Whew! It's getting almost too busy to blog already this early in the year...
Ok, my thoughts on Virtual economies affecting the real world is already starting to happen...
CNet had an article on Julian Dibbell's stance on Are Virtual Assets Taxable?" brings a real question to the face of the Internal Revenue Service, the US authority that taxes everyone (even people who don't live in the US).
Julian's story is on his virtual world of Ultima Online which coincidentally was one of the first graphical MMORPGs I used to play years ago. I spent many hours of my childhood playing the single-player Ultima games, so UO was a godsend.
In any case, the same problem exists as I mentioned before, in most if not all virtual worlds, such assets can be freely created and there is no hard limit to resources. This makes it easy to keep increasing the amout of "space" and "stuff" that's all around you. Continue to sell that virtual stuff for real money essentially amounts to devaluing real dollars.
Everyone considered it an amusing diversion but chuckled because "how many players can there be actually doing that?" According to the CNet article the combined number of players already ranks in the millions and the combined asset value (in terms of fair market value) could be in tens or hundreds of millions.
If you consider the number of online gamers is simply increasing as well as the number of titles, then the possibility for continual growth in that combined asset value is also real. How long before it really matters? Does it matter when that value is in the hundreds of millions now or soon? How about in the billions? Still no? How about in the trillions? Yes, or do you still think it just ridiculous?
This brings up another point in that there are still a limited number of human players. Possibly, but the ability to create in game bots to play for you is becoming more and more intelligent. Just the same, consider those bots, familiars, servants, etc. that are collecting assets for your main character. Now it becomes easier for a (really dedicated) person to amass assets at a faster rate.
Community and social computing
with Tags: virtual_environments X
One trend that sci-fi authors, role playing games, movies and multiuser environments have talked about for decades, is finally becoming more and more real.
Examine these parallel trends:
A. Dungeons & dragons / Role playing (non-computer) characters
-> text MUD games players
-> MMORPGs (e.g. Ultima Online, Everquest, World of Warcraft)
-> Non-RPG-based environments (The Sims Online, Second Life)
-> Military Tactical/Strategic representations
-> Telemetry and Remote Imaging
-> Battlefied information systems
-> Robotic military (Remote guided aircraft/UAV, bomb-detection robots, etc.)
C. Heroic Mythology (Greek myth, Viking sagas, Chinese myth)
-> People with secret super-hero identities (Batman, Daredevil, Spiderman)
-> Robotic personas (Voltron, Gundam & Macross series)
-> Virtual worlds (Tron, The Matrix trilogy)
D. User accounts
-> Web home pages
-> individual blogs
-> Group content/documents (wikis, forums, chats, etc.)
-> Spaces (combining Web pages, blogs, other Web 2.0 services)
-> Online personas
While different in form and utility, what it is pointing to is a change in how we perceive our identities in the rise of the online/alternate world.
Call them what you like, your blog, your avatar, your character, your robot, your role in the Matrix... It all points to having a separate identity for yourself in an environment other than the one you live in right now.
I tend to see this as a continuing trend where we will see more and more of ourselves participating in the online world on a regular basis.
However, I also think that people will start making distinctions. Most of us have different faces even in a typical day: there's a similar but distinct persona of you at home, at work, at school, with your family, with your friends, with the government, etc.
They are all you, just different aspects of you. With the online world, it's easier to make those different aspects, or even create new ones based on the online environment.
This comes back to developers in a real way. There is probably a "developer" identity that you put on (some of the time, or even much of the time for others).
What that developer identity needs is a environment of its own. In fact, traditionally we have that too:
> assembly language
-> programming languages
-> compilers & other developer tools
-> integrated development environments
-> online searching
-> online code repositories and exchanges
-> online group projects and identities
The X here is where it all comes together into an online space that is yours and that you have your developer avatar participate in, and that can interact in an online community or virtual world with many other developers.
In this virtual world, we're not talking about a game of fighting other developers (aka WoW style), but in a real sense of getting involved in projects, learning new ideas or meeting new people who are working on things you are interested in. It gives the setting for participating.
Once someone builds that participation environment, you as a developer can suddenly see or be exposed to the many opportunities that lie ahead. This opportunity can translate into dollars and jobs in the real world.
The Web 2.0 entry on Wikipedia gives a snapshot of the many different technologies and topics that exist around it. Take a look at the image they provide:
From Wikipedia, 2006
The Wikipedia entry focuses more on the technologies behind Web 2.0 although it does give some description of the social impact behind it.
I consider this the difference between looking at the invention of the automobile itself versus what automobile-based transportation has done for the world. E.g., inside and outside a car there are many technological innovations: engine, transmission, electrical controls, ergonomics, safety structure, comfort systems, the highway system, etc.
But the impact of this mode of transportation is much wider: the trucking/containerization/delivery industry, suburbization of society, learning to drive (a right of passage of life for many teenagers), leisure travel, car racing, commuting and even telecommuting, etc. are things that have risen from exploding gas within a metal box to turn gears and push carts.
For that same reason, you can certainly be fascinated by the wonders of cars (I certainly spend many hours watching Speed Channel and reading car magazines), but the real impact of having the automobile is so much more.
I see this same difference in Web 2.0 technologies and the value of Web 2.0 itself.
I'm asked to explain what the Web 2.0 question often enough these days. There are plenty of things that have been put under this umbrella but rather than technologies it is the idea behind it that's most significant.
First of all what's "Web 1.0"?
This generally refers to the state of what the Web was primarily used for: a (mostly) consume-only service to access information. Even with all the many applications surfaced through the Web, the majority of the Web is still site for reading, gathering, and consuming information. The number of consumers is much greater than the number of producers.
To make the distinction, the thought behind "Web 2.0" is to instead make "producers" out of the majority of the users of the Web. Now, users not only visit the Web to gain information but also can contribute to the wealth of information that's out there.
It's a democratization of the Web if you will, allowing people not just to express their thoughts on their work, their lives, their emotions, etc. It is not just creating new written content, but contributing by taking existing data and "remixing" them to produce new content. It is also building application services that can work on data or app services that others produce.
Thus in the new world of "Web 2.0", people become producers of original and remixed data, content, and services.
There are quite a few books coming out around the topic of Web 2.0 and by leading literary minds like Dan Gilmor, and Thomas L Friedman. The topic is related to a number of ideas that can raise a lot of controversy including: freedom of expression, ownership of material produced, the right to use information and services of others, legal liability, and even globalization.
Web 2.0 existed from the very beginning of the Web itself, at least in concept. You could create home pages from very early on and even HTTP had rudimentary means to PUT and POST data. However, it was not until the rise of newer technologies that put it into the hands of the masses, and acknowledged significant impact on real-world issues that it really hit the mainstream.
With such a hotbed of activity, its no wonder that everyone wants to know more about how it applies to what they do:
As with any "gold rush", everyone is out to claim their stake in this. For some this rush is about new software. For others its about making yourself heard (and famous). For yet others, its about connecting with others of like mind.
Some common aspects I've observed:
My Linux mug is starting to crack.
It's not really a Linux mug, but Joe Barr gave me this present some years ago (when I was still with LinuxWorld), which was an oversized coffee mug with handpainted penguins and snowflakes on it. It's now starting to show some cracks after many, many times in the microwave.
My wife thinks its a Christmassy thing since it has snowflakes and penguins on it, although I think of it as a Linux thing because of the penguins and snowflakes (it's cool!). Funny how different a meaning it gives to each of us.
Also years ago, I tried convincing an analyst that there was a market for multi-player games. In 1995 that was a hard thing to prove. PC and console based games were far ahead of the text-based MUDs, MOOs, MUSHes, etc. that were around. However, a PC player long used to playing by themselves would either get it (fun with friends), or miss the point entirely ("this is so graphics-primitive!"). No one quite believed that people would actually pay to play on a regular basis.
By 1999 the time finally came for a new generation of graphical multiplayer games and MMORPGs. Another 5 years later it's widespread. In five more years it'll be almost difficult to consider a world without MMORPGs.
I guess I hadn't quite learned the business-language needed to convince folks.
Carol Jones mentioned the Ariadne project in her recent blog post which I find very, very interesting.
It uses graph theory (Computer Science) to help draw a call-graph between the people involved in a project. This is just the kind of tool one could use to build a Friend-of-a-Friend or Degrees-of-separation system. This application focuses on the relationships between developers working on an Eclipse project, but the ideas could be extended for determining the relationships in any network.
BusinessWeek magazine has an interesting online article titled The MySpace Generation that talks about the new generation of people who live, buy, and play online. There's also an subplot about marketing Coke through social networks.
MySpace.com now claims 40 million registered users with 20 million logged on in October alone.
If you're a fan of the genre that Sid Meier created with the original Civilization, the latest incarnation released through 2KGames was probably already on your list.
Despite the fact the game actually keeps crashing on my WinXP box due to problems in its use of DirectX somewhere during cut-scene/video playback, it's still gives the excitement I enjoyed with previous version.
Civ - original game - well-worth it then
Civ 2 - some improvements but nothing really fancy
CivNet - really lame excuse for a multiplayer version
Civ 3 - new graphics (eh so what), and only real new element is the "loyalty" factor displayed on the map. It's like they weren't really even trying to make it better.
Civ Test of Time and other off-versions - I can't tell if these were knock-offs or that while they used the Civ2 engine they were written by an entirely different team(s).
Civ 4 - TBD... at least the multiplayer aspect looks more practical.
What I really get out of it is the interesting game elements they try to layer into the game without making the process of building a civilization way too complex. (After all it is a game).
Common elements and Civ 4 adds:
It's still a game in the fact that the rules have changed but it still fun to play. Too much detail in graphics. It's hard to see things clearly with so much detail. This thing is also getting so resource demanding of your computer, it's not a surprise to me that my install is running into problems running the thing. The more complex the simulation after all... Who knew that old "cell" game from the 1960s/70s would grow up to be this...
Now if they'd only help fix my DirectX problems that cause blue screen of deaths. I guess I'll go look at Civ Fanatics.
The amount of work going into building social collaboration has taken off in a new direction in the past few years. In particular, the interest is in creating "spaces" for users on the Web.
It's good to see the original work that started from BBS and text-based MUSHes/MUDs/MOOs/etc. has led to a new presentation online. Just take a look at the new generation:
I actually feel a little vindicated now of having tossed a few years of my life back in the late 1980s and early 1990s into playing and programming MUDs.
It seems like now, a decade or more later, the rest of the world is starting to catch on that the Web will need to allow people to show themselves; be an actual identity, rather than a collection of user accounts, preferences, and bookmarks.
These spaces are starting to permeate more specific areas; e.g., MySpace is catching on with bands and musicians, LinkedIn is already a space for business contacts, TheFaceBook caters to the college environment, etc.
Out of this it seems like Software Developers are still kind of stuck in team programming land. While we have a shared team space, most of this is just data about the current project we are working on. Once a project is over, the people behind the project essentially "disappear" into a pool of anonymous resources, only to be invoked again when the next project comes up.
I'm talking about conventional team development environments: CVS, Lotus teamrooms, Hyades, etc. They definitely are very useful for collecting files, tracking progress, controlling access, tracking bugs, and marking activity down.
But where is the human in all of this? Are we really just a set of resources designated by HR and your Project Manager? Are our main job activity the only skills we really have?
Is the sum of us just a cog in the wheel in the grand complication of our company's part in the overall machine of industry?
This is not about socializing, or wanting to be more. There are quite valid business reasons for wanting to promote your identity, calling attention to it, and organizing the information around the many human factors that surround you.
I've always considered multiplayer games as something beyond pure entertainment. My early experiences with text-based MUDs (precursors to highly graphical MMORPGs of today) showed that players spent significant amounts of time interacting with other players rather than just play the actual game itself.
While the moving-between-rooms-killing-hapless-virtual-beasts metaphor still remains, the more interesting applications of these virtual environments are starting to be appreciated at a level beyond entertainment for kids.
Note the statistic per The Economist, only 30% of gamers are under 18. The majority of ~40% are 18-49 and 19% are over 50. Most blockbuster games of today are targeted for the young and middle age adults.
I should mention that the Serious Games Summit coming up on Oct 31-Nov 1 in Washington DC will be discussing games as they pertain to Education, Government, Health, Corporate, Science and of course Military environments. The lessons to learn lie in Instructional theory and practice, Simulation, Contests, Public Affairs, Diplomacy, and marketing.