030308 David Levine Metanomics Transcript


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030308 David Levine Metanomics Transcript

  1. 1. DAVID LEVINE (ZHA EWRY) - IBM MARCH 3, 2008 ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome everybody to another edition of Metanomics. This is Robert Bloomfield, Beyers Sellers, in Second Life, sitting here on the CMP Isle. As always, Metanomics is brought to you by our sponsors, Cisco Systems, Saxo Bank, Generali Group, SAP, Sun Microsystems, and special thanks to Second Life cable network, SLCN, who makes it possible to bring us these shows across the grid, live, streamed onto the web live and archived on SLCN.TV. Finally, Kelly Services and more special thanks to my own employer, Cornell University: the Johnson School. And I do want to take a moment to point out Cornell University for the first time in 20 years is home to the Ivy League men's basketball championship. Congratulations. Go, Big Red. If everyone wants to stick around afterwards, maybe I'll sing our alma mater. But anyway, let me also give a special thank you to the folks at CMP Metaverse who own this amphitheater that is brand new today. I'm hoping SLCN can give a little pan of where we're sitting now. This is four sims seamed together in quite a nice piece of work. And will allow us to host very large audiences, particularly on days when Second Life is more stable than it has been today. Next week Metanomics will be hosting Richard Bartle, co-developer of arguably the first virtual world, The MUD, The multi-user dungeon, which brought Dungeons and Dragons online. And more recently Richard is author of the 2003 book Designing Virtual Worlds.
  2. 2. This week we have another guest with a tremendous historical background in online communities, online collaboration, and 3D visualization. David Levine has been an employee at IBM for 23 years. And if you tack on summer and university internships, add another five years to that. His interests in social computing and online collaboration start in the early '80s in IBM's online bulletin board style conferencing centers and Tools for Sharing applications in the very early days of personal computing. David's currently working in IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center. And his work focuses primarily on virtual world's technology, with the long term implications of broadly deployed social collaboration too. He's very active in Second Life, working closely with Linden Lab's Architecture Working Group, and IBM's OpenSim team. David's work covers the technical side needed to permit interoperation between virtual worlds, and has been looking closely at the policy and business and social implications of this work. And I have to say, I for one, am grateful for his interest in these broader issues because, as ever regular Metanomics viewer knows, I'm not that much of a technical wonk, and I'd rather focus on business and policy and society. David joins me today on Metanomics in his primary avatar Zha Ewry. David, welcome to Metanomics. DAVID LEVINE: Hello everyone. And if you're hearing me in voice, can you hold all friendships and chat until afterward? I'll gladly grab them then? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Excellent advice. Before we get into too much detail, David, I
  3. 3. assume you have a standard disclaimer-- DAVID LEVINE: Yes, I do. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --that you're not speaking for IBM? DAVID LEVINE: Right. The IBM tag is there. I do work for IBM. I think that's absolutely necessary that everybody knows that. I work directly in Second Life and with Second Life stuff. I'm not speaking for the corporation; I'm speaking here as a personal employee involved in the work as a resident as well, and I'm not going to be able to or want to speak policy. So this is purely personal perspective on the technical and social matters. Obviously, what I think and what I say has some impact on what the company does, but that's all indirect. So there's your disclaimer. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I'll warn you now, I, and perhaps some of our audience members, will also want to ask you questions about IBM's plans and vision, and you will simply have to dance gracefully. DAVID LEVINE: And I can do that. I'm sure I have my [chim?] someplace around, and I can do that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, we're obviously going to talk primarily about the present and the future. But can you start by telling us a bit about your early years and what arguably preceded the Metaverse?
  4. 4. DAVID LEVINE: Sure. I have sort of the horrifying reality of having had a stable email address since 1981 in some variation or another. dwl@watson.ibm.com has found me since then. And I got involved very early on. And IBM has a large internal network, of course. There's some funny stories about how big and how fast it grew when at some point somebody said, "Well, I'll just send that as an email to the West Coast." And the CEO said, "Oh, we can do that?" And he said, "Yes, we have something like 800 mainframes in the network now." And he practically dropped his soup. And we had an internal system which was called IBM-PC, which is initially done as way to do file sharing and discussion on--obviously enough, the IBM-PC started in about 1981. And it laid right on top of horrible 1980's mainframe technology. It literally sent virtual punched cards around the world as conversations. But all of the issues that we run into in building things like this are there: identity, trust, whether or not we should believe an answer, how to attribute answers, how to quell flame wars and bad behavior, and eventually how to organize and collect structures of social networking so that there are discussions about in-groups. The first time I got into reading blogs on Second Life and went into Prok's formulation of the "Feted Inner Core," I just sort of sat there and said, "Oh, nothing's changed in 20 years." And there were discussions internally about people who were on the inside and had their own basic insider loop on the discussions and could influence how things changed, and people who couldn't. So all of that's familiar.
  5. 5. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me ask you, David--so you're saying, I mean, you were, as part of your IBM job, studying these social issues? DAVID LEVINE: Not intentionally. I mean, if you build it-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Sort of by necessity, is that right? DAVID LEVINE: Right. Exactly. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I assume that your background is in computer technology or engineering. You don't have advanced degrees in psychology or social work or negotiations? DAVID LEVINE: Not per se, no. I am an old-fashioned programming type, with a BA with far too many majors, including computer science and pieces of masters and PhD's in computer science lying around. But it's impossible I think to actually build and run and be involved with building and running something that does social computing. In this case, these are large threaded discussion environments. The very first piece of code I built for one of these was a giant indexer for helping us find things in the tens of thousands of lines of discussion. And as soon as you started being able to do that, to search things and attribute things back in formed threads, all the social interaction issues came up, and we had to have discussions on how do you cut off threads. How do you moderate threads? What do you do when someone wants to retract a
  6. 6. statement, which has now been indexed in search? Flame wars--all the things that the internet and the social computing world have discovered over the past 20 years come bubbling out. So the moment somebody says, "It's your job to read everything that gets posted to this bulletin board system and steer the conversation away from bad topics and quell the flame wars," you're studying it. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And would you say that you or your colleagues at IBM have made much progress on that front since the Police and The Arrhythmics were the number one hits on AM radio? DAVID LEVINE: Yes and no. I think the maturity of most people's interaction online has gone up dramatically. And certainly inside a professional corporation it's a little bit easier. However, that said, a lot of the same issue obtain. We have a joke that was specific--all of our discussion threads were called forums, and there was a specific forum that got started to discuss a Byte Magazine article in the mid '80s about the history of the computing field. And for a while there was a joke that every, single non-technical discussion became a copy of that thread eventually. Which sooner or later somebody broke out the old hardware that they had worked on, and it just drifted down into this rat hole. And that hasn't changed a bit. There are topics that you will drag into. And there are behaviors of people engaged that are unchanged 20 years later. On the other hand, people have a much richer appreciation for what happens when you
  7. 7. speak in public. They know that they're going to get quoted. They know at some level that you can't disclaim things you said five years ago. And I think that's made life a little easier. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, if someone will just tell my kids that as they post their entire lives on Facebook. DAVID LEVINE: Well, yes. And I think we're seeing generational divides there. That's not for now. I'm having a rich discussion with a couple of people on what happens when the social networking tools and the 3D internet worlds blend? Questions like: What happens when Flickr and Second Life and Twitter all interact? But that's a much messier discussion than even this one. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, maybe we'll get there toward the end of the show. For now let's move into some of the more technical stuff that you're doing today with Second Life. And so as I understand it, some of the big things you're working on now in Second Life are the Architecture Working Group and OpenSim. And I guess drifting throughout both of those we also have interoperability. I don't want to make this too technical, but I think a lot of our listeners and viewers are even less technical than I am. So if you could just give just a real broad brush on what these three efforts are before we dig in a little deeper on the business and policy side, that would be a big help. DAVID LEVINE: Sure. Let me touch onto three things quickly. Linden Labs this past fall formed an internally sponsored working group of residents and involved participants called the Architectural Working Group because they'd noticed that they were coming up to a point
  8. 8. where they wanted to do some major reworking of the core architecture of the environment. And as they were doing it, they realized that there was a really good chance to also open up some of the key interfaces and make them far more web standard. And so they invited a bunch of people who had been involved and interested in the topics largely out of interpersonal attractions. It was largely done from people who had attended office hours or had engaged--and they also had discussion and so on, to come and meet in Linden Labs out in San Francisco and spend a day talking about this. That group has led to an ongoing effort to build out a consensus on how Linden is going to evolve their world to allow real interoperation on the grid. I don't want to dive at all into the technical details; I want to mention two other things and then talk about some of the social implications of that. The two other pieces are--there's a project that is an open-source clone, effectively, of the server side of Second Life called the Open Simulator Group, or OpenSim for short. And that has reverse engineered the core of behavior of what Linden Labs servers do, and allows you to run your own stand-alone island or grid of islands that look just like Second Life to a large degree. It runs on the unmodified client. It has most of the properties you'd expect. It has almost none of the content. It's a private little cul-de-sac in general. People can bring content in, but if you have content in Second Life, it doesn't come in. And that is, in some sense, the heart of the discussion, which is interoperability, which is the third piece of this, which is: At what point does it become possible for someone to host their own island or cluster of islands that in some way connects to other people's clusters of islands and into
  9. 9. the broader grid. That's, at some level, the heart of what I'm interested in because that introduces a ton of interesting changes to both the technical landscape and perhaps more importantly the business and social landscape. So in particular, yes. And if you look in chat, you'll see Saijanai is busy popping earls up so you can go and click on them in the web. And I highly recommend you do it if you're interested in that. In particular, one of the insights--and Linden has been very clear on this from early on--and as a professional judgment, I think they're right--is that this isn't going to stay a closed space forever. And in fact, not only isn't it going to stay a closed space, but it's not in their interest at some level to stay in the close space. And so what they've said is--they had a choice. You can either fight it or embrace it. To the extent their attitude appears to be to embrace the fact that we're going to see an open-up world. And as that has happened, there is now an opportunity to start defining two or three parts of meta-interaction. One of which is the technical side, which is the hard grunt work. But far more importantly, the policies and social behaviors that we want to see. And those are, in my mind, at least as important as the technical work. What happens when you want to go to visit somebody's private island? What is your expectation? What are the property rights of creators in the main grid? How do we respect that? How do we get desirable behavior so that you don't go to someone's private island and have all of your assets stripped or have your behavior imposed on you from outside? All sorts of questions like that come out.
  10. 10. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: What you've been saying raises a lot of questions in my mind. I have the privilege as host that I get to ask them myself. And so I'd like to ask a couple now. I also want to just encourage the many people who are here on CMP and people that are event partners, like Muse Isle and Rockliffe University, if you have questions you can IM me, Beyers Sellers, directly, or you can simply type them into the Metanomics chat. And we will make sure that your questions to David get posed before--as many as possible anyway-- before we end. So I'd like to go back, actually, David, to one of the first things that you talked about, which is the nature of this Architecture Working Group being a collaboration between Linden Lab and a number of residents. And so last week I had Michael Wilson, CEO of There.com, on Metanomics. And he talked about something that they do, which is that they have a constant polling of the top ten changes their residents would like to see within There.com. And so I'm wondering if you can talk about the difference. Are these similar strategies, or is this a very different way of the world developer working with the world residents? DAVID LEVINE: Let me see. I'm not as familiar with the way There.com approaches--so it's a little hard to contrast it directly. But I certainly think that what Linden is doing here is somewhat unique in that they're saying essentially, "We are willing to essentially ask any resident who's got an interest or a concern, and some technical strength, to get directly involved it the process." And not just in the "This is what I want" but to actually sit down--if you sit down at Zero Linden's office hours and ask a direct question about some of the choices he's making: Is this a good technical strategy? What will the impact of this be on the store I'm running? What will the impact of this be on my ability to do X? They are engaged
  11. 11. and willing to answer those questions. That's an unusual degree of direct involvement. Now, it's got its plusses and minuses since literally it means any resident on Second Life can pop into those office hours and ask any question. And as you might imagine, some of them are perhaps less well posed than you might like. But it's level of openness is really quite remarkable. And long term, the really interesting thing is that they're also working directly with people who are in the Open Simulator Group, OpenSim, and saying, "How do we get a collaboration here that actually, directly impacts what we're doing so that we can say in this cycle of work, six months from now, eight months from now, nine months from now, these interoperation points will exist?" And that's, I think, going to be really of the essence of what happens, which is this collaborative work that leads to a shared understanding of the way to grow the system out in a way that allows us to actually link all the pieces together. And that's fairly different. I was going to grab a question out of the Metanomics chat because it's a real important one. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, okay. Wonderful. DAVID LEVINE: So the policy issues and the social issues. I'll start by quoting something that Mark Lentczne, who's a Zero Linden in-world, said right at the beginning of the kick-off for the AWG, which is that it's his personal understanding--and I think I can safely represent it as part of Linden's understanding--that the social implications for this are every bit as critical as the technical ones. In other words, it serves nobody's interest to do a bunch of technical work that breaks the social consensus and breaks the things that make Second
  12. 12. Life successful. And there was actually a particularly lovely phrase that they used, which was an avatar Bill of Rights, which are: What are the expectations of residents living in the world as you build this greater community? So I think there's certainly an awareness there. And I say this very consciously that one of the things that I say about the way I approach this is that I am in this space as a technologist, but I'm also in this space as a resident. I go and listen continually to live music. I've got friends all over the world who are involved in Second Life, many of whom are not technology people at all. And if you wander around Second Life, I’m fairly visible, generally without the IBM architect tag over my head since I'm not working at all in the professional capacity. And it's the first line in my profile that--I don't know sometimes the line between business and work, which is when I'm sitting around in the shop talking with somebody who's upset because they haven't figured out how to effectively address the fact with Linden that their textures have been stolen. Can I distinguish that from sitting down and having a technical discussion on how the protocols work? I can't; they're both parts of the work. And some of those happen sitting around listening to live music in the background. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I'll say I have so many questions coming in. Let me dive in with a couple more if I could. DAVID LEVINE: Sure. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So one is--this has been sent to me, and they've asked to be anonymous. But the question is: "Is there any financial arrangement between Linden Lab
  13. 13. with any members of the Architecture Working Group?" It's a compound question. "How are people's contributions to the project recognized and credited?" DAVID LEVINE: Well, let me start with one thing, which I know is public knowledge, but should be mentioned. IBM and Linden have a joint development agreement for some of these areas which include some of the work we're doing here. So at some level, my involvement in the AWG is certainly entangled with that work. In general, as far as I can tell, and I can't speak for Linden, and wouldn't want to, any work that's done in the AWG is done through the Wiki in general. And if you look at the Wiki, there is a contribution agreement there which has some very specific terms. Basically, it's a Creative Commons agreement. And I encourage anyone who's interested to go read it. If they're interested in contributing intellectual property, I encourage them to think hard about what the legalisms mean or go find a lawyer or their corporate lawyer if they live the corporate setting, and go make sure they pay attention to that. That said, it basically is a share and share alike environment. If you're going to work in there, you're saying, "I'm not bringing encumbering intellectual property to this space. And I'm going to share it freely." There's no expectation of compensation. And I think that would be unrealistic. It's largely like an informal standard's body; we discuss, we talk about how we're going to codify this, write it down and build it. And the expectation is that we're going to end up with a public specification for how the pieces interoperate. And I think in general, so far, it's been a very informal collaboration. No one is looking to get paid to do this work, and I think that's unrealistic. The benefits--the reasons why a company like IBM might be involved, the reasons why companies like Intel and so on are expressing
  14. 14. interest is because we end up with this very rich technical space in which we can build richer products. It's nothing more complicated than that. Just to follow-up on a couple of questions that I saw flop by in chat here: "Is it the techies defining the policy?" It's hard to say. Certainly being at the table as a technologist has an impact on it. "Do we talk to lots of other people who aren't writing code?" Yes. "Am I accessible, for example, to anybody who has an opinion about some of these issues?" My IM is open to you. Give me a holler; I'll go grab a chunk of space on our island; we'll sit and talk about it. So I'm not sure that saying the techies are making the social policy is fair. And accountable-- I don't even know how even answer accountable in the sense that--what the right framework for that is. Our success or failure at this is going to depend on getting that right as technologists and as residents and as people who are trying to figure out sensible ways to think about this space. For those interested in those topics, I especially encourage people to take a look on Tish Shute's blog ugotrade.com. Back in December there was a very nice discussion that I had and that Tish held with Eben Moglen where we talked about a lot of those issues about what expectations of being a citizen in the virtual world might mean, and what right policies are. And the boundaries between hosting land in a virtual world and what your responsibilities as a hoster of land might look like. I think those are important topics. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I'll say there are so many questions coming in. I want to try to get
  15. 15. a bunch of these. Here's one--I don't think we want to make this day just a litany of complaints about particular features we'd like to see or wish lists. But there's one here that's very close to my heart. It comes from Joia Sands which says--this is actually I think mostly a complaint about our Metanomics show--Joia says, "Could you animate the presenter and panel avatars a little more to make for better TV? Watching an avatar is boring." Now, I have to say, having done a show last week in There.com, actually, my lips moved. It was a very exciting moment for me. And I've been talking with some folks here in Second Life dealing with the technology here who are saying that actually the way avatars are structured here, it's actually very difficult to get that done. Bevin Whitfield(?) is saying that is done at MetaNetwork News. But I believe that's after the fact as opposed to live. Do you know anything about that specific feature? DAVID LEVINE: There are a couple of interesting things there. And they fall broadly into this category of trying to make the behavior of your avatar more closely match what you're actually doing. And this is a rich and messy area. If you look at most social settings, most social settings in Second Life feature dancing or various other forms of animation of the avatars frankly, because otherwise, it is quite boring. At the same time, while I could imagine that there would be something that would sync my voice to the spoken inputs and especially allow expressions and stuff--and there are HUDS--you can buy HUDS that let you change your smile, change your look, raise an eyebrow and all those things. The effort for that is simply staggering. And it gets disruptive to the process of actually just talking to people. And I think that it's a ways away from this. I joke about this all the time, which is conversation--I'll say things especially when I'm talking
  16. 16. in voice, but also when I'm texting. I'll be raising my hand in real life. I'll be saying, "Me, me, me." And my hand will be up. And of course my avatar is sitting there floating in a nice lotus position, bobbing up and down a little bit and nobody can see that. So technically there are a lot of ways we could add to that. Thus far, most of them, body language essentially, as someone just commented, require a lot of overt work. And I think that's a real limitation. If you go deep, deep back into the roots of Second Life, there was some work on what are called haptics, which are live connections between people's actual physical motion and their avatar's motions. And they represent some of that. And the problem is do you really want to go put on something that senses your body motion in order to interact with somebody in Second Life? Do you want that your avatar's arm is linked to what you're doing in real life? That's a hard question; but I think it's a great question. I expect that as we go on we will continue to see more and more of this. And that's exactly right--another comment that just went by that voice and text is ten percent of conversation. And it's one of the biggest problems when you hold meetings here is catching people getting bored, catching people distracted, seeing who is looking and paying attention to you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I noticed in There.com their software actually does make that easier. I'm not sure I viewed it as a positive when I was doing that show. But basically, if I used any other program other than There on my computer, these goggles would go up on my head and make it very clear to everyone that I was multi-tasking and placing higher priority on something else, which made it rather difficult to do a show where I'm naturally paying attention to many things at once.
  17. 17. If you don't mind, let's talk a bit more about OpenSim, which is--you used the term reverse- engineering. And correct me if I have this wrong; my understanding is that Linden Lab is open-sourcing--has already open-sourced the client so you can then reverse-engineer a server that will fit with it. And so I've got a bunch of questions on this, and I'll just lay out a few of them. And you can take them as you wish. The first one is it seems like there've got to be some intellectual property challenges here. Reverse-engineering is often viewed as a path toward patent infringement that you are getting a functionality possibility in a different way, but the functionality itself may be patented. And so I'm wondering how that is being addressed. And then the second issue is do you see--right now we've got a single--Linden lab has--well, actually they no longer have a single viewer. They're looking at different viewers. And other people presumably then would be starting to create their own new viewers to emphasize the features that they would like, which means that we would see divergence of the servers as well, which may conflict with the goal of interoperability. So let's start with either of those. DAVID LEVINE: Let's start with the easy one. The reverse-engineering thus far has been at the protocol level, which is pretty much in most spaces completely safe. In particular there's no reason to feel that's too problematic. Furthermore, there's been a very rich and successful amount of collaboration between people in OpenSim and Linden Labs directly. For example, there are things that are indicative of that. If you were to go down to the Mountain View offices, you would actually find a small cluster of OpenSim boxes running. I
  18. 18. know Mark Lentczne sat and did due diligence on what's inside, what the capability is, and what the functions that are supported in OpenSim a couple of months ago. So there's certainly no lack of awareness or hostility by Linden about the project. And in fact, this latest round, one of the explicit things we're doing in the Architectural Working Group is discussing how we're going to do early operability testing and how we're going to be able to make sure that what we build works across both sets of the world. Now, part of that is simple pragmatics: you can't actually say we have a product that interoperates if it interoperates with itself; that's meaningless. And so at a minimum, Linden Labs needs something else to stand as the other endpoint for the discussion. Does it in fact interoperate with something else? And OpenSim is obviously one of the early candidates for that. Several of the key technology people who have been involved in the work, Adam Frisbee in particular, have been to Linden Labs and had rich discussions with them. And certainly there's no hostility there. It's very much an open collaboration. Legally, reverse-engineering is a funny thing. You actually go in and start prying apart people's algorithms, you can run into trademark and copyright issues galore. Fortunately, I'm not a lawyer; unfortunately, I work with lots of them by the nature of the job I do. And so I know a fair bit about this. And you have to be careful. However, I haven't seen any issues that have show up that are problematic there. The second half of the question I think is a little more subtle. And there are a bunch of
  19. 19. issues that have to do with--forking the world is the general phrase for it. A fork being a fairly technical notion of what happens when your code base suddenly goes down two legs of a road. You the intersection. And some people go left; some people go right. And the problem with that of course is you get incompatibility. The best that can be said is that most communities don't do well with when they fork because now you get competition for resources and competition for users. And Linden and certainly the OpenSim community is aware of this. And we are certainly going to watch closely to try to prevent that. If you go look around at the moment, there are about, to my count, six or seven fairly diverse clients now. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Would you mind--I mean the ones you names of. I know OnRez which came out--Electric Sheep. DAVID LEVINE: There's OnRez, which is a special case. Right, that's a special case. Nicholaz Beresford done a very extensive set of patches. There's one that shadows that which is in a different set of patches. There's one which has been done for Linux called the Cool Viewer(?). There are a couple of others which have added either 3D specific features out of--I want to say University--I'm trying to remember if it's Michigan. I want to say it is. In each of those there are somewhat separate patch trees. They're all open-source GPL because that's required. And each of those effectively--some of those features have been attributed back to mainstream viewer, and some haven't. And managing that is going to be an ongoing challenge for Linden Labs. But on the whole, it's been pretty successful. They've gotten some very real benefits. New features have been demonstrated and bugs and fixes
  20. 20. have been found. That's going to get much worse over time. Managing that richness is going to get difficult. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now let me say, it's the second time you've referred to this variety as a bad thing. DAVID LEVINE: Not a bad thing; it's a challenge. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, a challenge because it seems like there would be tremendous benefits. And if we just think of evolution in a very biological perspective, we're thinking about genetics and variation and competition among similar agents for the same niche. DAVID LEVINE: Absolutely. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This is how you get progress. DAVID LEVINE: In fact, that's exactly right. And that's why I think this is so important. The reason why OpenSim and Interop really work matters to me is that--and I think to corporations and eventually to residents--is that it allows evolution to happen. It allows us to in parallel explore five or ten or more variations and ideas. The first example of that for people who have not yet tripped over it is a project called realXtend, which is being done by a couple of Finnish companies, which has added a whole
  21. 21. bunch of support for meshes into the OpenSim project, into a modified client. And that's something that Linden isn't currently interested in looking at, but over time knows they need to look at. There's been a lot of discussion in various groups about different mechanisms of hooking the OpenSim framework into people's corporate frameworks to bring data sources from the outside world into simulated regions. There's been discussion about building substantial variance on physics. Right now the world is essentially flat and has very earth-like physics. There's no reason why we need to do that. And people are going to explore that. I think launching that creativity, getting to a place where we have multiple parallel groups of technically interested people pursuing different parts of the space is absolutely essential. What happens as that point--and this is what happened in the web in the period when Apache suddenly took off--is all the sudden you get hundreds of people throwing ideas into the space, some of which stick. Many of which turn out to be bad and get discarded. The core ones get adopted by the community and become part of the standard. And I think that's the process at some level we want to get to happen. I talk about igniting an ecosystem. And since you said evolution, that's exactly the word I tend to think of, which is if you want to get to a point where there's enough richness and enough variation that we start getting competition. Somebody asked me a while ago, "Why is it that Second Life has the most interesting looking avatars?" And I thought about that for a very little while, and the answer is because there are thousands of residents who have shops who are trying to sell me hair and sell me
  22. 22. clothing and sell me good-looking shoes. And by golly, the ones that win are the ones which are better. And every time somebody gets better at it, the other guys have to raise their bar. They say, "Oh, well, halfway decent prim shoes don't work anymore; now they actually have to have detail; I have to have shoelaces." And suddenly all the shoes have shoelaces. And suddenly all the hair moves well. And that kind of evolution is what gets you great content. We need that same kind of evolution in the technical side. We need people pushing the frontier of avatar animation of how we build landscapes; of how we interact with technical tools so that we can do things like bring our calendars into the world and actually work over them. At the same time--and this cuts away from the technical and back to the social side--if in fact that's some of the heart of the success of Second Life that's enabled people to build this competitive space and compete in it and benefit from it, we have to make very sure we don't break that. That's really sort of the essence of one of the lessons, which is, it's easy to look at it as a purely technical problem. If we look at it as purely technical problem, we miss on things like that. And so balancing those two becomes one of the challenges that we face. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see JimmyJet Fossett is saying it might be that user generated content and all this natural competitive process may not exist as much if we have those closed virtual worlds that are sharing similar technology but we don't have the free communication and [CROSSTALK] DAVID LEVINE: And in fact, the analogy that I look at there is if you look at the internet or
  23. 23. the proto-internet, in some sense, back in the late '80s, early '90s when most of the content and creation was going on in places like Prodigy and CompuServe and AOL, and they were essentially closed boxes. There was this lovely period where you could significantly get traction by going to a private company and saying, "I want to put my storefront up, not on the web, but as part of AOL or as part of Prodigy." And you would go and build this very customized content. And the only people who could see it were the people who were subscribers to that service. Right now that's where we are today. There's lots of cool content sitting around in places like Second Life and some in There.com and some in EVE online. And some even if you go look at it, there's some very cool content in the games. If you look at World of Warcraft, they've got some very visually appealing stuff. None of that interoperates. None of that is available to be shared yet. There was this huge inflection point where all the sudden it became obvious that all the content was going to essentially escape those closed boxes and be shared. And if you were on the wrong side of that, you were acquired or you vanished. Now I see floating in the bottom of my screen the canonical question: "People who are textures ripped off?" That question. And what do you tell them? What we tell them is it's a nightmare. And we tell them that in fact this is a deep social problem not a technical problem. And just to sort of touch on the technical for a moment and then circle back to the social. The technical problem is the moment I give anybody a texture to sell, and I sell it to them,
  24. 24. and they put it on their avatar, and it gets presented out to the world, that texture is physically on everybody's bloody machine. There's absolutely nothing I can do about that in that sense. It's sent over the internet and it lands on everybody's machines, and it's rendered. And there are about four places along that pipeline where you can snag it. That's technically unavoidable. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I just want to clarify. You're saying that--not just that someone can snag it, but they can then reuse it, modify it however they want? DAVID LEVINE: Right. Now that's certainly unethical. And at some level it's illegal. Exactly how unethical it is depends on how you define ethics. How illegal it is depends on how you define copyright. I'm not going to go there. It's far worse to take a screen shot of it. You can actually intercept it at the texture level in the content pipeline as it comes onto your client. And you can pretend to be the client and do that. You can grab it at the open GL level. There are tools that will reach in and grab the texture pieces in open GL and put them onto your hard disk. So there's plenty of ways to get at the content. And that's unavoidable. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Someone is mentioning watermarks as a way that-- DAVID LEVINE: Right. So the classic strategy for this is accept that the content is out in the wild and then figure out how to enforce your desires. And there are two halves to that. One of them is the system needs to indicate your desires. So as the creator--and Second Life does this to an extent today. As the creator you can say, "No copy, no model transfer," and
  25. 25. so on. You can set those marks. And those say, "This is my desire for this piece of content. I’m willing to give you a copy. You can have as many copies as you want, but you can't share it with your friends." Or "I'm willing to give you a copy of this, and you can have one copy of it and give it to anybody you want, and they can have one copy of it." The richer model of that is, "Here's the Creative Commons license I wish to apply to this piece of content," which is certainly possible. Now, watermarks are a way essentially of saying, "Ah-hah, I know my content is at risk, so I want to put a fingerprint on it." and there are a number of ways we can do that, and some people do. It's a very common way of protecting content on the internet. You put a very subtle possibly undetectable, expect by knowing how to look for it, digital fingerprint on the item deep inside the JPEG encoding, such that it doesn't interfere with the actual visualization of it. But if somebody uploads it to another place, you look for it and say, "Oh look, they sent me a copy with that watermark on it." And you say, "That's illegal. You've stolen my property." Now, the reality is that even doing that you then have got to figure out how to enforce it. And from my personal experience of [consecrators?] in the world, that's been the weakest problem. It's not detecting the theft; it's actually getting somebody to do something about it because of the continual problem. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This puts us back into the social and legal space. DAVID LEVINE: This puts us back into the social and legal space, exactly. My personal
  26. 26. take on this and the one that I repeat in painful detail to anybody who gets me on the subject is, as a technologist, we have to make sure we mark things right so people know what the intent is. We need to make it clear that if you steal someone's texture, you're going against their permissions; you're violating the social contract; you're probably violating a legal contract. We then need to, as much as possible, provide social mechanisms for enforcing that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now There--you were there last week for my interview of Michael Wilson. And he was very clear on this in two ways. First he said, "Stealing intellectual property is simply wrong, period. End of story." The second is that There.com, the world developers themselves, are taking a very active role in dealing with this, and they vet content. Now that seems unlikely to work in Second Life. Do you think Linden Lab needs to be taking a more active role in this as opposed to just saying, "Well, we need to set--as you indicated--sort of social norms and power residents to protect IP and all that?" DAVID LEVINE: The way I would put it is this way--and this is again very much a personal opinion. I would say talking to content creators they don't feel that the current mechanisms are working. So I think there's a concern there. Now more broadly, it becomes much harder, indeed, almost impossible to figure out how that would work for in a fully open environment in that--at that point, once you have large interoperating things, you have to start defining: What legal relationships do I have between the people hosting various parts of the grid? And part of that discussion is going to have to be what will you enforce in these spaces. And there's a lovely phrase that shows up in my interview with Eben Moglen, which he
  27. 27. coined, which I quite like, which is: "At some level, having digital angels looking over your shoulder," which says essentially that if you share this content with this part of the grid, you will be at risk. We need to do things like that so that we can mark it so that, "No, I won't in fact allow my--I will tell Linden Labs never share my content with other regions that don't have a legal agreement to enforce content protection." We could imagine doing things like that. If we don't build structures like that, the content creators of the world are going to be in a great deal of pain. There's already a lot of pain. And we can't make it worse. Making it worse, frankly, is not an option if we want to succeed it creating the kind of environment that I think we need to create. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I'll say this has been a fascinating discussion. We've got about ten minutes left or so. I just want to say I hope that viewers of Metanomics are learning a lot from this because this is my hour of education every week where I learn more than I do the rest of the week combined, usually. So this has been great, David. I'd like to change the subject fairly dramatically if I could because you have worked extensively in 3D visualization which is a broader topic than just virtual worlds, and something that IBM, which spans both the technical and the consulting side of IT, and more general business consulting, I mean 3D visualization of data is a fascinating idea. Can you talk a little bit about, I guess first, what it is that you and your colleagues are doing, like what opportunities you see for 3D visualization. And then maybe, if we get there, where
  28. 28. virtual worlds fit in. DAVID LEVINE: Wow. That's a huge topic. That's two or three hours right there. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I'll have you back on at some point. DAVID LEVINE: Okay. Actually, you have me back on, and maybe we should host it on the island where we have our biggest piece of visualization in-world. For anyone who hasn't seen it, and I know most people probably haven't, one of the things we did fairly early-on in exploring visualization in Second Life inside the research division of IBM was take a piece of molecular simulation we did on a super computer called Blue Gene--of a molecule. It's a tiny fraction of the molecule in fact--and rendered it as a molecular model that floats over the middle of the a lake in my island. Anyone who's been to the Architectural Working Group meetings at Thornbridge Town has seen it floating over the lake. It's 56 hundred and some-odd prims of visualization. And you can actually fly around it and look at the way the bond patterns work. And it's color coded to let you know which are iron bonds and which are copper and so on. And you can look at that and get some sense of how this very visual structure works. Since we let the computer people play with it, it's the first molecule in the visual pathway. It's called Rhodopsin, and it actually grabs photons. And that starts the whole visual cascade. So of course, you let the computer people loose and you say, "We want a visualization molecule." And they say, "Ah, a visual molecule." Of course, horrible puns.
  29. 29. At the same time, it turns out to be a incredibly powerful tool for starting to see what you can do with the space. You can actually stand around it. You can actually sit in it. And in fact, the first time we built one, we sat down on it. It was really entertaining. It starts to rez. It's scripted out in a huge scripting thing that actually floats the prims into place. And it takes about 40 minutes. At the time it took around 40. I think we're down to about 20 now to create the entire piece. I think we were ten percent of the way through it, and one of us--and none of us will admit who it was first. I don't think we even know anymore--clicked on one of the prims and sat down. And of course somebody sat down next to us. And we probably sat there watching this thing build in the sky in a social space and suddenly realized that we could hold meetings here. And we have ever since. It's a really interesting cross-over. I think what we're going to see over time, frankly, is all sorts of visually rich things are going to built in these environments because you can collaborate over them. So we've built things like visualizations of actual software structures. So for example, there are these huge, messy things called enterprise system busses, which are the gory details of how very large applications are bolted together. And data flows down them and connects various huge software components. And they're messy. They will have ten or 20 boxes worth of stuff. People cover their whiteboards with them when they're trying to discuss them. You build it as a 3D space and animate it with actual data that shows the traffic that flows over this thing. And all of the sudden the phrase "hot spot" becomes very visual. And all the sudden the notion of "that box that I can now point at and stand around is the one that's
  30. 30. causing our performance problem" becomes very compelling. I will share another one which is notions of--right now we do almost no collaboration in- world. If you look at some of the other spaces like Croquette and Quack, they do a little bit more of this. It ought to be possible when we're building a document and editing it, for three or four of us to stand around, walk around on it and point to the box we don't like, walk our avatar over to it and say, "This box over here is the one that I think doesn't convey the message well." And have everybody see the change I'm proposing and share it simultaneously. There's going to be a huge amount of visualization of data because as this technology becomes commonplace as opposed to obscure and expensive; everyone's going to have it on their desktop. If you look actually at the adoption curve of Second Life, there was a huge hiccup that happened in late 2005, early 2006. And I think it goes down to a very funny thing. That was when laptops out-placed desktop machines that everybody's buying, especially corporate, but also for a lot of people. And the first generation of very common, fairly powerful laptops didn't have a card that could support Second Life, didn't have the graphics to do it. And there was a real pause of people about--at this point you can go out and buy a laptop for $1,500 that will run Second Life as well or better than your sort of mid-range gamer machine. And that's been a huge change. The hot spots demo--I don't have a URL handy, but it's been blogged extensively. Look at Virtual Data Center online. There's been a couple of blogs for it. And if people IM me, I can
  31. 31. get it. It's not, I think at the moment, set up in-world. But we can probably get that done again. It's fairly compelling when you actually look at it. And when will we be able to import stuff? Go write code. No, that's not fair. It's something that's happening slowly. One of the problems is that, frankly, the rendering engine here is limited for some of that. And over time it will get a lot richer. One of the reasons why OpenSim becomes important, why getting to rich interoperation is important is we can build specific versions of sims and clients for high-end stuff in advance of the world being able to support it. So for example, one of the things that we've talked about doing with some of our potential customers are very high-end visualizations that we simply couldn't do today for every client and every resident in Second Life. But if we own both ends of the pipe, we say, "You're not going to log onto this sim with a low-end device." We're only going to support clients which actually have very high-end video graphics card or very high-end ATI card. And all the sudden we can put things into the client which suck up a lot more resources and still get reasonable frame rates. Those things become mainstream over time. If you look at the adoption rate of graphics technology, 18 months is the double-end curve. Roughly every 18 months you'll see the basic frame rate triangles per second rendered doubles. So what's unsupportable in 2005 becomes very supportable in 2006, and becomes a cheap gaming machine in 2008. And the question will become: When does that stuff become mainstream, and it's just a matter of time.
  32. 32. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me follow up a bit on the visualization issues that you were describing. So here's a question I've heard a number of people talk about in different guises. It's: What's the use of an avatar? And I think I heard a lot about this--initially people were saying, "Oh, virtual worlds are going to be the future of e-commerce." And then the question is, "Well, who needs an avatar to buy a book from Amazon?" Virtual worlds are going to be the future of online collaboration. Well, again, why do you need an avatar to share data? So now you're talking about a 3D--I can see the use of the virtual world and having a point of view, but what's the need for an avatar here? DAVID LEVINE: This is a fairly deep social question about people, I think. So let's back up a little bit and ask a couple questions. Are there things which don't benefit from avatars? I think the answer to that is, absolutely. So for example, the classic example is Amazon.com. Do I need to log into a 3D virtual world to go find a copy of a Noel Coward play that I want to read or buy and order from Amazon? No, I don't. In fact I'm far better off going to their web page, typing in a text search, and getting the response. On the other hand, when I want to find out if the latest Charlie Strauss book is any good and has some interesting insights in virtual worlds, I'd like to talk to a bunch of people. And at that moment, the question becomes: Well, how do I talk to them? And if you look at the traditional web today, the best you can do is to go look at the reviews of the books. You go to Amazon or any of the other popular commerce sites, and of course there's this huge list of people's reviews and comments and feedback and so on. But you can't actually interact with them because they posted them two days ago, and you don't
  33. 33. actually get to know what they're doing or what their thoughts were. You get their distilled moment of truth: "I like this book because I thought the main character was very compelling." But you can't talk to them. The moment you get to a social space where there are ten or 12 people, well now the question is: How do you interact with them? And there's a bunch of different ways of doing presence. The classical form online traditionally has been what's called green-dot presence, in my mind, which is, if you go look, if you go onto AOL Instant Messenger or Pigeon(?) or any of the tools, you get a list of your friends, all their names, and there are little green dots next to some of them, and there are gray dots next to other of them. And you know, "Oh, so and so is online." Well, barely. You know that Zha Ewry at Gmail.com is online if you're on my friend's list. And that sometime in the past three hours I logged in, and maybe in the past half-hour I ran my mouse over the window so that the dot stayed green. You don't know if I'm in the office or not. You don't know if I'm interacting or not. And you certainly don't know if I'm completely distracted in the conversation at Metanomics and therefore paying no attention to that window at all, which is in fact the case. I have noticed several blinks on that window, and I haven't answered any of them. You go to a 3D space and you find me in-world. All the sudden you see what I'm doing. So if you actually come and find my avatar in-world, I'm floating here in this space. There are dozen people watching me or more, and you know exactly what's going on. And it becomes a focus issue; it becomes a way of telling you, at a very deep level, what I'm doing. And if I'm text chatting, you can also see what I'm saying. If you're busy listening to the stream, you know what my thoughts exactly are. All of that ties to the avatar. And then it serves some social needs which is to hook memory, hook visualization, hook people's needs of
  34. 34. interacting with people rather than blank screens. One thing we've noticed is that in general, not always, but in general, meetings held in these kind of spaces are significantly more productive than either phone calls or pure text chats. We have that technology. We've had that technology for years inside IBM and across the globe to hold IRCs and so on. [SKIP] Oh, is it really that distracting? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Actually, speaking of avatars, this is probably--I see CeAire Decosta pointed out that your avatar is rather distracting. I don't know if you have any interest in talking about your avatar choice or how that might fit into this discussion. DAVID LEVINE: There are some very deep interesting issues about how people do that. But not a topic I'm particularly interested to dive into. People who want to talk to me about it, you know where to find me. I'm not exactly hidden in-world; go ask me. I will observe that there are lots and lots of choices about avatars. It's as reasonable to expect, when you wander into Second Life, that you'll find somebody who looks like a dragon or a small elephant as it is to find them looking like a human being. And certainly the world would be far more boring if there was a requirement that we go and went to some booth some place and have our physical presence be scanned and look like we do in real life. That would be kind of dreadful. As soon as it stops being one-to-one, the question becomes merely: All right, so what presentation do you choose? And once you get to choose, people come out looking very different than they do in real life. And it's, I think, part of the charm of the space. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see we are really running out of time. Do you have any--I'd like to just give you a little time right at the end of this if there's anything you'd like to talk about,
  35. 35. predictions of the future, calls for action. I give it to you. DAVID LEVINE: I think we hit most of the issues I still have on my short notes and what I was going to talk about today. For anyone who's watching, I'm wide open to IMs. I get capped of course. If you don't get a response from me, tap me again. And I'm absolutely excited to talk to people about almost all of the content here that we've been talking about. If you're interested in the technical side of it, grab me or Saijanai who's here now, and ask an invite to AWG. If you have insights that you want to share or questions you want to ask, get a hold of me; I'm very interested in the entire space. So the major thing would be to--my message to people would be to get involved. If you have thoughts or things that the Architectural Working Group is going to do something incredibly stupid, sing out. Tell us. Get a hold of people involved. And we'd be delighted to hear from you. I think that's absolutely essential. This is not a closed process, and we don't want it to be a closed process. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So let me ask a question on that particular part, which is, there are a lot of people who I think aren't technically minded or trained, but are very interested in having a voice on the more--the policy and social implications of what you guys are doing. We had a number of question early-on about "What are the techies doing creating our social world for us?" So if someone is interested in that aspect and doesn't really know much about the technical side, what would you suggest that they do? DAVID LEVINE: There are a couple of outlets. The obvious one is to get involved with
  36. 36. some of the people who are involved and express the social concerns. You're not going to get the same feedback from all of them. I'm probably about as open to that discussion as anybody is. But very few people are going to say they're totally uninterested in the social side of the issue. Most of the people who are involved in the work have some degree of interest in why the space works. I know our people--and don't claim to understand them personally--why they feel this way--who don't think there is a coupling between some of the social stuff. But I think it's not merely interesting; I think it's essential. I don't think you can succeed in this space without understanding it. So come and find us; talk to us. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: People who don't see the connections probably need to track down Lawrence Lessig’s Code 2.0. I believe the most recent addition and re-release of his book Code, where he discusses the code as law perspective, code architecture as being a form of law, and therefore policy. Well, thank you so much, David Levine, IBM researcher, for coming onto our show. And you've been doing fascinating things for the last whatever--25 years or so. And so I look forward to seeing what you'll do in the next 25. DAVID LEVINE: Well, I think there's going to be a lot more that's going to happen. And again, I encourage everybody who's interested in the discussion to get involved. Anyone who wanted to toss me a friend or an IM, now is probably a good time. And thanks everyone who didn't because it was really appreciated that I wasn't clicking away furiously. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You have lots to keep track of in these things. Okay, thank you everyone. And see you next Monday.
  37. 37. [END OF AUDIO] Document: cor1009.doc Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer