VenueGen: The 3D virtual meeting platform

In the past I’ve talked quite a bit about virtual meetings. However at the moment the public sector is just not playing in the same field as the commercial sector when it comes to facilities and programmes. Last year I wrote about how the University of Bath virtual meeting room was underused and sadly needing a little TLC (Reviving Video Conferencing). However it’s likely that cuts in the sector will mean a significant reduction in travel for staff, which might possibly result in a real virtual meeting revival. The public sector will have to start thinking more like commercial companies and trying to make remote business and meetings work.

There are some interesting innovations in this area if you look around the corporate arena. One of these is VenueGen, a browser-based 3D immersive internet meeting platform. It’s almost like a cross between SecondLife and a virtual meeting, a 3D virtual meeting platform:

It’s a place where business colleagues meet, collaborate, share and present information in board rooms, training rooms, and meeting halls. Users simply select a meeting room, upload their content, and instantly enter a virtual room with directional voice where they can hear colleagues around the room! Engaged, active and immersed attendees communicate, make decisions, learn faster, and are more productive than with online alternatives. No more boring conference calls, no more travel, and no more expensive, complex video conference systems. VenueGen is “Business Ready”.

VenueGen have passed on a Q&A with their CEO David Gardner. The interview helps give a feeling for what VenueGen means for online meetings in general and the next generation of business use for Second Life concepts in the future.

1. Is VenueGen the death of the webinar?

David Gardner: Not necessarily. Different modalities are good for different uses. Well, the Internet certainly has revolutionized the way people consume media. The Internet is interactive, and so is the VenueGen virtual meetings platform. Virtual meetings are used for three things: everyday meetings, training, and events. Meetings and trainings are highly collaborative, and VenueGen provides a highly collaborative platform to meet this need, whereas webinars have been utilized largely for passive events, like watching TV. So, in short, if companies want Webinars where audiences are passive listeners, they can select a passive platform. If companies want a virtual meeting that encourages participation, then they can select an interactive platform. Our view is that webinars and events will become highly interactive – that’s where it’s all heading.

2. How do 3D meetings work? How is VenueGen different from other webconferencing programs?

David Gardner: VenueGen creates a TelePresence-like experience while running in your browser. No video equipment, no cameras, no special rooms – no big expense. In VenueGen, the online meeting’s hosts select one of our virtual venues and invite others to join, which is similar to joining a WebEx meeting, only you appear in a 3D environment as an avatar. You hear sound directionally and you can turn you head by dragging your mouse around to see others and to interact with content. It is very simple and easy to use.

3. Who needs virtual meetings?

David Gardner: Anyone meeting, collaborating or learning online needs VenueGen. It is extremely similar to the real-world experience of sharing a physical space together. Meeting hosts who want to create more engaging, personal and productive events online will try VenueGen and will never go back to flat 2D screen-sharing technology.

4. MIT, Berkeley, and Stanford already offer online education—there are even classes on iTunes. Will VenueGen “classrooms” with student & professor avatars holding discussions and writing on blackboards lead to a new kind of academic campus?

David Gardner: Yes. There is nothing in education as powerful as a skilled teacher facilitating a class full of engaged learners. As instructor-led distance learning continues to grow the 3D modality will become the standard. There’s tons of great research on this showing that learners immersed in a 3D environment show dramatic improvements in participation and retention over those using 2D online platforms. We currently run a pilot with Duke University.

5. Can folks without broadband still participate?

David Gardner: VenueGen’s core functionality requires minimal bandwidth because only highly optimized positioning data is being sent and received. However, some features of VenueGen such as real-time screen sharing may not work well in low bandwidth settings. That said, unlike any web conferencing tool on the market today, VenueGen has the ability to pre-distribute content to online attendees and then simply control that content running locally. This model requires almost no bandwidth and makes VenueGen a viable option where screen sharing-only tools cannot work.

6. Will your children even know what a webinar was?

David Gardner: They will probably call it television. In the not-so-distant future, the 3D web will be very commonplace. There are certain internet activities such as online learning, collaboration and social networking that will be performed almost exclusively in 3D. Other asynchronous and individual activities will remain 2D. Anything involving interacting in real-time with other people on the web that is not in 3D will start to look like the black and white television, or radio—not very appealing or interactive.

7. How does VenueGen change the playing field for unified communications?

David Gardner: Unified communications involves the convergence and integration of many meeting and communication modalities. 3D will be the least common denominator for UC because everyone can use it and other modalities such as VoIP, video feeds, chat, etc. can be brought directly into the 3D environment. Although 3D is only one of these modalities, I believe VenueGen will become the presentation layer or central HUB for UC platforms. 3D environments don’t required special hardware or cameras or lots of bandwidth like video applications do. This makes 3D the richest experience with the least barriers.

8. Second Life has exited the enterprise virtual meeting space. How does VenueGen see this as an opportunity?

David Gardner: SL leaving the enterprise space was not a surprise to anyone. SL was designed as a consumer’s virtual world and never really understood the needs of the enterprise. A company and technology has to focus like a laser to solve a business problem. SL never had that focus and unfortunately SL is the only 3D experience most enterprises ever piloted. I’d have to say that SL’s entry and exit of the enterprise space has done more to hurt the adoption of serious 3D modalities than anything to date. Second Life required customers to spend hours learning the platform – no one has time to do that today. Customers who experience VenueGen indicate a remarkably different experience. The platform was built with enterprise in mind. It takes a few minutes to get up and running. Users are immediately productive and running effective 3D meetings and training events.

9. When will you bring VenueGen to the iPod and Android?

The iPad and iPhone will be our first mobile deployments because we already have a version of our client 3D engine that runs on these. Eventually VenueGen will run on most mobile computing devices.

10. Is there anything else you would like to share?

David Gardner: All of the analysts have said something similar but Forrester said it best, “The Internet is on the verge of its next major evolution.” 3D is coming and as with all new technologies, early adopters will gain competitive advantage and differentiation. Anyone who has had the VenueGen experience understands what I’m saying and will never go back to using legacy web conferencing tools. Companies considering videoconferencing, spending hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, they find that their workforce is distributed and mobile and can’t physically get to these rooms. They might be better served by considering VenueGen as an online virtual meeting platform.