developerWorks: I'm Scott Laningham, and this is developerWorks interviews. Joining me this time is Anita Mathur, senior marketing manager for developerWorks. Welcome, Anita.
Mathur: Thank you, Scott.
developerWorks: Also Fred Gutierrez, manager, Developer Audience Technical Marketing, at IBM. Thanks for joining, Fred.
Gutierrez: Thanks, Scott. Good to be here.
developerWorks: And Rawn Shaw, developerWorks community program manager. Rawn, good to have you back on again.
Shaw: Hey, Scott, good to see you again.
developerWorks: Now they're all here to talk about the first developerWorks technical briefing that was held in the virtual world Second Life. And Fred, I'm wondering maybe right off the top if we want to have you if you would explain in, you know, in a summary form, what a developerWorks technical briefing is for those who don't know about it.
Gutierrez: Sure — absolutely. We spend a great deal of time with developers, and the purpose of spending that time with them is to acquaint them with the technologies and the strategies that IBM Software Group has in place to try and provide relevant information to developers around the world with regard to the tools and facility that they require. That's basically the mission of developerWorks. So it has two components. It has the online component, which is a Web site that over 5 million developers have visited and are members of. The other component is a live component, where we go to them in the cities where they work and live and hold live events where we provide discussion forums and briefings where we demonstrate technologies to them. And that's the developerWorks Live! technical briefing.
developerWorks: And you do these in a lot of places around the world, right? I mean, there are quite a few of them a year, spread out.
Gutierrez: There's quite a few of them a year. Five hundred-ish.
developerWorks: Wow, that is a lot. And are they typically one-day or half-day briefings? Is that what the standard is?
Gutierrez: Well, it varies. Typically, yes. It's a one half-day to one-day event, but we're experimenting with other ways of doing them, which are two-day mini-conferences, three-day mini-conferences — that sort of thing. And that will lead into what we're going to try to do here or have tried to do in Second Life.
developerWorks: So that brings us to that question. And I think the first thing that I'm curious about is — and I assume some of the listeners are because I've heard these kinds of thoughts mentioned before — why do this in Second Life? And what's the point of that? And you know, because there are some of those who are going to say it's a fad or it's an ineffective way to present maybe. Or maybe, you know, it's image over substance or something like that. Rawn, do you want to take a cut at that? Because I know you feel pretty strongly about venturing into Second Life and virtual worlds with this kind of stuff.
Shaw: Yes. I think virtual worlds is a new phase in terms of how we approach the Web. In the fact that honestly the kids of the next generation — or even in this generation, I should say — are there already. I mean, they have been playing these games and have been used to that kind of 3-D environment for decades. I remember back to the very beginning when things were still like little cut-out people walking around. It's progressed quite immensely since that. A lot of the things that just weren't there, the Internet was just not ready — processing power and computers — just was not ready. And people weren't that used to moving around in a social context. But I think that's happened now, and there's no stopping it now. So what we see on the Web today might be drastically different. Even the expectations of people like the users, you know, the kids today who are the workers of tomorrow are just expecting that.
developerWorks: Yes, good point. So, Fred, do you want to add to that? I'm sure you have some thoughts about it.
Gutierrez: Basically, it's I mean it's a little more basic ... in terms of you want to go where our audiences are. For example, we do the live technical briefings where there's a lot of developers just to try to get to where they are, and we're seeing a lot of them go visit Second Life. They're hanging out there. So IBM wants to go there, too, and see what they're doing and provide some relevant value for them in there. And we will experiment and try different things along different lines and see how it works, just the way they do.
developerWorks: What about you, Anita? I know that from your perspective in thinking about this, is there a desire to kind of reach people in this place that involves both work and play? I mean, is there some of that in it? Or what was your thought about this?
Mathur: Absolutely, Scott. I think both Rawn and Fred pointed out the right things. One thing I can say is that it just accesses this massive community that's building every day at a rate of more than 30 percent, you know. Every month, it's phenomenal. And you know, as pioneers of reaching out, you know, pioneers of new technologies and always, IBM has always stood out as having the first advantage, our first-mover advantage. So I think we are going to reap a lot of benefits. Just hosting these meetings, customer briefings, even Meet the Expert sessions or some other new ideas we have and continue to do this on an ongoing basis, I think we're going to reap tremendous benefit.
And today, Second Life has almost, I would say, they have crossed over 7 million residents. So it's a massive phenomenal outreach that we can benefit from.
developerWorks: So Anita, what was the response like to this first one — just in terms of numbers? Is that something you guys want to talk about? Or how was it just even in a general sense?
Mathur: You know, this was our first pilot and just to set the stage, just to let our customers know that we are a player in this field, which is growing every day. And from the perspective that this is just a pilot, I think we would call it a success. Of course, we learned a lot from it, and I will let both Rawn and Fred speak to it.
