New video: Aug. 4th ThinkBalm Innovation Community professional networking event

by Erica Driver and Sam Driver.

On August 4th 2009, we held a ThinkBalm Innovation Community immersive professional networking event. A new community work product is now available: a  four and a half-minute video about the event.

Hats off to the following contributors: Jeff Barr for the location on one of’s islands in the virtual world of Second Life; Jeff Barr and Joel Foner for footage and images; Keely Algiere for music; and Jonas Karlsson for the Poinky’s Pods speed networking tool. A very special thanks to all the presenters: Bill Krebs, Christopher Bishop, Christopher Simpson, Claus Nehmzow, Florence Chan, Jeff Barr, Jeff Bush, John Westra, Michael Sarchet, Paul Zonca, Peter Mills, Randi Kopp, and Richard Hackathorn.

The purpose of this professional networking event was to facilitate connections among Immersive Internet advocates, implementers and explorers. We designed the event to be fast-flowing and highly engaging. We held it during the middle of the workday eastern time. More than 70 people registered from all over the US as well as from Canada, the UK, France, Spain, and Hong Kong. We experimented with a new event format:

  • 13 five-minute presentations. We invited attendees who had something to share (e.g., their resume or a job description) to sign up in advance to deliver a 5-minute talk about the work or talent they were seeking. Each presenter had their own presentation station. Event participants walked or flew from one station to the next on a structured tour. Each station had the presenter’s name on it with a link to their LinkedIn profile. Each presenter was permitted to use one image or 3D object as a prop. 
  • Speed networking. We held a half-hour speed networking session using a tool called Poinky’s Pods built by ThinkBalm Innovation Community member Jonas Karlsson. The tool seats participants with one other person for a five-minute exchange, after which all participants are automatically shifted to another random seat.

This was our first attempt at an immersive professional networking event and we learned a few lessons. The event took a lot of planning and preparation but it was well worth it. The two and a half hours flew by and feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. On the down side, most of the people who participated were looking for work, rather than offering work – which was disappointing to some. Also, during the speed networking session the “cocktail party effect” was a bit too loud. People could overhear the voices of others in nearby pods and this was distracting. But overall the event turned out to be a very fun, engaging, and valuable way for people to make professional connections.

© ThinkBalm, 2008-2009. All rights reserved.


My brain recalls information in 3D — not hierarchical lists

by Erica Driver.

I frequently am tasked with recalling specific data points from the ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Business Value Study, Q2 2009 for client inquiries, presentations, press calls, and blog posts. I can’t remember the exact numbers — my memory is sieve-like — so for the first week after the report was published I would go to the 36-page PDF and do a word search. Because it would take me too long to navigate my computer’s file system to get to the correct folder where the PDF is stored, I found that the easiest way to get to the PDF was through our Web site. But opening the actual PDF from the Web site took too long and I got frustrated.

So I tried going to the PowerPoint file containing the data charts from the study. But navigating my file system to find the PowerPoint deck, and then doing a word search or flipping through the charts one by one to find the chart I needed was also frustrating. I have several versions of the PowerPoint slides that were created for different purposes, and there are all the old drafts to contend with.

After the ThinkBalm Data Garden went live in the virtual world of Second Life, displaying data from the study, I immediately began to go there whenever I was looking for specific numbers from the survey. This is the way to go.

I can see the layout of the ThinkBalm Data Garden in my mind's eye
I can see the layout of the ThinkBalm Data Garden in my mind’s eye

 A few observations:

