Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Knowledge Media Institute here at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes. The Head of the Centre for New Media, Peter Scott, kindly showed me around the lab and told me about some of the many interesting projects they are running there, such as the Making the News project and the Xtreme Webcasting project. Apparently, my Moblogging Jokkmokk colleagues and I share some experiences with the Xtreme Webcasters, in that we have all tried blogging in thick gloves, but I have to say doing so while climbing a mountain does sound a bit more extreme than from a freezing market.
I was also shown some examples of projects in which they experiment with the notion of presence. For instance, one of the PhD students, Yanna Vogiazou, recently finished her PhD, in which she has combined virtual and physical presence in games like the location-based multiplayer game Cititag. At KMI, they have also developed different platforms with the notion of presence in mind, like BuddySpace and Hexagon. In the latter, you are represented by a video image which appears in a grid together with the images of the others (or of their empty offices if they happen to not be present at the moment). The platform facilitates synchronous voice and text chat, and thus provides an advanced instant messaging and presence indicator service.
The physical environment at KMI is also quite impressive, with a large area for demonstrations and many plasma screen displays. They also have a big hall where they webcast seminars, and in order for the online audience to get a chance to participate more actively in these, they use the Hexagon platform. This is similar to what we do in HUMlab, where we live stream our seminars and let distance participants interact via text chat. Our online audience is not represented by video images, though, but the mere appearance of their names in the list have a similar affect, in that their presence is indicated to both the speaker and the audience in the physical lab. Maybe we should try having video links as well at some point, to see how this might affect the dynamics of our seminars?
You can read some more reflections in my blog, Emerging Communications.