Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Online Collaboration

If you have read some of my previous posts you already know that I’ve been around in the ‘net for a long time. In those old days we didn't have such a vast collection of services and tools, the most advanced service we had for a real time conversation was writing to somebody’s else terminal or the Unix talk utility.

But I’ve been always convinced since then that the internet technologies (that’s the name of one of the companies I founded many years ago) were a very important factor to enable and facilitate collaboration and teamwork.

Since early January and part of February I spent a considerable amount of time participating in the online Vanishing Point Game.

This game was commissioned by Microsoft as part of their launch campaign for Windows Vista, and it was developed and run by the company 42 Entertainment.

The game consisted in a set of four puzzle boxes (one for each week), each box contained a dozen puzzles and was opened at the start of each week and a fictional character named "Loki" (the “Enigma Director”) guided us through the game history line and providing clues.

Singapore Besides the clues embedded in the actual puzzles and the ones provided by “Loki”, additional clues were provided with real world events around the world, starting with a spectacular light show in the dancing waters of the Bellagio Casino Hotel fountain in Las Vegas, skywriting in Sydney and other US cities, impressive digital projections over the façade of landmark buildings in Canada, Singapore, Germany, England and the US.

The grand prize ? A suborbital flight to the edge of earth’s atmosphere aboard the Rocketplane vehicle.

Besides the attractive prizes (which I won none), and the challenge to solve the puzzles, my real interest was to experience first hand the actual state of the art of online collaboration in a complete different context, not work related, completely unknown people of different ages and background around the world.

I’ve been always involved in discussion groups via e-mail lists, such as NANOG, IETF, technology forums, etc. In this particular instance after some searching I joined the community where I found some interesting information exchange related to the game.

Over 80,000 registered to play the game, hundreds if not thousands were participating in forums such as Neowin, or, real time chats on IRC, etc.

Since the early Internet days we had some sort of implicit and self imposed net etiquette, that if you recently had a chance to participate in some IRC chat rooms seems to have been completely lost.

To my surprise and enjoyment, the experience I had with the Neowinians was in all terms excellent, while the forum has moderators there was no need for them to get involved, a great exchange of information an ideas with a sharp focus to solve the puzzles and have fun playing the game was a constant.

I’ve not seen one message with obscene content or inappropriate language and the level of collaboration, also including exchanging information with the unfiction folks, was tremendous. The puzzles that were supposed to be solved in a week time frame got solved in just a couple of hours.

And it was really fun to be part of that (well what do you expect, I’m a geek!!), at one time we had one Neowinian from the UK streaming audio with great music and live comments about what was going on in the game.

After the game was over we had a chance to join a webcast conference with the Rocketplane folks and learn more about their pioneer work in developing commercial human space travel. Few days later another webcast with the 42 Entertainment folks about their experience and challenges putting the game and events together.

My prize ? I got to join a great new online community with interesting and talented people that openly exchange ideas, experience and information about Information Technology and other matters, and a great demonstration that online collaboration is still alive and a powerful way to get great things done (open source somebody ?) .


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