In This Era of Digital and Social, The Extended Family is Closer than Ever

July 16, 2011

Note: I found this image to be perfect for this post; however, I have no known relation to the nice couple pictured.

Introduction

While nuclear families remain in one household, doesn’t it seem like our extended families spread further and further away from us over the years? Weddings, job transfers, lifestyle moves, home upgrade/downsizing, etc. – they pull our extended families in all sorts of directions, both within the States and across the globe.

And yet, with today’s prevalence of broadband, mobile technologies and social tools, doesn’t it feel like we’re as close as ever? How great is that.

Analog Days

Back when I was in elementary school, I remember recording audio tapes with my sister (in Chinese) that my mom would send to our maternal grandmother. Wouldn’t it be great for her to hear her U.S.-raised grandchildren attempt to speak Mandarin? Some two weeks later, grandma would get the tapes in the mail and be able to play them.

Fast forward to today, where my daughter leaves comments for her grandmother on Facebook (via my account), records a video greeting for her via my smartphone, or simply “dials” her up for a real-time video chat via Skype. In this era of digital and social, interactions are in real-time (when we want them to be) and we know more about our extended family than ever before.

I’ll highlight some of the tools that my extended family uses to stay in touch.

Photo and Status Sharing on Facebook

I once read a quote from a prominent executive, who noted that he learned more about his daughters in a few months on Facebook than he learned over all the years raising them. Isn’t that amazing? For people I’m closest to, I’ll learn things on Facebook that I otherwise would not have learned seeing them day in and day out.

In my extended family, photo and status sharing on Facebook has been great for daughters, sons, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents to have a sense of what’s going on in everyone’s lives.

Related Post: Why Facebook Is The World’s Largest Virtual Event.

Photo and Video Capture via Handheld Devices

From the iPhone’s high-quality camera to Flip video recorders, it’s easier than ever to record special moments wherever you happen to be: at home, on vacation, at graduation, or watching baby’s first steps.  The image and video quality captured by handheld devices has never been better.

In addition, the ability to instantly share, via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. has allowed extended family members to “participate” in the moment a few seconds after it happened.  My mom, who would receive frequent Flip video footage of granddaughters on each coast, once remarked that “I love the Flip, it’s allowed me to watch my granddaughters develop.”

Real-Time Video Chat via Skype

My extended family is a big fan of Skype. We tend to do synchronized video calls, where we pick a set time to call one another. We have three generations of the family using it, from grandchildren through to their grandparents. It’s really a lot of fun to observe grandparents video chatting with their grandchildren.

While I don’t expect the grandparents in our family to be enabled with mobile video, I do expect the younger generations of the family to practice more and more “spur of the moment” video calling, via Facetime, Skype for iPhone/Android and related technologies.

Related Post: How Mobile Video Changes Things.

Email

Email is the original “connector” for my extended family and for many others. Email continues to serve a purpose. It’s often used to ask a question of other family members (where, perhaps, Facebook is not the right tool).

And it’s a common distribution vehicle for much of the sharing we do (i.e. you want some more private sharing options beyond Facebook). But it’s interesting how email usage within the extended family is down a bit, due to the extensive sharing via Facebook, Skype, etc.

Conclusion

It’s a great time for extended families. With the combination of broadband, digital and social, go ahead and move halfway across the world – we can remain as close as ever.

Use the comments area below to let me know how your extended family stays in touch! Thank you.

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How Mobile Video Changes Things

July 15, 2011

Photo credit: Tommyvos on flickr.

Note: This is a collaborative blog post authored by Jim Reilly (@oldantler) and me.

Introduction

In the first generation of web-based video calling, families could stay in touch (e.g. Skype), while companies could conduct business meetings over several locations (e.g. Polycom, Cisco Telepresence, etc.). Mobile-based video calling options dramatically changes things.

iPhone users can now call one another via the pre-installed Facetime app, as long as both parties are connected to a WiFi network. With Skype app (iPhone, Android and Symbian), Skype users can video-call one another from their smarthphone over WiFi or 3G. Let’s consider a few use cases to demonstrate how mobile video changes things.

Calling Home While on Business Travel

Let’s say Mom has gone on a business trip for a few weeks. In a typical scenario, Mom calls home each night to check in with Dad and the kids. If Mom has her PC with Skype installed, perhaps they do a video call every other night. Now, imagine Mom has an iPhone. She connects to her hotel’s WiFi network and dials up her daughter at home using Facetime. The daughter has an iPod Touch and is connected to the WiFi network at home.

Now, Mom and daughter can see and hear one another. And with mobile, they can now see their surrounding environments as they walk about. When Mom asks, “Are you taking good care of my garden?”, the daughter can walk to the garden and give Mom a close-up view of the vegetables. When the daughter asks, “How is your hotel room?”, Mom can give her a quick tour.

Buying a New House Before Relocating

When a family relocates to another part of the country, the husband or wife typically heads out before the rest of the family, to secure housing and get things set up. This can make home-buying a challenge, as both spouses are not able to see the house before making a decision. Mobile video changes that.

Now, the husband can land in the new city, make appointments with a realtor, then video-call his wife to view the houses together. He can take his wife through the family room, kids’ bedrooms and yard.  While the listing page (on the web) for the house may provide panoramic, 360 degree views of the home, the mobile video-call transforms the 360 degree view from an “on-demand viewing” to a live guided tour.

Repairing a Server in The Data Center

A server has gone down and the only engineer available is the most junior member of your IT team. Not to fear – have him initiate a video call once he arrives. From there, senior members of your team can provide direction on how to fix the server.

The junior engineer powers down the server, then pulls out the blade server in slot 2. He points his smartphone at the server as the senior members explain how to carefully extract the card. Note that in this scenario, mounting the phone on a tripod would be helpful, to free up the junior engineer’s hands!

Emergency Services

A member of the public comes across an unconscious person in the street, dials the emergency services and is not only sent animated instructions to their phone, but the trained medical staff taking the call gives advice based on video observation of the subject, not just vague description. Vital minutes are saved to administer the correct first aid and potentially saves the person’s life.

Turning Trade Shows into Hybrid Events

Video calling can connect trade show and conference attendees with remote users who were not able to attend in person. The on-site attendee can take the remote attendee on a walk down the exhibit floor.

Exhibitors can take prospects through a tour of their booth, showing them their latest product offerings (in the same way you’d do in person). If the remote attendee switched to a desktop (e.g. with Skype), s/he could even conduct interviews with on-site attendees and post the interviews on a web site or blog. Mobile video allows the physical event experience to be shared with anyone.

Enhancing the Experience with Augmented Reality

With the development of augmented reality (AR), the examples above become even more useful and compelling: in home buying the video tour is augmented with room dimensions, distances from local amenities and details of local crime rates; in repairing the server the nearest spares supplier can be identified and the replacement part purchased there and then; and with trade shows, the video of a stand or product is enhanced with background information, case studies, product specifications, availability and costs.

Further Thought

We are talking about delivering these services over the top (OTTP) of the mobile networks. Where the future possibilities get really exciting are when these services are delivered as an integral part of an intelligent, mobile network.

The network knows a lot about the customer and hence it can prioritise and contextualise the experience. Frightening? Too Big Brother? Or the best way to filter information when we are exposed to ‘way too much’ content and have less and less time to sift through it and consume what we select?

Conclusion

When video arrived on the web, it changed things. Mobile video has arrived in the form of smartphone apps that are “detached” from the “web.” While we’ve listed just a few examples (above), our belief is that mobile video will have a far greater impact on communications than web video. The world becomes flatter and flatter by the day.

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A Look at The Future of Online Instruction

July 9, 2011

Photo credit: abbynormy on flickr.

Note: This is a collaborative blog posting made possible by PBworks. The concept behind this posting began with an innocent tweet from a few weeks back, in which I noted that my daughter asked me for knitting instruction.

