CHRISTIAN RENAUD, CHIEF ARCHITECT OF VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS
JUNE 30, 2008
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome to Metanomics here on JenzZa Misfit’s historic Muse
Isle. Thanks to our new primary sponsor, Simuality, for making this show possible, as well
as our four supporting sponsors Kelly Services, Language Lab and InterSection Unlimited,
and, of course, my own institution the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell
University. This is a very special day for me here at the Johnson School because it’s my last
day as director of graduate studies overseeing our doctoral program, which I’ve done since,
well, it feels like forever. And if I tell you how long, you’ll know how old I am. But while I still
wear this hat for one more day, let me make the following pitch: If you are interested in
studying the business of Virtual Worlds or using Virtual Worlds to study Real World
business, take a look at our doctoral program. Of course, you’ll have to be able to fit into
one of our traditional areas of doctoral study: accounting, finance, marketing, management
and organizations or operations management.
But we’re a pretty eclectic place. We have a strong tradition of blending economics and
psychology in our research. So you’ve got time to pull an application together. The deadline
for entry in Fall 2009 isn’t until December. So if this pitch gets one good applicant, I will have
done a big service to our school. And, if you know of someone who might be interested,
have them contact me.
If you want to know what lies ahead for Metanomics, join the Metanomics Group in Second
Life. I know you’re already bumping up against your 25-group limit, but let me make the
case. We already have over 900 members in the group, and you’ll find interesting
discussions in group chat just about any time, day or night, with very interesting people. We
announce the Metanomics events, of course, but we also announce events that aren’t
Metanomics, but that we think will be of interest to our audience. Don’t worry. We pay close
attention to what we’re doing so you won’t just get spammed. So join the group, join the
community, and let us know you’re around.
Just like last week, we’re using InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system to transmit local
chat to our website and website chat into our event partners. Our event partner locations are
Meta Partners Conference Area, Colonia Nova Amphitheater, the Outreach Amphitheater of
the New Media Consortium Educational Community Sims and Rockliffe University. I’d like to
give a special shout out this week to our Belgian friends at Meta Partners Conference Area.
Meta Partners is based in Antwerp and specializes in virtual communications. They’re the
brainchild of a company that provides graphic content for the packaging industry, packaging
and converting essentials. Meta Partners owns 15 islands in Second Life, making it the
largest Second Life landowner in Belgium. So it’s interesting, the islands have names like
Beethoven, which is the home of packaging and converting essentials; Grieg, which is Meta
Partners’ home; Chopin; Vivaldi’s Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter; Albinoni; Bizet;
Bach; Mozart. I think you might see the pattern. So anyway, hello to all of you, and I hope to
see you in Belgium in September.
In a change from last season, we encourage you, during the show, to use local chat rather
than the Metanomics Group chat so everyone can see it. ChatBridge technology, keep in
mind, does make your local chat public if you are close enough to the ChatBridge
microphone so keep that in mind as you talk, but we definitely encourage you to pipe up.
That’s how we know that you’re out there listening, and that’s how you submit your
questions for our guest today, Christian Renaud, who, until about four days ago, was the
chief architect of the virtual collaborative environments for Cisco Systems.
Now before we talk with Christian, let’s take a look at our newly named segment that will
start each week’s school: Metanomics On The Spot.
Today’s On The Spot features Benjamin Duranske, author of Virtual Law, published by the
American Bar Association. He’s the co-chair of the ABA’s subcommittee on Virtual Law and
perhaps most famously the man behind virtuallyblind.com, an extremely popular website
covering Virtual Law. Ben, I’m delighted to have you as our special legal correspondent, and
I just hope that some of your fame will rub off on Metanomics. Welcome.
BENJAMIN DURANSKE: Thank you, Rob. I’m really happy to be part of the Metanomics
team. I hope to bring your viewers a straightforward interpretation of legal issues that’s
understandable, the same way that I try, sometimes with more success than others, to do
that at virtuallyblind.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I’m going to serve as, I hope, a useful test filter for our
audience since I am not a lawyer, and you have to make sure I understand you, otherwise I
can’t follow up on the questions.
