XR Collaboration Tool Features
This section will identify key XR Collaboration tool features and provide a detailed description of what the feature and its benefits are. This will be important to guiding you to understand the potential of using XR collaboration tools for your communication needs.
Modes of Interaction
XR platforms are increasingly incorporating various voice-based technologies which improve the user experience and make interactions more intuitive, simultaneously bringing them closer to what we naturally expect in real-life and enhancing them with “super-powers” that are not available in the course of an average face-to-face or video conferencing meeting. These include voice commands which can bring up information in the form of digital displays or holographic objects, or AI assistants which can take, save, and subsequently share meeting notes and action points, and even translate what is being said into various languages, in displays visible only to relevant participants. These productivity-enhancing functionalities are increasingly becoming features of various platforms, and we expect the trend towards intuitive, voice-based interaction to continue as the demand for them also grows in the business community.
The ability to share information visually in a three-dimensional space is a powerful advantage afforded by XR collaboration tools. In addition to contributing towards building a sense of presence and immersion as mentioned above, this also reduces the cognitive load on the brain, which, from a neuroscience perspective allows more efficient comprehension and retention of information being presented. Most people find it difficult to visualize abstract concepts and two-dimensional data on a spreadsheet, yet in XR it is possible to present the same information in much more relatable and instantly recognizable ways that do not require the brain to constantly engage in a translation process which keeps us from being fully present in the moment. It follows that the quality of collaboration arising from such interactions is likely to be higher.
In order to create the sense of embodied cognition crucial for immersion and presence, it is crucial that a user’s physical actions are accurately mirrored in the virtual environment. Controllers have become increasingly sophisticated at tracking and translating hand movement with little or no lag, as well as allowing them to access menus and transport themselves around those environments with a few simple clicks. As XR technology evolves, however, we are likely to increasingly see such interfaces becoming more “transparent” meaning that movements can be tracked without the need for the user to be holding an actual controller, and that lightweight wearables will not only allow for more nuanced movements (think individual fingers flexing as opposed to blocky, static hands) but also haptic feedback that can convey the feeling of pressure, resistance, and temperature. In the not-too-distant future we might very well expect realistic (and entirely sanitary) XR handshakes to become the new social norm for business interactions.
Just as voice and gesture recognition technologies have come along in leaps and bounds in recent years, gaze tracking has evolved to the point where devices use it to replace the need for controllers in many instances. Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, for example, allows you to trigger various actions simply by directing your gaze towards a holographic button or trigger, and automatically scrolls text in tandem with the rate at which a particular user reads. Although this is a relatively high-end feature at the moment, we can expect it to filter down to more affordable mass-consumer devices in future, and for such intuitive, frictionless interactions to increasingly become the norm.
XR collaboration tools offer a wide range of functionalities that replicate and/or augment other digital collaborative tools (file sharing, messaging, calendars, clocks, timers and even traditional real-world ones such as white boards and sticky notes.
Humans are hardwired to pay attention to sound and instinctively use it to map their surroundings, find points of interest and assess potential danger, so spatial audio is a key part in making the experience of collaborating in XR more immersive and building the aforementioned sense of presence. Spatial audio essentially emulates how we perceive sound in the real world by mimicking the pitch, volume, reverberation level and other audio cues the brain would expect during such real-world experiences. Building a dynamic soundscape is essential for effective immersive experiences. It allows programmers to create content whose sounds can come from any direction. To achieve this, XR uses software algorithms that manipulate a program’s sound wave frequencies, creating audio levels that become louder or softer depending on the user’s distance from a virtual object. The sound also shifts from one headphone speaker to the other as the person moves their head from side to side or as the virtual objects move on their own. Different size rooms give you different levels of comfort as a human, and if things don’t match your expectations in terms of what they should sound like, you instinctively feel quite uncomfortable.
A “room” in VR is a very broad term, which can range from a deserted beach to an industrial plant or even the surface of another planet. It also encompasses traditional board rooms and basically anything else your imagination can conjure up. From Ian Dawson’s “Iron Man Jarvis'' interface in Tony Stark’s lab to Dulce Baerga’s simulators in Second Life, the potential for branded and customized XR environments is tantalizing. There are already many ways in which users can build customized and branded rooms with relative ease, but it is also worth investing the time in optimizing the room to maximize your collaborative efforts, especially since you are likely to be spending a lot of time in those rooms as virtual meetings become more commonplace.
While standard rooms have a limited set of standard prefabricated environments, customized environments can be integrated with a variety of content such as streams from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Additionally, it is popular to upload customer banners and 3D models into the room where guests can interact with that as additional content.
Private & Public Rooms
XR platforms largely tend to mirror the way we approach shared spaces in the real world, namely dividing them into public and private, with established social norms dictating how we access these and interact within them. Public rooms in XR tend to be readily accessible and free to use, yet offer limited privacy and customization features. Private spaces, however, offer options for the user to decorate and personalize the layout with virtual objects, social media feeds, bot assistants and much more, depending on the platform. There is no set prescription about which type of room is best suited for each use case, but as a rule these would tend to fall under the same brackets as they would in the real world, where a casual meeting would likely be held in a public space which did not require extensive preparation, whereas an important and potentially confidential presentation would perhaps justify creation of a dedicated room.
Many XR collaboration tools provide users with the ability to effectively replicate real-world environments virtually, therefore “mirroring” their look and layout in XR and minimizing the need for creating and setting up environments from scratch.
Camera Lock in Scene
One of the most off-putting problems that new XR users encounter is a sense of disorientation when moving or trying to view content at different angles within a virtual room and have it shift from under their feet, triggering a sense of cognitive dissonance. Therefore, many XR collaboration tools offer the ability to “lock” the scene in place so that you may observe your surroundings, your own appearance, and that of others undisturbed.
Stream to Twitch
The Amazon subsidiary focuses on the gamer community, and is therefore more appropriate for a narrower segment of use cases.
Stream to YouTube
YouTube was one of the first platforms to actively embrace immersive 360-degree video live streaming, and continues to support this.
Stream to Facebook
Facebook is investing heavily in immersive technologies, not only in VR with the family of Oculus hardware, but also in developing future Augmented Reality wearables and virtual social tools that integrate with Facebook. Many XR platforms offer the ability to stream directly to Facebook, and this functionality is likely to become more widespread as further tools are developed to try and entice users to engage with various XR technologies and incorporate them into their daily lives.
This feature can be extremely handy, not only for note-taking at a later stage without having to assign a person to be in charge of taking minutes during a meeting, for example, but also to enable participants who might not have been able to attend a meeting for whatever reason the chance to catch up. This is particularly useful in distributed teams where different time-zones make it challenging for everyone to meet at the same time.
If a platform offers the facility of providing automatic session transcript, this evidently saves significant time in terms of note-taking during meetings and once again is a valuable tool for minimizing distraction and helping participants to become meaningfully engaged in their interactions.
There are a number of features that XR Collaboration platforms provide to facilitate administrators and organizers of collaboration sessions. Here are some of the more important ones and information on how to make the best use of them.
Some of the XR Collaboration tools provide diagnostics that you can use to evaluate your custom room design or additional content to make sure that your fellow collaborators will have a good experience.
Time Zone Management
Working with a virtual team can be complicated – especially if you are separated by different time zones. Some XR Collaboration tools provide features to overcome time zone challenges and make the most of your geographically distributed team by, for example, automatically calculating time zone differences and taking those into account when arranging meetings. However, if time-zone management isn’t a built in feature of the XR Collaboration tool you are going to use here are two tools that can be used to coordinate schedules across the world.
Every Time Zone: Need to know what time it is, or will be, across the world when you schedule your next XR Collaboration? Every Time Zone lets you compare multiple time zones now or at a specified future date.
World Time Buddy: Planning a XR session across multiple time zones? World Time Buddy gives you a side by side view of scheduling in every time zone you need in order to help you choose the perfect time for your session.
Set a Default Time Zone
When multiple people are working from different time zones, communications can quickly get complicated, so it is a good idea to set a default time zone for your group—either where the majority of the participants are located, or where your clients are. Alternatively, GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) is often still used as a standard.
Max Simultaneous Collaborators and Sessions
It is important to review each tool’s capabilities in terms of the maximum number of simultaneous collaborations you can have in one “room” or session and the total number of sessions. Most XR Collaboration tools have capacity limits and we have this information available in the XR Collaboration Product Directory hosted at XRCollaboration.com.
It is important to evaluate tools to determine if they support specific role types. As you engage in collaborations with more than 8-10 people you will find that having separate features for Admin, Moderators, Speakers, Collaborators, and Viewers will be valuable.
The amount of time that it will take to onboard yourself and other new users to a XR Collaboration platform is important to take into consideration. We have taken a look at the different onboarding methods (interactive first run experiences, video tutorials, written tutorials, etc) for each XR Collaboration tool and put this information in the XR Collaboration Product Directory hosted at XRCollaboration.com.
There are specific analytics that you will want to get from XR Collaboration tools – primarily the information about both events occurring within the artificial reality and of the device being used to create the artificial reality. It can be useful to review the session analytics to determine the effectiveness of your room design, XR tool feature access and content assets. XR analytic metrics can be divided into these groups:
XR Scene Metrics
Sometimes the design of a room or 3D space or content you are using for XR Collaboration isn’t effective enough. Analysts commonly visualize this information as a heat map, coloring the different regions of a VR space according to the amount of attention they received from users. The more interest an area gets, the redder it appears. You can use these metrics to evaluate the results of your design and content layout and make changes as needed:
- Event Zones (where users are participating within a room or virtual space)
- Gaze Heatmaps (where users are focusing their eyes)
- User Paths (how users flow through the XR environment)
- Content Engagement (which content elements users are interacting with)
- Tool Engagement (which functions user are interacting with)
XR Device Metrics
We need to make sure that the devices being used by XR Collaboration participants are effective for the experience. Remember that technical issues will reduce the desire for people to use XR for collaboration so we want to know about them right away. For example, VR needs to run at least at 90 frames per second – drop in frame rate could produce lagging or choppiness that disorients your fellow collaborators. Here are some of the metrics that will be of interest:
- Performance (FPS)
- Teleportation Events (locomotion count)
- Hardware Data (user devices by class and model)
- HMD Collision with World
- Controller Collision with World
- Button Presses
Getting data about what people did during an XR Collaboration meeting is important - especially for teachers and business managers. Tracking session time is common practice for Web analysts across all digital platforms, but it is especially relevant for XR since it can be a meaningful measure of engagement. When users are immersed in a XR experience, they tend to spend a lot of focus and time on exploring their surroundings (even when they are aware of interaction opportunities). Session time can offer valuable insight into the immersive and transportative effects of your VR experience. Here are some metrics to look for that will support this analysis:
- Number of Attendees
- Comparison between Attendee Counts, RSVP, and Kicks or Removals
- User Locations (geo mapping)
- Session Time