Novelist William Gibson was right when he said that the future is already here — it’s just unevenly distributed. While some professional planners struggle with how to make time for social media initiatives, others are integrating science fiction-inspired technologies. Here are some hi-fi and low-fi ways to collaborate on the cutting edge.
Hi-fi: Collaborate in real (cool) time
Touchscreen computing is great, but its usefulness maxes out at arm’s length. Move any further away and the touchpad becomes as inert as a pet rock. But gesture-operated screens aren’t limited by proximity. Oblong Industries in Los Angeles has discovered a way for presenters and meeting participants to use gestures to manipulate and share information across multiple screens in real time, in multiple locations.
If you’ve seen the movie “Minority Report,” you probably have a good idea of how gesture-operated user interfaces work. With the swipe of a hand, documents can be searched, selected and opened, enlarged, shrunk, shared or put away. But what you don’t know is that the military has been using Oblong’s “g-speak” technology to run sophisticated battle simulations for years.
Christian Rishel, Oblong Industries’ senior vice president commercial says that it wasn’t until military clients expressed the desire to use g-speak to look at more mundane files that they realized it could have commercial business applications.
“They would say, ‘Man, I just wish I could see my PowerPoint deck or my Excel spreadsheets,’” Rishel says. “It was a big aha moment — that we could take this technology to create a shared workspace that scales.”
The result is Mezzanine, a new computer operating platform that is gesture-operated and allows for secure collaborations between teams stationed in multiple locations. Anyone who is linked in to the system can access the data (even the desktops and display screens) of the other members of their team — whether they are using smart phones, desktop computers, cloud computing or Mezzanine’s digital display system to join the collaborative space. Using a gesture “wand,” people in the same room as Mezzanine’s display panels can manipulate the information “Minority Report”-style. Anyone not in the room but connected to the system can view, manipulate, upload, edit and share data from wherever they happen to be.
“Typically a meeting is place where you present info that you prepared, you discuss it and then present next steps,” Rishel says. Participants leave the room with a checklist of things to research, people to talk to, documents to amend and other things to do. But Mezzanine could change all that. “It raises collaboration to a point where work actually gets done in meetings,” Rishel says.
Have a question about a proposal? Teleconference with the vendor and have him use a phone or computer to share more information or adjust a bid.
Want to create a presentation? Using the shared digital workspace, members of your group can upload and place images, rearrange slides, surf the Web for supporting materials, add music and create a final version without leaving their desks.
And there are applications beyond internal company meetings.
From the trade show floor, Mezzanine could allow exhibitors to do simultaneous live global demos, fielding questions from audiences around the world. In educational settings, Mezzanine allows for crowd-sourced content to be integrated into presentations and shared instantly with face-to-face and virtual attendees. As the events world incorporates more hybrid and virtual elements, a program like Mezzanine could help meeting planners make remote events truly interactive, Rishel says.
“Whether sitting together in a room or sitting somewhere else, you can see what people are working on. You can even access the screen from the road and interact with it.”
Here’s a video of how g-speak works. Follow this link to see Mezzanine’s meeting applications.
Mezzanine’s cost ($150,000 for hardware and software) might be a bargain for large global organizations, but if it’s not in your company’s budget, know that it’s not the only collaborative technology available.
Low-fi: Eliminate e-mail chains cheaply
Google Docs let people collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations and see real-time comments and corrections. It’s a clever way to keep all information in one place instead of e-mailing the same document to multiple people and then trying to incorporate all of their corrections.
The documents are password protected and may only be viewed and edited by people the authors have “invited” to join the conversation. Because Google Docs are powered by cloud computing, documents stored there may be accessed by any computer or mobile device (although iPhones and iPads have notorious compatibility issues — not all functions work on them). Once a document has been approved, it can be downloaded or e-mailed.
By integrating Google Voice (the company’s free Skype-like phone and videoconferencing technology), work teams can add a virtual element to their conversations about the shared documents. A revision history function allows deleted items to be added back in later, if necessary.
Using Google Docs is free, although participants must have a Gmail account and ensure that the company’s firewalls won’t block access to the system, which some IT departments automatically do.
Here’s a quick video about how it works: