I have two customers right now that are in the business of bringing virtual worlds to the enterprise and two other customers that are wanting to use the technology in their solution. I have researched this area a lot and the technology is clearly still in the "Innovators" stage of the technology adoption curve, but I believe we are nearing the point where it will cross into the "Early Adopters" and we will begin to see some real innovation.
In seeing these customers some interesting use cases are emerging. The use cases all seem to trend around these three areas: advanced meetings, training and simulation, and events. We are also seeing some real capabilities around facilitating virtual workers.
At first, it may seem like the virtual world seems to be a bit of a novelty and it is hard to see an advantage over current engagement methods like video and chat. But as you work with the solutions some clear advantages begin to emerge. One of the big advantages is a user's ability to control their anonymity. This is very important in solutions such as virtual trade shows or shopping. You can also be in multiple places at the same time. You can attend a training session, while at the same time "virtually" attending a project meeting. All aspects of the meeting are recorded, specific areas such as voting, making a decision, or assigning an action item are then marked. Then you can attend the meeting later and contribute to those items. Like Tivo-ing a show, you can fast forward through the meeting and focus on the key areas.
As virtual working becomes more and more popular, a virtual world environment can add a lot of value. Beyond virtual meetings, the "Virtual Water Cooler" can provide the team intimacy that is often lost when everyone goes home. Manager can virtually walk the halls and see if anyone is having a problem with a project, working effectively, and has enough work to keep them busy. Virtual worlds can keep the team a team and greatly expand the managers ability to lead the team.
Here are some of the trends to expect to drive the adoption:
Expect the graphic and realism of the virtual world to be greatly expanded. The type of graphics used in high end games will make it to the virtual world and the experience will be significantly enhanced.
Video, application sharing, and animation will be an integral part of the virtual world, not a competing solution. This is critical to the success of the virtual world.
Advanced agent technology will be integrated and our "agent avatars" will be able to answer questions such as can you make a meeting or accept a tasks on your behalf.
Very rich experiences will be developed commercially and sold to multiple customers. Team exercises, seminars, training, and speaking events will be produced at a very sophisticated level.
Let me know if any of you are using virtual worlds, have any use cases you would like to see, or have seen any interesting innovations.