Friday, February 29, 2008

Washington Speakers Bureau Reps ex-Linden CTO (world’s preeminent authority on the economic and technological impact of virtual worlds) Cory Ondrejka

With all the so-called Virtual World Experts out there "speaking", this is one of the few true experts PaymentGuy recommends listening to; "One of the unexpected parts of my time at Linden Lab was public speaking. Lots of public speaking. It is, of course, Beth Noveck's fault. When Philip and I spoke at the first State of Play conference, we had the opportunity to write white papers about the talks we gave. I thought it was a great opportunity, so I wrote "Escaping the Gilded Cage," which went on to appear in both the New York Law School Law Journal and in a book from MIT press. When I sent it in to Beth, she liked it enough to invite me to give a talk about it at NYLS. Then Yochai Benkler invited me to speak to his class at Yale Law School. The rest, as they say, is history, as speaking became an important tool for evangelizing Second Life, inspiring new ideas, meeting smart people who could help solve challenging problems, and recruiting new employees. But speaking is not something of done separate from my time as a Linden, so I am tremendously excited to announce that Washington Speakers Bureau is representing me for speaking engagements. While I continue to learn and consider what will be next, I am thrilled by the chance to continue spreading the word about virtual worlds, their impact on learning and innovation, and how Second Life formed a basic part of our engineering process." From Cory Onrejka's Blog. And here is his profile from the speaker's bureau;
The Next IT Revolution - Web 2.0, video games, and virtual worlds are initiating the most disruptive information technology transition since the World Wide Web. Corporate and government leaders once again face complex questions around technology, innovation and competition. Cory Ondrejka brings unique experience and insight to the business challenges and opportunities inherent to these new technologies.
Building Innovative Organizations - Cory Ondrejka is an expert on the complex challenges of building innovation in distributed organizations that allows technology-savvy workers to thrive in a more connected workplace. As companies fully engage global opportunities, they face new hurdles and opportunities to integrate and collaborate with employees dispersed throughout the world, so understanding the deep connection between innovation and learning is critical.
Connection, Communication and Learning - Real-time collaboration technologies appearing in virtual worlds and on the web enable new modes of communication, both within organizations and between corporations and customers. User-generated content gives customers new methods for connecting with brands and sharing their opinions online. Cory Ondrejka discusses how interactions in games and virtual worlds provide a quantitatively different opportunity compared to the lightweight connections of a web impression, and offers strategies to take advantage of these opportunities to connect. Entrepreneurship in the Experience Economy - Online communities create opportunities for entrepreneurs to explore the zero-marginal cost experience economy. Whether in Second Life or Facebook, new entrepreneurs are building multinational teams to rapidly explore design space and business plans. Cory Ondrejka explains how organizations are able to take advantage of this entrepreneurial energy.
Virtual Worlds and National Security - The US State Department, Defense Department and Intelligence Agencies have all recognized the need to understand how virtual worlds impact national power. Cory Ondrejka's unique background allows him to bridge diverse worlds to bring critical insights to analysts and policy makers, focusing on the threats and opportunities created by games and virtual worlds.
About Cory Ondrejka - The world’s preeminent authority on the economic and technological impact of virtual worlds, Cory Ondrejka offers an exciting look at what’s ahead and how it will affect business and society. A Virtual Pioneer: As co-founder and CTO of Linden Lab, Cory Ondrejka has long been an evangelist for the power of virtual worlds. A relentless innovator, he led the team that collaborated in unprecedented ways to solve impossible problems—taking the power of the virtual world to an extreme by co-opting the real and the virtual. His creation, Second Life, is not a game, but a tool set to build a virtual world, populated by “residents” who can then build whatever they want. Second Life shows just how powerful virtual words can be – it has transformed the way millions of people think about community, collaboration and entrepreneurship. The Opportunity of Virtual Worlds: People from around the globe are discovering worlds where the only limit is human creativity. People, ideas and cultures are interacting in ways never before possible. Ondrejka conveys the excitement about this new frontier where entrepreneurs are already exploring ways to generate real-world profits. These digital worlds face important decisions around whether, and how, to embrace these business activities. Companies are using a virtual presence to test new products, and these virtual-world technologies provide a platform for learning, innovation and competition whose potential is just being imagined. Third Life: In life after Linden Lab and Second Life, Ondrejka has become visiting professor at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication. He is passionate about showing organizations in the public and private sectors why virtual worlds are so important to their future—showing how they can be used to create a more connected workplace, the deep connection between learning and innovation, their impact on national power and much more.

Second City Leaves IBM Continent and Relaunches Island in Second Life

Circuit City originally opened in Second Life as a part of the IBM subcontinent. The build there was comparatively modest and not heavily trafficked, but it was successful enough for Circuit City to make a much larger commitment to the virtual world, in the form of four sims, forming an extra-large island, with the help and expertise of IBM. The island features an orientation area (though a registration portal is still in the works), and some helpful signage. A Circuit City HUD enables you to summon assistance from a staff member, and has a built-in flight assister as a bonus. What might really grab your attention though are prizes! Circuit City is giving away ten Apple 4GB iPod Nano ARVs (Model No. APL MB245LLA). They retail for about $150US each. Over a period of six weeks, SL versions of these iPods will be concealed around the island. There won't always be one there, but that's a heck of a nice easter-egg hunt. The first iPod is already waiting to be found, and the build is a great one to explore. Particularly check out the abandoned subway down below (being a nosey newsie, I was not dissuaded by the danger signs or barriers, and clambered down there myself for a look). There's also video to be had in various places, some of it very useful and informative (and long!). There's so many things that the island is getting right, not the least of which is a giant-sized Digital SLR camera with animated internal workings that you can walk through and learn about its inner workings. This is one of the things that is prohibitively expensive to mock up in the physical world, but works really well in Second Life. It's educational and interesting and very well put together.

ClickandBuy Loses UK Market Share - PayPal still the UK's favourite

Once a strong player in the UK via its alliance with BT, ClickandBuy is nowhere to be found on the UK alternative payments landscape with Worldpay, Google checkout and Protx taking spots after PayPal which continues to be the most popular online payment service in Britain, with over 20 million user accounts now registered in the country, which represents more than a third of the UK's adult population. According to stas from Internet market research outfit Nielsen Online, eBay subsidiary PayPal had 5.20 million unique visitors to its site in January - nearly five times as many as the next most popular payments outfit, Royal Bank of Scotland owned WorldPay, which had 1.07 million unique visitors. Independent contender Protx received 426,000 visitors whilst new entrant Google Checkout attracted 301,000 unique visitors. The PayPal site also came top when compared to other financial Web sites and was followed by which attracted 3.66 million unique visitors, Barclays with 3.02 million visitors and Lloyds TSB with 2.99 million site visitors. Commenting on the findings, Alex Burmaster, European Internet analyst, Nielsen Online, says: "PayPal continues to be by far and away number one. It has started 2008 by consolidating the lead it held throughout 2007 as the most popular financial Web site in the UK. PayPal had almost five times more unique users compared to the next online payment provider, despite new entrants in the market such as Google Checkout." PayPal processed $47 billion (£24 billion) of payment volume globally in 2007 and over 100,000 Web sites now accept the service.

Beanie Baby's Vs. Webkinz

Toy collectors and cultural anthropologists, take note. The Beanie Babies 2.0 Collection has arrived in stores, with a Web-ready scratch-off code on every heart-shaped tag. The original Beanie Babies were a low-tech phenomenon that made the toy magnate Ty Warner $6 billion. But that was pre-Internet. Today, Web-connected collectibles like Webkinz and Neopets have taken the spotlight, and the secretive team at Ty Inc. has struck back. “My intention was to take the original concept of Beanie Babies and reintroduce it to a new generation of children,” Mr. Warner said via e-mail. Once you register a pet at, you see an on-screen version amid Flash-based beanstalks and jelly beans. Unlike Webkinz, this pet has a house that is already decorated and there is no expiration date. But there is less to do for your $6, with games unlocked only with the purchase of a second, third or fourth pet. Considering the effect this might have on a persistent child, a more accurate name for the site might be Catalog 2.0. WARREN BUCKLEITNER of NY Times

realXtend Viewer Employs OpenSearch

"We’re delighted to announce that Metaverse Ink’s OpenSearch has been selected as the default interface for search in the new viewer realXtend, whose 0.2 release was announced today. The realXtend project has been working closely with OpenSim in order to add some major features to it, both in terms of graphics and in terms of the underlying architecture of virtual worlds. The most important addition is the idea of an “avatar system”, a piece of the architecture that sees avatars as entities that can move freely between worlds — not just sims on the same grid, but sims on different grids. An avatar has an identity and an inventory, and that’s what’s being served from that component. The avatars themselves can now be created with a standard 3D modeling tool. We believe that OpenSim, with these realXtend additions and other additions that are already in the making, is the future of interoperable virtual worlds. We are excited to be a part of it! So, download realXtend, and try it out. Don’t forget to click the Search button and see OpenSearch natively served. Now you have a choice on the search engine you use for each search, just like what happens in modern web browsers."

realXtend and OpenSin Achieve Avatar Portabilitty Between Virtual Worlds

Congrats on a HUGE accomplishment to the realXtend Team and their new platform launch achieving avatar mobility between worlds! "After the first release 0.1, the realXtend reached now the release 0.2 in only two weeks. The realXtend server side components are now developed in tight co-operation with the OpenSim project. A separate open source project is started for the realXtend viewer. All the latest source codes are available via the projects' web pages. The realXtend now includes new essential features, such as the free-form 3D avatar system. realXtend is a conglomeration of both new ideas, and old ones - our goal has been to create a revolutionary product by combining the best of these. People have been waiting for someone to come along and combine features from the most popular virtual worlds for a long time. What is really unique in realXtend is the global avatar system that allows people to take their beloved and finely tailored characters with them when they visit different worlds, instead of creating a new one for each new world they decide to visit. We have combined this, with the possibility to follow links, or teleports, to browse through different worlds that can be hosted by anyone. Combined these features open up a much wider environment to new users - and that is revolutionary. "We have been testing and fixing bugs as much as possible and we have a few new major features. One of the new features is the Avatar system, under realXtend your avatar has been completely redesigned to support transfer between virtual worlds. Earlier avatar systems used by other virtual worlds have been tied to one world or grid only and could not travel with the user, "says realXtend project manager Jani Pirkola. In realXtend avatar can now be designed with a standard 3D modelling package used by professional artists and animators. Designing and animating a high quality human avatar is however a challenging task, so we've provided some sample characters to help get people started. We are also providing tools used to modify these avatars, and hope to see some creative people do extraordinary things with them. Another major feature is the ability to teleport between Second Life and OpenSim -based worlds. The teleport functionality itself is a giant leap towards the 3D Internet vision."

Interview with Tony Manninen CEO of realXtend

Me: Second Life as a platform has been pretty much ignored for game development up to this point. Do you imagine transforming OpenSim and Second Life into platforms suitable for MMOG?
Tony: I am running the company and also making sure the realXtend development reaches the required quality and performance standards you would expect from MMOGs. We’d definitely love to make games for Second Life, but at the moment the end-user experience is not exactly what you would expect from a game system. Therefore, we’ll pay heavy attention to things like responsivity, graphics quality, frame rate, etc. If we manage to keep up the momentum of realXtend development, then I’m sure there will be some interesting games spawning up in the near future… Developing a sophisticated game engine is not an easy - or cheap - task, so there’s a loads of challenges ahead. But I truly believe that is the only way forward. With game-like interfaces and features you’ll be able to get much more heightened experiences.
Me: Have you worked out anything with LL yet re keeping the realXtend viewer compatible with SL?
Tony: We have tried to keep the rexviewer as compatible as possible. We totally appreciate what Linden Lab has done and we are trying to do our best to co-exist with their beautiful social innovation.
Me: But will you be able to work out a licensing deal under the GPL so that they can integrate your code into their browser?
Tony: The whole licensing scheme is still undergoing some serious thinking processes. We will try to find the best possible option in order to satisfy the needs of hungry virtual world adopters. GPL has its challenges. But, on the other hand, everything invented by a man can be re-invented by another. I am sure there will be a fruitful solution to the licensing issue. At the moment we are concentrating on releasing all the code to the general public, so that all the enthusiastic developers out there can join the forces and increase the momentum. I’m pretty sure the pieces will eventually find their right places. I am really happy about the response we’ve got from Linden Labs - it’s great to think we might be able to give something back for them.
Me: Is it safe to say the licensing issues are on the table and being worked out?
Tony: There’s definitely some serious working-out being done, so I suppose it is safe to say that.
Me: I know Will Wright creator of Sims online and Spore has spoken a lot on the spiraling costs of content production and that diminishing returns for content development at these high costs. He has gone to procedural programming with Spore to take gaming on another path. But, it seems to me that you are taking another approach by trying to bring SL up to gaming standards - is this correct, or are you doing something different?
Tony: I guess that’s quite correct assumption - at least in relation to LudoCraft. This is not necessarily a conscious decision. It’s more like the costs of licensing a decent game engine are generally so high that they more often than not fall out of reach of start-up companies and small developers - let alone universities, communities, etc. We have tried to find a suitable platform for our collaborative games, but since there were no perfect solutions, we decided to try and make one. Not alone, but by joining forces with our partner company Admino and several other keen developers. The OpenSim merger will increase the development base even further, so there’s a great chance we’ll actually pull this off. Like I said, there’s loads of challenges, huge amount of work and some design issues involved. But the Open Source communities have proven themselves earlier, so why not now.
Me: What do you think are the chief design issues to be addressed? The realXtend project includes LudoCraft and Admino, plus we have several sub-contracting developers doing work with us. The main issue is the divide between social 3D worlds (like SL for example) and MMOG. The gamers tend to avoid these social virtual worlds for obvious reasons [the quality of the experience from a gaming POV]. However, if we manage to develop a platform that can serve both purposes, then I’m sure things will change. The main design issues, therefore, are the performance, audiovisual quality, rendering, frame rate stability, responsivity, interaction, etc. Numerous issues that are not necessarily critical in purely social virtual world, but are absolutely essential in any multiplayer game environment. Plus, if well taken care of, these issues will boost the whole end user experience in the non-gaming situations as well.
Me: You have gone a long way with the rendering and meshes what will be the next most important features and when do they arrive?
Tony: Inverse Kinematics and procedural animation are essential features if we want to have truly expressive and adaptive animations. We see avatars as main tools for self-expression. We’ve researched the issues since 2000 and we believe we are on the right track. With flexible and powerful expression potential and accurate controllability, the users will be able to communicate with their avatars so much more than is possible nowadays. The concept of Rich Interaction is something we will utilize here and it will be interesting to see the results when the system is actually usable by the general public. Vehicles and projectiles are really important so they sit heavily on our roadmap.
Me: Are you going to do 3D face mapping etc - I know that this is getting close to doable now?
Tony: Oh, the required list of features is endless. There are several key features in terms of game development, but also some interesting stuff for more serious applications. Our avatar will have enough “bones” for full facial expressions, etc. When the actual base architecture of the avatar is fully functional, there’s a possibility to use webcam, voice, or other input devices to control your avatars facial expressions. It can be true 1:1 mapping, but of course it can be something else as well. You can be yourself, or, you can change your “output” to something else.