Anyway, our topic today is international jurisdiction, and we’re going to start by talking about
what country’s laws govern a Virtual World. Let’s start with what are typically called the
Walled Gardens. These are the Worlds that manage their own servers and let users set up
accounts for that particular World. So for the World itself, the developers, which country’s
laws are going to govern them?
BENJAMIN DURANSKE: Well, let me start just with a very brief disclaimer. I have to do this
as an attorney, even though I’m not practicing right now. This is not legal advice, and you
should ask your own attorney for answers if you have specific questions. That’s always true,
but it’s particularly true today because international law is so situation specific. This
question, I think, will tie in nicely with your guests later because of the division that you just
highlighted by identifying Walled Gardens as one set of things to consider, the other open
standards, of course. The application has different legal rules governing them. So I’ll start
with your question, and I think that you have to step back to international law generally and
realize that there isn’t very much international law. International law essentially comes down
to power and politics. It comes down to the power of enforcement. In other words, in very
basic terms, the laws of the country where the server is, the executives, the buildings and
the other assets of a Virtual World company are located are the laws that will control that
Virtual World or at least control the company that runs that Virtual World.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So that’s the jurisdiction over the Virtual World developer itself.
BENJAMIN DURANSKE: It is.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So what about the users in those Worlds?
BENJAMIN DURANSKE: Well, the law that governs users is really just based on the law of
the country where the user is located, and that actually ties back a little bit to the laws that
govern the companies for this reason, and that’s that when even an executive who runs one
of these companies can be found in a country where the law prohibits his or her behavior,
that country can try to exert authority over that person. The U.S. has done this in the case of
David Carruthers, who’s a man that ran a gambling website out of the UK. He was changing
planes in Dallas. He’s not a U.S. citizen. He was arrested and charged with violation of U.S.
the foundation of what law will control. So just for example, Entropia Universe is located in
Sweden. If you logged on to Entropia from the United States and using chat provided U.S.
military secrets to a representative of the Chinese government, say, you could be charged
with espionage in the U.S. Now the activity took place in Sweden arguably. The Virtual
World existed in Sweden, but the U.S. government wouldn’t have any problem finding that
you are potentially on the hook for espionage for something that you did ostensibly in a
Virtual World in Sweden. Similarly if you live in a country that prohibits certain types of
communication such as the display of Nazi symbols in Germany or simulated child
pornography in almost every country except the United States, you could be prosecuted for
violating those laws in a Virtual World, no matter where those servers are located.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And is there anything special really about Virtual Worlds in this
case, or would the international jurisdiction regarding any type of internet activity be the
BENJAMIN DURANSKE: No. Until special laws are passed that have something to do or
directly address Virtual Worlds, which is relatively unlikely--there really haven’t even been
that many laws passed particular to the internet, although there’s some standard setting
bodies and things like that--the laws that govern would simply be the laws of international
jurisdiction as they apply to anything else. The best case law that we have so far will come
from cases that involve the web because there’s a close enough parallel that judges and
other fact-finding bodies will use those cases as the foundation for their rulings regarding
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. It sounds like primarily you’ve been talking about criminal
law so far. But what about civil actions? What about party A in country A suing party B in
country B for something that happened in a World that’s yet in a third country?
BENJAMIN DURANSKE: Right. This is where it gets really tricky. And a lot of this depends
on your own country’s rules because, when you bring a lawsuit, you’d like to bring it in your
own country generally. It’s cheaper and easier, and your attorney knows the language.
Basically there are three things that have to happen. First, the court has to find that it has
jurisdiction over the person that you want to sue. There’s several ways to get there. One is if
the person lives there, and, of course, that situation’s not the one we’re talking about where
both people are in the same place. The second though, and this is where courts will find
jurisdiction is if the person has a certain amount of presence in the jurisdiction. I’m avoiding
using some terms of [art?] here, but the key to internet cases is really whether a court finds
it has jurisdiction, depending on the extent to which the person you’re trying to sue has
contacts with your jurisdiction. One case which is very instructive--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Ben, are you dancing around the word “nexus,” which is one of
the few legal terms I know?
BENJAMIN DURANSKE: That’s right, Rob. It’s essentially that the events that you’re suing
around occurred from a common nexus in that jurisdiction. There’s a really good example of
this, and the case is Graduate Management Omissions Council v. Raju. In that case, the
U.S. courts established that they would be, at least the federal courts, fairly lenient on this.
In that case, Raju, who, I believe, was in India, was accused of selling official past GRE
exams, and a U.S. court found that it had jurisdiction, in spite of the fact that he was never
physically present here. The court found that selling illegals copies or infringing copies of the
exams to potential purchases in states within the United States was targeting the U.S.
market for U.S. purchasers. So in that case, the court found it had jurisdiction.
Now there are two other hurdles you have to clear. You have to be able to serve the lawsuit
on the person, and that can be pretty tricky. Under the Hague Convention, 55 countries
have agreed that everyone in those countries can be served through a relatively streamlined
process, but it still can be pretty expensive. Now in terms of Second Life, the top ten
countries by user origination include nine countries where the Hague Convention applies
and one, Brazil, where it does not. All of the other top ten are signatories to the Hague
So if you get served and you get jurisdiction, you’re still left--let’s say you win, which is what
happened in the Raju case by default, you still have to enforce a judgment, no matter
whether you win by default or whether you win by decision. But enforcing a judgment in a
foreign country can be obviously very problematic. The U.S. government doesn’t necessarily
have access to any of the assets of the person, and so you are reduced to trying to enforce
the judgment through local mechanisms, and typically by employing local counsel to help
you. That can be pretty expensive and complicated.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, thank you, Ben, for coming on to our show and telling
us that you’re really just touching the surface of the many legal issues that I hope that we
will spend the entire summer exploring. So again, thank you, Ben Duranske of
virtuallyblind.com. And we look forward to having you on On The Spot in the future.
BENJAMIN DURANSKE: Thanks, Beyers.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This was one of what I hope will also be a long series of
internationally focused topics that we cover on Metanomics because we are, through the
help of one of our sponsors, forging new connections with international communities. That
sponsor is Language Lab. For those who don’t know, Language Lab teaches English as a
foreign language right here in Second Life. They’ve got a really fascinating business model
which we will talk about in a future show. But I do want to say thanks to one of their
representatives, Mary Beth Cranfill(?), who’s right here on Muse Isle. So really thanks to
Language Lab for your support, not just, of course, financial but also more importantly to
help us reach into the international community. Those of you who are listening, who are in
other countries and see interesting international issues and content in Virtual Worlds that we
can cover, please do let us know.
Now our special guest for today in our main event is Christian Renaud. And, to give us
some background on Christian, the second part of On The Spot brings us Cybergrrl Oh, who
had a chance to interview Christian and is going to take us on a quick retrospective.
Cybergrrl, welcome to Metanomics.
CYBERGRRL OH: Ah, thanks, Beyers. It’s great to be here. So yes, I did have a chance to
talk to Christian Renaud, and here’s some of the things that I uncovered. Well, as some of
you know, on June 27th, just the other day, Christian blogged that he is leaving his position
at Cisco after nearly 12 years with the company, and he’s pursuing new ventures. Now
some of the 35-plus products that he worked on during his tenure with Cisco included
remote access servers, packet voice gateways, home gateways, broadband over power
lines, avatar mediated communications, and the list goes on and on. So in other words,
Beyers, Christian is your classic geek and your modern day telecommuter, with a home
office based in the cornfields of Iowa. Okay, well, maybe not actually the cornfields, but he
did say that less than three miles down the road from his place are actual cornfields. So
Christian started his career at Cisco in 1996, leaving behind sunny southern California
where he was working at Bay Networks in sales and heading to the not so sunny San Jose.
But before that, he worked with Online, a systems integrator, where he developed their
systems engineering practice around computer networking.
And, in the early ’90s, he was with a company called--okay, now I’m not going to pronounce
this right--CICOmerica(?), the U.S. division of CICOM(?), the Japanese security
conglomerate. Okay, he says I’m close enough. Good. At least I didn’t mispronounce his
name. So while he was there at the Japanese security conglomerate, he architected the
company’s local and wide area networks, standardized the microcomputers, building
minicomputers, computer-aided dispatch systems for one of their operating companies Life
Fleet Ambulance. Can you believe I got all this detail out of him? Oh, and did I mention that
Christian’s a geek, with a capital “G,” and he’s darn proud of it.
So taking a look back at his early years, I asked him what did he want to be when he grew
up, and he said it changed pretty frequently. He was a tech enthusiast geek kid, and he
would actually ride his bike to computer stores to get programmers to autograph his Apple II
software. Now he mentioned Bill Budge creator of Pinball Construction Set. Somebody out
there must know what this is all about. Super geeks, say hey. Anyway, Christian recalls that
he was always tinkering with something or other, including Apple II’s, and that as a
freshman he taught his high school math teacher math teacher how to program his Apple II
during study hall. So after a semester of college in the Midwest, he headed for California
with a backpack on his back and $20.00 in his pocket. And he worked his way up from the
mailroom to programming data acquisition testers for heart valves at Baxter Healthcare and
was finally geeking at a professional level and getting paid for it.
So Christian confesses that he took the scenic route through college. He attended about ten
different schools, including Stanford and Indiana University, five for undergrad alone, and
finally got his undergrad degree in business from the University of Phoenix before the
school went entirely online. So to this day, he is perpetually partway through his grad work
for an MBA and considers taking grad classes something of a hobby. And he says if he won
the lottery tomorrow, he’d probably want to attend MIT or Stanford to complete his MBA, or
the Santa Fe Institute. But he just doesn’t want to be away from his family.
I really wanted to add this part to our little Christian Renaud retrospective. Family’s very
important to Christian. He’s married to an engineer he met at Cisco, and he and his wife
have two daughters, ages three and six. So relocating to Iowa was partly due--well, actually
entirely due, to wanting to be present for his family. So after the birth of the couple’s first
child, his Palo Alto bachelor pad was no longer sufficient, and he shopped around Silicon
Valley, then southern California, Portland, Seattle--I mean you know the drill--looking for a
place to relocate. Settling in Johnston, Iowa; population 16,000. And he calls the place a
great soil to plant the kids in. So he admits the first several years out there he was just
spending time on the road. He didn’t want to become flat daddy on the computer screen,
referring to video conferencing with his daughters while he was on the road. So now things
are different. And, in terms of where he’s going, wasn’t it Charles Bukowski who said genius
might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way. Well, Christian’s taking that to
heart. He’s moving into the analyst business, helping companies better understand new
technologies and how to use them. So right off the bat, he’s advising two different startups
and formally advising two other startups and also advising a venture fund.
And he’s starting a new company, Beyers, which I’m sure you’ll be discussing with him very
soon. So he says instead of the typical practice of hiring junior analysts to build expertise in
a field, Christian is going to aggregate known experts who are experts in various technology
subject matters and provide their insight and analysis directly to early adopter customers.
So that’s sort of his 30-second elevator pitch, but, of course, you’ll be hearing it straight from
the horse’s mouth in a minute. But basically his company will provide a direct path to
experts. It sounds like an intriguing new venture.
Back to you, Beyers. We can’t wait to hear more.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Cybergrrl, thank you for a wonderful background, and, yeah, you
know that Christian does a great job making complicated things seem simple, but he also
knows how to not answer questions sometimes. So the fact that you were able to get that
much detail out of him is very impressive. So thank you very much. And that closes out
Metanomics On The Spot this week with Ben Duranske and Cybergrrl Oh. Cybergrrl is our
new enterprise correspondent, and you’ll be hearing more from her throughout the summer
as well. Let’s now turn to our main event, and, Christian, welcome to Metanomics.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Thanks. It’s good to be here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I haven’t had you on the show before, but I did have the pleasure
of conducting one of my interviews for Metanomics last fall at Cisco headquarters. I seem to
remember we spent a fair bit of time playing hide and seek with the firewall.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: I think it was actually more time trying to find a conference room
that wasn’t occupied.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So given your transition out of Cisco and into some new
businesses, what I’d like to do is structure this in three parts. One is to talk a little bit about
what you and Cisco have accomplished in the past few years in the Metaverse. As much as
you know, what Cisco plans for the future. And then finally, what you see happening in the
Metaverse at large over the next few years. So I’d like to start with just a question about
basic strategy. Why is Cisco interested in Virtual Worlds?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Why is Cisco interested in Virtual Worlds? I think that’s a relatively
straightforward one, which is, any technology that allows people to collaborate at a distance
in a very rich way and leverage the internet to make geography not matter is going to be
something that’s up Cisco’s alley. And help me, I’m still working on my tenses. I almost said
“we,” but I should say “they” are in the business of pushing packets. So anything that is a
packet sucking alien or packet sucking application at PSA, like Virtual Worlds and so forth,
is going to be front and center for them. And they have a multibillion dollar business within
Cisco in shipping things like IP phones and Packet Voice Gateways, IntelliPresence and
unified communications. So this, in some ways, could be additive to that. I mean, if it’s a
breakout room out of a WebEx session or if it’s an enterprise work space, it’s still consistent
with the businesses that they currently have, and it’s just another, if you would, viewing
angle, on the same set of data.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I know Cisco’s been particularly interested in the data required for
teleconferencing, for the distributed workplace--telecommuting and so on. You really walk
the walk. You live in Iowa. As you explained it to me once, I think, last fall, you talked about
engaging in geographic arbitrage, living in a relatively inexpensive rural area, drawing a
Silicon Valley income. And you tried to go several months last year without flying anywhere.
You almost made it; just one trip?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yeah. Yeah. My good friends over at Intel asked me to come out
and talk to their executive team about some things that they had been talking about at CES.
And when you’re going to meet with the executive team of a big company like Intel, yeah,
you get on a plane. It would be nice to say, “No, no. Let’s just hop on the phone,” but people
like that, I guess you have to show a little face for. We’re still evolutionarily biased to that
way, in respect and eye contact. So almost made it. And I’d say travel’s down better than
50 percent this calendar year. And it’s funny you’d say this. Actually right now, I’ve had
probably half a dozen requests to come and speak live at various venues in the last month
or so. And I just updated my Doppler last night on my blog, and I was thinking, “Wow!
Whatever happened to this no-travel thing. That was working pretty well. What did I do
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: When Cybergrrl was quoting you as saying you didn’t want to be
a flat dad, available to your kids only through teleconferencing, I was wondering how did it
work for you at Cisco? How do you stay in the loop at a major corporation as a flat exec?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Oh, you mean, how do you stay sort of tapped in, being a remote?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I mean obviously you’ve been tremendously successful,
but what would your advice be to someone who is trying to be offsite as you are and being a
flat exec a lot of the time?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: So there’s a few things. Obviously, if you’re the remote and if you,
let’s say, an island of remote and there’s a whole bunch of other people that are in a central
location, like using Cisco as an example, there’s a density of people in San Jose and
Raleigh and Lausanne, Switzerland, and so forth. Obviously, the onus of responsibility is on
you to proactively communicate to them. I think using a set of tools-- and one of my new
companies right now is like this. It’s distributed. Everybody lives in a different state. Just as
my last project at Cisco we have to leverage technology to give us a common shared sort of
headquarters or a common shared war room. And that creates a sense of persistence. You
can pop in and out. You can update documents, and you can chat with each other. And
that’s just using 2D technologies. I mean we’ve leveraged 3D technologies as well. But
having that sort of creates that camaraderie of the bullpen that I’ve talked about before, of
being able to lean over a cubicle wall and say, “Hey, did you watch the game last night,” or,
“Did you see this or that episode of this television show?” And it builds trust, and, really, if
you’re working with people a lot, you need to have a strong sense of trust, anybody will tell
you. And you do that not only by explicit interactions, but also by all of the social
trust-building and implicit behavior and just informal conversation.
That’s when I think you can introduce some things like the serendipity in Virtual Worlds and
micro updates using things like Twitter when it’s up both minutes of the day, that sort of
thing. I’m closer to my friends and colleagues in the UK these days than I ever was before
because we’re allowed to have this constant asynchronous conversation via Twitter, and I
know what they’re up to just as if I’d leaned over the cubicle wall to BS with them.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I also just want to add a quote that I found looking you up. This
was from an article by Mitch Wagner who quotes you as saying, “I bump into customers and
partners multiple times a day in Second Life. In eleven years at Cisco, walking through the
parking lot in San Jose, I never get people to come up to me and say, ‘Hi, I’m a Cisco
customer. Have a second?’” So it’s not just within the corporation, but also I think maybe
doing the things that you’re describing may make it easier to interact with people outside
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yeah, I mean if all of us that are here and coming in via whatever
mechanism, we’re all in the same town, I’d say, “Hey, everybody, let’s go down to the corner
pub, and I’ll buy the first round.” But we’re not. So what do we use as that sort of common
bonfire--to use Ruben Steiger’s metaphor--what do we use as that travel bonfire that we all
sort of center around and swap stories. This is how we do that, and it’s that sense of
permanence. And when you do that, you build the sense of trust that allows you to interact
better as a team, allows you to serendipitously bump into people. Somebody in the chat line
used the concept of a water cooler. I have other colleagues that quote “schedule hallway
time,” which is bumping into somebody in a hallway. You’ll get a meeting request, “Hallway
time.” I think we really need to overcompensate if you are a remote or if you work in a
geographically distributed work team. You need to overcompensate for those serendipitous
interactions because, quite frankly, I mean I can think of two or three acquisitions that I was
part of when I was at Cisco that I’m almost entirely certain were the byproduct of bumping
into somebody in the cafeteria at the right time, at the right place versus, “Oh, let’s get in the
war room, and let’s talk about this.” It was, “Hey, did you hear about this or that? Hey, you
know what we could do.” And then stockholder value comes later.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now you talked about Cisco’s interest in Virtual Worlds being
basically to get as much information going across the lines as possible because that’s what
you guys provide. But I wanted to talk a little more specifically about the actual investments
that Cisco has made, is making and may make in the future. So you were the chief architect
of networked Virtual Environments for Cisco over the last--how long have you had that exact
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: I want to say it was two, two and a half years, something like that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Two and a half years. That’s about what I was thinking.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: And that was a sub-role within my broader role.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Mm-hmm. You’ve been a tireless speaker. Cisco’s been
sponsoring conferences, funding, research. Your CEO was in Second Life last week.
John Chambers was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions. So Cisco’s not
actually making--you’re an architect, but you weren’t actually overseeing projects to build
Virtual Worlds or Virtual World technology. Is that right?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Not entirely. I was the architect of, if you would, the strategy and
sort of to go to market plan. And that had a few legs on it. There is an Extraverse or, I’m
sorry, a Metaverse perspective of it, which is Second Life, making sure that all of our efforts
there were rolled out in a consistent manner and that it articulated the right strategy and that
we didn’t promptly fall on our virtual faces. So that was obviously a large time commitment,
and we learned a ton from that. There was an Extraverse component of that, which was
working with partners on a partner summit, and a lot happened out of a channel
organization at Cisco, and that’s really sort of to do matchmaking between channel partners,
which is, if you would, reseller systems integrators and third-party companies that develop
software around Cisco network components--so people who make special add-ons, who are
IP telephony routers or something like that, and connecting those with other resellers. And
we used a different system for that outside of Second Life.
And then I did oversee a development team specifically that was building product prototypes
because it wasn’t part of a formal business unit at Cisco, and those were the profit and loss
organizations. Which was additive to the IP telephone and WebEx and all of the unified
collaboration and packet telephony products that we had to create a Virtual Workspace.
And, with me leaving and that team also being restructured, a bit of that’s in flux there, and,
once again, given the nature of the fact that that’s an innovation group and not a product
group per se, it’s yet to be determined if any of that will ever leave potential energy and
actually hit kinetic energy stage. But no, everything that we do at Cisco, in some way or
another, had [AUDIO GLITCH] towards build product making money, shareholder value.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But it sounds like we shouldn’t be anticipating an announcement
by Cisco any time soon with a major product offering.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Well, you never know. I mean when I left, or just as I was leaving; it
took a while to leave. It was like a California divorce, two or three months of sawing through
all of the entanglements. I’d say the interest in this technology, once again, additive to the
existing offerings, and people understood that there were some things that--past
tense--there are things that these environments offer that aren’t addressed by any current
collaboration tools, but that is something that they would like to add to their portfolio. So
there’s lots and lots of chat going on at very high levels within the organization of what’s the
best way to roll forward with that. I wouldn’t say it’s an inevitability. I’d give it high odds, and
I think the difficulty is when you have lots and lots of products and lots and lots of revenue,
how do you integrate something as game-changing as Virtual Workspaces and 3D
visualization on top of that without breaking some of the existing businesses.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, especially since so many of those businesses are Cisco’s.
So I do wonder, I mean are you looking at a world in which these 3D environments are
integrated with offerings like the WebEx collaborative environment or this would be the next
generation of those environments?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Well, this goes a little bit into, I think, the material that you’ve pulled
out of one my blog posts about Walled Garden and Virtual Worlds going away. I think, as
long as virtual environments like Second Life, for example, or any of the analogs are
autonomous standalone Walled Gardens, they will not be successful. I mean if it’s a game
and you want to preserve this suspension of disbelief or you want to have an immersive
gaming token-esque experience in Warcraft, it makes sense. But if you’re using this for
collaboration and especially if you’re trying to do business, then the value is inverted to the
degree that it does not integrate with WebEx or somebody who wants to dial in from the
airport into the session or something like that. And I know, yes, we do have a number of
people that are working on tools to bring that sort of thing into Second Life. I think, when it is
fully integrated, that will be a useful tool for businesses. And then I still challenge that
multiple standalone social networking tools are not sustainable either. I don’t know how
many of you are on Friendster and Facebook and Twitter and, I mean, you name it, it’s just
a hell of a lot of time to update all of these independently, and eventually we need to start
converging and have those tools integrate to some degree with one another, either mashed
up or via some standard interchange formats. And I think that’s where we’re going to run to
with Virtual Worlds. They’re going to merge into social networking and enterprise
collaboration tools, and it’s going to be more of a, “Do you want to see this in 2D, or do you
want to see this in 3D?” depending on the job that you have at hand.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So that’s when you say, and this is a quote, I guess, from your
blog post, “Second Life and its walled closed ilk will fade into the sunset in the next 24 to 36
months.” I guess the case that you just made does tell me you can’t have too many of these,
but I mean do you see that one, whether it’s Second Life or a World that we don’t even
know yet that’s going to open up, do you think that it could just work with one great offering
that everyone moves toward?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: So when we had the inaugural meeting of the Virtual World
Interoperability Forum in, I want to say it was San Jose last October.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that was San Jose just before the Virtual Worlds
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Remember dragging me into the room?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes. Yeah. It was fascinating. I’ve never seen a meeting where
everyone had their laptop open or Blackberry, and half of them were in whatever Virtual
World it was they were representing, I think, reporting back to their colleagues.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yeah. And it’s essentially you have--just take the cross-section of
that room. So you had the Linden folks, and you had IBM and Cisco and Sun and all the big
tech companies and Google and Microsoft, and is any one of those companies going to say,
“All right, well, let’s just concede that to somebody else,” or do they actually want a hand in
crafting what the future of collaboration’s going to look like using these types of
environments. And I think it’s going to be the latter. And I said this before, and I said this
when we originally created the Second Life Corporate Business Council a year prior to that.
