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 http://www.fabjectory.com 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

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Ian Hughes is a Metaverse Evangelist (at IBM) and blogger at eightbar (http://eightbar.co.uk/).  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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