When I first wrote about Corporate Virtual Worlds last week, I forgot the most important side of the topic: The 'Why question'? Or in a little more words: "Why use a relatively demanding technology like virtual worlds for the typical tasks for which an intranet usually is applied to? Ain't this just another new play toy, costing a lot more but with little or no advantages beyond traditional 2D applications - besides a certain sexy-ness?"
Certainly not. The MPK20 team at Sun Microsystems came up with a good justification a few months ago when they published some info about their project. MPK20 is an intraworld, a corporate virtual world, that was launched in 2007. It is based on Sun's virtual worlds toolkit Project Wonderland, and it is extremely interesting, to see, how the team is "selling" the idea of an intraworld (which Sun calls Virtual Workplace).
While it might be possible to build a 2D tool with functionality similar to MPK20, the spacial layout of the 3D world [...] provides strong cognitive cues that enhance collaboration. [...] the juxtapostion of avatars in the world [...] allows people to intuit who they can talk to at any given time. The 3D space provides a natural way to organize multiple, simultaneous conversations. [...] the arrangement of the objects within the space provides conversational context. If other avatars are gathering near the entrance to a virtual conference room, it is a good guess that they are about to attend a meeting in that space. It is then natural to talk to those people about the content or timing of the meeting, just as you would if attending a physical meeting. In terms of data sharing, looking at objects together is a natural activity. With the 3D spacial cues, each person can get an immediate sense of what the other collaborators can and cannot see.
Makes sense, doesn't it?
In other words: once you get used to the new metaphor (or have un-learned the implausibe 2D ones), intraworlds offer a much more intuitive environment to meet people and to collaborate and cooperate with them. It is certainly not "better" to watch a Powerpoint presentation in a virtual world. But, if I want to present these slides to a bunch of people, discuss them with these people, rework the ideas etc. a virtual world it definitely preferable to a conference call, a video or web conference. Our brain is deeply wired to recognize and act on spatial clues - especially when interacting with other people. It is about proximity and distance. It is relevant where someone else is located, if we are standing close or apart, if we are moving nearer or farther away.
Additionally, a 3D world lends itself very naturally to the spatial display of quantitative information or of complex systems and their relationships. This can be done in a web page, too, of course. But, again, a 3D world is a much more intuitive environment to display such a 3D visualization, to view it from different angles - and, to discuss it with others, of course.