041408 Linden Labs Past Present And Future Metanomics Transcript
LINDEN LAB: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome everybody to Metanomics, the weekly show on
business and policy in Metaverse of Virtual Worlds. As always, we start by thanking our
sponsors SAP, Cisco Systems, Generali Group, Saxo Bank, Kelly Services, Sun
Microsystems. And thanks also to my own institution, Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of
Management for supporting me in this effort. And to SLCN for filming and distributing the
shows. Welcome to all of you who are on the Metanomics chat channel. If you have not
joined already, you should consider doing so right now so you can participate in the
backchat during this event, which is being streamed across a number of sims throughout
Second Life. I’d like to thank UBM Think Services Metaverse for letting us hold Metanomics
here at the CMP Amphitheatre. And I want to remind everyone that Muse Isle will be the
location of a new regular event, Metanomics Rewind, which is going to air Monday’s show
on Tuesdays, 3:00 P.M. Second Life time, so this is a chance to catch the show if you
missed it and watch it with other people who share your interests.
If you enjoy Metanomics, you should also hang around for Real Biz, which will start about an
hour after this show ends. Today on Real Biz, host Cybergirl Oh is going to take you on a
tour of Accenture Careers Island, and then she’ll put the Accenture rep on the hot seat, with
five questions in five minutes. So you can see that at any SLCN screen in Second Life. And
there are lots of them.
Next week, Metanomics hosts Mitch Wagner, from Information Week, and Steve Prentiss,
from Gartner Incorporated. And we’ll get the lowdown from them on how they see the Virtual
Worlds’ industry unfolding over the coming year. But, for today, we’re going to be focusing
primarily on one developer, Linden Lab and their Virtual World, Second Life.
Now we arranged this show quite a while ago, and since then, well, it’s been an interesting
month for Second Life residents. At the end of March, Linden Lab announced new policies
on the use of the terms “Second Life” and “SL,” causing a fair bit of distress for countless
residents who use those terms in the names of their blogs and businesses. And then last
Tuesday, Linden Lab announced a dramatic reduction in the cost of new land, along with
the dramatic increase in the amount of land that is going to be available. In fact, I’m hoping
that right after the show we can all bop over and take a look at the new continent that is out
there. We have a landmark to a mountaintop and, hopefully, we can see you there and chat
for a few minutes. So anyway, this is going to presumably force down land prices for
residents, which is probably good news for anyone who hasn’t bought a lot of land already,
but, of course, not everyone is happy about it.
Well, who better to talk about these new events and put them in the context of Linden Lab’s
history than today’s guest. Cory Ondrejka has spent the last seven years designing and
building Second Life as a co-founder of Linden Lab. Cory’s now consulting, writing and
speaking about the economic and technological impact of Virtual Worlds, and, for the
moment at least, he’s a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the
University of Southern California. Wagner James Au, Hamlet Au, was the contract writer for
Linden Lab from 2003 until 2006, acting as an embedded journalist covering all aspects of
Second Life. This work has resulted in James’ blog, New World Notes, and his newest book
The Making of Second Life. So, Cory, James, welcome to Metanomics.
ALL: Thank you so much for having us.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. For those of you who may be noticing, I guess I see some
backchat. I just will admit, yes, it’s true I am a gorilla, which I normally am not, but I thought
I’d have a little fun. And I see, Cory, I’m keeping up with you. What exactly is that avatar?
CORY ONDREJKA: I think it’s called [Scion Cat?]. This was an av that I came across--
somebody in one of the sandboxes probably three years ago and quickly said, “That’s very
cool.” And the person handed it to me, and it’s been one of the avs I have sort of changed
between ever since. I’ve never really stuck to a given appearance the way, say, James has.
I’ve had sort of worn many, many different avatars over the years.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And, James, that’s pretty much you. I met you at Metaverse U,
and that’s your av?
W. JAMES AU: Yeah, more or less. I actually had an alt. I used to use a fair amount, you’ll
see a Hunter S. Thompson avatar, bald with a 45 and whiskey. More when the combat zone
was more kind of preeminent in Second Life, the Jesse sims so I figured I had to go in ready
to shoot and partly hallucinating.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, yes. And I see someone here is mentioning Cory also has
the flying spaghetti monster avatar, but it’s not chair compatible.
So let’s just talk a little bit about what the two of you have done. So, Cory, you were chief
technology officer, and that can mean many different things especially in a small company
like Linden Lab. Can you give us a sense of what your role was at Linden in the beginning
and how it evolved over the time that you were there?
CORY ONDREJKA: Sure. And the titles are one of those things that you end up exposing
externally far more so than internally, I think. One of the very good decisions Philip made
early on was that we weren’t going to deal with titles until we had to. So I joined Linden in
November of 2000. At that point, Philip and Andrew had been doing a mix of research with
the Rig and had done some compression research for the preceding year, and Tessa was
working there at that point also. Philip and I met, had one of those delightful interviews
where, at the end of it, it’s just, “Well, when are you going to come work here?” And, “Well,
when can I start?” At that point it was come in and write code and help start considering
what the architecture of this thing was going to be since Philip and Andrew both come from
physics backgrounds, not software engineering or computer science backgrounds.
