Trends from Enterprise 2.0: The Move to Social Business

November 11, 2010


I attended Enterprise 2.0 in Santa Clara, CA this week.  I predict that in 2011, “business as usual” will move to social business.  As usual. Meaning, social tools will be enabled across the enterprise and they’ll quickly be ingrained as the “new way to do business”.  Here are specific trends and observations from Enterprise 2.0.

Start-ups on Equal Footing with the Technology Giants

Social business, by way of its “newness”, evens the playing field.  In fact, it actually provides an advantage to the start-ups, who built their business (from the ground up) on a foundation of social features.

The established giants, meanwhile (e.g. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, etc.), need to retrofit existing offerings – adding social into (or on top of) what already exists.  Or in some cases, the giants are developing new social platforms that live in parallel with their legacy systems.

Commenting on a T-shirt that poked fun at “jive talking”, Christopher Morace (@thinkoutloud) said it well when he tweeted, “How in a space with IBM, MSFT, & SFDC did Jive become ‘the man’? I’m still in my 30’s!”

Social Business UI – New Models Needed

During the event, I tweeted that if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Facebook should be quite flattered.  In other words, everyone’s social business UI looks and feels like Facebook.

Conference attendee Robert Lavigne (@RLavigne42) agreed and tweeted back, “good from a cross training point of view, bad from a breaking that mindset in the sales cycle though. Need innovation not UX copy”.  Robert continued, “Time for something innovative in terms of UX”.

If we do not see UI/UX innovation and differentiation, then the market will face commoditization, where everyone’s platform looks the same.  And that’s not good for the market.  Expect to see fresh, new looks in 2011, especially as some of these platforms evolve to version 2.0.

The Intranet (As We Know It) Is Dead

The Intranet, as a self-standing web site, is now dead.  In its place will be social business platforms.  Do you really use your company’s intranet?  It’s good for routine activities (e.g. look up phone numbers, find the expense report template, etc.), but it doesn’t significantly improve employee productivity.

The typical intranet doesn’t get much activity and it’s hard to find what you need.  Now consider the likes of the Socialtext, Yammer, Salesforce Chatter and others. Common features they provide are:

  1. Follow and be followed – people, documents, sales opportunities, etc.  Need to track an important document?  Follow it, and be alerted to all updates on it.
  2. Crowdsourced answers – need to find a nugget of information or an obscure document?  Ask your followers via a status update and you’ll likely receive an answer within minutes.
  3. Polls – want to know how Marketing is doing with sales collateral?  Create a poll and invite employees to participate.  Publish the results via a status update.
  4. Collaboration via 140 characters – OK, most social platforms don’t impose Twitter-like character limits, but you get the idea: status updates are the new water cooler conversation.
  5. Mobile – access to social business is enabled on your smartphone, via apps provided by the social platforms.  How often did you access your intranet from mobile?

What This Means for Virtual Event Platforms

In my 2011 predictions for virtual events, I wrote about “Market Expansion”.  Guess what? Social business platforms do, in fact, look a lot like virtual event platforms.  Some striking similarities:

  1. A move from point features to a “platform”
  2. Presence
  3. Private and group chat
  4. Collaboration

Some social platforms provide capabilities not found in virtual event platforms today, such as wikis and real-time collaborative document editing.

Virtual event platforms will continue to have the upper hand in supporting live/scheduled (online) events, but will face expanded competition in the area of “virtual communities”.


(A tag cloud generated from the session descriptions at Enterprise 2.0 – using

It’s an interesting time.  2011 could be a year of battles, shifts and migrations.  With the move to social business, along with the larger shift to cloud computing, expect 2011 to be  The Year of the Shakeout.

A Second Look At Second Life

June 3, 2009

Source: San Francsisco Business Times

Source: San Francsisco Business Times

“A lot of Silicon Valley has written Second Life off.  The tech world will have to revisit Second Life as a phenomenon in the next six months or so.”

Thus spoke Wagner James Au, noted virtual worlds author and blogger in a San Francisco  Business Times article on Second Life (note: the full article is available to paid subscribers only).  Au, who blogs at New World Notes about Second Life, notes in the article that Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon has renewed the Second Life brand that was created by founder Philip Rosedale.

While the revenue model for Twitter is slowly coming clearer (judging by the accounts in the business media), Linden Labs’ strategy under Kingdon is becoming quickly self-evident with the announcements of the past few months.  From my perspective, Kingdon’s growth strategy is around a few core pillars:

  1. Enterprise use of Second Life – makes sense, as enterprises and corporations can be monetized at a higher clip than individuals, artists, hobbyists, etc.  Enterprises (in the former of marketers) were a big portion of Second Life during its initial peak – and it seems the current focus is to bring marketers back into the fold, along with complementary uses in non-marketing disciplines (e.g. training, enablement, collaboration, etc.).  In the past 6 months, Linden Lab has hired 25 marketing and product people as part of their push for enterprise clients.  In addition, the company recently hired Amanda Van Nuys as Executive Director of Enterprise Marketing, signaling a further endorsement of the opportunity in the enterprise.
  2. Nebraska – an on-premises software version of Second Life  (compared to their Software as a Service model), which enterprises can run on their own servers behind the firewall.  IBM has been an active partner with Linden Lab on behind-the-firewall integration – the telltale sign will be how many other large enterprises opt for the Nebraska model.  For “behind the firewall” use, I have to think that we’re talking less about marketing and more about collaboration.
  3. Voice – not mentioned in the Business Times article, but Virtual Worlds News covered it well – Linden Lab is poised to go after the Skype market with capabilities to bridge voice calls and SMS messages between the real world and Second Life.  In the Virtual Worlds News article, Linden Lab Vice President of Platform and Technology Development Joe Miller notes, “The opportunity to monetize at a significant added value for our business is there”, regarding the opportunity in Voice.

IBM marrketing executive Karen Keeter notes in the San Francisco Business Times article that nearly 100 IBM’ers are “working on virtual world tools for commercial sale in Second Life and on other platforms”.  As such, IBM stands to achieve commercial gain from increased use (by enterpises) of Second Life and related virtual worlds.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see IBM leverage virtual worlds to generate services revenue.  Two things come to mind – IBM Global Services and IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative.  IBM Global Services could assist enterprises on their virtual worlds strategy (e.g. build me a virtual world representation of my data center, so that I can run heating and cooling simulations) – or, IBM could go in-world to enterprise’s private virtual worlds to provide traditional consulting services within the virtual world.

So a manufacturer who’s replicated their factory in a 3D world can have Global Services visit (in-world) to optimize their factory floor workflow.  Then, of course, Global Services could help facilitate the parallel action in the real world.  On the Smarter Planet project, IBM might create 3D models of the next generation power plant to show utilities how to become more energy efficient.  In a virutal world, I’m sure the possibilites are limitless.

Finally, Dan Parks of Virtualis is featured in the article.  Virtualis created a compound in Second Life with 34,000 square yards of meeting rooms.  Quite an interesting model – an event producer that leverages a re-usable area (virtually) to host meetings for corporate clients.  Companies who have done events with Virtualis include Deloitte, Oracle and Trend Micro.

I’d be interested in your thoughts – what do you think about the potential of Second Life for enterprises?

Related Links:

  1. Blog posting on Virtual Offices, with reference to Amanda Van Nuys’ use of Second Life
  2. Blog Posting: Virtualis and Trend Micro Put On Quite A Show
  3. Blog Posting: Philip Rosedale On Building A Business: Practice Extreme Transparency
  4. Blog Posting: IBM’s Second Life ROI: The Headline Beneath The Headline

Day 1 Recap: Virtual Edge 2009

May 29, 2009

The ABC's of Virtual Events (Virtual Edge Session)

The ABC's of Virtual Events (with Kenny Lauer, GPJ & Kelly Graham, Cisco)

That’s right, even the Virtual Events industry has a need to meet face-to-face.  Thursday (05/28/09) marked Day 1 of Virtual Edge 2009 – a 2-day face-to-face “summit on virtual events, meetings and communities”, held at the Santa Clara Convention Center.  By my estimation, the event had over 150 attendees and approximately 50 exhibitors.

Most of the presentations and panel discussions had “standing room only” crowds.  Two of the noted presentations of Day 1 were “The ABC’s of Virtual Events, Meetings & Marketing” (featuring Kenny Lauer of GPJ and Kelly Graham of Cisco) and the keynote presentation, featuring Paul Salinger or Oracle and Sandy Carter of IBM.

The sessions were streamed live into the virtual world – a combination of live video (via Stream57) and live video in a 3D immersive world (via VirtualU from Digitell).  A physical event on virtual events, which was then simulcast virtually – neat!  The “concurrent virtual”  allowed global access to event, for folks who were not able to attend in person – and that included some speakers, who (of course!) presented their sessions virtually.

In the afternoon, I participated in a panel discussion titled  “Measurement, Tracking & ROI”.  Two of the main themes we heard from the audience were:

  1. Better measuring event engagement – sure, we know about registration-to-attendance ratio, number of live attendees, average session time, etc. And Stu Schmidt of Unisfair introduced the notion of a “virtual engagement index”.  The calculation of that index (or score), however, may need to get “smarter” – for instance with a chat session.  Dannette Veale of Cisco noted the difference between a “where’s the Auditorium” and a “can you send me pricing information” comment – whereby the latter should carry a higher score from an engagement or “prospect worthiness” point of view.
  2. Aggregate profiles by user type – customers are in the need for published profiles by user type, so that they can better plan targeted virtual events.  For instance, if an enterprise is interested in a virtual event for C-level employees, they need to see a published profile (e.g. what does the C-level do in a virtual event), to determine whether the event is worth pursuing (aka what’s the expected ROI).  The panel responded that there are data privacy issues that need to be worked out – since all data is “owned” by customers – and NOT by the virtual event platform vendors.

While I was able to sneak out to attend a session or two, I spent most of the day in the InXpo booth.  I had the pleasure of meeting (face-to-face!) with many colleagues in the industry and also spoke to countless attendees who are considering their first virtual event.  For attendees from corporations, many had already executed virtual events – and were there to learn best practices and refine their game.  On the other hand, I met several folks from the event marketing industry, who were looking to leverage virtual events to complement their clients’ physical event strategy.

For me, Day 1 marked a momentous occasion for the virtual events industry – the creation of a physical event speaks to the legitimacy of the industry – while the turnout speaks to the timeliness and interest in virtual events.  Today, our industry is like the TV sitcom Cheers (“Where everybody knows your name”).  I imagine that this industry will grow quickly enough that it will be challenging to remember everyone’s name – and in a few years, the venue will have to shift to the Moscone Center in San Francisco! Looking forward to Day 2 today.

Related links

  1. Virtual Edge 2009 program:
  2. Virtual Edge 2009 program – to attend virtually:
  3. Dean Takahashi covered Day 1 for VentureBeat:

My Earth Day Visit To IBM’s Green Data Center

April 22, 2009

Source: IBM Green Data Center in Second Life

Source: IBM Green Data Center in Second Life

To commemorate Earth Day 2009, I decided to head off this morning and visit IBM’s Green Data Center.  However, to ensure that my visit was carbon neutral, I left my car keys on the coffee table, grabbed my coffee mug and visited the data center in my pajamas.  My visit took place in the virtual world of Second Life, in which IBM has built an impressive Virtual Green Data Center.  The screen capture that you see above shows my visit to the data center lobby, with an interior design around a green (colored) theme [of course].

My interest in IBM’s Virtual Green Data Center was based on an article in Virtual Worlds News, which describes IBM’s partnership with Conversive on the deployment of automated avatars that “will greet users, answer basic questions, and direct them to other locations. The avatar also offers a guided tour”.  I did receive a welcome from the avatar and here’s the transcript of our chat session:

Source: Transcript of author's chat

Source: Transcript of author's chat

I’ll have to try again, but on this visit, the IBM Concierge did not respond to my inquiries.  My journey continued, nonetheless – upon opening the door to the data center’s mantrap (“a small room with double doors used to control entry to the data center and temperature levels”), I walked through the mantrap and into the data center.  Here’s the view from the first floor:

Source: First floor of IBM's Virtual Green Data Center

Source: First floor of IBM's Virtual Green Data Center

After walking past several racks filled with servers, I decided to teleport to the second floor.  Upon arriving there, I skimmed through a number of information kiosks placed there by IBM.  On a small display monitor mounted to the wall, I clicked to view some video footage from IBM executives.  I then walked over to additional information kiosks that provided customer case studies – highlighting success stories of IBM data center customers.

Interestingly, clicking on a kiosk that asked for feedback on my visit launched an external web page, on which IBM provided the survey questions.  I thought it would have been neater to capture my feedback in-world – but perhaps this capability (and the associated tracking and reporting) isn’t yet available in Second Life.

All in all, I was impressed with the layout of the data center, along with the information available.  I think that 3D virtual worlds are effective vehicles for explaining and promoting a company’s products and services.  That being said, I found it interesting that on Earth Day, I did not come across any other visitors – and, while the data center is supposed to be staffed 7×24 by live sales assistants / avatars, I did not see any of those, either.  I’ll return in a week or two to try again.

Insights And Experiences From Virtual Worlds Experts

March 9, 2009

On Monday evening, I attended FountainBlue’s High Tech Entrepreneurs’ Forum at Microsoft’s Mountain View (CA) campus – the event was titled Virtual Worlds: The Hype, The Reality, The In-Between and was sponsored by Microsoft and TIPS Group.  FountainBlue, a “membership-based, for-profit, collaborative organization designed to positively impact the way people, businesses and organizations work,” has organized a new sub-group around virtual worlds, which officially launched coincident with Monday evening’s event.

FountainBlue landed a true All-Star panel of Virtual Worlds visionaries and experts.  Each panel member provided thoughts on virtual worlds and then took questions from the audience.  A summary of each panelist’s thoughts follows.

UPDATE: FountainBlue has posted a summary of this event on their blog.

Steve Nelson – EVP, Chief Strategy Officer, Clear Ink

Steve is EVP and Co-Founder of Clear Ink, an interactive agency based in Berkeley, CA, who has many “claims to fame” in Second Life development. Among their Second Life projects was a simulcast of the 2008 TED Conference (in Monterey), an appearance by Newt Gingrich in-world, the development of a virtual headquarters for Linden Labs and an in-world island in conjunction with the popular sitcom The Office.

Steve started with his definition of “virtual world” – a social platform that’s immediate and immersive – quite a relevant and apt definition, if you ask me.  Steve stressed the immersiveness of 3D virtual worlds by comparing a webinar viewed “standalone” with one viewed in-world.  Steve noted higher retention and recall rates of the in-world viewing – as viewers of traditional webinars are far from immersed – instead, they’re checking their email and multitasking with other apps on their workstation.

Steve noted that Clear Ink assists companies in virtual worlds via three e’s:

  1. Expectations
  2. Experience
  3. Experimentation

In closing, Steve noted five business models for generating revenue with virtual worlds:

  1. Own the virtual world platform
  2. Sell virtual goods
  3. Create virtual worlds tools and utilities
  4. Be an agency – design, consulting, etc.
  5. Use virtual worlds effectively as an enterprise – save money and be a more effective company

Robin Harper – Former VP of Marketing and Community Development, Linden Labs

Robin took us back to the very early days of Second Life and noted that in the initial development stage, Linden Labs thought the platform was about facilitating entertainment.  Fast forward to today and Robin believes that virtual worlds are so much more than entertainment.  In the past 18 months alone, Robin notes that growth in Second Life has been driven by education and enterprise (which each have grown by 2x in that period).  There is an increased use for simulation, prototyping, design and experiential learning.  60,000 residents are profitable (meaning they generate revenue that exceeds their land costs) and the top resident grossed over $1.7MM in US dollars (real money) by selling virtual shoes.

Robin notes that the power of virtual worlds lies in the collaborative tools that are provided with minimal constraints. She compared the development of virtual worlds to the development of third world countries – growth is facilitated by allowing residents to own their own land, own the intellectual property (of their land assets) and participate in an economy that fuels commerce.  Important areas of development today are “behind the firewall” applications, as well as interoperability across worlds.

UPDATE from Robin Harper: I’d like to clarify the statement attributed to me above. The figures I reported were originally estimates based on one quarter of data, so should not be taken as more than an annualized estimate. In addition, my reference to the sale of virtual shoes was in the context of the types of industries that are generating return in Second Life. In the top group of earners based on the estimates, most were involved in the land business, and a couple were in other businesses like events management and retail/virtual goods, including shoes. For more information, please see my blog:

Michael Gialis – New Business Development, Sun Microsystems

Michael works in Sun Labs, with a focus on online gaming and virtual worlds.  Sun’s technologies in this space are Project Darkstar, Project Wonderland and Project Sun SPOT.  Michael notes that the #1 barrier to virtual worlds adoption is the non-intuitive nature of the client application.  Michael’s comments stirred some discussion among the panel regarding enhanced client capabilities, such as the use of sensors in lieu of keystrokes.  Robin noted that Mitch Kapor is experimenting with a 3D camera – when you smile, your avatar smiles. Some panelists, however, noted that some contexts may require separation between your true feelings and your avatar’s expressions – for instance, in a learning environment, you may not always want your true emotions to be on display.

Anne-Marie Roussel – Business Development Director, Microsoft

Anne-Marie manages Microsoft’s digital media portfolio, which includes Xbox, Zune and MediaRoom.  Anne-Marie noted Microsoft’s early efforts in the virtual world with its Flight Simulator game – which in turn led to the development of a product called Microsoft ESP (for 3D visualization).  Anne-Marie gave the interesting example of leveraging virtual worlds for training sales staff – if you sell Ferraris, then your clientele are much different from those buying Fords, so a virtual world can train sales staff on how to interact with prospective customers and face the sorts of questions/issues that Ferrari buyers are sure to present you with.  Anne-Marie spoke of Microsoft Virtual Earth and noted work being done to marry its 3D visual maps with crime scene data (to assist local law enforcement).

Susan Stucky – Manager, Service System Design, IBM Almaden Research Center

Susan noted that IBM’s involvement in virtual worlds is not to be a platform provider – instead, IBM is platform agnostic.  Susan’s interest in the virtual world is to achieve results that would be harder to accomplish in the real world.  One example noted was the practicing of negotiations of complex deals – reviewers (of the deal maker) could provide a virtual thumbs up or thumbs down.  Trainees could then replay the segment and view the feedback as it occurred.  Susan spoke of the need to capture data to better understand in-world behavior.  IBM Researchers developed technology to take audio chat, utilize voice-to-text to transcribe it and then perform unstructured text analysis to decipher patterns of behavior.  Susan also spoke of IBM’s Sametime 3D initiative and referenced the use of Second Life to facilitate a virtual meeting for IBM’s Academy of Technology.

If you’re interested in related events from FountainBlue, have a look at their events calendar.

IBM’s Second Life ROI: The Headline Beneath The Headline

March 4, 2009

Source: Linden Lab Case  Study

Source: Linden Lab Case Study

A Case Study published by Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life), documents IBM’s use of Second Life to hold a Virtual World Conference and Annual Meeting.  The meeting, organized by IBM’s Academy of Technology, brought together 200+ participants from across the globe (virtually) and had an ROI estimated (by IBM) to be $320K.

The $320K is derived from taking initial hard costs of $80K, then factoring in $250K in savings from travel and venue costs and $150K from productivity gains (since attendees participated from their desks – and could presumably do on-the-job tasks while in-world).  So that’s ($80K – $250K – $150K) = $320K in total savings.

So that’s the headline story – and what a great story it is.  I can understand why the Case Study led with this angle – in this economic environment, any talk of significant cost savings is going to score points with the CMO, CFO, CEO and Board.  And while I’m not one to diminish cost savings that’s simultaneously eco-friendly, what excites me most about the ROI equation here is the value add that virtual provides – the headline beneath the headline.

If IBM had convened this meeting at a physical location, I’m sure the event would have been equally valuable – but, at the event’s conclusion, the walls come down and participants leave with some photographs, business cards and memories – and may never be incented to re-gather and collaborate again, aside from the next scheduled (and organized) gathering.

With virtual, however, what IBM discovered was a build it once and reap the continued benefits phenomenon.  The island(s) built for this virtual event remain available on an ongoing, 7×24 basis.  So, participants who met and collaborated with specific colleagues may want to arrange for follow-on in-world meetings to further brainstorm their ideas together.

Additionally, IBM found a way to leverage the event to support an unrelated gathering – the Academy of Technology’s Annual General Meeting, originally scheduled in Florida.  The general meeting moved virtual and included live webcasting and videoconferencing – while leveraging the pre-built island in Second Life to support 120 poster sessions.  The beauty with the ROI equation here is that the more IBM can leverage what they’ve already built, the more “R” they generate in “ROI”.  And of course, this sort of re-use is eco-friendly.

Bringing Virtual Worlds to The Blind

December 30, 2008


IBM alphaWorks Services

Source: IBM alphaWorks Services

According to Wikipedia, approximately 40 million people in the world are blind.  IBM’s alphaWorks Services division has embarked on a noble project aimed to benefit these 40 million.  Called “Virtual Worlds User Interface for the Blind”, an overview can be found here:

And an FAQ document here:

The service currently works with Second Life (only), but IBM may support additional virtual worlds in the future.  If they do add such support, they’ll tie new virtual worlds into the existing client, so that users only need to learn a single application.

With the IBM application, a virtual world is rendered via text (no graphics) and sighted users have the ability to annotate objects of the virtual worlds via text descriptions or recorded audio.

The implementers chose to leverage some open source and off-the-shelf technology:

The user interface is a Web application, a thin client running locally in the Firefox browser that communicates with Second Life through an agent on our server. The application is implemented partly with the JavaScript programming language, and it uses Dojo Toolkit widgets to provide a virtual world user interface that is entirely keyboard-navigable and screen reader-friendly. Nothing is permanently installed on the user’s computer. 

The system also uses Quicktime (to play event sound prompts and verbal annotations) and NVDA (an open source screen reader).  IBM recommends the use of the open source software Audacity for recording the verbal narrations).

I commend IBM for this effort and admire the flexibility and openness they’ve chosen in the implementation.

Interview with Ian Hughes, Metaverse Evangelist (part 2 of 2)

December 17, 2008

And here’s Part 2 of my interview with Ian Hughes, Metaverse Evangelist at IBM:

  1. What do you see as the biggest opportunity for users of virtual worlds? For users, well we are all users. As a user there is the opportunity to gather the right people, the right resources and do what you want to do. This applies to web 2.0 as much as to VW’s specifically in my opinion. That means as a social user, connecting with friends, as a business user connecting with customers and colleagues. As a mastery of these environments lets people choose to lead groups and people choosing to follow, to gather the right people they need to complete some task it removes the need for many structures that add cost and overhead. Virtual worlds and the web in general lets people get things done, just by doing it. With a connection you don’t need to find property to have an office, you don’t need to all be in the same physical place at the same time, local becomes global.  That leads to a new breed of entrepreneur, that already exists and that can be anyone. So there are a whole host of business problems that can be solved, and opportunities to be explored. In a sense it has made all business open source, not just the operating system, browser or software platform. That leads to innovation and opportunity. Or you can just have fun too 🙂
  1. What’s the best business use you’ve seen in a virtual world? Most of the best business uses I have seen really has been around internal communication inside the enterprise. To be able to seamlessly gather your colleagues for a meeting, to have a pre-event mingle as often happens, to then launch into the crux of the meeting with all the resources available to you, to action the decisions whilst in the meeting then to leave the virtual world and carry on. That is the best business use. That is done on all sorts of platforms, in all sorts of ways. It is not one application, not one use, but it does weave into general day to day workflow. The post event conversations, the serendipity, the memory of the meeting “oh when you sat opposite in Hursley house and you said….” are all fantastic secondary benefits to the one of not having to travel quite as much.
  2. What’s the neatest consumer application you’ve seen? One of my favourite consumer applications has to be Timeless Protoype’s multi-gadget in Second Life.  In particular the fact that it has those wonderful multi-chairs. They indicate to people the dynamic nature of the spaces in virtual worlds. You simply drop a chair and table, or fire and log, and if you sit down, it creates another chair, someone else sits and the circle widens again. Its an instant meeting point of reference, chair and table a little more formal than log and fire. Those chairs are all over the place, in many meeting places and for us in eightbar also seem culturally significant.
  3. What keeps you up at night? Trying to figure out why everyone has not got the point of all this yet, why there is still a fear, or a suspicion about how these things all work. Why the heck people don’t share more information with colleagues and friends. The important thing is not that we have the perfect implementation right now, because that can’t happen. 1) This has to keep evolving 2) even if it was perfect people would still be scared as there is a huge cultural change in communicating on the web anyway.
  4. What’s next? We should keep in mind there could be a revolution waiting to happen to. A mode of interacting that is not the common model that 99% of metaverses currently use, of avatars and islands, rooms, spaces.  The real what’s next though in my mind is 3d printing, or rapid fabrication. We have an increasingly cheaper way to make data come to life as a physical object. To make the virtual real. Virtual worlds then become a design and delivery platform for product. If you need something buy it online, don’t have it shipped, but print it out locally. Its taking the principles of long tail usually applied to data only products, like music and film and changing that to apply to mobile phone covers, cups and saucers, washers, toys almost anything. The 3d printers we have today are getting very much cheaper, the design tools for 3d have got more accessible with the rise of virtual worlds. We can have things designed, even try them out in the virtual world, buy them, use them virtually, but have them also brought into physical form. I had my avatar printed by a few years ago now. The avatar is my design, my green hair, my leather jacket, my eightbar t-shirt and wearing the Reebok trainers bought and customized in-world.   Imagine being able to print anything you need anywhere in the world, a local 3d printer in a remote village would allow an engineer to deliver a solution to broken water pump in seconds, not require mass parts built all over the world, shipped all over the world and packaged in non eco-friendly boxes. Just print what you need, when and where you need it.  It’s not perfect, not there yet, but going the right way.  The rise of the fabricaneur  in virtual worlds is the next wave of manufacturing and design.

Interview with Ian Hughes, Metaverse Evangelist (part 1 of 2)

December 17, 2008


Ian Hughes is a Metaverse Evangelist (at IBM) and blogger at eightbar (  Ian and I connected to discuss virtual worlds and I posed a few questions to him.  In the first of a two-part series, I’ve posted the first five questions, along with Ian’s answers.

  1. So tell us a little bit about yourself? I am 41 year old forever tech geek. I started programming around 14. I grew up in a seaside town and watched the explosion in video games in the arcades. I wanted to know how they worked – I loved playing but was intrigued by the workings of them too. This led me to understand programming, my first Eureka moment. Oh! that’s how it works. I also look at the various combinations of tech and usage including coding as an art form, relying on intuition and flowing patterns as much as running it by the numbers. I joined IBM in 1990 as a full timer and have been here ever since, though explored lots of emerging technologies in various places, the arrival of the PC to a green screen world, client server models, web in the early days and into dot com, then that has led through web 2.0 (before it was called that) to where I am now with virtual worlds and metaverses.
  2. So you’re a Metaverse Evangelist – can you explain what that entails? An evangelist attitude is one that is not always obvious to people. Seeing and feeling a use for something, embedding it into your life and work and helping others see why they should do the same is tricky. It is a mix of sales, pr, marketing and in my case tech, delivery and understanding. By its very nature an evangelist is of no need to people who don’t know what the the evangelist is explaining, once explained, as it is so obvious the evangelist is again of no need.  Metaverse is the generic term for virtual worlds from the book Snowcrash. A few years ago I would have been a web 2.0 evangelist.
  3. What are virtual worlds platforms doing right? In my personal opinion virtual worlds are helping people understand that there is more to communicating electronically at distance than just email or telephones. They all tend to tap into the human patterns of understanding of space, proximity, visual and audio feedback. Most of the important things in understanding one another from non verbal communication. Virtual worlds can be a much richer version of a smiley 🙂 in a piece of text.
  4. Where can virtual worlds platforms improve? It tends to be people refer to usability and those first experiences people have in any virtual world, which applies to any software product, or hardware product. The experience will of course evolve, the ways of interacting will evolve, our tolerance and understanding of how to interact, the social language of virtual worlds will also evolve. So evolution is the main improvement. Also, as with the web we need to try and solve the interoperability problems, both technical, social and legal. There are clearly opportunities to explore ways to interact with various environments, this is not about a Warcraft character turning up in Second Life, it is really about people having the things they need where they need them at the time, in a suitable form.
  5. What do you see as the biggest opportunity for virtual worlds platforms? The opportunities span all human communication needs. Clearly gaming has been the growth, a multiplayer console game is as much a virtual world as a the current crop of non gaming environments. The mode of operation, of people gathering together to achieve and objective, communicating live, seeing the results, acting to deal with problems is as valid in a quest in WoW as it is in dealing with an order for a stack of goods from a customer in an enterprise. Clearly the toolset may differ, but to be able to manipulate business models, see what is going on the in the enterprise, bring the right people in to help visualize and solve the problem, live. Is a massive opportunity. It needs to be smooth for business, but its already smooth for gamers. Most gamers wont play a game if its bad, if they cant quickly do what they need to do, if they cant connect to servers etc. The same applies for business. So a combination of the needs of the gaming world, with the business world, with the social media world and we have some really interesting opportunities.

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