Saturday, February 16, 2008

Virtual World Analogies (plus a lot of hot air and good old fashioned RL BS ...) "The Analogical Divide and the Future of Virtual Worlds: "Ginsu Yoon followed up to discuss “The Analogical Divide and the Future of Virtual Worlds.” When we discuss virtual worlds, we usually speak in analogy and metaphor. Yoon’s favorite analogy for virtual worlds is the Worldwide Web. The other big analogy out there is the comparison of virtual worlds to the world. “You absorb this analogy so deeply, that sometimes you forget it’s an analogy,” said Yoon.. “You start to pull in your knowledge from the world, sociology, economics, etc., and it’s very powerful.” The differing analogies have different strengths. For Yoon, the Web model has strong predictive power. You can look at what happened with the Web over its history and make educated guesses about where virtual worlds are going. The world analogy has a very powerful descriptive ability. It’s easier to explain the experience in terms of powerful experiences that people have had in the real life. “The Web is a very, very small section, not just of human history, but of your life,” said Yoon. “The world makes it easier to understand.” From the Web model, it makes it easier to look at business predictions on models, interoperability, usage patterns, regulation. “These are really simple questions,” said Yoon. “You just look back at the Web and see it happen again. It’s incredibly obvious. It’s incredibly dull to keep hitting this, which is why I think a lot of people just touch on this and walk away, but it’s still my way of looking at this to see what’s going to happen.” It falls short, though, to describe emotional weight, user expectations, and the scale of social interaction. You can have experiences at a real, human scale. But this divide isn’t that controversial. Where it goes wrong, says Yoon, is when you try to take the analogy from one side and use it to explain the other side. “One thing that I think is a fallacy is the Muddy Well fallacy,” said Yoon. “When you have someone who has been deeply involved in the Web for a long time and look at MUDs as communities, you tend to remember what that community meant to you and assume it has the descriptive power to look at today. With all due respect to those guys, I don’t think it has the power to look at what the Well or MUDs did and describe virtual worlds.” This “inductive fallacy of description” uses the Web to look at emotion. The “Weather Fallacy” goes the other way. It’s a deductive fallacy of prediction when users look at how compelling the “feeling of being in the weather on the beach and watching the sun go down as the same thing as the real world.” When users try to look at the degrees the virtual Sun takes up in relation to the Earth and see it fall short, they start fretting about the virtual ecosystem. [NB: Yoon’s impressions of those that wall into the Weather Fallacy are faster and funnier than I could get down here. Well worth watching the video.] “The area I bash on for the most on this is economic principles,” said Yoon. “When you say all of the things I understand about economics apply here. But I’m going to pick on politics this time. When users say, ‘I look at this TOS and it’s like the constitution and it’s incorrect and users are going to rise up out of this oppression and fight back!’ that’s over-reaching.” There will be regulation, but you can’t use typical politics to model predictions. That doesn’t mean Yoon doesn’t see the emotional impact. He predicts that there will be an increasing trend toward a human scale of interactions, but he still thinks that if you’re looking for business models, interoperability, and user adoption, the Web is the way to go. When asked for a post-mortem on the open-sourcing of the client, Yoon said “Open-sourcing the client had a lot of different technology and business goals. From the start, from a business point of view, the hope was to see people take that and make interesting commercial and personal applications. I think that has borne out incredibly well.” On the server side of open-source “We’re already seeing interesting reverse engineering open source examples of Second Life-type experiences. I don’t know if I understand a lot of what could happen in business goals and models, but we’ll see.” When asked about to still ensure the ability to play: “Our point of view continues to be that if you allow as much creativity as you can and consumer-level tools, people are enormously creative and will make use of the environment you give them.” The perennial question: “If virtual worlds are analogous to the Web, what year is it?” Yoon: “This is the favorite parlor game of people on my side. Is Linden Lab more like Prodigy or Netscape. Compuserv or AOL. My personal guess is somewhere between ’95 and ’97.”

Liveblogging MetaverseU: A Conversation with Christian Renaud, Reuben Steiger, and Byron Reeves about Work

"... the second session of MetaverseU featured an informal conversation between Reuben Steiger (Millions of Us), Byron Reeves (Stanford), and Christian Renaud (Cisco) about the future of work. Reeves researches game-like applications of technology to improve working environments, Renaud helps lead Cisco's development of technology applications for dispersed collaboration (and users it), and Steiger has worked in the virtual world long enough to see the effects first hand. “The opportunity for these worlds to be entertaining pales in their opportunity for work,” said Reeves. “If we could figure out how to entertain a couple thousand call center employees and keep them in a virtual world while they were working and they stayed around for three months longer at their jobs, I think we’d have a multi-million dollar business on our hands.” Steiger admitted that this might be the dullest topic of the day, but pointed out that while many people look at enterprise solutions as an inevitable train bearing down on virtual worlds and questions revolve around “when this is going to happen,” it’s still harder to ask “if this is going to happen.” The benefit of virtual worlds, said Renaud, is the possible serendipity of meetings. Work doesn’t go on in conference sessions, but in the halls. Unfortunately, though, no one has quite found that tool to make that happen. “Something the industry needs to understand is to put yourself in your customers shoes,” he explained. “They have a lot of risk in taking this technology on. They might get a lot of benefit, but there’s the risk that this technology isn’t going to be there tomorrow. We need to, as an industry and as customers, put a lot of work together to make this more of an affirming cycle.” For Steiger, one way to approach the question is to look at how Second Life is being used—or not used. “My gut feeling is that it’s being used a lot for work right now,” he explained. “However, it’s being used by small businesses that are virtual in nature, have employees all over the place, and don’t have to adhere to corporate IT policy. If you look at the numbers, tens of thousands of businesses [from academic teams, service spaces, making virtual shirts, just collaboration, etc.] are probably using it and would speak very evangelically. Where it falls down, is that there’s no hosted solution, it doesn’t work behind a firewall, and it’s really hard to have an avatar that looks like you. That’s an important factor for business.” Renaud pointed out that larger businesses are using Second Life in ways it was never intended to be used, and now the criticisms are focused, perhaps unfairly, on why Linden didn’t anticipate that. “There should be a rush of people trying to fill that gap now, though,” he explained. “There’s no one problem meant to fulfill all the use cases. No one is 100% happy with any of the platforms out there.”
At a certain point, though, people still need face-to-face meetings.

Decentralized Work - “If you look at the literature on the future of work without concern for the topics of the day here, my colleagues will tell you that declining costs of communication are enabling decentralization, democratization, and engagement of employees,” said Reeves. “From that comes the conclusion, and it’s true, that half the people at IBM and Sun aren’t in their offices today. It’s just still hard to get brainstorming and efficiency and the juices flowing.” Part of the problem is that businesses are ignoring the potential fun of work. The things that happen in worlds—dressing up as a bunny, dancing, etc.—can have a positive influence on the bottom line for companies. In running a company based on virtual worlds, one of the things Steiger discovered, though, is that remote employees were “appreciably less happy. I think it says less about virtual worlds and remote collaboration than it does about humans.” Part of it, said Renaud, is the intimacy of the cube farm. Employees “catch up” on a minute-to-minute basis. Technologies like Twitter, email, blogs address that, even if they can’t entirely replace non-verbal cues in face-to-face communication. The immediate use case for virtual worlds in the enterprise, said Steiger, isn’t dealing with his clients and partners. 70% of his business is with people he’s never met. The difference is in an employee-to-employee relationship. A hosted, behind-the-firewall solution could make that easier.
There’s no solution, though, to take an avatar and information from that environment to an extranet connecting to partners and then to the Internet for potential customers.

Crossing Domains - One issue that comes up is that some people are simply better at doing business in different environments. When Linden Lab was hiring liaisons for Second Life, they’d find vibrant, successful communicators in-world who shied away on the phone. “The question really is, ‘Who cares?” said Steiger. “Who cares if someone is uncharismatic in real life if they’re successful in what you need them to do. The phone interview may just be a weird anachronism.” It’s not specific to virtual worlds, though, said Renaud. There are always examples of individuals who are personable in person and passive aggressive over email. The instance of virtual worlds is just a new take on it.

Why Not Just Use Video Conferencing? - “As a small business owner with remote employees,” said Steiger, “we’ve struggled to get a solution that allows 10 different people to video conference. That’s the apples-to-apples comparison and it doesn’t exist. If it does exist, there’s still positional expression.” If being in the same place is important, the next big technology is IR consumer-level cameras, he said, that allow users to track their facial expressions. Renaud disagrees. While there’s importance for emoting, facial cues, and gestures, the more important change is that you can’t bump into someone on a video conference. “If you’re going to have a one-on-one talk, I’ll video conference,” said Renaud. “It’s much more high fidelity. There’s the facial cues. But if I don’t know you, how am I even going to start talking to you.” One solution is to mix video with avatars. When an avatar speaks, that’s when the video plays. The rest of the time is a spatial environment where accidental meetings can occur.

What Can We Learn From Video Games? - “You can’t understand the primitive engagement that comes from puppeteering a cartoon character that looks kind of like us,” said Reeves. “When you look at the physiological response when an avatar gets touched, there’s a complementary reaction in the user. Brining those responses in for an ROI presentation is tough, but those responses that we see in the lab give me confidence that the bandwidth for communication is a value add for the engagement.” For Steiger, the engagement measures in Second Life is the proof. The average user engaged in a campaign spends 20-30 hours with a brand. When you translate that to interpersonal communication, it’s significant. “When you look at the enterprise, the question is how do you change we work to allow for playfulness and engage people in a way where they’re not oppressed by work. I hope it’s less about the technology enablers—those are either solved problems or not rocket science. I think it’s going to be more of policy and social problems that are addressed in the big boardrooms.”
The scary thing for executives, he says, is that guild leader gamers could be reporting to stockholders. “IBM just did such a survey [looking for those gamers in management] and found 1000s,” said Reeves. As the gamer generation is growing up and leading the workforce, game mechanics become much more appealing than spreadsheets for getting work done. “To do that is not going to be quick in the enterprise,” said Reeves. “One strategy we’re looking at is to look at the recipe for why these worlds are engaging or why games are engaging and see what you can extract. Can you take the economies from the virtual environment? They’re fun and we know they light up the same neurological regions in the lab as real money does. They leave behind self-representation and 3D environments, but they’re worth looking at.”

What’s Coming Up? And More Video Games - The future of work, at least in part, is making it more entertaining, said Renaud. Warcraft may be fun, but it doesn’t provide a place to build a product. 2D worlds, 3D worlds, wiki worlds are all options. Almost more importantly, he explained, is looking at how to get information to people. As we digitize more and more information, platforms like Netflix find ways to get information to users, but it’s not enough for the rest of the world. A human-centered approach is the answer. Creating a rich presence (across multiple platforms), lets us exchange recommendations and process the exchange of information more effectively. Likewise, as user interfaces improve, enterprise adoption will become easier. For Stegier, the answer to what enterprise technology excites him, the answer is “nothing.” There’s exciting products in virtual worlds, but “I find it heartbreaking as someone who goes to companies to resist change and continue to work in ways that just makes me depressed. It’s inefficient, it’s full of covering your own ass, it’s depressing.” From the perspective that everything is a game, the designers of the game of work were just unaware of what they were doing. “They created a shitty game that no one wants to play,” said Steiger. “If games were like work is, when you died on your Gameboy, it would explode and scar you for life. You might never play again. There has to be permission to fail.” Reeves, in his role at Seriosity, is working to help create better games for work. “When you explicitly try to make what’s implicit, a game with rules, the key is the alignment of the reasons why you play the game with what makes the organization succeed,” he said. Renaud points out, though, that that’s easier for structured jobs. Most of us in the room don’t have those jobs. Most work, according to Reeves, still fits that model. “You’ve got to look at the size of the pain there,” he said. “The pain of collaboration at Cisco is a legitimate pain, but that’s not nearly as bad as what I think about my call center job after nine months. If you could juice that up a bit, whether it’s the game mechanics or the virtual world, that’s significant.”

Bold Prediction Territory: How Will We Work? “There are engagements that you just have to go face-to-face,” said Renaud. “But for everyday work, you can do it anywhere. There are two factors. As a generation, people are just getting more and more actualized and spiritual. People are maybe more family focused or spiritual.” That’s why Renaud moved to the Midwest, and similar trends are happening everywhere. But it’s still the beginning. Millions of Us isn’t that decentralized, though. Out of 30 full-time employees, only 4 are remote. “There are a subset of tasks that could not be accomplished with fully decentralized teams,” said Steiger. “Anywhere with a broadband connection should theoretically be fine. In the area of predictions, the stuff that will get worked out is that people read Malone, deploy Malone, scale, and see the cracks. The truth is that there are some basic laws of human nature that really drive how we work together. That’s the question of how we can represent that.” As we go virtual, recognition gets lost, at least in the early stage. “If I were to make a weak prediction, some company will get this right and kill everyone,” said Steiger. For Reeves, the bigger prediction isn’t simply about decentralization, but democratization. People have more choices on where to work, who to work with, etc. “The expertise that will really drive success is the ability to coordinate, “ he said. While Stanford has more expertise in science in medicine, it doesn’t have the expertise of a major company to turn that into pills to be sold. “That, whether it’s in a guild, virtual world, or anywhere else, is what’s interesting,” he said.

Beanies Battle Webkinz!

Ty, the company behind the Beanie Baby fad of the 1990s, is going head-to-head with Webkinz. Beanie Babies 2.0 are now hitting stores in an attempt to compete with the hugely popular Webkinz, which bombarded this area about a year ago. The concepts are similar in that they both feature a plush animal with a tag attached that holds a secret code allowing the child free access to an Internet site where the toys' virtual versions can socialize, play games, decorate their dwellings and change outfits. There are about 15 of the new Beanies that sell for between $6 and $7. They're found everywhere from pet and toy stores to grocery stores. Oakbrook Terrace-based Ty said it was time to take its plush animals to the next level. "Kids today are so intelligent and computer savvy, so pairing an interactive computer world with something cuddly seems like a natural fit," said Ty Chief Operating Officer Scott Wehrs. It's still too early to tell if the new Internet-based toy can compete. "They're just now being recognized. It will take a while to grow," said Pam Shields, owner of three Ginny's Hallmark stores in Naperville. She first started carrying the animals three weeks ago. Steve Zdunek, owner of Learning Express in Naperville, said the new Beanie Babies are "doing well." But Ganz's Webkinz are "outstanding." "You've got such a wave going with the Webkinz right now. They're the dominate force," Zdunek said of the nearly 50 Webkinz and 28 smaller LittleKinz. Other retailers agree. "The standard has been set by Ganz," said Rich Derr, owner of Learning Express in Lake Zurich and Barrington. He added that Ty isn't causing a slowdown for his top seller. Derr sells at least 50 Webkinz products a day. In addition to the stuffed animals, which sell for between $9.50 and $12.50, there's an array of accompanying Webkinz merchandise such as clothing, mouse pads, charms, pencil cases and purses. Derr believes there is a market for the Beanies. "They'll be a player." Ganz's communications manager Susan McVeigh declined to comment on the newest competition. She said they are constantly changing the Web site to provide new features, including games and new decor children select online to decorate their virtual rooms, homes and yards. Ganz realizes there are others looking to capture the tech-savvy youngsters. Some retailers, including Catherine May, owner of Abby's Hallmark in Batavia, feel the Beanies are too similar to Webkinz. "The Beanies aren't going over as well as I expected," May said. In contrast, she said she sells about 75 Webkinz a day. The craze hit without advertising. Word of the popular plush toys spread from child-to-child at school. It's more than kids. Shields finds that moms come into her store looking for their own Webkinz. Shields admits she first logged onto the Webkinz site to better describe it to her customers. She now signs onto Webkinz World when things quiet down in the evening to play a game of Cash Cow and feed her virtual pet. "It's part of my evening repertoire," she said. It comes down to the quality of the Web site, said Derr from Learning Express. "Kids like assortment." He added that the Internet connection is a new category of play that's here to stay. "This isn't a fad or a trend. It's a new way kids play," Webkinz' McVeigh said.

Professor Ondrejka's History of Second Life Fascinating!

Areae's Raph Koster: Virtual world cash to go to entertainment

STANFORD, Calif.--If one thing is clear about the immediate future of virtual worlds, it's that every toy company is going be setting something up. That was the prediction of Raph Koster, the co-founder of Areae, which has created a virtual world platform called Metaplace, at a meeting of the Metaverse Roadmap here Friday. Koster got up to speak to a group of the leaders of the virtual world community and announced he was going to be the day's cynic. "We (were asked) to talk about what's exciting," Koster said. "But I'm pretty sure the answer is that there will be 10 more kids' worlds...How much of the investment dollars is actually going to be going to making more versions of Barbie Online?" The point, Koster continued, is that people who are expecting any immediate implementations of augmented reality technology or any of the other futuristic elements that came out of the Metaverse Roadmap project aren't likely to see the light of day anytime soon. "The interesting question is, how much are commercial pressures versus idealistic pressures going to effect virtual worlds in the next couple years?" Koster asked rhetorically. And the answer, in large part, is that the bulk of investment dollars are going toward entertainment properties these days, Koster argued. And what that means, for at least the immediate future, Koster added, is that the most development energy will be going to creating virtual worlds aimed at kids--in large part because those worlds attract big audiences, and revenue. It's not that the technology isn't ready, for some of the best-case technological scenarios, Koster added. He said that, in fact, some of the predictions for various "lifelogging" technologies, or things that can record just about anything that goes on around someone, are ready today. But because the entertainment companies are more interested in creating large, captive audiences, we're much more likely to see an almost never-ending stream of walled-garden virtual worlds centered around entertainment than the "dream of the metaverse" in the near future. Of course, Koster--who does seem to be a big fan of the futuristic predictions of the Metaverse Roadmap community--couched his comments under the rubric of informed cynicism. He implied that the best vision of the technological future of the metaverse and virtual worlds is actually coming from science fiction these days.
So, he said, if you want to see the best vision of where things are going, at least on a technological level, read the novels of Vernor Vinge and Charlie Stross.