Those first few months were very much a, “Let’s start refining somebody’s experiment. Let’s
start thinking about the type of people we’re going to try to go out and hire.” That was a time
period when we decided that we weren’t going to work on the Rig anymore, that _____
people made software startup and a hardware startup in the turn of 2001 was not something
that made a lot of sense to us. So we decided that we were going to focus very much on the
software side, as much as we all loved the Rig. And, in fact, many of the early hires who
came in came in because of the excitement around the Rig and around interface
technology. So over the next year wrote a lot of the initial code. I wrote a lot of the initial
architecture of it. I did most of the early technical hiring as well. Probably the most critical
thing during that time period was creating the first version of the scripting language sort of
on a dare. And LSL1, which survived into private Beta, I think, if I’m remembering my dates
correctly. It was then supplanted by LSL2, which is largely the scripting language that’s
deployed today, although I know that Babbage and the rest of the Brighton group are in the
process of deploying it on [mono?], which has been a very important effort to speed that up.
The other really important transition during that time period was deciding that avatars in
Second Life needed to be as flexible as the world. We had demoed a very early version of
what was then called Linden World at the Second Life Community Convention in 2006. At
that point, we barely had humanoid avatars. They were coming out of our sort of spaceship
and floating _____ phase. We had just put in the building tools, and we realized that building
was the key element. But what was a challenge was how do we make people, how do we
make human forms as flexible as those other building tools. And it’s interesting. One of the
ideas proposed that Philip was actually a big fan of is what basically sculpties are today. But
we decided instead to go with the parametric version since we felt that it was important to
give non-artists an ability to explore the design space of the human form, and that would be
much harder to do. If it was simply a sort of a-- [AUDIO GLITCH]
Excellent. So we’re back.
The decision to go with the parametric avatars versus the version that would have looked a
little bit more like sculpties--and to be clear, the sculpties that Carl ended up creating were
much cleverer than we had thought about, about six years previously, because Carl was just
a total badass. So we went with the parametric ones. And the very first pieces of those were
in place. We went to demo in 2002. Richard actually ended up being the one driving most of
the work there, and an artist named [Steven?]. And so that ended up being something that
we would have never considered just how far people would take those avatars. I remember
during the earliest alpha stages that we had, sort of our first users coming in, and we’d have
regular moments wandering and bumping into users and seeing avatars work, just like,
“How did you make that?” Those were great moments.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, you can just look on the stage here to see what is possible.
CORY ONDREJKA: Yeah, and that’s exactly right. And the avatar that I’m wearing came
out--when did we first start seeing the sort of cartoon shading trick, probably about four
years back, which was a mistake in the rendering pipeline. But, of course, we [AUDIO
GLITCH] Linden now has to keep in place for all eternity because the cartoon rendering act
is a pretty critical part of how a lot of avatars are built.
And so through all that period, it was writing code and doing architecture and hiring people. I
started transitioning into a little bit of a different role after we launched. We had gone
through the layoffs in the fall of 2003, when the board, Philip and the executive team really
looked out and we saw where the runway was, and we realized weren’t growing fast
enough. So it was very hard, and that was a horrible moment, but I think a real great
moment in Linden’s history at coming back together with the employees we had left.
And that’s when we had the roundtable that Larry Lessig sort of looked at us and said,
“You’re asking people to build a world and not letting them own stuff. That’s kind of stupid.”
Larry, of course, didn’t say stupid because he’s nice, but that was the implication. And we
decided we were going to go change the IP rules for Second Life so I ended up drawing the
short straw on that one and had to go learn enough IP law to be dangerous. That took us
into State of Play, the first State of Play conference in 2003 at New York Law School, which
was really a significant inflection point for Second Life’s growth, where Philip was up there
onstage, announced that we were going to allow users to retain their intellectual property
rights. That echoed throughout the Virtual World blogosphere at that point. That was
followed by a change in business model, where we went to a [base inscription?] to
something that looks a lot more like the current land model. That was probably the last large
set of features that I was actively coding because Aaron and I basically can prove we
revamped the entire economic system in about a month. And then spent the next six months
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So when you say “fixing it,” what were some of the unintended
consequences that you had to?
CORY ONDREJKA: So for the very few people who will remember the original economic
model for Second Life, how it worked was, you had money, and you had to pay money to
rez prims. And you sort of had this set of global constraints. In other words, how rich were
you--and attempting to drive local behavior. And, of course, that just doesn’t work. It was a
really nice story, and we kind of convinced ourselves that it was a good model. But, of
course, in practice, people would get rich and then build huge mansions in the corner of a
sim. So we went to the more geographic model.
A lot of the early bugs--the accounting was wrong, and so you could do things like stockpile
prims. I remember one time we found somebody who had built a safe on their sim and filled
it full of little tiny prim gold bars. What they were doing is, they were taking down all of the
prim count for the sim, and then when they wanted to go do building, they worked their
camera way underground and take the gold bars out of their safe to bring them more prims.
And so it was this epically funny yet brilliant yet funny take on the problem. I had actually
completely forgotten about that example, and some other Linden had just reminded me of
that. It’s like you’re exposing a bug with a great deal of class.
And in that time it was also about the time that lists went into the scripting language. That
was a more, in theory, a more flexible data structure. The memory leaks associates with
lists went on for months and months and months because lists were [INAUDIBLE] jacked in
relatively quickly. But it’s funny to think back. This was 2003, and Linden had about 20
employees at that point. We were really trying to move very, very quickly. I think the tribute
to all that work is that we have what we have today, and, more broadly, Virtual Worlds are
now as accepted paths for communication for play and all these things. And you go to a
conferences in New York with a dozen other projects starting up. You know, in that sense
it’s sometimes easy to forget that it was really only a couple years ago that, when we’d sit
around and say, “Okay, so we’re going to create this technology that the whole world is
going to come in and build these incredibly complicated and difficult things.” People would
just look at us cross-eyed and like, “Are you guys out of your minds?” And suddenly
between us and Wikipedia and some other, Flickr, some other great examples of
user-generated content, a lot of the suppositions that we made, people don’t question
anymore. And it’s just funny how quickly that didn’t seem to flip in people.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now I know you mentioned Wikipedia and certainly by allowing
so much user-generated content, they’ve had some interesting--I don’t know if you’d call
them accounting problems, but some control problems to make sure that they’re making it
easy for people to find out who’s changing the stories and keeping some credibility there. I
assume that in a Virtual World there are specific technological challenges that arise
because you are allowing user-generated content. Can you talk about what were sort of the
most surprising challenges there and how you dealt with them?
CORY ONDREJKA: Sure. Well, obviously the tricky bit isn’t that Wikipedia is to first-order
text and Second Life is to first-order everything but text. So the more complex
representation you’re trying to store, the more data you generate. I don’t know how many
50s or hundreds of terabytes the asset system is for Second Life at this point. It’s been three
months since I’ve seen any numbers, but it’s a lot. And that’s just a tremendous amount of
data. With the Wiki, the great value of the Wiki is that you always have the ability to roll back
all your data. So even if somebody comes in and decides to put up a fake article about
James Au, talking about how he really wishes he had a monkey avatar, roll that back.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: James, you have to check Wikipedia within 24 hours because I
CORY ONDREJKA : Right. It’s going to be in there any minute.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --when Cory speaks, you know.
CORY ONDREJKA: Oh, I only wish I had the Colbert bump. So the reality there is that
rolling it back is a piece of cake. Now what you see on Wikipedia, when it gets to its most
problematic, of course, is when there are arguments with diverse but justified positions.
Right? It doesn’t do a very good job of averaging that, but people then move on to the
forums and debate.
With Second Life, trying to maintain an infinite rollback really would have been a challenge. I
think it’s an interesting mental exercise to think about for future Virtual Worlds or future
versions of Second Life, to think about whether maintaining a permanent history is
technologically feasible and, if it is, how you go about doing it.
Of course, as soon as you maintain data, you run into a different set of challenges around
having data around that people may want to, say, subpoena you for, so there’s some
advantages, much like AOL’s instant messenger program, of just throwing user data away
as quickly as you can.
So when we were trying to do things for Second Life, we implemented things by
[permissions?] sort of approach, where, okay, we tried to figure out what the models of
control were that would make sense then. I think some people will remember the early
groups’ models or even before we had groups how difficult it was to work together. And so
there was this constant sort of irony of here we are trying to build the world’s greatest
collaboration platform, but collaborating was one of the hardest use cases. So as groups
continue to evolve--and you know, a lot of that work was led by Robin who really was able--
and her team were really able to start calling out what the right sort of meta roles were and
how you’d handle that. And Don was a big part of that as well. And so what you ended up
with was a, you know, started approaching a more flexible model for that. The number of
ways that that system was accidentally used, misused, we could talk about for the next 30
hours and not have scratched the surface.
Any system this complex, there’s sort of an infinite number of opportunities for simple
mistakes to happen. And, of course, in Second Life, it’s a little bit like simple mistakes
running a website where if you leave a hole on your website or you guide users incorrectly,
you may not pick up on it for a long period of time and, by that point, the changes can be
pretty dramatic. I think that that was always the case that was the most frustrating is
somebody doesn’t set permissions correctly, and they don’t see their land for a week, and
they log back in, and the land has been changed radically. So certainly as the UI has
continued to improve and as the controls for groups and individuals have at least attempted
to make them simple. But user error classic problem, I think, has gone down quite a bit. But
this has always been--one of the most exciting things about working on Second Life is that
you try to give folks tools to do everything, while still making it reasonably approachable.
