METANOMICS: IAN HUGHES - MARCH 9, 2009
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, Robert Bloomfield, and, on behalf
of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and Remedy
Communications, welcome to Metanomics. Today we have Ian Hughes as our guest. Ian
announced a couple of weeks ago that he was leaving his position as a Metaverse
evangelist for IBM, where he’s been for nearly two decades, and he is starting a consulting
company, Feeding Edge, focusing on Virtual Worlds and, among other things, 3D printing.
As always, Metanomics is filmed from the virtual Sage Hall right here in Second Life’s
Metanomics Region, home of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of
Management. Hello to our live audiences at our event partner locations: Confederation of
Democratic Sims, Rockliffe University, New Media Consortium, Orange Island and Muse
Isle. Hello as well to our growing web audience. If you have trouble getting into Second Life,
due to a firewall or lack of bandwidth, you can go to metanomics.net/watchnow and not only
see the show live, but participate in backchat through InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge
Today, for our On The Spot segment, we had hoped to welcome Mary Ellen Gordon,
managing director of Market Truths Limited, a full-service market research company that
claims to be the first company to conduct commercial market research in Second Life.
Unfortunately, due to some technical difficulties, we couldn’t get Mary Ellen’s voice working
with sufficient quality. But there was some really fascinating stuff that is in Market Truths
recent research reports, and so I do want to just spend a couple minutes talking about them
myself. So we, unfortunately, won’t get Mary Ellen’s input, but at least you’ll get a sense of
what it is that she is doing.
So first, a little bit of background. In February 2007, Market Truths won a contest for the
best business plan in Second Life, sponsored by the Electric Sheep Company. So I, of
course, hoped to ask Mary Ellen how that has worked out and how closely they’ve been
able to stick to plan over the last couple years, but, certainly what I’ve seen is some pretty
interesting research that they’ve been doing, particularly panel-based studies. But I’m sure
they’re doing a fair bit of proprietary research that I have not seen.
One of their most recent reports has been on brands in Second Life, and, overall, what we
find is that Second Life residents view brand presences in Second Life as a positive, with
stronger positives and lower negatives in the most recent late 2008 study compared to the
one that they did in the first quarter of ’07. The negatives were driven by concerns about the
effect of real life brands on small-content creators and beliefs that real life brands get
preferential treatment from Linden Lab, which I think are concerns worth paying attention to.
But, those are offset by some positives, namely good attention and publicity brought to
Second Life, bringing in resources and giving Second Life some credibility.
In a more recent study that I found quite interesting, there was an analysis of the impact of
voice chat on residents in Second Life, and I would describe the results just in a single line
as being overall quite favorable. That a majority of people are using Second Life frequently
or better. There are people who don’t use voice at all, really, or very infrequently, but, for the
most part, I think that you can see, just thinking in marketing terms, it’s had very successful
penetration, both, by the way, on the listening and the talking side with, of course, more use
listening. Right now, I guess, by the way, those of you watching this show, you actually are
listening through Second Life voice because that’s how I am reaching you.
Finally, I’d like to mention that Market Truths was part of a very interesting conference
organized by Telecom New Zealand, and it focused on open innovation and the role of
telecommunications companies. What I thought was really fascinating is that there was an
elaborate 3D model that is right now resting outside on the northwest corner of Metanomics
Island. It’s about 70 meters tall, and it’s really a fascinating thing, beautiful to look at. I would
recommend, after the show, you bop on over to Metanomics Island, go to the northwest
corner, and you can’t miss it. It’s taller than you are.
Anyway, I’m sorry again that we couldn’t bring you the actual guest, Mary Ellen Gordon,
from Market Truths, but I’m glad to take a minute and just indicate the research that they
have. I guess I’ll also give the pitch that not only does Market Truths sponsor proprietary
research to help you with any specific market research studies you might want done, but
they also have these more broad-based generic and open research projects. Well, open in
the sense that anyone can see the results. But I believe you do have to pay to get a copy of
the studies, and you can go to markettruths.com, to get one of those. So anyway, thank you,
Mary Ellen, for providing us with insight into what you’re doing, and I hope we’ll be able to
talk with you on the show sometime soon.
We turn now to our main guest, Ian Hughes. Ian Hughes has been an IBM employee for
18 years and served most recently as IBM’s Metaverse evangelist. He’s now resigned from
IBM to start his own consulting firm, Feeding Edge, and is hoping to find time to write a
book. So, Ian, welcome to Metanomics.
IAN HUGHES: Very much. Glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So my first question, Ian, is: What exactly did you do as IBM’s
IAN HUGHES: Well, about two, two and a half, probably nearly three years ago, I was
sitting there one day and bumped into Second Life, having ignored it a few years before,
and realized that, really, as a company, we all needed to be aware of what was going on in
this environment. We’d now had something that was public and freely available that allowed
people to engage in a 3D environment and build things and buy and sell things and interact
with one another. So I kind of took it upon myself to convert as many people as possible in
the company and see if we could get things moving and get people interested as an
enterprise in these immersive environments.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So almost like an intra-company analyst, as opposed to going out
to clients and prospective clients.
