The "virtues" of virtual communication
As I mentioned before, in order to consider what is possible in this "virtual collaboration center" for T/TAC Online, the design team is going to play with the various virtual communication tools that are available at T/TAC. So we dove right in and decided to conduct a virtual meeting using Adobe Connect. I set up my computer with the various downloads, tested the audio and played with uploading documents for participants to view and sharing my desktop. We started the meeting. Some had our webcams working, which initially seemed pretty cool. Okay, so the video representation of ourselves was about the size of my thumbtip, but at least we could see ourselves, right? And maybe the audio was a bit garbled too. So we decided to turn off our webcams. That seemed to improve the audio quality. I was facilitating the meeting and initially things seemed to go fairly smoothly. Then one person couldn't hear me. We logged off and logged back onto the session. Okay, now we could hear each other again. I shared my desktop so the group could edit a document together. There was such a delay between what I could see on my screen versus what the group could view through the Connect meeting that feedback on what I was trying to edit on my screen was tedious at best. Then someone in the group had to leave. The moment she logged off the session, another team member's audio went out. By the end of the session, I was about to throw my laptop out the window.
So the supposed "virtues" of virtual communication? Right now I don't see any. Perhaps I will have a different opinion if you ask me the same question a week from now. This experience makes me think of the article on Donald Norman's analysis of the failures of the personal computer that we discussed in my performance centered design class. This experience also clarifies exactly how much work we will have to put in as a team to adequately explore all of the limitations of these virtual tools in order to effectively design this virtual collaboration center.