Friday, February 15, 2008

IBM Launches Free Multiplayer Online Game, PowerUp (

IBM (NYSE: IBM) is launching a free multiplayer online game, PowerUp (, challenging teenagers to help save the planet "Helios" from ecological disaster. The game is part of IBM's TryScience initiative and will be launched at Engineer's Week 2008 opening on February 16 in Washington, D.C. The game, which can be played alone or together, features a planet in near ecological ruin where three exciting missions for solar, wind and water power must be solved before sandstorms, floods or SmogGobs thwart the rescue. View video news release: As co-chair of this year's Engineer's Week, an annual effort to promote engineering careers to students across the world, IBM devised the 3D virtual game to engage kids and educators in engineering, energy, and diversity awareness. Online video gaming is on the rise, with kids spending greater amounts of time online in fantasy play. PowerUp aims to use kids' interest in fantasy virtual worlds to encourage them to learn about engineering principles by riding over rugged mountains in buggies to build solar towers or searching through grim junk yards to repair wind turbines. They will also learn about energy conservation by the choices they make in completing their missions. The game also features non-player characters that represent a diverse cross section of the population, to be role models to encourage every young person to consider a career in engineering and they act as guides for the game. "Innovation is the key to competitiveness in today's globally integrated economy, but just when we need it to skyrocket, interest in math and science has been declining in the United States," said Stanley S. Litow, VP of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs and President of IBM International Foundation. "American competitiveness demands more interest in math and science by students. Virtual worlds and 3D are an unexplored resource in education. We asked our best researchers to incorporate the use of this technology into traditional educational curriculum." U.S. jobs in science, technology, engineering and math are projected to grow 22 percent through 2014, faster than the average at 13 percent with computer specialist occupations growing 30 percent. But, U.S. grade school students continue to lag behind other developed countries in science and math. Along with the game, there will be classroom lesson plans associated with the energy transformation topics and an interactive module where kids can learn about 3D technologies to build virtual worlds. To ensure a safe environment, "avatars" will use phrase-based chats to interact in missions. "Learning through games and simulation is the way to engage tech-savvy students today," said Michael Mino, Director, Center for 21st Century Skills @ EDUCATION CONNECTION. "If we have any hope of saving the 'real world from real problems,' we must embrace teaching students through computer games and virtual simulations."
IBM innovators applied their knowledge in 3D and virtual worlds to develop the game in about 16 months. Nearly 200 teens in the Connecticut Innovation Academy served as advisors to IBM researchers during the game development. The TryScience team from the New York Hall of Science worked with The Tech Museum in San Jose, California and the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the activities and game content. Engineers Week is a coalition of corporations, professional organizations, and government partners to help create interest in the engineering profession with students. IBM is co-sponsor of Engineers week running February 17-23, but events are held throughout the year. IBM has been an active supporter of Engineers Week since 1990, and last year about 5,000 IBM employees volunteered their time in classrooms to speak with students and provide hands-on science experiments."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Back to School

Sounds a lot more fun and interesting than the drivel I studied; "Welcome to the USC Annenberg Program on Online Communities" USC's pioneering Charles Annenberg Weingarten Program on Online Communities (APOC) is the first master’s program in the world to recognize that online communities are the future of our economic, political, and social lives. They are the most successful application of “Web 2.0” concepts, and are increasingly popular as well as critical to the success of a wide array of industries. According to Alexa rankings, more than half of the top ten most frequently visited websites revolve around social networking or media sharing. The hottest sites include YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Hi5, and Orkut. Additionally, many traditional mass media, such as newspapers and television, are incorporating new media and social networking features as part of media convergence. Online communities also hold the promise of new forms of social communication, increased political involvement, better support networks, cutting-edge advertising, and new economic models for news, video, and music. It is in this world that APOC students learn, gain firsthand experience, and then create an online community, attaining a master’s degree in just a single year. At APOC you will join a select group of graduate students to focus on the effective management, production, and power of online communities. Students spend a fast-paced year working with and learning from a diverse student population, world class faculty, industry professionals and acclaimed "gurus". Classes address a range of topics, from design and management to emerging technologies, industry innovations and science of persuasion and affiliation. As a student, you will gain the knowledge, insights, and technical experience to gain the depth and breadth of knowledge necessary to take your place among leaders in this quickly evolving professional discipline. To achieve this, you will intern at some of the most distinguished and innovative companies in the nation, such as Yahoo, MySpace, the LA Times Online, and PBS New Media, as well as exciting new start-ups and nonprofits. For the latest list of internships, please click here. To apply for APOC, please go here. For more information, please visit or contact Karen North at

Comverse Brings Second Life to iPhones

Comverse has been demoing a version of Second Life on the iPhone at the Mobile World Congress this week.Instead of trying to run the full app on the iPhone's hardware, Second Life is actually being run from a separate PC or server and streamed to the iPhone, which can then be used to send commands back down the line. Comverse is looking to use the same technology for other applications as well. “On IPTV you can actually do most of the things you can do on the PC because the screen is very large, and the remote has lots of keys, so you can jump, fly, write a message,” Daphna Steinmetz, head of Comverse Innovation Labs, told Reuters. “On the handset it’s a little more limited — it’s hard writing long sentences. It’s more just popping in, seeing who’s visiting your area.”

Here Come the Kittens!

Sanrio Digital announced today the launch of a closed beta for a virtual world based on its incredibly popular Hello Kitty brand. Hello Kitty Online will feature locations based on the Flower Kingdom, London, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow and more. Integrated with the community portal of Sanrio Town, the world will have ties to blogs, email, video sharing, and Sanrio merchandise sales as well as NPCs based on the characters of the Hello Kitty world. While the world seems to have a large social component, it's being billed as an MMORPG with customizable avatars, guilds, skill systems, and a player economy. There's combat and puzzle solving, but also crafting, houses to customize, and puzzles. Targeted at females in their pre-teens to twenties, the downloadable world is free to play, but will monetize off of the Item Mall, which "allows players to use real money to purchase special items and upgrades for characters."

Metaversum, Simutronics, and Stratics Add Vivox for Voice

Vivox announced today that its voice chat software, previously integrated in Second Life and Icarus (among other platforms), has been added by Metaversum to its upcoming world Twinity; Simutronics to its HeroEngine MMO development platform; and Stratics to its MMO portal that connects 500,000+ gamers. "The Vivox Network brings unprecedented scale and support to gamers globally," Monty Sharma, Vice President, Product Management and co-Founder of Vivox, said in a statement. "Our focus from day one has been to give game developers new tools to increase immersion and build community. We are pleased to add these companies to the Vivox Network.

Is Second Life Like Amsterdam or Las Vegas or More Like Denmark or Singapore

From Wagner Au's New World Notes: "Lindens Limit Libertarianism: Billboard Advertising Restricted, Continuing Rollback of Laissez Faire Policies" The libertarian era of Second Life is quickly coming to an end. The latest in a long series of regulatory moves was announced by Jack Linden yesterday. Starting today, you'll probably begin seeing giant ad towers like this one in Gryzdale disappear. The new rule prohibits advertising on the Second Life mainland which impairs a neighbor's view, especially if it's done "to deliberately and negatively affect another resident’s view so as to sell a parcel for an unreasonable price"-- i.e. pressuring that neighbor to sell their land from sheer eyesore coercion. It's a necessarily vague prohibition, requiring a surprising level of hands-on regulation by the Lindens. It's also a reversal of Second Life's experiment with laissez faire society, which I track roughly from the beginning of 2004 and the sale of land, to the mid-2007, when the turnarounds began. Consider: in 2005, when a landowner began peppering the world with ugly billboard towers, Residents protested. However, the Lindens generally refused to intercede. "It's not for us to decide the relative merit of construction in Second Life," Community Manager Daniel Linden told me then. That hands-off stance has apparently changed. The same could be said of other libertarian principles, like legalized gambling, unregulated banking, and permissible sexual extremes. In 2006, for example, Philip Linden refused to intercede against Ginko, the SL bank with a high rate of return, which many Residents accused of being a Ponzi scheme. That same year, in response to Residents protests against age play (i.e. simulated avatar-based pedophilia), Robin Linden said it would be forbidden "[i]f this activity were in public areas"-- implying that it was still permissible in private. Casinos and other gambling institutions, of course, were rampant over the land. The reversals started last year, continuing into this one. Age play and other vaguely defined "broadly offensive" behavior was universally forbidden in May 2007. Gambling was prohibited in July 2007. Unregulated banks were banned this January. This February's prohibition against "ad farms" was preceded by the debut of a Linden Department of Public Works, also overseen by Jack Linden, "all about improving the experience for residents living on or visiting the Linden mainland." Of course, some of these decisions were at least partly motivated by concern over real world laws, but the pattern is still hard to miss. The Lindens are restructuring the mainland into a communitarian society it once was in 2003. Expect more prohibitions to go into effect soon, also aimed at curbing other libertarian externalities-- bot farms, for example, and camping chairs. Does this mean the Lindens are rejecting libertarianism as a failed experiment? Maybe. Just as likely, they're doing this mainly in preparation for the time when the Second Life servers will be open sourced. That's when the libertarians will move their unregulated banks, controversial sex, and other banned content to adjoining nations. The Lindens, by contrast, will offer a loosely regulated mixed economy, a market and society regulated and beautified by the Lindens. Philip Linden has memorably said he's building "a country" in Second Life. That country is beginning to look less like Amsterdam or Las Vegas, and more like Denmark or Singapore.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ING & ABN Leave Second Life for Active Worlds?

"Following American early adopters Wells Fargo, AOL and Pontiac, the Dutch exodus from Second Life has started. Banking corporation ING, who initiated the Our Virtual Holland sims are withdrawing from Second Life.... Destination unknown. Residents of the OVH are now trying to make the islands survive the departure and it looks like they will be able to keep the community alive. The ING HQ in Second Life has been torn down though. The second Dutch banker in Second Life, ABN Amro, is said to be leaving as well. The Word on the street is that they're disappointed by the level of interactivity they've gotten in Second Life and are moving on to a dedicated world on the Active Worlds platform. For many of us this won't be a big surprise. Many bankers have entered the world of Second Life in 2007, but few have been able to find a concept which comes close to their real world activities, even though virtual economies and in particular that of Second Life are among the fastest growing economies in the world."

The power of micropayments

"As you know, more and more multiplayer games are going free. It’s not like we don’t introduce enough of them here or anything. And obviously I preach the beauty of the asian business model based on the micropayment strategy. Well, seemingly, US game publishers are starting to realize this same thought process. Electronic Arts just recently announced that they will be releasing a game along the same lines and maneuvering one of their games in the great Battlefield series to the micropayment model for markets in Europe and the Americas. It really becomes a win-win solution if you get right down to it. If you can make a game fly and make it balanced? Someone with a free account can just as easily be the top player in the game as the next guy that pays for each and every little bit. But the obvious amazing thing is the amount of things you can introduce into a game as purchased weapons, or special abilities, or even just clothing that makes your character all the more cool, or suave. And a dollar here and a dollar there add up pretty darn quickly when you’re accounting for hundreds of thousands, or even millions of players. On top of that, a free online game doesn’t require a game developer to fear about piracy. Who’s going to pirate a free game? No one. That’s who. It just makes perfect sense to choose this and it seems that certain American corporations are starting to realize this untapped wealth. Unfortunately, there is a bit more to it than just this. Many asian game publishers have acquired enough wealth that they have are also looking to expand overseas with American headquarters for distribution. So, the micropayment market in the West may actually get overrun by competition very quickly. Good thing that Electronic Arts is a giant in this realm and is able to put a bit more umph behind it. Hopefully some other companies also jump in before the going gets too rough."

Oh oh ... ING exits Second Life

ING exits Second Life (Dutch banking group ING is shutting down the online community that it launched in screen-based virtual 3D-world Second Life a year ago.) ING launched its virtual mini-state, called ourvirtualholland, in February 2007. The aim of the site was to build an online community of creative and entrepreneurial people. Residents were able to set up a new business, build their own housing and design new products. But, in a statement on its virtualholland Web site, ING says it will have closed down its activities in Second Life by 1 March 2008. The bank claims that its merger with Postbank is the main reason for its exit from the virtual world. "We want to change our focus to the merging of ING bank and Postbank. Developments in virtual worlds do not address to that," says the statement. ING is one of a number of financial services firms to have set up virtual operations in Second Life. Fellow Dutch bank ABN Amro has set up a virtual financial advice centre in Second Life, while Germany's Wirecard Bank set up a cyber branch and Danish online investment bank Saxo established an office in the virtual world last year. Last month Linden Labs, the San Francisco-based creator of Second Life, said it was banning all unregistered and unregulated 'banks' from the virtual world. Linden Labs said the policy change followed complaints about several 'in-world banks' defaulting on their promises.
The complaints followed the collapse of so-called virtual bank Ginko Financial in August 2007. Ginko offered a 40%+ interest rate, but speculation among Second Life residents over whether it just a pyramid scheme eventually caused a run on the bank. Ginko reportedly ran out of funds owing customers more than US$750,000 in real money.

Orange Gets it Right - Orange Juiced

The clever fellows at Orange have a great corporate presence in SL (read "Cool Corporate Site With 3D Music Cloud") The island for EU telecom Orange is a community-centric project that gives away free land to Resident developers and features the striking innovation of a Music Cloud. Walk through a named box and a tone or rhythm will become more and more audible. Leave the box and the sound fades away. As cool as this is, nonetheless, some Residents are still skeptical Orange Island can generate substantial community engagement, especially given low resident turnout.

NEC Gets Into SL-to-Cellphone Communication Business

If you're fluent in Japanese, you should be able to visit Tokutoku Pocket Island, attach a heads-up display, and call or text someone's cellphone. Assuming that I'm reading this notice right, that is-- joining British telecom Vodafone, Japanese IT multinational NEC has just showcased SL-to-mobile communication at a Barcelona trade show. There's a lot of potential in being able to call someone from within Second Life, but I wonder how much it's being used. In any case, Tokutoku is a cool and fun build, full of that busybody, futuristic, neon-lit aesthetic that seems distinctly Japanese.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Virtually Engaged - The quest to decipher "Virtual Worlds" and to create a metric for ROI - Op Ed by Michael Wilson (THERE.COM CEO)

Michael Wilson FEBRUARY 11, 2008 - "Virtual World" is a term that can make marketers shudder in excitement or quake in fear. These 3-D social communities have been regarded as an important next step in brand engagement, but their very nature and frenzy of hype has puzzled agencies and marketers about how to use them. In fact, the hype actually generated a mini-backlash of sorts, and some agencies found the results underwhelming, or downright disappointing. On the other hand, 2007 saw big brands like Coca-Cola, CosmoGirl, Scion and IBM participating in existing virtual worlds, while MTV Networks and Disney created their own. In fact, many of these brands are increasing their participation in virtual worlds, either through expansion or re-upping existing engagements. To confuse things even more, research firms and consumers have sent a clear message about their feelings. Gartner predicts that 80 percent of active Internet users will be members of virtual worlds by 2011. All of this puts media and agencies in a really tough place. On the Web, we already have a plethora of ways to engage customers: search engines, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, and an apparently endless selection of blogs. Virtual worlds is yet another social medium to reckon with, and this time it's in 3-D. And, to make things really interesting, since a virtual world's engagement model is far richer than the straightforward 2-D cost-per-impression (CPM) model, we have to invent a whole new way of measuring brand engagement and ROI. On the plus side, marketers can get far more precise information about how consumers perceive and interact with their brands and campaigns in virtual worlds. Indeed, some platforms like Makena Technologies' can report on exactly who interacted with a campaign, for how long and even capture information about how customers are talking about the brand in the world.

In other words, a virtual world has the promise of being able to tell you exactly which customers see your campaign, how long they spend with it, how they talk about it and, ultimately, if they act on it by purchasing a virtual or even a real product.
Once you buy into that promise, marketers face a dizzying array of options to choose from, as there are more than 45 Web properties deemed virtual worlds. There are worlds for children like Club Penguin and Webkinz, worlds geared toward socialization like, Second Life and Kaneva, and worlds with a heavy gaming element like Worlds of Warcraft and Eve. Each world has its own community, economy, policies and politics. Like any advertising medium, marketers don't just have to choose one virtual world. Scion has done many creative campaigns in a number of virtual worlds. The Scion brand fits well within a number of worlds, and the carmaker has worked to create different campaigns within each one, making sure the campaign will fit within the existing community ideal. Once one or more virtual world platform(s) is selected, the hard part arises: actual campaign execution. Far from just buying a chunk of virtual dirt and setting up shop, there are endless possibilities, from selling branded virtual merchandise to virtual kiosks and storefronts to live events and complete immersive experiences built around products. This is the point where the virtual world operator needs to step in to help agencies and brands understand the dynamics of the world to ensure a successful campaign. Like any traditional advertising campaign, success boils down to engagement. No matter how it's defined, it is still one term that resonates in both the agency and operator community.
In virtual worlds, brands have the opportunity to come up with creative ways for consumers to interact with their brands. Though it's a cliché to say, agencies really must "think out of the box" to attract and keep the attention of virtual world members, just as they would for a campaign in the real world. Banner ad models can't be applied; in fact, it would be giving some members exactly what they came to virtual worlds to avoid. You'd guess that these types of immersive, creative campaigns will improve brand engagement. And, for once, the reality lives up to the promise: On average, our members spend about 10 minutes interacting with a brand in the world, compared to an average of 12.16 seconds interacting with traditional online advertising. That's a 6,000 percent improvement, which is even more amazing since it's based on actual data. Virtual worlds are still in their early stages. But with the rapid growth in popularity, marketers and operators alike need to come up with a new metrics to measure ROI and, as importantly, how to monetize it. Existing standards like CPMs need to undergo the same sort of transformation as campaigns and brand engagement: from short, two-dimensional executions to rich, immersive experiences. Michael Wilson is the CEO of Makena Technologies, creator of and technology platform for MTV's franchise-related worlds. He can be reached at

Are Social Networks Last Year's Virtual Worlds?

From VWN; "It's fairly common to talk about how virtual worlds are in the same position as the Web as a whole was in the mid-90s, but after reading a series of articles chilling the hype over social networks in the last few days, I'm starting to feel more comfortable with where we as an industry are. My original title for this was simply going to be "Social Networks Explore Global and White Label Efforts as Ads Fail," but as I started writing about social networks, I thought more and more of the articles I've been writing about virtual worlds over the last seven months. The online advertising market is booming to the tune of $40 billion. According to eMarketer, half of that is directed outside of the U.S. while a full 80% of the Internet-using population is based outside of the States. Social networks are waking up to that fact, with acquisitions, expansions, and translations bringing the leading networks into the European, SE Asian, and Russian markets. "It's a land grab, as well as a form of insurance in case the U.S. market proves itself to be fickle," Marissa Gluck, an analyst at Radar Research, told USA Today. "When you look at Internet use globally, the U.S. is a small but significant chunk. It's also beginning to plateau in terms of growth." It seems like a sound insurance policy. While social networks still have user numbers to make the virtual worlds industry envious (there's user growth at a rate of 11.5%), they're slipping, particularly in regard to the all-important engagement-for-monetization categories. Anyone at the Virtual Worlds Fall sessions discussing "Virtual Worlds in China," the China Recreation District, or "The Asian Market - What We Can Learn," should see the parallels. While Second Life was drawing almost all of the media attention in the West, it was drawing most of the swelling backlash as well. China, on the other hand, was getting ready to launch a nation-wide infrastructure program based on virtual worlds, Japanese was readying social environments targeted more directly at local citizens, and
companies like Centric were looking at partnerships abroad. MSNBC reported on Friday that Comscore has seen the time users spend on networks slip by 14 percent in four months, that MySpace's population has declined a peak of 72 million users in October to 68.9 million in December, and that growth is slowing. "What you have with social networks is the most overhyped scenario in online advertising," Tim Vanderhook, CEO of Specific Media, an website ad-placement company, told MSNBC. That's not to count out the social network space. Predictions for ad-spending are up to $2.1 billion from last year's 155% jump to $1.5 billion. That said, Google apparently isn't making the money that it expected to from its partnership with Facebook, and user click-through rates for ads on social networks aren't nearly as high as they are elsewhere on the Web. Video game company Green Screen stopped advertising on MySpace after seeing only a 13-in-10,000 response rate. It sounds very similar to the discussions that I heard in the summer and that, to be fair, are still very much ongoing. Users don't want to see traditional banner ads slapped across their custom social profiles in very much the same way that they don't want to see spinning billboards plastered across the virtual world landscape. Unfortunately for social networks, attempts to integrate advertising haven't worked out as strongly. The most infamous attempt is, of course, Facebook's Beacon. After stores and websites signed up, purchases and activity were tied to users' profiles. Users hated it. It felt like an infringement on privacy, didn't provide any stronger engagement with the brand, and added more clutter to the Facebook Newsfeed. In an op-ed yesterday for MediaWeek, Makena CEO Michael Wilson tackled many of the same questions for virtual worlds. It often seems next to impossible to gauge ROI, and many marketers still don't really know how to use the new form of interaction. But as more marketers replace straightforward ad buys with ongoing events, campaigns, and branded goods, the engagement for virtual worlds is blossoming. According to Wilson, "On average, our members spend about 10 minutes interacting with a brand in the world, compared to an average of 12.16 seconds interacting with traditional online advertising. That's a 6,000 percent improvement, which is even more amazing since it's based on actual data." Finally, InfoWorld is reporting on the trend of increasing investment and development for white label social worlds. "The flood in this market is due to low barriers to entry from easy-to-deploy software, an influx of venture money wanting to get in on the 'so-net' action and media frenzy from existing social networks like Facebook, MySpace and others," said analyst Jeremiah Owyang. Sound familiar? If not, look at this interview with Exponential from November about the prominence of niche and white label worlds for 2008. While public worlds like Second Life have been seeing backlash for mixed levels of content and lower-than-expected numbers, niche worlds offer specific targets. Of course, InfoWorld is looking at the social network white bubble boom as more of a bubble, and last week saw Linden Lab's Ginsu Yoon call into question the independent success of many of the similarly niche worlds. Many companies like Millions of Us and The Electric Sheep are doing business in both virtual worlds and social networks--it's all social media--but in at least my everyday life, it's more common to meet someone who's clicked an ad for a movie premier on Facebook than participated in a long-running campaign in a virtual world. It looks like that could be changing, though. Regardless, with companies like Scion looking for deeper engagement with trendsetters inside virtual worlds than in impressions on social networks, it's starting to feel almost as if social networks have reverse leapfrogged virtual worlds in the hype cycle. (Welcome to my 2007, Facebook.) This is only an impression after a flurry of articles (read: major caveat), but that's the same way that most people were forming impressions about virtual worlds throughout the course of last year. For those of you that deal with both social networks and virtual worlds, do you get the sense that the tables are turning? As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Dizzywood Profiled in Gamasutra

Dizzywood, a new online world for kids, recently announced that it has secured a total of $1 million in Series A funds, with recent financing from Shelby Bonnie, Charles River Ventures, and individual investors. The company was founded by former CNet exec Scott Arpajian, who built and launched, along with Wallop co-founder Sean Kelly and Ken Marden, a game designer and children's book author.
CRV's Susan Wu explained the potential she sees in Dizzywood: "While there has been a flurry of new virtual worlds for kids, Dizzywood is building a meaningful property by developing online environments that extend beyond coinage and consumption, with a strong focus on merit and achievement. This meaningful content has universal appeal to both parents and kids."

Contextualizing The Minigame Format - The free to play Dizzywood's stated goal is to add real life values and skills learning to the kids' online play space. Given that there does appear to be a glut of new online products for kids, all of which claim to be unique from one another but are more difficult to differentiate in a wider-lens view, we asked Scott Arpajian what's different about Dizzywood. "We looked at what's out there; most of the sites in the space take an approach of menu-driven game environments. You'll have the homepage of the site, and you the basic model is that you accumulate coins by picking from a menu of one-off games -- little Flash minigames." Arpajian says Dizzywood's objectives are different: "We've taken an approach with more of a deeply engaging, activity-driven experience. We've wrapped world in a deep backstory, so there's a bigger sense of place with a lot going on behind it." Creating a sense of place is an intriguing goal when dealing with this market, and speaks to a very specific motivation for creating a virtual world, as opposed to the type of community site that Arpajian describes. He says, "Kids, particularly in the age range we're targeting, have tremendous amounts of imagination. And we live in a world now where they're very comfortable interacting online and using computers, so there's not the same sort of barriers in place when talking about older age ranges, in terms of comfort level with the medium. Kids in particular are naturally curious and imaginative, so creating a virtual world in a game for them is really a natural fit."

Creating a Sense of Community - How does Dizzywood balance its objectives of engaging kids through fun and having real-world values play a role in the game experience? "Activities are woven into the storyline so that it creates a more engaging environment where kids definitely feel that they are driving things along at their own pace -- but they also understand there's a lot going on, and a greater sense of community involved." Arpajian says. "We do have mini-games built in, but rather than being one-off games, they are games that vary with the storyline.They're designed in such a way that the playability or difficulty changes as a child becomes better at it." Arpajian explains that the Dizzywood team is able to track how often children play, how well they do at various activities, and then respond accordingly. "The philosophy there, over time, is to create an experience where kids don't become easily bored," he says. "We want it to be that kind of engaging experience that lasts over time. Obviously, it's also important for business to keep them feeling higher levels of achievement."

Merit and Mutuality - He continues, "Quite a lot of worlds in this space sort of hit upon the notion that kids like to accumulate items. Most worlds focus on purchase -- it's a very commercial environment, where the idea is you acquire coins and spend them on things. We have that – that’s part of what we do. There’s a huge element on our side of growing through merit and achievement." However, Arpajian says kids' most desired rewards in Dizzywood can't be gotten by simply grinding at arcade minigames for coins. "Half of the total items that you can accumulate can only be accumulated as rewards for achievement-based goals. Rather than accumulating coins and being able to buy anything, most of the really desirable stuff lies behind an achievement wall. You have to obtain certain scores in activities, or help non-player characters in the world to be able to get certain items. We’re changing it in such a way that kids really have to do a whole bunch of things and work together towards objectives." Some missions require cooperation and others exploration -- the way Arpajian describes it makes it sound quite a lot like Warcraft for kids. So we asked him about the hard-to-draw line between virtual worlds and MMOs, with so many of the latter's game-based motivational elements beginning to slide into the former.

MMOs Versus Virtual Worlds

"I think we're waiting for someone to come up with a catchy phrase that describes a hybrid between a virtual world and an MMO," Arpajian said. We definitely borrow a lot of game mechanics from more classic MMO gameplay elements as we look to defining and building a steady gameplay rhythm, to have lots of different pathways for kids to follow. Certainly with the level of story involvement, it fits more classic MMO approaches. We borrow from what we like." On the flip side, though, it is a children's audience. "You have to look at dynamics outside of MMOs to really get kids involved, and to work within a balance that the kids will enjoy," Arpajian said. "There are certainly aspects of virtual worlds as well. There's some similarities, but obviously there are enormous differences in terms of age range, tone and execution." The big difference in a kids' world is that there's no combat -- kids progress by cooperating with each other on missions, and the superpowers they learn and share allow them to progress past obstacles together. That collaborative element, as well as merit-based gameplay, is what Arpajian hopes will differentiate Dizzywood from other play spaces targeting the same audience. "The philosophy of our team is, we want to have kids see rewards from working together towards shared objectives," he concluded.

Red Knight creating virtual world for kids

There is nothing new about this folks. And by 2009 it better be unbelievably good or it is already game over! "A video games developer has struck out on an unusual, first-of-its-kind project: creating a virtual world geared exclusively to children. Red Knight Learning Systems of Richardson has been selected as a creative partner by London-based Ludorum, which is developing a new children's character called "Chugginton" best described as a new Thomas the Tank Engine that will be used for multifaceted children's entertainment including toys and games. Red Knight is creating virtual world prototypes, original artwork and learning-based games for the Chugginton's debut in the interactive arena. Known as a massively multiplayer online game, or MMO, the game would allow thousands to be online playing Chugginton at the same time. Chuggington will also include children's toys and a television show.
In the game, players will create their own train avatar, or choose from one of the characters on the television show. Parents set the learning experiences their young players will experience, and how they will be allowed to communicate with others in the world. "Because it is geared toward this age group, there's going to be a lot of limitations that parents can put on there," said Red Knight President and CEO John A. Purdy. "For instance, if you want to say hi to another person in the game, you don't type in the word 'hi.' There will be a special way to toot the train's horn that everyone knows means 'hello.'" Red Knight's team is one portion of a global network coming together to develop the online learning game. Apart from Ludorum, toy manufacturer Learning Curve, based in Chicago, Ill., and animation studio Shanghai Motion Magic Digital Entertainment, based in China, will also play major roles in its development and roll-out. Red Knight Learning Systems, which opened its doors less than two years ago, is relatively unknown in the video games industry. CEO John Purdy said the studio is one of the first wave of "serious games" studios. Its prior projects include a reading tutoring simulation for Southern Methodist University. Purdy also said the company is bidding to become the developer for a NASA-licensed multi-player game where thousands of people online can explore known portions of outer space together, learning math, science and astronomy along the way. "I'm kind of a space geek, so that'd just be a dream come true for us if we nail that contract," said Purdy. "We're a very strong contender for it." Launch of Chuggington in multiple media formats, including the online game, is projected for the first quarter of 2009."

Virtual worlds generate real litigation

For All the Lawyers Out There - Can you steal something that doesn’t physically exist? Is portrayal of a criminal act in the virtual world prosecutable in the real world? These aren’t trivia questions or a first-year law school essay challenge. It’s part of a burgeoning area of law driven by the rise to prominence of websites like Second Life and Weblo, where participants exchange real dollars for two-dimensional items or artificial real estate, and where they are jealously guarding trademarks and copyrights. The most prominent of the virtual sites is Second Life, and while it may be the playground of thousands of people who have too much time, too much money, and no real life, it’s also enough of a phenomenon for major brands like IBM, for example, to create a virtual presence where they make major announcements in parallel with the real world and showcase their technology and history. As such, about $1 million changes hands on the site every day, and that’s why over the past year it’s also attracted a flurry of lawsuits that have brought the issues of copyright, intellectual property, and property rights to the forefront.
The starting gun was fired last May when attorney Marc Bragg from Pennsylvania sued for $8,000, after Linden Labs, which created and owns the Second Life site, shut down his account. He claimed the company improperly confiscated his virtual real estate holdings and other properties. A few months later, after a judge ruled that Linden Labs couldn’t hide behind its terms-of-service agreement, because it provided only one-sided remedies, the site reported the dispute settled, and the account under the online moniker of “Marc Woebegone” was restored. Terms weren’t disclosed under a confidentiality agreement. It was the first of several lawsuits that year involving Second Life, and, as London, Ont. lawyer David R. Canton, who specializes in technology issues and privacy at Harrison Pensa LLP, predicts in his year-end blog, expect to see more in the coming months. “Virtual worlds such as Second Life will lead to more real-world lawsuits and controversy as we struggle with how real-world laws should apply to the virtual world,” Canton wrote. “While this may seem bizarre, people invest real time and money in the virtual world. Rights to virtual property are no less important to many in the virtual world than in the real world. “
“It’s similar to when the internet first came around; it seemed a different world where laws couldn’t apply, but that concept and notion really didn’t fly,” he says.

There are many virtual world issues such as property rights and even assault that have yet to be tested in the real world, says Canton. “If you described a robbery and murder in a book or a movie, for example, there’s no liability. But, in the virtual world, if your avatar [an animated representation of the user or player] engages in sexually predatory behaviour towards children, I don’t think it would be socially acceptable.” For the most part, he says, players might expect the owner of the site to adjudicate, which raises the premise of virtual courts. Even then, it presents a challenge, says Canton. “In our society we have spent centuries refining our legal system,” he says, questioning whether the same principles would apply in the virtual world courts and what responsibilities the site’s owner might have to bear in the real world as a consequence of incidents in their virtual domain. If online players in Second Life amass virtual property and another player steals or copies that property, is the aggrieved player entitled to copyright protection of what constitutes intellectual property, he asks. As it turns out, in the U.S., the answer is yes. Indeed, after the Bragg notice was served, more disputes emerged on Second Life, including one involving high-profile player Kevin Alderman, who claimed his SexGen bed — a piece of furniture that has a catalogue of animations that purchasers can use to assemble an adult film, using their avatars as their “actors” — had been copied by another user. Alderman, whose company, Eros, made $50,000 when it sold a virtual island modeled on Amsterdam’s notorious Red Light District a year before, sued for copyright and trademark infringement, demanding $75,000 in damages from 11 defendants in New York U.S. District Courts last October. He was joined by five other plaintiffs who similarly alleged that the lead defendant, Thomas Simon, aka “Rase Kenzo”, and 10 others named as John Doe 1 through 10 (whom, it is alleged, were either aliases of Simon’s or were acting for him) distributed cloned items, ranging from boots to “skins” — male and female body representations of avatars that users can use to make themselves appear nude or sexually aggressively dressed — to floor lamps and other items. The matter was settled when Simon agreed to pay damages of about $500. And, as more reports surface, it appears luxe goods — or just desirable goods — are being targeted for more than just sexual gratification. Second Life denizens can buy knock-off Ferraris — for about $7.50 — or copies of Cartier jewelry.
So far, those real-world icons haven’t reacted but they may be caught in the same hesitation that some brick-and-mortar companies found themselves in at the onset of the web. Businesses that were also slow to react to the internet found themselves fighting an initial uphill battle to evict the cybersquatters who had jumped the gun and registered company names as web site domains. And to some extent it’s still going on — it’s just more blatant on Second Life. “Certainly from a trademark perspective, the internet continues to present a lot of challenges, though not in the same way as it did in the beginning,” says Antonio Turco of Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP in Toronto, a specialist in IP, technology, and internet domain-name dispute resolution.
While disputes in the real world over IP still outweigh those in the virtual, it remains an arena worthy of a watching brief. “There are still those who use the grace period in registering a site and having to actually ‘pay’ for it to do what’s called ‘kiting’ or ‘tasting’, in that they register a domain with an existing company’s name or brand name product and then ‘sample’ the traffic to see if it can generate enough returns to make their investment worthwhile,” says Turco. Often they’ll use a dot-ca designation, since the real company may have registered just the dot-com domain, he says. But experience over the years with the internet and cybersquatters — and clear direction from the courts — means it usually only requires a “cease-and-desist” letter to the registered owner to shut them down. Because the amounts of money generated are small and the sites usually obscure, proving and litigating for damages is usually unwarranted. “These guys realize they’ve had their run and that it’s not worth fighting and move on,” he says. Still, he says, there’s still some confusion among companies about their trademarks online. Some e-retailers put up trademarks on their site without permission, assuming they have consent to do so because they sell that brand. On the other hand, some manufacturers think they can still control depictions of their trademarks online in the same way they do in stores or in print, stipulating how big the images must be and that it may not be in juxtaposition to their competitor’s — something hard to do online, especially if items in a e-retailer page load randomly. Just as the internet grew out of its Wild West frontier mentality as it matured, so too will the virtual world, says Sarah Dale-Harris of Davis LLP, which itself has a virtual presence on Second Life. As if in reaction to the claims of trademark and copyright infringement controversies, Second Life now has a Second Life Office of Intellectual Property, though Dale-Harris is somewhat skeptical. “We are very careful not to offer legal advice on the site, but these guys are apparently doing this for free,” she said. “Registering your trademark or copyright through the site doesn’t seem to have any teeth. If it has value why wouldn’t you register it in the real world? “Still, people are talking this all seriously and everyone is watching to see what the courts will do with a case.”

New York Times Asks if SL is an Effective HR Tool

Published: February 10, 2008

AS far as job interviews go, my recent meeting with Sandy Gould was anything but ordinary.

Mr. Gould showed up in a Superman costume. Next, he invited me to sit down next to him in a chaise longue that overlooked the crashing surf. As we talked about my strengths and weaknesses, crabs skittered along the sand at our feet. At another point, in the middle of responding to a question about overcoming professional challenges, I stood up and performed a hula dance.

Finally, after thanking me for my time, Mr. Gould stood up, shook my hand and flew away.

No, this wasn’t some technophile fantasy, nor was it my debut in local surrealist theater. Instead, Mr. Gould and I were sitting at computers on opposite sides of the same room. We were meeting in Second Life, the Web-based virtual world that is owned and operated by his employer, Linden Lab.

As big companies are spreading their brands to Web-based social networking communities like Facebook and MySpace, a handful of employers are also exploring the world of Multi-User Virtual Environments, or MUVEs. Second Life is one of these MUVEs. A handful of corporate customers have bought virtual space, called “islands,” in this virtual reality to use for “in world” meetings, and a growing number in this group is recruiting there, too. Linden Lab doesn’t keep statistics on how many of its corporate customers handle hiring this way, but it says the number has grown exponentially since Second Life began in 2003. Much of the recruitment is done through job fairs. TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications, an advertising firm in New York, held two virtual job fairs last year, events that included employers like Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Verizon Communications and Sodexho, a food and facilities management services company. Bain & Company, the global management consultants in Boston, has sponsored virtual job fairs in Second Life, as well. My interview was completely independent, an exercise I requested specifically to learn about the experience. Mr. Gould, director for recruiting and organizational development at Linden Lab, based in San Francisco, agreed to interview me the same way he does legitimate job candidates. On the day of the interview, I started the process well before Mr. Gould had even arrived for work. After downloading Second Life software and registering for a free account, I chose a name for my avatar: Jaredpower Afarensis. Within moments, the software took me to a virtual spot called Orientation Island, where I watched my avatar quite literally take shape: first his arms, then his legs, and finally his head. Once my avatar materialized, a real-life friend of mine (a k a Lodro Goldkey) teleported him to another island and taught me how to get the avatar to blow kisses, bow, shake hands and hula dance. He also showed me how to make my virtual persona fly and sit down. Next, I tackled my next challenge, personalizing my avatar. Second Life users can select hundreds of characteristics, like eye color, skin color, clothing and hairstyle. Users can also choose to make their avatars look like dragons, fairies, robots or even a bowl of Jell-O. I went for a human form, albeit one that was much larger than I am in real life. Next, I chose the avatar’s attire: a white tank top, yellow pants and Birkenstock-like sandals. Finally, I was ready for the interview. I flew to the far side of the island and staked out a spot on a nearby beach. Like a bird or a plane, Mr. Gould (a k a Sandy Linden in our encounter) arrived out of nowhere. The interrogation began. In a text-based chat window, he asked me about my thoughts on social networking technology and my opinion on the importance of virtual environments. Later, I turned the questions on him, asking what he thought of the spot I had selected for our chat (“relaxing and calm,” he said, and “fantastic in the paradise sense”), and to what degree he thought the appearance of my avatar reflected how I really looked. (He hadn’t thought about it at all, save for my decision to dress casually.) Over the course of 30 minutes, our conversation played out much like an instant-message chat I might have with friends: lots of text, a smattering of emoticons and furious typing, all without capitalization. When each of us typed in the chat boxes, our avatars would do nothing but look around. AT one point — largely because of all of the attention I was paying to the chat box — Jaredpower Afarensis even appeared to slump over and go to sleep. So much of the interview revolved around the chat box that it seemed as if the avatars were barely there. That’s when it hit me: these newfangled Second Life job interviews might be fun, but they’re not exactly effective for everyone — at least not yet. Granted, if I were a legitimate candidate applying for a job at Linden Lab, my ability to create the avatar and get him to the right place at the right time would have demonstrated a familiarity with Second Life. Furthermore, if I were in a place like Iceland , an in-world interview might be cheaper and more efficient than flying so far away. But let’s say I was applying for a position as a chef or a lawyer. In these cases, 30 minutes in a Second Life interview would convey very little about my ability to do a job — besides a general affinity for technology. When asked about these issues, Mr. Gould said that in most cases it’s best to use in-world interviews as one part of a recruitment process that also includes a combination of telephone interviews, videoconferences, e-mail exchanges or face-to-face meetings.

The question remains: With all of these other methods to evaluate a job candidate, do we really need another tool?

Corey Bridges - No Time to Go Wobbly - Don't Mistake Second Life's Woes for Industry Instability

"This is no time to go wobbly," Margaret Thatcher once famously said. That's especially pertinent advice right now. Second Life and its owner Linden Lab are going through tough times. And, nascent as the virtual world industry is, many people confuse it with Second Life itself. To the less informed (and even to some people in our industry who should know better), Linden's current difficulties speak directly to the viability of the medium of virtual worlds. They're wrong, of course; for those of us who work on other worlds and platforms, business has never been better.
Here's some of the news that should make us all bullish on the future of our industry: according to a recent Forrester Research report, in a mere five years virtual worlds will be just as important to businesses as the Web; the ever-staid Gartner Research predicts that in four years 80% of Internet users will have avatars; and, as a sign of industry maturity, there are now many participants in each market segment of our industry--from platforms to service agencies to users of all stripes.
But it's undeniable that dark clouds have gathered over Second Life and some of the companies that have relied on it. I don't think I need to recount all the ominous stories from the last few months, but the bottom line is that many companies and consumers are now avoiding that world. Linden Lab is going through some internal turmoil and may be on the verge of lean times itself. Even staunch Second Life cheerleader IBM has people wondering if it's hedging its bets by mocking virtual worlds (the second article).

When a high-profile ally begins showing public doubt like that, it's natural that we should be concerned that these troubles will affect the wider virtual world industry, perhaps stalling investment and development by mainstream companies. The good news is that this isn't happening. The companies actually venturing into the medium of virtual worlds with mature plans are getting more excited by, and committed to, the opportunity, even as they move past the hype of the last couple years. An example: a few months ago, I was in the office of a marketing executive at a major media corporation discussing our company's virtual world platform. She happened to mention that she had seriously investigated building an island in Second Life. When I asked why she didn't take that project forward, she said, very definitively, "Second Life won't work for us." I asked her why she felt such conviction. She went through a detailed list that she'd obviously thought through and, as I was later to learn, had used to justify her decision to her CEO: it would be bad for her brand, which she felt would be subsumed by Second Life's; she couldn't really customize it or control the consumer experience, so she didn't feel she could create anything very unique or deep; and even if she did make something really compelling, she wouldn't be able to have more than a few dozen people see it at once; and then there were the flying body parts--as she characterized it, the last thing she needed on YouTube was a video of them dancing around her logo. Now here's the good news: after she listed those reasons why that world was a no-go, she said, "but we're really eager to get into virtual worlds." Since then, that same conversation has played out again and again for many people in our industry: "We don't want to use Second Life, but we want to build a virtual experience." "Second Life is dead--long live virtual worlds!" is a ridiculous rallying cry and one I don't subscribe to. There are just as many people in Second Life as ever, even if it hit a population plateau recently. And there's a good chance that Linden will continue to be a significant player in this industry. But I think the most likely outcome is that it becomes the 21st-century equivalent of the WELL--that pre-Web, proto-online-community that blossomed in the early '90s. Widely credited as being the place where "netiquette" developed, setting the culture for how people interact with each other online, the WELL earned its place in history.
But the WELL's leadership was reluctant to take the hard steps necessary to build a real business and discouraged the individuals who tried to. Like Second Life at the moment, that particular online "space" ultimately didn't secure any long-term residents (businesses or consumers) who weren't early adopters. (In another historical parallel, outside the scope of this discussion, the cause of mainstream adoption wasn't helped any when the masses got online, logged on to the WELL with its mildly arcane interface, and were rebuffed by numerous cranky and insular pioneers, who wanted all these damn kids to get off their lawn.) As the doubters began to question the viability of that online community, technology created by Netscape and others helped open up the Web to basically anyone. Eventually, folks moved from the WELL to the wider frontiers of a new medium. We should all respect what Second Life has done. Linden's impressive achievement has opened up the industry to support newer players and garner serious attention globally. But the medium is much larger than any one company. To use another British turn of phrase (I've been doing a lot of business in the U.K.), "Keep calm and carry on."

Ginsu Yoon - Platforms, White Labels and the Growth of Virtual Worlds

My Turn is a new op-ed feature at, solicited and unsolicited, from industry professionals. If we haven't reached out to you already and you feel like you have an insightful, argumentative opinion to publish, please get in touch with me at joey [at] showinitative [dot] dom. Previously we heard from Corey Bridges, Multiverse Executive Producer and Co-Founder, about the diversity of the industry. This week's column comes from Ginsu Yoon, VP Business Affairs, Linden Lab.

Over the last year or so, social networking sites and other Web-based businesses have enjoyed a great conversation about what it means to be a true platform on the Internet today. When you view the virtual worlds industry as an extension or evolution of the World Wide Web, it’s clear that our industry can also offer up powerful lessons about what it really means to be a platform and about the broader context of competing products and services in our space. Facebook brought the conversation into the Internet mainstream when it introduced its developer platform in May 2007. Today Facebook lists almost 15,000 applications in its directory, which adds a great diversity of content to the Facebook user experience. The company does not publish an official directory of developers, nor any indication of how many successful businesses have been based on Facebook apps, but companies like Slide and RockYou are gaining mainstream awareness by producing apps and widgets across Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking services. Bebo, LinkedIn, Friendster and others quickly followed with their own platform announcements, some with site-specific platforms and some seeking to align with a cross-service platform concept, like Google Open Social. At the end of 2007, Facebook made its developer platform available for license by other social networking services. After this whirlwind of activity in less than a year, all social networking sites can benefit from a variety of content produced by a healthy ecosystem of developers, on both closed and open platforms. Virtual worlds provide a vision of the future of online communication - a connected space much like the World Wide Web, but with immersive participation that adds a new dimension to all interactions. But we know as well as anybody that many of these comparisons seem trivial: "Hey, it's like chat but in 3D!" It takes a real understanding of both Web history and virtual worlds to appreciate what platforms mean in our own space. Linden Lab has been pursuing a vision of user-created content since 1999. When we launched Second Life in June 2003, we provided tools and services for enterprising individuals to build and share their own creations across a contiguous virtual world . . . which is to say, it's a platform for creating and sharing content. Since the variety of content experiences in Second Life is not limited to widget-type applications, there isn't an easy way to count the number of platform uses. However, we can count over 100 million unique user-created objects in Second Life, over 100 terabytes of user-created content, and Second Life Residents have bought and sold over $100 million worth of Linden Dollars on the LindeX virtual exchange. There are over 300 professional service firms listed in our solutions provider directory, employing an estimated 3,000 people. Like Slide and RockYou, the major solutions providers have become independent companies, extending their Second Life competencies across several different virtual world experiences.

"White-label" products provide contrasting and complementary services to open platforms. Again, looking at social networking websites provides great context. Much lower profile than MySpace or Facebook, these white-label products give individuals and companies the ability to re-brand the social networking experience, according to their own specific needs and audiences. The most devoted Facebook users have probably never heard of Broadband Mechanics, Affinity Circles, or ONEsite - but these white-label products provide the tools, software and hosting for anyone to build a social networking website that has features comparable to Facebook, without the connection to the audience and content of Facebook. Many white labels have chosen to implement widget features that allow them to ride the waves of the developer ecosystem created by the large social networking platforms. The white labels don't really compete against the platform plays; they provide complementary services to market niches. A few companies are pursuing a vision of networked white labels - the best of example of this is Ning, which offers any user the ability to create a branded social network, while the common Ning platform is itself a social network that unites many communities of social networks. Similarly, the main attraction of some virtual worlds is the white label product. Multiverse, ActiveWorlds and Forterra actively market their ability to provide a closed virtual world that can be re-branded by enterprises and sponsors. Enterprise-specific solutions, both open source and proprietary, are similar to those of white label vendors, but with very specific IT security and other requirements. These are all virtual worlds, and like the white label social networks that thrive in the wake of Facebook and MySpace, these custom, closed experiences leverage the ecosystem of platforms that maintain massive amounts of content. In a market with the huge growth potential of virtual worlds, it is easy to see that a rising tide lifts all boats. Platform success leads to discrete opportunities for white label products and enterprise solutions. Of course, at Linden Lab we believe that the power of a platform lies in the enormous amount of content created by individual users, solutions providers and enterprises, thriving together in a connected experience that has the range and reach of the World Wide Web. Businesses and individual users now have the ability to create their own branded experiences on the Second Life Grid, a service platform that enables any organization to create a public or private space, using Linden Lab’s leading virtual world technology. This enables them to receive the benefits of a white-label solution, coupled with the undeniable power of the existing content and communities in Second Life. Confined experiences with limited content certainly still have their place with standalone white label products, and enterprise-specific IT requirements can also drive decisions to be disconnected from a networked platform. The continued growth of all of these segments - public, private, user-generated and brand-driven - should unite all of us in our passionate belief in the future of the virtual worlds industry. In a rapid growth industry like ours, outsiders may misinterpret the existence of multiple players and business models as competition for a piece of a pie that’s already been baked. That implies a belief that virtual worlds have already become a mature industry, ignoring the massive possibilities presented by this space. The winners will reject that impoverished vision of the future, and use real industry knowledge and expertise to execute effectively into this expanding growth opportunity.

Linden Launches Department of Public Works

While one of the themes of Second Life has long been that it exists as an open platform built by Linden Lab for others to develop content on, the company is taking additional steps to repair existing content on the world's mainland and seed the space with new content. Towards that end, Linden Lab announced the Department of Public works, made up of resident builders, artists, and scripters. The first team of ten will tackle existing projects, like roads and coastlines that Linden had begun, while the company looks to open the application process. "We haven’t done much content creation over the last year, which makes us sad," blogged Jack Linden. "It takes a lot of time and resource, and has been difficult to commit to with so many other areas to work on - so by using the skills and experience in the community, we think we can make a real difference." [via Linden Lab]

Gemini Mobile Launches eXplo in China

Gemini Mobile is taking its mobile virtual worlds platform, eXplo, to China. eXplo, which was named as one of Deloitte's Wireless Fast 50 in November, is already in Japan, where it has attracted over 250,000 users to SoftBank Japan's S!Town. eXplo will now target Chinas 500 million mobile subscribers with several new features: one allows users to visit different virtual islands, which they can decorate, customize, and set move between; a second is based on a university campus, substituting dorm rooms for islands and bulletin boards for celebrities. "The world is rapidly moving to the mobile phone becoming the center of all social life and nowhere is the adoption faster than in China," Leo Zhang, President Gemini Mobile Technologies China, said in a statement. "With eXplo, we are moving virtual worlds from the computer to mobile phones, giving users the ability to truly make their mobile devices the place to shop, play, chat and share."

ROCKETON Draws $5M for Parallel Virtual World

ROCKETON, currently in closed alpha, announced today that it has drawn $5 million in funding in Series B financing from the D. E. Shaw Group, for a total of close to $5.8 million in financing. The company says it is working on a Web-based virtual world that transcends the single site approach and creates a parallel, avatar-based experience on almost every website available. The team has been working on the project since May 2007. "What caught our attention about ROCKETON is the potential for a new, real-time social interaction between people online," says Michael Banks, a senior vice president of D. E. Shaw & Co., L.P. "We asked ourselves, what if you took the next logical step beyond Facebook or Second Life? How would that look? The result is a new way of experiencing the Web."