But just in terms of pure numbers, we can say that we were able to meet our objectives of driving almost more than 50-percent conversion of our registration to attendance rate. This kind of statistics of conversion rates are more obvious and apparent in a face-to-face type of setup. But the fact that we were able to mirror that in a virtual setting definitely shows us that we have been successful with our initial objective.
And we were able to do that. We have more than 200 registrations and more than 100 attendees. So I think that's a pretty good rate, and we did have representation from different places. Different geographies.
developerWorks: That's cool. And you know, Rawn, I know you and I have talked about this before and this is something that's important to you with all of this, but I know there's so many people that can't come to these, even though we give a lot of them in different locations, it's just not practical to necessarily attend the ones you want to and travel and all that. So there is a nature to the experience of doing this in a place like Second Life that I guess there is some real personal interaction going on and some community that's being built in these, right?
Shaw: Oh, I'd certainly agree. I think it is really a parallel to the world. People are living their lives in there, surprisingly enough. So it's not in terms of classic entertainment in terms of games that you play. But it is a place where you can socialize with your friends, you can do work, you can learn, you can find out and you can build. You know, you can build lots of the different things there. So we're playing the part of education. We're helping people get used to this idea in the business world. And we're providing the knowledge that we have, the different topics that Fred's team covers in this new format. So they're getting a direct business benefit at the same time they're getting used to working this new environment.
developerWorks: So Fred, what were the topics or what was the topic covered in this first briefing in Second Life? What did you guys talk about, and how was your presentation different in this setting? I mean, how did you have to adjust to it to not being there in person literally, but only virtually?
Gutierrez: Well, the topic of conversation for that session was Web 2.0. We discussed basically a little bit of how it was, didn't want to get to much into that because we assumed a level of knowledge that was already there among that community. So Web 2.0 and then how it could be applied for the purposes of doing things with it that would generate business that could be used for marketing. And then, that sort led into the second point of discussion in terms of how IBM developerWorks was already using that componentry and features and functions to make developerWorks more of a community space than it already is. It's all about that community.
developerWorks: So it was a very Web 2 kind of way to talk about Web 2.0, wasn't it?
Gutierrez: It was. It was, how can you apply Web 2.0 to building social communities around specific topics that are interesting to particular groups of people. And in this case, it was developers. So that's how Rawn and I approached it this time around.
developerWorks: Do you guys have a sense of developers in general doing things like Second Life? I mean, I guess there's that, you know, a lot of developers are gamers and that type of thing. But do you have some, Anita or Rawn, any of you, do you have some specific evidence that this is place where you need to be to make sure you're staying in touch with developers in some of the more cutting-edge ways that they're using the Internet?
Mathur: I can say a few words here. Basically, like I mentioned earlier today, there are about 8.6 million accounts that have been created in Second Life and Linden Lab. And off that, almost 1.6 million are active users over the past two months or so. And there are at a particular time, there are 20,000-50,000 users online at any time. So and out of this number, we're just talking about, many of these are developers or technically savvy people who are experimenting, exploring different environments either writing code or working with other folks and peers. And this experimenting, because like I said, this is a new platform, everyone is learning to play in this field. So just by sheer numbers, you can see that this is a place we will see developers and technical audience congregating. So this is definitely one avenue for us to tap into, and we are doing that. We have just started, this is just the beginning. We have hosted one. We're planning to host many more. We are going to learn. And every step of the way is going to be an improvement process.
developerWorks: Do either of you guys want to add to Anita's comments? Rawn, did you have anything else on that?
Shaw: Yes, you know, the world itself is in also a development environment, Second Life. So you as a person can add and create objects and you can apply basically rules. But it's not that different when you get to the programming bit than many of traditional program languages. So developers, I mean, are seeing, not only are they in there trying to build these things but they are translating some of the ideas that they have and putting it to work in here. And it is really, Second Life, it's much richer than when it first started out, but essentially, it's ground zero. You can build and create whatever that you want. So that gives them a lot of leeway to try out things, to participate on the site and even create models and test that with lots of different people that you wouldn't be able to do it easily in other ways.
So I think that's a good reason why developers are coming to Second Life, and that's also a good reason why you want to be there as a developer program because that's where they are. And the topics and the area that you are covering right now, even if you don't have, let's say, Second Life-specific development topics — and we certainly do, but I'm just giving an example there — there is a lot that they could learn and pick up from being in that environment there.
Gutierrez: One real quick item is that we are, our viewpoint that it is an important avenue for us is also being seconded by third parties that are coming to us and asking to work with us in Second Life to approach the developer audience. We have other companies that are coming to us and asking to partner with us in going to developers because they've seen that IBM already has quite a presence in Second Life, so they'd like to leverage that before they go in and spend a lot of effort to build infrastructure inside of Second Life, which we already have. So that shows you IBM's leadership into this new way of speaking to developers.
developerWorks: That's interesting. What kind of questions did you all get? I mean, what was the audience interaction with you all like? Did you find that there was something different to the way people behaved or the things they asked? Or was there as much interaction? What was it like the experience?
Gutierrez: Well, early on, one of the things that I noticed and we've been discussing is the fact that was a great deal of interest in the infrastructure itself, in Second Life itself. So we had to struggle to make sure that the message that we were conveying was also part of what was conveyed and not just that Second Life is cool, right? So there was some of that. Questions — I'm trying to remember specific questions that came up with regard to the content itself. And from what I can remember, they were Web 2.0-related, much more than they were gizmo- or gadget-related, which was what we talked about also.
developerWorks: Now, I didn't even think to mention this or ask at the top, but this first technical briefing in Second Life was held back in June, was it?
Gutierrez: In first week, June.
developerWorks: And Anita, you mentioned others. Are there others on the calendar now? Or are you guys just kind of thinking about what you want to do next?
Mathur: We are in the process of looking at some hot topics, area of interest based on some feedback we have gathered from this briefing. And as Fred mentioned, we are actively talking to some partners who would like to host a briefing similar to what we did. So Linux® is one topic that we are considering at this point. But there will be many more, Scott, and we'll probably be posting those soon onto our developerWorks.
developerWorks: Well, it sounds like it was successful — certainly from the standpoint of the first attempt in this arena. Did you feel the same way, Rawn? Were you encouraged by how it went?
Shaw: Yes. I think it really opened up the idea of this kind of event that we could carry out there.
developerWorks: And Fred, I mean for you, you do so many of these — I assume you still prefer the in-person setting? Or do you feel like doing some of these Second Life ones has a place for you that you look forward to, as well?
Gutierrez: It does have a place. Last year we did a tremendous number of face-to-face ones, and it got to the point where our team, which traveled a tremendous amount of time, was crying uncle and saying "Let me stay home a little while." So this gives us an opportunity to do both. I think it has its place particularly in terms of staying in touch with the audience, depending on how you measure things. Perhaps the face-to-face way of doing things is more for building new loyalty from new clients or customers, but then working together with this format for a broader approach, depending on the topic and what you're trying to accomplish. And at developerWorks, we do try to get the most reach that we possibly can out there and be as visible as possible with them, and this helps.
developerWorks: Well, we'll certainly be alerting people as to additional briefings coming in Second Life through these podcasts. Before we go guys, I wanted to ask you, everybody has an avatar and a name for their avatar in Second Life, and do you care to divulge your identities in Second Life? What about you Anita, or Fred? Go ahead, Fred.
Gutierrez: Yes, not a problem for me. But yes, go ahead Anita, ladies first.
Mathur: Thanks Fred. I'm Mystique Beam.
developerWorks: Mystique Beam. That's pretty cool. I remember you saying that on that podcast we did a few months back. Mystique Beam. And what do you look like?
Mathur: Well, very much like I do in real life.
developerWorks: Well, cool.
Mathur: Long, black hair. Then look in my twenties. [LAUGHTER]
developerWorks: So you're not an antelope or a dinosaur or something like that then.
Mathur: No, no. I think I like to mirror who I am, you know, be it in real vs. virtual world [LAUGHTER].
developerWorks: How about you, Fred?
Gutierrez: My first name is exactly like my regular name, Alfredo. But my last name is Gufstafson. And appearance-wise, I tried to work on from the neck up to try to get it to look more or less like me even to the point of a receding hair line, etc. [LAUGHTER] But as far as from the neck down, I was very complimentary and left the body very built up and structured and sculptured, just the way Second Life wanted me to be.
developerWorks: Everybody has one of those Barbie or Ken waists in Second Life, don't they?
developerWorks: It's the place where you can get in shape instantly without changing your diet whatsoever, isn't it?
Gutierrez: That's right, and it provides a target for where I would like to get to someday. [LAUGHTER]
developerWorks: OK, Rawn — who are you in Second Life? Are you some ancient Ninja or what are you? [LAUGHTER]
Shaw: No, I'm more of a, dress like a slacker/business-casual, so I can go out. Voxel Zenith.
developerWorks: Wow, they got some interesting names in there don't they?
Anita Mather, Fred Gutierrez, Rawn Shaw, you guys are great for taking time out for this. We really appreciate it. Thank you all.
Shaw: Thank you, Scott.
Mathur: Thanks, Scott.
Gutierrez: Thanks, Scott.
developerWorks: Find out more about developerWorks Live! technical briefings at ibm.com/developerWorks. Look in the right nav for technical events and briefings. Also check out the show notes for this podcast which includes a transcript of the conversation and related resource links. Find that at ibm.com/developerWorks/podcast. Finally, if there's something you'd like to hear us talk about or a guest you'd like to hear on the show, leave a comment on my blog, which you can find a link to on that same page, ibm.com/developerWorks/podcasts. That's it for this edition of developerWorks interviews. I'm Scott Laningham. Thanks for listening.
technical events and webcasts
"Your Second Life Awaits You" on DevX
Game development space
Life client, Part 1"
Scott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.