Hanging Out in the Lobby

A lot of us like to run Forums all day, like an IM client. In the new version, you can log in to your organization without actually entering any of its forums(1). We think of it as hanging out in the lobby of that organization. You can watch people going in and out, text chat with them, and join them in whatever forum they are working in(2).

The idea is that if virtual world technology is a meta-medium that subsumes, for example, instant messaging, then it ought to do IM as well as dedicated IM clients while retaining the benefits of the virtual world technology. In the case of Forums, that means secure communication.

  1. In Forums, each user is a member of one or more organizations.
  2. People tend to have one forum per project at work.

You hardly use any bandwidth in the lobby, and you can shrink the window to be quite small so as to not interfere with other stuff going on your computer. But you can still keep track of what’s going on in all the org’s forums.

There are two little tabs for either people or forums. Active stuff floats to the top of each, so you can easily see who is coming or going or which projects are being worked on. Because you have to be explicitly added to an organization and you can’t see stuff that you don’t have access to, a list of all the people or forums in an organization is not a list of all the people or forums in the entire world. So the people and forums lists are kind of like a pre-made buddy list. Of course, you can also designate your own favorites and show only those, but its not necessary.

You can select a forum to get a periodically updating picture from inside the forum, which is sort of like being a fly on the wall. If you want to just check with someone, you can private-text anyone in your organization’s lobby or any of it’s forums. If it turns out to be useful, you can press a single button from the text chat and teleport right to them. While diving in to a forum requires semi-modern graphics, bandwidth, and user skill, hanging out in the lobby requires no more than a five year-old IM client does.

From the lobby you can also get a list of all the documents saved in any of the forums, and you can even add new documents to a forum without entering it.

Unlike even the latest dedicated IM clients, this is all using our usual secure pipe and client. (It actually is the usual client. Diving in to a forum doesn’t launch a separate client nor use different communications.)

I’d like to see this bridge to other IM systems. The main reason we haven’t is that no one has demanded it. One reason why is probably concerns over security: if Forums IM is secure, why risk using AIM, MSN, or iChat? I think this is mostly (but not entirely) FUD spread by proprietary pre-virtual-world office collaboration vendors and perpetuated by why-should-I-stick-my-neck-out IT managers. But I’ve got enough to worry about without fighting that particular battle. Besides, the second reason is that whatever the dedicated IM vendors might say about interoperability, they haven’t really opened up their protocols much to allow hookup. Mostly they seem to be seeking pairwise gateway deals.

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