Archive for November, 2009

Attendance or Transactions

November 23, 2009

Recently, we’ve been debating about virtual world technology trends here at the University of Washington. In a recent BBC article, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8367957.stm, there is an argument about the ebb and flow of virtual technologies and whether the attendance and allure is still there. Trends come and go. But, some things remain forever even wrapped around modern technology. Virtual world evaluation depends on what you think is really shiny: communities of people chatting, or communities of people transacting.

My response to the BBC article is that it basically represents classical skepticism about social networking, not virtual worlds. Virtual worlds, as they mature into useful technologies, are more about business engaging in business rather than people engaging with people.  The reason for this of course is sustainability.  How do social networking sites stay relevant. On one hand through illustrious content; but, on the other hand, through economic self-sustaining. We are just getting to know how to use 3D virtual technologies, and the point about virtual worlds in the first place is that you can see others.  And, the salient feature to emerge with this visibility is to identify new ways to conduct business in a global world where we can’t see each other so easily, but must work together.

In the University of Washington’s Certificate Program, we come together to work together every Thursday night, quarter after quarter. We have merged the business of the education outreach for profit, and the research capabilities of the iSchool. We do it on the virtual world platform, and use Second Life to collaborate and integrate many of the technologies that enhance our mission. We do this to conduct the business of education, rather than social networking. After all, our programs must begat other programs.

One of our recent speakers, Chuck Hamilton from IBM’s innovation center supported the notion of using virtual worlds (be they their 40 islands in Second Life, or OpenSim, and or Active Worlds), saying IBM has to look at virtual worlds seriously in order to provide global collaboration in international languages supporting over 400,000 employees. They leverage the 3D environment to create co-located workplaces that represent multiple cultures and enable people to envision their experience working together. And, Hamilton says they have to get it right first before offering it as a service to their millions of customers. I would conclude for BBC that this is going on in many different organizations, ie., building on the virtual intranet before launching out to the extranet. That was the true lesson of the World Wide Web. If you don’t experiment and try out these environments inside the firewall where BBC can’t see all the work place networking going on, then you’ll never see how large enterprises are going to scale, or how their innovation will be enhanced by co-creation, and how they leverage  inevitable 3d interfaces to remain relevant and lucrative. Social networking isn’t necessarily set up to manage competition. So, a lot of what you don’t see is because lots of companies don’t want you to see it. Yet.

The real question is what are virtual worlds doing that is impacting the way business is being done and how do we capture and measure that. The ability to make money and provide better services and products to customers is what comes to mind. In short, technology to make money, not technology for social activity takes time to mature and time to emerge. Linden Lab, like it’s predecesor Netscape, has chosen just to get it out there and let people get inspired. So it is they who are poised first to make money and help others make money. Whether it’s them or not is to be seen.

But, I’d pay attention more closely to the individuals in the environment who are already succeeding at that. The old stories of American Apparel coming in and out of Second Life is so old news, I wonder where BBC is spending their research dollars. My advice is take a deeper look at how the federal government is using virtual worlds, at emerging health care solutions in virtual worlds, at universities innovating in every department.  Yes, there is a generation perdue, but there is a shimmer on the horizon that looks more like an enterprise than a water cooler.

Chuck says, “I wondered what BBC might call success anyway”.

  • The equivalent of more than USD1 billion has been transacted between Residents in Second Life, who purchase virtual goods and services from one another. The in-world economy grew 94% year-over-year from Q2 2008 to Q2 2009. Now at nearly USD50 million each month in user-to-user transactions, the Second Life economy is on an annual run rate of more than a half billion US dollars, making Second Life the largest virtual economy in the industry. http://www.massively.com/2009/09/22/linden-lab-says-second-life-huge-shows-numbers/
  • WOW is larger. The estimate of the value of Virtual labor, that is the teaming and hours spend collaborating and working in these spaces is even larger.
  • World Bank ranks at least 22 countries in the world with equal to or smaller economies than this.

2b3d Activities

November 16, 2009

2b3d has been up to quite a lot since it aired quietly behind the scenes. We have been working in the Enterprise, Small Business, Academia, and the Government. Our objective has been to create professional communities and augment their expertise in virtual worlds. We embrace our clients with a very high level of personal attention and literally live with them in virtual worlds in order to enable them as residents of practice.

Here is just a few engagements.

Ernst and Young

Ernst and Young examined the interactive interface of Second Life to create a contextually rich game in which auditors have to observe a physical inventory at a cookie plant. The content follows an accredited model to get auditors to experience the common oversights an auditor might make when conducting the observation. The count sheets identified four boxes of 4 gallons of vanilla on the shelves totally 64 gallons of vanilla. Did the auditor realize the count sheet said gallons and the box said liters? Did they move one of the boxes of cookies out of the way to find an obsolete box of cookies? Are there calculations right in the end, and do they have to go back and do the observation again. Time is money in these observations.

Observing a physical audit in-world

Observing a physical audit in-world

PTSD with the DoD

What if soliders returning from the war in Iraq or Afghanistan could come into a world where they could learn about behavioral issues they might be facing? What if they could see a clinician, take an assessment, use some tools in an anonymous fashion so they might be able to develop a relationship with someone who is qualified to listen and intervene. 2b3d has been working on a research project to investigate such possibilities. Soliders could immerse themselves in a world in which they could discover information on their own and feel as though they could reach out to a qualified individual to seek answers to questions and feel confident in their anonymity, and later in their high care no matter where they would located in the world?

Transport yourself to a relaxing place

Transport yourself to a relaxing place

Designing a Fitness Program with a Live Coach on Club One

Only 20% of the population attends health clubs. This number has not grown, although the obesity and other health problems have in the country. How do you penetrate that other 80% of the population. Perhaps technology has a way of helping to change the information experience that someone has when they come to a health club on a website, and get to personal attention, or no interaction, or a lot of information that is so hard to sift through. What does it look like in a health club? What is it like to talk to someone in a health club about your goals? And how do you avoid the intimidation of all those hard beautiful bodies? How does the equipment really work? Well, a 3D visualization of a health club, its people and its programs might have an impact on individual choice.

Detailing how a lat pull machine works

Detailing how a lat pull machine works

Virtual Information Behavioral Environment Research at the University of Washington

2b3d is examining how people make decisions about how people acquire information in Second Life on medical islands and on political islands. The VIBE project’s goal is to better understand how people go about seeking, evaluating, and using information to solve everyday information  problems in immersive virtual environments. We explore how people address everyday life information problems in Second Life—how they go about seeking, evaluating, and using information to solve everyday life. We are interested in determining the nature of information problem solving in Second Life and ways in which the 3D virtual environment facilitates or constrains information problem solving. Our aim is to inform the design of virtual information tools and services that enrich virtual world user experiences.

Virtual Information Behavior Environments

Virtual Information Behavior Environments

NextIT

Working with NextIT the development company looking AI technologies, 2b3d worked to visualize how to hook up an entertainment system from the point of view of the DVR system itself. With the vision of accessing information from a database, we prototyped an environment in which users could work together to hook up the system.

Working at the level of the information - hooking up a DVR

Working at the level of the information - hooking up a DVR

Graduating the First Students to Achieve a Certificate in Virtual Worlds

Randy Hinrichs and managing partner, Janice Cowsert of 2b3d, made history recently by creating a curriculum in virtual worlds and graduating the world’s first 15 virtual world students in a ceremony in Second Life. The curriculum was academic, rigorous, and resulted in identifying the competencies for virtual worlds. The first quarter examined how to select and use a virtual world – identifying avatar identity, IP management, cybersecurity, document integration, Web 2.0 interactives, and how to incorporate into business, education and non-profit. In Quarter two, the students learned everything about design, development and project management. In Quarter three, students developed a full working sim – part Digital Photography course in an Air Balloon, and part Non-Profit Sustainable Seafood organization.

UW Class 2009

UW Class 2009

Rosedale Hits it Out of the Park

November 16, 2009

1 Billion users. I want 1 Billion users. Often called a rounding error in a large software company, one billion users. That might sound glib, but it really isn’t. Are the billion users paying customers or not, bottom line. Let’s characterize the population who might make up the 1 billion. Are they spenders, or are they the ones receiving the benefits of the redistributed wealth. They are likely pedestrians. They fashion themselves for free to look like Angelina Jolie or Chris Evans and yearn to be on the next cover of a Virtual World magazine. But open up a Facebook page so they can market themselves as if they were on the cover. They are ex-pat Gaia junkies and they come into virtual worlds to spend about a dollar, likely for cooler hair. They are likely not the explorers who pay up to $300 a month for a quarter of a server and are considering the several 10s of thousands to secure their world behind the firewall. These numbers seem much smaller and the standards for them are at greater stakes. Conversely, the billion are not the spenders, they are the receivers – and the standards required to keep them interested in virtual worlds are what’s really subject for discussion here. It is the standard of identity.

In the abounding world of redistributing wealth, the San Francisco Odysseus is wrapping its mind around open source with a guarantee to set us free, after they’ve heard the siren call and been wooed into believing everything they hear. But once they get off the expensive Second Life island (if they ever will), and give up all the freebies, free clothes, free VoIP and free meeting places, an evil question of capitalism pops into mind. Who’s going to pay for the billions to stay on line? The open source community, although a wonderful idea, has always made me strangely nervous. In the free worlds, everyone is going to build content, build applications, build the realm and leave it open so everyone can access it and grow it. It seems like they’ll make money on it, but the bottom line, Linden Lab owns the operating environment it all runs on and everyone has to pay the Linden tax to operate their open source solutions. For some reason, I can never wrap my arms around this answer, until I started to look at Obama’s political practices. The people who are going to pay for it are you. Free, which is what open source assumes, is going to be funded by you. You must pay for the price of innovation, and you will not collect on that innovation, you will give it up for the common good.

This is big. Instead of competing with WalMart, Amazon, or even Live.Com, the virtual world is going to get you hooked on buying image, identity and community.  I think I overhead a couple of Microsofties in the 90s having this same conversation. One said,  let’s go in their and round up the standards and by the time anyone is really paying attention, we’ll be dominant in the market and there won’t be any reason but to log onto our identity servers. And when people catch on, let’s call it open source and lets even put our research on line so people can get access to it and put their research on line as well. It’s all so Boy Scouts. Beumused, I keep thinking, who is forgetting that we came here to lay a stake to a standard so everyone benefits (or dare I say profits).  What standards are those? I’m just looking for exactitude, Phillip.

Reductionism in the article suggests that the innovation is minimal scaffolding for the development of the rich content experiences.  The minimal scaffolding. That sounds so Leonardo da Vinci telling Pope Gregory this ceiling should take me just a couple of months.

Now this is the real example, so we understanding what Phillip is supporting in open source. He suggests an offering to translate up services in Japanese as an example of minimal scaffolding for open source. I like it but it sure doesn’t mean anything. There are no IP issues right up front, there is unlimited resource of consent (because they’re your ideas), and it’s as open as sound in the forest (so who’s going to argue). If  you just want to speak Japanese and understand it -you enter into a virtual world, hook up with a Japanese person, walk around and point to things on various islands and repeat after me over headphones “this is a booku”. I’m missing the open source and innovation standards thing again. Is it because someone really kind wrote a translator in Second Life that Linden now incorporates into its platform – clever open source isn’t it. The Japanese Angelina Jolie is pretty, she me a book (well access to a URL website where I could buy a book), and showed me  some Japanese things (well some images on Google.com), and I spoke to her with my free IP (well just words that came to me when we were talking).

Now, let’s get back to frameworks, open source and how this model is going to make me money. Amazon made some money in my experience, that was good. Linden made some money from the islands where the nice Japanese lady spoke to me in Japanese, and the island owner made some money when I bought the traditional Japanese dress. But where’s my money? I even paid the nice little Japanese lady. Hmm. I’m one of the billion spenders. I get it now.

Now, on the street, I hear its time to hide your good ideas from the development community because the patent lawyers have arrived, and everyone is asking for quick claims and licenses to just have another conversation . The lawyer can be heard saying at the conference, you did of course file for your patent last year, and your part of the virtual operating system, business process and unique programming all belong to you right? Or did you license it to Linden according to their Terms of Service and now it’s part of their Enterprise Server.

Now maybe I’m getting this all wrong, and the open source thingy is all about really grabbing the power of an experiential engine (yourself), and a really good definition of who you are. Are you the open source? Or are you a microtransaction that gets paid based on your expertise on the experiential engine? Is anyone talking about that yet?

We applaud you, Phillip, for the one transparent thing you say here. The complexity and uncertainty of virtual worlds have favored a process where features were developed more in the open and early feedback was able to direct development. And Linden humility stresses that they did feel smart enough to be able to hide their ideas from end -users! Man, let me get this straight, you don’t know you gave up all your ideas for Second Life development because who reads the terms of service for a virtual world. Did you realize that the ideas they were not hiding were your ideas being converted by their standards.

My advise to the read – think of yourself as the backbone of operating systems and monetize your own self expression, and keep it to yourself. Use the virtual world to offer you as a service, and stop giving all your ideas away for free, as you close down your island this month because with the $300 per month that you’ve been spending, you could have bought a car now and gone from town to town and offered your service in the physical dimension. Try focusing on identity as a new form of self expression that can be monetized by you – if you take hold of it and do it right, you’ll win. After all this is just gaming right (….)

Linden Lab’s Enterprise Server: The Happiness Factor!

November 9, 2009

The explosion begins, Linden enters the Enterprise Server rank and file. Of course, they have a superior idea. They put their software behind the firewall. There Second Life already speaks for itself; no one really has to learn about it, or learn the software; it just works because it’s always been there on the open market. It’s so Netscape. The corporate enterprise must worry less about which ports they have open, and who is going to enter through those ports, and just get the social networking space up and running and let the users create all the content. Smart move, Linden!

Of course, there is still the issue of where is all the content going to come from. Traditionally, enterprises have thought this technology could be cool for inspiring the workforce to have meetings, maybe even do some training on-line in a new way. So, they’d contact a solution provider, likely off the Linden Lab website, or maybe from word of mouth, or even better from looking at the existing work of individual companies on line. They’d find someone, start a pilot and hit the firewall.  They’d jump to the next line of defense: the Second Life defectors I like to call them. So much like Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, the lost generation who thought Europe was a better place to be. They went off to explore other virtual worlds: Active Worlds, Power U, Unisfair, Protosphere, OLIVE, Qwaq (now gone native as Teleplace), even some have run over to the OpenSims, all agog about getting a whole bunch of islands for very little.

Yet, Linden moves forward, tripping here and there, sure, but constantly adding something new, something strong, and then they emerge as a fledgling, but a formidable solution. 2b3d recognizes Linden Lab for its innovation and its competitive spirit. We have gone to great lengths to innovate right along beside them. Creating solutions using there tools that haven’t been seen yet. We focus on what hasn’t been done yet, what the virtual world’s can do for the customer in terms of advancing their business, not so much recreating their office space, but more about delivering their service and products to customers in a more personal, high touch way.

We enable warehouses in which users can do real inventory counts, we create work flow to show how broker’s make trades with old technology versus new technology, we demonstrate the size of the component builder to assemble at a more focused detail of composition. We get into the psychology of the health club to change people from the inside first,, and we teach people how to sleep better by building their sleep behaviors right along beside them.

Virtual World Appliances here they come! Solution providers who build Power Point stations and meeting rooms to capture agenda and “next slide please”, great, standardize on those as virtual billfold components. But, if you want to keep innovating, it’s going to be better to get to know your clients production side of the business and start making money with virtual worlds with them. They knowledge management reduces costs, replaces travel, and the water cooler, but these are just the costs of doing business in virtual worlds. The stickiness is in revenue generation with innovators who work closely with their customers, instead of stepping aside for automation.

The new success paradigm: the Happiness Factor.