REAL WORLD PRESS IN VIRTUAL WORLDS
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome, everyone, to another issue of Metanomics. We have a
great show today, with a number of guests representing real and in-world media in Second
Life. And so I am pleased you can all be here with me. I am pleased that I am able to be
here after a harrowing flight yesterday, returning from a Virtual Worlds conference,
apparently almost dying several times. So we can all wallow in the irony that hundreds of
people flew across the country to a conference dedicated to a technology for the future of
teleconferencing and telecommuting.
So anyway, let’s jump in. I would like, as always, to start by thanking our sponsors: SAP,
Generali Group, my own Cornell University’s Johnson School, Sun Microsystems, Cisco,
Kelly Services and, of course, the people who make all of this possible, Second Life Cable
Today we’re going to be covering the press. In modern society, every community relies on
an active press. The press provides basic information about current events, provides a
forum for people to discuss the meaning of those events and speaks truth to power, as the
expression goes. In capitalist societies, the press is also a profit-seeking industry that earns
its profits by building up audiences and by selling the rights to others who want to reach
those audiences. So our goal today is to discuss just exactly what three Real World
profit-seeking media giants are doing in the Metaverse and to understand how a presence in
Second Life fits into their corporate strategy.
And finally, we’re going to explore their likely impact on the Second Life community.
Assuming we have time at the close, we’ll get all of our guests to talk about what they see
as being the big stories that are going to come up in the coming weeks, months and maybe
years of the Metaverse. So our guests today are John Zhaoying (John Jainschigg),
executive director of CMP Metaverse, which is a division of the multimedia publisher CMP. I
think many of you here on CMP Island One actually know John through Information Week
and Dr. Dobbs.
We also have Eric Reuters of Reuters Press. His real name is Eric Krangel. He’s a
technology journalist who is reporting in-world for the Reuters Second Life Bureau. We have
Rhonda Lowry (in-world Rhonda iReport), who is vice president of Emerging Technologies
at Turner Broadcasting System, and was instrument in bringing CNN’s iReport project into
Finally we have Prokofy Neva, who earns her living in Second Life as the owner of
Ravenglass, a land rental firm, but is far better known as one of the most prolific and often
controversial bloggers. She maintains her own blog, Second Thoughts, but was also an
active author with the Second Life Herald and had a very popular series of podcasts with
Nick Wilson called Second Rant and was named the 2005 Avatar of the Year by the Second
So I’d like to start, John, with you, if I could. CMP has really jumped into Second Life with
both feet, and you have a very active event series. You’ve got a major Life 2.0 conference
coming up in March. And I’m sure all this activity can’t be free, and media companies watch
every penny. And the Second Life audiences, at least right now, aren’t tremendously large
compared to the other audiences that CMP is addressing. So can you talk a bit about how
your Second Life presence fits into CMP’s strategy?
JOHN ZHAOYING: Sure. Like many companies in Second Life, we look at this in part as a
platform of potentials as much as we do a platform of actuals. It seems obvious to us--has
seemed for a long while, that 3D immersive virtual reality of this kind of open buildable sort
is going to be part of every computer user’s experience and necessarily a part of every
business’s experience in coming years. We’re unwilling to project at this point how soon the
magic hockey stick inflection point will occur, but it does not seem to us as though
projections of 30,000 sims in Second Life would be, by end of 2008, would be out of whack
with what we see happening in numbers now. So this is a fast growing--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: If I can just stop you on that one.
JOHN ZHAOYING: Please.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Where did you get that number? Is that just something you’re
thinking or did you hear that?
JOHN ZHAOYING: That’s a linear projection from my own analysis of month-to-month
growth and parallelization of concurrency figures. That’s the internal--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. I didn’t mean to interrupt.
JOHN ZHAOYING: --analytic.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, just wanted to get that fascinating number.
JOHN ZHAOYING: So we think of this as important. And the reason CMP, in particular,
thinks this is important and the reason CMP’s corporate parent, United Business Media
London, thinks this is important is because, collectively, we are the largest producer of
business technology events and other events in the world. UBM produces the largest single
event in the world. For example, Japan Jewelry Expo, which gets 750,000 people across
two weeks in Tokyo every year. We run NetWorld’s Interop. We run Black Hat. We run
Web 2.0. It seems to us that conferences are in the crosshairs, particularly in recessionary
conditions, because they’re extraordinarily expensive. They’re extraordinarily not green.
