Teleplace gone; 3D ICC steps in to help customers

First of all, an apology.

In May, we wrote that Redwood City, California-based virtual worlds company Teleplace, Inc. open sourced its platform in order to grow its market — and that the company would continue to offer paid hosting and support, and continue working on new features.

At least, that was what Teleplace CEO Tony Nemelka told us.

But what happened instead is that, that very same month, the company laid off most of its staff, outsourced its support, and began taking other steps to shut down the company entirely.

Last week, vendors got notices that the company was liquidating, and the company’s website was no longer active.

Teleplace is now dead, completely dead, an ex-company. Its metabolic processes are a matter of interest only to historians.

But it’s software continues to live on as OpenQwaq — and, even better, development is continuing.

Since Teleplace released its software as open source, any vendor has been able to run it on their servers and offer hosting to customers. But the vendor that has been doing the most is 3D Immersive Collaboration Consulting, LLC, or 3D ICC.

Julie LeMoine

“We have advanced the baseline beyond where Teleplace had OpenQwaq,” 3D ICC CEO Julie LeMoine told Hypergrid Business.

For example, Nemelka told me that Teleplace had a Web viewer in the works — normally, users have to download separate software.

Well, 3D ICC actually built the viewer, LeMoine said, and it’s already available to customers as a proprietary browser plugin for Internet Explorer.

“OpenQwaq is still in place and well due to the work 3D ICC is doing,” she said.

In addition, 3D ICC has begun to provide support and hosting to many former Teleplace customers, and has added new customers, she said.

“We are the Red Hat to OpenQwaq, if you will,” she said.

Prices and services

3D ICC provides fully hosted OpenQwaq environments for its customers, both shared and dedicated. In addition, customers can also download the software and run it on their own servers.

3D ICC also provides support.

And the prices are 40 percent of what Teleplace used to charge, she said.

Which, according to what Teleplace told us, was $50 per user per month for the hosted version and $100 per user per month for support for the on-premises software — according to Nemelka, much more support was required when companies ran the software themselves, instead of letting Teleplace do it.

Avatars collaborating in the Teleplace environment. (Image courtesy Teleplace.)

She liked it so much she launched a company

LeMoine originally learned about Teleplace while she was a vice president for advanced collaboration and engineering research at Fidelity Investments.

“I worked with every immersive world an enterprise could work in — from Project Wonderland [now Open Wonderland] to Second Life to ProtoSphere.”

She decided she liked Teleplace’s system the best, she said.

Teleplace is a high-end product, designed for enterprises, and includes many back end features needed by large companies, such as support for corporate directories and Sharepoint integration. In addition to Fidelity, customers included Chevron, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force, and Stanford University. According to Teleplace, there were hundreds of enterprise customers.

LeMoine herself has a long history of working on enterprise technology. In addition to her recent five-year stint at Fidelity, she was president and CEO of UCHow, Inc., a collaboration software company, for six years.

And LeMoine’s high-tech background goes all the way back to ARPANet — she established security standards, guidelines and protocols while at MITRE in the late 1980s and in the 1990s. MITRE manages federally funded research and development centers for the defense department.

And she’s not the only high-powered staffer at 3D ICC.

Ron Teitelbaum, formerly the immersive 3D virtual world specialist at Teleplace, is now the 3D immersive collaboration expert at 3D ICC. Andreas Raab has also moved over — he used to be a system architect at Teleplace.

They also have David Smith on the board of advisors, the guy who originally created the Open Croquet platform that Teleplace built upon.

3D ICC is a completely separate company from Teleplace, LeMoine said. However, as a result of providing support service to Teleplace customers behind the scenes, those clients were already familiar with its services when Teleplace closed down.

And 3D ICC won’t be brought down by the same issues as Teleplace was, she promised. “We don’t have any funding problems at all.”

“Teleplace missed a round of funding, and when you’re that size, and you miss a round, you close the doors,” she explained. “It was a glitch. It was a funding glitch. They were a good company, they had customers. It was such a horrible thing to happen.”

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

12 Responses

  1. And to give credit where credit’s due — the original inspiration for me to start tracking this down was Karl Kapp, who wondered about whatever happened to Teleplace. And then Alphaville Herald, which wrote about the liquidation:

  2. Hmm. 40% of ridiculous is still ridiculous.  The pricing structure of Teleplace was outrageous.  When I saw it I doubted they had a future.  I’m really glad the software lives on.   I don’t for the life of me see what makes it “high end”.  I mean cheap cardboard avatars sliding instead of walking?  So there is a way to present slides and other application windows?  This should not be that hard to do from any application window using media on a prim in opensim and SL.  So what exactly does OpenKwaq offer that makes it “high end”.  It seems not very compelling the few times I have been at such an event. 

    • I was also disappointed with their avatars when I had a tour — but this is a problem with many business-oriented environments. What makes it high end are very detailed security policies, integration with corporate directories, Sharepoint support, automatic avatar provisioning, application sharing, document sharing, etc… Teleplace didn’t fold because the prices were too high — corporations were happy to pay the prices, and the company was growing. And for these types of customers, good-looking avatars were not at the top of any must-have lists.

      This is not an environment you would use to create a virtual world, in the sense that Second Life or OpenSim grids are virtual worlds. It’s not an environment for socializing and games, and is missing elements that would support those kinds of activities.

      It’s mostly an environment for corporate training, collaboration, and prototyping.

  3. @facebook-100000693617592:disqus  re avatars – there is a growing selection of humanoid avatars in OpenQwaq, and there are the means to create custom avatars. For example Ron of 3dicc has a custom avatar, and our common friend K is making one.

    I and many others prefer the standard “cardboard” avatar though, because 1) the cursor on display screens is color-coded with the color of the avatar, so you can see who is doing what, and 2) the standard avatar wears a webcam video feed on the “face”, or a picture if the user does not have the webcam on.

    The relative importance of the avatar depends on the user. For example, for me it is not very important, and the other features that @mariakorolov:disqus mentions are much more important. But I understand that avatars are important for some users, and I am sure that custom avatars in OpenQwaq will become easier.

    Re 3dicc, I wish to thank Julie, Ron and the rest of the team for their really excellent support to our telexlr8 talk program

  4. @facebook-100000693617592:disqus
     re “40% of ridiculous is still ridiculous.”

    These days
    we expect everything to be free on the internet, but we should realize
    that this will kill all small providers and leave only Google and
    Facebook standing. Developers must put food on the table, and food
    is not free.

    • Giulio, Seraph —

      Two different audiences here. Free is great, when you have a commodity product, when you can support it yourself — or have a community to help you — and when you have all the hardware and bandwidth that you need to run it. 

      So anyone can download and run OpenQwaq for free (or OpenSim, or Open Wonderland).

      But other folks don’t have the hardware and bandwidth, don’t have the personnel to support it, or who want a custom product. 

      I personally have both free, at-home OpenSim *and* a commercially hosted mini-grid. The free regions are for playing, practicing building, creating OAR files — I usually don’t even bother setting up the port forwards to allow hypergrid, but if I do, I can only support a handful of visitors at the most on my connection.

      The paid regions are for company meetings, public events, and — soon, I hope — a hyperport. These require a higher level of availability, bandwidth, and it’s nice to have a pro around to do the upgrades, backups, and fix things if they go wrong on the servers. 

      Also, the $50 per user per month was a ballpark figure for a small-ish deployment of Teleplace — the price went down as the total number of users went up, i.e., they gave a bulk discount.

  5. Ener Hax says:

    hey i know of Qwaq! if it’s the same as i know that came out like three years ago!

    regardless, Ms. LeMoine’s offering is vastly different from OpenSim and is more of a business solution so her prices are very good (remember that Linden Lab’s Enterprise was like $55,000 per year!)

    the corporate world is vastly different from most of the OpenSim community, so it’s crazy to criticise her pricing. the market will dictate pricing and i’m sure she has thought long and hard on it

    if you want free, get! =D

    good luck Julie! =)

    • It started out as Open Croquet, which was a framework for building a virtual environment, more than a virtual environment itself. It was missing a lot of the user-friendly stuff that’s needed to have an actual working environment.

      Teleplace — originally named Qwaq — built their product on top of that, adding all the bells-and-whistles that corporations needed. I guess they decided that “Qwaq” wasn’t a good fit for corporate sales!

      Then last spring they open sourced the whole thing and named it Open Qwaq. 

  6. Hi Maria,

    I heard through the grapevine about this post.  So I thought I’d shed some further light on the topic.
    Plain and simple, Teleplace was shut down because, despite extensive efforts, the board
    of directors was unable to find a buyer for the company.  Lack of interest was largely driven by pessimism about the 3D immersive technology market in general.  Teleplace was further hobbled by the fact that the founding engineers decided to build the product using Smalltalk and Croquet.   In the eyes of potential acquirers, Smalltalk and Croquet presented insurmountable hurdles for modifying the code base to either integrate with other applications or add features they felt were important for the long-term
    commercial success of the product. 

    Teleplace was unable to continue to operate as a stand-alone entity largely for the same
    reasons stated above.  The inability to secure additional investment was a byproduct of that, not a cause.  The creation of the OpenQwaq project—an initiative I personally championed—was a gift from the governance body of the company that should be applauded.  It both avoided operational disruption among the customer base and enabled an ongoing development model that may, over time, overcome the hurdles presented by the architectural decisions of the founding engineers.  It also supports an adoption timeline that is turning out to be a lot longer than anyone had anticipated.    

    In the IT industry, every failure brings new opportunities for success.  I wish the OpenQwaq community much success in creating a thriving environment for the computing concepts that so many of us in the 3D community have championed for so many years.         

    All the best,

    Anthony Nemelka
    former CEO of Teleplace

    • Thanks, Anthony, for your update. I hope you keep us posted on your future plans — especially if they involve other 3D projects.

      And thanks for not simply shutting down the software, as some vendors do. I’m sure your customers really appreciate that.

  7.' 3D ICC Julie says:

    Hi Maria,
    Interesting development at 3D ICC, we purchased all of Telepace’s IP early this year and now sell a commercial release with a greatly enhanced baseline. Still supports the features customers’ loved but we have added so much more, including support for SIP, support for the JAWS engine, browser clients, grouping mechanisms, etc.
    Great enhancements and going strong here!