FYI: Telepresence is not “new”

May 19, 2008

Cisco is pushing Telepresence hard as “the next big thing” and a lot of people are buying into the hype and referring to it in language like “new” and “next generation” technology.

I have news for you. Telepresence has been around for decades, at least in research circles. It used to be called Videoconferencing and it is usually justified on the basis of increased productivity or cost-cutting as a direct result of a presumed reduction in travel. Except it turns out it doesn’t achieve those benefits.

And it’s not because the implementations haven’t been good. There have been some magnificent systems put together (at incredible cost), with high quality video, multiple cameras, synchronized whiteboards, and all sorts of cool hardware and features.

We see solutions claiming to provide technology that substitutes for face-to-face communication come up over and over. However, no one seems to ever stop and look at the facts, the research already done, the long history of failure in past attempts, etc. It seems we are doomed to repeat this history forever. Its too compelling – intuitively we know it must work.

But it doesn’t. I mean the technology works wonderfully – but it doesn’t achieve the stated goals of increasing productivity or reducing travel expenses. I’ll make this part one and end here, continuing this theme tomorrow.


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