Can you communicate as well as a fourth-grader?

One thing that I have learned from my time in Second Life is how much all of us have in common even though we all work in different professions. Sometimes I think it is because all the work that we do, no matter the field, is based upon communication. Whenever anything goes wrong at work, what is it that EVERYONE says? “We need better communication next time.” But does that ever happen? Do we ever really make an effort to improve communications?

Up to the launch of the Internet, the only means of communication in the business world had been though conversations or letter writing. So as we tried to improve communication back then did we talk more? Maybe at first but then eventually we slipped back into old habits – it was never convenient to communicate. We didn’t see people, or they were not there when we telephoned, or we just didn’t have time to write another letter. Or perhaps conversations between co-workers were frowned upon as a waste of time.

And this is why I think the move to Web 3.0, or whatever it is called these days, is so important. The Web has given us, and continues to give us, so many means of communication and has made it so easy for us to communicate with anyone anywhere that there should be no excuse anymore for a lack of communication. If you are not adequately communicating today, it is your own fault for not learning the available tools.

With all the blogs, vlogs, wikis, virtual spaces, text messaging, internet-based phone and radio, social networks, and Web sites, there is no excuse for not communicating. The scary part of all this is that those of us who are out of college are already behind on the use of these tools. Today, as I was following my new philosophy of learning how to do my job better by researching what others are doing in their fields, I came across a wonderful blog by a school teacher: From reading her blog and the links off of it, I realized, school kids have already figured this out!! Fourth-graders are blogging and setting up wikis and using all these tools as if they have been around for years.

So for anyone who might still be thinking that this is all going away, you may want to start looking into what is happening on the Web these days. Not only are these tools growing in use each day by those in business, kids in our schools are being taught how to use them as part of their normal classwork. And even though experience in a particular industry still carries some weight, remember, it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t communicate at least as well as a fourth-grader.


What I want for Christmas

What I want for Christmas, at least from Second Life, is a scene exporter. Ok, maybe I won't get this for Christmas, but I would still be happy if I could get it sometime over the next year.

Lately I have been working on a design project in Second Life that got me wondering how I could use the end result in my real life work on a construction site without having to go into Second Life. I kept thinking that if I build a detailed model of something simple like a manhole showing all the pipe connections, it would be helpful to be able to capture that "scene" by establishing a given area around the site. And I mean in a way that is not just a "photo" like I can already do. What I want is the ability to capture it in a way that I can view it on a special "viewer" that allows me to pan, zoom, tilt, the exported 3D scene as if I was in SL. I don't need my avatar there – I just want the ability to view it in the same manner as I would in SL.

I realize that there are many who might suggest that regular CAD products could do this, but first, I think SL is best for building simple, yet dimensionally correct, 3D models in a fast and efficient manner; second, I want to be able to have the model placed in a realistic "scene" which is not easily created in a CAD program; and third, I need a construction worker to access this on the jobsite.

That is why I am convinced that SL is the best medium to create the scene – I just need a type of generic file format that the scene could be exported as and then viewed with a viewing software made just for this purpose. Then I could give the file to the contractor, and he could, at each manhole installation, easily access that file on his phone (which soon will evolve to allow this type of viewing) to verify that the installation is taking place as designed. To do this he would not need to have any knowledge of CAD.

Those of us in civil-related construction know that the plans are rarely consulted on the job. Sometimes the contractor does not even have them handy; yet he always has his cell phone. I want my 3D manhole detail on that phone!


Buying Real Products in a Virtual World

Our city just bought a new sign making machine to replace the old heat press antique that we had to make signs, and over the last couple weeks, our crew has been learning and becoming more familiar with this computer-based system. Now we are ready to begin our city-wide updating of our street and traffic signs. As part of this effort, one of our first steps is to purchase the materials necessary to make the signs, so I told our crew to search on the internet for the materials and get some prices. They came to me yesterday frustrated that they had spent two hours searching and in the end could only find some of the materials and could not find any prices. They felt that they had invested a lot of time and didn't accomplish much.

I knew exactly how they felt. Many times during design I spend way too much time searching and navigating Websites to locate the right product for my project. There are usually no prices listed on the site so an e-mail or phone call must be made just to get a budgetary price. This often then results in having to meet with a salesman in my office or worse having to travel to a trade show to be able to view and compare products and brands. Few of us have this kind of time to spend on picking out a piece of equipment or product. This method also results in not finalizing a product choice until weeks later.

