will replace anything you are currently have attacked to your nose (for example, a specialized avatar component).

Laser Pointer attach 3

4.  Laugh at how silly you look.

Laser Pointer funny 4

5.  Right click on the object and select EDIT.  Adjust the ROTATION of the Y AXIS to 90 degrees.  The object should now be pointing forward (still silly looking).

Laser Pointer rotate 5

6.  Finally, lets reposition it.  Notice the BLUE, GREEN, & RED axis arrows running though it?  Click & hold on the RED arrow then slide it forward.  Click & hold on the BLUE arrow then slide it down so the object is almost level with your chest.

Laser pointer adjust 6

YOU ARE DONE.  Try it out by moving your mouse around.  Notice how the pointer now points toward where your mouse is located.  You should probably rename the object (so you can find it easier in your inventory) and maybe change the color or texture.  Just detach when finished.  If you want to use it again, RIGHT CLICK on the object in your inventory & choose WEAR.

For those of you that might need a more flexible pointer (one not attached to your avatar, that can easily point out exact positions within the environment, and that multiple people can easily share use), you might checkout my newly released 3D Pointer.

January 19, 2009

brainboard v0.2Greetings, all.

I’ve made significant progress on the BrainBoard, my newest virtual collaborative tool.  The tool, being close to release and sale, is already fully operational in both Second Life and Open Sim (successfully tested on ReactionGrid).

What is it?

Think sticky notes on a whiteboard, and you have the basic concept.

What can it do?

In collaboration mode, multiple users can create new notes for the board, add and edit the text of the note, change the text color to classify, and rearrange the notes into whatever order on the board is desired.  While in moderator mode, only the moderator or owner can operate the board.  The export feature outputs the work in text outline form, allowing you to capture and store the meeting’s work.  A voting mode allows participants to vote on notes, enabling more collaborative sorting.  See the current Instruction Sheet for more detailed operation instructions.

There are some export/import, real-time web syncing, and instant 2D to 3D display conversion features on the horizon that are truely exciting.  I will post the most updated information on the tool here as the project develops…so stay tuned.

New Product Announcement: The Facilitator’s Virtual Toolbox

January 4, 2009

I’ve made loads of progress in the past month on a variety of virtual environment tools for individuals and organizations.  After much encouragement from friends and associates (you know who you are…thank you), I now plan to make these tools available for purchase.

I have included information on the first of several tools in the Facilitator’s Toolbox section.  The Attitudometer is now available for purchase via PayPal transfer.  I will soon add other tools, such as the 2D Brainboard (see flickr pics here).

I will also post my thoughts on the process of developing & testing these tools soon.

Virtual Brainstorming Event “What’s the Big Idea” on October 17th

October 12, 2008

Join the ThinkBalm Innovation Community on Friday, October 17th as we tackle another topic relating to the immersive internet.

What’s the Big Idea Session #2

Discussion Topic: How should I convince colleagues that the immersive internet has business value?  What can I do to address their initial misgivings?

Date: Friday, Oct. 17th, 2008

Time: 2-3PM EST / 11AM-Noon PST

Place: ThinkBalm’s Innovation Community brainstorming space in Second Life (Vio II region).  Second Life URL (SLURL)

Why Attend:

  • To practice using collaborative virtual brainstorming tools.
  • To gain experience brainstorming within a virtual environment.
  • To make connections with others interested in utilizing virtual technologies and tools.

Who can Attend: ThinkBalm Innovation Community members (email if you are interested in joining)

How to Attend: RSVP to (include your avatar name).  To access the space, you will need to be a member of the ThinkBalm SL group.