Last April Robin Good wrote an article on his blog called ‘Side by Side‘, about the need for what I’ve called Simple Virtual Presence technology. One of the services of my new business Meeting of Minds will be the Personal Collaboration Technologies Suite:A set of intuitive desktop tools that allow front-line workers to see and hear each other and to work together without having to be in the same room. SVP is a critical component of this suite. The key is that they must be simple — connecting must be as easy as making a phone call. And once connected, you need to be able to work with the other person as effectively as if you were in the same room. The same Simple Virtual Presence technology should enable you to dial into conferences you cannot attend in person.

Here’s a rough spec for what Simple Virtual Presence technology should offer:

  1. One click dialing: A single click to the other person’s or conference’s address should provide full default multi-media connectivity, with no further ‘configuration’ needed. ‘Who you see is who you get’.
  2. Connectivity should have three simultaneous ‘viewpoints’: sound and image of the other person him/herself, sound and image of what the other person is looking at/listening to, and a third ‘backchannel’ for sidebar communications. The default configuration might look like the image above. For SVP at a conference, the picture at left would be the person physically at the meeting you are ‘channeling’, the picture at right would be the speaker or his/her presentation material, and the ‘backchannel’ would be the sidebar discussions with other physical and virtual attendees of the conference.
  3. A pointer to show what you are specifically talking about.

The analogue between physical and virtual presence is simple and intuitive: Two visual and two audio channels replace your physical eyes and ears, and the pointer replaces your finger. The backchannel gives you multitasking capability that puts you in exactly the same position with SVP that you would have with physical presence, all with a single click.

All of the technology to do this exists now. It’s just a matter of combining and simplifying it. And not much accommodation is needed at the other end either: A camera & mic on each laptop that can be swiveled to show either the user or what he/she is looking at, and a ‘whiteboard’ that shows the document the person at the other end is working on, or the document the presenter at the conference is talking about.

What’s critical is resisting the temptation to add a lot of bells and whistles. A virtual meeting should be, must be, no more complicated than a physical one, if it’s to be embraced by the business mainstream.

Robin calls this simple functionality ‘Side by Side’. I think it’s even a bit richer than that: I’d call it Side-by-Side & Face-to-Face. If that sounds a little larger than life, perhaps it is. So my suggested brand name for SVP technology? Why, Picasso, of course.

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5 Responses to PICASSO, SVP

  1. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, Andrew. Interesting that a lot of us are calling for the same SIMPLE thing at the same time. I notice that Halley over at misbehaving is also calling for something like this. Now we need the mass-market software makers to take note, because the real value of this, like phone, fax etc. will only come with ubiquity.

  2. andrew says:

    agreed: the iSight/iChat combo on Apple is apparently both gorgeously simple *and* functional but, despite working on a Mac, I’ve yet to bother because none of my regular contacts is able to participate. Not only are most on Windows, but corporate firewalls preclude this kind of activity anyway.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Andrew: Have you looked at Skype? It apparently works through corporate firewalls, and I just love it, though I don’t know if it works on Macs.

  4. andrew says:

    I did look, and no, it doesn’t

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