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IBM touts 3D environment as superior to IM

IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced Virtual Collaboration for Lotus Sametime, a service the company also calls "Sametime 3D."

The service allows users to interact in a virtual environment. Think of it as an instant messaging conference call with virtual hair. "Today people use synchronous messaging for a variety of different business purposes," Bob Picciano, IBM Lotus Software general manager told InternetNews.com. "Sametime 3D is the next evolution of that technology."

He said that while people will plan and store project data on collaboration services such as LotusLive, they will use Sametime 3D for the kinds of brainstorming and troubleshooting for which business users already rely on instant messaging.

"They will get five or ten people together to look at five or six different things," Picciano said. "They may even break off into side dialogs. You can do that in the environment."

The audio is a surprising feature of Sametime 3D. It is designed to deliver directionality but also to increase in volume as avatars approach and lower in volume as they move away from each other.

Picciano said that 3D environments provide an opportunity to take advantage of more senses than most current user interfaces. He referred to John Seely Brown for inspiration, noting that Brown had said that Web sites should take peripheral vision into account.

He admitted that there is some initial resistance to entering a 3D environment and to using an avatar in a business situation. "People have some anxiety about whether it is difficult to create and manipulate an avatar he said. "But the avatar doesn't have to represent what you want to be like in Second Life."

He added that once people arrive in the environment, they find it valuable. "There are multiple dimensions of collaboration," Picciano said.

He added that the environment can serve to improve dialog, can serve as a big white board for brainstorming, can enable people to watch multiple presentations at once, and more. "People can move very quickly from having a chat to walking around and looking at parts or code."

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