Martin Geddes

Hypervoice: Better than being there

I was recently on a crowded London underground train, where I saw the following advert for GoToMeeting:

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The core promise in this ad is “use our product, avoid the travel.” The implication is that online collaboration may be an inferior experience to an in-person meeting, but hey – “Traveling is awful:  just look where you are now.”

The question it begged for me is: what if online collaboration was better than being there?

This highlights the nature of the opportunity around Hypervoice. The GoToMeeting offer is that an online meeting allows you to meet with people who aren’t at the same place: “without going anywhere”. After all, the clue is in the name! What it lacks is the ability to meet with people who aren’t available at the same time:  “without going anytime”. If I’m in New York City and the rest of my team is in Hong Kong, it’s inevitable that someone is staying up late or getting up very early to make these meetings happen.

Let’s ignore for a moment that most such interactions will be in addition to face-to-face meetings, rather than in place of.  We can see in this advert the fundamental, conceptual limitation people are working within. We are trying to produce an experience as if we were in a meeting. It is taking the idea of telephony – transporting voice over a distance – and applying that to other interactions, like sharing a document.

What it lacks in ambition is the ability to exceed being there face-to-face. With Hypervoice technology, we can instead begin to think about breaking the limitations of the physical world and space. How can we have interactions that multiply our ideas along more dimensions: available over a wider space, time, audience, and set of business processes?

The physical effort of moving our bodies means that our concept of a “meeting” is typically something that lasts at least 30 minutes or more, since it’s not worth moving around for less. In a Hypervoice world, our patterns of working can and will change. We will see others who share a common issue as being available, or having made a comment, step into a virtual workspace for maybe a few minutes, move a process forwards, and then retreat. It’s neither a phone call nor a meeting, but a more fluid way of working that isn’t tied to a calendared moment in time.

As this trend continues to unfold, virtual interactions will become better than being there. In a decade from now, this advert will appear anachronistic. The idea of merely wanting to substitute for going to a meeting will be like advertising a phone call instead of writing a letter. We’ll have moved on.