Skip to Content
Uncategorized

Unreal Meetings

Second Life’s virtual conference rooms might be more useful if they didn’t resemble their real-world counterparts.
July 11, 2007

MIT researcher Drew Harry flies his avatar into a house in Linden Labs’ online environment, Second Life. The avatar passes couches, a fireplace, and a dining-room table complete with red-velvet tablecloth and candles. “Second Life is relentlessly literal,” Harry says, pointing out one familiar domestic object after another.

Virtual meeting space: Rather than designing a meeting space that resembles one of those found in the physical world, MIT researcher Drew Harry intends this space to track the flow of ideas in a conversation, and to give significance to where people place the avatars that represent them.

Harry designs virtual spaces that don’t look like the familiar world–his virtual meeting room looks more like a football field than like a conference room. He says his goal is to stop mimicking the physical world and start creating a new kind of space. “It’s not clear to me yet that [virtual worlds] are actually useful,” Harry says. They will be useful, in his view, if they can take advantage of not being physical.

The long oval table common to a boardroom lets small groups of people see and hear one another while sitting comfortably. Since a virtual space doesn’t need to accomplish the same goals as a real space, Harry decided to ditch the table. Instead, his virtual meeting room arranges people based on their allegiance. Where an avatar stands signifies whether a person agrees or disagrees with the position being discussed. The meeting room’s other visual features are designed to track the complexities of shifting alliances and opinions throughout a conversation.

Nick Yee, a Stanford graduate who recently completed his PhD research on social interaction in virtual environments, says that Harry’s design is on the right track. Sometimes companies try to have meetings in Second Life, Yee laughs, and they have the same problems they do in real life: for example, people have trouble seeing PowerPoint presentations. “By enforcing physical embodiments and physical rules,” Yee says, “we bind ourselves to the physical symbols and metaphors of the physical world.”

Multimedia

  • See images of Harry's virtual meeting room.

Harry is still refining the mechanics of his space and designing spaces that can be used for different types of meetings. If he has his way, gatherings in the virtual world will feel very different than gatherings in the physical one, and they will work more smoothly.

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Our best illustrations of 2022

Our artists’ thought-provoking, playful creations bring our stories to life, often saying more with an image than words ever could.

How CRISPR is making farmed animals bigger, stronger, and healthier

These gene-edited fish, pigs, and other animals could soon be on the menu.

The Download: the Saudi sci-fi megacity, and sleeping babies’ brains

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology. These exclusive satellite images show Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilizational revolution” that would house up…

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.