Earlier this year, I attended an event where IBM pledged to pump $1 billion into unified communications and collaboration software, which combines software such as e-mail and instant messaging with communications applications such as voice over IP.
UCC, as IBM and others such as Microsoft, Nortel and Avaya envision it, marries traditionally individual productivity applications to improve the way workers collaborate with each other, as well as with partners or customers.
IBM’s Research moved to advance IBM’s UCC strategy with a new project that integrates 3-D virtual reality environments with IBM’s popular Lotus Sametime instant messaging application. IBM is showcasing the experimental mashup, called Sametime 3-D, at the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo in Los Angeles Sept. 3.
As the name of the mashup implies, Sametime 3-D lets users instant message co-workers and launch into a 3-D environment directly from within the Sametime chat session.
The application creates a virtual meeting space on the fly leveraging the typical properties found in a virtual environment, including avatars, presentation tools and access to 3-D objects.
Once Sametime 3-D is launched, collaborators can attach files, select a meeting space type and sign in using existing enterprise authentication tools.
Though not available in this early iteration of Sametime 3-D, IBM will eventually allow meeting initiators to capture text chat, video recording of the meeting and maintain a record of participants and materials.
An IBM spokesperson told me today company officials have not set a timetable for when Sametime 3-D will appear in the Lotus Sametime application. My guess is it could appear in 2009, with IBM adding it free to the Sametime app.
Jury Is Out on Sametime 3-D
In the meantime, IBM is demonstrating Sametime 3-D via the integration of Lotus Sametime with the OpenSim virtual world platform. You can also check out the demo video on YouTube here. Now word on whether/if the app will work with Second Life.
Sametime 3-D isn’t IBM’s first foray into bundling virtual reality with its Lotus collaboration software suite. IBM and Forterra Systems are working on a unified communications app called Babel Bridge for U.S. intelligence agencies.
On a practical level, I think Sametime 3-D is a bit ahead of its time, which probably explains why it’s starting as a research project. I asked ThinkBalm analyst Erica Driver, who covers immersive technologies closely, what she thinks.
She told me that enterprise use of the immersive Internet is in the “seedling” stage of adoption. “I see lots of experiments under way and within five years, collaboration in virtual environments will be mainstream,” Driver told me.
When I use IM, I like to hit and run. That is, I like to bang out a few questions of statements to keep my boss abreast of what I’m doing, or to answer questions about scheduling. I’m not sure I’d want to immerse myself in a virtual world for IM.
Driver also said that many of the virtual world platforms on the market already have instant messaging and VOIP built in, noting that while Sametime 3-D is good for pilot projects or specific-use cases, it can result in redundant functionality when it comes to an enterprise rollout. However, she added:
Net-net this is a nice feature for Sametime users and who knows? Maybe by the time it gets inserted into the Sametime platform (my guess is it will appear in Sametime Advanced), people will want to use it.