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LoD Viewpoints May 2007

The Potential and Risk of Three-Dimensional Virtual Collaboration and Learning Environments
Author: Marcelo Hoffman

Developments in multiplayer virtual environments may enhance collaboration, exploration, and learning for corporate professionals and others by enabling them to test ideas and solutions in complex, open-ended virtual settings in ways that would be difficult or impossible in real life. Corporations are testing the value of multiplayer virtual environments to connect and communicate better with customers and potential customers, even though the value of these environments is not yet well defined for business, and these environments need to evolve further and become demonstrably reliable and practical.


I recently had an opportunity to see a demonstration of a three-dimensional collaboration environment designed and developed by Qwaq (Palo Alto, California;, a new company that is commercializing the open-source tools originally developed by The Croquet Consortium ( Qwaq's Forums, the start-up's key service offering, enables, according to the company, "the productivity of distributed teams by bringing critical resources together in a virtual space, as if they were in a physical location, and providing them with all the tools and collaboration capabilities they need to work more effectively together." Users of Qwaq's Forums can use a number of personal productivity tools, including Microsoft's Office suite, to work together on a word-processing or spreadsheet file, for example. According to Greg Nuyens, Qwaq's CEO, the company's primary emphasis is to support enterprise collaboration for individuals working with multiple software applications and for individuals to work with other colleagues, while sharing the same three-dimensional (3-D) environment.

A unique characteristic of the business-oriented services provided by Qwaq is its peer-to-peer architecture. Collaborators, who are often spread out geographically, use a combination of local and central computer processing. This architecture means that Qwaq's Forums' servers need only to track and support the changes in individuals' productivity applications (such as word-processing or spreadsheet files, following the previous example), not to host the shared applications. This approach dramatically reduces the computational load on the central server. The peer-to-peer architecture enables Qwaq's Forums to support collaboration on simulations that are dramatically more complex than, for example, simulations in Linden Lab's Second Life, where three-dimensional simulation processing takes place centrally (except for the graphical rendering of each individual's image).

Download the report here:
The Potential and Risk of Three-Dimensional Virtual Collaboration and Learning Environments