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Immersive Internet technology is no video game

By Kathleen Lau, Computerworld Canada
June 04, 2009 06:50 PM ET

Computerworld Canada - A Kirksville, Mo.-based non-profit organization providing drug abuse counseling services is taking a Second Life-esque approach to continuing to treat clients once they leave residential treatment centres.

For the past two months, Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. has been running its own virtual islands on a private server where young adults who have spent some time in residential care can continue to receive counseling remotely using only a provided laptop and Internet connection.

Dick Dillon, the organization's senior vice-president of planning and development, said the drop out rate for young clients due to practical reasons is quite high once they leave residential care. "When they leave and go home, they depend on parents who are sometimes unreliable or financially incapable of getting them back for follow-up visits," said Dillon. Moreover, the organization operates mostly throughout Missouri where, although population centres hold 20,000 to 40,000 people, "you go five or 10 miles in any direction and it's farmland."

It's an example of immersive Internet -- emerging technologies with a social culture and roots in video games and virtual worlds -- that has found a use in the business world. In fact, immersive Internet technologies in business "gelled last year" as its various use cases became a discussion topic in the industry, said Erica Driver, principal with Little Compton, R.I.-based research and consulting firm ThinkBalm. While still in the early adopter phase, Driver anticipates immersive Internet technologies will move into mainstream within just four years given the capabilities it allows users. "That's fast and it probably sounds aggressive, but if you think about the Web and when it first came on the scene ... it's something along that scale," she said.

ThinkBalm recently published a research report entitled ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Business Value Study, Q2 2009, based on a survey of 66 early adopters and 15 in-depth interviews.

Driver said that at this point, immersive Internet technologies in the business sphere are considered "highly experimental" with many adopters proceeding with a pilot while not exactly expecting a return on investment. In fact, two-thirds of interviewees were still at pre-production stage.

But it's not so much about the technology as it is about the myriad use cases the technology presents to businesses, said Driver. Last year had adopters choosing to apply immersive Internet technologies primarily to learning and training, followed by meetings. Those uses, said Driver, are the least costly and easiest to tackle given one obvious reasons for implementing: shrinking travel budgets. More complex uses that require custom building, like remote system and facility management, while offering a greater potential for transformation, were found to be the least-piloted among respondents.

The research also identified challenges to adoption of immersive internet technologies in business, with inadequate user hardware ranking the highest. "With your laptop at work, you probably don't have a great graphics card in it, or you probably don't have a microphone or headset," explained Driver.

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