Introduction

Want to learn how to knit, but don’t have an instructor available? The first place you’d probably turn is your preferred search engine. And after a search or two, you’d likely come across KnittingHelp.com.

On this site, you can find written content, a forum and a collection of excellent how-to videos. And while the content and videos are quite good, what if you wanted a little more hand-holding?

For instance, elementary or middle school students looking to knit for the first time may not know where to start. They’d prefer an after-school class or private instruction to get them started. Let’s consider a few web-based solutions that could address these aspiring knitters.

Real-Time Video Instruction

Instead of “on-demand videos” (the KnittingHelp.com model), a student could connect with an instructor over a real-time video conference, using systems such as Skype or Facetime.

A flexible webcam would work best, one that can seamlessly alternate between two angles: (a) a view of the participant’s face and (b) a view of the knitting needles. This way, the session can begin with instructor and student seeing each other face to face, which is important to establishing a comfort level with one another.

Then, with both webcams focused on their respective knitting needles, the instructor could perform a few steps, while watching the student follow along. Real-time video (and audio) allows the instructor to provide constant and immediate feedback, which can facilitate more productive learning.

Real-Time Immersive Knitting

Next, imagine a 3D immersive environment, in which the instructor’s avatar meets the student’s avatar. Using mouse or keyboard controls to manipulate the knitting needles and yarn, the instructor and student can take turns with “immersive knitting.”

Much like an online meeting in which the presenter “passes the ball,” the instructor can “pass the needle” to the student to take control and practice knitting. While the immersiveness can be useful to visualize the proper knitting procedure, it’s not as effective as handling the needles and yarn with one’s own hands.

(A comment from Jim Reilly [Twitter])

“I see this as having little value – why use a new language (using computer keys) to knit, so that you then have to translate back to the original language (knitting needles) when you actually want to learn the skill and create something real?

I would also suggest including an example of how this technology could be employed so the motions detected through the motion sensors could be translated, through a modified knitting machine (substitute potter’s wheel for another of your examples) to deliver a product, almost in real-time, on the other side of the world.

The possibilities for physically disabled people to use the immersive environment and associated tools to create art and functional items is also worthy of note.”

Real-Time Immersive Knitting with Motion Detection

This scenario can be thought of as “3D immersive environment meets Microsoft Kinect.” Imagine the same 3D immersive environment, but using a motion-sensing device such as Microsoft’s Kinect.

Now, you can handle virtual knitting needles and watch the resulting scarf and sweater on the screen.  A Kinect device on the instructor’s workstation allows her to “take control” of the knitting. Together, instructor and student can knit collaboratively – imagine the interesting sweaters and garments they could create and then sell in Second Life or IMVU!

Alternatively, imagine a “real” (physical) ball of yarn, with “real” (physical) needles, working in conjunction with a motion detection system. As the student knits, the instructor sees a digital representation of the yarn/needles and can provide instruction based on the student’s knitting motions.

But Can Knitting Students “Really” Learn this Way?

(The following segment was contributed by Heidi Thorne [website] [Twitter])

When I was about 9, I learned to knit from my dad (yes, my dad!). That was in the physical “real” space. When I didn’t know how to do something, I could ask OR I referred to books. My how things have changed! It would have been so helpful to have a KnittingHelp.com resource around.

Interestingly, I didn’t learn to do the stitches (English) exactly as shown in the video. It looks somewhat awkward. But I think it points to an important aspect of online instruction, whether it be online video, real-time immersive, or with motion detection: It standardizes the way things are done, detail by detail.

Old-time (like 40-50 years ago) books would show here’s what the work looks like at step 1, then what it should look like at step 2, and the part between step 1 and 2 was somewhat of a mystery. It’s really difficult to turn mystery into mastery! So in that sense, yes, I think these new virtual learning models have incredible potential.

As noted earlier, knitting, like many other tactile arts, is difficult to translate into mouse and keyboard controls. So the real-time immersive knitting, without motion detection, has limited utility in this case. A 3D immersive environment which uses Microsoft Kinect type technology presents possibilities.

But, again, learning to deal with the tactile sensation of fibers, which can be uniquely uneven by default or design, is missing. It’s similar to driver’s ed simulators. Yes, you can drive along perfectly and the virtual traffic behaves. In the real world, well, traffic is less polite.

In sum, I believe that these technologies are excellent for early learning experiences since they take away some of the bumps and bruises that go with it, creating confidence through success on a small scale and at a faster pace.

“Hands-On” Practice

(The following segment was contributed by Jenise Fryatt [website] [Twitter])

I believe there is great value in methods of teaching that actually give you practice while using your hands. I believe there is research that shows that using your hands actually helps the brain to think better. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/hand.htm

I also believe that when the mind experiences the sensation of doing something, whether it be flying a plane in a simulation or laughing at failure in an improv game, the same neural pathways are created as are created in real life. Thus games and simulations can be amazingly effective teaching tools. I don’t think we’ve even begun to explore all they may be capable of accomplishing.

Conclusion

In addition to knitting instruction, the technology models we’ve outlined (above) could also apply to guitar instruction, pottery, painting and more. With technologies such as video, 3D immersion and motion detection, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

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Project Planning For Your Virtual Event

September 18, 2010

Planning and executing a virtual event can be a juggling act – moving parts include people, deliverables, technology, content, people, support, sponsorships, exhibitors, presenters, executive sponsors and more.  More than an “event” or a “project”, virtual events are a journey.  When crossing the finish line of a virtual event, some feel like they’ve just completed a marathon.

This leads to an interesting question – what tools do virtual event planners use to manage this journey?  My belief is that most teams use the basic ones.  The most prevalent is probably Microsoft Excel, in which a date and owner-based task list is used.  For a more robust project plan, some teams may use Microsoft Project, which (among other things) allows you to better build in dependencies and critical path items.

In addition to the project planning tools, virtual event teams need to collaborate and coordinate, both within the team and outside their organization (e.g. experts, speakers, technology providers, exhibitors, booth representatives, etc.).  The team may have the benefit of SharePoint or Lotus within their company, but that doesn’t solve the challenge of coordinating with outside parties.

I came across a few articles this week that highlight interesting project management tools.

At Forbes.com, Gene Marks wrote an article titled “Project Management Software That Brings Order To Chaos.”  Tools mentioned by Gene were:

Desktop Software

  1. Microsoft Project 2010
  2. Primavera P6 Project Management (Oracle)
  3. OpenProj (Serena Software)

Hosted Software

  1. Basecamp  (37 Signals)
  2. Zoho Projects
  3. Central Desktop

Basecamp sounds particularly neat – as Gene writes, “Basecamp’s functions include milestone management, collaborative file sharing, time tracking, messaging and integration with the company’s Campfire group-chatting software.”

Group chatting could be useful and efficient compared to numerous phone calls and conference calls.  I’ve surely used a lot of AIM and Skype when coordinating my events – and having a system that all team members can standardize on (for chat) could be a win.

At Entrepreneur.com, Jonathan Blum wrote an article, “The Web-Based Scheduling Tool That’s One Step Ahead of You.”  The article highlights a project planning tool called TheDeadline – a hosted application that integrates with Google Apps.  The neat thing about this tool is that it attempts to predict which tasks you need to work on next.

However, it sounds better suited to an unsequenced task list – so, the current version may not be the best fit for planning a virtual event, where there’s an ordered list of deliverables and tasks that have a pre-deteremined sequence.  I do think it’s something to keep an eye on – imagine entering some tasks into a system and having the tool tell you that speakers’ presentations are due today!

Leave us a comment below – what tools are you using to plan and execute your virtual event?


The Business Benefits Of Second Life

March 23, 2010

Veronica Butler-Borrer

The following is a guest post by Veronica Butler-Borrer, known in-world as Pooky Amsterdam (@PookyMedia).

