The use case for the broad adoption of Virtual Reality has come under some criticism lately, and the consumer VR market hasn’t matured as quickly as was hoped but out of the public eye, enterprise VR continues to rack up big wins. Commercial applications of VR are accelerating, as evidenced by the recent Walmart purchase of 17,000 Oculus Go headsets for their Strivr-designed training program. VR can stand in for expensive equipment from planes, to UPS trucks and forklifts. As valuable as these simulations are, the industry still leaves out a majority of Information Workers. Spatial text and information will change that, according to Jason Marsh, founder and CEO of Flow Immersive.
“When William Gibson first defined ‘cyberspace’, he didn’t describe a metaverse full of avatars in virtual reality. He envisioned the world’s information flows,” Marsh told me. “He described graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data.” This idea let Marsh to explore putting symbolic information into VR. Was there a way to intuitively feel the relationships of information in VR? We first saw an experiment Marsh created with all of Hamlet, 180,000 characters arranged in a text sculpture all around me. You can see it here: https://hamlet.flow.gl
“The enterprise is getting so complicated and so complex to explain, and there are many concepts that technologies like Flow can help to clarify,” says Mike Pell, leader of Design and Experimental Projects for The Microsoft Garage. “But the big missing piece in this whole thing that nobody is talking about — almost like an elephant in the room — is that the text is horrible in AR and VR. Flow has the highest quality text rendering I’ve ever seen in any XR application.”
Marsh says he founded Flow Immersive to improve the way people can communicate big ideas. The company looks to solve the slideware problem, namely, that PowerPoint slides just don’t stick. “Back in 2001, Microsoft estimated that 30 million PowerPoints are delivered every day,” Marsh says. “What’s in them? I don’t know and neither do you… we forget. It’s just brain science. When a slide disappears, our brains can’t use our innate spatial filing system, few relationships are made, and it’s gone. Spatial media solves this problem.”
Slide decks contain the defacto language of enterprise: text, diagrams, and increasingly, data. By rethinking the popular term “data story-telling” with a 3D context, what changes? According to Marsh, “Lots of things. Look, it’s all about the why: the first goal is to focus on communicating in a way that sticks. Start with a key idea from your message, create a consistent dynamic virtual environment where the information and data can be explored and manipulated real-time. Data wants to move, to ‘swarm’ into new configurations. People want to interact, to find themselves and what they care about the content. And the content creator wants it to be meaningful and be remembered.”
But it’s all about the use case of key communication areas within an enterprise: training, sales & marketing, and executive communication.
While it fits into a sales and marketing use case, a VR data-story feels more like a “credibility + training + awe & wonder” experience. Flow worked with BlackRock to create a data story that helps to describe how BlackRock analyzes data with both human and AI approaches to inform their decisions. They focused in on three data stories, one regarding brand sentiment analysis of Nike and Apple, and a market similarity visualization. Algorithms are difficult to describe in sales meetings, but using Flow, Blackrock executives are able to better articulate the value of BlackRock assets.
Flow was hired by Cisco Corporate Responsibility to create an interactive presentation of global digital readiness for the World Economic Forum at Davos. Driven off of a spreadsheet from Gartner research, the browser-based presentation (you can see it here: https://app.flow.gl/cisco-dr/) was shown about 200 times in small-group settings of world economic leaders, giving each leader the ability to view their own country relative to the rest of the world.
“In this a 3D scatter-plot,” Marsh explained, “each dot is a city. You are in the middle of the globe and the cities ripple into location around you. Each dot is meaningful: step into Wikipedia or step into a street view to give it context, so you activate your ‘mental filing system.” https://cities.flow.gl/
The only way this will be a reality is if development times and costs are a fraction of the current industry norms. Flow Immersive has recently launched the Flow Editor alpha, an easy online authoring tool to create these WebXR experiences that work across all devices. Marsh says, “The VR industry has an ROI problem. Expensive VR projects with low delivery throughput on gaming PCs are not getting us to ‘EverydayVR’. We need to make the creation process as quick as PowerPoint.” Instead of starting with 3D modeling or with 360 photography, he wants people to start with what they already have in PowerPoint: text, diagrams, and data. https://a.flow.gl
Marsh’s long-term vision is big. He says, “In a world of information overload, more than ever, we need a way to break through with effective communication to really solve the world’s largest problems. Spatial media, along with meaningful data-driven storytelling, can change minds and influence action in a way other media cannot.”