METANOMICS: MILLIONS OF US
FEBRUARY 16, 2009
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, Robert Bloomfield, and on behalf
of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and Remedy
Communications, welcome to Metanomics. Today our guest is Reuben Steiger. Over the
last five years, Reuben has catapulted from his role as a Linden Lab employee to serving as
the CEO of the social-media agency Millions of Us. Millions of Us has evolved as well from
being one of the first and most influential marketing firms in Second Life to building content
in Sony Home and licensing celebrity-oriented virtual good through their affiliate Virtual
As always, Metanomics is filmed from the virtual Sage Hall, right here in Second Life’s
Metanomics region, thank to my real life employer, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate
School of Management. I’d like to say hello to our event partners Muse Isle, Confederation
of Democratic Sims, Rockliffe University, New Media Consortium, Orange Island and Meta
Partners. And I also want to say hello to our growing audience who’s watching the show live
on the web. I see we actually have quite a few of you out there, and I see that many of you
are not yet registered on the website. You’re showing up as guests.
So for those of you who have trouble getting into Second Life, whether it’s a firewall or a
lack of bandwidth, going to the web is a great option, metanomics.net/watchnow. You can
see the show, and you can also participate in backchat through InterSection Unlimited’s
ChatBridge system. But, for those of you who are not registered, my understanding is, you
won’t be able to use ChatBridge. So if you want to see the show on the web, please do
register so that you can talk not only with the other people on the web but the people
throughout our event partner locations.
I’d like to say a special thank you to the couple dozen people who have shown up for our
Metanomics Office Hours sessions. We’ve had two the last two Thursdays. We got some
incredibly useful feedback on what you’re looking for in this series, what works and what we
could do better. This week we’re going to do it again with the special focus on the show’s
content and format. Do you want to see more focus on academic research, law and policy,
new Virtual World platforms? How far should we step outside Virtual Worlds and how often?
Should we be talking about all forms of social media, all forms of technology and business
How about personal stories? Breaking new? What matters more to you, the topics or the
guests? Do you like the interview format, or would you like to see more panel discussions?
Or how about debates? Or, for all I know, there’s a big unmet demand for PowerPoint
presentations. So anyway, come to our next Office Hours session this Thursday at noon,
Second Life time, on the Remedy Sim, and tell us what you’d like to see.
Speaking of breaking news, one of the content options on the list, our first guest today is
Jade Lily, community manager of the Austin-based consulting firm Metaversality. But Jade
is wearing another hat today, representing the board of directors of the 2009 Second Life
Community Convention. It’s really an honor to have the first public announcement of SLCC
here on our show. So, Jade, first, welcome to Metanomics.
JADE LILY: Thank you for having me on the show, Beyers.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’s great to have you on. So let’s just jump right to the details.
Where and when will SLCC be this year, Jade?
JADE LILY: Actually, first of all, if it’s okay, I’d like to just go ahead and explain a little bit
about what SLCC is for those people who haven’t heard about it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And keep everyone in suspense; that works for me. If only we
had a commercial to slip in, in between, but go ahead.
JADE LILY: Okay. Second Life Community Convention is a sort of conference where
people who are in Second Life can meet up. It’s filled with all sorts of sessions where people
can share what sort of things that they’re doing in Second Life. In the past, we’ve had
educational tracks where educational organizations have talked about how they have used
Second Life. We’ve had business tracks and social tracks. So in general, it’s just a place
where people in real life can go to connect with one another.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, my understand is that SLCC really just started out in 2005
as a bunch of Second Life residents who wanted to get together in real life, and, over the
years, it evolved into a much more formal event, with, as you say, the business tracks. And
last year, what, there was an entire sub-conference on education and keynote speeches by
Philip Rosedale and Mark Kingdon. So are you planning to continue that trend or get back to
the roots of just a social get-together?
JADE LILY: I think it’s going to be a little bit of a mix. And one of the things that we’re really
trying to focus on is to have sort of a balance between a lot of the more rigid structure of
having panelist discussions and also, at the same time, have a lot more social sort of
interaction. Yeah, you can look forward to both of those things. And, if you’re interested in
reading more about the history of SLCC, you can go to our website--and I believe we’ll have
the link there in a little while--and there’s a section there that talks about how SLCC got
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And that’s slconvention.org? Is that right? That’s the website you
JADE LILY: Correct. Yes, slconvention.org.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Now you’ve kept us in suspense long enough. Where and
JADE LILY: We’re excited to have SLCC at San Francisco this year, from Thursday,
August 13th, through Sunday, August 16th. And the location is the Marriott Hotel in
San Francisco, but we don’t want people to go and book their rooms yet. We’re going to
have a registration opening soon on the website, and when people get registered, they’ll
receive a code for their hotel room so they’ll be able to sign up and book their hotel room at
the same time as they register.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I see the backchat seems happy about that. So cool. Yeah,
San Francisco is great and should make it easy to get some Linden Lab representation
JADE LILY: Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I also notice that you have an earlier time. Last year it was
the first week of September, which I know caused some difficulties for people associated
with education. Was that part of the thinking in moving it earlier?
JADE LILY: Yes, I believe so. There was a lot of complaints about people who were going
to be in school at that time, so that’s why we moved it back to earlier in August.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: What is your role as community coordinator?
JADE LILY: My role is basically to improve transparency a little bit into the planning
process. I want to help to encourage and facilitate increased participation this year. We
really just want to get as many people in Second Life involved in the planning process as
possible. And so, along those lines, one of the things that I know already is, if you go to our
website slconvention.org, along the side there you can see a tool that we’ve set up, that
allows people to submit ideas for the convention this year. And once they’ve submitted an
idea, anybody can go in and vote on the ideas they like the most. We don’t guarantee that
we’re going to have everything that’s posted there. We can see what sort of ideas people
like the most and try and implement some of those.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. I assume you are still looking for sponsors and
speakers and volunteers and the whole works. That’s right?
JADE LILY: Absolutely. So if you go over to that user voice page and you can submit ideas,
but that doesn’t commit you to actually planning. So if you want to get involved in the
planning, you want to volunteer, what you can do is send an email to
email@example.com. And we’re also looking for sponsors so, if you’re interested in
sponsoring the event, we’re going to have some information out on the website about
sponsorship as well. But, if you think you’re interested, in the meantime you can send an
email also to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thank you very much, Jade Lily, for coming on behalf of
the Second Life Community Convention, and I, for one, hope to see you there.
JADE LILY: Thanks so much for having me, Beyers.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: My pleasure. Let’s turn now to today’s main guest,
Reuben Steiger, founder and CEO of Millions of Us, a company dedicated to helping
businesses understand and harness the power of Virtual Worlds and online communities.
Reuben began this career path as a Linden Lab employee, with the colorful title of
“evangelist.” He left Linden Lab to found Millions of Us, which contracted directly with
companies that wanted to reach consumers in Second Life, companies like Toyota and
Warner Brothers. But now Millions of Us has its focus elsewhere in Worlds, like Gaia Online
and Sony Home, and in licensing celebrity-based virtual goods through a new company
Virtual Greats. Reuben, welcome to Metanomics.
REUBEN STEIGER: Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’re delighted. I’m really interested in hearing about all these
different aspects of what you have been doing and what you’re doing now. I know that a lot
of our viewers are going to want to know why Millions of Us is no longer so active in Second
Life. But one reason, of course, is that there are big opportunities elsewhere, so what I’d like
to do is start with those. And, in particular, one that’s very interesting to me is Sony Home,
since I recently bought a PlayStation 3. There was a recent article in Virtual Worlds News
that reported that you’re no longer a licensed developer for Sony Home. So I’m wondering if
you could start by telling us what you were doing for them and then why are you no longer
going to be.
REUBEN STEIGER: Sure. We were hired--let me get this right--in late 2007 by Sony to
build a lot of the content, I’d say substantially all the non-core Home content. So the Central
Plaza, the Far Cry spaces, spaces for all the third-party games. And we spent [the greater?]
part of a year building that and really enjoyed it. Had a fantastic time. And we’re not doing it
anymore. So is there more that--tell me where you want to go with that. I mean I think
there’s a lot in common with that and with Second Life, “Why aren’t you there anymore? Do
you not love it? Do you not feel this way or that about it?” And the reality is that there are
now 250-odd commercial Virtual Worlds, and we’ve been very, very bad, as a company, at
finding the one that will work for us, to the exclusion of the other 249.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One possibility is that you guys are well-positioned to come in, in
the early stage, do something you do particularly well and then, as it becomes more routine,
let other providers come in, take over your job while you go to the next new World. Do you
see it that way?
REUBEN STEIGER: Possibly. I think it’s a much more interesting question actually
because I think there’s a lot of other questions to unpack underneath it, all of which are very
interesting, if you think Virtual Worlds are interesting. So I assume we have a qualified
audience where the answer to that is a hundred percent yes. I guess one thing I always
hoped with Second Life--and I think this is probably true of this crowd--is that maybe we can
do like an IM chat, virtual show of hands, but for how many people in the room today is
Second Life your primary Virtual World platform as to [AUDIO GLITCH] time spent.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So just so you know, most people are watching this through a
video stream, so it will take anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds for them to hear that and
start responding. But I’m sure they will. Let’s let them.
REUBEN STEIGER: While they start doing that, why don’t I just take a very tiny sample set
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. So for me, I hate to take the focus off you and put it on the
interviewer, but I do want to say I got into this whole thing in the first place because I had a
very specific goal I wanted to accomplish for my research, and I was looking for platforms
that would help me. So I looked at a bunch of different Worlds, and Second Life, very early
on, appeared to me to be about the worst choice, but it was a great place for me to learn
more about the industry and just to keep in contact with the people who knew about the
other platforms and the technological innovations that would be coming over the next year
or so. So for me, it has ended up being, in some ways, the place that I hang out waiting for
that perfect World to be formed, which I guess I’m still waiting.
REUBEN STEIGER: Yeah. Your description of it, I think, is fairly--without meaning to
undercut your personal uniqueness--I think it’s fairly technical. And, what I mean by that is
that, certainly in the IM sent, it is for everyone here as well; Second Life is their primary
world. And that makes sense. The interesting thing is that it’s a very small percentage of the
overall market, in terms of people. Growing. Certainly, I would say the most committed
single population, but we all know that the bulk of the market is kids and teenagers. And
often the use cases are not what they are in Second Life.
So the interesting observation here is that Millions of Us, as a company, there’s many ways
to describe us, but the easiest one and the one that’s most accurate, I think, is that we’re a
company that gets paid to create very cool stuff, and, in general, the bill is footed either
predominantly by an advertiser who feels a glow on their brand because they’re doing
something very innovative or very interesting in environments that are atypical, or it’s paid
by the intellectual property holder, whether that be a Sony or the owner of content that’s
being highlighted within Sony Home.
Second Life--and I think it bears going into this--in the first wave of hype around Second
Life, Second Life sort of failed as an advertising environment. And that, not more than
anything else, that and that alone is why we stopped. We couldn’t do work in there anymore.
And it was really, I think, attributable to two key things, both of which are fixable. One, for
the most part, advertising is about aggregating attention. Right? So I don’t need
advertising’s help to have a one-on-one conversation with you, but, if I want to talk
quote/unquote to a million people like you, I need to advertise in some way, shape or form.
And, in the entire Second Life experience, because it wasn’t built to enable reaching tons
and tons of people, it was built to facilitate small groups like this, it never performed very
well when measured against things like banner buys or television ad spots, in terms of just
volume. It killed everything ever known to man, in terms of engagement. But the observation
is that advertisers, they like engagement, but only if it’s in reference to how engaged the
millions of people rather than tens of thousands were.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You see it primarily as a metrics and scale issue?
REUBEN STEIGER: Well, metrics simply--yes, it’s a metrics and scale issue. I had to
consider that for a second, but I do think it was a metrics and scale issue. I think that the
second thing there that’s really interesting is that, while you’ve got metrics and scale, you’ve
also got control. And interestingly, Second Life did okay in terms of control, meaning, if
you’re a corporation, there are the thousand horror stories of you’re doing an event like this.
You’re XYZ corporation and some [AUDIO GLITCH] comes up and starts launching
self-replicating penis attacks. That, one would have thought, would have been the bigger
hurdle, but I think that relative to what could have happened, Second Life did really, really,
really well in the area of control and not so great in terms of--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. We’ve got a bunch of questions already popping up, and
I’d like to pass some of them along. One is from Dusan Writer, and that is: Do you see
console-based Worlds having a future based on what you know about Sony Home?
REUBEN STEIGER: Wow! First of all, I just got an IM from Latok Neumman--that’s
awesome. “Console-based Worlds, do they have a future?” Yeah, they do have a future.
Absolutely. The question there, I think, breaks down to--I’m going to start ignoring the chat
as I’m speaking because I can’t devote--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It does take a lot of practice. So if you’re willing, I will go through--
I actually have a staff who sends me the best questions and stuff like that.
REUBEN STEIGER: Awesome. I will quell my curiosity. They absolutely have a future, for a
variety of reasons, namely because there’s a huge audience using the consoles. Secondly,
consoles are really, really good at synthesizing 95 percent of the things that make Virtual
Worlds compelling. So I think you’re going to get Virtual-World-like experiences, meaning
undirected, highly graphical, but not hierarchically imposed goal-based. So they might be
about status. They’re broadly about socialization and co-discovering content with people
and making friends.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Not slaying the giant orc and then [CROSSTALK].
REUBEN STEIGER: No, no, no, no, no. But the interesting observation, I think, is that, at
least in the first wave of console-based Virtual World experiences, the unifying element is a
shared interest in games. That’s what everyone has in common so a lot of the content, a lot
of the social experiences are built around facilitating people to meet so that they can go off
and play console games together and creating sort of a unifying scoring backplane so that
context can be added to that. It’s so different than Second Life, and certainly, when I first
started looking at it, I wanted to say that it would fail because so many of the truths that we
hold to be self-evident as Second Life evangelists are really notably absent in the
console-based Virtual Worlds like user creation of content.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me, if I could, I’d like to get you to put some of this in the
context of the Gartner Hype Cycle, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, but some of our
viewers might not be. We actually have a graphic of the Gartner Hype Cycle. It starts with a
technology trigger, which causes the technology to become more and more visible until it
reaches--and I love this term--the peak of inflated expectations. And then when those
expectations are revealed to be unattainable, the visibility and hype drops down to the
trough of disillusionment. And then, finally through the slow and quiet efforts to improve the
technology and use it more intelligently, you see companies climbing up the Slope of
Enlightenment toward the Plateau of Productivity. They must have spent a lot of time
thinking of those names.
But one of the things I’m wondering, especially being one of the first companies to come in
and try to do marketing campaigns within Second Life, do you feel like you came in right at
the peak of inflated expectations? Well, let me just ask that. Where do you think, when you
were doing your Scion and some of these other pretty high-profile ones, do you see that as
being like just before the peak of expectations?
REUBEN STEIGER: I don’t know. I can never think about how movements start effectively
in the terms that, who was it, Gartner?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, Gartner.
REUBEN STEIGER: Gartner. I can’t do that. It’s like, “I get it.” Tech makes something
possible. We all get excited. We tell everyone we know. Then we feel hideously
embarrassed because everyone who know shows up and the thing breaks, and we sit there
sweating and crying and apologizing and saying, “It was so cool yesterday. You’ve got to
see this.” Then they tell a lot of people that they heard about it. We’re insane; it doesn’t
work. And then we lock ourselves in a garage and make it work. And then they come back,
and they say, “Wow! It really was cool when you told me about it five years ago.” So I have
no idea where we are in that slope.
My perspective is, yeah, I’m probably to blame for a lot of the Hype Cycle. I got so excited
about Second Life when I was first exposed to the idea, that I figured out how to devote my
life to helping this become more widespread and helping people from a huge array of
backgrounds understand how this would affect their life and how to do interesting things with
it. I don’t know where we are. I do know that, from the perspective from which I look at it
today, the hype is way over. I think you’re right that we’re sort of whatever that little squishy
bit before enlightenment is called is probably where we find ourselves.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Climbing the Slope of Enlightenment.
REUBEN STEIGER: Exactly. Why do we have to climb it? Why can’t the Slope of
Enlightenment go down to the playground of the glossy-eyed and weary? I think we’re
somewhere. Right? My big observation today is that--I measure this by where everyone in
my family’s head is at during the holidays, around Christmastime or Hanukah. I remember
five years ago I told everyone that I was going to take a job at a company called Linden Lab,
and they made a Virtual World called Second Life. And they all became very nervous. As
long as I wasn’t being paid in virtual currency, then they would deal with it. But they’d never
heard of it. It was endlessly exotic and scary.
The following year, a lot of interesting things had happened at Linden Lab. We’d gotten
growth to really move. We were over 100,000 residents, and there was a lot of Second Life
in the news. And my family thought--probably didn’t think I was smart; they’re like, “Wow!
The insane kid gets lucky again. Maybe he won’t have as big a humiliation here as we
The year after that, Second Life had gone global. I’d just started my own company around it.
People were hiring us. It was clearly a bigger movement. The year after that, it was now
clearly much, much bigger, but advertisers had left Second Life. That year, three years in,
two years ago, was the big aha for me because the big Christmas present was a Virtual
World product. Right? Now, still, no one in the mainstream had a clue about Second Life.
Right? It was way too much for them, but they were buying their kids Webkinz.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Webkinz. Yeah.
REUBEN STEIGER: Right. So it went from obscurity to the centerpiece of every family’s
Christmas, in three years. And, for the most part, without explaining what the last two
Christmases have been like, for the most part, that’s, I think, the interesting place in which
we find ourselves now is, first of all, Virtual Worlds are pervasive.
Secondly, there’s a set of core concepts and principles from Virtual Worlds that can be
abstracted and are now broadly being applied to all forms of communication and product
development. And, largely speaking, it’s an interesting thing to get into, but I think this has a
lot to do with the fact that, over time, atoms get more expensive, bits fall to zero, and
marketers, product designers, educators, humans are starting to learn which pieces of that
thing that we call happiness can be virtualized and made more affordable and more
universal. So I think it’s a really, really interesting time to be involved in all this, and I don’t
know which way it’s going to break between now and next year, but I do think it’s an
unstoppable process that’s going to keep--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You’ve made a bet on one way that this is going to break, which
is that you are now getting into licensing of distribution rights for celebrity virtual goods.
REUBEN STEIGER: Yeah.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: In December, I saw the New York Times had an article on Virtual
Greats, which is--actually I’m hoping you can clarify, just for starters, on just the business
end. Who actually owns this company, and who are the collaborators?
REUBEN STEIGER: This is Virtual Greats?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah.
REUBEN STEIGER: Okay. I should say, by the way, sort of laughing to myself when you
said, “You’ve made a bet.” I make a lot of bets over the course of a year, and the one you’re
talking about is a big bet, and it’s a multi-year bet. But, over the course of every year, when I
look back on it, like last year, we made a lot of bets that didn’t pay off that I would have bet
on again, I think, if I had the chance. We made a big bet on Lively.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: What was the nature of that bet? Did you become a licensed
developer for that?
REUBEN STEIGER: Yeah, we became one of the first developers. I think we were the first.
But the bet, broadly speaking, was kind of a silly one. It was, “Google plus Virtual Worlds
sounds like it could work.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Why do you think it didn’t?
REUBEN STEIGER: I think it’s very interesting why it didn’t. I’d like to be very diplomatic in
saying that the reason--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: No one’s listening so it’s--
REUBEN STEIGER: Yeah, right. The reason it didn’t work, I think, was that it wasn’t
compelling to [end users]. The reasons why it wasn’t compelling are--I think it’s a very good
case study because a lot of things did work about it, and some things that are absolutely
critical for success didn’t. It also may not have worked because Virtual Worlds, at least in
the Second Life model, need an extraordinarily long runway. And the Google let a thousand
flowers bloom and cut the nine hundred and ninety that didn’t bloom into entire forests, let
those die. Second Life wouldn’t have made it, according to those criteria. But I think there’s
a lot of reasons to look.
You’d asked about Virtual Greats, by the way.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, let’s get back to that.
REUBEN STEIGER: Let me give folks the background there. Three years ago, 2007, two
years ago now, statistics started to be released about the volume of virtual goods
transactions across all Virtual Worlds. And this was at a time at which we were still very,
very active in Second Life, which I should say we’re going to be again in the very near
future. But we were still involved in Second Life, and we were also branching out and trying
to understand which of the other successful consumer communities or emerging platforms
were going to be very promising.
And the stats came out that there was about a billion and a half dollars in virtual goods
transactions. And this came at a time when we were doing a lot of work with folks in
Hollywood. What I found really noteworthy was that none of that, or substantially none of
that $1.5 billion involved preexisting intellectual property. In other words, if I were to
right-click on your shoes, they’re not Nike shoes; they’re a Second Life creator. Which is
awesome, but I found it to be counterintuitive. That there wasn’t a market for stuff like, I
don’t know, Pirates of the Caribbean merchandise, or the ability to be Jack Sparrow, or the
ability to aspirationally become Elvis Presley. I just didn’t understand it. We went and looked
at it, and what we discovered was that nobody had defined the legal rights that related to
virtual goods. So what we did was, we defined the rights. We came up with a strategy to
acquire them exclusively from some very iconic figures at the top of the market, with the
hope that their endorsement of this new company and this new approach would drive the
rest of the rights-holders towards us. And so we launched by announcing that we had the
exclusive rights for Justin Timberlake, Tila Tequila, Paris Hilton, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, the
Incredible Hulk and Elvis Presley, if Elvis--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m guessing that mid-40’s aged accounting professors are not
the target market that you’re trying to hit. It’s okay. You don’t have to answer that even. We
see lots of Worlds where the whole World is tied to content, owned by the World developers.
So you can think of this with, you know, Disney has some Worlds tied to the fairies from
Peter Pan. Of course, then there’s Webkinz, which is an RL product in in-world content. So
you’re trying to open this up and say, “Whatever World you have, we will have licensed
goods that may be of interest to you. You can work these into your World.”
REUBEN STEIGER: Yeah. Here’s the way it works now and--well, here’s the problem. So if
your Habbo Hotel or Gaia Online or any other at-scale World, if you want to, either for
promotional reasons or for transactional reasons, offer Snoop Dogg stuff in your World, you
have to get on the phone, call Snoop Dogg’s agent, perhaps then figure out that that’s not
the right person. Then you go to their management. And then you have to convince,
effectively, Snoop Dogg and his manager that they should care about your World that
they’ve never heard about and so on. And then you have to negotiate a deal.
Turns out it’s massively, massively time-consuming because these Worlds don’t really
matter to these stars because they don’t represent individually a lot of revenue potential.
And so our structure simply allows any World to tap into a catalogue or a library and use it
as they see fit. Right? So they don’t have to argue with anyone or waste a year of their life
negotiating for a single right; they can get them all.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So it sounds like one of the things Virtual Greats will bring to this
is you’re going to do not only the legal work--
REUBEN STEIGER: So it’s interesting. The audience doesn’t like any of this.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I am kind of noticing that.
REUBEN STEIGER: And I’ll challenge them on it. It’s very interesting.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Go for it.
REUBEN STEIGER: Folks see this in very binary terms. So one person said, “The good
thing about Virtual Worlds is that it allows completely separate celebrity to work.” That’s
true. That has nothing to do with this. Not everyone will want to be Torley Torgeson, to use
an example, or pick your Second Life celebrity. So the reality is that the way in which we
encode meaning and tell stories is a large industry, and it’s protected. So there, first of all,
are a lot of people who want to use those elements of identity to express who they are. In
fact, it is one of the most efficient ways to do so. It’s more so in Worlds that have less user
creation rather than more.
Secondly, I think a lot of people would think, “Well, you’re just sitting here,” and this is the
new DMCA I heard someone say.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I saw that.
REUBEN STEIGER: I don’t think there’s a controversy to be had there. The fact is that, if
someone’s going to pay for celebrity or just IP-related stuff, to not pay the IP holder is not
legal, and it’s not possible to get to real scale and have it be done really beautifully without
some sort of mechanism to fairly pay all participants.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’d like to pick up a different aspect of this business. Part of this is
just arranging the legalities, but a lot of it seems to be that someone’s got to go to
Snoop Dogg’s whoever is representing him and not only work out some sort of reasonable
deal, but also convince them that Virtual Worlds are even worth talking about and paying
attention to. And, beyond that, if I understand you right, you’re going to go try to convince
them to give you legal rights for virtual content. You’re not necessarily handing them a
specific World and a specific promotion. You’re saying, “Someday you’re going to want to do
this. We’d like to nail something down now.” And then you would go sell that, try to work with
the Virtual Worlds so they don’t have to think about the legal side.
REUBEN STEIGER: That’s right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That seems like a very hard sell to the celeb.
REUBEN STEIGER: It is, which is good and bad. It’s bad for us, in that it doesn’t happen
quickly. It’s good because it means we have a reason to exist. It’s considered a barrier to
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This is a Millions of Us rather than a Virtual Greats activity, I
believe, but it seems like you got close to this type of business plan with the World Wrestling
Entertainment’s SummerSlam in Gaia Online. So that was Millions of Us, right, not Virtual
REUBEN STEIGER: That was. Yeah.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’ve just been talking about celebrity. And I’ve also heard you
talk about storytelling and the importance of storytelling in marketing and in engaging with
people. I’m wondering if you could sort of pull these two together for me. How did you blend
storytelling and celebrity to promote World Wrestling Entertainment’s SummerSlam in a teen
REUBEN STEIGER: What we did was, one Monday morning, the users of Gaia Online,
which is a large Virtual World for teens, logged on to find out that someone had appeared
on their forums and claimed that they had taken over the World. This person was one of the
bad guys from the WWE. Over the course of the next five days, a drama unfolded
essentially on the forums of Gaia, which is very interesting because Gaia has both a Virtual
World, like the one in which we’re sitting in now, but most of the activity actually occurs on
the forums, where people are speaking to each other asynchronously through avatars.
So over the course of the next week, we essentially had a scripted drama, that was
puppeteered by Millions of Us, unfold, in which the good guys and bad guys of WWE fought
it out, where the users would rally support for them as it unfolded and show their affiliation
by carrying virtual good related to the WWE, like the chairs that they break over each other’s
backs or other pieces of virtual merchandise around the World to show whose side they
were on. Over the course of it, it all sort of concluded on live television so you had to turn in
to the purview to see how it played out. Close to a million pieces of virtual merchandise
were taken, and most importantly, I think people loved it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Fascinating story. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m just scrambling a
little. You’ve kept me on my toes, so we’ve been changing around and trying to get the
graphics to line up with the direction of the conversation. We only have a few minutes left,
and I guess I have one quick question about the economy, and then I’d like to talk about
your work with Byron Reeves. But first, on the economy, I know Advertising Age reported
that--this was last week--77 percent of businesses plan to reduce their advertising
campaigns’ media budgets in the coming year. I’m wondering are you feeling that? How are
you responding? Do you think that these sort of cutting edge forms of advertising can
actually survive in this climate?
REUBEN STEIGER: There were three questions there, and I’m not going to get the
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I do that. I never got interviewer training.
REUBEN STEIGER: I’d say 77 percent is probably a low estimate. My guess is that
95 percent cut their budgets. I think that the kind of stuff we do, in terms of Virtual World
marketing, if it hasn’t been cut already, it’ll be cut in the next two weeks. And what else was
in the question?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now there’s going to be fierce competition. I’m wondering if the
headline is, “Virtual Worlds Lose Out Because Everyone’s Sending Their Advertising Dollars
To The Most Traditional Outlets.”
REUBEN STEIGER: Well, what are the most traditional outlets?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I know they’re leaving newspapers. I know they’re leaving TV.
Certainly local TV.
REUBEN STEIGER: Those sound like pretty traditional outlets to me. What, everyone’s
going to put their stuff on billboards? The reality is that, during recessions, you have two
competing pressures that go on. One, you have no money to waste, so there’s a flight
towards the most accountable media, whether they’re better or worse; it’s the most
accountable. And generally, in our day and age, that means Google. Direct response. Highly
actuarial. So you can actually say, “For every dollar I spent, here’s how much money I
made.” And, if that equation is that you’re making $1.10 for every dollar you spend, then the
logic is, you should just scale that until you have all the money in the world. Most advertising
is not like that.
So broadly speaking, what we’re seeing is that digital, as part of the advertising portfolio, is
the only growth area. The fastest growth area within digital, in terms of consumer attention,
is online communities or social media.
And the third piece is that the economy is in the toilet. So you put those all together, and it
just says that the market’s under huge pressure to be where people are and be relevant and
to be spending their money responsibly. It’ll put a damper on the most sort of experimental
things, into which camp I think probably Second Life falls, but it won’t kill the market. There’s
a lot of places, broadly speaking, that advertisers don’t know how to capitalize on. And so I
think these will be places like, “How do we be successful in Facebook? How are we going to
be successful in Twitter? How do we talk to people instead of advertising to them?”
Because, in general, that’s going to be the defining element for the entire category known as
social media, I think. It’s that it just won’t obey the rules.
The same observations you saw with Second Life, that it’s hard to get pure scale, which you
can buy through advertising. Most of these media are not driven by those same forces.
They’re not very excited to have messages thrown in front of them, and the question
becomes not how do I make this behave like something it’s not to get the numbers that I
think I’m used to, but how do I learn to value radically different numbers differently, and how
do I think long-term about using this broad class of technologies ranging from social media
to Virtual Worlds to micro-blogging platforms, to do something that’s important, namely build
a movement that might not be about my brand.
I’m not sure people are dying to join the Pepsi movement. I think that they’re excited to join
movements, and movements are things that often have very little to do with a brand, other
than that the brand may have brought it to you. And, when a brand brings you a movement,
meaning something you really care about that you’ll devote a lot of your time and energy
and passion to, then that’s good for [AUDIO GLITCH]. That was a long rant.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That was. We will definitely make a clip of that for YouTube. It’s
interesting, we’re getting very mixed feedback on the show topic itself. I think there are
some people who, especially in Second Life, not wild about the marketing side, the
consumer engagement side of business in Virtual Worlds. And we have Prokofy Neva
calling you a genius and just saying I guess I’m not doing a good job asking the right
questions, which, no doubt, is true.
But, if I could, I’d like to change gears just to close by taking a look at a rather different
endeavor that Millions of Us is doing in collaboration with Stanford professor Byron Reeves
on the Green Energy Conservation Challenge. And, rather than try to explain it, we can just
take a look at the video and then talk about it right afterwards. So, SLCN, go on and cue up
ANNOUNCER: We’re all interested in helping the environment. Right? Recently I had a
smart meter installed and found out a whole new way to do that. Smart meters are like
regular electricity meters, except they can tell me just how much energy I’m consuming
anytime online. So whether I’m online at home or on the go, I can see just how much energy
I’m consuming. But that’s just the beginning. My smart meter connects me to a virtual home
that gives me detailed information about how my house is consuming energy. I can even
find information about how to lower my usage rate instantly.
And then the real challenge begins because the smart meters let everyone see just how
much energy we’re using and play a really fun game to compete, to make our home that
much greener. Because, in this world, the only way to improve your virtual home is to lower
the energy usage in your real one. And, with all the extra info about my energy efficiency
peak hours and comparisons to similar homes, it was no problem finding quick ways to
improve. When saving energy and the environment is this easy and fun, everyone wants to
do it. And I finally beat my neighbor Frank at something. That’s his house.
All this effort paid off, not just for the planet, but also four our pocketbooks. Once we knew
how to conserve power, we started saving both energy and dollars. And once one
neighborhood does something so amazing, pretty soon our whole town was green with
envy, and all the neighborhoods were competing to be the best. People always say it’s hard
to change set behaviors, but, as it turned out, all they needed was a really good challenge.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Reuben, that seems like a fascinating project. My understanding
is that this is demo. Where do you see this heading for Millions of Us?
REUBEN STEIGER: Where do I see the stuff we’re doing--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: The collaboration, yeah, with Byron.
REUBEN STEIGER: I’m not quite sure. I sort of dreaded this interview, to be honest with
you. I know I’m a bit of a polarizing figure in these audiences because I think one of the
reasons is that people think what we’re doing is crass and commercial and devalues the
important things that are going on in Virtual Worlds. I guess my view is what we’re really
interested in doing is making what’s going in Virtual Worlds more and more real and giving it
a bigger voice and a bigger platform on which to play.
At the beginning I said Virtual World principles are just endemic, and I think this
Byron Reeves stuff shows how you actually take Virtual World game feedback system
principles and attempt to use them to change real behavior. And that’s a very big deal, I
think. If we, not we as Millions of Us, but we as a population of people, as a community of
people, are able to make people in the Real World more energy efficient, that’s massive. Or,
able to promote more responsible behavior, that’s massive. So whether this project will
come to fruition with Byron and a particular energy company is less important to me than will
this type of approach be able to be applied to a broad swath of industries and applications,
and I think there the answer is, absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I think it looks fascinating. The video itself certainly makes a
compelling case. So many people are into social games, and it really seemed to tap into
their latent competitiveness. I just want to say, in closing, Reuben, thank you so much for
ignoring your feelings of dread and coming onto Metanomics to speak your piece. I think it’s
a fascinating take, and you guys have shown lots of successes. So I look forward to getting
you back again and not too long, and you can tell us about your next success.
REUBEN STEIGER: Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thanks a lot.
REUBEN STEIGER: Bye, everybody.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So to our audience, I’d like to say, if you enjoyed today’s topic,
there are a number of past shows you might find particularly relevant. If you found this topic
annoying or objectionable, you should definitely take a look at these items from our
archives. We’ve had a couple of interviews with competitors of Millions of Us. Electric Sheep
Company’s Chris Carella, back in our first year, and Sibley Verbeck last fall. We also had a
great discussion with K Zero’s Nic Mitham last August, who talked about a number of virtual
marketing successes and failures.
I’d also suggest taking a look at one of our shows from the Virtual World, There, with
Morgan Brooks, of CosmoGIRL, and Mary Ellen Gordon, of Market Truths, as we took a
look at CosmoGIRL’s virtual prom. So I guess maybe the analogy to the SummerSlam, but
for the fairer sex. So anyway, I hope you did enjoy this show and take a look at our old
We always close Metanomics with an opinion piece, Connecting The Dots. Connecting The
Dots today is Tish Shute, author of the blog Ugo Trade. As someone who follows the
business side of technology, it’s great to be able to rely on someone who follows the
technology side of the Virtual World business. So, Tish, take it away.
TISH SHUTE: Okay. Well, Rob, you said that that would be a good segue perhaps from the
green gaming project to what I would like to talk about. I think it is because I think if you’d
been anyone that’s been reading Ugo Trade, you’ll know that I’ve actually been turning my
attention to the connection between virtual environments and real environments. I’ve always
been interested in that, but I think, really, in the last six months, I’ve really kind of taken the
bull by the horns and tried to look at that conversation. I know this is supposed to be an
opinion section, but I think, really, this is a conversation. I mean how we connect real and
virtual environments is really--it’s a conversation that’s just beginning.
And I think, if you probably heard a number of terms; everyone’s heard these terms floating
around there, the internet of things, the web of things, Bruce Sterling’s neologism of space
and time--spines, S P I N E S. There’s another great term: Every Ware, spelled Every Ware,
W A R E. And there’s a great book by Adam Greenfield that really looks at what the world of
Every Ware might be about and all the kind of things that we’re going to have to think about
in a world of Every Ware.
But anyway, I think a lot of people go, “Well, what’s this got to do with Virtual Worlds? We’ve
just kind of got this so the thing doesn’t crash on the end-to-end internet, and now you want
to take it like beyond the end-to-end internet.” But, this is happening, and I would argue, and
this is the conversation piece, but who’s going to be envisioning this? Aren’t people who’ve
spent a lot of time in these Virtual Worlds that, at the end of the internet, we’re basically
stuck behind our PCs still? But, as this begins to move out and be not tethered to a single
PC, but pixels anywhere is really another expression I’ve started to use, who better than to
start this conversation than people immersed in this space? I think Reuben pointed out he
doesn’t know where that conversation on green gaming is going. Because, clearly, how we
make these connections between virtual and real environments is just beginning to be
So that brings me to a recent blog I did with a project called “patchbay.” It’s spelled
Pachube, and a lot of people call it that. I call it patchbay because it’s sort of went around
that that what it was called for a while. But you’re free to interpret. It’s something so new that
its name even is flexible. But I think what’s important here and what is very interesting is
actually Virtual Worlds have been the first to kind of step forward and become early
adopters of something like patchbay, which really is about connecting environments. Not
just real to virtual environments, but environments like web pages with objects in the World.
If you want to know more about it, I’ve got an extensive blog. I interviewed the founder,
Usman Haque. I think it’s an interesting project. If you don’t have time to read the whole
blog, look at Natural Fuse, which is his project of electronically assisted plants there. You’ll
see how interesting this all starts to get when we’re talking to machines and machines to
each other. [There’s a new?] system that goes literally beyond the traditional internet.
Now I’m probably messing Lynn up drastically with the slide she’s got to put up because I’m
adlibbing slightly. But there’s an important piece of this, I think, that Virtual World people
might be the most interested in, and that is one part of Every Ware is how we link these
environments together and the communications protocols we use to do that and how we see
The other part of this is, you know, what is the cyberspace that we useto--how do we relate
to this new data everywhere, data coming from everything. And I think that this is where
probably Virtual Worlds people and people in Second Life--you probably all read Snow
Crash at least ten times--I don’t know whether all of you have read Halting State--but,
obviously, Halting State gives you an idea of what cyberspace might be like when it’s
everywhere, as opposed to being linked, something you sit at, you know, you sit at your PC
Now basically I think one of the things that people have not really thought about a lot, and
Virtual World technology has taken a long time to stabilize, but it takes a stretch of the
imagination to think of mobility and Virtual Worlds all in one breath. And I don’t mean little
light-weight Worlds on your mobile phone so that you just basically got a little mobile
desktop. I mean pixels anywhere. I’m not sure if Lynn’s ready for this slide yet, but she has
a link. Everyone, I assume, saw the Super Bowl ads. They saw this idea of ubiquitous
avatars, right? I’m not sure that everyone knows how damn close this is. I think, if there’s a
link going to go up at some point of a little YouTube demo put up in 2/07 by total immersion,
a little blue ape avatar, it’s around the corner, really, in many, many ways.
Now that’s not to say it’s tomorrow, and it’s also not to say that some of the ways that we
begin to link real and virtual environments won’t just happen using our PCs, using a platform
like patchbay so that we can begin to do some interesting projects now. We don’t need
these magical goggles and whatever to really get started with this. I think one of the things
that is really interesting is that actually how quickly people who work in Second Life and
OpenSim get this. You show them patchbay, and a very good example of this is the reaction
grid folks, that, within days, they had got out some really amazing projects. I think, again,
Lynn will put up this link so that you can go and see what they’ve done. And, plus, I think
G2’s put up some very clear explanations how to use the code to--what you can do, what
the protocol that patchbay is based on, which is called the extended environment’s markup
language is about and what that facilitates.
I would argue, and this is the conversation I’m sort of, “Why has my interest gone from
Virtual Worlds more towards beyond the end-to-end internet and the internet things is
because I think that, really, people who’ve experienced Virtual Worlds at the end-to-end
internet and really positioned to do some very creative things now that we have really the
pieces we need to really break our tethers to these PCs. Virtual Worlds should not be
something that you just have to enter because you happen to be sitting at your PC. There’s
something that should be there when you need them and where you need them. And, in
fact, it’s quite critical that they’re there. Because, if you imagine a World of Every Ware,
W A R E--Rob told me be careful when I say “everywhere” and “Every Ware”; it’s
confusing--how you can relate to that, what your data visualization, what your pixels are
telling you about Every Ware is vital.
Again, and there’s another interesting point that’s going to come up, and there’s a lot and a
lot and a lot, and I see Prokofy’s in the chat here. She’s debated this endlessly. Well, not
endlessly. She’s talked about this a lot. But the end-to-end internet has a very special
relationship to identity. It gives you, because you basically have as a given anonymity, a
certain amount of anonymity in the end-to-end internet. It’s freed us up to have lots of ways
we can present ourselves, plus sitting at a PC where you have control of how you present
yourself. It’s a very different situation to what cyberspace will be like when we really have it
where we want it, when we want it. So the people who are kind of pioneering these visions, I
think visionary architects have been key, I think in augmented reality, actually thinkers from
games and Virtual Worlds are very key, that this is a conversation. I think it’s going to be
interesting who kind of defines this, how it gets defined. And I’m happy to see people from
Second Life and OpenSim. I think that, hopefully, Lynn’s putting up the links to Reaction
Grid because it’s going to be a class there so you can get started. I’m thinking my time is
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That would be about right.
TISH SHUTE: Yes. Just go get involved, and get started, and see where this goes. I think
it’s exciting, obviously.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You spell out a fascinating vision, and I know I hear more and
more about the Halting State vision of the Metaverse, as opposed to what’s usually taken is
the Snow Crash vision, with just lots of information flowing from devices in Real and Virtual
Worlds, connecting them not in giant immersive ways, but in very small and penetrating
ways. So thank you, Tish Shute, from Ugo Trade, for coming on and giving us a great look
at the future of virtual technologies.
Next week, we have Alice Krueger--some of you may know here as Gentle Heron--who
works with the nonprofit organization Virtual Ability, and we will be talking about the
challenges of engaging with Virtual Worlds when you have disabilities, and we will also be
looking at the opportunities that Virtual Worlds and related technologies provide to those
with disabilities. So I look forward to seeing you at next week’s show. Thanks a lot, and
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer