I'm twittering. Invite me as your friend. My twitter id is HiroPen, or just email me.
While I initially thought twitter was pointless, reports I've heard indicate that it's a medium for real-time journalism. As Eric Rice would put it, it's useful when it's in the context of something. (an event)
I'm twittering. Invite me as your friend. My twitter id is HiroPen, or just email me.
I'll be at Virtual Worlds 2007. You can mozy onto my flickr page if you need reference material for finding me. Sorry, no swords and bright red hair in meatspace.
I'm anxious to meet up with friends I know, both that I have and have not smet yet in the real world. I'm also anxious to meet plenty of friendly strangers!
I'm tangentially anxious to see if this conference is as a blatant attempt for an outside agency to become seen as experts in virtual worlds as it seems. Not only is the speaker list very limited (read: donors only, it mostly appears), but word from the VRML crowd is that they got the cold shoulder. Come on! What's a serious virtual world convention without the old guard from VRML?
We shall see.
Don't get me wrong; I love action movies.
Well, not all action movies, per se. I mean, your average action movie is a stinker. But throw in some kung-fu like Jet's Li in Romeo Must Die, or a good spy thriller plot like The Bourne Identity, and I generally with enjoy. I think that's an important point - it's not just about the action. I want to be pulled in with a good story, or beautiful cinematography.
So I received an email this morning promoting one of the videos up for vote at Machinima.com. Go ahead, right-click the link and open in a new window. There's some really nicely chopped machinima pieces there. I am sincere about that.
However, as I was looking through them, it became more and more clear that each and every single machinima selected was violent. Stories were about soldiers, war, returning from war, or killing zombies.
Okay, I lied, there was one that wasn't violent. Game On was a real life / machinima mash-up done using There.com and what appears to be funding from Volvo. There was a chase scene near the end, but no violence. It was good, even if I had to suffer through the cartoony avatars in There where everyone is exactly the same height. I also saw a femal African American avatar, which was fairly forward thinking, considering machinima is almost entirely white males between the ages of 18 - 35. (I say this having been to two Machinima Festivals and having met many of the major machinimists, and being a white male between the age of 18 - 35 myself.)
Heh. White males between the ages of 18 - 35. That's got to be why. I think we're still in our "if it doesn't blow up, it's not fun" phase. *chuckles*
I'm Not A Wuss, Honestly!
I've criticized the violent trend of machinima before. I can't imagine I'm getting popular by my comments either. However, I do think it's an important issue to address, if machinima ever really wants to be serious.
When Mark Wallace reported that "Machinima was picking up steam", all of the machinima he cited was non-violent, including the Superbowl commercial produced by the Ill Clan with Electric Sheep. (That was pretty funny, actually, and they seemed to have gotten the real actors from 2 1/2 Men to do the voiceovers.)
When Fox Atomic held their machinima contest with Millions of Us, the winner was a non-violent film over violent ones. (Congrats to Pierce P. for the win there.)
I'm also writing up an entry for my company's latest client, The Weather Channel, but I suppose it's appropriate to share our promo machinima here. This machinima was done by Pierce P.:
As per my last entry, I will have the pleasure of being interviewed tomorrow, via phone and Second Life, at SDExpo tomorrow. If you're there in person, don't look for me, look for the Dr. Dobbs presentations or in Second Life. It will be on the topic of LSL in Second Life and its future.
Time: 3pm PST (Though I think it runs all afternoon with different speakers, so come early!)
Where: Dr Dobbs island in SL
Dress: Wear a cape and funny hat.*
Next week is the Virtual Worlds 2007 conference. I'm still wondering if it will be a stuffy gathering of suits or an intriguing event, but I am going. If you're there, you can look for me; check my flickr pictures to see what I look like. Afterward, there's a Metaverse Meetup happening Friday, the day after the conference.
These are always fun. Last time we had 40 people show up, and it's a casual event. It's also a wonderful networking opportunity. We've been telling folks we know who are coming in from out of town, so this one may be extra-special.
* My suggestion, not Dr Dobbs. It'll make cooler screenshots, though.
I will have the pleasure of being interviewed tomorrow, via phone and Second Life, at SDExpo tomorrow, so if you're there, don't look for me, look for the Dr. Dobbs presentations or in Second Life. It will be on the topic of LSL in Second Life and its future.
I will post the rest of the details to a new post, to make sure all of you that care use my RSS feed will get notice. All of you who don't care: Nyah nyah! *grin*
Okay, so, we have a feature in popular multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and Battlefield and Counterstrike and all sorts of other MMOGs. That feature is in Second Life's competitors, like There.com. It's voice. It's coming, and it's awesome.
Yes and no. I'll keep this simple. Yes, it is, for Second Life. No, it's not, because as I just mentioned, all of the other major MMOs already do this. Welcome to the existing paradigm. It's super cool, because it's more immersive. That's really all I should have to say about why this is a very good feature.
Basically it is slated to have two flavors: proximity based, and private chat. Avatars with voice enabled will be able to hear people nearby in physical (albeit virtual) proximity. Voices will fade off with distance, just like sounds and text in Second Life. Also, users will be able to enter specific voice chat rooms to chat with specific people, regardless of location in-world.
Simple. Effective. Excellent!
Silly Electric Fuzzy Lines
Okay, there is one thing I don't like about it. Second Life has, at least in the Beta, adopted those ridiculous electric lines above peoples' heads that There.com has. Not only is this a blatant ripoff of There, but it breaks the suspension of disbelief. Second Life is supposed to be immersive, and having distracting, ever-vibrating electric lines forced above everyone's heads ... that's just plain silly.
I know it's still Beta testing, and I hope Linden Lab realizes that these lines look silly and should be OFF by default. If they really want to allow people to turn them on, then give us the option, don't force us. We can customize our avatars any which way we want - we shouldn't be restricted to having the electric bars. (In the same way names and bubbles can be toggled on/off).
It's important to give rebuttal to critics in order to further solidify one's point. In that sense, I look at a rather surprising critic of voice in Second Life, Wagner Au.
Wagner James "Hamlet" Au, former Linden embedded reporter turned Millions Of Us sponsored blogger and contributing author to Second Life The Official Guide, put out a poll to people on what their thoughts were on the future of voice in SL. He posts his conclusions here.
Since when have crowds been a predictor of trends in virtual worlds? If we listened to the crowd, then Second Life would have died over and over again with each new feature that marked "OMGzor the end of Second Life due to land fees/music/advertising/end of dwell payments/end of free stipends/free accounts" and so on and so forth. Crowds are time and time again proven wrong when it comes to predicting trends in SL. It's sort of a paradox, since they drive the trends, but I guess that boils down to the fact that the average person doesn't know what they will be interested in, until they try it.
"I personally suspect the smart money is on 'Only for specific events'.
Numerous early adopters and thought leaders will decline to use voice chat on a regular basis for various reasons (prefer text chat, desire to maintain a roleplay identity, and so on), and with that refusal, the technology will never reach escape velocity. Instead, voice communication will be reserved primarily for special announced occasions, which Residents can attend knowing that voice will be the main means of communication. Outside those events, the written word will continue reigning."
Apparently, Hamlet has never logged onto There.com, World of Warcraft, or any of the host of online games, where voice is common. But ... wasn't Hamlet a video game reviewer and commentator before he was Second Life's reporter? *shrugs*
I think the interpretation of the data on the poll is subjective, as well. If we think 45% of residents of SL are using voice, that's still millions of residents. That's not trivial, and that's certainly not "Losing Voice", as Au mistitled his blog entry on the poll's results. Put this in the context of other MMOGs: If you play CounterStrike or World of Warcraft, *maybe* 1/2 of the people have voice. In these two games, there is heavy pressure put on people to get a microphone, due to it being a boon for communication. Fifty percent is normal usage.
Consider also the technology factor. People in Second Life have computers that cost at least $1000 or more. What's $15 for a microphone? There really isn't a monetary barrier to voice for those already in Second Life.
Let's look at Au's specific evidence:
"Numerous early adopters and thought leaders will decline to use voice chat on a regular basis for various reasons (prefer text chat, desire to maintain a roleplay identity, and so on)"
First of all, early adopters are the ones logging into the SL Voice Beta program. I'm part of that group, and I've heard very little but positive feedback. So the early adopters like the technology.
Secondly, his reasons: "(prefer text chat, desire to maintain a roleplay identity, and so on)"
I can see where text chat might be an advantage. It's personal, you don't want everyone to be able to hear your voice, maybe even you're an avatar of the opposite gender. (And makes me think that gender-bending voice masking will be a desired software a year from now.) Maybe you have a headache and just don't want to talk to people.
However, Second Life is a social community, and so the majority of talking people do in Second Life is with friends. Therefore, this reasoning does not really apply as much. Instead, it's a choice between having to constantly type to people, and having your headset / microphone on and communicating in the way that people have grown up to learn naturally - voice. Second Life is successful because it *adds* levels of immersion to online communities.
Immersion is an easier interface for humans who live their whole lives in a 3-D space. Something like 2-D web is clunky, and it requires a person to adjust to a new interface. By having a 3-D interface, such as Second Life, a person can interact more easily. The same is absolutely true with voice.
Au isn't Luddite in his approach to why he thinks voice won't catch on; he's practical. However, there are others that I've read who have been fear-mongering why voice will "destroy Second Life" because it will restrict people, or it will make two tiers of people. What-ever. This is the same criticism for almost every major feature Linden Lab has added to Second Life, and the sky hasn't fallen yet.
Paying for It?
Linden Lab needs Zee Linden. He helped the dubious HouseValues.com go IPO, and if he can help a dubious company (google: housevalues and scam) go IPO, then he can hopefully help a non-dubious company, like Linden Lab.
I've met Zee a couple times. He always seems like he's thiking of new ways to get more money into Linden Lab's pockets; however, I think the point is that is exactly what he should be thinking about. I think it helps compliment the ideological stance of many of Linden Lab's other executives; truly, that's something to help Linden Lab achieve their goals.
Now, I have been hearing talk about charging a fee for sim-owners to enable voice chat on their land. It looks like the trojan horse has arrived. We were all promised that Class IV servers would have the same features as Class V servers after the great "2-day announcement of raising land fee" debacle, and we were promised that the existing servers wouldn't have their fees raised (yet).
Tao has a good, concise writeup on the Beta voice progress. He notes "Private islands with the old price ($195) might need to pay an extra fee to enable voice. Newer islands do not need that (those at $295). Voice consumer never have to pay anything."
I'm sorry, Zee, but here is the final answer:
If you want to keep Second Life better than There.com, then it's simple - There has this feature FREE, so there is zero reason why Second Life has to charge. Period.
Of course, Sony's not really throwing in the towel of what they're doing, but the hype about it being a "SL Killer" clearly can die.
MTV asks all the right questions in their latest inteview with Phil Harrison about Sony's "Home" MMOVW. Let me embed it right here:
So, things to note:
1. There's going to start off with "lobbies" and "apartments" and work into other spaces. A lobby will start off with 64 simultaneous users, sharded "infinitely". An apartment, with more video and media sharing abilities, will start off allowing a whopping 16 users.
2. Harrison makes clear that Home is intended for gamers, as he calls it "a springboard into a deeper gaming experience." I thought this was cool because it makes sense. There's already waiting areas in games, and hangout spaces related to games. Translating them into 3-D, and adding a MySpace-your-own-apartment element to it is a natural progression of what already exists.
3. And then MTV asks if there was anything relevant for the MTV viewers. Cue backpedaling!
"it's not just about game brands, it could also be a record company, it could be a building space, it could be a cool nightclub building space. It's just 3-D Graphics, it's really easy to build out. "
O-ho! Did he just say what I think he said? "It's just 3-D Graphics"? Has the gauntlet been dropped, or was Harrison just hamming it up for the MTV cameras? Take that, Philip Rosedale! You guys at Linden Lab apparently have been doing it all wrong all this time. It's just 3-D graphics, and you folks clearly need to just tighten them up:
(Author's note: I started this entry nearly two weeks ago, but I got really busy, and there's been some big Virtual World announcements recently, so ... here goes take two!)
Recently there's a new buzzword on the block: "SL Killer". Holy cow. I doubt there's any better way to enunciate that Second Life is the leader in the Metaverse race! Who would have thought, a year or two ago, that when Sony announced its Playstation 3 virtual world, "Home", or a MySpace / Virtual World hybrid called "Kaneva", or even the long-awaited "Spore" were entering Beta, that they'd be labeled as second-fiddle to Second Life.
Ka-pow! Score big for Rosedale!
Virtual worlds are popping up, as are social networking sites. Many of these are passed on from the "Web 2.0" tradition - Do It Yourself, social networking, ownership of Intellectual Property, and so on. When looking at Second Life, there's an emerging question:
What Makes SL Stand Out?
My colleague (mentor, more like it) Gwyneth Llewelyn is one of the best informed Metaverse watchers. In her recent post she points out that there are "competitors" to Second Life popping up all the time. And she rightly uses quotation marks around the word, "competitors", to question the accuracy of the use of the word. Here's an insightful summary from her:
"In this age and era, [being a mainstream web community] mostly means having perhaps a few dozens of millions of users — hopefully, hundred or hundred fifty million. Without that, you’re just a grain of sand in the whole desert — a tiny blip on the radar that doesn’t register at all. Second Life, however, managed to get the media and the press to focus on “business in Second Life” since the summer of 2006 .... if you want to go mainstream, and not appeal just to a tiny majority of technological gurus, early adopters, and lonely people, you need to talk to them about business."
Whammo! Score one for Gwyn's insight! How do you make a virtual world relevant without a hundred million users? Tell yourself, "It's the economy, stupid." *smirk* Well, to disagree a bit with Gwyn, it's not that simple.
History Lesson: Webs 1.0 and 2.0
When we look at the sea of other MMOs and VWs, we see a lot of similarities. These similarities are holdovers from "Web 2.0". (Which I also put in quotation marks, because it's such an overused, vague term.) In Web 1.0, you had a web where people can connect to one another all over the globe. Successes include ebay and Amazon. In Web 2.0, add to that the power of community-building, like MySpace and flickr and YouTube.
World of Warcraft was another revolution because it grabbed the essence of community building, and drove it into a virtual world with an important distinction: avatars. When your own identity is now simulated in world, the level of interactivity reaches a whole new nature. You no longer are participating in a community - part of you is literally inside of it, in a very clear and tangible way.
Gwyn goes on to point out that other social worlds also include the virtual world aspect and the avatars. She concludes the same thing I do about Google Earth:
"The recent announcements of 'rumours' of a Google Virtual World is very likely to be exactly that: an ad-sponsored Google Earth with cute 3D avatars, which you might be able to personalise for a fee. Thus, Google will compete with IMVU, Meez, Yahoo Avatars and similar technologies, not necessarily with Second Life."
And indeed, a few of us have predicted that 2007 would be "The Year of the Avatar". People immersing in virtual worlds. But, having avatars alone isn't a silver bullet of a true "SL Killer".
So what is it about Second Life that these others don't have? It's the hybridization of social networking and user created and owned content with virtual worlds. But even more it's letting users create anything at all. Google Earth asks for things that play well with the real Earth. IMVU has you build things useful for chat. flickR wants your pictures. These are all useful things unto themselves, but they don't compare with the "Your World, your imagination" attitude of Second Life.
What WoW and There Lack
Let's go back to examining World of Warcraft. In the process of immersing the community in a virtual world, the Blizzard folks lost one of the critical aspects of Web 2.0, which was the Do-It-Yourself-ism. Sure, you can pick your class and your race and decide what dungeons to fight in, but at the end of the day, you need to join a guild and raid the same places and do very similar things, and anything you use to accomplish this has been provided by Blizzard. And it's fun, sure, but it a Metaverse it is not.
You have places like ActiveWorlds and There which bring back the ability to create what you want, but in a limited way. For example, look at how all There citizens are humans that are exactly the same height. It's a simple solution to interactive gestures - namely, if you want to shake hands or hug someone, how do you know where to position two avatars? If you know they are the same size and approximately the same shape, it's easy. But with even that small shortcut, we lose a great deal of freedom.
Second Life is robust enough to corral the casual chatters, social networking folks, artists, and business developers all under one roof. Anything it can't do well, it lets existing technology do, or it is working towards that goal. Things like movie files, music streaming, flat-web page content, and so on, is either plugged into SL or in development for integration in the near future. (Voice and HTML are being tested as I write this.)
And on top of that, Linden Lab doesn't pre-screen your ideas. You don't have to submit your content for approval ahead of time; in return you're expected to abide by some standards of behavior. (Like, "Leave the swastikas off your front lawn, thanks!") This is precisely why YouTube and flickr succeed, and it's recapturing what was lost with WoW or There.
A major thing to realize is that other "SL Killers" are a step back, that is, they are specialized to a specific audience, rather than generalized to all audiences. Sony's "Home" is game-centric. Will it be fun for PS3 gamers? Sure. Will it be revolutionary? Maybe if it evolves. Kaneva forces you to be an active member of their forums or blogging community. What's wrong with casual users? There.com wants you to be "normal" humans. I guess there's no place for wheelchair-bound avatars, anthropomorphic, or abstract expressions of self in the avatar when it comes to There.com
These are also all finite worlds. WoW's Azeroth only expands when game content gets old. Kaneva is limited to apartments of users, without continuity between. PS3's Home is game waiting-space. They simply are not even on the same playing field as Second Life.
Why SL Will Fend Off Others
Gwyn simply says it's a matter of money and features. Imagine you're a competitor to Second Life. You have to ask your company and/or a venture capitol investor for a ton of cash to make a competitor. They're going to ask, "What makes yours better?" and there's not a whole lot you could say.
"Things like 'because I’m cooler than Philip, and have better developers' simply don’t stick any more; the times of the Internet Bubble, when you could 'sell ideas', are over."
You are correct! On top of that, Linden Lab has time to adjust by emulating new features that come along with "competitors".
What's funny is when I read Clay Shirky talking about how SL is a Ponzi scheme. I look at something like Kaneva, now that's a pyramid scheme! You're forced to get ratings from other users to get your virtual space, and that depends on more users coming in. Why has Shirky written about Second Life and not Kaneva? Duh, because SL is on top and Shirky is interested the readers, not the truth. *grin*
But It's not all about the Benjamins
It's not about the money alone. That gets the world's attention, sure, but if you want to look at money, look at the billions of dollars in MMORPGs being made. What really makes Second Life stand out is the content, community, and rights. The content is the ability to create whatever you want. The community allows you to share that content. The rights allows you to truly make it your intellectual property, and also - sell it, as well. That's where the money fits in, as a necessary requirement, but not a sufficient means to the Metaverse.
If there is a "SL-Killer", it's time and technology. Linden Lab's biggest competitor is that technology will change faster than Linden Lab can handle it, and that includes usage numbers and scalability.
But the network's not scalable!
The network of SL was never scalable. We've always been complaining about lag, downtime, sim-crossing issues, and so on and so forth. We have more to complain about now simply because there's more features and more users. I remember when ghosting was a huge problem, and both objects and avatars wouldn't reliably disappear when they should have until you restarted SL. As Linden Lab has stated in meetings, what they're doing with databases hasn't been done. Ever. So, if there's a problem, it's not like anyone else has a better solution right now.
Does that mean Second Life is safe from outside competitors? Yes. Does it mean it's safe? No. Remember VRML? Oh, the bitter irony. It's the early 90s and computer geeks had already established a language to describe 3-D objects on the Internet. It's called VRML.
Unfortunately, things like "broadband" and "video cards" only existed in high-end university labs, and would take another decade before it was readily available to the average computer user. Heck, it would take a few years before there was even any concept of "an average computer user" since people didn't really start all owning desktops until '96 or '97. VRML was tragically ahead of its time.
Will Second Life wind up like VRML? Well, VRML was a standard, and there was really no "Linden Lab of VRML" whose fate was tied to it, and who had a huge incentive to make it work. VRML also didn't have 4.5 million people trying it out, and tens of thousands of people spending and earning money with it.
So, in that case, maybe the survival of Second Life *is* all about the money. But there's an important distinction:
Money will allow Second Life to not be killed the technology curve.
The nature of Second Life being an online community where people can create and own their rights will prevent other platforms from killing it.
Two killers. Two reasons it won't die.