AVATAR started off being the word of the new decade, and for good reason.  The blockbuster movie, which allows a man to take on a completely new form through a kind of mental transfer, has made hundreds of millions of dollars. It also speaks to the new decade in terms of new possibilities.

While Second Life has been part of the Internet for a while, recent changes and upgrades have made it more compelling as a business and media platform.  Recent economic conditions have also required new strategy to save money on travel costs.  And increased attention to environmental changes has required us to look more closely at green alternatives to business.  Facts and figures plus improved opportunities are now encouraging us as a business community to re-examine Second Life.

Pooky Amsterdam's Second Life avatar

What makes doing business as an avatar in Second Life a good choice?

  1. You can virtually meet people from anywhere in the world easily and inexpensively
  2. Your Avatar can be an extension of yourself and increase personal investment for you and the business community you are addressing
  3. VoIP puts you in the same room with those you need to speak with
  4. You can share any documents you need to
  5. You can work in real time on those shared documents
  6. Any 3D product or place can be re-created cost-effectively and to scale for business decision making
  7. You save on time and travel expense by just logging in from your computer
  8. You can establish a secure environment by restricting access to your location
  9. Training and Education done in virtual worlds returns great results
  10. Video created in Virtual Worlds (known as Machinima) or cinema done on machine will get your message to the public through regular distribution channels (e.g. YouTube).  In addition, it will be available as video content on your web site, plus be something you can include in your video emails

These are the main reasons to think about doing business virtually.  Let’s look into this a bit further.

Analysis: Benefits of Doing Business Virtually

That’s right, once you download the free client which is Second Life, you can enter a 3D world where you can meet by prearrangement, those whom you would like to, from anywhere in the world.  Of course this will take some organization, but that is easy to facilitate.

Your Avatar is an identity that you construct to carry out your work in a virtual world.  Allowing this creation to personify you means you invest yourself in it, and interact as well.  This is also not a bad thing, as in creating an other self which is “better, faster, stronger” will also result in your being able to transfer some of those properties to your real world person.  If you saw a digital image of yourself running on a virtual treadmill, would you feel like going to the gym? Probably so, according to a Stanford study showing that personalized avatars can motivate people to exercise and eat right.

It doesn’t yet beat Skype for number of chat minutes a month, but the VoIP technology in Second Life is excellent, and has served over a billion minutes of voice chat a month.  That means you can speak to people anywhere in the world, in the same virtual room, sharing important documents or any 3D representation for absolutely free.

Second Life Viewer 2

The latest viewer for Second Life (Viewer 2) also allows for shared media within this Virtual World and that means you can view ANY content on the web in real time with people from (or outside of) your organization.

This includes of course, Google Docs and Etherpad.  So you can make decisions together from your office, or home, without having to fly anywhere.  This is a remarkable opportunity that is afforded people who are on this site.  Plus, being able to recreate objects in 3 Dimensions means you can build anything to scale, whether it be a building or an engine, and have your people discuss this matter, again in real time and vocally.

When you have your own location, you can also set permissions to that landing point and area so you are the only ones who have access to it. This will not compromise your security at all, when you are discussing matters of confidentiality.

Second Life Case Study

Consider the case study entitled, “Virtual World Simulation Training Prepares Real Guards on the US-Canadian Border: Loyalist College in Second Life,”

The executive summary reads:

Before September 11, 2001, Customs and Immigration students at Loyalist College spent three weeks closely tailing professional border guards to experience the daily routine of their future job. In a post-911 environment however, this was no longer allowed. Training suffered until the Director of Educational Technology at Loyalist College catalyzed a virtual border crossing simulation in Second Life for Loyalist students.

The amazing results of the training and simulation program have led to significantly improved grades on students’ critical skills tests, taking scores from a 56% success in 2007, to 95% at the end of 2008 after the simulation was instituted.

This is proof positive that training in a Virtual World environment has documented benefits.

