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Nortel… The Good News: Web.Alive

Ok, ok - it’s pretty hard to ignore the bombshell news that’s on front pages everywhere today in Canada. It looks like Nortel is going to seek bankruptcy protection, perhaps as early as today. This may be a minor story in the U.S. business press, but it’s a big story in tech/telecom, and a HUGE story here in Canada.

You don’t need me to tell you what Nortel means to Canada in terms of pride and joy, although that’s more of a distant memory these days. Today’s news isn’t totally unexpected, and Nortel is hardly alone in facing hard times. Still, it hurts, and sadly takes Canada down a notch or two in the scheme of things. Of course we have tons of successful and promising tech companies here, but if you mashed them all together, they would still be far behind all the things Nortel has accomplished over the years.

Seems that every time I have an interesting post to write, I get trumped by something like this. I had a great demo call with Nortel yesterday, and I’m probably the only one out there writing something positive about the company today. As big as this morning’s news is, I don’t care. My story is better, and I’m gonna give you some good news about Nortel! :-)

So, what’s Web.Alive? Last week I posted about Web.Alive and Nortel’s announcement at CES with Lenovo. If this is news to you, then you should start with that post. Web.Alive is Nortel’s virtual collaboration platform, and was developed with help from DiamondWare, a company I know quite well that Nortel acquired last year.

Lenovo is their first commercial customer, and yesterday I got a personalized demo in the Lenovo eLounge, led by the key Web.Alive leaders, namely Arn Hyndman and Nic Sauriol. This is a very cool experience, and if you’re a gamer you’ll find this a lot of fun. I’m not a gamer, and it took a little getting used to, but it’s a pretty intuitive experience. Everyone has an avatar—which can be personalized, of course—and once you’re in the eLounge, it’s like being in Second Life. You can wander around, talk to people, ask questions, and most importantly, check out all the Lenovo laptop computers there for sale.

As you read this, you’re getting a mental picture, which is fine, but once you experience this and interact with others in the lounge, you’ll get a much better understanding about what makes this a great application. For example, when I start looking at the features of a particular laptop, the bottom of the screen dynamically links to a spec sheet in real time off the Lenovo website. So, while I’m getting a close up 360 look at the laptop, I can also review the speeds and feeds as well as the special price if I buy it during my eLounge visit.

At one level, this will really appeal to people who love the virtual reality experience, and those who are into shopping at 3 am—wherever they are on the planet. That’s pretty neat—and a great way for a manufacturer to extend their retail presence without building standalone stores. It’s also an option for people who aren’t comfortable dealing with sales people in person, or people who want to project a different persona when out there shopping.

On a one-to-one level, Web.Alive makes a lot of sense. But it gets even more interesting when you think about the collaborative possibilities. During the demo, I was taken to siderooms where you can have private meetings, or presentation rooms, where in depth demos were done for a seated audience. People are free to drop in and out of conversations—just like you would in a real store. The more people there are in the eLounge, the greater the chances are you’ll talk with others who may share your interests, or who can help answer your questions. I could go on, but you really need to see it for yourself. You can check out the Lenovo eLounge for yourself here, although I don’t know how much you can really experience without a guided tour.

Beyond selling laptops, I should add that Web.Alive has all kinds of other applications. First and foremost, sure, it’s a great 3.0 platform to help companies grow their sales online. It’s also a natural forum for training, distance education and meetings. At Nortel’s analyst day back in May, they showed us how Web.Alive can be an effective substitute for video conferencing, and even telepresence. Taking this a step further, they envision Web.Alive replacing the PBX altogether, and becoming the native platform for all forms of everyday communication.

That last point to me is the BIG IDEA, and the next curve for companies to jump to when thinking about communications. There’s a lot of exciting innovation happening here, and while it’s still ahead of what the market is ready for, I think it shows vision for where things are going and what Communications 3.0 is going to mean.

To me, that sure looks like the mojo Nortel had when they were BNR, and Cisco wasn’t on the map. Perhaps this is too little too late, but Web.Alive may well be the most valuable asset Nortel has that can be a game changer for someone who gets it. Am sure the Nortel watchers have much higher priorities today, but if you want to look beyond the smoke to see what will have value tomorrow, this is where I’d be going.

This post was published this morning on Jon Arnold’s Analyst 2.0 Blog.

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates

Jon is also co-founder of Intelligent Communications Partners that focuses on the smart grid space.

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