Cyberspace, The Virtual World, The Matrix, Mainframe, ENCOM, etc. Now The Living Web.
For being part of a generation that has grown up with online games,books, stories and movies about virtual worlds and moving at the "speedof the Net", it seems like it is taking quite a bit of time to get tothe idea of having such a world in common use (and hopefully not adystopic vision like that in The Matrix). I get the feeling we arelooking so far ahead that we are not focusing on taking the stepsinvolved in getting there.
Most of the mainstream media (books & movies) still focus on the 3Dworld, because obviously it's cool to imagine an alternate reality thatyou can actually move around. Even games tend toward that directionbecause it is the environment that can more easily excite people. Theyall talk about having a persona that moves and interacts with thisworld and the other personas in it. In fact, in the Matrix, the worldis so real, it is the "real world" as we know it; it's only when youunderstand the actual world of the Matrix behind it that you can dointeresting things like defying gravity.
The truth is probably a little depressing. Most of the virtual worldthat we know as the Web is 2D; in fact, by just a guesstimate, I'd sayover 98% of all the info we have online is in text. I also think for along time to come, the virtual world will still be overwhelminglytext-based for decades to come. To get to that futuristic vision asportrayed in the media, a lot of work behind the scenes still needs tohappen.
Ten steps (not in order) to get to virtual worlds:
- Establish ubiquitous individual identities or online personas.
- Enable personas with actions they can do (e.g., create content, initiate contact/discover others, exchange information, etc.)
- Enable personas to categorize, aggregate, identify, mark or otherwise "control" the information around them (i.e. tagging)
- Define "homes" or bases where each persona exists and controls.
- Establish Reputations - enable rankings or ratings on personas, based on what others think of their interactions with them
- Allows personas to "move freely" across system boundaries, or export their personas or info about them
- Establish online economies (virtual valuation, and common exchange rates, around fixed not unlimited valuations)
- Establish domains and guidelines of how they operate (i.e., online "cities", and proper governance of these cities)
- Global accessiblity to the persona or personas you control, using any device
- Actual visualization of the personas, their homes and the domains they live in (yes 3D worlds)
These details are a little more mundane and most people would justprefer if someone else just created and provided it for them. In fact,I think there is already a trend towards this new kind of "hosting" ofonline personas, and not just Web pages. Even the idea of blogggingfits somewhere beyond a web home page but still before reaching acomplete persona.
Don't get me wrong: in limited areas, most of these properties alreadyexist. In particualr I'm talking about online games and MMORPGs.However, they are limited in the sense that they create a separatefictitious world that you have to apply your context to. In otherwords, yes, it's make believe, which is also why it is fun. Also theyare limited in the sense they exist almost entirely within their owndomain. You don't see characters moving outside a game like Everquestand moving onto World of Warcraft; or even any reason or correlation todo so.
In terms of people and businesses however, the information is real (notartifically created to role-play) and pervasive across wherever you go.The good news is that some of these items are already starting tohappen, as you can see per what Newsweek describes as The Living Web.What's more, these personas are a limited thing. My belief is thatpeople in general do not want to have to maintain multiple personas,for the same reason, people do not really want to have to keep track ofmultiple email accounts.
So there you have it. There's much work to do in the middle to get to pervasive virtual worlds.
Bob's got a good and amusing idea
on how open standards can become more pervasive... especially in the dress code segment.
Now I have to hunt down a high-school photo. I actually have verylittle photos of myself for an entire decade (I think there are aboutless than a dozen photos of me during the nineties...) High-schoolpredates that obviously but most of it got scrapbooked by my wifesomewhere... so I need to hunt one down and post it here.
Sad but true: I once found a photo of myself going on an overseas triparound 1989 and could identify everyone in the photo except for thisskinny guy with a mustache at the end... after staring at it for 5minutes I realized that it had to have been... me
;I'm still only 90% sure about that. Wow! things change.
in his book Thinking for a Living
points out that the are essentially four basic types of activities carried out by Knowledge Workers in a line starting from :
- Knowledge Creation
- Knowledge Packaging
- Knowledge Distribution
- Knowledge Application
Knowledge worker jobs involve typically one or perhaps more than one of those activities.
For example, developerWorks is involved primarily in the activities ofPackaging and Distribution. We rely on authors, contributors, bloggers,and other experts to create the knowledge. We then package thatknowledge in various forms: articles, tutorials, blogs, briefings etc.We then offer a distribution mechanism for these pacakged knowledgethrough our web sites, our live events, etc. This is made available toour readership so that they may try to apply it each to their own uses.
The packaging part is the difficult proposition now in the light of unstructured knowledge
.The dW web sites has typically been a e-zine in the past with manyZones each reflecting a magazine along some topic that appeals to someaudience. The knowledge comes from many sources, both within andoutside IBM to attempt to get the best coverage on a topic we can.These are structured into the semblance of an article or a tutorial.
Unstructured or less-structured knowledge, however, is where dWCommunity comes in. It's less structured because it does necessarilyfollow some kind of content format that people are familiar with: thereisn't necessarily an order to how the information is formatted, wherethe answers lie, where to look for more resources, or sometimes evenwho wrote the information or what their reputation/skill level in thesubject is. There is also usually little formal or standardized editinginvolved.
On the other hand, unstructured knowledge is where there is a hugeamount of growth, everywhere on the Internet. Take our blogs forexample: every blogger has their unique style on how they post theirknowledge, or even what kind of info they provide; while it isstructured according to the goals of that person, every visitor has totry to figure out each post or each blogger in context of others. Thisis both good and bad; it invokes style and personality to a greaterlevel. However, not everyone is a born-writer or blogger. Lots ofpeople go to school and study journalism just to learn how to do it;others, I will daresay like myself, have a natural apptitude for it.
To become more useful to those Knowledge Appliers, it helps to know howto better package your knowledge. While blog systems provide a tool forpresenting the knowledge, they don't automatically make you a betterwriter or a better blogger. With unstructured knowledge like blogs, fordW for example, we now share the workload of knowledge packaging withour experts, in exchange for greater freedom for them to carry oncreating knowledge about their activities. We also carry out anotherpart of the Packaging aspect through the blog tool itself.
What we (dW) need to provide is guidance. We collect the ideas,information, practices and success stories on what makes for goodhabits, techniques and practices for more successful blogs. We sharethat information with our bloggers as much as we can. In addition, wecontinue to workon ways to better distribute this knowledge across the site and the net.
Take the example of our blogs and multiply it for each other type ofcommunity tool (wikis, forums, podcasts, etc.) and you can see the rolewe provide in this Knowledge activity line in terms of unstructuredknowledge. When you consider that much of this is still fairly new orbleeding edge, we sometimes have to do the bleeding in the process offinding out what works and doesn't to better support our unstructured knowledge creators
Unless of course someone else wants to handle that function ;)
The late great management guru, Peter Drucker, helped to innovate theidea that there is a whole economic class known as the Knowledge Workeronce said: "Nobody has really looked at productivity in white collarwork in a scientific way. But whenever we do look at it, it isgrotesquely unproductive." In other words, trying to define how tomeasure the productivity or performance of Knowledge workers (commonlycalled white collar workers), is an exercise in futility.Davenport's book
points out that it is hard to create a common correlative measurementaround "knowledge workers" as a whole class. In fact, he describes thatthe typical way of dealing with knowledge workers is the HSPALTA
approach: Hire smart people and leave them alone.
Unfortunately, this doesn't really examine how to improve the system or help people improve themselves.
Maybe we will eventually discover some future magical formula thatmeasures this performance and how to improve it. In the past, inAgricultural societies, we had found ways to improve agriculturaloutput. Farmers from the dawn of time will tell you that "farming is anart", but the truth is that farming is also a science. Art issubjective, hard to measure, quantify and teach. Science is morestructured and actually can be taught (although not necessarily easily).During the Industrial Age, we achieved similar goals for manufacturingoutput. Now that we are in the Information Age, we are stumped, becauserather than a physical unit output, it is more of a mental qualitativeoutput, and that seems to us a very subjective element.
The good news is, as Davenport points out, there is at least one way to measurethe quality of knowledge. It's been done for centuries: the Peer Reviewprocess
. It's most common in academia, whereby a group of your peersexamines your output and gives an analysis of what they think of it.It's how Masters and PhDs are still given out for the most part,worldwide.
I think that this is a good thing for us because that Peer Review process is atechnique that can be applied to unstructued knowledge on our site. Inits simplest form it is a Ratings system
whereby anyone reading a piece of information on the site can vote 1through 5 on what they think of the article. It's entirely subjectivebut if you get a large number of ratings, it tends to average out whatpeople think of the information. This can apply to structured as wellas unstructured knowledge. This is the first level of a Ratings model
That's a very basic notion. In fact, to be more useful, you may want tocollect all those ratings per a person's knowledge output and store itand those knowledge output items as part of their identity. Thus, youcan see what a person has contributed and produced and what peoplegenerally think of their output (their level of quality). This is amore evolved Rating system, generally referred to as a Reputation model.
Then, in turn, you could use a person's current rating as a weightingfactor to any rating they apply to others; i.e., normalize the value ofthe function of "my current rating" multipled by the rating value theyascribe. Thus when an industry luminary says you have a good idea, itweighs more towards the rating of that information, than when a novicerates it. Thus you have a weighted average of your Reputation based onwho actually rates your articles. This is a second evolution of Ratingsinto a weighted
or a Ranked Reputation model.
How do you yourself become such an "industry luminary"? Essentially, alot of high-ranked people giving you good ratings implies that a lot ofknowledgable or influential people think that your output has a highlevel of quality. Thus, you would appear higher on the rankingshopefully amongst those lofty people who are the luminaries.
Our sister site developerWorks Korea has launched its own community page!
It's in Korean (Hangul, if I'm right) at: http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/kr/community/
I came across a little gem out in the field of data we collect on ourpageviews yesterday: "Topic Popularity". It looks at the pageviews toour articles and tutorials, per the taxonomy topic keyword in metadataof each article, then divides it by the number of articles that keywordappears in to get an average pageviews per article
(per topic name
Current top ten hot topics in our articles:
- CSS (Cascadng Style Sheets)
- C and C++
- Security attacks
- JSF (JavaServer Faces)
I came across this recently: ProjectSpaces
, a hosted service offered by a company called Forum One Communications seems worth a look.
They actually charge for a hosted space that features, a contacts db,calendar and scheduler, tasks list, document library, and discussions,with each space allowed 1 GB of storage (sound familar Google?) andunlimited members. There's a pricing sheet starting around $129/mo perspace.
I started out on the game Second Life
justrecently to investigate how it works. It's not really a game per-se inthat it is not a goal-oriented activity like other 3D games. However,it can be pooled together with the other Massively multiplayer onlinerole-playing environments. It's free to try out, so I registered,downloaded the game, created a character and walked around. It's a 3Dworld like many others. However, the here the point is more that youcan create objects, buildings, vehicles, toys, clothing, etc. I'm stilllearning how to move my avatar around so I haven't taken any photos yet.
What struck me is the similarity to the concepts in LPMuds where Ispent some years playing away in. LPmuds had a C-like programminglanguage that (once you've been promoted to a wizard) you can use tocreate any kind of event-driven software objects. Essentially, the gamehandles much of the work for you and you define the behaviors of theobject. In SL you can also draw and visually create the object as well,starting from simple generic shapes.
For a developer, this is really a bit of virtual heaven. You can pretty much build any kind of object (a prim
or primitive) you can conceive of and utilize it. E.g., some peoplecreate clothing fashions for the characters, others create new actionsthe characters can do, yet others create houses, buildings, cars, toys,etc. In fact, when you first enter, you are on Help island, wherenewbies go. Here, you can experiement with your own prims or you cantry out some other prims that others have created. For example, thereis a Simon game (remember those), a Sudoku board, a mahjonggtile-matching game, and an arcade Space Invaders style game. These areprims that others have created that allow your avatar to manipulate toplay; so you are playing a game within a game.
For each prim, you have a scripting language that looks similar to C,Java or Python, familar control structures, a library of functions forstring manipulation, math, communication and lists, an event system,and system standard constants. A number of other functions areparticular to the 3D environment and geometry.
All that is not surprising to build into a game these days, but what issurprising is the economy and the impact of retail activities...(continued
In Second Life
,the economy is based on Linden dollars (named after Linden Labs, thecompany that created it). This isn't unusual in itself, but thedifference here is that there is an actual exchange rate from Linden$to US dollars, about 300 to 1. Thus, if you sell something in the game,you can make money. Right now it's small change, but what is happeningis that there are enough players that are interested in there where youcould technically make real income from it.
The way it works is that every player by default earns a certain amounta week. A first basic level membership is free for anyone and gainsthem L$50 a week. A premium player paying US$9.95 a month getsL$500/wk. With this ingame dollars, you can buy things from otherplayers or the game itself. You can also create prims and sell those toothers for L$. It's market-driven based on what others really wouldbother to pay for your creation.
These creations really come from two types of labor: visual creation,and/or programming effort. The former is what the object looks likeusing the 3D basic shapes. There are some cute works of art, but itcould also be a house, a park, a toy, etc. The latter is what you cando with the object based on its programming. Most prims are somecombination of both. Even those that don't really do anything have somedefault code.
It takes time, effort and brainpower to build anything since the mostbasic shapes you have are cubes, spheres, pyramids, cones, and otherpolygons. You can grow, squeeze, extrude and combine multiple shapes tomake more complicated ones, then apply colors or textures to it. Usingsuch building blocks, you can make more and more complex objects. Thus,any developer working on a prim would need some level of drawing skilltoo. Any object you create is yours alone, but you could allow othersto copy it, or if you really want to risk it, edit it. More on thislater...
This is a pseudo-real currency (like the Reward points etc fromAmerican Express or other credit cards, or airline mileage cards)because of the tie to real-world currencies. You can extract some ofyour L$ to real currency via Paypal or credit cards, that Linden Labspays you. Thus, if you have earned L$3 million, you have just made$10,000. (Not that that's trivial to do). If the BusinessWeek article
is correct, some of the top players have made hundreds of thousands ofUS dollars from things they have created and sold in the game.
The economy is smart enough and the world is well-managed enough thatthings don't go awry easily. E.g., you can't kill anyone and take theirprims and/or money. It doesn't work that way, and in fact, just bumpingpeople can start raising eyebrows until you get banished.
First thing to note: Linden Labs gives you $50/wk or about $200 amonth. That's about US$1 a month that they have to put into the game(since that dollar could get extracted from the game by the player).That's quite trivial in real dollars but what it really does is incentyou to play the game. You can think of it as a customer-acquisitioncost which at just $1 is really low. A premium player gets more like$10/mo, which is about what they pay in real dollars for their accounteach month.
Technically with the ability to create and sell a prim, it is possibleto mint your own money. The practicality however is that with asufficient number of players, you have a large number of producers, andthe consumers have a lot of choice on what they want to spend theirmoney on. Also it takes time and effort, thus, nothing is really free.Still, the amount of currency in the game is based on two factors: howmany premium players are in the game and how many active basic playersexist. The total wealth increases every month in proportion to this.Not all players are active, and leave after a while (you have to appearon the game each week to gain your L$ stipend).
However, when it becomes really successful, and Linden has a millionactive basic players, they'd have to pay a million dollars into thegame each month, which can be quite expensive. However, the truth isthat more of the active players would likely go towards premiummembership.
So far, I haven't talked about how Linden Labs itself makes money.... in the meantime, you might want to read this article on Virtual Worlds, Virtual Economies
Ian Hughes from our IBM Hursley Research Labs led me onto this company that does 3D Printing of objects from Second Life
. Essentially, any 3D object in Second Life
can now be "printed" as a physical sculpture/model out of foam or waxfor about $30 or $60 up to a size of 9" x 5" x 5". I can't quite tellwhat kind of 3D milling/printing device they use but you can contactthem for more info.
I was thinking of modes of real business services in terms of virtual environments and came up with this list:
- realuser2hoster services - where the user pays the company that runs thesystem for some kind of service (typically, a monthly fee)
- realuser2system services - where the user pays the system forsome kind of service (e.g. buy more credits with online payment likePayPal)
- realuser2realuser services - where the user pays another useroutside the system/game for some kind of product/service (e.g., thelegal/illegal exchanges that take place outside the game for Everquestor World of Warcraft items, on sites like eBay, or this 3D printingservice above)
- virtualuser2virtualuser services - where the user pays another user forsome kind of service or product within the system itself (usually ingame dollars)
- realuser2virtualuser services - where a real world person pays avirtual character for some service (I can't think up specific examples)
- virtualuser2realuser services - where the user in the system/gamepays a real world entity for some product or service (e.g., ordering areal Domino's pizza from inside World of Warcraft)
There may be more such modes but this is a starter list. Theexchanges/modes listed above have different behaviors. The primedifference between real and virtual users here is where the businessexchange occurs. It doesn't always have to be in (real or virtual)currency, certainly; it can be in terms of information, access, orbarter for real or virtual goods.
I bring this up to consider where the business opportunities lie. WhileI considered the above scenarios for SecondLife (SL) in particular,this is really a generic model that may apply to any online retail website. In the vast majority of such retail web sites, the trade is forcurrency for real goods, but this exchange can occur between a realperson and a virtual identity (it might be one person, it might be awhole company of people). E.g., on eBay, when you bid and buysomething, you never really know if that person on the other end is asingle real person or multiple people.
This is a factor to consider for conducting business. I tend toconsider all interactions significant. The more you interact withsomeone, the more trust (or distrust) you build with that person. Youmight remember fondly of previous exchanges or, after some few basicexchanges to build familiarity/trust, you suddenly find that you aresuddenly suckered out of your money when that big exchange happens. (atypical con-job as we say here).
Trust models thus play an important part in exchanges and mostmultiplayer environments these days have to build in some sort oftrusted exchange system. Most MMORPGs that allow users to exchangeitems have a special "Trade" window where both parties must check a boxto accept the trade for it to complete. This is a scenario that happensin type 4 virtualuser2virtualuser
On the other hand, on eBay (realuser2realuser
),since the actual exchange involves some form of physical exchange orshipping, they need another another way to designate each identity'strust level, within the system. Thus, you have a rating system tosymbolize that level.
One thing to note is that there is a continuing rise in virtualuser2virtualuser
as well as realuser2virtual
usertrades. In fact, the latter even applies between you as a real personand your character. E.g., in SL, if you transfer your Linden$ into realdollars through Paypal (i.e, withdraw currency from the game), you arein effect doing an exchange between your physical and virtual selves.
Also interesting is that there are some virtualuser2realuser
servicesemergine like the Pizza example. I would daresay this isn't the firsttime this has happened. Some in the late 1980s (if I recall right), atMIT, you could actually order real sodas from the soda machine throughyour emacs
text editorenvironment on your online Unix account identity which would chargeyour school food account (one of those cool hacks that Stallman andcrew did with emacs). If this 3D printing service was paid entirely inLinden$ then it would fit into this mode as well.
The biggest deal out of all this is not just in the types of exchangesbut the value applied to virtual objects. That'll be a future post...
Oh, FYI: check out what some of the Hursley team is working on through their blog Eightbar
They have info on their research activities in Second Life programming.
I'm at the Rational Software Development Conference 2006, taking a break between sessions. If you haven't seen it already, there is a lot going on. You can start on our blog and podcast page for this event.
The first interesting session I found was on Building a Strong Software Business on Open Source, by Palle Pedersen, CTO of Black Duck Software. His company works on testing compliance in software products. In particular, they have taken a look at the issues around licensing, usage and behavior of teams who use open source software or incorporate them into products of their own.
Interesting factoid: there are now about 600 different variations of open source licenses. Can you imagine checking compliance of code/products that incorporates that kind of range/possibility of OS software?
More interesting to me is his point that there is a common best practice to how to incorporate OSS into your own line:
- start with an OSS-based "lite" version of your product
- initiate and grow a community around your product to draw or gain a sufficient user base
- develop an advanced commercially licensed upgrade of the product.
This is oversimplification of the whole thing but its step two of this business model that obviously catches my eye. In fact, there were a few questions about how to do Step 2. This is in fact exactly what our Community team in dW is tackling. I'm just glad that people are starting to recognize the importance of this as a required part of the open source business model.
We've known this for a while but many groups tend to just gloss over this. The assumption is that if you start a discussion group, you've satisfied that step. It's not as simple as that. In fact, there are many OS products with discussion groups but that still never take off as a success. What is needed is a more scientific way of performing this overall step (which is what I'm hoping would become the outcome of my current side-project to create a course for Community Management at the University of Arizona MIS dept. More on that later).
In any case, I think there's a story there in what Palle said around this OSS business model and community development to pursue.
Okay, it's really Day 3 but I'm posting on yesterday's events.
I took a bunch of photos. Unfortunately, they're all off a 5MP camera so I have to resize them each time. Maybe it's time for me to get one of those cellphones that can post photos directly to your blog. Anyway, I'll have photos back-posted soon.
The blogger meetup went well with some analysts, execs and tech folk all around. It was mostly a leisurely meet up with folks we work with but rarely see. We signed a big get well soon card for Grady that's being sent out today as I speak.
I spent part of the day manning the booth (okay only an hour or two compared to the other dW staff members) talking to different people as they come by. It feels like there are a lot of first-timers to the RSDC this year, and we had about 50-50 split on people familiar with dW and others not. I had an interesting conversation with a gent from Amazon Web services and there's a session later today on Mashing with Amazon Web Services that I intend to visit.
I'm heading back to the booth again for now.
Day 3 came and went quite quickly.
The interesting event of the day was Amazon's sessions on its Web services. Amazon Web Services is the software side of the company, sort of separate from the main sales/retail site that they are so well known for. The retail side uses some of these same Web services within the site, but they are also available to external customers as well. I listened to Jeff Barr from Amazon describe them some of which include:
- S3 - their network storage service, where you can upload and download any object using different APIs. Priced around 15-20 cents per gig. Amazon here acts as an NSP (networked storage provider) for your web apps.
- Amazon Mechanincal Turk - more of a process where you can submit jobs to be completed that can be taken up by other people (Amazon users not staff) to handle the processing; sort of like a giant human-based grid software system
- their Queuing service - a simple queuing web service that you can use as part of a mashup
and many more... You should go to aws.amazon.com to find out more.
I picked up the latest Harvard Business Review
first to read what their Avatar-based Marketing
article was all about (more on this later) but also came across a few other articles which I thought were very useful. The first was an interview with Richard Saul Wurman on making events meaningful or useful
Wurman has put on many events and conferences before but is best known for this Technology, Entertainment, and Design
conferences. For an event-holder, his view is that the conference business sucks up huge amounts of marketing dollars, and is an enormous waste of the time of both participants and businesses. It is a fixture of the industry (and certainly the IT/Software industry).
However, his main issue is that most people go to these gatherings only to network and play golf. They don't really listen to the CEOs who can't really talk about all their vision. Marketers have to beg and plead exhibit-goers to take a look at their products, and pnael discussions are usually uncoordinated unrelated speeches. No one gets inspiration and overall nothing sticks.
Amusingly, I see a different view of what Wurman considers negative: "the networking". The term usually implies some sort of negative: the sleazy businessman trying to kiss up to their customers/bosses/etc. However, whether they know it or not, that is what most community forums are. An opportunity not just to learn more and ask questions, but to find that right person who may be able to help you. The way to do it is "networking". Or you could simply sit in a room where everyone is talking for long enough, and eventually someone might say something that can help you. Either way, this implies that some people need to be in the same venue to discuss topics. Others may participate or just listen in.
is the issue. A physical forum like a conference is usually by far a better way to meet others, but obviously there are cons such as cost to travel and participate, time, etc. Virtual forums like discussion groups can provide many of the similar effects but it is more natural human behavior to want to meet others in person. Most real conferences are variances on different settings for in-person meetings.
of how the forum occurs can also affect the benefits or usefulness of a forum. For example, an online group chatroom gives a more immediate interaction point, although if too many people are in the room, it makes for haphazard communications unless you have some sort of moderation/chat leader. A different mode is the bullentin board system that most of us just call plain old "discussion forums", that allows people to come whenvever they want, say their piece, have it recorded as part of their group, and then leave, only to return later to check for responses. This is much more asynchronous a mode of discussion.
The online chatroom is closer to the format of a physical conference than the discussion forum/bulletin board format (synchronous vs asynchronous mode). However, most chatrooms suffer from being in a text-only mode (with minimal graphic smileys), thus the impact is not quite the same as in a real conference, and almost will never be because there is a lot of social cues just simply missing when you cannot see another person. There are certainly new ones that you can notice in text-form, but humans are very visual animals, and we consciously or unconciously rely a lot on how we see others react.
This is one reason why I find 3D worlds like SecondLife and other MMO environments compelling venues. They can provide the synchronous mode feel, with actual visual representation, without the forced geolocation that live conferences require of us. SL for example, still requires a lot of the user to make it a universal tool, not just in terms of your computer's ability, but also in terms of behavior, tool controls/usage, and environment support, to overcome the substantial inertia that people have to new things (something for a future blog), but it is a solution to expensive live conferences. FYI: There have been a number of separate events (meetings, conferences, awards ceremonies, etc.) already held on SL. I wish they were all documented somewhere (by Linden Labs) to analyze the social behavior, issues, and successes or failures of these SL events, because it is these kind of events that can draw big crowds and more new subscribers.
Anyway, back on Wurman: his view is that rather than large conferences with many exhibits, sessions, etc., he would rather than one large meeting by invitation to all the people that the organizer feels wouold be interesting and active participants on the main or multiple topics at the event. This does away with the many failings that he sees and focuses entirely on enabling the exchange of ideas and facilitating discussions, rather than doing presentations and sales pitches.
He may be right in some sense. I'm a veteran of more than a decade of trade shows from every angle: hoster, promoter, attendee, booth bunny (I prefer "rabbit"), exec, press, and now more the "floater"/researcher. While seeing the range of products is nice, it's the constant shilling of products/services that makes it a drag, whether on the exhibit floor or session room. I prefer the conversations that are "in between", during the event but not necessarily part of it. This seems to me what Wurman is pointing out as his ideal.
If that's the case, I guess I'd agree with Wurman on that part. At the same time, I'm still looking around for alternatives in my purview and some of these MMOs are good possibilities.
PS: The HBR issue this month (June) has at least 4-5 articles that I found relevant which was worth the high $17 retail price for a copy.
As I mentioned previously, the HBR article, Avatar-based Marketing,
talksa bit about how 3D worlds and online characters are becoming asubstantial population online. The author (a senior editor at HBR)mentions the big names like World of Warcraft, Everquest, etc. thathave millions of members focused in game-based environments, and theopportunity to market to this audience. He also mentions the otherenvironments that are more based on socializing such as SecondLife
, Stagecoach Island
, MyCoke/Coke Studios
The article has potential and certainly opens this topic up to a wholelot of others who would probably not be familiar with this newtechnology (i.e., HBR readers tend to be high-level business andmanagement folk). This is a hot topic obviously if it is starting toinvade such ranks.
However, the article seems to focus primarily on how to advertise
in such environments as the marketing strategy, in subtle or obvious forms. This is a certainly of interest to the avant-garde
advertisingand marketing firms. My interests lie elsewhere primarily in the newdomain of building online communities as not just an advertising basebut an actual loyal following of members.
The utility of the online world still seems to be lost on many people;instead they focus on existing strategies/mechanisms that they couldtranslate into an online setting, such as the advertising strategy.Advertising will always have a place in the world, but it is only thevery first stage of gaining a following.
In my view, there is actually a progression of "people interested in what you have": the uninitiated
, the aware
, the casual member
, the customer
(or user), and finally the fan
(theeager customer). Advertising primarily focuses on driving the firstthree towards a vague hope of them becoming customers. Most companiesare happy when people become customers, even if some are reluctantcustomers. The real wins come from those who become fans.
The thought goes that the fans are the ones who assist in acquiringother new customers. This makes it easier on the organization's effortstowards growth. The fans are worth a whole lot more to an organizationthan just a regular customer. An easy example is Apple, which has asignificant number of fans compared to regular customers. This hashelped them not just stay in business but also in the lead as one ofthe most insipiring and innovative companies.
The honest truth is that it takes a lot to elevate customers towardsbecoming fans. This is based on not just the creation of innovativeideas technology but also on how these innovations are conveyed anddelivered. Then comes the on-going support of these fans, not just theproducts and services.
The million dollar question: How do you start and cultivate fans?
I'll give a hint, it's not a short-term process...
The HBR June issue has an article
(requires subscription) by John Gourville which is one of the firstI've read to explain so clearly the issues behind the psychology ofadopting new products. I take this to mean not just products but alsoservices from any organization.
In summary, the idea was raised by the Nobel-prize winning psychologistDaniel Kahneman that explores why people deviate from rational economicbehavior. This combined with other work, on how individuals valuechoices in the marketplace, define the basis on how people handle theintroduction of a new product or service.
The four behaviors that arise are: people evaluate new product asalternatives, based on perceived value rather than subjective value;they consider new products relative to points of reference to existingones; they view such references as benefits/gains orshortcomings/losses; and finally, the most important behavior
, losses have a far greater impact than gains.
This leads to the endowment effect
whichthe author reports as the behavior where people hold things theyalready have in much greater value than those they don't. In fact, itleads to a multiplying effect in the market where consumers value theirexisting holdings as three times more valuable, while organizationswith new ideas/products value their own holdings as three times asvaluable. Thus, to convince consumers to change from the old to the newproduct may require up to nine times
the improvements over the older product. As the author explains, AndyGrove of Intel has held the belief that an innovaion that can transformthe industry rapidly needs to offer a 10x improvement over existingalternatives. (I know my Sharp Aquos HDTV doesn't quite reach thathigh, but I still like the switch over from my 25" inch Sony tuber :)
The author continues by giving several categories of probability: the Sure Failure,
the Easy Sell,
the Long Hauls
, and the Smash Hits.
AnEasy Sell indicates limited (small) changes to the existing product andlimited changes to the behavior necessary. A Smal Hit has significantchanges to the product but only limited changes to the behavior.
I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of the HBR
to understand the full extent of this article.
This has direct impact on any new technology, a topic of constant focusfor us at dW. Every company wants the smash hit, but for many it ismore by accident than on purpose. However, often they focus onimprovements to products based on what they think is important, andduring the product development stage do not really consider the factorsof user adoption behavior because it is so hard to measure. I've comeacross so many cases where the technology is considered quite advancedby the technical team that develops, supported by surveys of groups ofthe bleeding edge customers who are already raring to use it; but, theyfall short when they call out to the general market which issignificantly slower to adopt the idea.
In fact, in some cases, the improvements are just not enough (per theabove marketing theory). In other cases, the perceived value of theproduct is just conveyed either adequately to the consumers, or by the right influencers
who can change perception.
Ittakes the right mix of technical know-how, eloquence, stubbornness,ingenuity, and charm to find the proper evangelists for a project. Butfirst you need to be able to find those who are fans of the idea in thefirst place (goes back to my other thought on building a fan-base); theevangelist themselves must be a convinced fan, or others willeventually consider them a sham.
This theory applies to the tens or hundreds of thousands of newprojects that start up on the internet. A product manager needs toconsider if the product falls into the win category of Smash Hit
or will be a Long Haul
sell as much as the innovation of the product itself. This meansunderstanding the user behavior and need for the product in the firstplace. The difficulty lies in quantifying the improvements.
In some cases, you can do it by this process:
- get a sample population of an existing alternative to the product
- investigate what part of the product they utilize the most, which has the biggest impact, or which causes the most pain
- measure how much of the time or effort is spent by users on those elements
- consider what, if any, improvements the new product has to those impacting elements of the old
- if the product improves the time- or effort-consumed for that element, measure how much it does so
- Consider this improvement versus the type of win you could get
Easy to say all this; hard to carry it out.
The impact of the endowment effect
is the old adage: people fear change
.It's not fear per-se, but more inertia. To overcome the inertia, youneed to change perceptions. To grow customers and fans, you need tobuild the audience and community around the idea, to build up momentumof understanding and acceptance to overcome this inertia. (I mentionthat this is a crucial second step of the Open Source business model
Ian Hughes talked about that the idea
relating to Amazon's Mechanical Turk
as I mentioned last week. While having lunch with my wife today, and reading an article in the previous issue of BusinessWeek
, I found a connection to the Simple PC/Community PC idea popularized by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT.
Say you have thousands of people with such low-cost PCs, even shared insome netcafe, if must be. Then take the idea of wetware/human grids todo processing to analyze data. Add a payment mechanism per itemprocessed. This'd be a solution looking for a problem.
How is this for a problem:
Millions of hours of video and similar numbers of photos are takenevery day at security checkpoints such as banks, the motor vehicles/IDcard department, airports, ports, etc. This already happens widely inthe US for example. Now take a security issue like the Top Ten wantedcriminals with photos provided of each of them. How about sending allthat data soon after they are gathered to process in a wetware grid totry to identify potential suspect-matches. People are usually better atmatching faces than computers, even if it is not a perfect method. Paythe grid members a small amount per photo processed (2 to 5 centsperhaps) and ask them for sets of e.g., 100 photos to look over in asingle session; and pay a big bonus ($1000?) if an identificationeventually leads to the criminal's apprehension.
People living in many first world countries may say that $5 for aboutmaybe 1-2 hours work is simply not worth the time. But again this goesback to the "PC for the People" idea: make computing cheap for themasses in nations where $5 is a lot of money for some and $1000 is anunbelievable sum. Take a 1000 or 10,000 people in this wetware grid andyou have parallel processing of photos on a large and stillcost-effective scale.
Obviously there's a lot to be thought out here but it is the seed of an idea that could help:
- popularize the idea and utility of wetware grids
- provide a basic job for many people in developing nations
- solve complex computing problems e.g., image identification
PS: You might also want to read this month's Wired article on Crowdsourcing
I'm not sure if I've posted this graphic before but I use this inslides quite often to familiarize those who new to community buildingbut have heard of Web 2.0.
I've heard a number of comments from people within IBM and beyond thatthis makes sense, in terms of how think of the different "levels" ofpopulation in groups, starting from a General Population, moving intoan Audience (or specifically categorized population), to a SocialNetwork, and finally to a Community. The final level above is sort ofdisconnected and may start off in its own way: the Organization.
As you can see from the graphic, most of dW is currently at the levelof an audience. This is natural when you start with a magazine formatas we did. Most magazines have audiences but not social networks orcommunities; some do, especially when they have means for members tointeract with each other (in online forums, live events, conferences,webcasts, etc.) Building the interaction gives the first level ofsocial networking, but you can improve this in many ways to exposesocial network especially in online systems (e.g., social tagging,wikis, forums, comments, polls, etc.)
The distinguishing factor between social networks and communities isthe level of group identity. This is when people start associatingthemselves with a particular idea (an interest, a hobby, a belief, atechnology, a product, a company, etc.) and regularly return to thatgroup of people with the same interest.
Social networks may have this behavior, where people start buildingrelationships with each other, but it is when they start to organizearound the idea, is when you start building a community. It takes work,leadership and time to keep the group together and build a community.The rewards are that the communities tend to collaborate and create newresults of their own. If it is a strong and vibrant community, you evenget community members evangelizing their ideas to others. The morepeople behind the idea, the easier it is to accept or adopt the idea(unless it directly conflicts with yours of course).
I like Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs & Steel
which is now showing as a documentary on PBS
.The Putlizer prize winning study of how some cultures and civilizationsmay have succeeded over others because of different inventions in theirhistory, suggests that back in some primitive time, it all started witha geographical advantage: good geography, climate, and luck of the drawin terms of wildlife (potential livestock) led to successful transitionfrom a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian one.
The progress started with people found new ways of supplying the basicneeds, and as the supply increased, this allowed new professions, andskills to rise. The general statement is that the surplus of availableresources is what allowed people to develop their knowledge to newlevels. It took a long time and often different situations for somejobs to come about but that's how it starts. It could take a dozenfarmers to supply a village enough that one metalsmith might becomenecessary and useful; perhaps a hundred more for merchant; a thousandfor a philosopher, and so on.
That nugget around a surplus of resources I think still holds true inthe information age. The resources we are talking about here are ideas.It may take many, many ideas to come forward, before new viableopportunities arise.
Take this with what people in community and social networking havealways said: the combined value of people in a network is significantly(perhaps even exponentially) better than the sum of individuals in it.(Reed or Metcalfe's "law"). This means that the greater number ofpeople interacting in the network, the more ideas become available,leading to that surplus.
You need to cultivate the full environment of idea exchange,irrespective of whether a high percentage of them lead to a success.Often we miss sight of the need for a surplus, in the popular cultureof seeking to "turn every lead into a sale". What is really necessaryare ways to better support interaction and engagement between people,keeping track of commonalities, and analyzing the leads to try to finda few really good ones.