But because I do this type of product research all the time, I did offer to sit with my crew and try to locate these products myself. They watched as I managed to find a few of the items, but only because they were offered through a state contract that we located on our state's Website. And although that took relatively little time, we ended up spending a total of about an hour on the internet because in the end we could not find aluminum sign blanks.

Frustrated, I told them my dream of a time when I can log into Second Life, search for a sign store, teleport to that location, touch the product I want, and either get the purchase information or purchase it there on the spot. Because they have not seen Second Life, I decided to demonstrate to show them what I meant.

We logged on, and I went to search and typed in "signs." I scrolled down to one of the sign stores and teleported to that location. There were all the signs available for purchase. I explained to them that if this was a real company that had the capability to set up a purchase and shipping agreement with the city allowing my avatar to purchase materials, we could have bought that sign, and it would be on its way to us with a click of the "buy" button. They saw how any materials could have been displayed at the store in a manner that would allow us to find them so much more easily than on a Website. They also saw how a salesperson could have been there or available through IM to provide assistance.

The whole process of logging in, searching, and "purchasing" could not have taken more than 5 minutes. They agreed this method would be so much better and had several good questions including how would we know that this company would ship to us. I told them I thought we could have a state or location associated with our avatar, and when we tried to purchase something, this information would be transmitted so that if the company does not ship to my location, it would not allow me to purchase the product. Instead I would receive a message telling me they do not ship to my area. This information could also be provided in the search or through a notecard or sign at the store.

They also asked about comparison shopping so I explained how you can save landmarks to places you visit and how there are other tools to track where you have been so you could note the prices at each location and return to the one with the lowest price or best product. I also thought the amazing scripters in SL would probably come up with some type of tool to make this easier.

This crew also takes care of the city's fleet, and they told me how they are often frustrated in having to navigate through parts manuals to find the right part to order. How much easier it would be to go to the International Truck virtual "store" and go up to the virtual truck of the make and model they are working on and "touch" the part that they need to order, and then "buy" it. The company could also have a record of your ownership to make sure you are not ordering parts for vehicles you do not own.

As most of us who are involved in the "business" community of SL know, the potential of this virtual world is incredible, and it is available now if only real life companies would catch on and open shop.

Until then, our crew will be spending more time looking for sign blanks, and the rest of us will continue to waste time searching through endless pages of Websites, attending meetings with salespeople and suppliers, and driving or flying hundreds of miles to trade shows, all the time knowing there is a better way.


Cyber Trade Shows

Ok, I have finally attended a 3D virtual trade show related to the engineering industry. Unfortunately it was not held in Second Life. One of the attendees at our weekly engineering meeting, Kelvin Glimmer, brought up this Website where he had seen the trade show advertised. Since this is something that I have been waiting to see implemented, I definitely went to the site and signed up for the free registration so that I could attend the show.

This trade show, which covers the coatings industry, is being held from Oct. 15th through the 26th and can be accessed by signing up at:

I attended on the night of the first day (having been outside on construction all day long at work). Attendance required me to download a client software. Upon launching the software, I appeared to enter the 3D virtual world of Active Worlds. However, this software seems to only bring you to the trade show, and it does not appear that I can go off to explore the other areas of Active Worlds.

Even though I still think that a trade show held in Second Life would have been so much more realistic and frankly, just so much more awesome, I have to commend the person who set all this up. There were definitely big name companies and organizations from that industry exhibiting such as George Koch Sons, Dupont, The Society for Protective Coatings, Vulcan, and Sherwin Williams. These companies should also be commended for seeing that this delivery system for trade shows has great potential.

Although there were many differences from Second Life, one aspect that was disturbing to me was that there seemed to be many people there, but most were not real people. After being in SL, you get used to the fact that if you see someone, that person really is someone – not some computer-generated robot. At this show, I only saw about 3 or 4 real people. However, I did attend "after hours." The show coordinator told me he had seen about 70 people show up that day.

So because I am also attending the Illinois Municipal League convention in Chicago this week, theoretically I am in more than one place at the same time. Due to this technology, I can attend the municipal convention in Chicago and the coatings trade show in Active Worlds and still visit with my family at night in Second Life. Now if only these companies start to realize what could be done in Second Life.