I present a video which my company made to show you some of the amazing opportunities that the Virtual World of Second Life can afford.  Video is a hallmark of professionalism, and being able to have content on your website, and/or through video email is an important way to integrate your customer base.

Before embarking on a Second Life journey, you may want to seek expert help; it will save you time and ultimately money if you begin your investment with those who are knowledgeable about the world you are about to enter for business.  Just of course if you wanted to have a meeting in Paris, you would need concierge services there.  Pookymedia can help you get started.

Please feel free to contact Pooky Amsterdam at info@pookymedia.com.

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2010 Predictions For Virtual Events

December 3, 2009

Source: flickr (User: sassycrafter)

Back in August, I jumped the gun a bit and wrote a “year in review” posting about virtual events.  Now that we’re in December,  I think it’s high time to peer into the Magic 8 Ball and speculate on what’s in store for the virtual events industry in 2010.  Away we go…

Widescale adoption and integration of video conferencing

Virtual events have incorporated a lot of on-demand and live video – however, to date, the majority of attendee interaction has been via text (e.g. private text chat, group text chat, etc.).  Many platforms have enabled the use of attendee webcams (a la Skype) and that was a nice start.  In 2010, I believe that the virtual event platforms will integrate with third party video conferencing technologies in a big way – stirred largely by client demand for it.

Think about it – multinational corporations have adopted high-end video conferencing to encourage collaboration and save on travel costs.  They have the budget to invest in Cisco Telepresence or HP Halo.  As those same corporations look to adopt virtual events (e.g. for an annual virtual sales meeting), it’s only natural that they incorporate the video conferencing technology that they already have running.

To capture mid-market and small business interest, virtual event platforms will look to integrate with mid-tier video conferencing systems, such as Tandberg (whose acquisition by Cisco is pending) and Polycom.

Another interesting player is LifeSize Communications, an Austin-based provider of “mainstream telepresence” that was acquired by Logitech in November.  LifeSize recently launched an offering called Passport, which they term “a portable telepresence-quality system” that fits in the palm of your hand.

I see continued use of consumer-grade webcam technology in 2010 virtual events  – however, the game changer will be the incorporation of multi-party, HD video conferencing.

Emergence of global players

We’ve already seen the emergence in Europe of virtual event platforms – IMASTE in Spain and Ubivent in Germany.  I expect to see another European-based platform emerge in 2010, along with one or more in Asia Pac.  In addition, we’ll see services companies launch to capitalize on the demand (for virtual events) from publishers, corporations and event marketers.  The companies will provide both strategic and logistical services around virtual events.  You’ll see some start-up companies and you’ll also see physical event marketers spawn service offerings around virtual (or more logically, hybrid) events.

Industry consolidation

We’ll see the merging or acquiring of virtual event platform companies.  Some providers will look to acquire/merge out of platform capability gaps – while stronger players will look to complementary/synergistic technologies offered by the competition.  As the economic environment comes back around, companies (and their investors) will be more apt to combine forces to fuel the next phase of growth.  Lastly, larger and more established players in the “collaboration space” may look to acquire virtual event platform companies, to add a complementary piece to their product portfolio.

Decrease in “relative response rates”

Virtual events had a great run in 2009, but we’re now past the novelty, “wow, this is cool” phase.  In the B2B market, we now have plenty of users who have attended two or more virtual events.  If virtual event show hosts continue to use the same graphical templates, organize the same presentation agenda and re-create an identical experience to their last event, then “relative response rates” will drop – meaning, it will become harder and harder to recruit users to register and attend.

Decreased response rates are natural as any new “content type” grows beyond infancy – and the supply/demand ratio begins to tilt towards having more supply than demand (e.g. lots of virtual events).  Virtual event show hosts will need to consider the incorporation of gaming, the creation of affinity programs and more.  The solution to decreased response rates will be fun to watch – innovators will step to the table to find creative ways to engage and attract virtual event attendees.

