Sunday, 15 April 2007

Innovation in SL no 2 - Play2Train

This may not be massively innovative, but I think it is a good example of where Second Life provides a useful toolset for a real application.

Play2Train is a disaster simulation area, used by the Idaho Bioterrorism Awareness and Preparedness Program, (IBAPP) to rehearse and refine their disaster planning.

The idea is that an island (well, two islands, actually) has been set up in SL to re-create a town centre, complete with schools and other public buildings, and a virtual hospital. Disasters are created in the town, and the RL response teams have to play out their action plan within the SecondLife environment. Now simulating disasters is nothing new.... response teams or other groups have simulated disasters in classroom or model situations for quite a while. The benefit of using an environment like SL, however, is that they can play out the simulation in real-time; and have a realistic view of what is happening around them. Compare this with a simulation on a model - the participants can easily communicate with one another; they can see the whole picture of the "disaster" in the simulation. Within SL, however, participants can only "see" what they could see in RL - they cannot suddenly switch to a "helicopter view" of the whole situation (well, OK, they COULD fly, but that's cheating!). Resources will not suddenly materialise out of the blue; transportation pinch-points become apparent.

Full details of Play2train can be found at Play2Train

So, from a simple concept, SL is able to provide a rich simulation that would require a significant software effort to create from scratch. Disaster plans can be worked through and refined with a minimum of effort. Hence, my vote for Play2Train as an innovation that supports the real world.

Friday, 6 April 2007

More on Meetings

As mentinoned in my previous post, I've just been involved in a discussion group over at PA Consulting, so I seemed a good time to note down some more observations on meetings in SL.

I've always been a champion of virutal meetings, and consider the avatar a key component in the meeting's success..... something about making the session seem more "real".

Today, perhaps, I could have managed without my avatar... but then it was good for introductions; and it was also clear that there was someone else sat in the room (not necessarily taking part in any discussions) who was taking notes.... so the avatars were useful after all!

(Here we were in the meeting.... note the person sat at the other side of the room just listening!)

The chat log was essential.... I was sitting at home for the meeting, and true to form, the rest of the household came up with 101 things for me to do immediately - so I rather rudely left my avatar to hold the fort in the meeting, whilst I rushed round solving domestic problems! When I came back to the keyboard, I was quickly able to look back at what had been said in my absence, and catch up on the discussion thread. I have since been able to refer to the chat log to refresh my memory of what was said.

IM proved useful - re-establishing old relationships with participants, without distracting everyone else.

There was a slight problem with people "speaking" at once, but it was soon possible to unscramble the conversation threads from the log. At least we didn't have to deal with thick foreign or regional accents... all the discussion was in chat.

So, overall, the meeting was a success. I don't think it would have been quite so easy had we had voice to play with, but that's for another discussion!!!


I took part in a group discussion earlier today about the use of virtual worlds for conflict reolution, negotiation and mediation.

As I have already noted several times, SL provides a medium which promotes communication. There seem to be many reasons for this..... not least the immersive environment; the use of avatars to give "presence"; and the annonymity afforded by the keyboard and screen interface. There are also key differences between a meeting in SL and a "Real" meeting - the lack of facial expression; the physical separation of the protagonists; the use of Chat and IM vs speech to name but a few.

Team sat in the discussion

Today's discussion got me thinking about how these characteristics could actually be an advantage in conflict resolution or negotiaion. Let's consider some of them.....

First of all, the participants in a virtual meeting are actually in different places. So even if they can't stand to be in the same room as one another, they can share the same virtual space. There is no threat of physical violence - after all, you hit my avatar & I don't feel a thing! No one has to lose face by condecending to meet the opposition; all 3D ground can be considered "neutral".

Next, particularly if CHAT is used, rather than a voice system, discourse takes place at a slow pace - with participants having the opportunity to review what they are about to say before hitting the "send" button. This gives the opportunity to put the brain into gear before setting the mouth in motion. Furthermore, it gives a full audit trail of what has been "said", providing an opportunity to review the discussion to date. There is no chance of missing something that was said (thanks to the audit trail) and in Chat, no-one has a strong regional or foreign accent to be misunderstood!

The limited gestures and lack of facial expression simplifies discussion - it means that the written text has to convey all the information, without the nuances of intonation or expression. It also means that there is less chance of a "knee jerk" response to something the other side has said..... it takes a conscious decision to START SHOUTING AT SOMEONE!!!!

With a 3D virtual environment, however, the protagonists have the chance to move around in physical space (relative to one another); so as a discussion progresses, the avatars can physically as well as emotionally get closer together or move further apart. The environment also gives the opportunity for all sorts of meeting venues - from sitting around a camp-fire to floating 300ft up in mid air!

So with all these points to consider, it would be interesting to see what a "professional medator" thinks of SL as a medium for negotiation. I think there could be some mileage in it.....what are YOUR views?