THERE.COM Has A Walled Garden Approach to Virtual Worlds

"What do I mean by an exciting vision for virtual worlds? There are many visions for virtual worlds floating around and some of them are not so appealing to me, like the notion of a virtual world as a walled garden/company town put forward by the CEO of, Michael Wilson. When Michael Wilson was interviewed in Second Life by Beyers Sellers (Robert Bloomfield, Cornell University) for Metanomics this week, he gave the impression that creating a controlled environment for marketing is the number one priority of In my view, which seemed to be shared by many of the Second Life audience participating in the group chat, this notion of designing virtual worlds as “big brother houses” is the epitomy of “the metaverse gone wrong.” You can see the full interview here on SLCN. Also see here for Christian Scholz’s (Tao Takashi in Second Life) excellent summary and analysis of a virtual world according to There. I hope there are some more positive aspects to than this interview conveyed. Despite ups and downs and growing pains, Philip Rosedale’s vision for Second Life has always, in my view, had at its heart the motivation to make people’s “real” and “virtual” lives better. See The Making of Second Life by Wagner James Au for a fascinating look at the early days. While Linden Lab is still working hard to break free of the “walled garden” model, with OpenSim and realXtend, the expansive vision that they have pioneered has been open sourced even before they have finished their own open sourcing project. And now, an open source development community of genius and depth (including Linden Lab) is rising to the challenge of taking this vision of making our “real” and “virtual” lives better to the next step.
There are several Open Source virtual world platforms available now, including Ogoglio, Croquet and Sun’s Wonderland. In the news today is the Open Virtual Worlds Project from The New Media Consortium (NMC) and Sun Microsystems which as VWN points out is similar to efforts announced by the Immersive Education Initiative to create an Education Grid across Second Life, Wonderland, and Croquet. But OpenSim stands out from the pack because it inherits from Second Life an awesome set of tools to facilitate user generated content. This emphasis on user generated content is, of course, key to how Second Life has become the largest and most highly developed 3D immersive world to date. The fact that OpenSim is a platform built for people to build in was of one of the reasons that realXtend chose to work with OpenSim after they investigated all the available open source options. Also important, Tony noted, was the depth of the development community in OpenSim and Second Life.

RealXtend’s Vision for Avatar 2.0

Tony Manninen, the CEO of LudoCraft games studio (the client side development division of realXtend) who has being doing all this amazing recent development on OpenSim, has a vision for Avatar 2.0 that he is bringing to OpenSim. The possibilities for the future integration of realXtend features (that include meshes and the ability to import proper 3D models) with Second Life is currently under discussion - more on this soon. We have tried to keep the rexviewer as compatible as possible. We totally appreciate what Linden Lab has done and we are trying to do our best to co-exist with their beautiful social innovation. When I interviewed Tony (see interview later in this post), I was very excited not only by the scope of his vision and his devotion to enhancing the user experience and possibilities of virtual worlds, but also by his absolute determination to manifest this vision in code with the utmost speed. The next release of realXtend server and client will be published on 29th of February, 2008 at 4pm (Helsinki time). The features that will be in this release and a roadmap for the future are here.

Twinity Economy Allows Outside Trade

By the sounds of it, Twinity is building a virtual world using real geographies. Whether this business model could survive the much discussed possible development of a virtual overlay on Google Earth remains to be seen. Metaversed points out: "Where it gets interesting, is in their plans to farm out much of the user to user transactions to a third, as yet undisclosed party. The system will provide a double escrow utility for users to trade objects and property and services with real money. Primary markets, such as initial property sales will be made using a synthetic currency similar to the Linden Dollar or Entropian PED. Metaversum say they want to allow a more realistic cash flow, letting users trade with each other outside of the system as well as in it. The primary economy (synthetic currency) will come online during the initial beta, in 3 months or so, the secondary economy will follow that." Dusan Writer

Virtual World Timeline

Always looking for new resources for how to present or explain virtual worlds, and came across the following timeline:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Better Late than Never? Why Blue Mars Will Fail

In 2008 it’s a virtual world a day, most of them for kids, but some contenders for the Second Life audience and purpose. Now comes Blue Mars, which has observers drooling because of the brilliance of its graphics. Problem? First, the developers say it won’t be launched until late 2008, by which time 100 other virtual worlds will have staked their own claims to various bits of real estate, some of which include the “we’re the prettiest” terrain, to others like Twinity which are staking out the “we’re really real, including our really real commerce” section of the virtual world mainland. Second, they claim to be developing for common user computer platforms 3 to 5 years hence - which makes me wonder how they KNOW what platforms will look like 3-5 years hence? Maybe we’ll all be walking around with HUDs in our sunglasses and caring more about data and social interaction as compared to how real the trees look?
Having said that, the Blue Mars screen shots are gorgeous. (From Dusan Writer's blog)

Harvard Business Review Spotlights Second Life

Harvard Business Review has tagged virtual worlds as “Breakthrough Ideas for 2008″ in its current issue (February 2008). In its annual round-up of ideas that “capture 20 transformations at single points in their development” virtual worlds and related development, wide coverage is given to virtual worlds, including a spotlight on Second Life. The issue includes the following topics: The Metaverse as TV of the Future - Using Second Life as a specific example, one of their top trends paints a picture of virtual worlds as being a wave that may very well wash away the “traditional Internet” like TV did radio. Perhaps hyperbole, but they tell a compelling story of how “within five years, the dominant internet interface is likely to be the metaverse, a term used to describe games like Second Life.” They recommend that businesses follow the lead of early adopters of other media in order to “experiment with the technology while it is still a sideshow”. They caution that “down the road, questions of infrastructure, software standards, and compatibility between competing metaverses may also dog regulators, who will have the additional difficulty of coping with these matters on a global scale.”

Alternative Reality as the New Business Reality - Large-scale collaborative games will shift towards being corporate operating systems that will “enable companies to build powerful collaboration networks, discover solutions to specific business problems, forecast opportunities, and innovate more reliably and quickly.” The authors propose that “alternate reality games” (or ARGs) will help companies build ten key collective intelligence competencies:
- Mobbability
- Cooperation radar
- Signal/noise management
- Protovation
- Emergensight
- Open authorship
- Influency
- Multicapitalism
- Longbroading
- High ping quotient
The Gamer Disposition - Points out that MMORPGs are “large, complex, constantly evolving social systems”. As such, they’re both enticing to players and a source of “workers of the future”. The five key dispositions of gamers make them ideal members of the workforce:
- Bottom-line orientation
- Understanding of the power of diversity
- Thrive on change
- See learning as fun
- Marinate on the “edge”

Giving Avatars Emote Control
Second Life is again given a lead along with as an example of environments that will host increasingly subtle ways to express emotion through our avatars. They paint a continuum, from avatars that express directly based on brain wave activity to being able to “choose the veracity o our avatar depending on our needs in each interaction…(along a veracity continuum).” “Personality programs will give avatars gestures and expressions that….are generated by the avatar, not the user….You will be able to outfit your avatar with a preferred affective style to keep in character - for instance “brisk and businesslike”.”

The Impact of NMC's Collaboration With SUN on Second Life

Fascinating analysis from Dusan Writer's blog on the impact on SL education of NMC's partnership with SUN: "Education Second Life’s Killer App? Not so fast ... A shot across the bow at Second Life from the largest group representing educators in Second Life - the New Media Consortium, which has announced a collaboration with Sun Microsystems to launch an Open Worlds project whose characteristics take aim at issues with Second Life. Namely that is is not:

* Standards-based
* Open source
* Secure
* Protective of intellectual property

With over 400 universities in Second Life, many of them members of the NMC, and with new universities turning to it for advice, services, and tools, this is a serious blow to Second Life. The Lindens have been claiming that the failed rush of brands to Second Life was too much too soon, and that the real value of Second Life would be seen in the short term in the domains of education and business collaboration.
In launching the Open Virtual Worlds project, the NMC will build on its extensive presence in Second Life and add to the services it offers educational institutions with a suite of services aimed at those who need a secure extensible platform or simply prefer an open solution. Open Virtual Worlds will be a new project housed within NMC Virtual Worlds, along with its extensive Second Life project. "The NMC remains deeply committed to the Second Life platform, and plans to continue to offer comprehensive services for it for the long term. At the same time, we believe that Sun’s open-source platforms will meet the needs that many institutions have for higher levels of security, clear ownership of intellectual property, and portability. Adding a suite of open-content, open-source services will add an important dimension to NMC Virtual Worlds that we hope will help members continue to explore the evolving range of options unfolding in the virtual world arena. This might, however, be more to assure those currently invested in the platform that they won’t be abandoned (yet). But what university is going to turn to the NMC and not respond positively to help setting up on a platform that offers what the Sun platform is offering, with some assurances that Project Wonderland was originally developed specifically for education, rather than a grid that was developed for, um, entertainment, doesn’t offer portability or security, and whose IP protection is laughable? Attrition can be slow or fast, or it can happen so quickly you don’t notice that the grid is empty. Second Life needs to accelerate communications and planning around the very issues that residents have been harping about for months if not years.

Virtual world identities provide real-world insights

28 Feb 2008 - With industry analysts predicting that 80% of internet users will have an 'avatar' (a virtual persona) by 2011, organisations are missing out on customer insights if these virtual identities aren't incorporated into market research activities, according to SPSS, which suggests that surveying consumers' avatars in virtual worlds can provide companies with information about current opinions regarding their services and products. Experience has shown that consumers are keen to participate in research gathered via online communities, more so than when shopping on the High Street. They are essentially in their own trusted environment, and may be bolder and more honest in their feedback than usual. While many companies devote large budgets to market research, many leave online communities and virtual worlds out of the process. SPSS warns that the opinions and trends found through this channel are not only relevant for brands seeking to raise awareness and sell services in the online space, but are also applicable to those operating purely in the real world.

Looking for Penguins

" ... other Club Penguins could be out there in the B.C. digital wilderness. "We continue to be excited about 3D [Internet worlds]," said John Borchers of California-based Crescendo Investments, which has $650 million to invest in new companies, particularly digital media. "3D Internet has a long, long way to go. The challenge is to find out which models are going to be successful and how an investor can make money." The investment panelists said they're always interested in new ideas, but any digital entrepreneur seeking venture capital must remember that investors look for something that will strike a nerve with consumers and make money. "We're in the business of being open-minded . . . but at the end of the day we have to ask, 'Is someone at the other end going to get some utility from this?'" said Steve Hnatiuk of Yaletown Venture Partners which will invest anywhere from $200,000 to $2.5 million in a digital media company. "We don't want to chew through $10 million or $20 million on an experiment."

The Case Of Habbo China

From Gamasutra: "When Habbo Hotel shut down operations in China on August 2007, one of the main reasons cited was the reluctance of Chinese users to download Shockwave onto their machine -- the core plugin that enabled the browser-based virtual space to work. At GDC 2008’s Worlds in Motion Summit, I asked the keynote speaker, Habbo lead concept designer Sulka Haro, why the Hotel was shut down in China when it has worked so well in other global locations. “There is no China. China doesn’t exist,“ was his jetlagged reply, adding “You should ask the business guys in China that question, I’m just the designer.” Conveniently, Journi Keranen, the former business head of Habbo China and now president of iLemon in Shanghai was sitting next to me. “Yes, Shockwave was the problem at first. The servers were slow from the US and users didn’t want to download the plugin each time since the cafes would wipe it clean every day from their machines," he said. "However," he continued, "we did manage to solve the server issue at some point with an agreement with Macromedia (developers of Shockwave, now part of Adobe) to have a customized plugin to be served locally. By then however, it was already too late and the decision to suspend operations was already in motion. However, we also had issues with headquarters on changes for localization.”

Is Linden Labs' Second Life a good training tool?

From Jeremy D, Instructional Technology Coordinator at The Leona Group; "Linden Labs claim the following: "The Second Life Grid enables students, educators, and businesses to create innovative environments for distance learning, computer-supported cooperative work, simulation, new media studies, and corporate training. The Second Life Grid provides an opportunity to use simulation in a safe environment to enhance experiential learning, allowing individuals to practice skills, try new ideas, and learn from their mistakes. The ability to prepare for similar real-world experiences by using the Second Life Grid's tools for simulation has unlimited potential. Students and educators can work together on the Second Life Grid from anywhere in the world as part of a globally networked virtual classroom environment. Using the Second Life Grid as a supplement to traditional classroom environments also provides new opportunities for enriching an existing curriculum."
I have found that Linden Labs' Second Life (SL) is an innovative product, however, I still have these concerns:
Speed - SL requires a high speed internet connection to function properly and even with that, it has a hard time keeping up. It often takes 3 to 5 minutes for the objects and textures in small local area to load. This means that training participants must be present well before a training session begins and said training session should remain as stationary as possible.
Realism - SL looks good if a lot of effort is put into the environment surrounding the participants, but this is a double edged sword. If you skimp on design or go overboard your trainees may fail to give learning the attention it deserves due to environmental distractions.
Simulations - SL and its controls do not allow for much beyond soft skills training. I have yet to see a good training simulation which is not world specific or requires exceptional in world skills and knowledge to be functional.

Siemens PLM Demos CAD Software in Second Life

Siemens PLM, the product life-cycle management division of Siemens, already has a presence in Second Life, and now it's using the virtual world to show off possible uses of CAD software like Siemens PLM Software's Solid Edge by creating a tool for users to design Razor Scooters. We've looked at ways virtual worlds could be used for rapid prototyping, and it seems as if Siemens is interested taking that approach while encouraging companies to use the virtual world to promote engagement with their developing devices. "This new tool is a great example of how companies can use some of the unique characteristics of the Second Life platform to create interactive experiences for their products," said Chris Kelley, vice president,
Platforms and Partners, Siemens PLM Software. "Our goal in Second Life continues to be to find new ways to collaborate with our customers and partners in an effort to provide a more immersive way to experience our software."

Why HABBO Left China

Habbo Hotel: Chinese Market Too Challenging to Be Worthwhile "Habbo Hotel closed its Chinese portal on August 24. There has been some speculation that the departure of the platform, which only effectively launched this spring, was due to the lack of Shockwave penetration in China, but Sulake, the parent corporation behind Habbo, says that wasn't the case. "There's quite many reasons why we closed down Habbo in China (for the time being). Yes, we had some technical challenges with Shockwave, but that was not an obstacle for us. This was mainly a business decision," Communications Director Juhani Lassila told This message appeared on the Habbo Chinese test site ( is simply down): Dear visitors: unfortunately we have some bad news for you: since August 24, 2007 has been closed at least temporarily, and possibly for a long time. :( Our Habbo Staff is currently working hard to find a way to continue the service in the future - you will be informed about the situation as soon as we know. We are really sorry about this. Meanwhile you can choose to visit other Habbo services all over the world. This is the official statement from Lassila: "Sulake Corporation, the company behind one of the world’s largest virtual world’s for teenagers, has decided to close down its online community services in China for the time being. Habbo China was initially launched in August 2006, but due to partner & technical issues the effective launch was postponed until Spring 2007. The challenging Chinese market and high operational costs led to the decision of closing the service for now. Habbo customers in China are redirected to other Habbo communities." Habbo has currently local services in 31 countries on five continents and continues to grow to new areas. With its 7 million monthly unique visitors and over 78 million created avatars, Habbo is one of the largest virtual worlds and social networking services for teens. Shockwave penetration might have been an issue in attracting users, but so could the plethora of other simple, light-weight social applications coming out of China and Southeast Asia, or just QQ's overwhelming popularity."

Recapping the Interoperability thing

Back in October ... IBM had organized a group set standards for virtual worlds—or, as some are viewing it, the creation of the 3D Internet. So Who Was There? Reports are putting the attendee list at around 60 representatives from 30 companies or organizations while others have limited the group to 23 organizations. IBM is keeping a tight lid on who exactly was there, though an early report included a few groups. So far, though, 19 companies have been confirmed as having representatives at the meeting: AutoDesk, Samsung, HiPiHi, Anshe Chung Studios, Sun, Transmutable, Areae, Forterra, Mindark, IBM, Cisco, Google, Linden Lab, Sony, Multiverse, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, and Philips. Some of these companies have already made significant and conspicuous investments in the virtual world space. Some have made smaller plays through other groups. And some, it seems, are getting involved for the first time. "It was an interesting meeting," said Multiverse Co-founder and CTO Rafhael Cedeno. "There were people from all sorts of businesses and backgrounds. So in the beginning there was a lot of time spent to get in sync with what everyone’s viewpoints on what a virtual world actually is, what an avatar is, and what it even means to be interoperable. What does it mean to have your inventory carried over? What does it mean for what your avatar can do in that world? Do you even need an avatar, and how does that relate to you as a person?" Some spectators and attendees have expressed frustration about the wide range of experience among attendees and presenters and the lack thereof from some. One notable group missing from the roster, as has been acknowledged by the key players, is a user group. Most parties offer their own tools or platforms to build on, but only Anshe Chung Studios comes from a content developer background. While the lack of a specific user group at the meeting has led to some peanut gallery mutterings, Cedeno says the users are still the focus. It's problematic, though, to figure out what that means. "If you’re coming from just one platform like Second Life and what people are doing there, it’s quite different from what people are doing in World of Warcraft," he explained. "Understanding users is very important. We find that there are a lot of people who have experience in one platform and then can easily say, ‘That’s what all users in virtual worlds want.’ The great thing about what we do is that we get to see people creating business applications, first-person shooter games, and social networking games. Those people are wildly different."

It's that diversity that makes interoperability a necessity for those involved. As platform developers carve out niches for themselves around specific uses, it becomes less and less likely that one world can do everything a user needs. "Even within a single entity, it's not one world fits one," said Michael Rowe, 3D Internet Champion, 3D Internet and Virtual Worlds, IBM Research. "You've got to look at interoperability for different goals. If I make an investment in content, I don't want to make content unique in only one place. If I make an investment, I want to make sure it has a lifespan beyond just this platform that may have a lifespan of two years or just nine months. That's when you start looking at the interverse, the intraverse, and the extraverse." That variety, in turn, led to the pastiche approach to forming the community. "It's important to get people of different backgrounds," said Rowe. "If we had just brought together a bunch of people who had drunk the Kool-Aid, all we'd get is more Kool-Aid. We need people to disagree." And Disagree They Have
Raph Koster, who also attended the meeting, blogged that standards were less important than political issues. Others, like Multiverse Co-founder, Executive Producer and Marketing Director Corey Bridges, who was not in attendance, think developers should focus on existing standards instead of creating new ones.
"What we saw this week was the example of the committee way, which is valid, but there are other standards: Java Script, Python, COLLADA, all of these are open standards that Multiverse already supports," said Bridges. "They are standards that real companies already support—that any real platform must support, otherwise I’d say their not serious about being a platform. If you’re going to force people to learn some dead-end scripting language or some crippled in-world tool, that’s not a real platform. If you acknowledge and leverage the existing ecosystem of tools and knowledge, then you’re really building something that can last." Others, like Cisco's Christian Renaud, see this as just a beginning step. "To avoid any misconceptions, this was a first meeting of interested parties in this space to discuss what could be done," he blogged. "As with any meeting, there were people missing that would have contributed to the conversation, however, (to paraphrase Lao-Tzu) A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Some opposition to change is inevitable, even among the early adopter crowd that makes up the virtual worlds community. However, it's particularly strong from some virtual worlds developers. Millions of Us CEO Reuben Steiger has compared the problem to the Las Vegas monorail. It was meant to connect all the casinos in Sin City, large and small, to give the gambler more choice, but the big, popular casinos had no interest in making it easy for visitors to move around. "Anytime you start looking at trying to bring openness and standards into an existing space—right, you have the walled gardens," explained Rowe. "It is incumbent on me if I own the garden to keep you in my garden. I control the garden. I control the economy. I control the world. We all want to control the world. But what we have to show and are hearing across companies and consumers is that that's not enough. The 'Net is already open, and I can move seamlessly. I don't have to worry if the servers hosting eBay and Amazon are different. The market is going to drive this. It has to."

And for worlds devoted to specific ideas, it means not just giving up users, but potentially giving up control. "You do take a hit to make [interoperability] happen," explained Cedeno. "That’s my opinion. When you develop something that has a very specific purpose and get to make all the decisions, it’s a little bit easier. But [interoperability is] important to us in the long run because other tools will be able to integrate, and I think that will move closer and closer to the consumer."
Or, as Linda Ban, IBM Research's Executive for Client and Program Strategy, Digital Convergence, puts it, "Change is coming." The question then, is how. Multiverse has always focused on providing interoperability between its worlds. Metaplace from Areae is based on providing a similar network. And there are more than a few open source virtual world developers in the field. But each has its own set of goals.
"There are some topics we discuss that are a lot more basic and make more sense," explained Cedeno, who begins Multiverse's interoperability approach from the basic tech side of connecting the server to the client. "We’re very interested in having some kind of rendering interoperability so you can use different clients for a platform or use different servers to talk to the client. And the other thing is avatars. I think it’s a clear need that you have some sort of system to describe your avatar and move it from world to world. That said, I don’t think it’s a forgone conclusion that every world should allow that." Regardless, everyone involved agreed to continue talks. All the parties present agreed that at least that much was important to the industry. "The optimistic side is that we drive out the standards to the level that you see on the 'Net" said Rowe. "The challenge there is the 'Net came about because there were standards, and now we're taking a lot of walled gardens and trying to help connect those standards that don't exist. The pessimistic is that doesn't happen. It's a flash. In five years, no one cares. I don't think that happens, though."... In the meantime, discussion is taking place at, a website set up by Forterra CEO Dave Rolston some time ago in anticipation of an event like this. Forterra President Robert Gehorsam stressed, though, that this isn't a Forterra project or branded site and that the website was not necessarily a permanent home. Forterra is, however, took a leading stance by posting the first possible standard for discussion, offering a Paged Terrain Format specification draft shortly after the meeting. "Certainly we're going to make a fairly immediate contribution with the terrain format stuff, and we'll continue to be a part of the conversation," said Gerhorsam. "A part of our view is that the question for interoperability becomes much more important on the enterprise side of things. In entertainment, you almost want a walled garden. That's how you achieve your effect. So it's certainly in our best interest to make this happen." Forterra has several military and intelligence in the works that rely in part on creating virtual worlds that comply to training standards. Likewise, Linden Lab has joined with IBM in officially throwing its weight behind open standards. And while IBM won't put a limit on its commitment or a number on the budget it's operating on to investigate standards, the players involved make it out to be a serious commitment. "The fact that IBM has created an organization and staffed it in dedicated folks to work on this space, I think, speaks volumes," said Ban. "Within IBM there are a very small number of activities that get funded to go out and look at emergent technologies. The fact that IBM committed resources, committed people, and committed time, speaks volumes. The fact that a Fortune 10 company is going to build that community, makes it look pretty promising."

US Government Gets Virtual

Spice up your next meeting: Wear wings By COURTNEY MABEUS February 25, 2008
On Tuesday afternoons, NASA holds a weekly meeting with contractors and space enthusiasts. For the uninitiated, it’s a pretty strange event.
The meetings are held in an online virtual world called Second Life. Avatars — animated characters that represent real people — do all the interacting. Flamboyantly dressed avatars, with bubbles above their heads to announce their names, sit on chairs positioned in a circle while a text box at the bottom of the computer screen tracks the conversation. At last week’s meeting, one avatar sported bright green wings, another wore a red princess gown, another donned a space suit complete with bubble helmet, and yet another smoked virtual cigarettes and wore a red beret while a lizard sat on his shoulder. This may be an early glimpse into the future of government meetings. “In so many ways, I don’t even think we’ve determined what the uses are,” said Eric Hackathorn, an information technology specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Just like the Web, the possibilities are endless for collaboration both internally and externally.” Today, at least four agencies are holding meetings or some sort of gathering in virtual worlds, such as Second Life, Activeworlds and Forterra. More are expected to join. The Defense Department’s National Defense University is creating a virtual space that will be strictly for federal users to conduct meetings, conferences and other informational exchanges. That space should be ready in time for Federal Virtual Worlds Expo, scheduled in late April. There are plenty of benefits to holding virtual meetings, experts say. They cut down on the cost and time required for travel, allow for large numbers of people to meet at once and spur the sort of creativity that you might not get from a conference call. But there are certainly drawbacks. Just getting “in world” and staying there can be a problem as the software frequently crashes. Communication can feel both frantic and disjointed, and it is hard to keep up. Avatars can be distracting in their dress and behavior, and there is the possibility that someone might not really be who he says he is. Advocates say they expect these problems will be ironed out over time. As the technology improves and more people view virtual worlds as a serious tool, users likely will evolve unwritten codes of behavior guidelines and establish protocols for how to interact. In addition, Paulette Robinson, assistant dean for teaching, learning and technology at the National Defense University, said some virtual worlds are working on ways to accredit avatars so their identities are verified. The NASA meetings in Second Life are a project of CoLab, a unit based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. CoLab started two years ago as an effort to develop more collaboration between NASA and industry software developers. Andrew Hoppin, a contractor who helped develop CoLab, said the project created an island in Second Life as a way to more conveniently bring NASA employees and software developers together. Some agencies are testing out other virtual worlds, such as Activeworlds and Forterra. But Second Life, which boasts nearly 12 million avatar residents, is the most popular so far. For a fee, users can create their own island and control who has access to it. One challenge NASA and others face is that virtual worlds are pretty lawless at the moment. And in these virtual Wild Wests, anything goes. About 12 users have been banned from NASA’s island in the past year because of disruptive behavior during the meetings, Hoppin said. On one occasion, an avatar lit a fireworks display.
A cautious approach
Until they learn how to tame these virtual worlds, agencies are being careful about how they use them. Mostly, their presence is aimed at promoting public outreach and education. And none appear to use them for meetings of great significance.
“The government is going to be pretty careful about how we proceed,” said Robinson of National Defense University. Robinson is head of the Federal Consortium on Virtual Worlds and she encourages agencies to use Second Life and other virtual venues to hold meetings, run conferences and support teleworking. “It breaks down the barrier of geography,” Robinson said. Bringing virtual worlds to federal employees has not been easy. In some cases, access has been a problem because of internal settings that have blocked ports. “As much as I’d love to have wide-scale participation from NOAA, it’s kind of piecemeal,” Hackathorn, who was the driving force behind establishing NOAA’s virtual presence in Second Life, said. NOAA was one of the first agencies to jump into the virtual world in 2006 when it opened its island. Avatar visitors to the island can experience what it’s like to fly through a virtual hurricane. In addition, Hackathorn is consulting with Environmental Protection Agency officials, both in real time and in Second Life, as that agency designs its own island.
Getting used to life in a virtual world comes with a learning curve. Avatars move by flying or being teleported through an invitation from other users. Distractions abound. At NASA’s meeting last week, avatars would occasionally stand, stretch or wave their arms. Sometimes they’d disappear — likely the result of someone’s computer crashing. Meetings in the virtual world can be challenging to keep up with. There are often multiple conversations underway and participants can communicate through either text or voice, depending on what equipment the participants have.
In larger meetings, such as NASA’s, text conversations make more sense to provide order, Hoppin said. Still, with users frantically typing away and the multiple conversations, the meeting can feel disjointed. And, often users chat privately through the program’s instant message system. On more than one occasion, users disappeared as they got booted from the system and then reappeared.
The security problem - That raises the question of security. A virtual world meeting even on a private island in Second Life won’t make sense for those agencies discussing sensitive issues because the data is kept on the servers of Linden Lab, the San Francisco-based software firm that created Second Life. IBM developed its own virtual world, called the Interverse, by developing it first in Activeworlds and then moving it behind its own firewall as a way to keep company information about sensitive projects, such as internal software development efforts and occasional client meetings, under wraps, spokesman Steve Tomasco said. IBM, which has been a pioneer in corporate use of virtual words for meetings, has about 5,000 employees with Second Life avatars. The employees use their avatars to collaborate on projects with other employees or with clients, Tomasco said. Just as in the real world, the company expects its employees to present themselves in a businesslike manner in the virtual world and, as a result, has created a virtual world code of conduct, he said. “We prefer if our employees did not show up as an inanimate object,” Tomasco said. When or if the federal government will create something similar remains to be seen. For now, Robinson said, she hopes her project to create a new island dedicated for federal use will spur some agencies to greater action. “It’s really going to be a government center, so people in the government can use it for meetings if they want to. At the moment, there’s no real government center” for officials to meet, Robinson said. While Hoppin credited the meeting as aiding NASA collaboration with contractors and the public, Hackaford said there is often no advantage in holding a passive meeting in Second Life other than to hold conferences intended to reach large audiences.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Deep Thoughts on Virtual Reality by IBM's Chief Scientist Jeff Jonas

Some deep thoughts from Jeff Jonas, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Scientist, Entity Analytic Solutions, IBM Software Group February 18, 2008 "Virtual Reality: There Is No Place Like Home"; Increasingly over the last year, I have been asked to share my thoughts about virtual worlds (e.g., Second Life and World of Warcraft). After repeated provocation, I took a peek into these interactive 3D La-La-Lands to see what is up. Here are a few of my core conclusions:
1. Virtual realities will end up consuming the attention of a substantial number of humans and this will happen more quickly than most may think.
2. Data synchronization between the real world and virtual worlds will increase the relevance of virtual worlds.
3. Along with the eyeballs of transacting consumers will come increased corporate investment thus driving more relevance and more growth.
4. Investors in virtual world physics re-engineering will possess a distinct advantage in virtual worlds.
5. As with any tool, a very small percentage of the population will use virtual worlds for criminal activities.
Here are a few details related to these points.
Virtual reality: soon serving the masses. As these alternate worlds become more immersive (i.e., ability to hold ones attention when in the virtual space) and accessible (think One Laptop Per Child), I think it is possible that a half billion people show up. How soon? In six to ten years – maybe faster. Why? Because there are a lot of people on Earth that would rather exist in a synthetic world as opposed to their real world. Hmmm … shanty town, nagging spouse, or insurmountable odds versus a stimulating environment with near limitless potential to reinvent oneself.
Cross-reality synchronization. Imagine taking heat sensors in a real-world data center and publishing these into a virtual space which is physically configured like the real data center. The difference being that the immersed person can now physically visualize the temperature distribution in the data center. This is already being done. Then move something in the physical world and it moves in the virtual world at the same time, automatically. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is already happening in some context, somewhere. As well, the inverse: There is supposedly a fellow who has an island in Second Life with a surveillance mechanism implemented that sends him a real-world email or text message whenever someone steps foot onto his island. Long story short, if one wants to look at something specific, if the real and virtual worlds are synchronized, it’s going to be cheaper, faster and will burn less carbon if one takes the virtual option.
Real economic growth in unreal worlds. Have you heard about the real estate developer in Second Life that has made $1,000,000 (real) US dollars? True. Linden dollars, the monetary unit in Second Life, have their own currency exchange to US dollars called the LindeX – a currency market apparently moving millions of dollars a month between the virtual and real worlds. Point being, if a billion people show up in virtual spaces, each on average spending only eleven cents ($0.11) a month – this amounts to a real growth market which will trigger further industry investment. Consequently: more people arrive.
Virtual world physics re-engineering. Through serendipity, careful study, and/or experimentation it is possible to develop capabilities within virtual reality that other participants, or in some cases even the creator, cannot fathom. The first such instance I heard of five or six years ago involved a player who figured out he could climb walls by mounting deactivated explosive devices on a wall. Placing one above the other, the avatar cleverly scaled the wall. He climbed so high that he moved beyond the rendered space … into a region of the game where all that was visible was texture-less grid lines. In a more recent example, in Second Life an individual created a covert listening device the size of a single pixel -- then placed this pixel inside some object. Later when the object was near a conversation, all communications were echoed to a third party unbeknownst to the victims. Prior to this event many players in Second Life would not have considered this possible. Game physics re-engineering is also happening in World of Warcraft (where it is called "Theorycraft"). In this virtual world, one expert explained it to me this way “[we are] unwrapping the mathematics and developing a perception of space and time in relation to the virtual world, that determines which combination of attacks or defenses have the greatest efficacy.” This info is then shared with colleagues in password protected chat rooms. Using this knowledge delivers extraordinary advantage, namely lethality per second optimizations, hence the importance of keeping this specialized knowledge to a privileged few as long as possible. By the way, let’s not forget that we are re-engineering the physics here on Earth in a similar manner. Heck, ten thousand years ago, who would have conceived of the possibility that spaceships could be devised to take man to the moon and back!
Tools are tools. Are virtual spaces dangerous? Well, is a phone, the Internet and email dangerous? Nope, not for the most part, in fact the opposite, as the social and economic values of these technologies far outweigh the consequences of misuse. Sure bad actors will continue to use the best tools they can get their hands on too. And with this behavior, as more bad actors show up … the folks paid to “protect” us will venture into these virtual spaces in an effort to detect and preempt. Hence some of my quotes in this recent Washington Post story “Spies Battleground Turns Virtual.” And finally, how will you know virtual worlds are starting to collide with your own real world? Watch for this sign: someone wants to chat with you while showing you something and they explain the best way to do this efficiently is for you to “step in” [to the virtual world that is].

Out of India - Reliance, HDFC Bank To launch Virtual Credit Card (Makes Mobile Phone a Credit Card)

Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group's (ADAG) flagship company Reliance Communications and India's second largest private sector bank, HDFC Bank, have joined hands to offer to India's first virtual credit card - Reliance mPay credit card - to Reliance mobile users across India. The virtual credit card does away with card number, card verification value (CVV) or even expiry date as the mobile number of the Reliance mobile subscriber becomes the credit card number. The virtual credit card works at any merchant establishment that accepts payment via Reliance mPay. The bank will authenticate all the information with RCom, which will be used to initiate and authorize all the payments using the customer's mobile handset. According to a Reliance Communcations official, one can use Reliance mPay for paying mobile bills (for Reliance post-paid as well as pre-paid customers), electricity bill payment (for those consuming electricity provided by Reliance Energy), as well as for a host of other things like booking movie tickets, travel tickets, retail shopping, online shopping and dining. As the Reliance mPay is PIN protected (the PIN number is issued to the customer at the time of issue of the virtual credit card) and the customer has to type in the PIN number each time when making a payment, it does away with the traditional risks associated with carrying credit cards and revealing its details at merchant establishments. "We are very pleased to partner with HDFC Bank, to provide our subscribers with this first of its kind offer. We are very excited that all Reliance Mobile Customers can participate in the Mobile Credit Card evolution. This is another step towards making money transfer, mobile commerce a reality in India!" said Mahesh Prasad, President, Applications, Solutions and Content Group, Reliance Communications. "This initiative goes beyond mobile payments, and in fact, makes the mobile phone a credit card," he added. "In continuation of HDFC Bank's tradition of using cutting edge technology to provide the best in world class banking experience to its customers, I am pleased to announce the launch of India's first Virtual Credit Card on Reliance Mobile phone," said Rahul Bhagat, Country Head - Retail Liabilities, Marketing & Direct Banking Channels, HDFC Bank. "An HDFC Bank customer can now shop using his Reliance Mobile and make payment without disclosing details of his credit card," he added. "The mPay platform eliminates the necessity to use a plastic credit card since the mobile handset itself acts as a virtual credit card with no separate card number provided as card holder's mobile number suffices the requisite customer identification details. The new payment concept thus offers hassle free transactions in a more secured environment since there is no need to enter credit card details while making payments. It also thus eliminates the card skimming and related fraud risks," said C.N. Ram, IT Head, HDFC Bank. However, Ram said that HDFC Bank is not bound by any "exclusive agreement" with Reliance Communications and over the next few months, the bank may "tie up with more mobile companies as well for similar services." According to market analysts, as virtual cards are more secure and convenient than traditional credit cards, other banks and mobile operators are also expected to tie-up in the near future and provide similar services. Internationally, this technology was introduced only a couple of years ago and has become a great success in countries like South Korea, Japan and Philippines, the analysts said.

Sun and NMC Launch Open Virtual Worlds Project - NMC Moves on to Open Source

The New Media Consortium (NMC) and Sun Microsystems announced a two-year, $250,000 commitment to the Open Virtual Worlds Project "aimed at making it easier to learn, work, and exchange ideas in virtual space." The NMC has been working in Second Life for some time, but now it will expand its work to Sun's Project Darkstar and Project Wonderland. NMC will accordingly begin to develop X3D- and Collada-compatible content for education. Right now it's supporting content creation in-world, but the NMC hopes to make it easier to import content as well, promoting standards-based, open-source 3D content tools. NMC CEO Larry Johnson explained the goals of the project as an expansion of the NMC's previous work in Second Life, but it sounds as if the company is ready to move on: "At the same time, we believe that Sun’s open-source platforms will meet the needs that many institutions have for higher levels of security, clear ownership of intellectual property, and portability. Adding a suite of open-content, open-source services will add an important dimension to NMC Virtual Worlds that we hope will help members continue to explore the evolving range of options unfolding in the virtual world arena." Additionally, the NMC will join the Sun Immersion Special Interest Group, and Sun Microsystems will become a Platinum partner, the highest level of corporate cooperation, with the NMC. The whole project sounds very similar to efforts announced by the Immersive Education Initiative to create an Education Grid across Second Life, Wonderland, and Croquet. Both look to create portable, educational spaces across virtual worlds with open-source, standards-based content, but Sun's partnership is certainly a boost for the NMC. [via NMC] Check the video here,

Sony Trash-Talk Part 2: "Home Less Geeky Than Second Life"

SONY's Trash-talking continues, "Personally, looking at other models, a lot of them are too hardcore, a lot of them are garish in the way they look," Sony Home Creative Director Ron Festejo told "I think what we've done with Home is have the best-looking multiplayer world - and actually the most user-friendly that I've seen as well. We don't have anything in there that's appealing to that kind of geeky audience that you might find in Second Life." Sony execs have tried to distance their upcoming console-based virtual world from Second Life, and Festejo continues to say there's no comparison, but he's willing to do plenty of contrasting. The main difference comes in hardware. While Festejo says that Second Life has to cater to everything down to Pentium II users (not true), Home only has to work on the high-end Playstation3. It's also worth noting that while Second Life is still being updated and changed, Home has been delayed and kept in private beta to fix up flaws before coming out into the light of day. [via]"

Majority of Fortune 100 Companies To Have Own Virtual Worlds By 2013

Fascinating vision from Mr.Topf in his interview of THERE.COM CEO. "... And let’s think about a possible future scenario: OpenSim has grown substantially, more and more businesses have started to use it to build alternative grids, Linden Lab has finished their first version of their interoperability protocol, theoretically and practically linking all those grid together. Growth might be quite substantial, too. Corporations might choose to host their own internet or even external marketing grid with more or less loose links to the rest of the grids." I will go further and predict that the majority of leading global enterprises both in the old and new economy will have their own internal "behind the firewall" virtual world with extensible 3rd party access in 5 years. Stay tuned ...

THERE.COM CEO Michael Wilson Grilled By Mr.Topf

The Germans are very hard on Virtual World CEO's (see DerSpiegel's grilling of Philip Rosedal for example). This virtual fireside chat by German Blogger with THERE:COM Michael Wilson is fascinating (by the way, ever notice these Virtual World Ceo/ Creators never go by "Mike" or "Phil"?), read on; "This evening another Metanomics session was on, this time with the CEO of, Michael Wilson. It turned out to be a quite interesting interview as we learned Michael Wilson’s view of things. Unfortunately there weren’t many people in the Metanomics backchannel who shared his opinion. But for the setting maybe: The actual interview was conducted by Robert Bloomfield from Cornell in and streamed live from there (or There) to Second Life and to (should be up there shortly). So my main impression from this interview was that the important thing in is earning money and doing marketing. Earning money of course for the companies and There themselves. People exploring at the same time as the interview was on also supported this view. Somebody said that you not even can hit your nose without paying for it.
Creativity - And I think at no time during this interview the word “creativity” was used in terms of residents being creative. All it was about wa s mainly the companies coming in and how the platform can help them to market their stuff. Important for him is also the approval process which you have to go through (and pay for) if you want to put an item you have created in the world. has a page for this with a lot of item types with different prices. While there are a lot to choose from the list is not endless though and thus it does from the start not allow for really new objects or ideas to be realized. Thus creativity seems not to be really encouraged. One good thing is though that you can create objects in your favourite 3d modelling tool and upload them. Then again this is only useful for people who know how to use such tools and thus preventing from “average” people to become content creators. Michael Wilson said that this approval process is important though because it protects companies as you can prevent copyright infringements that way. That’s of course true but it surely comes with a price (literally) here.
Marketing - Michael Wilson was stressing this point all over. Because of the absence of flying body extensions and copyright infringements companies can have much control over their environments making well suited for them. also helps companies to find the right spot and probably give them all sorts of different support.
Numbers - No numbers Robert Bloomfield was talking about how good it would be to have usage numbers from all those virtual worlds platforms so that companies can compare and choose the right one. While Linden Lab publishes extensive reports regularly, Michael Wilson said that there are no plans to do so for He only mentioned that they have more than 1 million users. He also said that he might give that information out to companies who ask him. One number is good though and this is the amount of people who can be in the same location at the same time. Not sure how they achieve it but I guess it’s also due to the approval process and the limit amount of objects available in general.
Interoperability - I was proposing in the backchannel to ask him about interoperability and also suggested an answer like “People do like Walled Gardens”. Robert Bloomfield was then asking this question later on (not because he read the backchannel but because it was on his list anyway) and we actually got to hear that answer. Michael Wilson said that no customer never ever asked for interoperability. My problem was though that I wasn’t really sure who he meant with “customer”. Companies who want to do marketing or residents? Somehow I never heard the word “customer” from Linden Lab. He also said that he would not know how interoperability should look like, giving again the usual example that it would make no sense to put a avatar into World of Warcraft. This is true but WoW is a game and not a virtual world and it also does not need to be an avatar but simply my profile, friendslist, groups etc. Even transferring goods would make sense so that I don’t have to recreate everything again in every virtual world. Of course those 3d models then need to be the same but maybe we will have different forms and levels of interoperability anyway. The other thing with interoperability is that you maybe shouldn’t wait until your customer ask for it because then it might be too late. The internet world is going decentral in general and thus I think Linden Lab is definitely on a better track here.
Privacy - Michael Wilson was asked about which data they store and distribute to their customers (being the companies here). He said that they store quite a bit (IIRC) but respect the privacy of their residents and don’t give all this data over to the companies. He didn’t really say in which form they analyze it and hand over. He also didn’t say that they delete the data again at some point. To me and others this did not sound too good even if he says he respects privacy. Who knows what he decides to do tomorrow and what does “respecting privacy” actually mean?
Summary - All in all Michael Wilson did not convince me that is a worthwhile place to put my time into. At least not as a resident, maybe as a company. But even then seems to be very Web1.0, dividing producers and consumers. The internet seems to go in another direction though. This becomes clear when you look at sites like YouTube, flickr and others or even look at the pretty successful virtual world Second Life (he was criticizing Robert for too much mentioning Second Life, btw). I also think for doing marketing in the future, a platform like might not be well suited. Right now companies might believe in control and all that but this will become more and more a impossible to achieve. Also community wise I am not sure how this might work out. It seems residents in are mostly food for marketing companies. It also seems that they are pretty irrelevant in the thinking of Michael Wilson. It does not seem about creativity, freedom and so on. And compare this to Philip Rosedale and you have a difference which couldn’t be bigger.

Monday, February 25, 2008

EA Takes on Linden Lab's Second Life With EA-LAND

EA is relaunching The Sims Online as a free service with a new name and new features, including UGC, commerce and land ownership. EA-Land is the new, free Sims Online (TSO). The 12 different cities from TSO are being moved to EA-Land and the game area is being expanded to be “100 times bigger than the previous size of any city.” Existing TSO users will be able to purchase land in EA-Land before the new (reincarnated) world is open to the public with paying TSO users becoming “EA-Land subscribers” in a similar fashion to the way Linden Lab charges for land in Second Life. Users of EA-Land will have the ability to upload custom content and (more importantly) buy these customizations from other players. Sounding a lot like Second Life? It gets better: "We heard from the community that the economy was broken in TSO. That was true, too many users were billionaires, and the goal of the game was mostly about extracting money from Maxis. I can now say with satisfaction that we have fixed the economy on EA-Land. This took many features, from establishing a real estate market, where users can easily buy or sell lots to one another, and a dynamic object pricing market where the prices of objects purchased from maxis is based on supply and demand, enabling stores and entrepreneurs to earn a living. We also enabled users to buy simoleans directly from Maxis. While there is no need for users to do so in the game (we give subscribers simoleans every week), it can help new users build their dream house faster with a simple paypal transaction secured by us."
There is one significant difference though to Second Life: EA-Land won’t become the wild west as EA will be “approving all of the content [so] this user content is safe to be viewed by everyone.” Second Life fans will point out that TSO/ EA-Land has a lot of difference to Second Life in terms of capabilities, and that is true. And yet really basic 2D service such as Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel have millions of users compared to Second Life’s 100-200,000 regular users over a 60 day period. As much as I hate the name, free is a great selling point and EA-Land has the potential of catering to users who want something more from their online words than the basic services, without the hassles of Second Life. From Tech Crunch.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is open source giving Second Life a second life?

From Dana Blankenhorn & Paula Rooney: "Linden Labs, whose Second Life is so cool yet so lacking in profits it’s been lampooned in an IBM ad, sent out an e-mail alert this week boasting that open source is giving the company, well, a second life. The alert lists a host of open source contributions made to Second Life over the last year:
* An open source Second Life client written in AJAX.
* A mobile Second Life client.
* A custom viewer allowing more mixing between Second Life and the real world.
* A patch enabling you to use Second Life with your 3-D glasses.
Linden Labs has also created awards for open source contributions and said its acquisition of Windlight opened up more Second Life code to open source licensing.
The criticism IBM makes in its ad is the same one many people make for open source generally — show me the money. Actual money. Got any money to show them?" I wish LL would be more open source about their financials. They are reportedly profitable according to their CEO and "self-sustaining".