  • I can find what I need more quickly in the 3D environment than the old way. I launch my client software, log into the virtual world, press “Page Up” to fly, and within 2 seconds am standing in front of the exact data chart I need. I know what direction to fly in probably because I helped build the environment, have given dozens of tours, and helped produce a video tour about it. I can picture the entire tour loop in my mind.
  • Recalling information in 3D relieves mental stress. When I really tune in while meandering through a hierarchical file system to find a piece of information I need, I am aware that I feel mild stress. I’m an organized person, but I don’t always know ahead of time how my files should be organized and their organic growth doesn’t always make it easy for me to find stuff when I need it. The same is true for file and folder naming. I try to be organized and give things logical names. But what made sense at the time doesn’t always make the most sense later.
  • It’s not just me! I mentioned my observations to Sam Driver and he said that he finds information from our study the same way: he visits the ThinkBalm Data Garden. Today I mentioned my observation to a couple of visitors who stopped by the data garden and both understood exactly what I meant. One of them — Rob Muhlestein, an IBMer I respect very much — said he does the same thing. He visits the island when he wants to recall a data point from the study.
  • The human brain recalls information spatially, in 3D. Finding the data I need this way feels natural. My brain is used to understanding information in 3D. Despite that I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years, my brain is not skilled at navigating hierarchical, alphabetical text lists of folders and files, and then skipping linearly through a bunch of document pages to find the information I want. One of the people I mentioned my observations to agreed, “Our brains are designed to process 3d data quickly and intuitively. It’s how we can walk around in a 3d world without bumping into things.” She hit the nail on the head.

This has profound implications for work-related use of the Immersive Internet — especially for the learning and training and collaborative 3D data visualization use cases. Lesson learned: find engaging, visually stimulating ways to create data experiences and one of the ways it could pay off is through productivity improvement and increased job satisfaction. Yes, on a micro level — but still. I think I’m onto something. 

© 2009 ThinkBalm. All rights reserved.

Immersive Internet professional networking event

by Erica Driver and Sam Driver.

Mark your calendars! We have a date and venue for the the first-ever ThinkBalm Innovation Community professional networking event!

  • Who: People passionate about work-related use of the Immersive Internet who are looking for a job, looking for someone to fill a job, or simply curious about their options 4 blue doughboys talking PNG med size
  • What: First-ever ThinkBalm Innovation Community professional networking event 
  • When: Tuesday, Aug. 4th from 11AM-2PM EDT / 8-11AM PT 
  • Where: Amazon Developers island in Second Life (thanks to ThinkBalm Innovation Community member Jeff Barr
  • Why: Make valuable professional connections 
  • How to RSVP: Please email us at You can also RSVP to the event notice on LinkedIn here and we will follow up with you directly.

Preliminary format for the event (subject to vetting — feel free to post comments here):

  • Attendees who have something to share (e.g., their resume or a job description) will sign up in advance to deliver a 5-minute presentation. We’ll use a virtual gong (yes, a gong) to make sure we stay onDoughboy holding Excel chart time. Each presenter will be allowed to use one image or 3D object in support of their presentation. 
  • We will have a rapid networking session using a tool called Poinky’s Pods built by ThinkBalm Innovation Community member Jonas Karlsson. The tool seats you with another person for a five-minute exchange, after which all participants are shifted to another random seat. You never know who you’ll end up talking to! 
  • We’ll have some kind of solution for people to upload resumes, job descriptions, presentations, etc. . . . and it will all be integrated with LinkedIn.

More details TBD. Hope you can make it!

© 2008-2009 ThinkBalm. All rights reserved.

ThinkBalm Innovation Community leaderboard is in 3D

by Erica Driver and Sam Driver.

One of the elements of the InnovationSpigit(tm) software that ThinkBalm uses to run the ThinkBalm Innovation Community is a leaderboard. The leaderboard displays the leading ideas, prediction markets, and community members (see Figure 1). Because the ThinkBalm Innovation Community is all about immersive environments, we recently hired OpenSim guru Chris Hart, CTO of ReactionGrid, to bring three of the most important elements of the leaderboard into 3D (see Figure 2). Our 3D leaderboard displays the top ranked ideas, the users with the highest reputation score, and the most popular posts. The leaderboard, which updates hourly, is on display on the ThinkBalm region on ReactionGrid. Come check it out!

The ThinkBalm Innovation Community leaderboard


Elements of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community leaderboard are in 3D


© 2009 ThinkBalm. All rights reserved.

The Coaches Centre pilot: 14X revenue generation, travel costs reduced by $1M CAD

by Erica Driver and Sam Driver.

