The Journey into XR Collaboration
XR collaboration tools date back to the "virtual tradeshow," first described and presented as "ConventionView" by Visual Data Corporation – now known as Onstream Media – in April 1993.
Continual development over the years since then has led to the current state of XR collaboration, which has been boosted during the COVID-19 pandemic by the need for more ways to connect with people, whether across the city or in another part of the world. During the pandemic, videoconferencing tools were rapidly adopted, bringing more familiarity to the concept of using technology to meet in real time across distance. Below is an account of videoconferencing tools and how they compare with XR collaboration. But for now, let's take a brief tour of the history of XR collaboration itself. (Here's a complete history of videoconferencing.)
2003: Second Life, an online virtual world, was born, growing to more than one million regular users by 2013. The platform features 3D-based, user-generated content, giving the users a sense of virtual property, space, and appearance. Second Life also has its own virtual currency, the Linden Dollar, which is exchangeable with real world currency. (Wiki-Second Life)
2013: AltspaceVR, a platform that provides meeting spaces in Virtual Reality where users can host events, have conversations, watch videos, play games, and browse the Internet. Avatars in AltspaceVR can automatically mimic a user's body language by tracking the VR controllers and using predictive algorithms. In October 2017, AltspaceVR was acquired by Microsoft. (Wiki-AltSpace VR)
2020: There are nearly 100 XR collaboration products available to customers, many of which are focused on social, education, and enterprise applications. Please use the “XR Collaboration Product Directory” for a listing of software products you can use.
2021: After COVID-19 restricted the world into lockdown in 2020, adoption of remote collaboration accelerated from every perspective, process, and system with this new communication medium. Remote working and learning produced the need for our XR Hardware Hub, the XR Glossary, and updates in the XR Platform Directory and XR Collaboration Resource Guide (V.5.0)
Video conferencing software enables two or more people to communicate via video and audio using an Internet connection. It enables them to conduct live remote meetings by transmitting audio, video, and text. Best-in-class videoconferencing services let users share their screens, remotely access one another's desktops, chat via text, exchange files, communicate via digital whiteboards, and even broadcast conferences to large groups of passive viewers.
Advantages of Videoconferencing Tools
Videoconferencing tools provide adequate functionality for various meeting use cases. Many corporations have already purchased licenses for such solutions, and use them regularly. They can be scaled to large audiences, and operate well in a moderated environment or a one-to-many format.
- Existing familiarity: you might already be using these tools at work or school.
- Corporate IT support: the tools may support your corporate IT systems and security requirements.
- Wide availability: the tools may support your native language, when needed.
When They Are Not Enough
These videoconferencing tools, however, are geared toward voice-heavy, video-heavy, or PowerPoint-driven communications rather than collaboration. They lack the kind of interactive functionality and content flow that XR can offer. Users can, for example, interact with the speaker(s) by asking questions via voice or chat, yet they cannot directly interact with any of the content. Users cannot draw on a slide being shared by a presenter, or add new images that everyone can see. Screen sharing is possible, but is usually limited to one user at a time sharing content in a non-interactive way. Furthermore, running video content streams via screen sharing is very bandwidth-intensive, and tends to result in very low-quality video viewing experiences for all users.
Disadvantages of Using Videoconferencing Tools
- One “speaker” at a time.
- No (or limited) collaboration tools.
- Content is not interactive.
- Network requirements for video and screen sharing can result in poor quality communications.
Key Benefits of XR Collaboration Tools Over Videoconferencing
XR collaboration offers several advantages when compared to alternatives such as videoconferencing, phone meetings, or even face-to-face interactions. These include an enhanced sense of presence, eliminating extraneous distractions, and enabling enhanced and more dynamic visualization of information and objects, as well as interaction with these objects in 3D. Furthermore, those dynamic interactions can happen in real-time with other collaborators, regardless of where they are physically located at that point in time. Additionally, even before this global crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the cost, stress, environmental impact, and time waste caused by global business travel was becoming a pressing issue, leading many companies to consider adoption of XR collaboration tools, either to partially or entirely replace such face-to-face interactions. In the post-COVID-19 world, however, what was previously desirable will become – in many cases – the only viable alternative for co-workers to continue meeting and collaborating meaningfully with one another.
Increased Presence / Immersion
Virtual Reality’s goal is to fully immerse a person in a digital landscape, triggering the same kinds of physical and psychological reactions they would experience in the real world. This is called “presence” – a mental state in which people recall VR experiences as if they had actually occurred. Interactions mediated by XR collaborative tools have the advantage of instilling that sense of presence. This arises from being immersed in an environment, as opposed to viewing it through a screen, as well as a sense of “embodied cognition,” which comes from your own actions, movements, and expressions being replicated by your avatar and having a visible – even tangible – effect within the virtual environment.
Fewer Distractions During Meetings
During an average one-hour video conference, participants report approximately 15 minutes of distraction from phone and other peripheral actions. XR platforms, on the other hand, fully immerse participants, focusing attention more fully on the interaction at hand.