Wonderful prescence

Robert X. Cringely thinks that the next technology killer app will telepresence. That’s this year’s name for video conferencing.

HP have a system that costs $300,000 to set up with fees of $18,000 to operate. You get a special room with HD displays and cameras, a fast internet connection and support. HP developed this with Dreamworks. It was designed to support the post-production process.

Mr. Cringely goes on to suggest that Apple might sell home-telepresence as their next consumer killer app. iMacs and portables have screens bulit in at the moment. Apple have the software and marketing expertise to sell the idea to the general public.

The thing I miss about full-time work is regularly spending my days with people I like. Chatting about random subjects. Giving them feedback about their work and lives. Telepresence will work for many more people when it gives us the social element of working with other people in person.

I think that the key to telepresence, making working from home much more like being in the office would be using a dedicated screen and the addition of a second camera. The first camera would be in a dedicated screen next to your main monitor. You could even use a autocue/prompting-type mirror to line up the person on the screen with the camera that’s watching you. This would be the normal personal interaction camera. I think having a seperate screen would help people talk to each other more comfortably. People don’t usually look directly and continuously into people’s eyes as they talk. They like to cutaway to other things in the room.

A second camera would emulate the non-verbal negotiation we do when we decide whether the person we’re looking at is in a state where they can be talked to. This camera would be positioned at 90 degrees to the conversation camera, behind the user. This would be framed as a mid-shot – showing the person from the waist up. This is the sort of view you get when walking past someone’s office, or looking over at their desk in an open plan office. The view that helps you see whether someone is free to talk. Also the view that can tell you if they have time for general chat, or are only free to talk business.

Once we have those extra channels of information, it’ll be a great deal easier to work from home because you won’t be missing your friends at work.

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