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A New Architecture for Overcoming Barriers to Quality Online Experiences

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on Unified Communications & Collaboration


A New Architecture for Overcoming Barriers to Quality Online Experiences

By: -
16 Sep 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about director Ridley Scott’s 1984 Apple commercial – for those of you too young to have seen it, check it out.   The premise: in a black and white world of uniformity and totalitarianism, every now and then someone (or something) comes along and topples the status quo.   That commercial is widely considered here in the U.S. one of the best Super Bowl commercials, if not the best, ever made.  I’ve been thinking about this because my colleague Steve Vonder Haar and I recently tried out a platform called Shindig – a collaboration service that functions like a mélange of some of the better aspects of online collaboration capabilities but that is trying to do something very different with how we meet and collaborate online. 

What Shindig has me thinking about is how end user priorities can change over time. As users, we all have wrestled with technology constraints that may have served a purpose when many of these technologies came along.  Over time, some of these well-intended features can just wind up getting in the way.  Many of today’s collaborative experiences unfortunately are just outgrowths of the original audio conference call: what began as “let’s just ‘bridge’” audio together has become now “let’s just ‘bridge’” audio, video, and web capabilities into a large group setting. The trouble is, we try to address complex technology tasks in digital venues only built to accommodate the lowest common denominator. 

The reasons for this were reasonable enough for a long time – such as the need to constrain users from interrupting large-group events.  If you wanted to have more than a handful of people meet online, you got an increasing array of tools to manage how people might behave (or misbehave).  Mute audio.  Promote to presenter. Remove from event.  Push-to-talk.  Enter a meeting code.  With a few exceptions, the technological model for large events has tended to be the same model we have in brick-and-mortar events: one or two people lead and own the stage, everyone else “receives” information until permitted to interact in some way.  Even Google Hangouts – one of the more consumer-oriented ad hoc collaboration platforms that has gotten some traction in the enterprise – fails to foster interactivity if you get very many people together.

So those controls I just mentioned have been designed to “protect” the sanctity of the meeting – and as a consequence, have given rise to a delightful series of parody videos.  Let’s have some fun here. There was David Grady’s Genesys Meeting Center parody.  Tripp and Tyler’s Conference Call in Real Life (and to make sure you never missed it even though it’s only peripherally about how we collaborate, their Email in Real Life video).  Kris and Tim O’Shea did a Funny Conference Call.  There aren’t many parodies of large events, but Vooza makes fun of an earnings call and (separately) a webinar delivered by a young man from home.  And while we’re at it, there is Darren Barefoot’s now-impossible-to-find one-page parody of Second Life, which wayyyy back in 2007 made fun of the stampede of enterprises that were buying real estate and building storefronts in that original virtual world. 

This was such a fun blog post to research, trust me.  Why do I bring up these entertaining examples?  Well, my teammate Steve likes to say that product updates on legacy platforms can sometimes feel like the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.  And so many of the technologies we work with these days are built around opening people up to working over distance – only to a point.  Many are delivered with built-in constraints that just inhibit the naturalness of meeting online. 

Shindig has taken the tack of creating a horse of a whole different color, as it were.  The cloud-based service draws upon some elements found in almost every single technology Wainhouse Research covers – webcasting, webinars, web conferencing, video conferencing, and even virtual worlds – and then provides a unique mix of capabilities that allow for private / group video chats, one-to-many and many-to-many text chats, easy elevation to presenter status, and self-initiated grouping of event attendees into rooms of up to 20 individuals. 

Is Shindig an Apple?  Nope, not today anyway and obviously we're talking apples and oranges (pun indeed intended).  This is a very small startup still getting going.  We find a lot to like and some very definite rough edges.  But the vision for how the company is attempting to reset the balance between host controls of an event and user controls is fascinating.  The goal: liberate people to connect online much as they might at a large brick-and-mortar event.  Grouping together and communicating naturally even while someone is on-stage running the event.  Imagine Second Life crossed with a webcasting platform crossed with video conferencing crossed with web conferencing.  Shindig sponsored what Steve and I called “Sandbox events” we held in June, in which we invited Wainhouse Research stakeholders to take the platform for a spin.  We’ve taken that experience and explored the platform capabilities, and have written about them in this sponsored white paper: Connecting People Better.  I encourage you to read the paper and check out their vision for radically transforming how we meet and hold events.  Fun stuff!