Two of the (many) luminaries at Ludium last weekend were Randy Farmer and Richard Bartle, who are both well-known pioneers in the gaming field. Evidently, after the festivities concluded in Bloomington, both Richard and Randy set out independently in search of a local gaming establishment. Hilarity ensued, as recounted here by Richard himself.
Since I said it during the Metaversed geek meet last night, I thought I would repeat for the record what Cisco's position is on Virtual Worlds and help cut short any speculation. In short, and with the caveat that this is my personal blog and not some insidious backdoor for corporate propaganda, Cisco is a proponent of any collaboration or communication over IP, so by definition a supporter and advocate of virtual worlds. I personally LOVE the fact that they consume as much bandwidth as they do, and relish the multi-modality (voice, video) of them.
I'd personally like to see some dominant architectural models emerge relatively soon so we can get down to the real business of market adoption, but startups and academic consortia will be, well, startups and academic consortia.
So, has Cisco announced intent or even intimated plans to enter this space? Nope.
There you go. Now we can get back to our regularly scheduled program. :-)
I had to leave Ludium 2 early today to catch a couple of flights, however I must say I walked away completely amazed at how well the event went, and how much was accomplished. The team is still going there, working on finalizing the platform for the speaker(s).
Overall, for those who could not attend, the Studio Cypher team and Ted Castronova arranged the conference as a game....a political convention specifically, with regions and districts vying for influence and mind-share. Each district in each region developed 10 platform statements, which were then merged with other similar statements in other districts in the region, and subsequently other regions. There were debates, press broadsheets, bribes, horse-trading, and all of the other tools of the political milieu.
We had a conversation going on a prior post about the intersection of Social Networking sites and Virtual Worlds (which subsume much of the functionality of current generation SNS' as well as add some other features). I came across this interview on Gamasutra with Raph Koster, the creator of a number of wildly popular MMOGs including Ultima Online (which consumed most of my late 20s and two or three girlfriends) where he discusses his new company Areae and their impending plans.
I had the pleasure of spending some time last week with Tom Malone, the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan school of Management, and director of the newly created MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. (Disclaimer- my employer is now a big ol' sponsor of CCI) The conversations with Tom helped catalyze some prior thoughts I had pursued on prediction markets and explicit information economies.
What I hadn't done was connect all the dots and see if there were net benefits to prediction markets, information economies, and virtual worlds. Let me see if I can walk through this one (more for my own edification than for any educational ambitions) without running into a mental wall......
Prediction markets, oversimplified, allow you to tap into collective intelligence (most recently featured in 'The Wisdom of Crowds') by creating composite fitness metrics of any particular item. In the case of enterprises, you could (as Alph Bingham did at Eli Lilly) have each team member of a large development team vote on how they feel the project is progressing (1-10 scale), entirely subjectively from their point of view. If you were to take the aggregate of those numbers for all members of a project, you'd have a composite number that reflected all the different perspectives. You could do this across projects and track them on a weekly or monthly basis, and it would start to look like section 2 of the Wall Street Journal. The cynic in me says that you'd eventually develop an internal SEC to make sure that managers didn't 'game' the fitness metrics to make their projects look better (collusion).
One seminal example of this that also happens to be practically in my own backyard is the Iowa Electronic Markets, which forecast political election outcomes frequently.
Information Economy. This is something touched on in Beck and Wade's Attention Economy, however you could begin to develop values for information and tasks within an organization like you would with experience points in a massively multiplayer online game. So, you wrote an excellent proposal boilerplate? You get 100 experience points! (That's the original 'XP' to us old skool gamers). Ok, now you have accumulated 20,000 XP, then what? Well, perhaps you get a bonus, or a raise, or a promotion, or a bigger monitor, or you can use them (as Seriosity does) to demand more attention for things you consider to be high value. Make the current implict economy of ideas somehow explicit and measurable. Rumor has it that Vykarian in Shanghai is doing this internally, and actually has employees walking around with badges that display their XP. I don't know why, but I really like an explicit meritocracy......it's a great leveler.
Leighton Read over at Alloy Ventures uses the example of sending your boss a message with $100 attached, because you think it is that important. If the boss sends back his comments with $1, you have a pretty clear message how much to pursue the program.
So, if you consider using networked virtual environments ('verses, for those playing the home game), all of your interactions are captured and mediated electronically. You could build in prediction markets as well as an explicit information economy into the workflow or gameplay of an environment. The tricky part would be to determine what the goals of the company were so you would have guidance how to design the economy of ideas to begin with. In this case economy architecture is politics (sorry McLuhan).
Speaking of, the next two weeks should have some good food for thought along these paths, with the MIT/IBM virtual worlds event later this week, and Ludium in Indiana with Prof. Edward Castronova (yes, that Castronova). So, apologies in advance for more disjointed blogposts as these memes mylenate.
Yesterday was a serendipitous day. First, I was very pleasantly surprised at Lisa's comment (and Dave's subsequent response) on the prior post. Then, having pre-caffeine-bumbled my way through a comment response of my own, I headed into the office for a typical morning in San Jose (two customer meetings, a Video on Demand, and a couple of press calls).
One of the calls was from Larry Walsh over at VARBusiness magazine, with whom I did the fun Channel 2.0 event two weeks ago. Larry and I spoke briefly and his primary question was EXACTLY the same as Lisa's, which was 'what is the future for Second Life, and virtual worlds in general?'
For what it is worth, here's my prediction:
In the next 3-9 months, at least two major players (Google, IBM, Microsoft, etc.), in addition to Sony Home, will launch their own virtual worlds to compete with Second Life. They will differ from one another, but each will be a walled garden in the sense that they will not interoperate with one another or other worlds. Before we venture too much farther down this rabbit hole, let me digress for a moment and propose a strawman taxonomy even though one or more probably already exist. First, lets break virtual worlds into a biological order:
Lets dispense with the formalities with regards to Walled Gardens vs. Open Network. Incumbents (Linden, Entropia) would argue that their system is open in that it is open source (Linden) or interoperable between worlds within their own proprietary software domain (Entropia). In contrast, when I say something is open, I mean open in the same way that I can take this browser, open a tab, and go to Wells Fargo and bank, and simultaneously go to Amazon.com and shop. There are standards that web developers conform to so a wide range of browsers can access their content.
What is needed is a browser-like approach to virtual worlds, where I can walk my avatar from the Black Sun to Amazon to Wells Fargo and retain my avatar, revenue balance, virtual home, and so forth. Ideally, these sites (Amazon, Wells, Black Sun) would be hosted wherever the respective organizations damn well please, rather than being restricted to a specific location or administered by one for-profit company. An Internet model. And no geographic dependencies so you don't have to worry about sovereign nations projecting their will into the governance or economy.
What we have today is akin to what we had with BBS', and then walled garden providers like The Source, Prodigy, Compuserve, and America Online with proprietary software to access their services. They had specific companies (Sabre) hang out shingles in their administrative domain, so a Compuserve subscriber could access Sabre's travel reservation system, but those people on Prodigy had to use some other travel service (unless Sabre spent the money to be in multiple walled gardens, which is rarely cost effective).
Right now, I can go to AOL (oh, the irony), Sony, IBM, and a few others within the domain of Second Life. I can go to the excellent Stanford State of Play Academy lectures in There.com, and (if they don't deem me a sexual predator) go socialize with teenagers in Virtual Laguna Beach. What I can't do is move one avatar that I have invested my time into between these worlds. (And lets stop calling them worlds, which sounds horribly outdated, and use something more esoteric like ''verses' (short for 'metaverses' or 'universes')). To sum up, lets define an attribute of an open network as Avatar Portability between 'verses.
Meanwhile, today, we are just starting the Source/Prodigy/Compuserve/AOL feudal struggles in virtual worlds. Venture money is flowing into new companies making virtual worlds, and large companies are smelling blood in the water as well. As usual, successful early entrants will attempt to fortify their position as much as possible against new competitors (FairPlay anyone?) and there will be some messy consolidation and attrition as the market develops. During this time, the underfunded startups and early casualties will start agitating for open standards between worlds.
Reuben Steiger, the CEO of Millions of Us, refers to this as a 'Las Vegas Monorail' event. His premise is that the only people who wanted the monorail were the casinos that had less customers than they wanted, whereas the successful casinos had no incentive to give people a way out of their casino, so therefore did not support the monorail. This sounds like AOL/MSN/Yahoo IM interoperability hopes to me.
Having been the successful early entrant in some markets, and the late entrant in others, I regularly play both of these cards shamelessly. If I am first to market, then I rationalize my proprietary walled garden system by saying that there is no standard to support and the customers demand certain functionality now, not five years from now when some greybeards in the standards bodies can agree on the proper sentence structure and obscure acronym for the already-obsolete standard. When I am late to market, I will gleefully tell the market that they are being overcharged by these horrible outdated proprietary systems (like PBXs) and could save money with an open, competitive market (like voice over IP).
As was the case with voice over IP, there is an additional variable in the equation in that there are two markets instead of just one, the service provider/consumer market, and the enterprise market. In this case, an enterprise 'verse would simply be a 'verse for use within a company to allow it's employees and partners collaborate better together, whereas a consumer 'verse would be what we think of now with Second Life or There.com. There will be another juncture (and blogpost) about when we need to cross-the-streams between enterprise and consumer 'verses, but I'll save that one for another day.
In the meanwhile, my prediction can be summarized as follows:
1) T=Now. One major vendor, few minor, both walled gardens. (Note: the recent disruptive major walled garden event with China and Entropia is a game-changer and also a future blogpost).
2) T= This time next year. Three or Four major 'verses competing for customers with status/infrastructure innovation ("Transfer your avatar and property to our world for free from Second Life when you join, no charge!" (American and United regularly do this with frequent travelers)). Voice is common, and the 'verse developers have finally figured out that the utility of their 'verse is directly effected by the amount of other data sources they can integrate into their environment (Note: RSS is a fine start, but it's a .0001 on a 10 scale). Worldwide adoption of virtual environments as a dominant Internet tool is still <1%.
3) T = 3-5 years from now. Consolidation and attrition has taken it's toll, and the 20 balkanized 'verses are down to 2-3 major choices. The clamor from customers for standards is getting loud enough to bear mention in stockholder meetings. Adoption is close to 20% (sorry Gartner).
4) T = 5-7 years from now. There is a rich immersive standard with avatar portability, with the major vendors still misbehaving with 'proprietary extensions' to the standard, and we look back and smile at the naive nature of the walled garden 'verses of years past. Adoption is >50%.
In retrospect, I should divide this up into about half a dozen blogposts, as there's a lot more to be said here.
Yesterday was the very entertaining and informative New Media Summit 2007, as referenced in the previous post. During the morning sessions, one of the speakers referred to the new profession of 'Media Engineer', which pretty much nails what many of us do these days.
Yesterday, as far as media engineering goes, was a prolific day:
1) Built three powerpoint decks for various reasons. We REALLY need to find a better tool for humans to communicate.
2) Recorded a podcast
3) Had a few video conferences
4) Recorded a machinima tour of Cisco's Second Life campus
5) Transcoded about a dozen videos into different formats
6) Blogged on both of my two blogs and updated about three wikis
7) Chaired a mixed-reality panel with real and avatar panelists
Is this the technical equivalent of 'cross-training'? I certainly slept well!
The Virtual Worlds panel went great, as expected given the list of speakers who were kind enough to participate. The panelists were Dave Kamalsky from IBM, Mat Small from Millions of Us, Paul Steinberg from Intel, and Achim Muellers from BMW, and the guys did a great job. The writeups and Flickr shots of the event are trickling in here and here, (man, is Jeremy on it or what?) and Cisco will be making the webcast of the event available as a download later in the week.
Thanks again to all of you who attended, and most especially to the panelists who were kind enough to share their insights yesterday.
There is a really interesting New Media workshop going on today at the TechMart in Santa Clara. This morning we've already heard about measuring the ROI of social media, and the convergence of traditional and new (blogs) media.
This afternoon, I'll be chairing a panel with Paul Steinberg from Intel, Dave Kamalsky from IBM, Mat Small from Millions of Us, and Achim Muellers from BMW on 'Communicating in Virtual Worlds'. If you have any questions you want asked to this august panel, please comment away on the blog and I'll add your questions to the list. The more unorthodox the better!
Cisco is also webcasting the event at News@Cisco. Check it out!