They place enormous logistical and financial burdens on the organizations that want to hold
That said, conferences are still recognized by sponsors as the number one way of engaging
with customers and, in many senses, with one another. And Second Life and environments
like this are the only environments that we have found that can produce a comparable
psychological effect. This came initially as a surprise to us when we started Life 2.0 a year
ago. We didn’t know what to expect in terms of attendance. We didn’t know what to expect
in terms of dwell times. And what we discovered really caused our jaws to drop. Our metrics
for the first Life 2.0 show last April showed top attenders spending 29, 30 hours with us
across the course of a six-day event in Second Life, which is an extraordinary commitment
of time for people to make to an online medium. It exceeds by orders of magnitude of the
commitment of time that people are typically willing to make to flatweb webinars,
push-model IP video and other less immersive media. And, in fact, even exceeds the weekly
average usage of immersive video games like World of Warcraft. So we’re clearly talking
about something in Second Life and environments like it that could conceivably, in the next
couple of years as population here grows, begin to hollow out the way the web is somewhat
hollowed out. Print media begin to hollow out the event business globally.
So certainly, if only on a defensive level, CMP needs to be involved in this medium, and we
have chosen to become involved with it in what we hope is the most wholesome possible
way. We want to push this envelope because we see the immediate benefits in our work.
The green benefits, for example. As you just said, everybody flew to Palo Alto to attend an
event on eliminating business travel as a component of engagement. We see the green
benefits here. We see the benefits of people being able to engage on a repeat basis with
each other, as opposed to a typical trade show where people fly away at the end and then
don’t join up again for six months or a year, as enormously powerful.
And, in the meantime, we are building a business here that works well with what Second
Life and similar environments are capable of producing at this point in terms of scale. There
are no better online media for engaging. And our own sponsors, Sun, Cisco and others,
have discovered this independently and agree with us that, if one can put the right audience
in the seats, talking to 250 or 300 or 50 or 100 people, depending on what the context, can
be extremely profitable. It can produce significant ROI. In fact, when people ask about ROI
in Second Life, I kind of wonder why they’re not getting more of it because this is an
enormously powerful environment for communications of all kinds.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Thank you very much. Let’s move on to Eric for a minute.
Welcome, Eric, to Metanomics.
ERIC REUTERS: Thank you for having me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now you’re the feet on the ground for Reuters. Can you talk a
little bit about, I guess, in part, where you see Reuters’ strategy. I mean you’re a very
different sort of corporation from CMP. And then also talk a bit about you personally and
what you are doing in this realm.
ERIC REUTERS: Sure. Again, than, you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be
here. I think it’s funny. Reuters, their history in Second Life, goes back to before I’d been
here. I’ve been with Reuters, I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary right now. But
Reuters’ presence started in around October 2006, I believe. But, first of all, just in terms of
Reuters’ strategy, I mean I think Reuters is trying to position itself globally as a leader in
technology stories, as on the cutting edge, as an organization that goes beyond just
perhaps some of the competing newswires like AP or even Bloomberg, to find sort of newer,
more cutting edge, more avant garde stories, and, of course, Second Life is where so much
of that goes on. But also, just in terms of ROI, to mention what John said, I mean Reuters
came in. They had an island built, which is still sort of my home here in Second Life. But
really, although it pains me greatly to say this, I am not paid all that much. So when you
think about that--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You’re a reporter though, aren’t you?
ERIC REUTERS: I am a reporter.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I thought reporters got these enormous salaries.
ERIC REUTERS: Clearly, at Cornell School of Management you’re not looking at the
journalism industry that carefully.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: No. I’m wondering, you’re saying even within journalism--and
reporters I know do struggle. You’re thinking that, even on that scale, you’re not in it for the
ERIC REUTERS: No, I’m really not. I’m really not. I mean part of the reason I’m here
personally is because I find Second Life absolutely fascinating. And I think no one
anticipated, and it’s not just my interest, but also Reuters’ interest, is how complex of a
creation Second Life has become. And when you sort of bring together all these metaphors
of virtual geography, of a currency, of land that you can build on or sell, I mean I think of
some of the stories that I’ve been writing about for the past year, with intellectual property
issues, with a recent story I wrote about ad farms, which brings in sort of zoning issues.
Stories about Second Life’s currency. This is far more complex than I think anyone realized.
But just to get back to what I was saying earlier about ROI, which is, Reuters had a start-up
cost. They had to build the island. They had to set up a presence. They had to put in the
infrastructure within Reuters as a wire to sort of acknowledge Second Life and come into it.
Except now, really, all of Reuters’ expenses are what they pay me, the monthly fees on our
island. So what we’re talking about is that Reuters reaches out to the 1.2 million people who
are in Second Life every 60 days. It is a tremendous amount of press that Reuters is getting.
A lot of knowledge of people who are understanding what Reuters is, what Reuters does,
who perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have that. So really, I mean I think they’re extending their
brand in a way on a very little expenditure that I think perhaps other organizations might
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Very interesting. Rhonda, welcome to Metanomics.
RHONDA IREPORT: Thank you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I love your avatar. You rightfully made fun of me for wearing a
suit yet again. I’ll have to show a little more creativity next time. So you’ve chosen--or CNN
has chosen a very different way of getting their media foot in the Second Life door, really
empowering the residents themselves. So can you talk a little bit about that strategy?
RHONDA IREPORT: Absolutely. When we started looking at this platform in particular, it
was in the context of an overall social media strategy actually. Because we see Virtual
Worlds as just another extension of the phenomenon where people are actually starting to
participate in the dialogue that is storytelling. And, in the news industry, as you know, the
story is really where we make our money. It’s interesting to us that, in the Real World, we
have a product called CNN iReport, which was a very effective product for bringing in
people’s opinions, perspectives and actual firsthand news accounts to CNN directly. It was
particularly effective during the Virginia Tech tragedy where you’re able to receive first
pictures, first words from people who are on the scene there and extend our news gathering
across that platform very successfully.
It seemed natural to us that, in the Virtual World where people reside, have experiences and
encounter these new technologies, that they would also have stories to tell and share with
us in a way that was most effective. So we extended our CNN iReport presence from the
Real World, if you will, into this virtual space late last year, and it’s been a positive
experience for us mostly. It’s an opportunity for us to learn as a news organization
specifically speaking with CNN. We are interested in understanding how emerging
technologies are impacting people’s ability to communicate, to see stories from different
angles, to understand different perspectives, if you will, an almost a 360 perspective. So the
3D environment’s certainly part of that.
What’s most important is understanding how people communicate and what it means to
have a dialogue about unfolding events. So our system here, the iReport system’s fairly
straightforward. It allows people to do, frankly, things that they could have already done, that
is take a snapshot and send a story via an email address. Although the postcard system
that was built into Second Life allows them now to start talking to each other and people
understanding different perspectives in the virtual space. So our whole perspective at
Turner, across the corporation, is to understand in the social media space it’s about
dialogue, it’s about contribution, it’s about participation. And then ultimately it’s about what
are technologies enabling people to do that they couldn’t do before, and how do we play in
So the media equation’s changing. It’s changing rapidly. And rather than sit back and predict
or, rather, try to influence with a big stick, you know, Time Warner’s a rather large media
organization, it’s most effective and most important to us to learn. So this experiment for us
in Second Life has been an opportunity to learn what are people doing, how are they doing
it, what are they interested in and how can we translate that into our business.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now your role in particular is at Turner rather than CNN
specifically, and you’re in the Emerging Technologies Group. So when you talk about at
Turner--and you have those expressions about getting the community engaged, I actually
don’t remember the exact terms you used, is that something that’s specific to--I mean is that
something that’s a particular focus of the Emerging Technologies Group? Or is that a more
broad corporate focus?
RHONDA IREPORT: It’s the larger, broader corporate focus. My role in Emerging
Technologies is to bridge the gap, if you will, between the purely technical and the purely
business. So oftentimes in large corporations what you’ll find is that people have a singular
focus either on the technical side, business operations side, so there’s a gap between how
we communicate even within our organization. So my role specifically is to say I’m a
technologist by trade; however, I’ve been in virtual spaces modeling in simulation for a very
long time. So my job is to help the businesses understand what is technology doing in terms
of enabling people to communicate and then draw distinctions very clearly between whether
it’s technology for technology’s sake, the business for business’ sake, or if there’s an
opportunity for some, if you will, convergence there. So particularly my focus is on social
media. That includes Virtual Worlds’ social networking, and I frankly refuse to say Web 3.0
so I won’t, but you get the idea.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes. Okay. So, Prokofy, welcome to Metanomics.
PROKOFY NEVA: Thanks for inviting me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I’m delighted to have you.
PROKOFY NEVA: The reason why people have such fierce debates about the media
around Virtual Worlds is because they don’t agree what the story is or what the beat is.
Basically, you have a world that’s run by a government, let’s say, to use a metaphor that
only selectively tells you about itself. And it’s filled with citizens, many of whom tell you
nothing about their real selves. So you’re faced with the problems that you would face in
Real Life with a closed society, whether it was the old Soviet Union or whether it’s North
Korea or Iraq under the U.S. occupation or whatever. So the methods you use to cover
closed societies differ, and people argue very fiercely about them. If you look at the tech
press, the traditional press that’s covered the internet and web developments, they usually
have to get into a posture where they celebrate the technology and maintain very close
contacts with the companies that make it because that’s how they get their information
because these are private companies so they’re not obliged always to give out information.
So it’s more about communications than it is about investigative reporting. So that sort of
structure has been carried over onto Second Life so you get some reporters, tech media or
even mainstream media covering it with sort of a celebratory or superficial take. Or they
lurch to the opposite, like Valleywag, and they cover it with a very snarky kind of take
because it doesn’t fit with what they view as being the cutting edge technology.
The other thing I think people disagree about is whether it’s a story of augmentation or a
story of immersion. So if you’re covering the augmentationists, you’re going to have one
kind of business sort of coverage of Firsts in corporations and developments like Voice that
Linden Lab itself--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, Prokofy, a lot of people who will be listening to this won’t
know those terms so if you could just give your take on what those mean.
PROKOFY NEVA: Okay, well, when you had your last session on the media, you talked
about media ecology, and that was an interesting term to use because it implied that there
was many flora and fauna. And when we use the term “immersion,” that refers to people
who use Second Life for socializing or for building a world that they live in very immersively
and view as an end in itself. To use the term “augmentationism” or “platformism,” it’s people
using Second Life as an extension of whatever they’re doing in First Life, which might be a
business or it might be a nonprofit or in education or whatever.
But the point--just to finish up on the question of media ecology, I think that means that we
have to have tolerance for many kinds of media so that means you have to have advocacy
media that takes very definite points of view that will be viewed as biased by some so that
means blogging. But it also means newspapers with a political platform, which is what you
see in Real Life, with something like the Guardian, let’s say. In the UK, that’s perfectly
acceptable to have political parties and points of view run newspapers. In the U.S., there’s
less tolerance for that so it’s a cultural issue. You also have to have tolerance for community
journalism, which is trying to give voice to a certain group that may often feel itself to be
under-represented or to have a certain grievance or whatever. So when you look at
something like the ad farm story, it will be covered in very different ways. The community or
sort of immersionist journalism will cover it with a sense of outrage, with a sense of very
strident points of view pro or con. The mainstream media will either not understand it or not
dig very hard for it. They won’t go and see what are the Real Life businesses supporting it.
So just to finish then. I don’t want to take too much time. What I think has been really
important about Reuters as a model is that they have crossed from going back and forth to
immersionism and augmentationism so that, on the one hand, they’ll occasionally cover a
first or some kind of development from Linden Lab somewhat flatteringly. But they’ll also go
over and do investigation and really try to dig. Some of Eric’s stories, like on
Stroker Serpentine or the Linden economy and so on, those are very good stories where
he’s done a lot of footwork interviewing people. I think there’s no substitute for that kind of
investigative journalism, even though it’s in a very synthetic setting, I think you have to sort
of take it at face value and investigate it on its own terms.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Thank you very much.
ERIC REUTERS: If I could just chip in.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, please do.
ERIC REUTERS: Thanks for the kind words, Prokofy.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And this is Eric?
ERIC REUTERS: Yeah, this is Eric. Well, it’s just interesting, I think, what I’m trying to do
and what I think Reuters is trying to do is a lot of that, which is sort of cue a middle ground.
I’m in the community, but I’m also writing about it. I’m also trying to contextualize what
Second Life is in terms of the larger Virtual Worlds industry. And I saw someone wrote a
little sort of snarky comment on the Metanomics backchat, that Prok(?) broke more stories
than Reuters did, and Prok certainly did. But I think what I try to do is, first of all, I’m more in
Second Life than I think a lot of media, trying to talk to, do really a lot of virtual shoe leather,
man on the street type of stuff, which I mean there are fascinating perspectives rather than
just sort of talking to Linden Lab and some of the larger players. But it’s in terms of what I
think I’m trying to do, what Reuters is trying to do is, if Reuters has a farm bureau in
Amsterdam or Rome or Korea or anywhere, of course, Reuters is not going to have the
same depth of coverage. It’s not going to be every single story that all the Roman
newspapers would have or all the Dutch newspapers or Korean newspapers. And so, of
course, there are a lot of Second Life based media that cover a lot more stories than we do.
Except I think what I’m trying to do is sort of pick and choose what are the largest issues, to
sort of translate what’s going on in Second Life to a non-Second Life audience.
Really, I mean I think all of us are in Second Life, and what John was talking about before,
there’s something extraordinary going on here in terms of the immersion, in terms of the
sense that something new is happening. And it reminds me a lot of 1995 when people were
really wondering are all the Amazons and Barnes & Nobles going to shut down because of
amazon.com. So I’m trying to sort of pick and choose and identify what’s going on here and
what this whole metaphor, which is moving very rapidly, is meaning in really a larger social
PROKOFY NEVA: Well, Eric, one reason why I’ve been able to break more stories than
you is because I maybe have more connections deeper into the community, but I’m also
willing to gather the story and publish it, and you’re more constrained by an establishment
news operation that is going to be looking its shoulder at various policies or what its lawyers
might say or so on. And I think it’s very important that people have the right to be a tabloid
and very robust tabloid in Second Life. I think it’s absolutely crucial when you’re covering a
closed world of this nature, that you float rumors, you have to try to get people to respond to
rumors in the comments to try to flush out the story.
ERIC REUTERS: Of course. I mean everything--I’m sorry. I’ll _____, Beyers.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, no, no. Go ahead. Go ahead. [CROSSTALK] hear you.
ERIC REUTERS: Everything that I write it does go through an editor, of course. So what I
think you do, Prokofy, and what I do, I don’t really see them as in competition with each
other. They’re more complementary, and you made this point yourself, and I think so that
both are necessary in terms of getting a clear picture of what Second Life is and what’s
really going on here.
PROKOFY NEVA: Oh, I agree. It’s the ecology. It’s complementary.
JOHN ZHAOYING: Isn’t it more like the difference between truly local or neighborhood
scale and national news. I mean New York City, for example, Prokofy, you know we both
live here, has dozens of little newspapers out in the boroughs doing on-the-street reporting
for their communities. You will never see these stories, these little stories about city council
persons, scandals, pollution and vacant lots in northern Queens in the New York Times. The
New York Times also published in New York has, in a sense, a different job. Certainly the
report on Bloomberg and city politics, if it gets about the ten or $50 million mark or whatever
their threshold is, but we’re talking about two different cultures of newsgathering. Right?
PROKOFY NEVA: Well, but there’s also in New York City, there’s New York Press and The
Village and The Nation and lots of other papers. Something like Giuliani’s connections to the
Mafia, the New York Times might not take that up right away. It’s got to be the Voice or
some other alternative paper that’ll take it up. Or the life of transvestites and their interests
and their activities. The New York Times isn’t going to run that, but the Voice would run it.
So it’s also about culture and about the willingness to run with controversial stories early in
JOHN ZHAOYING: Very true. Very true.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now, Prokofy, I’d like to ask a little bit basically about your
motivation for doing what you do. I mean you have got to be the most prolific of the people
who are writing about Second Life, your Second Thoughts--and I’ll say I’m a regular. I mean
I read it every day to see what’s new. You don’t take advertising. To me, you seem like a
journalist in all but the sort of business strategy. So I’m just wondering if you can talk a little
bit about why you do what you do.
PROKOFY NEVA: You know unfortunately you echoed and bounced so much I could
barely hear you. But if I understood correctly, you’re saying what is my own mission, why
don’t I take advertising, why am I functioning more as a blogger than let’s say a newspaper.
Well, I think it’s just not practical to take advertising because the expense of going out to get
it and manage it is sometimes greater than what you would get back from it. And the
formatting that you have to do is greater, and you need people to do it, so that’s basically
just a practical decision.
It might be that I would take sponsors sometimes, but I find it difficult to imagine a sponsor
that wouldn’t try to affect the commentary in some way, even a subtle way. But, as far as the
mission, I think basically I see a blog--I’m more of an old fashioned sort of newspaper type
person from just being older--so I think of it as a column. So I think it’s like Anthony Lewis or
Abe Rosenthal or whatever. It’s a column, and you express your opinion, but it’s also a
column where you’re going to break news stories sometimes because you’ve just been
following the news, and that’s the space where you can break it.
I started in a small newspaper called Second Life Record which I mainly just used to report
on Linden office hours, which I’m actually now done with for lots of reasons that aren’t really
on topic. But I wanted to have a platform, I envisioned it somewhat like Izzy Stone’s
Washington, if you remember that old newsletter, where somebody has to be willing to go
and get the record, the blurring statements and just put them up and the sheer accumulation
of all that stuff, it’s very useful for studying the history of the world. I also wanted to have a
small community of writers so people like Desmond Chang or Common Fate or
Coconut Koala have put up essays there because they’re just not as comfortable writing for
the Herald and being in that very whacky and crazy setting. [GLITCH] small paper that I try
to run as a paper, but media is business, and it’s good that it’s business because that’s what
makes it free. And we have to understand that it is a business and even when it’s in a place
like Second Life. So there’s a limit to how much you can do with it without having the
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a couple questions. And I’ll say there’s been quite a bit
of backchat, and it’s been hard to keep up with today. One of the questions comes from
Patroklus Murakami, which is: Did the panel have any metrics on where Second Life
residents are getting their Second Life news? Is it in-world bloggers and native publications?
Are they doing better than the Real Life media who have joined us more recently? So do
any of you have some metrics you can talk about?
PROKOFY NEVA: I have a poll going on one of my voting sites in-world, and it doesn’t
have that many respondents, so I would urge everyone to go there, in Barton, and vote. But
so far, you may not like this answer, but it’s the Linden blog that most people choose as
their source of news.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I guess not too surprising.
PROKOFY NEVA: And that’s because more people will have heard of that most of all.
RHONDA IREPORT: And second is the Herald.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Is that Rhonda?
RHONDA IREPORT: Yes. I would agree with that as well, that most people go first default
to the Linden blog.
ERIC REUTERS: Well, I don’t think people even consider the Linden blog news because
that’s where Linden Lab makes pronouncements. I mean when ad farms--when that policy
changed, when the gambling policy changed, when the VAT policy changed, I mean that
story was released on the Linden blog, so it’s really more of a source of news or a place
where stories break than necessarily where stories happen. I mean I see the Linden blog
often as the starting point of a story not the end.
RHONDA IREPORT: True. Yeah.
PROKOFY NEVA: I guess I misunderstood Beyer’s question. Are you asking where they’re
reading, or are you asking where they’re gathering?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, the question itself was about where the residents are going
to get news, but actually, if you have insights on where people are gathering their
information and going a little further, I’d be fascinated. Or if you have better metrics on--let
me actually ask just with the three--you’re representing three big Real Life media companies
here, and I’m sure you are pressed by people above you for Metrics on how things are
going. We heard a little bit from John. But, Rhonda or Eric, do you have anymore detail on
what sort of response you guys are getting.
RHONDA IREPORT: Well, we started our project taking absolute numbers out of the
equation for a very specific reason because we were very interested in trends and not
absolutes. The numbers here, frankly, for a company of our size are miniscule. If you stare
at a number for very long, you sort of lose the meaning of why you’re here in the first place.
So we look at diversity of stories. We look at the types of people who are coming to our
classes we hold, a weekly event, every Tuesday at our iReport HUD. It has two purposes.
One is to gather the iReport community together so that they can share stories, talk about
unfolding stories, talk about things they want to cover. We cover stories that have been
written in the past week. We also try to impart, if you will, what we can bring to the equation,
so we help people understand how to take a good photo, how to write good copy, how to
write a good headline and give back, if you will, to the community. That’s really important to
us is to play equal part in that dialogue. So we look at trends, and the trends for us have
been very encouraging and in the right direction. We also see activity flow just like we do in
the Real World. It’s easy to start mapping the news stories that come on iReport with the
activity in the world and the requisite media coverage so it’s an interesting trend coverage,
but we don’t look at absolutes.
ERIC REUTERS: I would like to echo what Rhonda said, and I think that Reuters has a
similar policy. Reuters is a global newswire, and we could write a story that Matt Drudge
links to about Hillary Clinton or whatever that gets tens of millions of hits. So in the grand
Reuters scheme of things, what we do in Second Life is--while it’s important here in Second
Life, it’s very, very small in the grand scheme of what Reuters is. So of course, we want
more journalism. We want better stories. But I don’t really think that we spend our time
worrying or angsting over are people going to Reuters first versus iReport or Prok’s blog or
any of the other news sources available throughout Second Life. But I’m really sort of
privileged in that our mission here is just to do more quality journalism, to cover stories or
angles that perhaps other people haven’t or haven’t with the same depth. And rather than
sort of worrying about how many page hits we’re getting every month, as some new media
outlets do, we’re more about making for the hundreds of thousands of people who are in
Second Life associate the Reuters name and the Reuters brand with quality journalism. So
in that, actually, I feel very fortunate as a journalist. I mean that’s a dream assignment.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Let’s see. We have other comments or questions coming
in on the backchat. So one is--this comes from Temporal Mitra, who is saying there seems
to be a division here in what constitutes the press in Real Life and in Second Life. The
question is where do we or should we differentiate those who are in the actual press that are
reporting events, trends and sort of news--well, he calls it actual news, from the blog op-ed
and potentially inflammatory rhetoric. And he goes on to ask: Are not real members of the
press under a mandate to give the news in an unbiased opinion-neutral format?
Prokofy, I think you addressed some of these issues already. Your take on the differences,
for example, between the U.S. and the European press. But I was wondering, Eric or
Rhonda or John, do you have a take on that issue?
RHONDA IREPORT: I think part of the question I saw was about whether bloggers are
being given press passes to events. Is that the one you’re leading to?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, no. There’s so many questions I can’t keep up with them, but
that is an interesting one as well. I know that Linden Lab has begun a regular set of press
conferences. I don’t know how successful that has been.
RHONDA IREPORT: We have started to adopt actually making sure that bloggers do have
press passes. It’s an interesting issue to balance, and it’s one that I think will continue to
plague us as long as we look what does it really mean to have the long tail. If you imagine
yourself in sales, you’re going to be a successful salesperson if you have five really large
accounts. You’re going to make the same amount of money, if you will, in the sales
equation, by having 500 and 5,000 smaller accounts. The difficulty then is how you manage
your information, your logistics, your supply chain. All of that changes. So the concept of
hearing every voice and being able to leverage, if you will, this very important diversity that
the long tail provides. Niche content that is interesting to people across a wide range of
interests is really important, but what we’re stumbling upon is the matter of logistics. How do
you manage now a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million times more inputs than you
So yes, I think bloggers are a very critically important part of the equation. I do see, at least
for CNN events, that bloggers are being admitted with press pass. The concept then is how
do you start to manage that information. It’s not something we’ve solved certainly.
PROKOFY NEVA: I also think it’s the question of history and culture and paying attention to
it. I mean before the era of media concentration that we have in the last 50 years, going
back several hundred years, Americans could publish pamphlets pretty much at will. I mean
anybody could write anything on foolscap and get it printed at their local printers and walk it
around or mail it around or whatever. And, in a way, all we’re doing is bringing that era of
pamphleteering back with blogs. And people just need to select what pamphlets they want
to read or which ones they want to give their attention to. But what happens is people get
very angry at the idea of bloggers, who they view as somehow too biased or even libelous,
having any kind of attention economy. And I think it’s right for recognized bloggers and big
bloggers, traffic bloggers to get press passes because they do have a market share of
I don’t think that the expectation of a blogger is going to be one that they will be able to do
the kind of story that the New York Times did with the Pentagon Papers. I mean we forget
that that took months and months of study, lawyers looking at stuff, experts looking at stuff.
Bloggers don’t have the resources for that, but they’re part of a whole political and cultural
phenomenon that is reacting to media concentration, and that’s an important balancing.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’re just about out of time. I’d like to close by asking each of
you just to talk about the major stories that you expect to come up in--whether it’s next
week, next month, next year. And also it could be something within Second Life or, I guess,
especially for the representatives of the Real Life media here, maybe stories that are
Metaverse-wide, looking more at the growth of the technology or what is going on in other
worlds. But, Prokofy, why don’t we start with you?
PROKOFY NEVA: [GLITCH] question. And, by the way, I have set all my settings in a way
that everyone keeps pushing me recommendations about, but it’s just not working. Sorry.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, we’re all getting that.
PROKOFY NEVA: Yeah. Could you just briefly repeat your question?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. It’s basically what do you think are the big stories that are
going to be coming out, whether it’s the week, month, year. What do you see on the
PROKOFY NEVA: The next year we will see either a competitor to Second Life that might
be something like Metaplace that will be different, but that will attract some people, including
people from Second Life. And we’re also likely to see open sourcing of the server code or
some partial opening possibly by licensing to some select partners. Something will change.
And I think, in anticipation of that, we can understand that all the sprucing up of the
mainland, the ad farm’s policy, the Department of Public Works, all this is part of making
Second Life more attractive as a competitor with other worlds. But I also think that we’re
likely to see more and more social users arrive. I mean there’s so much static against
Second Life in the media that people overlook that the people just keep coming. And I fully
endorse what CNN is saying, that we’re likely to see double the servers. I mean the growth
rate is still very strong.
If you look at the economics page, and if you just look at your anecdotal business
information, you just see lots more foreigners or, let’s say, the Americans are the foreigners.
Those foreigners are coming. And then all the international non-English speakers are
coming. And they are all going to bring stories, and some of them will be repeat stories, the
firsts and the tension between big corporations and small craftsmen and all that. That story
will continue to play out. I think probably the issue of copyright protection is going to
continue to be a big story and will continue to result in lawsuits or even changes from the
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Eric?
ERIC REUTERS: Sure. Well, really, I want to talk about two stories. The first one is, I
guess, Metaverse-wide, which is, at least to me, it’s incredibly obvious how successful this
metaphor is, how addictive, how engaging, how new, how sticky Virtual Worlds is. But what
I’m really kind of agnostic about is whether it’s going to be Linden Lab’s Second Life that
goes on to become the Virtual World that is going to expand wildly and whether that
everyone in America and everyone in the world is really going to be engaged with. And I
think that’s very much in Linden Lab’s own hands. That, to me, is the big story of the next
year, which is, is it Second Life that is the Virtual World that takes off, or is it something else,
or is it something we haven’t seen yet. And we’re going to find out.
With regard to Second Life specifically, the story that I have my eye most on is probably
Open Sim, which is that you look at all the big stories of 2007, look at casinos, the
governance issues, tax issues, intellectual property issues. Once Open Sim really gets up
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Eric, can I just ask you to explain to our listeners what Open Sim
ERIC REUTERS: Oh, sure. Of course. I’ve written a few stories on it. Open Sim is basically
a group of developers have sort of approximately how Linden Lab servers work, based on
sort of reverse engineering some things they figured out once the viewer code went into the
Open Source domain. And now there is code that you can download to host your own
server. It’s not Second Life, but it mimics all the functionality of that. And we’re starting to
see these very primitive grids, which are completely independent of the Second Life grid.
That businesses are starting or hosting their own sims, and it’s Second Life except with zero
oversight, with zero connection to Linden Lab. So right now Linden Lab has sort of been the
800-pound gorilla. Everything that they decide happens, and the rest of us just sort of deal
with it, write with it and pontificate about it. But, over the next year, that is increasingly going
to change, and that’s going to be something fascinating that’s going to change all the rules.
So I’m going to be watching that very carefully.
PROKOFY NEVA: I’ll just say I totally disagree with that analysis, but I won’t take the floor.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, we’ll need to pick that up after the show. Actually, I mean I
think it’s an interesting issue that probably is worth a show of its own, and we’ll look at the
PROKOFY NEVA: It’s a flash in the pan. It’s like Linux is in the story, and Gimp is in the
story. It’s only a story for some techies. The bigger story will be Sony or Metaplace.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: John?
JOHN ZHAOYING: I guess I agree with Prokofy. I think Open Sim is fascinating, but it’s
more fascinating in the sense that it’s emblematic of an evolution that I think is going to take
place fast or slow here towards making this fully integrated and co-terminus with the internet
as we now know it. I don’t see the future of these environments as being World of Warcraft,
without costumes, run by a Blizzard Entertainment. I see this more along the lines of
eventually getting to the point where it’s like Apache, where a whole ecology of hosts and
service providers and server renters and so on will exist, where the relationship of
geographic area, the sim will no longer be the unit, or rather sims will become more fluid. A
lot of the DNA of what we see as life in Second Life, character portability, object portability,
script portability, has to happen between now and the time that we get to that point. But it
happened awfully fast with the web. We moved from HTMLo to a functional web in just a
couple years. And certainly this is harder, but the internet is bigger and scales better now.
And it seems like we are being pushed along by the enormous and growing popularity of
many different kinds of rich media. All we have to do is look at the crowds on CSMC to see
how far we’ve come in terms of putting media into the hands of everyone.
Connected to that story is an even larger story of how the metaphors and paradigms that we
are pioneering here in 3D immersive space are beginning to migrate themselves onto the
desktop, if people have seen, for example, Microsoft’s Photosynth technology is based on a
product that they bought about a year ago from Seadragon that is capable of scanning an
arbitrary body of photographs, potentially all the photographs on the internet. For example,
of Notre Dame Cathedral and figuring how they go together and effectively building up a
3D image of Notre Dame Cathedral, which becomes a map to all of its provenance
references, combining that with Microsoft Virtual Earth, with Google Earth. We’re going to
see amazing things in that area of 3D paradigm where desktop applications, GIS Aware
desktop applications and the fusion of the Virtual Worlds like Google Earth that don’t have
avatars with the Virtual Worlds like Second Life that do.
But I really think that the biggest story is going to be one of scale, getting back to what
Rhonda said and what Prokofy said, and I think Eric as well. Everything changes with scale.
All the rules change. If we double-size, we have to rethink everything that we know about
business models. We have to rethink everything that we know about user demographics.
We have to think in larger terms. And, if we were just to double the size of this environment,
and I think the potential is much greater than that, it would change everything about how
CMP does business here. We would rapidly get to the point where Second Life, for
example, competes directly with the numbers that can be generated now in webinars or
similar media. I think it would change a great deal about how publishing companies and
many people who wish to engage with audience deal with the Metaverse. We’re still,
unfortunately, at a point where it’s possible to dismiss this, and I think we’re very rapidly
going to get to the point where it’s not possible to dismiss this anymore.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Rhonda, you get the last word.
RHONDA IREPORT: Did I get a chance to say that my comments don’t reflect those of my
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: On this show, it goes without saying.
RHONDA IREPORT: I believe strongly that it’s important to understand the motivations of
why people do what they do. And, in Virtual Worlds, we have the unique ability to combine
sort of the social elements of blogging and social networking in a real time synchronous
space; however, there is the real money transactions and the virtual economies, which I
think will underpin huge motivation for people. We saw early in the days when people were
blogging for blogging’s sake. Sometimes they got tapped out. Give a person a few pennies
for their blog, and suddenly it took on a new meaning for them.
So I believe we’re on the verge of understanding, if you will, in more depth, the real impact
of virtual economies and real money transactions across boundaries. And underlying that, I
think, is the critical issue of copyright. And I think what we’ve done to date is, we’ve gotten
off easy in a number of cases about what does “copyright” mean. How does it affect the way
we do work? How does it affect the way we look at our business models and our
interactions? And that now that we’re in this 3D space, on a number of issues floating about
Second Life now on the subject of copyright, I think we have to really sit back, and this year
I do believe there will be a number of breaking stories, huge stories, about what does it
mean to have copyright on elements that are in a virtual space, not simply covered by
DMCA very well to date.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thank you all for really a fascinating discussion. I don’t
really know what the big story’s going to be this year. I certainly hope I will have intelligent
people like you to come on to Metanomics and talk about it, with as much insight as you
have today. I will, I guess, venture maybe not so much a prediction as a hope that I hope
that the big story over the next year or so is that the Metaverse itself isn’t itself a big story.
You probably all have this as well, I’m getting calls from the press all the time, and it’s sort of
at the level of “Teeheehee. This Stuff is so cute, and we can’t believe that people are doing
it, and it’s so cute that people are doing e-commerce in Second Life and other worlds.” And I
hope that, over the next year or so, I don’t have to explain in such detail on the airplane
exactly what Virtual Worlds are and why it’s worth studying the financial systems and so on.
So that’s, again, more of a hope than a prediction. But I think if we keep on having
discussions like this, we may just get there.
So thank you so much, John Jainschigg from CMP, Eric Krangel from Reuters Press,
Rhonda Lowry from Turner Broadcasting, and Prokofy Neva from Second Thoughts. Thank
you all for coming on to Metanomics. And I hope you’ll all come back.
JOHN ZHAOYING: Thank you so much.
ERIC REUTERS: Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here.
RHONDA IREPORT: Thank you, Beyers.
[END OF AUDIO]
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer