"I have recently entered SecondLife, out of curiosity of this new medium. Many people consider it nothing more than a 3D chatting/dating environment. IBM is not even taking communities on dW seriously, such as the discussion forum community. Why should IBM then be interested in this 3D virtual world of chatting/dating? Graphics are far less then the (2D) websites, information is much harder to publish or to find. Everybody is already hating spam mails and ads on websites. What does make SL so special for IBM??? Or are we going to sit (our avatar) in virtual classrooms or meeting rooms? Why not simply use IM (instant messaging, like Sametime), netmeeting, webcams, Skype, phones and other real-life interaction/communication mediums."
This is only my dime-store psychology at work: I think one big advantage over SL is that it takes into account that most humans are visual animals. If you can see something moving around and doing things, then it is probably "real". However, when it's a post left by someone that doesn't give an indication of who that person is, what else they are doing, etc., it is much more easy to ignore them.
When just read the information on a community site and ignore the actual person who writes it (happens very often), it becomes only a piece of data, and you evaluate it in terms of the value of the data, rather than the value of the person. Unless you are a frequent reader of that site, you may not pick up on names; people tend to ignore or forget names unless something really sticks out about the person, and online with aliases, nicknames, etc. it is easier to ignore them. The first impression is that you may not know who this person is; if you have an opinion about them, you still don't really know what others think about them. Unless you really spend the time (very rare) to get to know a specific person, you essentially take the interaction for the face worth of the data they provide.
What I'm talking about here is the underlying social capital of trust
. It is more difficult to trust an unknown source especially with little background, little peripheral knowledge around that person, limited ways of finding out what else they know or have contributed, little understanding of their relationships with others, limited or disjointed contact with the person, etc. This overall potential but disjointed relationship is hampered by the fact that most online community services are not live. This also sort of explains why some live services are even more successful: instant messaging, online chatrooms, MMOGs, videoconferencing, and secondlife.
Of course, when I say "live" in the online world, I mean it only in thecontext of direct communication within a given session rather thannecessarily an actual face-to-face. With a live service, you can (or at least attempt to) directly communicate with the other person, rather than build up a relationship through separate deferred messages back and forth via email, postings, comments, etc. The more live you get the better your chances for building a connection with the other person and probably faster too.
On the other hand, most people do not have the time to build many relationships and a live meeting takes up direct individual time, and will probably require a number of sessions before such communication becomes any form of a relationship. This is the classic battle between the need to develop relationships and the need to preserve our own time. It's also why deferred communications through postings, etc., counts as the next best thing. And hence we start with basic communication services like discussion forums (focused purely on deferred messages to a group).
What is needed however, is to try to flesh out the deferred interactions, or bring in more aspects of "live-ness". A step up is a blog, which is still deferred but may give you agreater understading about the person (blogger) based on their thoughtsand writings. To get more information about the person, they should have a profile that describes their background. Another direction is a wiki: while deferred, it allows people to change the content in a pseudo-live way, rewriting each others material as they care to. Another really helpful tool is a peer-to-peer rating system, so you can understand what people think of the person's contribution in their various engagements around the community. Finally, having actual live online services that they can attend on occassion or on demand, fills it out.
All these combine to give a once anonymous other person, a greater depth and personality, and a basis to consider whether this person, not just their knowledge, is worth making a connection with
I'm not sure I answered Franks question, but this "live-ness" is part of it. Add on top of it, the ability to create, and enrich the environment with more tools and "feathering" to make it an appealing environment to communicate, gives Secondlife a much greater depth in terms of community building.
But, what Frank points out, and what I indicated about time-restrictions of live activities, remains true. Most information is and probably will always be in text. So, no matter how fancy a visual environment you have, without text content, it may lack sufficient information to learn from others. In other words, secondlife may never truly replace the web, since deferred communications ("do it on my time, not yours") and text ("easy to create info") is still the primary choice.
Sorry to say to all those who dream of living in the Matrix, but when it comes to gathering information, you'll still need the realm of text (until we evolve enough to dispose of text entirely). You can talk to people, and interact as much as you want, but the most common way may still be in reading the information.
Okay, editors hat on... I disagree that we should be lazy and call it "Service Oriented Architecture" as is what people are labelling it. It's a sign of the continued degradation of the English language.
Not only is it grammatically correct to have it as "Service-Oriented Architecture", but it also has historical precedence in "object-oriented architecture".
The hyphen implies the focus on Services. Grammatically, if you didn't have the hyphen, it is somewhat non-sensical:
"Service Oriented Architecture" would indicate that you have an architecture that has something that is a "Service Architecture" and something that is an "Oriented Architecture" but not that it is oriented around services.
So people, get with the English.
I saw a truly priceless rug today. We stopped by after lunch at a rug store next to the restaurant just to look. After looking over a number of 8x10 rugs, the owner took us up to his safe where he keeps the heirloom ones. He pointed out a particular antique rug which is one of two remaining in the world. It's about 500 years old from Tabriz, Iran, and probably over 30 feet long. According to him there is no real price on it but the only other one is in a museum in Europe. I couldn't tell the difference from a $9,000 rug but that's art. It's worth whatever price you put on it if someone wants it bad enough.
It's amusing to cosnider there's very little parallel for it in the software world. When developers create something from their minds, we sometimes call it "a work of art". The cost can be high but we don't really sit there and appreciate it as much.
Consider the idea of service-oriented computing where you build an "application" from a combination of components or applications each described as a service. It's no where near the analog of a painter's choices when it comes to colors, even if it does take as much thought, exasperation and suffering. But I guess I can take consolation in that the term "starving developer" hasn't caught on with the general public.
I went back to our Japanese swordfighting (Battodo)
classfor middle and high school kids on Tuesday, for the first time thisyear. I really enjoy helping to teach that class since kids do goofyfunny things. This time around, we practiced rolling on the floor andit was quite the sight. Our o-sensei
(instructor) is a long-time Jujitsu teacher as well--actually he knowsat least 4 different martial arts. He wanted to show the kids some verybasic rolls, throws and disarms. These can be very dangerous
if done imporperly or carelessly.
You may or may not be surprised that most people don't know how to rollon the floor in a safe or coordinated manner. As we grow older, this isprobably one of the last things we do on a normal day but it's one thatcan be really helpful on rare occassions (e.g., taking a dive off abike, or even just tripping). In any case, it can be fun and even alittle exercise.
You'd think kids would have an easier time doing this. Almost. We hadabout 20 of them of various sizes from half my height to those over sixfeet (who'd have just as much trouble as I did originally), all rollingdown the mats on the floor getting woozy and running into each otherfrom time to time.
First they learn the basic roll from a squatting position, then from astand-drop-down-to-a-squat, and then just from a stand. Eventually, itbecomes one flowing motion. After they learn know how to roll, we canshow them some basic ways to throw people. After that, some sworddisarming and throwing techniques.
Rather than roll head-over-feet (gymnastics style), the idea they firstlearn is from squatting with one knee down (say your right knee down,left up), putting your arms in a diagonal line (left elbow pointing upabove the raised knee, the other pointing down), and then rolling overyour (left) shoulder. This is much safer that head over feet, sincerather than landing on your neck, you land on the meaty tricep,shoulder and back muscles.
I could make a business-philosophical quip about "learning to roll withthe flow properly and stay on track", but I think just actually rollingaround is fun. :)
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...
Per my previous post about Playstation Home
, the rumor mill is hitting full steam. From what I understand now, companies will be able to develop for this new virtual world by partnering with Sony. So in other words, it may have the programmability of SecondLife but in a different fashion. Jay
's also gathering info on the PS Home.
Sony is used to partnering with game development houses only for their Playstation environments. This kind of development can involve a build environment in conjuction with a game unit simulator that also supports debugging and large-scale development. I have never worked in this environment but the last I heard, it works with the Eclipse environment. In any case, theirs is not an open development environment and you essentially have to join their partner program to be able to do such work. This and the much higher cost of entry for developers and customers ($600+ PS3) creates some hurdles for them.
Obviously they really need to have a compelling offer and in this case, visually at least the PS Home looks appealing. Programmatically, it's value is still to be determined. With IBM's support in terms of the cell processor, I'd think we would be thinking of working with this environment too, but I am not privy to such information either so I can just speculate.
In any case, there are also two types of development involved here: application (or prim) programming and the 3D visual design. The 3D design is outside my skill level; I've done 3Ds of buildings before, but you really need to become immersed and practised with the tools for a while to become a good artist and I'm just not that caliber. This should translate to either Secondlife or Playstation Home, since these visual objects are fairly standardized in the industry. The app programming however, is definitely specific to the world. Nintendo's Mii
, on the other hand, is slightly different animal. From what I gather, essentially it allows you to edit/update characters and the environment of existing games. This to me is more like what WindowBlinds
does to the Windows desktop environment, i.e. customize an existing system. This is particularly different than a MMO environment where you can build new things, exist in a mass population, and it is not centered around the structure or rules of an existing game. Another way to look at it is what tuners do to cars. You can improve the car vastly or personalize it to the extreme, but in the end, you usually still end up with a car. (but sometimes also a nightclub, a performance stage, a giant dinosaur, etc.)
So I don't really consider the current Mii and Mii channel comparable to Secondlife or PS Home. Please do prove me wrong.
I keep running into Chris Anderson's activities lately. First, I'm listening to his dW podcast interview
on our site this week, and next we had an internal meeting for book authors that Chris came to talk to us about. The main discussion in the call was more about how to approach book writing and some ideas that he found successful for his own bestseller, The Long Tail
(see my book list
). Some of it rang so true but is still missed by so many authors.
For one, he talked about blogging from the very beginning on the book as he did on his research, and carrying the conversation on regularly and for a long time. Chris started blogging from the beginning. It helped in shape his ideas, but also helped quite a bit when it came time to launch the book; he gave away a thousand copies of the book to all the bloggers who interacted with him on his blog. This, I think, really helped to spread the popularity of his book.
Blogging is certainly popular but to many book authors it is still a new phenomenon, even in the tech industry. With that in mind, many authors think that they should start blogging when their book is nearer completion that from the beginning. I think there are two parts to this: a) in general, for a blog to become even barely known takes a long-time of ongoing and active effort; b) blogging about your book helps to build awareness. In other words, if you already have (a) going for you, then (b) should be easier. However, back to my point on blogging still being new with many authors points to the fact that many of them don't even have (a) going for them.
To give my example, I am working on a book and many of the ideas that I have talked about are spread all around this blog of mine. However, I don't think I ever stated that intention. For me, the ideas are more significant--and even more than that discussion of the ideas--than the point that its for a book. But perhaps I should state that intention right away and define the premise more openly. I'll save it for a different post so as not to distract from Chris' point here.
Another interesting point and one that is dear to his heart apparently--he just launched a new startup BookTour.com
on it--is about authors engaging others in live events, book tours, presentations, speaking engagements, etc. I think it's a great idea and fits my philosophy: most people need help on learning how to generate a community around an idea or even themselves. What live or virtual appearances and activities do is help to build that community and reinforce the significance of the work. By Chris' own admission speaking engagements can have a better ROI than book sales, even if they go hand in hand; and I don't disagree with that in terms of getting paid for day-long appearnaces versus spending months on a book. This means that as an author you need to spend the time and effort to actively promote your book and not just rely on the publisher's marketing team. The argument I always hear on this is that most people have full time jobs and do not have the time to do so. This is where I think an idea like BookTour can come in really helpful.
Let's take an online parallel: we at developerWorks are about to launch a new aspect called Expert spaces
amongst other features. This allows a person to create a community around their own activities using different social software tools not unlike what groups of folks are doing with our community topic
spaces now. Like our spaces now, you can start a blog of your own to talk about your project, link in resources your find useful. If you want to go a step beyond, you could even write parts of your book in a wiki online and ellicit comments about the contents you share.
For our own team, this means that we will now need to help these experts get going on communicating in this new way. BookTour focuses on the specific activity of bookwriting; we have a much wider focus on building awareness about any technical expert. We do that now to some degree, but there is a lot more that we could learn.
In my earlier view, I only identified two stages: social networks, and communities. The former describes a loose network of people who generally keep in touch with each other for a common purpose, whether purely social or for business purposes. The people within the network usually know the others, and have some degree of strong ties with each other, but they don't really define themselves in detail as a group, have well-defined goals or ideology. This contrasts against the next level of networks, the community
, which do have a common identity and purpose, and where the network of people generally work together for the direction of the community. Beyond the community is the organization,
a very strongly oriented group of people, often with defined objectives, budgets and even some level of hierarchy as to how they should work together.
Somewhere in between the social network and the community are other social models. What Howard Rheingold keeps describing as "smart mobs", a loose social network of folks who gather on an "instant" basis for a specific purpose. This is slightly different than the pure social network since folks in a smart mob have a (vaguely) defined purpose: anyone who is interested in X, let's meet up to do something. Other descriptions for this are often used in events as Birds-of-Feather (BOF) sessions, and Meetups. Unlike the more personal connection of a pure social network, the members do not necessarily know each other from prior contact and simply have a common interest. This can also be a transitional idea; one the meetup is over, the members disperse taking the knowledge gained from the event. Sometimes, they do keep in contact and evolve into a longer running community of interest
, where membes return to keep working on that interest.
Another model that is described aptly in The Starfish and the Spider
(see my book list
). Groups like the Apaches of North America (circa 1800s); Alcoholics Anonymous, a peer-group organization, etc. These have some of the characteristics of a social network in that each group is fairly independent with no overall leader. However, they also go the next step along where there is an organizing principle or ideology, and there are local leaders on a decentralized basis. I call this as something different--some will say I'm just splitting hairs--because the overall larger picture of the group is never centrally coordinated. For that matter, something like this is hard to converge into a realistic distributed model, unless there is a strong need for and common belief amongst the members that the goals and purpose are what they share. Otherwise, it tends to be a localized organized that never grows beyond it's domain.
On the other end, the centralized community, seems like a good idea to try out at the beginning but over time this can grow into an inherent bureaucracy instilled in trying to centralize activities. It has some advantages in that there is less tendency to deviate from the mission of the community across the distributed organization. The Starfish model on the other hand has resilience, but truly works on a decentralized basis if the core goals and beliefs are truly of common interest on a distributed scale, and has been tested over time. Otherwise, it can break down into separate factions as each group goes its own way.
The key to group involvement in any of these types of people networks is still strong leadership and influencers. There are good practices and models for each level that can help people work faster or better, but the idea still depends on a having an interest in being a leader and keeping that interest and momentum going over time. I'm surprised by how many folks keep imagining that they can instantly grow a network from complete zero to success in a very short time. Such situations are pretty rare, and usually, new ideas that work in this vein really leverage existing relationships, population moods or past history to get there, rather than truly working from zero.
For our social computing metrics system, we have the ability
to see how people act on others contributions. For example, given one person’s
post, we can tell who is sharing, tagging and sometimes reading it, with
identities of all. This can tell us how much a person is impacting those around
them, who and how.
[Note: From an enterprise measurement viewpoint who the
individuals are is not important but you need their ID to key off other
demographics such as their job roles, geographic location, or organizational
location. This might be of interest to each person, but I’m looking at the
gestalt of the organization. Also this is information we are allowed to see per
This leads to several possibilities, given person X’s post.
The first set is diversity of reach:
a) What job roles are consuming their
Where in the organization are the
Given a single post how much
consumption is happening; and what’s the average per post
On the business level, this can tell us a lot about how
well the organization is connected, and if the expected views of what
job roles rely on others is actually occurring and how much. For example,
sales people working with their sales engineers or seeking domain knowledge
experts. It can show how far they
reach across the organization, and what other roles they connected to that
were not expected. For example, sales people in Slovenia working with
Researchers in Israel.
The second set may look at secondary effects. Given person X
posts, and person Y shares or tags, who is Person Z that eventually consumes it.
What job roles (persons’ Z) are
the end consumers
Where in the org they come from
How much and what’s the average.
Is there additional resharing or
This extends the first set by looking at eventual impact
from the source.
So far, I’ve just talked about one path of action from a
creator (source) to a consumer (sink).The next level is to look across many
actions on if there is bidirectional interaction happening between the roles.
This looks for ‘lasting’ relationships based on continued bidirectional
interaction. This can happen in immediate sequence (e.g., I post,
someone replies to me, I reply back, and so on); or it can be delayed
sequence of events (e.g., I post, someone reads/tags it, a week later they
send something else through a different social tool).
Here we are looking beyond immediate or unidirectional
consumption, towards the idea of if people are forming lasting relationships.
Notice for one that I didn’t even say that it was necessary
for people to friend each other before any of this happens. In fact, I think
that friending action while certainly making it obvious is highly variable.
Some people consider friending to identity those who they have lasting
relationships with, but others use it simply to keep track of people they are
watching rather than have any interaction with. The difference lies in the
bidirectional vs. unidirectional relationship there. In other cases, some folks
never actually friend others but certainly interact with them, therefore
indicating a relationship.
Why is this any different than SNA (social network analysis)
tools? Perhaps it’s the limitation of the SNA tools I have found in terms of
the level of demographics and granularity they can show. For example, some do
not show the demographics I need because they simply don’t contain that info,
or don’t understand which demographics are useful for business reasons.
In terms of granularity, most SNA tools can show the
structure for each person; i.e., the relationships and interactions between
person X and those around them, but I need info about the aggregate level of
everyone of one demographic (e.g. job category), and the relationships they
form. This is beyond most SNA tools today.
The biggest part is that it takes a lot of data collection
and number crunching over many, many people to even begin to analyze this. This is beyond System level metrics (how many users, how many documents), or object level (how much activity per person or object), but goes into the meta level that we would like to understand. This is also only one aspect of many others.
On the business side, the goal is to better understand the connections across our organization, and where we can try to focus energies to improve communications or encourage interaction. It is using information from social systems to create a smarter organization. For enterprise 2.0 to become a success, it is not just about empowering individuals to use social computing systems, but it is to make the organization itself function better.
In the last post, I introduced the book The kids are alright
that talks about ethics, interests, and motivations of the gamer generation as it is starting to enter the workplace. The post was getting long so I left out this bit.
To me the idea of SecondLife
was only a dream back in 1992, when text-based MMOGs were available. Even then, there were many MUDs, MOOs, etc. where players eventually got bored of playing the hack-n-slash life and switched more to socializing and creating. The lands I created in lpmud
using a derivative of the C programming language inside the game is a similar notion to Lindenscript
in SL now. Of course, with a text-basis, you did not have the sheer coolness of a 3D world. But that came back to bite me when I tried SL programming. While I can do the programming, I'm pretty lousy & slow with 3D graphics. That and my lack of time just made me give up (too easily I'm afraid).
My own scripting woes aside, it's the change from game-playing to game-making that made those programmable MUDs really fun. I don't want to say it's a bit of growing up but for me it was a switch from entertainment to using my skills. Not everyone wants to do that and even those who didn't want to play but still returned to the game to socialize points to the need for a different kind of environment: the same that SecondLife is suited for.
What's more, by taking the game aspect out of SL, it allows those of the non-gamer generation (per that book) to relate even better. My guess on what sold companies on getting involved in SL is not just the 3D factor, the programmability, the multi-user environment, etc., but because it is a transition environment between the two generations. Gamer-gen folks can work on this and still explain to their non-gamer gen bosses and seniors that it's okay because "It's not a game." That may sound silly, but the reality is that the non-gamer gens generally still consider games a waste of time, so anything that suggests that it is a game is most likely not worth the attention, and that the gamer employees are probably slacking off.
I bring this up because it is not limited to SL and the like, but even to other community & web 2.0 services. This same parallel exists in situation when a developer becomes an active member of a discussion forum, a chat, a wiki or are blogging . One common first assumption is that they are slacking off, rather than the reality that they may be building better relations than what you pay loads of money to communications, marketing and PR departments for, or even make the right connections to help them in their work.
Very often they are asked to justify themselves spending their time in such activities, in terms of some sort of results: solutions, work products, clientelle, etc. The difficulty lies in the fact that the benefits that they get from communities is building social capital
, which itself is an intangible and variable product. You'll find dozens of books that all talk about the value of social capital in business, but it is still hard to measure and compare. But then again some folks have figured out (somewhat) complex ways of determining other intangibles like productivity, loyalty, coolness, etc., so I think there is hope yet for some form of measure.
After all, if we are fixated on results-driven and measured processes for everything, we would definitely need a way to describe that. Enough for now, I'll gab about some ways of measuring this in other posts.