On February 10th, Avaya launched a new on-demand, cloud-based option of its immersive web collaboration platform Avaya web.alive. The platform is available both as a premises-based solution and a SaaS offering, the latter being the focus of the new announcement, along with some new features and capabilities.
This new solution presents a virtual reality, which, in some ways, resembles the virtual event platforms (such as those offered by ON24, InXpo and Unisfair) but uses avatars and game-like tools and experiences, more similar to Second Life. I’ve heard some define the “traditional” (only in the context of this fast-evolving space) virtual platforms as virtual events and the likes of Second Life – as virtual environments. The monikers don’t matter much, but there are some differences, which we intend to tackle in more detail in a forthcoming study.
It’s great that Avaya is offering a free web-based demo. Anyone can try the environment at http://avayalive.com/tryit. It will be beneficial for end users to experience this unique, advanced technology first-hand before considering a full-fledged deployment or even a serious pilot. As an analyst, I was privileged to have several sessions with the Avaya team, but I am hearing that there is almost always someone in there who can help random visitors find their way through the different tools and functionalities.
For me, who’s never (NEVER) played any computer games or experienced 3D, doesn’t like Sci-Fi (didn’t even fully appreciate Avatar or The Matrix),… (the list goes on, but you get the idea) … this was both a thrilling and somewhat distracting experience. I did not take the time to test the environment before the pre-launch and ventured into it with a male avatar. Of course, I heard little from the presentation in the first few minutes because I was busy changing my gender and choosing my facial features and clothes to wear.
The next challenge was finding my way around the environment and learning how to control my avatar using the mouse and keypad. Eventually, I found myself standing all by myself in front of the speaker with my head spinning in different directions trying to find the best viewpoint. Somehow, using a 3-rd person view, with my avatar still proudly standing in front of the whole crowd, I managed to get my eyesight so low that I was staring upwards into people’s … well, lower backs. Toward the end of the event, though, I was boldly strolling around the environment, magically walking through people and furniture. And shouting. Until I realized it was not a good idea, because others could hear me without me noticing they were there.
I’ll end the story here and just briefly summarize what I liked and what I would wish to see improved going forward.
The things I liked:
- Such virtual environments are fun! It makes you giddy to design your persona (without the help of cosmetic surgery) and watch yourself from a third person point of view (there must be a split-personality tendency in all of us).
- You do get the impression that you are “meeting” with people in a quasi-realistic social environment, unlike the sensation one gets using more “traditional” conferencing tools.
- I liked seeing the pictures of the people I was close by or talking to, in addition to their oversexed avatars.
- I really liked the presentation and collaboration capabilities. I was able to easily share my desktop and saw demonstrations of video feeds and slide presentations.
- I like the fact that there are private rooms and people can have meetings behind closed doors. Only authenticated users have access to these rooms, but they can authenticate others. Once you are inside the room and the door is closed, no one else can hear the conversation OR see into the room.
- Also, a group engaged in a more private conversation in the public area can use a whisper mode, which is not audible to those at a greater distance but does not degrade the quality of the conversation for the main parties.
- Regardless of my “mishaps” facetiously recounted above, the environment is fairly intuitive and does not take a whole lot of learning to be able to navigate through it.
- I have to give credit to the Avaya people, too – they offered help and were prepared to patiently address all kinds of questions.
- From a business point of view, this solution has tremendous advantages as a web-based, on-demand platform. It is easy to deploy and use, even for small businesses, and is quite cost-effective at $49/month for a single account holder and up to 8 people attending at any given time.
- The platform also offers analytics tools that can help businesses assess the value they are receiving from enhanced collaboration.
What I would want to see improved:
- These visual environments can be very distracting. I heard people saying the virtual experience helped them avoid multi-tasking. In fact, I noticed I was more focused on what was taking place on the screen, but was it really the RIGHT thing on the screen I was watching/doing? I found myself checking people out (some were wearing funky outfits), rather than watching the slides. Maybe there should be a way for the speaker or person managing the event to help/force attendees to focus on the presentation screens whenever appropriate? I would not propose a dress code – that would be taking it too far J
- There need to be some additional privacy options. I discussed the private rooms in the section above, but I believe there should be a way to “encapsulate” people who wish to have a more private conversation in the public area. I imagine, visually it could be something like the Avaya Flare spotlight. In a real-life environment, such as in a typical conference facility, people always complain there aren’t enough meeting rooms and end up looking for these two-armchairs-and-a-table isolated areas in the hotel corridors to have a private chat. At a cocktail party, people use facial expressions and body language to keep unwanted parties out of their private conversation. But the virtual environment needs different tools. I am told that users can see who’s within listening area by watching the number next to an ear icon at the bottom of the screen. But people tend to get distracted or too engaged in a conversation to pay attention. So they need to be able to take precautions.
- Changing your voice, gesturing and other functions are only a right-click away. But I would want to see them in a menu bar – similar to a browser or Microsoft Office experience. It’s all about familiar, user-friendly interfaces, right?
- There needs to be an option to mute everybody (for both the organizers and the attendees), except the speaker. It is distracting when people are chatting around you. Is it like real life? Yes, but we always try to improve real life, don’t we?
- You have to hit Escape to be able to use some of the Options and to do other things on your desktop. It becomes bothersome, if you still want to do some multi-tasking.
- If you have a slow DSL or cable connection, the audio can get garbled. (I had the rare luck to have my Internet service switched to a new provider right in the middle of the launch!)
- Training, training, training!! Yes, it is intuitive; yes, younger generations will figure it out quickly and enjoy it. But for effective business use across different generations and types of users, organizations adopting this tool will need to strongly encourage employees to attend demos and brief training sessions. I have been told that Avaya does offer training. I think customers should not underestimate the value of a proper introduction to the new tool and ensure employees become familiar with key features and functionalities to avoid disappointment and misuse.