IAN HUGHES: Well, it was a mixture of both because initially it was clearly my colleagues I
wanted to know about it, but being a services person and being customer-facing, I wanted to
know how this would work for our customers and how we could interact with everyone. So I
didn’t necessarily draw any of those distinctions or lines.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: How did you get yourself into a position to be a Metaverse
IAN HUGHES: Just sheer force of will, I guess. Having seen this and felt this and seeing
the potential for where this could all go, either for the company or for everyone, I decided to
kind of set upon my closest colleagues every lunch time and say, “Look. You really have to
come and see what’s going on here,” to validate what I felt where this could all go. And that,
basically, just snowballed into a huge great movement of people. So it started off as one of
us, and then my colleague [Rue?], got involved, and then the rest of the guys in Hursley
started to get interested.
And then, because we were very public and we were being very web too about it, we were
sharing everything we did, internally and externally, on blogs and in all the multitude of
social media. And other like-minded people started to gather around us, so it did become a
very tribal thing. And we found that we had people wanting to come and share and talk and
find out what was going on, both within the company and outside. And so that very quickly
became, from an evening job or hobby, it very quickly became the mainstream of what I did
and the mainstream of business for what I was doing for the company.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I have this vision of IBM as just being very buttoned-down
pinstripe sort of atmosphere, and I’m sure I’m a little bit behind the times on that now, with
casual Fridays sweeping the world and so on, but I’m wondering: Did you find it a challenge
to win over people at IBM when your own personal brand and identity in Second Life
certainly is very closely associated with, well, I guess that’s a character from the sci-fi movie
IAN HUGHES: It’s not incorrect to say that the--I mean all corporates have that
buttoned-down rigorous structure approach, but there are enough people that are sparky
and innovative and interested in things, that they just get on and do things anyway, in spite
of that structure. So the balance might not be as wonderful as we would like it to be, but
there are enough people, the fact that suddenly there were 6,000 of us doing this and
interested in this. They were in every profession, in every country, every job level, from entry
level all the way up to the top, so there’s a core of people probably the same in any
company, but definitely in IBM, that are the sparky ones that want to do this stuff.
The fact that I happened to have a slightly unusual avatar is all part of the experiment of
trying to say to people, “We’re not all wearing the same thing. We’re not all clones. We are
blending in these various environments.” And I particularly used this avatar to challenge
that; was this all right to represent a big blue buttoned-down corporate environment. And
just the mere fact that you turn up like this starts that discussion, and that’s just the same as
being called a “predator” starts that discussion.
And I think that’s the important thing in these environments that we are--we might be
representing huge corporations or little startup companies, we are people, and this is about
people connecting, and that’s so important. And it often gets forgotten in the whole kind of
tech bubble of everything, about which version of software we’re running, or what’s the
latest gadget or gizmo. This is actually about people.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that’s a good point. You mentioned to me that one of your
goals, now that you’re no longer with IBM, was to take some time to write a book and that
one topic you’ve been thinking a lot about is what it means to be an intrapreneur, taking that
entrepreneurial energy, but working it inside the company. And so I’m wondering: What are
the key lessons that you would emphasize to people who want to be intrapreneurs?
IAN HUGHES: I think the key is to not wander around expecting to be given any budget or
any responsibility to do anything. So the permission culture that you tend to have in a
corporate environment is, people will say, “Am I allowed to do this?” And there’s clearly
guidelines, don’t do anything illegal obviously, but some of the rules that exist are just
manmade for the sake of it, so it keeps some people going in a corporate structure. And
there are ways to gather support from your fellow colleagues, particularly from around the
world now. You don’t have to wait for somebody in your office to agree with you. You can
put something out there and gather people. And just that sheer weight of numbers spread
across the web can make things happen.
And whether it’s talking about Virtual Worlds or talking about a particular project or particular
interest, once you start to choose to share what you want to do, not keep it and keep it as a
controlled thing, and, “I’m going to sit on this until I can gather all the money and all the
support that I need to make it happen,” once you put it out there, then you are acting as an
intrapreneur. You just happen to have some people that rally around the same flag as you,
within the same corporate boundary. And obviously, when you’re outside, as I’m
discovering, you find people that are rallying around the same flag, but not part of the same
company. And so the principle’s the same. You just have to kind of get on with it and make
the serendipity happen, make the event happen, that bring the right people together in the
right place at the right time.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see in the backchat Pup Witherspoon has touched on
something that crossed my mind as you were talking, there’s this expression that it’s easier
to go ahead and do something and ask forgiveness than to ask permission before you do it.
Is that sort of your strategy? Obviously, you’re going to make sure you don’t make too many
people too unhappy, but you’re going to go ahead and do it as opposed to getting the
IAN HUGHES: Well, yes. Some of the approvals can’t exist because you can’t ask for
something that nobody knows you’re going to need. I mean if you take the prime example
way back when I just decided that we needed some Sims in Second Life, to grow as an
organization or as a group or as a tribe. There was nothing in the expense system that said
how to engage with Linden and buy these things. There was going to be no way to put that
through initially. I just had to do it. I just went and bought some stuff and then donated it to
my colleagues. So there was not a permission system in place to do that. There was not a
permission system in place to say, “I’m going to wander around, and I’m called a predator,
and I’m going to represent the company.”
There was nobody to ask. And, if you did ask them, they wouldn’t know what you’re asking
the question for and just assume you’re insane. So there’s quite of lot of forging new ground
and just getting on with it. And knowing that it’s the right thing. And knowing that there’s
enough of you that are bothered about it makes it the right thing. That’s the protection, if you
like. If absolutely nobody agrees with you, not one person, and you can’t find one person in
the world that agrees with you, then you might be onto slightly dodgy ground. But the
moment one person says, “I’m with you,” you’re off.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I wanted to ask you a couple things about that. I think the
romantic vision of an entrepreneur is someone who has an idea, and they work, and they
work, and they work until they get people to buy into it. But yours sounds much more
collaborative. It sounds like your vision of intrapreneurship makes it very difficult to have a
specific end plan that you’re working toward and then you just keep working until you get
success for that thing you’ve already sorted out. It sounds like you have a pretty different
model from that.
IAN HUGHES: I think so. Knowing that there’s a direction to go, as opposed to having a
distinct end plan, means that you can adjust a lot on the way. It wasn’t, “Right. We need to
be in Second Life,” necessarily and have everyone in the company in Second Life. It was, I
needed people to experience what Second Life gave them, as a person, so that they could
understand how different ways of working might work in another environment or across
another set of platforms or behind the firewall or any of those things. So it was such a
sweeping strategy to say, “Well, we need to understand what this stuff is about.”
And I knew I had lots of feeling and ideas about little ways this might go, but I knew I didn’t
know all the answers. And I knew that the more of my colleagues that experienced this, the
more that they would find those answers for themselves in their particular field so that it had
to be collaborative in that way. Just having that moment of, “This is the right time.
Everything’s kind of aligning. We’ve got the right sort of network connectivity. We’ve got the
right sort of social structures that people are willing to share,” this is uncharted territory. You
didn’t know where you’re going to go. And so you just had to start, kind of launch the ship
and occasionally steer it in the right direction, but try and get as many people to pile
onboard as possible.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One of the ways that you built this collaboration was that you
created a group called eightbar, that was a collaborating group of IBMers. But you’ve
emphasized a number of times in your various writings and talking with people that it’s about
the IBMers, not IBM itself. Why is that distinction so important?
IAN HUGHES: I think initially that distinction was that we started as a blog, as a Hursley
blog. Hursley’s a campus in the UK, and, way before we got into the Virtual World space, we
decided, the lot of us, that we’re already bloggers inside and outside of IBM. We decided to
gather together and see if we could write a blog that would interest tech geeks like
ourselves, that wasn’t always _____ U.S. So all the bloggers we saw and the _____ as well
and stuff were all kind of off in California, and it’s all lovely, but we’re in a leafy suburb or
leafy environment and a campus environment, and we had just as many cool things to talk
about. And so we started to blog, to see how that would affect us as people working as a
team, with responsibility to one another, but clearly we have to do these things to say these
are not the views of the company. So we had to have a flag to rally around. We weren’t just
individuals blogging; we were a team, so we needed something. So eightbar refers to the
IBM eightbar logo. So we weren’t trying to hide the fact we were IBMers, but we weren’t
being IBM so there was no press release.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This is embarrassing, but I just have to say thank you. I did not
occur to me that that’s where eightbar came from. It’s just the horizontal lines on the IBM--
IAN HUGHES: Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thank you.
IAN HUGHES: That, again, is one of the things. I’m glad you get to discover that because
that discovery is part of it. That was the accidental side of it that we knew what it meant. And
we used to call it “raising the eightbar” because we were attempting to talk about innovation.
So “raising the eightbar” was a nice little play on that. So that became the blog, and, being a
group blog and having some responsibility to one another and feeling that was important.
So it was a natural thing when coming into Second Life, when there was more than one of
us to say, “Hang on. We need a group. We’ve got these group things. We should use it.” It
wasn’t a giant leap to say, “What should we call it?” So calling it eightbar and saying these
are IBMers in Second Life was a way to also protect the company that we worked for, as
well as kind of let us just get on and do what we want to do. So we couldn’t just go in and
say, “We’re IBM,” because we weren’t. We were interested parties.
But then you get this blurring of the lines, and you are clearly, everyone knows--we were
saying we’re IBMers, and everyone assumes that you’ve been sent there by some greater
force and the IBMers arrived. And you can’t do anything about that. You can’t say, “Well, no
they haven’t,” because really they have, because suddenly there were 6,000 of us, so
clearly something had happened. It was a grassroots immersion into the environment, not
somebody in an ivory tower somewhere saying, “You really should look into this.” So
eightbar became that flag and I think something that we’ve all been proud of.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now that we’ve established the arrival of the IBMers and also
of IBM in a number of official capacities into Second Life and partnering with Linden Lab, I
think now some people are worrying about the departure of the IBMers and of IBM. I think
some people, including Eric Krangel, formerly of Reuters, now with Silicon Alley Insider,
have taken your resignation as a sign that IBM is losing interest in Virtual Worlds. Is that the
IAN HUGHES: No, that’s certainly not the case. It was not my intention for anyone to
particularly think that. I can see why they might because I’ve been so kind of vocal about it
and pulling things in. But I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t think that IBM--it’s kind of like trying-
-kind of standing aside if IBM wasn’t ready to just take this and do what they need to do.
You can see from the things that have been released recently, the things like same time 3D
and the way that IBM is using it to integrate with things the way IBM’s partnering with Linden
with behind-the-firewall stuff. It’s got a life of its own, and the work with OpenSim as well.
So IBM can now go into its comfort zone, which is infrastructure, and that is what IBM is
good at. So powering some of these things and putting some of these things into the
workflow of regular business and not be the application layer on top, that’s what IBM is good
at. And there are so many people still working on it. I don’t want this industry to disappear
just because I left IBM. That would be silly, wouldn’t it?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Neither do I. Neither do I. Valiant Westland, in the backchat,
pointed out something that I had not seen. IBM has had a collaboration in Second Life
project--and I’m just reading a little bit from their blog here--network with IBM and IBM
business partners from the comfort of your desk connect in Second Life a 3D Virtual World
where you can--blahblahblah. Here’s how you get started, and so on. And now this web
page says, “This benefit will be withdrawn on March 9th, 2009. Effectively immediately, IBM
will not accept any new requests.” Do you know anything about this particular change?
IAN HUGHES: Not that particular one, but there are things, if people are running particular
events or doing particular things, they don’t necessarily mean they’re going to run them
forever. If you look what we do with Wimbledon, we run it for two weeks, and you pile into
Wimbledon, you have the experience, and then it’s gone in transition. So I don’t know the
specifics of that one. You’ll have to talk to some of the IBMers on that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So when you talk about infrastructure, that IBM is moving to the
infrastructure, which is their strength, are you talking about literally the technology?
IAN HUGHES: Yes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Because I also think of IBM as having moved pretty strongly into
consulting and services, as opposed to hardware or software.
IAN HUGHES: IBM is consulting and services, but it is known and is--its comfort zone is
always going to be those pieces of platform that help other people do things. I mean, having
come from Hursley, Hursley’s the home of messaging and the home of transaction
processing. And it has been for 50 years, so that’s what it’s good at. And, if you take the
integration with same time, to put the Virtual World piece into a regular chat client so that
you can have a regular text chat. And, when you need to move into 3D, you do, and all your
stuff comes with you so you’ve got the right stuff around you and the right people and
basically the 3D chat room appears. You then make your decisions on what you need to do,
having used the appropriate technology, and then drop back down into regular chat.
There’s still services that that can be applied to, that how do you put that service into your
business workflow and attach it to your business systems. That’s very different from running
a public presence for something. And so, consequently, that’s more where you would see
IBM doing things, I would suggest. Not that I’m saying their agenda for them because I don’t
work there anymore.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That’s right. And, thank you. Really, that is something I was just
about to clarify for our audience, just so everyone knows, and that’ll become very clear right
now because I’d like to ask you about your new adventure, Feeding Edge. And I guess I’d
like to start with the name. I’ve heard of leading edge and cutting edge. And, since actually
trying to pull off Metanomics on a weekly basis, bleeding edge. I always figured bleeding
edge means you’re so far out in front, you’re getting sliced by the cutting edge. And so I
shudder to think what the Feeding Edge would be. But looking at your getup today, it can’t
be healthy. What are you trying to convey with the name?
IAN HUGHES: I used Feeding Edge a little while ago. It was a service that I was using to
get data from place to place, particularly injecting stuff into Second Life. So it was initially I’d
play on bleeding edge and leading edge, but it was because I was taking data from one
place to another and feeding it across. But equally, the persona that you see here is
potentially a moderately aggressive one, and I have teeth. It’s [bunboichi?] in Japanese
terms; it’s pen and sword in accord. So there’s strength, and, hopefully, the odd bit of brains
But I was sitting there and thought what I end up doing is, as my kind of strap line says is, I
take a bite out of technology so you don’t have to. So I’m willing to go and test these things,
to experience these things and then share them with people so that they can kind of get on
and have the full-course meal, if you like. So it’s that element of nibbling or biting or
engaging with elements of technology in a strong enough way that you can then help other
people with it. That’s [however it?] was done.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can I get you to be a little more specific? What types of services
are you expecting to be providing and like a target client?
IAN HUGHES: Well, my target client is everyone. If you imagine what I’ve been doing up to
now with IBM is anyone and everyone in every profession within the company and outside
the company. That the multitude of ways that people approach me and want to know what
on earth is this all about, and where it is all going, and what’s next and what do you think
about this. That can be from a blue chip company that just needs a quick little briefing to
another company that’s trying to develop an entire infrastructure and ecosystem and
platform that lets them use these sorts of environments to do the next wave of thing that
they need to do in their business. Or education establishments or speaking engagements or
anything. It sounds very sweeping, but that’s kind of where it is.
And the ability to quickly engage with a piece of tech or with a piece of company, the fact
that I can just sort out [NDA’s?] myself a lot quicker, all that speed to market to just help
people straight away is what I’m aiming for. And, up until now, I’ve been kind of
encumbered, quite rightly, but by some of the things that I can’t ask for forgiveness of
because there were certain big rules, you know, things like GPL _____ stuff were a
complete no-no. I could never touch the Second Life client, in a code sense, so mixing that
development with that sharing of ideas is kind of me. So this is a vehicle for me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One project that you sounded very excited about when we talked
last week was the Coaches Center pilot program.
IAN HUGHES: Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m wondering you can just tell people a little bit about what that is
and why you are so excited about it.
IAN HUGHES: The Coaches Center is a project, and Pt118’s in the audience. So if
anybody wants to badger him for more information, he’s sitting right over there, I think.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi, Pt.
IAN HUGHES: The Coaches Center is an application of everything that you see in both
Virtual Worlds and in social media, but applied to improving the quality of sports coach
education. So it’s a professional social network, an education network that uses the
appropriate pieces of technology in the appropriate ways, to deliver the benefit to those
people. So it’s not just I’m trying to jam it into one particular environment or use one
particular part; it is the next level, if you like, of taking all these things that we’ve learned and
applying them to a wider, more broader, application. And that’s the sort of thing that we’re
going to see a lot more of, a lot more of these things. At least take all the things that we’ve
learned and do something with them, and particularly because it’s in the area of sports and
because of the things I’ve been doing with Wimbledon and stuff, I have a certain affinity to
that way of doing things.
And clearly, sports coaching, if you look at any of the stuff that you see in any of the games
or any of the replay you see on television, it benefits from these sorts of environments. So
doing the whiteboarding of where do you need to be, and here’s positionally how you deal
with this tactic. It’s much more visually rich because many sport is partaking in the 3D
environment anyway, so it feels like the right sort of direction that the industry or a part of
the industry can go.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. There are a bunch of questions in the backchat, and
so I’d like to turn to some of these now. One just came in from Roland Legrand, who is
Olando7 Decosta in Second Life, and he asks how Virtual World collaboration relates to
changes in business and how you see corporations functioning in the future. Do you have
thoughts about the sweeping effects of Virtual Worlds on how corporations function?
IAN HUGHES: Well, I do, and I think it might not just be limited to the 3D Virtual World
piece. The whole change, as I mentioned before, the change of people being able to
self-organize and effectively create their own project base of people, because we have so
many decent ways to connect with one another, we have so many ways to share
information. Virtual Worlds work when you want to meet in certain things and demonstrate
certain ways. Wikis work and some other ways. All those things are replacing and will
replace the kind of factory mentality that we have of you all go to an office and sit and follow
the chain of command until you get to the top or leave.
And so that structure, the corporate structure is there obviously to help and facilitate that,
and they kind of raise the scale on that sort of stuff. But, at the same time, it’s being broken
down by the willingness of people to just kind of get on and do things. And the balance of
how that’s going to pan out, I don’t know which. I mean, clearly, bureaucracy will always
win. But, at some point, there’s this rush of people just maybe changing some of those
People call it enterprise too and all sorts of fancy things like that, but it is a change in
mindset. And you only have to start sharing once and get a benefit from it, to realize that it’s
a good way to work, and it doesn’t mean you should tell everyone everything all the time,
but sharing the right thing with the right people, getting the right people in the right place
virtually at the right time to solve problems and solve business problems and come up with
ideas is incredibly rewarding and a lot more rewarding than just sitting there responding to
pointless emails all the time.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I feel like I spend quite a bit of my day doing that.
IAN HUGHES: As indeed the world does for some reason.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a question. Actually this goes back to one of the earlier
topics we were discussing on your intrapreneurial strategy. Gac Dagger asks: It seems like
a lot of this strategy is based on hope and people who are already familiar with the platform.
Is that realistic? I mean can you support a brand initially out of one’s own pocket?
IAN HUGHES: Well, you sometimes have to. There is hope involved, but I think it’s hope
not in a, “I’m just going to sit there and wait for something to happen,” it’s hope as in trying
to generate as many connections with people and as many serendipitous events as possible
so that you are always in the right place at the right time, all the time. When you see
someone take an interest, it doesn’t matter who they are, what level they are, what they’re
doing, what job they’re in, if somebody’s slightest bit interested in it, then engage in a
conversation with them and see where it goes. And you know that enough of those happen.
It’s the same as any business thing. You do kind of any sort of marketing, you don’t
necessarily think that everyone you’re going to talk to is going to buy your product, but you
get the right high-value client or the right set of people or the right group of people, and
you’ve got that shared mentality, then stuff will happen. And so the hope is not blind hope;
it’s directed hope, and particularly in these environments to say, “I want to tell people about
how this stuff works. I can show them how it works by getting them in here with me.” Or, “I
can show them how it works by putting it on the screen.” Or, “I can show them how it works
by doing a PowerPoint presentation, if I really have to.” But there’s something to show and
talk about and engage and say, “If you want to know more, come with me.” That’s what I’ve
been doing all along is saying, “Just come with me, and, if you don’t like it, fine. We’ll find
out why you don’t like it, and we’ll see if we can fix that.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You have shown a fair bit of personal hope and faith in your move
out of IBM during this economy. I see the backchat is sort of fired up. Bluewave Ogee is
saying, “I’m astonished and delighted that we’re now talking about hope.” I guess my
question for you is: Well, gee, what are you thinking leaving a big stable corporation after 18
years and planting your own flag or hanging your own shingle, however you want to think
about it, in a time with such a difficult business environment? Why now?
IAN HUGHES: Whenever would be the good time? I mean if things are all rich and lovely
and everything in the entire world, then you kind of slip into comfort mode, don’t you, and
go, “Oh, well, I’ll just sit,” and people just kind of sit and ride through that piece. The fact that
there are economic difficulties and the fact that the world is challenged in so many ways--it’s
challenged by corporate greed and by banking greed and all these horrible nasties--it’s also
challenged by the whole green agenda, and are we going to save the planet, and are we
going to stop these things happening. It needs a lot of us to just say, “Well, let’s just see if
we can operate a little bit quicker or a lot quicker and just get on and do things.”
Clearly, in some respects, people might think I’m completely insane doing this stuff, but,
equally, now is when we need the sorts of tools and techniques and people that inhabit
these virtual environments, and we’re the ones that are going to get the stuff done, I think.
That’s my hope, and we’ll see where that pans out, I guess, when I’m living in a cardboard
box somewhere possibly.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Now one of the particular technologies that you have
talked a bit about and that make you hopeful are really 3D printing.
IAN HUGHES: That’s right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about, I guess, two
things. One is: Where do you see Feeding Edge getting involved in 3D printing? And, where
do you see Virtual Worlds fitting in?
IAN HUGHES: Okay. For people that aren’t aware of it--I’ve talked about it enough--but, if
people aren’t aware of it, things have moved on somewhat to make it perfectly possible to
create physical items from digital information. Usually these rapid prototyping machines or
3D printers are very good at taking a 3D measure of something and laying down layers of
plastic or some such substance so that the thing actually becomes real.
A while back, way before I went in Second Life, I was attracted by these 3D printers
because I thought, “Well, that’s handy. I’ve been doing some 3D stuff.” I’m not really a
designer, but it’d be nice to make those things. And I thought it’d be really nice when
customers came to IBM particularly, to give them something to take away, other than the
business card. We never really got around because the dot.com crash happened. We never
got around to persuading anyone to spend any money on one of these things.
But, I had a little sample sent to me from Dimension Printing a few years ago, that was a
little screw-top box. And this little physical item, if anyone came into my office and wanted to
talk about anything, I would say, “Oh, by the way, have a look at this,” and I’d just give them
this thing. As soon as you put one of these things in your hand, as soon as you give
somebody something, it’s a kind of different mental contract I think you end up in. So being
able to try and understand where we might be able to take these 3D printing devices and do
something a little bit more inventive and creative with them is where Feeding Edge is going
to be because this is one of my other passions, and it’s clearly linked to what we’re doing
We sat here in a 3D environment, with things that people have made and consequently
distributed to us all. So the chairs that we look at, the avatar I’m wearing, they’ve all been
designed and created by people not necessarily in particularly high-end tools. And these
things are now distributed globally, so anyone that has access to Second Life can get and
see this chair you’re sitting on or see the globe that’s spinning behind us. Now these 3D
printers are able to take this sort of information and make it physical again and make it into
It was a couple years ago, Fabjectory, fabjectory.com, would print out your avatar for you.
So my other avatar, my spiky green-hair avatar, I went along to Fabjectory and stood for a
few second, and, effectively, they capture the mesh. They capture the textures, capture
everything you do and then print you out in a 3D printer. So I now have a statue of one of
my avatars, on my mantelpiece at home, that happens to be wearing the same leather
jacket I have here, which is my real life leather jacket, which I’ve turned into a product and is
now on my mantelpiece. I also happened to be wearing Reebok Trainers because it was
done at the time for those that you remember when Reebok were very popular, and we
were all wearing custom Reeboks.
So now I have an instance in time of the Virtual Worlds, as well as a physical item stood on
my mantelpiece. Any anyone that comes into my house sees it, and people that know
nothing about this stuff go, “Where did that come from?” “Well, I made it. I designed it, and I
distributed it, and somebody else happened to manufacture it for me.” So you can see that
the ability to deliver product anywhere. And, if you imagine you spread these printers all
over the earth, for instance, so anyone can have a printer anywhere, just like anyone can
have one laptop per child, or anyone can have a machine anywhere, if you’ve got the
network and you’ve got a printer that can use local resources particularly, anyone can
design anything, distribute it to anywhere, and anyone can create and manufacture the thing
that they need, where they are. So it means we’re not shipping masses amounts of products
all around the earth in lots and lots of pieces of packaging. We’re just moving stuff digitally
around and printing it as needed. And that’s an interesting economic model. That’s an
interesting business model.
There’s a whole load of creative things can be done with that, but just the mere fact that
somebody somewhere might have a broken water pump and rely on needing a new cork,
like the cork on my T-shirt, created for them, but they have to wait for it to be shipped from
some kind of metalwork somewhere else. The fact that they might be able to print out and
ask something locally, just even made from starch, local starch, that can just keep it going
just long enough for the production piece to arrive, that seems like a valuable thing to try
and make happen.
So I’m interested in it from it’s just cool, because I’m a tech geek, but I’m also interested in it
from the ecological side of things and just helping people. I think that’s the sort of thing that
we should all be doing. And we’re talking about hope, that’s what we should be doing. We
should be using this stuff--yes, we have some fun with it, but, if we can do something
earth-changing with it, that should be the thing that we aim for.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see, in the backchat, people are talking about replicators on Star
Trek and the like. I can see it, though I doubt that little box tastes very good, and it’s going to
be a while before we can turn out Earl Grey hot.
IAN HUGHES: Yeah, I think so. At the moment, they have rapidly come on. I mean even
two years ago, it was a full color print. It wasn’t just white plastic. And, if you go to
Shapeways, Shapeways is kind of a venture capital firm done by Philip’s Design. There you
can submit a design; it’s not necessarily from Second Life. You submit a design from
somewhere, and they’ll even print you one out in titanium. So jewelry designers are doing
things. They haven’t got titanium plants or smelting plants to do stuff, but this thing will
create them for them. So those kind of metallic things work, but equally down the line,
science fiction does tend to show the way, and the replicator isn’t that too tricky a thing to
get your head around. And there are things that print things out in sugar.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Right. Yes, I have heard about that. This sounds like a very
natural fit for something that Philip Rosedale has talked about with the idea of having
internet cafes, with access to Second Life in developing countries, where people can
integrate themselves into the larger economy by basically being knowledge workers. When
you add in 3D printing, it then becomes more clear that they can be involved in actual
production processes of physical goods, as well as services and information.
IAN HUGHES: Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, Ian Hughes, thank you so much for coming on to our show
today. This has been a fascinating discussion. Any big topics that we missed that you’d like
to mention briefly.
IAN HUGHES: I don’t think so. I think we kind of covered everything. Now I’m going to
change the world with 3D printers, what more can I add.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, we all have hope. Please do keep us all in the loop on how
things are going for you, and I look forward to having you back on Metanomics, and we can
talk about Feeding Edge’s extensive client list and your new book, when that becomes
IAN HUGHES: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. Thank you, everyone.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. We close Metanomics with an opinion piece,
Connecting The Dots. Several people have disagreed with my perspective from last week
on experimental cultural anthropology, and you can see some of those critiques in
Dusan Writer’s most recent blogpost. And others, you just have to look at my email. I will
respond to some of those remarks tomorrow so look for me in the comment section of
Dusan Writer’s Metaverse. For now, let me just say that, if you didn’t like how I connected
the dots last week, in which I came across as the quintessential imperial economist, then
you’re really not going to like this one in which I sound like your parents.
Here’s the thing. The last several months I’ve spent a good deal of time with people who
hold the purse strings of various enterprises, making the case for virtual conferences, like
we run for Metanomics each week. And, overall, the responses have been encouraging, on
the substance, that is. Virtual conferences are a natural response to the severe cutbacks in
travel budgets that we’ve already seen and particularly in academia, that we’re going to see
over the next couple of years. All I need to do is pass around copies of Forterra’s graphic
that we had on the show a few weeks ago. It shows Virtual Worlds hitting that sweet spot of
low-cost and high-touch; less costly than video conferencing or travel, a more personal
experience than conference calls and webcasts. In sort, Virtual Worlds let people, who can’t
travel to a conference, feel like they’re actually conferring. So that’s great. But, as we all
know, substance isn’t everything.
My focus today is on first impressions. I don’t want to downplay just how far this technology
has to go. Just about every virtual platform that provides an effective conference venue still
demands too much of new users, their computers and internet connection speeds. These
are problems that need attention by World developers and by those of us figuring out how to
make them work for enterprises. But that’s a topic for another day.
Today my plan is to sound like my parents, “Are you really going to go out of the house like
that? Impressions matter.” So Virtual Worlds face an uphill battle for first impressions, well
before people log in, partly because they have their roots in online games. I call this the
game taint, and, as I’ve said before though, maybe not on Metanomics. One of the problems
facing Second Life is that people under 30 assume it’s a game, check it out, find it’s boring
because it’s not actually a game, and they don’t come back. People over 30 assume it’s a
game and don’t bother to check it out in the first place. No wonder Linden Lab struggles to
build up a user base.
Well, one way to get over that hurdle with enterprise adopters is to show people short clips
of Metanomics so that they can see that Second Life is a good venue for serious discussion.
So I go through the archives, and I try to find the right content. Well, how about
Philip Rosedale? A clip of Philip Rosedale talking about how the global economy is affecting
Linden Lab. Fascinating discussion, but there he is with his spiked hair and rock star outfit.
Or how about Mitch Kapor, billionaire investor, and Linden Lab board member talking about
venture capital. But in a Hawaiian shirt? Or, if we want to turn more academic, perhaps a
great conversation with USC professor Dmitri Williams on experimental studies of the
effects of game violence on people’s beliefs about the Real World. Oh, but,
Professor Williams is dressed like Lance Armstrong for the Tour de France.
And, of course, today’s conversation with Ian Hughes would provide a great introduction to
the enterprise uses and the promise of Virtual Worlds from one of the key industry players,
who’s been with IBM for almost two decades. But, well, I guess it goes without saying that
Ian’s getup is not going to allay concerns about what one Cornell dean called, and I quote
here, “the creepiness factor.” Ouch!
So there’s a pretty solid body of research demonstrating that the effects of first impressions
are strong and lasting. My own favorite study is one showing that student reactions to just a
few seconds of exposure to a teacher on video generates evaluations that are very highly
correlated with evaluations of students who took the entire course. The success of
entertainers and politicians is even more easily predicted by first impressions. And I’m afraid
that Virtual Worlds, and Second Life in particular, are going to lose the battle for first
impressions. So, what to do?
First, let me be very clear: I have no intention of imposing a dress code on Metanomics. In
fact, Philip Rosedale’s spiked hair, Mitch Kapor’s Hawaiian shirt, and Ian Hughes’s whatever
it is are now iconic personal brands. And the whole point of Metanomics is to give people a
chance to represent their views, their personalities and, indeed, their brands in an open and
On the other hand, to be successful as a venue for enterprise-oriented conferences,
someone is going to have to develop a subculture within Second Life that is less quirky and
definitely not creepy. This might well require a great deal of re-branding. Some of it will need
to take place at the highest levels. Linden Lab could create a new enterprise-oriented portal
into Second Life. But, wait, didn’t they do that with the open grid portal? I don’t know what’s
happened with that. Some of the re-branding will be done by the people who are actually
running the live events in Second Life, instilling a culture of professionalism in appearance,
as well as production.
But, some of the re-branding will need to take place at a very individual level. We should all
feel free, I think, to embrace Virtual World cultures and all their quirkiness. But, if you want
to be part of a subculture that is successful in bringing academics, executives, regulators
and other sober enterprise users into the Metaverse, it wouldn’t hurt for us to ask ourselves
the question my parents would as, “Are you really going to go out in that?”
I know that, by saying this, I come across as fusty and unimaginative, tossing a web blanket
on a vibrant culture. What did you expect? I am an accounting professor, and I’m willing to
take the flak. After all, I can’t do much about the technological shortcomings of Virtual
Worlds, but maybe I can have a little influence on an issue that, while admittedly superficial,
is every bit as important to the success of an industry I would like to see grow.
So thanks for your attention and to the many of you, I’m sure, that didn’t necessarily take to
those remarks, I do understand, and I think there are lots of touchy issues here that will bear
a lot of further discussion.
If you’ve been interested in today’s show, I’d like to point out a few others I think you’d be
interested in. First, we have three that addressed IBM’s role in the Metaverse. Our first
guest on Metanomics was IBM’s Sandra Kearney. We’ve also had David Levine, Zha Ewry,
on a show last March, just a little over a year ago. And then last summer, David was on the
show with Mark Lentczner, talking about OpenSim and open grid protocols.
I’d also like to mention that, back in June, we had an interview with Christian Renaud, who
had just departed Cisco Systems, starting up his own firm. So if you want to hear from
someone else at exactly the same moment in transition, really, as Ian is this week, definitely
take a listen to that.
Next week we’ll be covering the music industry, with venue owners Ham Rambler and
JenzZa Misfit, musician Cylindrian Rutabaga and Grace McDonough, and the
uncategorizable Dizzy Banjo. And the week after that, we have Linden Lab CEO
Mark Kingdon. Please let me know any questions you have in advance. We’ll pull together a
great show for that one and learn what’s happening at the highest levels of Linden Lab. See
you then. And, bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer