Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

The Future Of Web Conferencing: Good Interviews Roland Piquepaille

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Independent, eclectic, multidisciplinary, witty.

Here is Roland Piquepaille, unique scientist, researcher, reporter, opinion maker and journalist who doesn't wait for the approval fo the Queen to speak his mind out loud.

Roland is one of the high priests of the blogosphere, one very qualified writer and attentive spectator to the ongoing phantasmagoric circus offered by new technologies and their new potential interactions with us.

Roland is in many ways what "WIRED" the magazine, used to be for me: a window at the intersection of technology and social issues, with enough RAM and CPU power to critically appreciate, comment and question the infinite new opportunities brought about by new technologies to change and improve the world we inhabit.

Photo of Roland Piquepaille courtesy of Suzanne Banfi

Elwyn Jenkins, from Microdoc News, wrote the following about Roland on April 30, 2003:

What Makes a Top Blogging Story?

Roland Piquepaille is one of the Internet's best bloggers.

...he has caught our imagination with his simple science stories, sometimes wacky and sometimes absolutely engrossing.

What makes his stories so successful?

...The best blogs, we found, are not those that actually get the most page views in a day, or that get the most links. In fact, the blogs that get the most links are the ones who find the best blogs and then point the best blogs out to the rest of the world.

Roland Piquepaille is often the source site, not getting as many links as you would think for the site that it is, but getting page views that often go right through the roof!

Roland does not have an editorial board, or an editor, he is free to say what he wants, but at the same time, he displays some added thinking to what he is pointing to, and he is a professional scientist who knows his stuff.

A few minutes before this interview started, Roland took me gently by the arm and brought me out to smoke a cigarette in the open. Then he calmly said:
"Robin, before starting, just let me remind you that I'm not an expert about real-time communication technologies. I am a curious spectator but more than that I'm basically just a user."

So, for once, let's hear what the future of Web conferencing looks like from the viewpoint of an actual adopter:

Robin Good: What kind of tools do you think we will see in a year from now? And in three?

Roland Piquepaille: Right now, we are using different tools for different things.

Specialized tools usually do a good job. But sometimes, you would prefer simplicity and integration.

Take for instance, this little company, eDial Inc. Its product was reviewed by InfoWorld on October 5, 2003. Not only it integrates IM and Web conferencing, it plugs into the PBX, adding the phone to the tools you can use to collaborate with your colleagues. Here is how it works.

"Because of the connection to the PBX, users can see if a colleague is available on the phone, in addition to availability on IM. Also, the system allows users to start a phone call or conference call with the click of a mouse from within an IM session. After a participant in an IM session clicks the button, the users in the session will be asked if they want to talk on the phone. If so, their phones will ring and they will be connected via the phone, said eDial President and Chief Executive Officer Jill Smith."

This is the kind of integration I'm expecting for the years to come.

I also think that the massive arrival of RFID tags and sensors embedded into everything will lead to "invisible" communications, meaning not initiated by the users, but by tiny devices in our environment. You can read "The Smart Sensor Web", "SenSay, a 'Context-Aware' Mobile Phone" or "RFID Chips Everywhere" for example.

Robin Good: What do you think is the most misunderstood concept about online collaboration and how it should be like? (That one thing that if done differently would radically change the way think of Web conferencing or real-time collaboration online.)

Roland Piquepaille: Definitively, it is the ignorance of human factors. I worked for US companies in multinational environments. Even face-to-face meetings were sometimes difficult. Conference calls were obviously even more difficult. Web conferencing is better, because you can see the body language of the people you are talking to.

In fact, online collaboration is difficult, not because of technology hurdles, but because of cultural reasons.

Take France for instance. In large meetings, only one person over ten says something, usually because of language reasons in international conferences. But even if the event is in French, people are usually shy or afraid to say something that will not please their management. Of course, this is a broad generalization. But once again, what software companies do not understand is that even if their collaboration tools are good, they can be useless for cultural or cross-cultural reasons.

Robin Good: In which ways are the SOHO and "enterprise" markets substantially different when it comes to Web conferencing, live presentations and real-time collaboration?

Roland Piquepaille: Small businesses want to move fast and need ease of use. They also don't need scalability, because they don't have to handle thousands of employees.

On the contrary, enterprise systems need to handle all kinds of users with different needs and requirements. This means they have to deploy large, bloated and expensive pieces of software. And large projects are not as successful as small ones.

There is another difference. In the SOHO segment, nearly anyone can take an initiative, so there can be a bottom-up approach, meaning that users will better accept new products they selected themselves.

In the enterprise market, even if lots of concertation and committee meetings are taking place, the decision is taken from the top. This is sometimes not well accepted by the end users.

Robin Good: What do you think it would be the ideal business model of the future when it comes to real- time collaboration? And which one do you think will prevail?

Roland Piquepaille: Real-time collaboration needs several things: having the right tools and using them wisely and efficiently.

This means that people must be trained to handle cross-cultural differences.

Before travelling to other countries in Europe, I asked the members of my team to read a chapter or two of "Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in 60 Countries", by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway and George A. Borden.

Robin Good: Can you name three Web conferencing or real-time collaboration tools that you have used and that you think are truly outstanding?

Roland Piquepaille: Within SGI, we were using Microsoft Netmeeting and its adaptation for our platforms.

But even since 1997, we were using real-time collaboration technology to handle remote teams. For instance, an engineer in Detroit and a marketing guy in Stuttgart could work on the same element of a car, alternatively taking the control of the element.

It's also done routinely in oil and gas companies, with a large decision room located at their headquarters, and oil fields anywhere in the world, with their engineers collaborating with the executives thousands of miles away. Of course, the scientific market is very different from the commercial one. Still, the same approach could be applied to the problems of deserting customers in the telecom industry for instance.

Robin Good: Who do you think has got the best shot at developing a technology close to what we really need?

Roland Piquepaille: This market is very young. Small companies can become instant successes.

But established ones have lots of existing customers. So, I don't see a clear winner.

Anyway, security needs are very important: if you want to collaborate on fiscal budget for next year, discuss what is the status of your competition, or talk about your next concept car, you want secure communications.

Right now, people -- and large companies -- are using online communication like they uses phones. They don't realize that their conversations can be intercepted.

So, companies which will create products with non-intrusive security processes have a better chance to be successful.

Robin Good: How are the enterprises changing with the growing adoption of these new collaboration tools?

Roland Piquepaille: Once again, there are different cultural backgrounds. But the growing numbers of telecommuters show that companies are changing. This started with technology companies. I don't have to be at my headquarters to develop or debug a piece of code. But if I want the finished product to be a success, I need to talk with prospective customers, preferably future users, and of course, people in my organization.

As a consultant now, I'm working from home four days per week. For large companies, it's also different according to the country. For instance, and to simplify, in the US, managers want to get the work done. In France, managers want to see their collaborators.

Robin Good: What do you think is the greatest obstacle to standardization and interoperability of these collaboration tools?

Roland Piquepaille: I think a new standard for communications is emerging everyday.

The biggest obstacle to standardization is confusion. Take for example XML, XSLT, XSL-FO, eBXML, J2EE, J2ME to name a few. Customers are confused, developers are confused. So people try a tool today without knowing if it will be there next month or next year.

Robin Good: What do you think are enterprise Web conferencing companies biggest marketing mistakes?

Roland Piquepaille: All these companies are talking about confusing technologies and ignore the social aspects.

To take an example in social activities, check the success of, as reported by BusineesWeek in "A Dud in Cupid's Online Quiver?". Without any marketing dollar, the service has attracted almost 2 million customers in just seven months. This proves that if your product has a clear goal, people will embrace it. I must admit the service is free. It might become less attractive if people need to pay to use it.

Anyway, when you attend a conference organized by a company like Oracle or Sun Microsystems, you are faced to a deluge of acronyms during each presentation.

Does it help customers to take a decision?

Not at all.


Based in Paris, France, Roland Piquepaille is officially a computer consultant who specializes in visualization. Mr Piquepaille has worked for SGI and Cray Research and has been publishing a weekly English-written newsletter about the high-performance computing industry in which he is very knowledgeable. His professional CV is fully accessible online.

Find more information about Roland Piquepaille:
Personal Web site:
Weblog: Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends

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    Readers' Comments    
    2004-09-28 09:33:22

    John L. Caracciolo


    I am presently posted to the U.S. Embassy in the Republic of Armenia. The photo of Roland Piquepaille in the above article is courtesy of Suzanne Banfi. is it at all possible that you could provide me with the contact details of Ms. Banfi.

    Kindest regards,

    John L. Caracciolo
    Ofice of Economic Restructuring and Energy
    U.S. Embassy
    Republic of Armenia

    posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, November 5 2003, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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