Platforms take first step towards immersiveness

While virtual event attendees may not “require” the immersiveness of Second Life and other 3D virtual worlds – immersive capabilities provide real value in a B2B setting.  The most obvious use case is an immersive rendering of a complex product – consider the high-end video conferencing system, the high-end router, the latest luxury car model.  Instead of a 2D PowerPoint slide that highlights the capabilities of the video conferencing system, how about an immersive experience where attendees (aka prospects) get to experience the system and interact with it?

Client interest and demand will drive some platforms to add immersive capabilities in 2010.  I don’t expect a software download, however – it would serve platforms well to support the immersive experience within their existing framework (e.g. Flash, JavaFX, Silverlight).

Those are my 2010 predictions for virtual events.  I’d love to hear your’s!


For Software Development Teams, The World is Flat (And Virtual)

October 18, 2009

Source: flickr (User: reinholdbehringer)

Source: flickr (User: reinholdbehringer)

Software development teams are traditionally located in the same (or nearby) physical office location(s).  It’s useful for these teams to work from adjacent cubicles (or offices) as the close proximity facilitates collaboration, mentoring and joint code reviews.  In fact, the increasingly popular agile software development methodology lists the following in its Agile Manifesto: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”.

I won’t debate this particular point, but I do think that the trends are pointing towards distributed (vs. centralized) software development teams.  Some of the factors that are causing this trend:

  1. Outsourcing and off-shore development – while the core software development team may be based out of a single physical location, corporations are increasingly leveraging off-shore development – both for its lower costs and its ability to tackle ad-hoc product requirements and requests.
  2. Working from home / telecommuting trend – whether it’s a child’s doctor’s appointment or the local outbreak of the H1N1 virus, workers are spending more and more time getting their work done outside of the office.  Ever walk into a large software development shop’s offices during the afternoon?  You probably noticed that more than half the developers’ cubicles were unoccupied.
  3. Good developers can be hard to find – your software development team’s most attractive developers may be located half-way around the globe.  Talented developers are hard to find these days – so why not extend your team’s depth but bringing on remote workers?  As an example of a distributed team working together on a large project, consider the development of the Linux kernel – according to the Linux Foundation, “over 3700 individual developers from over 200 different companies have contributed to the kernel”.
  4. Software developers and product owner in separate locations – it’s not uncommon for the software developers to be in a different location than the business or product owner who’s driving the product and project’s requirements.  As the internal customer, the product owner is obviously a key member of the team.

With all of these factors at play, it seems reasonable that alternatives need to be in place when face-to-face meetings are not possible.  And I have good news on that front – with the emergence and maturation of virtual worlds / virtual meeting technologies, there are plenty of solutions available.

Some technologies available to distributed software development teams:

  1. Virtual Meetings – e.g. WebEx Meetings, GoToMeeting, Adobe Breeze, etc.  These technologies allow users to share their desktops and participate in shared whiteboards.  With the desktop sharing, this allows one developer to “look over the shoulder” as another developer codes.  The New York  Times recently published an interesting article on pair programming – with virtual meeting technology, the “pair” can reside in separate physical locations.  A shared whiteboard may not be useful for writing code together – however, it could certainly come in handy during the pre-coding stage, to map out an architectural diagram or outline a software program’s flow chart.  For a no-cost alternative, developers can interact with audio and video on Skype, which now includes a free desktop sharing feature.
  2. 3D / Immersive Technologies – these solutions provide similar features to a virtual meeting, but add a layer of 3D and immersiveness.  There’s Second Life, of course – and there are also solutions tailored for very specific enterprise use.  Options include Teleplace (formerly Qwaq) and Forterra Systems.  Teleplace offers a solution called Program Management that seems well suited to the distributed software development team – it offers text chat, VoIP chat, video via webcam, shared documents and shared applications (all in an immersive 3D environnment).  Similarly Forterra’s OLIVE platform enables collaborative meetings, training and more.

In this “flat world” that we now live in, I expect software development teams will increasingly collaborate virtually.


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