An e-meeting of minds

Projects being undertaken by MediaLab South Pacific could bring two traditionally separate electronic presentation methods closer together.

The Wellington-based R&D consortium is working with the Medici consortium, planning new tools for business collaboration which will include video and data and object visualisation tools. At the same time, MediaLab is participating in the UpStage development, which uses video and existing community “chat” services to present plays with actors participating from geographically separated locations.

There are many ways of communicating for collaboration in business or technology, says Medici consortium head Neville Jordan.

“There’s email, videoconferencing and various collaborative tools within an organisation; and there are three-dimensional visualisation tools for industrial design.”

The developers of these two kinds of tool have historically been far apart, says Jordan.

“No one has yet brought them together into one offering”, but advanced visual presentation has much potentially to offer the collaboration sphere.

He sees other strands coming into the mix; for example, peer-to-peer networking technology. This will need to have its security improved to become part of a practical commercial environment, he says.

An important principle will be the creation of “communities of interest” within and among organisations, Jordan says. Large multinationals are already skilled at delivering learning and a company culture across their organisations. “We can see scope for these tools to improve the environment so people can learn more readily. This needs human interface specialists, psychologists, pedagogues and people from other disciplines. Those resources, Medici brings together.”

The “community of interest” ethos can also be applied by a business to its customers as a promoter of brand loyalty, he suggests.

Acting would seem to have little to do with all this, but the development and working of the UpStage “cyberformance” environment has posed some basic questions about human interaction, says prime mover Helen Varley Jamieson. For example, it challenges ideas of public versus private space and of who is in control of the communication.

UpStage currently exists in two basic forms; one where the actors are represented as “avatars” — graphical personas they control on the screen of a “chat” channel, and which communicate in comic-style “speech bubbles”. Here audience and actors exist on the same level like street theatre, she says. The second environment presents “live” but remote actors on an array of video screens or windows, and may incorporate a truly live local performer on stage. This imparts a different status to live actor, remote actors and audience, more like a regular theatre performance.

“Audience participation” in one avatar-based performance was taken to an extreme when an audience member with skills in the operation of the Palace software used kept deleting the graphical backdrop to the screen, forcing members of the theatre company to repaint it.

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