Go ahead and try it and let me know what you think. But don’t forget to mute yourself (press M on your keyboard) as you enter the environment or else someone can overhear your business conversations, kids shouting or dogs barking.
Are there other similar platforms you like better? Why?
I will admit, this is a bit of a silly comparison but the truth is that I have had a few customers (and some analysts) asking for some clarification on the new Google Voice offer and how it may compete with Response Point when coupled with an ITSP. The fact is they really do not compete in any measurable way and they could easily compliment each other.
The obvious major difference is that Response Point is a small business phone system, Google Voice is really a service offering targeted at individuals.
When we combine Response Point with an ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider) we start seeing some similarities in the services between the two offers but they are really meant for 2 distinctly different purposes.
Response Point offers an actual premise-based system with a base unit, handsets and features like; auto-receptionist, DID integration, hunt groups, voice mail to email integration etc. All of the things one would expect when purchasing a small business phone system.
Google Voice service is an overlay service on whatever you have today, so if your existing phone system is simply not cutting it, it’s unlikely that Google Voice is going to be able to transform it into the system of your dreams. It’s true that Google Voice will allow you to take advantage of certain features but don’t expect to find a Park, Hold or Transfer or anything fancy like speech recognition.
Google Voice is an inbound-centric service. Most features can only be used with an inbound call, that includes call recording and call joining.
How they play nice together
One could use the Google Voice – simulring feature to call your Response Point phone number and at the same time it could call your mobile.
Google Voice – call recording is a handy feature that is currently not a feature offered in the Response Point system.
Google Voice – voice mail transcriptions is a handy way to receive visual voice mails via email and SMS.
Google Voice – call widgets allow users to put callback widgets on a website. This will allow the visitor to put in their phone number and the system will call them and then it will call your Google Voice number.
Google Voice – SMS is a cool way to compose, accept and manage text messages while maintaining control over the devices associated with that service.
The Google Voice service is only available in the US. Even US subscribers can only forward/simring their Google Voice numbers to other US numbers but that is likely to change to include international countries in the near future.
In theory, the Google Voice call should go wherever the media is sent. Call Routing results may vary depending on the Response Point ITSP you choose.
When calling out, your existing phone number (Caller ID) will be presented to the callee unless you use the dial-out feature, which is (IMHO) a bit of a hassle. This causes some problems as most of us are used to calling people back on the number we last saw from them. Fortunately, many ITSPs (unlike the conventional phone companies) will allow you to change your Caller ID number to match your Google Voice number.
Google Voice does not address LNP (Local Number Portability) at all right now. Which means you can not bring your existing numbers to Google Voice, you have to choose a new number.
Gaboogie has just won the Red Herring Canada Top 50 award in the category of Communications based on our Lypp Conference Call application. We would like to thank Red Herring Canada for the recognition and all of our supporters and clients for making this possible.
The company continues to grow organically and we are very excited about what the future holds.
Thanks again to all who made this happen!
Erik Lagerway – President
Gaboogie Canada Inc.
Just a quick post… We quietly launched our International service for Lypp teleconferencing this evening. Users from Australia, UK, Germany and many more countries, can now sign-up and start using Lypp teleconferencing. Existing and new users in North America can also now include participants from 20+ countries. We only charge you for minutes you use and there are NO additional long distance costs if you use the outbound calling feature.
Since Lypp calls you and your attendees there is little or no need for an International Toll Free number. Use the Lypp for Outlook Add-in or the Lypp.com website and simply set it and forget it. Lypp notifies and calls everyone for you at the time of the meeting. The only thing you have to remember is to answer the phone when it rings.
Yes, Conference Calls and now International Conference Calls are just that simple at Lypp.
WebHuddle’s Web Conferencing and Desktop Sharing solution has integrated Teleconferencing / Conference Calling via Lypp.
WebHuddle is an open source Web Conferencing & Desktop Sharing solution that works on both Mac & Windows. It is both free to download and use. For a limited time WebHuddle is offering free Teleconferencing via Lypp as well. WebHuddle + Lypp works rather well even though it is in early beta.
VANCOUVER, June 4, 2008 – Lypp announces Lypp Conferencing for Outlook in celebration of its 150th business customer.
“Our goal with Lypp for Outlook was to make it easy for Outlook users to create ad hoc and scheduled conference calls the same way they would normally schedule a meeting in Outlook, by using the Calendar.” said CEO Erik Lagerway. “Canadian and US businesses can now access the Lypp advanced conference calling feature-set with ease and at 9 cents/min, business will find it hard to beat.”
Lypp Conference Calling Features:
– Microsoft Outlook Add-in/ Plug-in;
– Instant Activation;
– Toll-free Dial-in Access From Any Phone;
– Automated Dial-Out at Time of Meeting;
– 24 Hour Access;
– Automated Notifications;
– Enterprise Account Management: Sub-account creation/editing and central or individual billing;
– Mobile Conference Call Management;
– Call Recording & RSS syndication;
– Phone Book with CSV/vCard Upload;
– Crystal Clear Connections;
– Secure and Private;
– Real-Time Conference Management Controls;
– Detailed billing.
Lypp conference calling service is available now: Lypp or call +1(877)422.6644
Lypp is disrupting the telecommunications industry by building advanced communications software and services to give users the features and pricing that the existing carriers don’t, won’t or can’t offer. Lypp also provides wholesale services leveraging its REST-based API to enable integration of telephony features with other applications and services.
The Lypp service is operated and owned by Gaboogie Canada Inc.