Saturday, April 5, 2008

ex-Linden CTO Cory Ondrejka's Job Hunting 101

From Cory's blog a revealing and intriguingly intimate look at Linden's ex-CTO's job hunt; "one down, who knows how many to go" Went through my first real CEO interview yesterday. While a few very early stage companies have approached me, this was my first full, meet-the-board CEO interview of an accomplished, 100+ person company. Very interesting day, since I can't imagine a harder challenge than trying to pick the right outsider to come in and lead an experienced, successful group to the next level. I'm sure there is a "101 Questions to Ask a Potential CEO" instruction manual somewhere, but I haven't seen it. In my opinion, it comes down to connecting with the current executive team, founders, and board of directors. Do you inspire trust and confidence in your ability to raise the performance of those around you, to face difficult challenges, and to add an effective voice to the decision making process.
The company I visited yesterday had , I thought, some particularly good questions around conflict resolution, style, and vision that were fun to answer and generated more questions on both sides. Like most high-performance technology companies, they were a little less organized than they wanted to be, but the result -- a rotating subset of the interview team -- seemed pretty effective and kept me on my toes. I may incorporate that as a strategy in the future when I'm back on the interviewer side of things! And, no, I don't know whether it will go forward. I think I did a good job presenting an accurate picture of who I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are, where my passion and experience aligns with their needs, and where we aren't a good fit. Even if they feel I'm who they want, there is no guarantee I would take the job. But I am still interested and spending the day being tested by a really smart group was a blast. Of course, I feel like I should take this opportunity to talk about Paul Graham's "You Weren't Meant to Have a Boss" post that has been generating a fair amount of blogging noise, both pro and con. I thought his post was particularly apropos, since I'm currently in the process of talking to large technology companies (>10,000 employees), medium companies (>100), small companies (>5), and startups (<5). They all have positives and minuses, although my biases are pretty clear since my last three jobs were at early stage startups. In fact, my last time working for a large company was Lockheed in 1994. But that doesn't mean I think working for a large or medium company would be foolish. Larger companies have expertise in many areas -- people management, for example -- and resources rarely available to startups. With a young daughter, I might decide to trade off for a different risk-reward profile than I have in the past. I might view it as an opportunity to learn by working in a different environment. However, no matter the scale of the organization, the key question is how hierarchy is used (or not used.) Hierarchy is often spoken of as a singular structure -- usually the org chart -- but is actually made up of at least two independent components: control and communication.

Control: Who can tell you what to do
Communication: How information flows between people in the organization
Now, when we think of traditional hierarchical organizations, these two functions are superimposed. You have a boss. He tells you what to do, gives you salary reviews, and fires you. Sometimes, as in matrix management structures, there are multiple hierarchies, so that the person who tells you what to do may be different from the person who reviews your performance. But, these are not the only choices. Think about control for a moment. Forms of government are a reasonable approximation of management structures:

Monarchy: typical management hierarchy, with decider at the top
Anarchy: either nobody tells anyone what to do or everyone can tell anyone what to do
Republic: everyone selects a group to tell them what to do
Direct Democracy: everyone participates in every decision
Or, consider communication parallels:

Broadcast: one to many
Telephone: one to one, sometimes few to few
Blogging: many (well at least a few) to many
Organizations have the freedom to choose whichever structures make the most sense based on their size and requirements. More importantly, different groups and levels within an organization can choose different combinations. When many-to-many communication is failing because of team size -- how many emails can you process a day? -- either adopt a different communication strategy or create interfaces between teams. When you need all hands on deck to fight a fire, democracy might not be your best option, but once the fire is out and you need to innovate, bring on the anarchy!
Which brings us back to organizational size. Clearly, strategies that work for 3 or 5 -- direct democracy, many-to-many communication -- won't work for a company of 10,000. Many-to-many communication scales as O(n^2), so if everyone is trying to engage with everyone else they are going to spend all their time just reading email. Worse, if all 10,000 have to vote on every decision, the stress of knowing everything so that you could alway vote wisely would be crushing. One response to this is a traditional hierarchy. However, it this hierarchy need not be fractal. If you have teams of 5 or 20 or 50 that operate smoothly with different structures than the company as a whole, that is fine. In fact, it's better than fine -- it's almost certainly what you want! A good example of this were how game teams were run at PCP&L. The team helped build the design, schedule, and budget and then was generally cut lose to exist as an insulated pocket within the company. For all intents and purposes, the game team was a little, entrepreneurial startup, except that you had the surrounding company for health care, payroll, etc. Wholly owned subsidiaries can operate the same way, with the employees within the sub virtually unaware of the structure and requirements of the parent company. The question comes down to how flexible will the group I work with be allowed to be, because all projects have changing requirements throughout their life cycle. A small company or startup means flexibility is limited by funding and resources. In a large company, that flexibility is more limited by culture and habit. Some people might argue that a small company's limitations are better because "you control them", that it is better to be denied flexibility because you ran out of money rather than some pointy-haired boss' random decision. Maybe, but in my experience, not being able to execute due to a limitation sucks either way. So, for me, choosing based on company size is the wrong metric. Instead, the question should be about how open your design space is, what opportunities you need, what impact you hope to have, and which constraints most impact these vision and goals. For some, that will mean a startup, for others a big company. And that will be OK." http://ondrejka.blogspot.com/

Thursday, April 3, 2008

ZooKazoo "We can do a lot better than ... Club Penguin and Webkinz

Based on this screen shot, I am unconvinced. But goo dluck to them. The ClubPenguin Trio have made enough money off their 2.5 D pixel penguin drivel.

"ZooKazoo creates a fun online world for kids Dean Takahashi | April 3rd, 2008 | "When Disney bought Club Penguin last year for $700 million last year, it raised a lot of eyebrows. That’s why there are so many online game sites for kids being formed. One of the newest is ZooKazoo, which is coming out of stealth today. ZooKazoo is a cartoon world for children ages 6 to 12, and its creators think they’ve done a better job of creating a cute, Flash-based world for the youngest virtual-world denizens than Disney’s expensive property. “We think we can do a lot better,” said John Kim, CEO of the Palo Alto, Calif., company. “We can engage kids and provide assurances of safety for parents.” Kim, a veteran of media companies including Sony and Disney, has assembled a good team. The company was founded in January, 2007, and it has received angel funding. They went on to design the sit be both entertaining and social from the ground up. But the chances of success are tough. As I’ve been saying for a while now, I’m seeing an average of two casual games companies emerging from stealth each week. The reason? Well, in not so polite terms, “venture capitalists are stupid,” said John Vechey, co-founder of PopCap Games, the Seattle casual game developer behind hits such as “Bejeweled.” There are too many people jumping on a hot trend. The site is getting a steady stream of users thanks to materials it put up on the Yahoo! Kids site. Players can join for free and earn a currency known as “Kazoobits” by playing games. But to spend them, the players need to pay a subscription of $5.95 a month. The currency can be spent decorate a character or room. I watched my eight-year-old play with the site last weekend. She laughed out loud and played compulsively until I had to tell her to stop and get out of her pajamas. The world is easy enough for kids to learn. They start by logging in with the permission of a parent. Then they pick an avatar from among a wide variety of colorful cartoon animals. They can play mini-games within the world, such as floating down a river and dodging rocks. My 11-year-old even had fun playing a game where a panda climbs up bamboo shoots and eats the leaves on them. Next, they get to wander into a lobby and learn how to type-chat. They can go to a post office to send one-way messages to people in the outside world (such as parents). The messages can be used to support a cause, like getting people to help the environment in honor of Earth Day. But, due to child-protection practices, outsiders aren’t allowed to contact the kids. The world is built so that there is no such thing as a private chat among avatars, said David Dwyer, a former Apple researcher and chief operating officer of ZooKazoo. Kids also aren’t allowed to type known swear words or variants of them. If they do, they’re told they can’t say that. If they persist, a human administrator will intercede and give them a warning or eventually kick them out. Beyond being cartoonish, the game constantly plays cute children’s music. Dwyer said he considers that an important part of the entertainment and the company works hard to come up with original tunes. There are two worlds: a nightclub city dubbed “HipHopolis” and a jungle world called “Jungaloo.” Kids can experience “informal learning” by exploring a cave where they learn why jaguars are endangered. That’s a selling point for parents, Kim said, but the game isn’t as explicity about learning as DreamBox Learning (our coverage). The company will add more worlds and mini-games over time. Kim says a lot of the content will be social. The company will accommodate user-generated videos to a theater dubbed “ZooTube” in the future. For now, kids can go into comedy clubs and go up on stage and tell their own jokes. The world’s design is good. But the 19-employee company has to compete against giants such as Club Penguin, Webkinz, Nickelodeon, and Neopets. Not to mention a lot of the other casual game sites for kids (such as Fluid Entertainment) that are sprouting every week. Those companies have the brands. But ZooKazoo can beat them if it’s more fun. That’s one of the things I like about the game industry. Fun wins.

HABBO Survey Released

Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) April 3, 2008 -- Habbo, the largest virtual world for teenagers worldwide, today unveiled the results of its second Global Habbo Youth Survey. Examining the interests, values, attitudes, online habits of a global audience, the survey reveals teens' current media usage, consumption behavior and brand preferences in order to better understand what compels youth around the world.

For the study, Habbo surveyed 58,486 teens between the ages 11 and 18 from 31 countries and identified five clearly defined behavioral segments amongst respondents. With each group representing approximately one-fifth of the total teens surveyed, the five groups were categorized and described as the following:

- Achievers: Ambitious, strong-minded and materialistic. They value material success and while they have many friends, they do not consider other people's feelings as much as other groups.
- Rebels: Value gathering a lot of experiences in life and enjoy a fast-paced lifestyle. Like Achievers, they want to become "rich and famous," but are not willing to compromise on having fun in order to achieve this goal.
- Traditionals: Value having an ordinary life and see themselves as honest, polite and obedient. They are keen to help others but are less ambitious and pleasure-seeking compared to other segments.
- Creatives: Share many of the same positive traits as Traditionals, but with a focus on creativity. They place value in getting a good education and being influential in life, but they are also active, social and have an interest in traveling.
- Loners: More introverted and less likely than other segments to identify with any specific personality traits. They rarely see themselves as active or self-assured, but are more open-minded in their attitudes compared to Traditionals or Achievers.

A major focus of the survey was how teens communicate today. Nearly 76 percent of teens globally use the Internet to instant message friends, and, overall instant messaging was the most popular communication tool in most countries. Despite 72 percent of teen respondents' saying they have active email accounts, results showed it is no longer a primary means of communication with peers. The survey revealed that email is generally reserved by teens more for non-personal needs such as school or work, or correspondence with family members.

"According to the Global Habbo Youth Survey, the most popular global Web sites amongst teens are YouTube and MySpace," said Emmi Kuusikko, director of user and market insight for Sulake, Habbo's parent company. "Of those surveyed, 50 percent responded that they forward humorous links and videos to their friends, while 30 percent regularly upload content, confirming the notion that teenagers have an active online presence. We have also found that localization is important for teens communicating online, which is reflected by our own success in targeting local markets across the world."

In the U.S., the most popular web sites amongst respondents were MySpace and YouTube, followed by AddictingGames, RuneScape and Facebook.

The survey showed that brand familiarity clearly affects teens' choices as consumers, with 74 percent saying that familiar brands guide their purchasing decisions. Reinforcing the brand familiarity findings, global well-known brands, such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Nokia ranked high for both boys and girls. Gender differences are more visible for example in clothing brands. According to the results, boys favor Nike, Adidas and Billabong as their top clothing brands, where as girls preferred Hennes and Mauritz, Nike and Roxy.

The 2008 Global Habbo Youth Survey report is available to purchase as a 250-page hardcopy book. For inquiries and orders, please contact: marketinsight @ sulake.com

Obopay Moves to Allow Direct Payments from User Checking Accounts


(April 2, 2008) In a move that it hopes will attract more users to its mobile-payments product, Obopay Inc. is allowing account holders to send money to other persons directly out of their checking accounts. In a further change, recipients of these transfers no longer need to have Obopay accounts and may have the funds deposited directly into their checking accounts. The move streamlines a process that formerly included an intermediate step consisting of a transfer of funds into the sender’s prepaid Obopay account. Transfers to other parties then took place out of these stored-value accounts. And, starting Thursday, recipients who are notified they have received money will be able to give routing and transit numbers and other details from their mobile phones to make deposits to their checking accounts. Until then, they are using Obopay’s Web site to give these instructions. The new method took effect in March. In a related development, Obopay and Citgroup Inc. announced on Wednesday that the banking giant will start this summer a consumer trial for an integrated Obopay mobile-payments product linked to Citi checking accounts. The trial follows pilots the bank ran last year with Obopay in Boston and Chicago.
Irv Henderson, vice president of product development for Redwood City, Calif.-based Obopay, says the decision to directly tap checking accounts is a response to consumer research the company conducted in November. Users, he says, wanted to be able to use bank accounts they had already created. “For people who are using [Obopay] like a simple wire transfer, we heard they want to use their checking accounts whether as sender or receiver,” he says. “What resonated with us was the need to give senders and receivers more flexibility.” Henderson says Obopay also hopes the streamlined system will appeal to more users and increase activity by existing ones at a time when competition in mobile-payment processing is heating up. “We continue to chip away at the barriers [to adopting mobile payments],” he says. The company is closely monitoring activity to see if it is picking up the expected gains, Henderson says, but adds it’s too early to say. The company plans to do another user survey around the middle of April, he says. “Ease of use and convenience, that’s what I’m really measuring for now,” says Henderson. Obopay will not release how many accounts it has.
Three-year-old Obopay allows handset users to send money to each other—and, in some cases, to merchants—through text messages, through a wireless application protocol site, or through its own application on the phone. Obopay’s fee schedule is not changing: Senders pay a fee of 10 cents per payment, while transactions are free to receivers; those who fund their accounts from credit or debit cards pay a fee of 2.5%.

Amazon.com launches "Amazon TextBuyIt"

SEATTLE, Apr 02, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) today launched Amazon TextBuyIt, a new service that lets customers use text messages to find and buy products sold on Amazon.com. With the addition of TextBuyIt to Amazon's existing mobile offering, including its mobile site and mobile iPhone site, customers can now shop, compare prices, and buy from Amazon.com virtually anywhere they are, with any mobile device, using either text messages or their mobile device's web browser.
"With today's launch of TextBuyIt, any Amazon.com customer can now use any mobile device to shop and buy from Amazon.com, at anytime, anywhere they are," said Howard Gefen, Director of Amazon Mobile Payments. "With TextBuyIt, if you're walking out of a concert and want to buy a CD from the artist you just saw, or if you're at dinner and a friend tells you about a great book you should read, all you have to do is get out your mobile device, send a text message to Amazon, reply to the response, confirm your order, and your item will be on its way. It's incredibly simple and convenient."
In less than a minute and using only text messages, Amazon.com customers can find the product they are looking for and complete a purchase using TextBuyIt. Simply send a text message to "AMAZON" (262966) with the name of the product, search term or a UPC or ISBN code, and, within seconds, Amazon replies with the product or products that match the search, along with prices. To buy an item, customers simply reply to the text message by entering the unique single digit number next to the item they want. Customers will then receive a short phone call from Amazon with the final details of their order and asking them to confirm or cancel the purchase. When customers choose to purchase something for the first time using TextBuyIt, they will be asked for their e-mail address and shipping ZIP code they use for their Amazon.com account. With this information, Amazon uses customers' default settings for payment method, shipping address and shipping speed, including 2-Day shipping for Amazon Prime members. TextBuyIt is the latest in a series of mobile offerings for Amazon.com customers. For several months, Amazon.com has been adding more features and enhancing the functionality of its mobile website for customers who want to shop using the browser on their mobile phone. Today, the same Amazon.com shopping features customers enjoy from their PCs are available from their mobile devices, including 1-Click, Prime, Customer Reviews, Wish Lists, Search and stored payment and shipping options. These customers simply go to www.amazon.com using the browser on their mobile device where they are automatically redirected to a site optimized for mobile. Customers use the exact same login, payment, and shipping information as they do on the PC. In recent months, Amazon.com customers have used their mobile devices to purchase everything from books, to big screen HDTVs to $30,000 watches using Amazon's mobile website.
Additionally, last fall Amazon.com released an experience customized for iPhone users. Just like with the Amazon.com experience optimized for mobile devices, when iPhone users type www.amazon.com into their browser, they will be taken to an interface that is optimized for the iPhone and where all the same shopping features they enjoy on their PC are available. The site is tailored to the iPhone's screen size, keyboard, and browser capabilities and is designed to let customers find and buy what they are looking for quickly and easily.

"Russian Paypal" Yandex Partners with Russian Development Bank

Yandex, the leading search engine in Russia has announced a partnership with the Russian Development Bank (RBR). This will allow users of their online payment system, Yandex Money to transfer funds to and from the virtual account via the ATM machines owned by the bank. Yandex Money is a system similar to PayPal. Registration in the system is free and depositing money into the system is done without commission. Withdrawing money is charged at 2%. The system is open to merchants dealing in Russia but is currently restricted to Russian registered businesses. “Together with the Russian Development Bank, we have developed a reliable and secure scheme of interacting between the virtual bank account and card withdrawals” said Yevgeny Zavalishina, CEO of Yandex.Money.”We’re ready to join other Russian banks and are open to cooperation with all market participants.”

CEO of VISA Wants Quick Settlement With EU


-- Visa Europe Ltd. president and chief executive Peter Ayliffe said he wants a 'negotiated settlement' with the European Commission over its cross-border interchange fees, adding that the payments card group seeks an agreement as soon as possible. Speaking to reporters here, Ayliffe said a settlement is the 'right way forward'. He added that the commission is keen to continue the talks and reach an agreement. Ayliffe said while the group is under no 'time pressure' to reach an accord and no strict timetable has been set, it would like to reach a deal as soon as possible. 'The earlier it happens, the better for everybody,' he said. Ayliffe said Visa is looking for closure to the EU's interchange fees case in order to provide certainty going forward in Europe's single market for payments. Ayliffe also said the group's current level of interchange -- set for retailers at an average of 0.7 percent of transactions for processing credit and debit card payments outside the cardholder's country -- is 'justified' in terms of costs and benefits to both retailers and consumers, including advances in technology and security. Big retailers like Ikea, Tesco and France's Carrefour complain that the fees are too high, raising their costs and increasing prices for consumers. He said the group is 'pulling the evidence together' for further talks to justify the fees. Ayliffe added that a common view is emerging that interchange fees -- charges levied on purchases at a retail outlet when the payment is processed -- made on payment card transactions are 'not illegal'. The group said there is 'recognition of interchange's role in payment systems' and that there are 'economic and technical justifications' for the fees' role in the industry.
To this end, Ayliffe said the group was heartened by recent comments made by EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes and internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy. Since the start of the year, Kroes has said that not all interchange fees are unlawful, while McCreevy has commented that charges to cover costs of payment networks are 'inevitable'. The CEO said that while some national regulators have brought legal cases against the group over interchange, the 'mature' thing to do would be for them to wait for the conclusion of the commission's investigation.
'There are...national regulators that have put up cases against us. While we are negotiating with the commission, they should put those on hold'. At the end of March, the EU executive opened an in-depth inquiry into Visa's multilateral interchange fees (MIFs) to assess their compatibility with EU laws. The opening of formal antitrust proceedings covers MIFs for cross-border point of sale transactions within the European Economic Area (EEA) using Visa-branded consumer payment cards. The inquiry also covers transactions under Visa's 'honour-all-cards-rule', which obliges merchants to accept all valid Visa-branded cards, irrespective of the identity of the issuer, the nature of the transaction and the type of card being issued, the commission said. Ayliffe said Wednesday that he does not want to see changes to the rule. The commission said it will investigate whether the fees are compatible with EU laws on restrictive business practices such as price-fixing. The commission adopted an exemption decision on Visa's multilateral interchange fee in 2002 after Visa 'offered substantial reforms'. The exemption expired on Dec 31 last year. Visa Europe is part of the global Visa network. It is an association of 4,600 European banks and financial institutions which pay the group fees for use of its services. In October last year, it became independent of Visa Inc. (NYSE:V) In mid-December last year, the commission ruled rival MasterCard Inc.'s (NYSE:MA) interchange fee payments network within the EEA was illegal. Ayliffe said there is a difference between the cases put forward to the commission by the group and that of MasterCard, based on legal arguments used. He also said each case must be judged 'on its own merits'. The commission concluded the group's MIFs inflated the cost of card acceptance by retailers without leading to proven efficiencies. MasterCard then had six months to comply with the order to withdraw the fees. If MasterCard fails to comply, the commission said it may impose daily penalty payments of 3.5 percent of the company's daily global turnover in the preceding business year. MasterCard has appealed against the decision to the EU courts in Luxembourg. The EU executive said at the time of its decision MIFs are not illegal as such but stressed they are only compatible with EU competition rules if they contribute to technical and economic progress and benefit consumers. The EU executive says the overall payment cards sector handles payments worth 1,350 billion euros a year. Visa said 80 percent of payments made in the 27 member state bloc were made in cash, but added that this is likely to decrease over time in favour of payment cards. The group claims that more than 1 euro in every 9 in Europe is spent on a Visa card. It aims to increase this to 1 euro in every 5 by 2015.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Utherverse Banned from Speaking at the Virtual Worlds 2008 Conference by Virtual Worlds Management.



I understand they are banned from speaking but not spanking ... read on!

NEW YORK, NY -- 04/02/08 -- Leading virtual world developer Utherverse.com announced today that it has been banned from a speaking panel at the Virtual Worlds 2008 Conference by Virtual Worlds Management. The conference showcases the growing power of the virtual world industry and helps developers and businesses alike "understand how to monetize their intellectual property using virtual worlds." VWC officials claim that the content of Utherverse's RedLightCenter.com and Virtual-Vancouver.com misrepresents what they believe to be an industry targeted at youth. Ironically, last year's fall conference found that 71 percent of virtual world users are between the ages eighteen and twenty-four. Although hundreds of virtual worlds are in existence, only adult worlds like RedLightCenter have been able to flourish at low maintenance costs. This year, Utherverse's projected expenses are $3.5 million. Other worlds, like anime-inspired Gaia Online, spend $25 million annually to maintain their sites. Utherverse logs more than 1.2 million users, where Gaia Online registers around 2.5 million monthly. Brian Shuster, CEO of Utherverse, believes that by discriminating against virtual worlds with adult content, the VWC is working against its mission statement, as adult content worlds like Utherverse's RedLightCenter.com (as well as Jenna Jameson's "Virtually Jenna") continually show profits. Only a select few other virtual worlds (like major-player "World of Warcraft") have been able to show a profit in a fast-growing industry. "It's a very narrow-minded viewpoint that disregards the history of how adult content has driven technology innovation, and that, in turn, disregards the reality that the vast majority of virtual world users are over eighteen years old," Shuster said. "This is particularly frustrating because we are Second Life's top competitor, and they get red carpet treatment despite the heavy focus on adult entertainment within their virtual world." Utherverse's unique virtual content focuses on music, social functions, real relationships and sex. The site recently launched an initiative to promote an online dating environment in order to expand its target user base. The company will be attending the Virtual Worlds Conference under protest. This will be the second annual Virtual Worlds Conference held in New York. Keynote speakers include execs at Mattel, MTV, Neopets and IBM.

ABOUT UTHERVERSE.COM

Utherverse is the Internet's most sophisticated and advanced adult 3D virtual reality universe. The company was formed in 2002 to create a virtual-world web of massive multiplayer online communities. Specifically designed to appeal to the 21-49 year-old demographic market, the site offers users virtual nightclubs, hotels, movie theaters, stores, and community events. Utherverse's first two products are RedLightCenter.com, an adult-themed virtual world modeled after the infamous district in Amsterdam, and Virtual-Vancouver.com, a music-focused online community. Utherverse plans to construct a Virtual-World Web consisting of millions of interlinked Virtual Worlds, providing users with a much more enriching and immersive experience than the flat web does today. For more information, please see utherverse.com.

PRESS CONTACT:
Brittany Roth
S&S Public Relations
(646) 722-8188
broth@sspr.com

Under the Radar conference on June 3rd at the Microsoft campus in Mountain View, Ca.

The lovely Debbie Landa was kind enough to tip me to the upcoming "call for companies" for the Under the Radar conference on June 3rd at the Microsoft campus in Mountain View, Ca. This conference is highlighting social media and entertainment startups and virtual worlds startups like mycosm, C3L3B Digital, Wello Horld and others I have blogged about before. For more info contact her at;

Debbie Landa, CEO
Dealmaker Media | Under the Radar
w: 415 864 2885 | c: 415 235 2106 | Skype Name: deblanda
http://www.dealmakermedia.com | http://undertheradarblog.com
Upcoming Event: Under the Radar – March 20, 2008

Bollywood Actress Stars in 3D Mobile Game

neeta chancdra.jpg
This is not virtual world or payment related stuff, it is a 3d mobile game, so why is it here? Because she is just so damn HOT! "7Seas Technologies ropes in Neetu Chandra for 3D mobile action game HYDERABAD: 7Seas Technologies Limited, an independent games development company based out of Hyderabad, has signed an agreement with Bollywood actress Neetu Chandra to develop a first-of-its-kind 3D mobile game. "Under the agreement, 7Seas Technologies will develop a 3D mobile game with Neetu Chandra playing the lead character. The game titled on her name Neetu (The Alien Killer), is based on a unique game story and revolves around the lead character killing different aliens," Maruti Sanker .L, Managing Director of 7Seas Technologies, said.

Samsung Takes Second Life Mobile

Samsung is showing off handsets running Second Life this week at CTIA Wireless 2008. Samsung, has been interested in developing consumer electronics around virtual worlds for some time and has had a presence in Second Life for just under a year. While there have been several other recent moves to make Second Life mobile, most have involved simply using a mobile interface to stream Second Life or run a stripped-down client. Samsung is adding unique functionality, though, including a blogging platform that lets users post to the Web and Second Life simultaneously as well as a contact list letting users communicate with Second Life users through SMS or voice. "We plan to commercialize phones equipped with the innovative wireless mobile solutions possibly from the second half of this year for U.S. consumers," a Samsung spokesperson told Korea Times. Samsung developed the application from the Second Life open-source client and created it to be compatible with Windows Mobile devices. Here is their SL build:

Linden Lab hires Resident Communications Manager

by Tateru Nino Apr 2nd 2008 @ 2:45AM; "In a search lasting nearly 12 months, Linden Lab has finally hired a Communications Manager. Linden Lab originally announced the search for a Second Life Resident Communications Manager in early May 2007, but the blog posting announcing the position was silently removed some months later. You would hardly know the position had been filled, if you weren't reading closely. Robin Harper announced the arrival of Katt Linden as part of another post on Monday, but omitted to mention what role, precisely Katt would be filling. Today, the role is given the briefest of mentions at the bottom of the trademarks policy piece by Catherine Smith. "Katt will be focusing on our Resident communication channels," said Smith, "including this blog and the forums to make sure we're using the right tools to communicate clearly and frequently with the community. She's going to need some ramp up time so please be gentle." After so long, it is almost astonishing that there is a person filling this role. It's big news, and we wonder why there's been essentially no fanfare. In case you're wondering what Resident means, it means users of the Second Life service of all sorts. There's quite a usage split in terms. Linden Lab always uses the word Resident (capitalized as a proper noun). Users of the service themselves generally swing between users, residents and occasionally players, with one of the terms tending to predominate depending on the groups you associate with and the places you frequent. For Second Life users the filling of this position is probably one of the biggest deals for them in a long time. Quite aside from any policy changes, bugs, glitches and grid problems -- users have wanted someone dedicated to making sure that they are properly and clearly informed. Now that that has happened, it passed almost unmarked. Which is somewhat ironic, really.

New York Times Reviews 3D Chat Vivaty

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Good review and positive endorsement of 3D chat service Vivaty by NYT; "Online Chat, as Inspired by Real Chat By BRAD STONE SAN FRANCISCO -- Compared with other forms of human interaction, online social networking is really not all that social. People visit each other's MySpace pages and Facebook profiles at various hours of the day, posting messages and sending e-mail back and forth across the digital void. It's like an endless party where everybody shows up at a different time and slaps a yellow Post-it note on the refrigerator. Now a new wave of Silicon Valley companies is bringing live socializing back into a medium that has, in the parlance of the technologists, grown overly asynchronous. Vivaty, a start-up based in Menlo Park, Calif., is creating 3-D virtual chat rooms that people can add to the Web pages and social networking profiles on the sites where they spend most of their Internet time. The company has been quietly working on its technology for three years and will begin a private test period on Facebook this week in advance of a wider introduction this summer. It is backed by the blue-chip venture capital firms Kleiner, Perkins Caufield & Byers and Mohr Davidow Ventures. Vivaty turns a flat profile page into a three-dimensional live chat room. Users choose characters to represent themselves from a list of preternaturally handsome avatars -- a requirement for any such service -- and proceed to one of a dozen environments, like a gothic urban warehouse or seaside villa. With videogame-like precision, they can then navigate that virtual space, which may feature their Facebook photos hanging from the walls and a YouTube video playing on a widescreen TV. Up to 15 others can choose avatars and enter the same room at the same time for text-based live socializing. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/31/technology/31chat.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
"We want to take all your content on the Web and move it to a more visually immersive, immediate experience," said Keith McCurdy, chief executive at Vivaty and a former vice president at the big game maker Electronic Arts. Similar online services like Second Life and games like World of Warcraft have existed for years. But they are not accessible through a Web browser. Instead they require users to install large and cumbersome programs and have plenty of Internet bandwidth for a satisfyingly immediate experience. Vivaty chat rooms, on the other hand, will be scattered across the Web. A user can stick an existing Vivaty virtual environment, or create a unique one, wherever HTML code can be imbedded. The company plans to make money partly by allowing companies to start their own virtual rooms on their own Web sites, where they can control the d├ęcor and their marketing messages. Vivaty's technology and business plan may be unique, but its overall goal is not. The entrepreneurs and investors behind other "live Web" companies say that the intermittent socializing on most Web sites ignores the primal human instinct that once drove people to the town square and now brings them into real-world social groups to watch the Super Bowl or the latest episode of "Battlestar Galactica." "A lot of basic human communication needs have been lost in this age of siloed, one-to-one communications," said Roelof Botha, a partner at the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. "At the end of the day, we are a social species." Mr. Botha, one of the original backers of YouTube, is behind live Web companies like TokBox, a year-old start-up that lets people conduct face-to-face video chats on the Web, and Meebo, a two-year-old Web messaging company that introduced a new generation of networked chat rooms to the Web last year. Chat rooms were an integral part of the online experience for users of early services like CompuServe and America Online. Characterized by names like "Single and Looking," they often devolved into noisy chaos. The first wave of Web technology helped drive these unruly conversations close to extinction. The Web's static pages made it poorly suited for rapid-fire, live communication. Live chat was relegated to separate software tools like instant messenger programs. Newer Web programming tools provide flexibility for updates inside Web pages. But now there is a new problem: Internet users are spread thinly across millions of Web sites and blogs and various social networks. Last year, Meebo's chief executive, Seth Sternberg -- who as a teenager was a chat-room moderator for America Online -- introduced Meebo Rooms, a kind of 2-D version of Vivaty's cartoonscape. Meebo Rooms can play host to the same crowd on more than one Web site. For instance, there are around 100 people at any given time talking in the Meebo Room for the Showtime program "Big Brother After Dark." Half of those might enter on Showtime's site, while the other half might join from fan's pages on MySpace. But they all conduct one live conversation. Mr. Sternberg asserts that the dialogue is cleaner in his new live chats than on the old AOL chats he used to patrol. "Whenever chat rooms are embedded on a site with context, and everyone is there because they are interested in the topic, the conversation is good," he said. Other new live services are popping up quickly. This month, Facebook said it would introduce a live chat feature. Live video streaming services, from Yahoo and start-ups like Kyte, Ustream.TV and Justin.TV, are also proliferating. Those companies include live chat features as well, so users can discuss what they are watching in real time. Mr. McCurdy from Vivaty said he did not expect these live services to travel far across the generational divide. The younger video-game generation "has more craving for contact," he said. "They are using their computers for emotional experiences, and a video-game experience is more emotional than looking at a blue and white Facebook page."

Multiverse Offers 3D Enterprise Solution

Some of Multiverse's biggest buzz-generating projects so far have been entertainment- oriented, from a broad collaboration with James Cameron to serving as the platform for an upcoming Firefly MMO. Today Multiverse announced a more serious turn towards enterprise-level applications and support for virtual worlds. Ranging from the ability to host a Multiverse world behind a secure firewall to an array of integrated VoIP services, Multiverse hopes to build off existing Web-based services. "The other especially interesting functionalities are the abilities to do real-time PowerPoint presentations and real-time collaborative whiteboarding,"Executive Producer and Co-Founder Corey Bridges told Virtual Worlds News. "It's not like we've built a special widget for each of those. What we've done instead is not in building those widgets, but in building the underlying platform that lets developers take advantage of the rest of the Web where people have already solved those problems. With Multiverse, you can show a web page on any surface and make it interactive." That doesn't mean users have to hunt for those services themselves, though.
"We're going to make it even easier," explained Bridges. "We're going to put in a tiny amount of functionality that makes it easier for you an enterprise user to click a button and have that PowerPoint uploaded and converted to HTML and looking the same to everyone in the virtual world. It's tiny, incremental work for us to build these things because we've spent years developing a platform not to replace the Web but to leverage all the content that's been made to make the Web interesting." Along those lines, users can integrate work from Google Docs; stream video that's cached on a hard drive, stored on a network, or found on the Internet; and work with tools like AI and VoIP that have made collaboration in games easier. "We'll also be showing off free VoIP," said Bridges. "We built that into the server. We offer two kinds: channel-based VoiP that's like a team speak or conference call, all at the same level, and also positional sound. If your avatar is standing net to someone you hear them more. That's built into the Multiverse platform." No partners have been announced yet, but Multiverse hopes to announce several in Q2 of this year and present case studies. The worlds themselves, though, will remain private. As for pricing, Multiverse traditionally doesn't charge users to develop on its platform, only drawing a portion of the revenue when the developers themselves begin charging. "That works fine for worlds with a revenue model and those that are out on the Internet at large," Bridges said. "For a company that wants to deploy a world behind a firewall, that's a different licensing model. It's a named user model, and very much in line with current prices." The interest is already there, though, representing a shift in the way large companies view virtual worlds.
"There's been a bunch of interest, particularly in the last quarter or two," said Bridges. "Since the start of the new year, there's been huge interest from the enterprise. It's much more sober and reflective and thinking entrance to the virtual world than the last few years. I think we're seeing a nice, mature approach to this that takes into account they hype we've seen in virtual worlds. That's really gratifying." http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/04/interview-multi.html#more

Advice on Launching Kiddie Virtual Worlds

From the KZero blog advising publishers of kiddie virtual worlds; "A message to all companies planning to launch a kids or tween world"
http://www.kzero.co.uk/blog/?p=1982
1. This space is already competitive and will get a lot harder to penetrate in the very near future. Some of the smartest people in the gaming and entertainment sectors are working on virtual worlds for kids. We will not see another Club Penguin in this space for a while. See graph below.
2. You need to have a differentiated proposition (something new, ownable or both) in order to attract and retain your customers - that's the residents. Being first into the market with a differentiation offering gives you a head-start.
3. Or you need a significant marketing and advertising budget in order to get the attention of the market. Note that I said advertising and marketing as opposed to PR. Your target market does not read press releases.
4. You need to work like hell on viral mechanisms.
5. Repeat. You need to work like hell on viral mechanisms.
6. My opinions don't really matter (and I'm not a VIP) but if you're going to have a 'VIP' launch then make sure the founder is around to answer the questions if that's the basis for the invitation.
7. Children are fickle. If they don't get the point of your proposition almost instantly then you're finished. Recent case history - I gave my oldest son (age eight) a new'ish virtual world to play with. I left the room and came back in two minutes later. He was watching TV.
8. Launching your new world is the beginning not the start.
9. Do not underestimate the future value of virtual goods. This is where the money is.

Three Rings' Whirled Goes to Open Beta

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From VWN; "Three Rings, makers of Puzzle Pirates, launched its newest project into open beta at the end of last week.Whirled Whirled is a platform for users to develop casual games and share them in a Web-based environment tying together social networks, virtual worlds, and virtual goods--all of which, it seems, can also be shaped and formed by users.

Goofy Characters and Weird People -- Sounds Like a Hearing

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Dana Milbank of the Post pokes fun at the Congressional Hearings on online worlds held on on April Fool's day; "International financial markets are in turmoil, gas is pushing $4 a gallon and a recession looms. But don't worry, folks: The House Energy and Commerce Committee is on the case. Yesterday, in unwitting observance of April Fools' Day, the telecommunications subcommittee held a hearing on "online virtual worlds" and the use of cartoon-like characters called avatars." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/01/AR2008040102372.html?hpid=news-col-blog

ex-Linden Research Chairman Mitch Kapor "A company like Linden Lab faces insurmountable opportunities"


Master of verbal dexterity ex-Linden Research Chairman Mitch Kapor stopped by Cornell's Metanomics session last Friday. This would be an exciting thing if one could ever get Mitch to use the English language in a real life way to actually answer questions about recent management developments at Linden and the company's future direction. However, he was predictably and characteristically vague and evasive when asked direct and pointed questions from smart people. Here is a recap of the session from Robert Bloom the organizer and Roland Legrand;

http://metanomics.net/17-mar-2008/mitch-kapor-comments-philip-rosedale "Mitch Kapor comments on Philip Rosedale By Robert Bloomfield - Posted on March 17th, 2008: Most followers of Metanomics probably know that Philip Rosedale has stepped down from his position as CEO of Linden Lab. Mitch Kapor, who is the current Chairman of the Board of Linden Lab, was in Second Life to give a keynote speech as part of UBM Think Service's Life 2.0 conference. That gave me a chance to ask the following during the Q&A session:

Do you have any comments on the change in Philip Rosedale's position, and your stepping down as Chairman of the Board of Directors? Along similar lines, what can you say about Linden Lab's short-term and long-term strategic plans?

Mitch's response was largely what you might expect. Here is my attempt at paraphrasing:

When the company started nine years ago (and I started seven years ago), we knew is was likely to be a long-term undertaking to realize the underlying vision Philip had. It is very unusual for the person who is the founder and visionary to remain the CEO forever. (Bill Gates is an exception). At some point the demands of running the ongoing business become a position very different from the that needs to be played by a visionary founder and spiritual heart of the company. That said, this is Philip’s life’s work, he intends to stay and contribute. Finding a CEO is a bit like a marriage…you want to find someone where there is trust and complementarity. I will no longer be Chairman of the Board, but I will remain just as actively involved as ever.

Mitch declined to comment on the short-term and long-term strategy of the firm, leaving that to Philip and the other members of the management team. However, he closed with this rather tantalizing comment:

Keep your seatbelts fastened, because it is going to be exciting!

Hmmmm......

He also left us with this gem:

A company like Linden Lab faces insurmountable opportunities."

http://www.mixedrealities.com/ ‘IPO Linden Lab not under active consideration’

An Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Linden Lab, the company which runs Second Life, is not under active consideration, chairman Mitch Kapor of Linden Lab told the audience of the Metanomics show in Second Life. It remains a strategic possibility, but it is not under consideration meaning that there is no work being done on for example a timetable for such an operation. Asked by a member of the audience about the rumour that Google would be interested in taking a participation in Linden Lab, Kapor said that he did not know about such a rumour. Kapor was interviewed by professor Robert Bloomfield (Cornell University) and made it very clear that Linden Lab is in a new stage of its development. Bloomfield reminded the audience that during the last months several important changes took place at the company: the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Cory Ondrejka left, unregulated banking was banned, Philip Rosedale said he will step back as CEO to become chairman of the board, and the branding policy of the company became much more strict. Kapor, who became famous as the co-founder (together with Jonathan Sachs) of the Lotus Development Corporation (1982) and who is an important member of the open source movement, said that is was normal for a start-up to see important changes when the company enters a next stage. Kapor explained that Second Life has some first mover advantages. It has a real business, makes money, and has a deep understanding of the industry. But Lotus 1-2-3 was at the time not the first mover, and actually the advantage of being a first mover can be overrated, Kapor warns. Those who come in second often have a much shorter learning curve. So being a first mover “must not become a liability”. There are some very important challenges for the company: the stability and the user experience. That user experience does not come close to what is needed for a mass adoption. There is also the threat of the intense competition in the sector. The opportunity however is enormous. Kapor underlined that virtual worlds are a disruptive innovation just like the pc was. Just as in the case of DOS in the early days of the pc, it takes a lot of time and effort to make such a huge platform user friendly. It took 15 to 20 years to go from DOS to Windows. Linden Lab also needs the management structure and the financial means to invest not only in work being done on the existing platform, but also for work on a much more fundamental level, to get to that necessary level of user friendly functionality. While Kapor is very enthusiastic about the business applications of virtual worlds, he does not want to belittle the consumer side. Once again he referred to the pc, which is an important tool for businesses but also for personal consumer use. Asked for some explanation about the revenue model, Kapor told the audience that right now the hosting business is the most important source of revenue. The future will bring other revenue sources, and this should not be contradicted by the movement towards open source. Businesses will pay for the installation, configuration and security-aspects of virtual world platforms. Kapor warned however that these are opportunities, but that many competitors will be in the market to grab those opportunities. Hence the need to run Linden Lab as a real business.

ex-Benchmark Guys at Balderton Invest in Second Life-Like Metaversum

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This is interesting. Balderton is investing in Metaversum, the Linden Lab wanna be from Germany and publisher of Second Life copy-cat Twinity. Balderton is composed of the former European arm of Benchmark Capital. Benchmark, the VC that hit the biggest VC home run of all time with its EBAY stake in 1997 http://www.answers.com/topic/benchmark-capital?cat=biz-fin also invests in Linden Research (Linden Lab's Second Life). I guess the Balderton guys have to put that Bebo money somewhere! http://www.balderton.com/?q=node/268. From VWN; "Metaversum, the company currently developing mirror world Twinity, has received "a significant multi-million-Euro investment" from Balderton Capital, formerly known as Benchmark Capital Europe. Klaus Hommels from Balderton will take a spot on the Metaversum board, though a commenter on TechCrunch notes that "Hommels is no longer a partner at Balderton? He got out, the exact reasons unknown, but they let him keep his board seats while paying him some management fee." When we spoke to Jeremy Snyder, EVP of Community & Operations for Metaversum, in March, he noted that the company was aiming to have something more than the curent private beta available by this month. With the investment aimed at moving Twinity towards a global launch, it looks like that could be coming soon. "We are very glad to have won the support of an experienced international player in Balderton Capital," Jochen Hummel, CEO of Metaversum, said in a statement. "As we gear up to release our virtual world Twinity, the addition of our new partner puts us in a great position." http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/04/metaversum-take.html#more
The Balderton guys have to put that Bebo money somewhere! http://www.balderton.com/?q=node/268
Links; http://metaversum.com/

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XEROX Innovation Group in Second Life

XEROX's CTO talks about its virtual world initiatives.