North Carolina State University's Dr Mitzi M. Montoya and Dr. Anne P. Massey, Dean's Research Professor of Information Systems at Indiana University have developed a system for measuring how 'real' virtual environments are. Rather amusingly it is called the "PVP scale" (for Perceived Virtual Presence). Yes, we know the acronym is a rather amusing one, and no this isn't a joke.

The interesting thing is what is being measured. 'This is an important issue,' Montoya says, 'because we believe that if users feel they are 'present' in the virtual world, they will collaborate better with other members of their team – and the more effective the virtual world will be as a setting for research and development or other collaborative enterprises.'

Well, we can't argue with that, really. The interesting thing is that what makes a virtual environment more 'real' and effective according to Montoya is immersion.

Now we've written quite a bit on the topic of immersion as a basic tool of augmentation in the past, so we're already inclined to agree with that position. Things that break the metaphor, or diminish the sense of presence are generally to be avoided in order to obtain maximum utility from a collaborative virtual environment. Mostly any debates around augmentation revolve around exactly what does and does not shatter the overall metaphor.

'An increased sense of presence in the virtual world', says Montoya, 'leads to better comprehension and retention of information if the technology is being used for training purposes, and trainees are happier with the process.'

Montoya was named the Zelnak professor of Marketing Innovation at North Carolina State University in January last year (the professorship itself was established by Steve Zelnak, hence the name). An expert on managing concept-to-market cycles, Montoya's project-based marketing innovation management class provides hands-on experience with new product development and innovation management for MBA students as well as graduate students from the colleges of textiles and engineering.

Massey is Professor of Information Systems at Indiana University and part of research projects including "Measuring Collaboration Quality" and "Innovation via Virtual Worlds", the latter funded by Xerox.

'Now that we have developed the PVP scale,' Montoya says, 'it can be used to determine what PVP levels are most conducive to training, collaboration or other applications.'

The applications of the PVP scale are obvious, as it would enable environments (and user interfaces) to be better tailored to the purposes that they purport to target. We are hoping to see more information about the scale itself, how it is determined, and how common virtual environments rate on that scale. The results should be enlightening.

This article was originally published on Massively.