The Coaches Centre is a new immersive environment for sports coaches and coaching education professionals worldwide, in affiliation with the International Council for Coach Education (ICCE). The ICCE’s mission is to create awareness of sports coaching as a profession, standardize coaching education requirements around the world, and provide insight and advice for rules committees and sports-related organizations. The mission of The Coaches Centre is to cultivate sport coaches around the world via a unified destination and foster collaboration and knowledge sharing across the spectrum of sport coaching disciplines.

The Coaches Centre has the potential to modernize the sports coaching profession. Initially, sports coaches and coaching educators will use the immersive environment to deliver self-paced learning, 3D real-time interactive collaborative learning and training, and face-to-face meetings and events. Coaches and coach education professionals will be able to deliver theoretical, practical, and physical coach education — the latter typically requiring a coach educator to travel on-site, today. The Coaches Centre has plans to ultimately turn the immersive environment into a major online destination for a huge swath of the global sports coaching economic ecosystem.

The Coaches Centre will enter broad-scale pilot with 4,000 to 6,000 participants in March of 2009 and the ICCE has plans to take it global by the end of 2009, with premium for-fee services. This pilot will include three courses: one collaborative synchronous education program called “Making Ethical Decisions” and two asynchronous 2D self-paced training programs called “Plan A Practice” and “Nutritional Development for Athletes.” By the end of 2009, The Coaches Centre intends to deliver premium services like sports management, registration, and collaborative training services like coach-to-athlete, coach-to-coach, coach-to-parent, and coach-to-organization education programs.

Preliminary pilot results show tremendous business value

In mid-February, we spoke with The Coaches Centre president Peter Meli about the business drivers behind his decision to make a massive Immersive Internet investment (we’re talking several million dollars Canadian U.S.). To test and document business value, an ICCE The Coaches Centre  executive team ran a pilot in Canada comparing a two-day coach education program delivered in person with the same program delivered via the Immersive Internet. With the immersive environment, the ICCE was able to evidence a 14X greater return in income to sports association partners (Canadian national sports federations and territory partners) while saving participating coaches in aggregate of $1 million Canadian, compared to the traditional two-day program.

Now keep in mind that Canada alone has 1.7M sports coaches, from local schools through national and international teams, roughly 120,000 of whom go through the education process annually (which amounts to about $60 million Canadian in transactions). Now, picture more than 40 countries involved. The ICCE currently consists of 53 national member groups with an estimated 60 million coaches at all levels from volunteer youth coaches to scholastic and elite level coaches. If the numbers from this initial pilot hold true when The Coaches Centre goes into production, the economic impact could be staggering.

Keep your eye on this project

The Coaches Centre is well worth following for any advocate of the Immersive Internet at work because of the project’s potential to deliver:

  • Innovative solutions to the challenges of working with people in far-away places. As even small-town coaches are given access to the broader world via the Internet, the way they do their jobs is changing. New professional networks and an opportunity to develop personal brand will elevate individuals to new star players. Coaches and coach educators will be able to learn from each other and share best practices, no matter where they are based. Athletes will be able to interact with coaches, peers, and even competitors without getting on planes and leaving home. Lessons learned from this effort apply equally well to people in banking, architecture, IT, or pretty much any other sector — people who need to work together on projects or teams across industries and geographies.
  • Lessons learned that will be applicable to other sectors. As the Immersive Internet goes mainstream, early adopters will leapfrog competitors by learning from others outside of their core industry and geographic region. The Coaches Centre has challenges ahead; its target market may not be the most technically savvy — and certainly not in a consistent way across all 40 nations in which it has members. Not everyone who wants to participate may have a computer that can run a non-browser-based immersive environment at an acceptable performance level. And — very importantly — how well will the technology scale? (Pearson Learning Solutions built The Coaches Centre on the Nexus technology developed by Engineering & Computer Simulations (ECS).)

Based on findings from the initial Canadian pilot, the cost savings and revenue generation potential for The Coaches Centre is huge. But the potential benefits don’t end there. With vast quantities of performance data and research available to ICCE members who use The Coaches Centre, the coaching process and coach development could be improved. The ICCE says it will put 90% of the proceeds from The Coaches Centre back into each country’s coaching system, which will help countries better identify athleticism at a young age and monitor athletes’ development. Creating a hub for coaching could also create a whole cottage industry of affiliated businesses. This is just conjecture on ThinkBalm’s part, but imagine collective bargaining groups forming to secure lower prices on equipment and sports services. And direct communication among national sports organizations could pave the way for larger international clubs and leagues. We’ll be watching The Coaches Centre closely as it moves forward.

© 2009 ThinkBalm. All rights reserved.

Meet the ThinkBalm Innovation Community expert panel

by Erica Driver and Sam Driver.

A few members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community have black graduation caps among their badges and have reputation scores of 100%.  This is our expert panel. Our experts:

The InnovationSpigit(tm) expert badge

The InnovationSpigit(tm) expert badge

  • Have agreed to help to review and promote ideas through the idea lifecycle. Before an idea on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community Web site can graduate from one phase to the next, an expert must review and approve it. Each of our experts has responsibility for one or more idea categories like Events, Future of the Immersive Internet, and Business Value / ROI. If you’ve got an idea moving through the system, don’t hesitate to ask for an expert review. You’ll need it, and it is a great way to keep an idea moving forward.
  • Are hand-picked by ThinkBalm co-founders and principals. We have had great experiences working on idea teams and sometimes other projects with each of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community experts. Each of them is a die-hard Immersive Internet advocate and truly stands out in his or her field. 
  • Are a living panel. Unlike serving as a U.S. Supreme Court judge, the expert panel isn’t a lifetime commitment. People are busy. They change jobs. Their availability fluctuates. And as our community grows, we’ll need more experts. You’ll see the names on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community’s expert panel change over time.

ThinkBalm Co-Founders and Principals

You’ll see that ThinkBalm co-founders and principals Sam and Erica Driver are on the list. We don’t pretend to be experts in all idea categories, but we keep tabs on all the ideas percolating in the system and are involved in most if not all of the idea teams. We are industry analysts and strategy consultants who have operated the ThinkBalm Innovation Community since August of 2008, held dozens of immersive events, and written many reports and articles about the Immersive Internet, all accessible from

  • Erica Driver, co-founder and principal at ThinkBalm. Erica is a leading industry analyst and consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in the IT sector. She is quoted in mainstream and industry trade press including the Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CIO, and Computerworld. Prior to co-founding ThinkBalm, Erica was a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, where she launched the company’s Web3D coverage as part of her enterprise collaboration research. She was also the co-conspirator behind Forrester’s Information Workplace concepts and research. You can contact Erica for help or guidance in any idea category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Erica’s LinkedIn profile
  • Sam Driver, co-founder and principal at ThinkBalm. Sam is an inventor and entrepreneur whose take on the Immersive Internet is heavily influenced by science, game theory, and science fiction. At the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Sam was part of a team that discovered RNA interference (RNAi) which was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. He founded QIK Technology to develop intellectual property (IP) holdings in functional genomics and co-founded a small Rhode Island-based residential real estate investment partnership. He also founded and operates Evil Minions Games, an IP and product development company, and established and runs a regional gaming organization. He’s also an instrument-rated private pilot. Sam earned his BS at Ohio Wesleyan University and a masters in genetics from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. You can contact Sam for help or guidance in any idea category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Sam’s LinkedIn profile.

ThinkBalm Innovation Community Members

  • Jeff Lowe, project manager for the University of Oklahoma Center for Public Management. Working for the outreach division of the university, Jeff partners with a variety of public and private organizations to enhance their employee development programs, orchestrate their events, better engage their clientele, and improve their operations. In serving his clients, he takes on the following primary roles: video producer, event planner, public relations consultant, social media consultant, collaborative technology consultant, virtual tool developer, and web developer. You can contact Jeff for help or guidance on ideas in the “future of the Immersive Internet” category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Jeff’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Kyle Gomboy, Owner, G Squared (G2). G2 was founded over a decade ago to blend data with visuals online. G2 founded and operates the OpenSim grid ReactionGrid. With the creation of tools such as Second Life, OpenSim and others G2 has been able to combine its ASP.NET and SQL Server database technology with 3D visuals to help companies and individuals network and educate themselves and others while having some fun on the way. Kyle was US Navy trained to repair any type of electronic system while at sea without spares and/or technical documents & tools. He specialized in Poseidon and Trident SSBN Ballistic Missile Submarines & Los Angeles Class Fast Attack Submarines. He had training in Ticonderoga Class Aegis Radar Systems and his DoD security clearance was the highest available for NATO shared documents. You can contact Kyle for help or guidance on ideas in the “technologies” category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Kyle’s profile on the community site. Link to Kyle’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Philippe Barreaud, Chief Enterprise Architect at Michelin Group. Philippe has 19 years of experience managing both IS/IT and business functions in Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia. Prior to joining the IS team at Michelin to lead the Enterprise Architecture initiative for the group, Philippe was managing Michelin’s operations in China. You can contact Philippe for help or guidance on ideas in the “business value / ROI” category on the ThinkBalm Innovation Community site. Link to Philippe’s LinkedIn profile.

So if you’re a member of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community who’s working on an idea and want to see it evolve, feel free to call on one of the experts in your idea’s category. Experts can help you figure out how to make your idea more actionable or more bite-sized. They might have recommendations for other community members you could invite to join your idea team to further the idea along. The InnovationSpigit™ software our community site is built on allows you to contact experts (or any community member, for that matter) by visiting their profiles and clicking “Email User.” If you’re not sure who to reach out to, you can always email ThinkBalm principals Erica Driver and Sam Driver at If you’re not yet a member of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, we hope you’ll consider joining us. Happy innovating!

© 2009 ThinkBalm. All rights reserved.

Virtual office: A window looking in on my world

By Erica Driver.

Last month I ran a little experiment. For about two weeks I stayed logged into ReactionGrid to see if it would lead to valuable serendipitous interactions. (I wrote about this in the related article, Lightbulb moment: for serendipity, stay logged into the immersive environment.) What I found: staying logged into my virtual workplace made me feel like I have a window looking out on my world — rather, looking in on my world. And yes, staying logged in did lead to new and deepened relationships.

By staying logged in I connected with at least 10 people who already were — or now are — members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community. I got to know things about people and tell them a bit about who I am and what I do, thereby building up the all-important foundation of trust. I learned about projects other people are engaged with and went over to visit works in progress. And I had a conversation with someone who happened to stop by that is on the way to turning into sizeable business for ThinkBalm. I learned a couple of other lessons, as well.

Having two monitors really helps balance the pros and cons of interruption

I have a monitor on my desk above my laptop and I left my Hippo OpenSim viewer running there. Usually, nothing happened in my view. I focused my attention on my regular work done, on the lower monitor, looking up only when out of the corner of my eye I saw an avatar fly into view. Without the dual monitor, I wouldn’t have that sense of awareness of people coming and going unless I ALT+TABbed to Hippo, in which case I’m no longer focusing on my regular work. Sometimes I would see avatars walk or fly by on their way to somewhere else. Other times, they approached me to start a conversation. It’s  the virtual equivalent of seeing colleagues walk down the hall past your office.


Having an “I’m busy” space required more effort than it was worth

If I’m looking at my screen I can see who comes by my space while I’m busy, even if they choose not to leave me a message. But I don’t really like the space I originally created (for a picture, see the related article, Here’s a way to communicate “I’m busy” in immersive environments). While the circular wall was translucent, it still felt like a wall and I didn’t like having the image of my avatar sitting inside the space up on my screen. More importantly, it turns out the “I’m busy” space may be more trouble than it’s worth. I had to remember to park my avatar there when I was interrupted or going to be away from my desk. And in ReactionGrid, which is based on OpenSim and therefore works very similarly to Second Life, when someone doesn’t interact with the environment for some period of time — say, 5 minutes — their avatar looks like it’s fallen asleep standing up (see Figure). If someone stumbles across my sleeping avatar they can always send me an instant message. I don’t think I need much more than that.

© 2009 ThinkBalm. All rights reserved.