Friday, March 16, 2007

WebEx 2D vs. 3D

This morning’s paper brought the news of Cisco’s $3.2 billion purchase of WebEx. John Fontanna of Network World sees it as a direct confrontation with Microsoft, while Tom Keating thinks Cisco overpaid. With Cisco paying $57/share, clearly it would have been cheaper in January 2006 (at $20) or four years ago (at $8).

[WebEx]It’s impossible to drive in Silicon Valley without seeing the WebEx sign, but I must be the only techie in town that never had a need for their service. Part of it is that (while they have a Macintosh-friendly management team) they ignored the Mac until 2003. A textbook publisher has been dunning me for years to attend their WebEx-hosted webinars and this year WebEx themselves started spamming me (at a .edu?) to sign up for their service. I certainly have done a large amount of virtual work in the past 15 years, including three years of teleconferences as an HP supplier. But today, Skype or iChat handles my basic teleconference or videocall needs well enough — it’s hard to justify paying more than free.

But now there’s a 3D challenger to WebEx with Palo Alto-based Qwaq, although I’m hardly a neutral observer. More than 15 years ago, I met its founder, David Smith,, when we were peddling our respective (award-winning) Mac CAD packages — he with Virtus Walkthrough and me with PLOTTERgeist. After publishing Tom Clancy-licensed videogames, for the last five year David has been working with Alan Kay and others to develop the Smalltalk-based, open source 3D platform called Croquet. With an active university research community behind it, Croquet has solved a number of difficult problems, including distributed asynchronous computing, being able to patch a running system, and virtual privacy issues.

A year ago, David & I reconnected on a panel discussion at UC Berkeley and he spoke to my MBA technology strategy class about his ideas of making a commercial product layered on Croquet. Last month I met Qwaq CEO Greg Nuyens, who explained the informal tagline is “WebEx meets Second Life.” This week, Qwaq came out of stealth mode.

Qwaq has a ways to go to catch either WebEx or Second Life, but they have some key opportunities. Versus Second Life, they bring a business-oriented, “behind the firewall” enterprise offering. Versus WebEx, they offer a compelling virtual presence. The key feature that I (and others) think is a winner is persistence, e.g. having a virtual war room where you can resume a meeting with all the documents on the wall where you left them. Blogger Steve Borsch thinks such asynchronous collaboration is essential for virtual distributed work. (Borsch claims to have grokked Adobe’s Carousel back in 1991, when I wondered what they were smoking).

Several of the bloggers remark on the benefit to users of having Qwaq Forums built upon an open source (and thus open API) base. Is this merely a theoretical advantage (like the idea of switching from Red Hat Linux) or will competitors or customers actually use these APIs? This is a persistent issue in open IT strategies, but I don’t understand this “space” well enough to know the answer.

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1 comment:

Sue Baskerville said...

I wonder when one of the collaboration services such as Zoho will find it worthwhile to try adding a virtual world to their existing package of shared word processing, spreadsheets, calendars, wikis, etc.

I'd love to a virtual world for business collaboration added on to Open Office.