And then certainly others can debate it far better than I whether we’ve made the right
tradeoffs or now Linden going forward is making the right tradeoffs. But it’s not an easy thing
to juggle because you constantly have this discussion of well, we could simplify this, but
then you can’t make monkeys. And not making monkeys would suck.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, that’s right. I’m relying on the ability to now be the
800-pound gorilla in the room, in form, if not actually function. So that’s right. You got to be
able to make those monkeys.
So, James, let me bring you into this conversation. So you were the embedded reporter in
Second Life, which is a very unusual type of position in a corporation. Can you just talk a
little bit about how that came about?
W. JAMES AU: Yes, I entered the story about April 2003, I think, when I first came in and
Philip and Robin were showing this to me, the early Beta of Second Life. As a journalist, I
was writing a lot for salon.com, kind of covering online games and tech culture. Actually one
of the last stories I had written before then was about the modding culture, kind of the
user-created content that created Counterstrike and some other really interesting games
that were starting to transform the game industry. So I was already kind of in that mindset
already. It’s like being really excited by that idea. And, again, like Cory mentioned, this was
before people really considered user-created content to be a good idea, like it was sort of
something that, at that point, was still sort of a niche deal, like with online games and so on.
So they were showing it to, and I said, “Yeah. This is kind of the ultimate modding tool.”
While they were showing it to me, it sort of came out--Robin suggested it. It was like, “Well,
maybe you could write for us. We’re sort of looking for someone to cover what’s happening
as this World and what people are doing with it and what they’re creating.” I found out later
that that was kind of at the behest or suggestion of Howard Rheingold, who’s kind of the big
influential guy behind Virtual Worlds and thinking virtual worlds--virtual communities, I
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So basically the outcome of all of this, in part, is your book The
Making of Second Life. There are some great stories in there. There are two themes that
kind of run through it. One that we’re talking about now is, well, in chapter eight. You have a
chapter called “Burning Down the House, Democracy as a Business Model.” And this really
seems to tie into what Cory was talking about with the challenges of user-created content.
So you actually have a great discussion of what you call the tax revolt, which is what Cory
was talking about before. Can you just give a little bit of the, you know, paint us a picture of
what was going on with the Boston Tea Party moment that led to really a watershed event in
W. JAMES AU: Yeah. The whole tax revolt that happened in the summer of 2003, that was
kind of the most visual, compelling demonstration that the stuff Cory was talking about was
a big problem, this whole idea that you’re going to charge people based on how much prims
they instantiated, how much stuff they built. That led directly to a big group called
Americana, which was building this site that was going to be a tribute to American
landmarks, Washington Monument and things like that. And they were getting taxed up the
wazoo. So they said, “Well, look, we’re an American group so we’re going to have an
American style tax revolt.” And they built giant tea crates, and they covered the World with
these huge tea crates and set things on fire. I fudged slightly. I say, “Well, this didn’t directly
lead to Linden Lab changing its policy,” but, again it was like kind of the biggest reference
point that their business model was not working. It was literally leading to people running
around the World setting things on fire and revolting.
CORY ONDREJKA: Well, there’s a really good--if I can just jump in there.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, absolutely.
CORY ONDREJKA: One of the things that was really important that I think didn’t crystallize
until we were talking to Larry and sort of watching what was being created at that time was
that entrepreneurial activity requires the ability to forward invest in yourself. You want to be
able to place this bet that you’re building something that makes sense or is cool or is worth
doing. And one of the things that the original economic model did not allow is that you just
couldn’t do that. Because it was so globally constrained, it was nearly impossible to figure
out how to do all this stuff, and so what James is describing is, is really dead on. And I think
it had the secondary effect of we really didn’t see these incredibly complex builds coming
out until after the business model change where people could decide, “Look, I’m going to
take down a quarter sim, and it’s worth that amount of money for me to be able to build
something that I’ve always been dreaming of.”
The one other thing that was kind of funny in that time is that, after the Americana protests
and people lighting themselves on fire, lighting the buildings on fire, it was the protest at the
welcome area that were the other pretty dramatic ones. And I remember it was a very
interesting discussion within Linden about what’s the right response to that. We always had
this sort of mental image of you’re getting off the plane in Hawaii, and, instead of being
greeted by leis, you’re being greeted by people on fire saying, “Your economic model’s
wrong.” I think the change to that, again, I don’t think Second Life would be remotely what it
is today if that change, along with the IP ownership change, hadn’t happened.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Go ahead, James.
W. JAMES AU: Yeah. I think the Web 2.0 economy would be very different too. Wikipedia is
a great example, but this was--Second Life preceded even YouTube, in terms of
user-created content showing that this actually works as you can build a business off of it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So this historical discussion, I think, is really helpful for talking a
little bit about some of the recent events in Second Life and, in particular, the policy. I mean
the two things people have been talking about are brand and land. So with the brand,
Linden has issued this very restrictive policy regarding residents’ use of the Second Life
name. And, to some extent, this seems to fly in the face of this, I guess, Cory, what you
called escaping the gilded cage of game developer-generated content by letting people do it
themselves, take ownership and so on. And now I think some people feel like Linden is
grabbing it back after saying, “Go ahead. Support our name. Promote our name. Use our
name in your blog, in your business.” James, you’ve been writing a fair bit on this lately.
What’s your take on the policy, and how do you put it in the context of “rah-rah” user-created
W. JAMES AU: Well, the perfect example is, I’m not even sure how my blog is going to fit
these new policies. I put it out there. I looked at the new policy, and I thought, “Well, does
this mean all I got to do is put a trademark symbol on my blog, like when I say Second Life
the first time on the masthead, and that’s it?” There’s two lawyers. One of the guys,
Benjamin Duranske, who writes Virtually Blind, and IP rights lawyer named Kit Meredith,
their Second Life name, and they got into a debate about what I’m supposed to do with my
own blog. And looking at Linden Lab’s own policy. So that’s kind of the deal. It’s causing
more confusion than understanding.
I think the larger issue of what’s going on, I guess, is Linden Lab is trying to shore up their
ownership over their trademark, which really doesn’t have anything directly to do with the
user-created content community. But the thing is, this is four years after announcing a policy
of, “Well, go ahead and create blogs that are devoted to Second Life fan sites, and all you
have to do is just say, ‘Linden Lab and Second Life are trademarks of Linden Lab
Corporation. No infringement is intended.’” And all of a sudden they’ve switched around and
said, “No, actually now you have to do this,” even though people have put thousands of
dollars and hours into building up these websites, fan sites and e-commerce sites and so
I mean I can tell you I used to have my own blog when it was a Linden Lab funded deal. It
was actually SecondLife.blogs.com. I mean they were really generous and gave me the IP
rights to the blog. I took the blog, and I had to move it off the Second Life domain, and I
restarted a blog called NWN.blogs.com, and this is with Linden Lab’s total help with a
Federated Media, the advertising network that is associated with Boing Boing and some of
these other huge blogs they jumped on to give me advertising support. Folks like
Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing in Fark have been very cool about linking to articles I’d write
and post. And I’ll tell you, even then it took about a year or two to get the traffic back up to
what it was during [AUDIO GLITCH]
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh. Did we lose--
CORY ONDREJKA: I’m still here, you guys.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, okay. I think we lost Hamlet. I’m showing him still on. Oh,
there he goes. So Yxes, I assume you’ll get him back as soon as possible. But while we
wait, Cory, I know that being on the technology side and also no longer being an office at
Linden Lab you don’t have any official view on this. You said when we were talking before
the show it’s not your job. But what’s your take on the trademark policy?
CORY ONDREJKA: Well, first off, I’m certainly not following it as closely as you guys or
James are. I have a confession that this is basically my first time logged in to Second Life
since December. I was laughing earlier. We were standing around chatting, and I had left
my mike live and was committing a breathing spam problem off the _____. I got out of
practice of using the UI correctly. I’m just such an idiot.
So I think that it’s very easy, especially for me now as an outsider and a lay person, to make
sweeping comments about what Linden Lab’s doing with regards to their marks. I think that
it’s really important to remember that the people driving those decisions, people like Robin, I
mean, Robin’s been around since pretty the beginning and has spent seven years at Linden
driving all aspects of how Second Life is used by the users, how the community interacts
with Second Life, how the community interacts with Linden Lab. And she cares passionately
about finding the right balances between Second Life product, Second Life the World,
Linden Lab the Company, and I doubt this was something that was undertaken lightly. I
think it’s also something that historically when Linden has made changes like this, they do
try to move carefully and be communicative during the process. I think that, like in many
things, changes like this cause a healthy amount of discussion when they happen, and the
net outcome is rarely as good or as bad as initial reactions tend to be. Beyond that, I’m just
not close enough to it, and I wouldn’t have the first idea as to why it happened now
because, as you put it, it’s not my job anymore. And I just haven’t been following.
W. JAMES AU: Am I back?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, you are back. Welcome.
W. JAMES AU: Oh, great. Wonderful.
CORY ONDREJKA: I just spent a few minutes totally slamming on you and was really
mean and funny, but you missed it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you’ll have to respond on a future show. But actually I would,
James, if I could I’d actually like to move on to the other big topic of the week, which is the
announcement of reduced land prices and also lots of new land. So I guess one question,
which is probably the topic for another show is: What effect will this have on the economy?
The other question is: What’s the motivation for this? And one of the things that’s been
discussed is that Linden Lab is seeing competition from people who are setting up their own
servers. They’re basically reverse engineering Second Life’s back end, using the Open
Sourced front end, and I guess I’d like both of your takes on whether, really, these OpenSim
movements, what do they mean to Linden Lab?
W. JAMES AU: This kind of connects because we were just talking about the trademark
issue where, sort of like what Cory was saying, if I heard right. The announcement happens,
and there is a freak out, and it’s not as bad as everyone thought. But, at the same time, I
think what a lot of the freak out is based on how the communication suddenly happens, and
it was unexpected. And so people are not totally prepared for it. And the trademark thing,
like I said, three months is even that it’s going to take a long time to get things back and
running. And for land owners, I remember when they made the announcement, a lot of land
owners were saying, “Look. I’ve spent all this time building up the value on my land, and
now I’m getting undercut by the company.” So there’s going to be tumult there as well.
As far as competing with the Open Source movement, I don’t that’s really the reason. I think
the Open Source stuff is really, really great, but it’s going to be a while before they’re
actually competing. They’re not directly competing in any case. I mean like it’s kind of saying
whether one website is competing with the other. The idea is they’re going to be connected.
Like the OpenSim project, they announced at the Virtual Worlds Conference last week that
they are working with Linden Lab to hook up the OpenSim servers to the official Linden Lab
server so it’s not going to be an either-or proposition. I think probably the more compelling
reason is, Linden Lab is making a lot of money with the lands. I mean if you look at the back
of the envelope calculations of how much sims, even just private islands, it’s upwards of 50,
60 million, I would think, a year.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Cory, what’s your take on the OpenSim movement and the role of
putting out a lot more land?
CORY ONDREJKA: Well, specific decisions around pricing and how much land they’re
going to roll out is so tied to the current decision making process within Linden, I couldn’t
begin to have worthwhile guesses on that topic. I think more broadly, especially having sort
of accidentally ended up at the Virtual Worlds Conference out in New York and having had a
chance to chat with a variety of the different Open Source and Open Source-linked Virtual
World projects that are out there, I think the exciting part of it is that we’re going to
eventually start seeing a much broader exploration of the design space. I’d put up a blog
post that James linked to that--I was really struck by walking around that convention center
and seeing so few projects that really seemed to be pushing the envelope in any meaningful
It’s funny. Those of us who’ve been part of Second Life for even a significant fraction of its
lifetime, Second Life sort of wears its strengths and its weaknesses on its sleeve. Right? It’s
not like Second Life goes out of its way to really hide what it’s good and what it’s bad at. It
sort of says it is what it is, and, if the technology tries to move forward and Linden is making
excellent efforts toward making various pieces work better all the time, but beyond that do
with it what you will. And to see some of the competitors responding to that with a wide
variety of little tiny closed Worlds that aren’t even taking advantages from a technological
standpoint of the kinds of performance games you would expect from small closed Worlds.
It was a little disappointing, and I think that the various Open projects are likely to be a
source of excitement and innovation in ways some of the other commercial projects out
there don’t seem to be.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So this is your blog. I think it was called It’s a Small World After
All, and you said there are a bunch of projects that look like less populated and less
functional versions of Second Life, usually with some marketing material promising a safer
or more corporate [environment?] [AUDIO GLITCH]
CORY ONDREJKA: I really sound mean when you read me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, that’s the cynical edge to my voice. I hear that.
W. JAMES AU: It’s a response to the phalanx of penises attacking Anche Chung or
something. No, I’m serious, like, oh my god, if our brand shows up in Second Life, then
people are going to bombard it with giant penises, which as opposed to seeing that as an
opportunity, like, well, let’s see what happens when people interact with our brand. And they
might attack you with penises or they might engage with it in really interesting ways. But a
lot of companies, well, that kind of companies’ behavior. They just get very conservative and
freaked out about that kind of thing.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah.
CORY ONDREJKA: More broadly. Much like the web. There’s certain activities that end up
being so massively over-reported that it’s really odd to take sort of a few examples and kind
of extrapolate it from there. And we certainly have seen, in Second Life, an enormous ability
of companies to come to grips with the fact that this is a new world for them and a new
approach. It’s understanding things like connecting with a user for an hour is fundamentally
different than a 30-second web impression, but you’re only going to touch a hundred of
them or a thousand of them or five thousand of them. So it’s just a very different value
proposition all around. I think that much like if this was 1993 or even 1997, and we were
talking about the web, many of the same discussions would be going on, you know, “Okay,
we’ll provide a private set of web pages that arevery carefully preserved,” etcetera, etcetera.
We foresaw that the web as a whole just trounced the nBox approaches, or Walled Garden
approaches. Sorry. And so I think that we’re going to see a similar round of [expiration?] of
Virtual Worlds space. We’re going to see some excellent and very pretty Walled Garden
projects. I think eventually, if the Sony Home Movies ever translate into a Real World
product, it’s going to be a very attractive project. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out,
and I think that that serves as the beginning, and there are all kinds of rumors about the
Google product coming out. I have not seen it yet, so anybody who’s at Google and listened
to this, invite me over to look at it because I’m curious. But beyond that, I think that things
like Open Source efforts, you know, you’ve got the combination of OpenSim and _____ and
all those projects going on. They’re experimenting. I think that that’s fantastic.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So do you see, I guess, anything on the horizon that is going to
knock Second Life off its current throne of probably being the number one best known World
with user-generated content?
CORY ONDREJKA: Yeah, and let’s make no mistake about it. Second Life is the number
one platform and product out there, and it’s still very far ahead of anything else. I think that
competent competition for Second Life would be good for everyone. It continues to be hard
to build a space. I think you’re looking now, in some ways, as an outside looking at the
Virtual Worlds space. I think that an emerging competitor will ultimately would be good. I
think what we’re going to see over the next couple years, however, is more projects that are
less directly competitive and more like the transition we saw from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0
where once people really grokked what the web did, right, the web was about copying,
sending, preserving content and then searching that content and organizing it around
groups. Add a few bits of technology, then we could start thinking about what Web 2.0
projects started looking like and what you’d really want to do, given those capabilities.
I think that we’re just now, with three, four years’ experience in Second Life, being able to
start saying, “Okay. We get why presence matters. We get why place matters. We get why
being able to interact in real time matters.”
Now ironically, I think we’re going to see a lot of the same mistakes that got made in the late
’90s, you know, communities.com blocks and all of those, where you really need to
understand the difference between content that’s made it to be consumed _____ versus
content that’s made to be consumed synchronously. And I think we’re going to kind of go
through a round of experimentation and a lot of failed experiments in that space again. Just
now with a different set of technologies. During all that, Second Life, they have an
amazingly talented group there. They have, by far, the largest and most active user base
and the most active intelligent user base that can actually compete and change and improve
Second Life. So I think that they’re going to keep moving forward in very exciting ways. And
what we’ll see is other interesting projects coming along, but, if Second Life users and
Linden Lab as a whole continue to be as smart as they’ve always been, as technology
changes, they’re going to just look for what they should adopt, co-opt or use. And I don’t see
that changing any time soon.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thanks. We’re coming toward the end of our time, and I do
have just a couple, I guess, more personal questions for both of you. Starting with Cory, you
talked on your blog about interviewing for one CEO position. What’s next for you?
CORY ONDREJKA: I’ve been chuckling about that a little bit this week because, if you’d
asked me that question a week ago, it would have been--you know, I’m sort of--when
interesting options come along I’ve been investigating them and very much enjoying the
process. Teaching down at USC has been fantastic. I will continue to find every way
possible to brag about my students because they are just amazing. And the consulting side
and doing some speaking has certainly been interesting as well and has given me a chance
to see things that, if I was still working at Linden, I would have never have had an
opportunity to do, and I feel very fortunate to have had that chance. Then in this last week,
I’ve had a collision of at least three and perhaps four options that all go into the category
had they arrived independently of “too good to pass up.” So we’ll see. It’s a very interesting
world out there, and perhaps not surprisingly despite my efforts not really be out looking,
some interesting folks have found me. And so it’s a pretty interesting time.
I guess what I would say is it’s unlikely that I’m going to be, in fact, _____, I think is certain
that I’m not going to seriously be in Virtual Worlds space. I spent the last seven years doing
that and am very happy with what the Linden team and I managed to accomplish in that
time, both in terms of building the company and the product. So I really like to go do other
things, but I suspect that I will be unable to completely sever ties with [AUDIO GLITCH]. I
think it’s, you know, Virtual Worlds gets their hooks in, and it’s just hard to get away.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Never leave. Now, James, you came out a couple years
ago with a list of Second Life’s power elite, where you had a list of the people, the movers
and shakers. And it’s been a couple years. Are you willing to stick your neck out and
propose a few names that you would put the 2008 power elite list?
W. JAMES AU: Yeah. And I’d say a lot of them would have dropped off now, and you can
kind of tell. I won’t name names, on the 20 that are that. But the community has grown so
much and has expanded. Just to take one example: Someone I would definitely add, her
name’s Bettina Tizzy, who formed a group called Not Possible in Real Life, and sort of then
become a Metaverse maven of really awesome quality content that can only exist in Second
Life, like arts, interactive projects that are really kind of on the cutting edge of Second Life.
So you got someone like that. I think someone like Torlée, who I put on number one, is still
going to be really important, kind of the voice of Linden Lab, at its best, I guess. I really
freaked when Cory got fired by Linden Lab. I thought, “Well, what’s going on?” As freaking
out as that was, if Torlée ever left, I’d hugely freak out because that’s kind of sort of the crux
of Linden Lab at its best.
So yeah, there’s been so many changes. I would even say some of the top people that
should be in the top 20, and these are always arbitrary lists, but people that are in the
Japanese and Brazilian sims, who I don’t even know about because they speak Japanese
or Portuguese. So it’s become a far more diverse community since 2006, so I would have to
make a top thousand to make sure I don’t totally miss people. And even then it would be
sort of debatable.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Let’s see. I guess we’re pretty much out of time.
Cory, you’ve been thinking a lot about education lately. I read an article that you just wrote
called Education Unleashed: Participatory Culture, Education and Innovation in Second Life.
So actually we have a couple questions from Fleep Tuque, and maybe I’ll just pass these on
to you, and you can a couple words in closing. So she is wondering how your move to
academia has changed the way that you view educators in Second Life, or, more broadly,
education in Virtual Worlds. So are there technical changes you would think would help
educators or guidance that you would give educators using Virtual Worlds?
CORY ONDREJKA: That’s a great set of questions.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, too bad you only have about two minutes.
CORY ONDREJKA: Yeah, I know. Exactly. And you’re breaking up. So I think that, first off,
to be clear, I am very, very fortunate to be working with the crowd at Annenberg, which are
a most unusual set of academics by any measure. Much like the gang in New York Law
School, these are folks who are very much at the cutting edge of how we can use
technology to reach people and to engage education and to improve education. I think that
being on the educator side, you’re far more aware of down time and technological
challenges and trying to do what I’m doing running in Second Life on a MacBook Air in an
airport lounge. So you become really a lot more aware of all those things. I think, as I’ve
written about on my blog a bit, I think we’re going to see a trend toward can we happen to
do experiences through lighter weight, less CPU intensive approaches, and that’s going to
be pretty important.
I think, moving beyond that, one of the things that we run into with the Network Culture
Project, which is one of the ones being run out of Annenberg by Doug Thomas, is that the
educator community itself is so capable of helping itself of sort of connecting the right
people and figuring out and disseminating information on how they’ve solved problems. I
think that one thing very worthy of study is much like people have studied Wikipedia and
sort of how different articles tend to converge on the lower-case “t” truth. In a similar way,
you could probably start really studying the [Slug List?] and the VSL Researcher mailing list
and simteach.com, Wiki and things like that, and really take a look at how effective it’s been
at creating knowledge and disseminating that knowledge among the education community.
And we continue to see for--Linden and Second Life continue to see just a staggering
amount of certainly what I term the professional educators so the high school teachers and
college teachers. Of course, all of Second Life is built around knowledge generation, how
everyone in this audience learned to make an avatar that wasn’t a _____, was in some
sense from learning from other people. And since we know that people learn fast by doing
and learn best by interacting with other people, that was basically the core of the paper you
referenced, which is what are the capabilities that Virtual Worlds give us, and how can we
either be using them already or what aspects of them should we be studying.
I think that’s kind of the final lesson of academia, but this is really more the result of hanging
out with Dmitri Williams more than any other academic is that I think we’re all capable of
making sweeping assertions about Virtual Worlds and their impact. But we’re now at a point
where we should be able to study those assertions. We should be able to defend them. We
should be able to start understanding the mechanisms, and that’s important because, if
you’re going to be betting your education system or your company or your community on the
efficacy of places, it’s important that we understand why they work, how they work and how
to make them better.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Well, I’m going to let you have the final word. I know
James has to leave. I apologize that this time always seems too short, especially when we
have two great guests on the show. So thank so much to Cory Ondrejka and
Wagner James Au, Hamlet Au. Thanks for appearing on Metanomics.
W. JAMES AU: Glad to. Thanks a lot.
CORY ONDREJKA: Yeah, thanks a lot. When are we doing it again?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I’ll make sure to get you in Second Life again since,
actually, I think when you were crashed, James, Cory admitted this is the first time he’s
been in Second Life since December. So we miss you, Cory, and I will be sure to have you
both back on the show so we can explore in more detail a lot of what we talked about here.
I see Zotarah is asking, “Why can’t we have a longer show, Beyers?” Well, one reason is
that Second Life Cable Networks has to go film Real Biz. Cybergirl Oh is going to take us on
a tour of Accenture Careers Island, and so you can see that. That’s going to start around,
what is that, 1:00 SLT, right after this. You can see it on any SLCN screen.
Before we end, I just have a quick announcement to make, which is that Metanomics is
looking for some help. So as we make the transition from winter to spring and summer,
we’re looking for people to help us out with our website, to help us out with content,
arranging guests, all sorts of things, and these are going to be fairly visible and paying jobs.
So if you are interested in Metanomics and helping us step it up to the next level, please
contact me in-world as Beyers Sellers or firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will scan the audience and
see who’s out there so that I know you’re there somewhere.
The other thing we’ve been talking about is adding a couple short pre-produced segments
each week, like an update and analysis of current events and economic activity. This would
be something that would be produced before the show, and it would air immediately before
and after Metanomics and, hopefully, a number of other times during the week on SLCN. So
if you’re interested in being a writer, announcer, something like that, providing us with some
content, please do, again, contact me, Beyers Sellers in-world, email@example.com.
Again, Cory, James, thank you for a great show. Cory, fly safe. Watch out for the wiring in
those wheel bases. And, James, you’d better run to your meeting. I kept you over.
CORY ONDREJKA: All right. Thank you very much.
W. JAMES AU: Oh, no problem.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thanks to everyone. Bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer