Second Life II: The Value
Last december I was interviewed for Elseviers weekly, sort of the Dutch version of Time Magazine, regarding Second Life. In the past week the resulting cover story was published, which prompted me to write a miniseries about Second Life on our company blog. The previous, this and the coming posting are translations of those postings.
If we try to look behind the hype, where can we see the signs of real value in Second Life? I would say value resides in immersion, the fact that the entire environment can be built and manipulated at will, the unique forms of expression SL makes possible, the real growth behind the hype, and the development we may expect in the near future. Of course there are also aspects keeping value back, and those with no value at all.
Immersion and full manipulability: 3D is here to stay
Second Life is the first 3D environment that is both not meant as a game as well as drawing in significant numbers of people. That it's not a game means there are no up front goals, rules, and that the environment is not meant to have a certain form. Residents create the landscape themselves, and after creation can keep on altering it. Their own appearance, and each and every object. The internal economy is based on that ability to manipulate everything. This makes SL much more into a platform.
Immersion is a powerfull feature of 3D worlds, where attention and engagement are concerned. Not just for marketing purposes but for regular conversations and group events as well. Whether Second Life itself will survive or not, a fully adaptable 3D environment will become part of our standard media mix that we have at our disposal on the internet.
Heart Murmur simulation for educational purposes
Worthwile forms of use
Most of Second Life seems to be replicated from our regular surroundings, but then in a well kempt and suburban form. The really interesting uses I've encountered however are those that try to build on the unique possibilities a virtual world provides. Only then does SL realize its possibility as a new medium.
Those interesting uses can be categorized roughly along the following lines:
- Simulation and virtual action learning, like the Heart Murmur Sim, or the tsunami-simulation by NOAA.
- Prototyping, like quickly creating sketches for 3D animation, or having customers judge form and color of different products (Philips), or even put their own products together (Nike), or as an architect guide your clients through the first designs of their new home.
- Visualization of complex data structures for third parties (like the NOAA weathermaps)
- New experiences, like 2nDisability which allows users to really experience different disabilities. (different visual impairments and neurological afflictions available at the moment), or roleplaying games in a fitting environment (recreating historical situation, or for training purposes)
- Immersion in encounters. A funny thing I notice is that I look avatars in the eye during conversations. Even though the other will not notice that at all, it does change my involvement in the moment. I am more involved, less easily distracted as with regular IM or phone conferences. In certain situations that can be very helpful, like at the island for cancer patient support groups, or when trying to involve more people in the on-line version of a conference.
- The possibility to build things that are not possible in the real world. For instance as an expression of art (like the Arts Department of Texas University presence in SL)
Positive developments in SL
Behind the hype real growth is hidden. The number of people on-line at any given moment has doubled in the past few months. The daily turnover in in-world transactions quadrupled since August. So growth is there. (Have a look at the Second Life statistics)
By opening up the client software it is now possible for third parties to create their own Second Life 'browser'. I expect the availability of much less demanding client software (the current client takes a lot of resources on your system) that will integrate other functionalities at the same time. Obvious candidates for integration are voice applications with API's, and easy publishing options for weblogs and Flickr etc. Another candidate is importing designs from more user friendly graphic design applications as objects into Second Life. At the same time opening up the client means more time and energy for Linden Labs to fix their creaking and groaning server infrastructure.
Where not to expect value (yet)?
Second Life is suffering under the influx of new users. The infrastructure is barely coping, the rendering of graphics is very slow, and the system demands of the client software are way too high. These however are likely to be temporary problems.
Using Second Life to reintroduce spatial constraints we got rid of with the webbrowser is without value and merit. I have seen suggestions that Amazon should open up shop in SL. Bad idea. Amazon's succes builds on the fact that they can over millions of titles, much more than any bookstore could ever hope to have shelf space for. Opening a bookstore in SL reintroduces the problem of limited shelf space in a virtual environment. Hyperlinking (jumping without loss of time from destination, and the ability to browse and quickly flick back and forth) is another browser affordance you do not want to sacrifice while moving into 3D.
Finally the number of people in SL can hardly be construed as mainstream adoption yet. Newly registered users are confronted with a confusing learning path, and the hurdles of quickly integrating into SL society as a resident are big. People dipping in their toes just to see what the fuss is all about are easily deterred, never to return.
This does not bode well for the potential of really tieing in a massive user base. Entering SL is to a large extent still too much of a culture shock.
But at the same time there is plenty of reason to explore as an individual and as a company to see what's up. If you decide to stay away for now, make it a conscious and informed decision at least.2 Comments and 0 Trackbacks | Permalink
Second Life I : The Hype
Last december I was interviewed for Elseviers weekly, sort of the Dutch version of Time Magazine, regarding Second Life. In the past week the resulting cover story was published, which prompted me to write a miniseries about Second Life on our company blog. This and the coming posting(s) are translations of those postings.
Second Life draws a lot of attention recently, in fact is showing all the signs of hype.
Early 2006 there were roughly a hundredthousand registered accounts with SL. Now, a year later 2,8 million are registered, with the first million reached last September, and the second million last month. The influx of newly registered accounts is indication of the hype. Mainstream media is paying a lot of attention (see this graph), and big name companies (Philips, Nike, ABN Amro, Adidas, Toyota) are jumping to get in.
Not that all those registered accounts represent actual returning users. Estimates are that there are between 200 and 400 thousand of those. And that means that there is a chance that there isn't really much to get from SL yet. Or is there?
The first anti-hype sounds can be heard around the net, and in the media. Especially after Clay Shirky's critical and necessary review of SL's statistics as reported by the media and not corrected by Linden Labs.
Big Brother in SL, attempt to cash in on the hype
Looking beyond the hype
There is more to SL than just hype. Companies moving into SL, and those originating there, do not do so without reason. People that already are earning (part) of their income through SL are at least witnesses to the potential (not to say that as always the pron and gambling industry have been paving the way in this new medium)
I have seen the value of the in-world transactions between SL residents rise from about 300 thousand US$ per 24 hours in August to 1,2 million US$ now. And the couple of hundred thousand real residents of SL at least seem to derive a lot of fun from it.
Active residents and turnover on Jan 22nd 2007
That a lot of companies seem to be jumping on the bandwagon regarding SL is I think due to the fear of missing out on an important development again. They want to avoid being late discovering and capitalizing on opportunities, just as they did when the Web first came up in the first half of the nineties.
The return on investment at this stage for those companies moving into SL is the PR bonus that they get as being perceived as 'first movers'. They both feed the media hype, as well as they are being fed by the media hype. Perception trumps facts. ING bank for instance had been experimenting in SL low key for months, when competitor ABN Amro came in with a lot of fanfare and cashed the first mover PR bonus as the 'first' big bank in Second Life.
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ABN Amro, first mover PR bonus despite ING's efforts
Jaiku As Story Teller (or: Jaiku Works)
Today a big storm is crossing the Netherlands. On behalf of the police the national railsystem has been halted. As I was on the other side of the country today I am stuck on the coast, while Elmine is at home 200km away. Our mutual friend Mark Wubben sees this story unfold in his Jaiku data-stream.
First Elmine posts a screenshot on Flickr about how the trains are not running due to storm. (nu_storm)
Then she posts to her blog that she is eating alone tonight. ('En daarom eet ik vanavond alleen')
Shortly after that, I open my laptop, and Plazes automatically shares that I am in Haarlem.
All three data traces get combined into Marks Jaiku stream, and constitute a story rich in context for him.
This is precisely the effect that makes these kind of tools so interesting; combining traces into patterns for those that can attach meaning to them.
(Of course both Elmine and I blogged it, which is bound to end up in Marks Jaiku stream again.....round and round it goes)1 Comments and 1 Trackbacks | Permalink
Giving a Presentation? Hosting a Workshop? Chairing a Panel? Yes, please!
In the past few years I have discovered how much I enjoy speaking to audiences and hosting workshops around themes which I am passionate about. During 2006 I gave presentations about once a month, a rhythm I would like to continue this year. Perhaps you can help me fill my agenda for 2007!
I present both in the Netherlands and internationally on topics such as:
- dealing with information overload and information abundance, and the skills and infrastructure you need for that;
- the role and use of social software/web 2.0 applications
- the influx of 'digital natives' in companies and educational institutes, in relation to human resource management and educational models;
- networked working, and the use of social networks as information filter;
- innovation as an attitude;
- the co-evolution between communities and the technology they use;
These topics I approach from a change management and knowledge-focussed perspective.
Over the course of 2006, this brought me to places like:
- Leuven University, Belgium;
- 7th German On-line Research Conference, Germany;
- Reboot 8.0, Denmark;
- European Distance and E-learning Network Conference, Austria;
- Center for Social Innovation (ZSI), Austria;
- Limburg University, Key-note at Opening Academic Session, Belgium;
- Blogtalk Reloaded, 4th international conference on social software, Austria;
- Professional Training Facts 2006, Fraunhofer Institute, Germany;
- 2nd International Symposium in Media Informatics, Germany;
- New Knowledge Club, Rotterdam Erasmus University Netherlands;
I also have (co-)hosted numerous workshops around the opportunities information abundance and the new class of tools, social software, give us. These workshops typically spanned a full day of intense conversation resulting in action oriented decisions.
These workshops partly took place under the name BlogWalks and brought me to six European countries in the past two years (NL, D, B, DK, S, A), as well as helping to organise workshops in the US and Australia.
I am able to do presentations and workshops in either English or Dutch (both preferred) as well as German. These activities are done under the banner of Proven Partners, where I have been working in the past three years.
Interested, want to know more? Want to invite me to give a presentation, host a workshop or chair a panel? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Second Life Client Open Sourced
It is not really a surprise, but the official announcement came earlier than I expected. Over the last year a group of coders had been reverse engineering the Second Life client software with the approval of Linden Labs. I assumed an open source client would become available in this year, but had not expected it as early as January: Linden Labs is releasing the client software for Linden Labs as open source.
I think it is a good move for Linden Labs, as it allows them to start focussing more on the server side of things and try to solve their scaling problems as well as the long overdue capacity for voice, while they open up the client for the users' creativity. Opening up is the only way to help Second Life move more towards becoming an infrastructure. It might not be enough, but it is an unavoidable step, given their current state. Next step is hopefully creating a path to more open server software as well.0 Comments and 0 Trackbacks | Permalink
The Colin Morley Award for Excellence by an NGO 2007
Next to this years list of Brands with a Conscience the Medinge Group also added a unique category commendation. Medinge Group member Colin Morley died in the London Underground bombings of July 2005. He was a visionary worker on human centered branding, and a driving force behind Be The Change. I am honoured he was a participant at the BlogWalk London workshop, part of the series I organize with Lilia Efimova and Sebastian Fiedler. With the Colin Morley Award the Medinge Group commemorates his visionary contributions and his ideals. I was very much moved by the way his family graciously granted the Medinge Groups wish to name the NGO award after him.
The 2007 Colin Morley Award for Excellence by an NGO goes to:
Shakespeare’s Globe is an educational charity whose founding purpose is dedicated to the study of Shakespeare in performance. Aspects of interpretation and the attainment of personal relevance are central to its activities. At its home on London’s Bankside, the Globe manifests its purpose in three main operational areas: Theatre, Education and Exhibition. The theatre space itself is the most celebrated and architecturally sensitive Elizabethan re-construction in existence; an inextricable linkage to London past and present. The Globe functions without Arts Council funding, thus, it is a business model for the arts. It explores the humanity of Shakespeare - himself a timeless commentator of the human condition – on the only site that can ever be the home of his performances. A genuine concept, it is wholly inclusive in how it tries to involve the world (e.g. Zulu Macbeth, a touring Tent for Peace made from love-or peace-themed Ophelia handkerchiefs) – perhaps the UK’s most underutilised, but potentially potent brand.
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The Medinge Group's Brands With a Conscience 2007
Since its inception in 2002, I have been been involved in the Medinge Group, a world wide thinktank and international collective of brand practitioners. Although I am not directly involved in branding, I do think that a brand should be a very important container for those values and attitudes that play key roles in a company's knowledge work, innovation, learning, and adaptability as well as social responsibility. The founders of the Medinge Group are looking for that same qualities in a brand, and shape their branding work accordingly. A natural fit therefore with my work and thoughts on the social and business models needed in this era of knowledge and information abundance.
When in 2003 the Medinge Group collectively authored the book Beyond Branding, I took part in the discussions and reviewing, from a knowledge management perspective. Since 2004 I have been less involved with the Medinge Group, following the mailing list more from the sideline but remaining part of the Beyond Branding blog, where my posts are aggregated as well.
In 2004 the Medinge Group published for the first time a list of brands that the group thinks show that it is possible for brands to succeed as they contribute to the betterment of the society by sustainable, socially responsible and humanistic behavior. Judging nominees takes place on principles of humanity and ethics, rather than financial worth. The Brands with a Conscience list is evaluated on criteria including evidence of the human implications of the brand and considering the question of whether the brand takes risks in line with its beliefs. Evaluations are made based on reputation, self-representation, history, direct experience, contacts with individuals within the organizations, media and analysts and an assessment of the expressed values of sustainability.
The Brands with a Conscience 2007 list has been voted on last November and announced just before Christmas 2006. Also for the first time this year a special award has been given to a NGO, which I will reserve for a seperate blogpost. This years list includes:
A local brewer in Suffolk, England, Adnams is recipient of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, and regularly features in the UK list of top 50 places to work. In October, 2006, they unveiled the UK’s greenest warehouse, the first commercial building built from sustainable hemp blocks, with the UK’s largest sedum roof, drawing 80% of its hot water needs from solar panels. An energy efficient brewhouse is slated for completion in March ‘07. Adnams has been brewing in Suffolk since 1872, today employs 280, has a charity arm, and focuses on sustainability because it wants to.
Ecover is the world’s largest producer of ecological detergents and cleansing products, a pioneering, innovative company founded in 1980 in Belgium. Their progressive environmental and social policy is at the heart of their business success. In their vision statement they say: “Ecover is a company that strives to optimise economic value. We regard the environment as an inseparable part of the economy… job performance as a means to foster the social wellbeing and personal development of its direct and indirect employees.” The Medinge Group also recognizes Ecover’s visual identity which combines a strong brand mark with appropriate environmental signals like transparent packaging.
The sixth-largest seller of prize-winning premium wines in the US --- and the largest grower of organic grapes in Northern California, committed to going all-organic by 2010. Fetzer uses nothing but renewable power and water treated without chlorine; has reduced its waste by 94% since 1990; earns Salmon-Safe and Fish-Friendly certificates for its vineyard practices; is a charter member of Climate Leaders, an industry-government partnership; and has helped influence its parent company, Brown-Forman, towards sustainable business practices.
An established South Africa-based sustainability business whose products have wide-reaching positive ramifications. Freeplay’s vanguard appliance solutions for portable energy enable rural communities to deploy otherwise inaccessible basic technologies.
Highly ambitious and detailed work is being done by this huge concern with some 150 retail stores around the globe. Especially interesting is IKEA's firm stance against corruption, perhaps the most serious obstacle for a better world in developing countries. In Russia an invited group of 350 VIPs including the Swedish ambassador returned home after IKEA refused to pay bribes to the local government needed to obtain the permit to open a new Moscow store, an incident later reported in the Financial Times. The Medinge Group further acknowledges IKEA’s extensive programs for ecology and social responsibility.
A brand which demonstrates the power of collective action and a simple idea that everyone can get. It’s a business model (not a charity) that works for both people and business, and for the image of ubiquitous founder Bono. As their manifesto says: “If you buy a RED product or service, at no cost to you a RED company will give some of its profit to buy and distribute anti-retroviral medicine to people dying of AIDS in Africa.” A modern, inclusive brand, RED has a distinctive and attractive identity that is shared by like-minded brands. It’s a brand that partners personalise and promote on their own sites. And it is a brand where you can easily see the results of your actions. As MySpace, one its sponsors says, ‘Collectively, we can do good in a big way’.
Virgin Group/Virgin Fuels
On 10 September 2006, Virgin Group announced that they will apportion 100% of all of their transport related profits over the next three years into a new enterprise called Virgin Fuels. This equates to approximately $400m in renewable initiatives over three years. Virgin Group and Richard Branson have the brand strength, voice and financial muscle to make a massive difference in this high polluting and otherwise lethargic sector. Virgin Group and its companies already have an enormously healthy and well-recognised position as an innovative, exciting employer with a humane focus on its staff and customers. Virgin Fuels has taken a thought-leading position that only a handful of organisations can occupy.
Among its many laudable initiatives, the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods recently committed to ongoing contractual relationships with local farmers to help supply each of its stores, thus truly supporting sustainable (and energy/transport-efficient) agriculture.
(Descriptions of this years Brands with a Conscience taken from the Medinge Group statement of Dec. 21st 2006.)
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