Please don’t mention virtual ‘worlds’: why does enterprise steer clear of the ‘w’ word?

By | January 24, 2011

Reading a press release from technology company Avaya, I was reminded of  Basil Fawlty’s desperately funny attempt not to use the ‘W’ word , in this case standing for ‘war’, when German guests come to his stay at his guest house, Fawlty Towers.

The connection ?

In Avaya’s case, it’s the company’s clear decision not to mention the ‘W’ word, in this case, standing for ‘world’. The press release promotes the University of Texas Austin’s newly-appointed Professor of Innovation, Robert M. Metcalf’s use of Avaya’s web.alive platform to deliver his inaugural lecture.

The platform is variously described as a ‘collaboration environment’, and ‘immersive web collaboration platform’, a ‘3-D spatial audio and videogaming graphics technology’ and a ‘virtual environment’. Nowhere is the term ‘virtual world’ used.

It’s curious, given that education sector advocacy groups such as Duke University, the New Media Consortium (NMC), Australia’s Virtual World Working Group (AVWWG),  freely uses the term. The IEEE, a 350,000 strong professional advocacy organisation for advanced technology, also embraces virtual worlds. In fact, IEEE usefully lists 29 requirement features for such platforms in the enterpise context, and  ‘virtual world’ is the only descriptive term used.

Australian Virtual 'Worlds' Working Group meeting in progress

Does it matter ? I suspect Avaya is being cautious with its enterpise clients, wanting to play down associations with gaming culture, or the idea of people living online vicariously. However, whilst selling virtual world platforms as merely ‘environments’, or ‘collaborative spaces’, is certainly more anodyne, it misses out on the opportunity to impart virtual worlds’ largess; inviting the corporate community to create their own ‘worlds’ for online collaboration provokes more holistic thinking, suggesting that over and above meetings, such platforms engender structural innovation (organisational and relationship-building), product development, and customer experiences too.

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