We were sitting around the table, and a couple of you have heard this anecdote, but I said,
“Well, we all know what’s going to happen. All these big companies,” I said, “we’re all going
to create our own environments, and we’re going to have this battle in the market on who’s
going to be successful and who’s not and who’s going to have more subscribers, until
eventually this war of attrition will occur. And, we’ll get down to one or two platforms that are
sort of the dominance, and then the customers will hold us at gunpoint to make them
interoperate.” And I said, “That’s going to take five years. This could take tens if not
hundreds of millions of dollars,” and I said, “Let’s just skip to the end, and we’ll all throw a
bunch of money in the middle of the table and a bunch of engineers, and we’ll buy the top
three Virtual World companies. And we’ll throw some engineers at it, and we’ll make it all
interoperate, and we’ll just call that the de facto standard. And then we’ll get to the really
profitable piece of adding value, adding applications on top of it. If we would have done this
with the World Wide Web, we’d all still be arguing about the standards instead of actually
using web pages.” And everybody around the table said, “Yes, absolutely great idea.” And
then I think--I don’t remember if it was Google or Microsoft was sitting next to me, and he
patted me on the back, and he said, “Nice try. But you know there’s no way that’s going to
happen.” So unfortunately--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’ve been following that a little bit, and I know they are now hung
up on some patent intellectual property issues in just being able to each share with one
another what it is that they know, what it is that they’re doing and planning.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: And the other thing, and I think one of the inherent things in the
Virtual World Interoperability Forum is this sort of genetic bias when you get in there
towards the current metaphor, the Second Life metaphor or Proton Media or Forterra,
whatever version of that you’d like, which discounts, in many ways, the people who are
coming at this from a completely different angle, like Trevor and Ian were doing over at
Transmutable, with Ogoglio, and Quaq to a lesser degree because they are somewhat more
like this. But the people that are taking more of a web services approach to this as opposed
to proprietary standalone client. They have a whole different set of fish to fry than polygon
interchange formats and avatar portability and things like that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me move on to another comment that you have made. In that
same blog, you talk about enterprise collaboration, and you refer to that as “just stuttering
along.” And you describe a case where you were talking with a couple internet research
group analysts Peter Christy and John Katsaros. And you said, “They pinned me up against
the wall on a conference call, once upon a time, and asked me to elaborate on the
differences between WebEx and Notes+SameTime and a 3D immersive office. Each time I
referenced an attribute of the Virtual Office, they had counterexamples of existing
technologies doing the same job easier and faster.” Do you think that still is the case?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yes, I do actually. I think there are things that we’re doing right
here, for example, being able to see Terra and Cybergrrl and Texas, and--I know half the
audience. I apologize. That’s the serendipity piece that you don’t really replicate, and, Rob,
you didn’t know who was going to come in and populate the seats today. So that flies a little
bit in the face of, “Let’s have a WebEx session, and whomever shows up, shows up,”
because there’s a priory question of who do you invite, and, if you don’t know who the
people are, you can’t invite them. Whereas, something like this is a little bit more of a
broadcast mechanism. We’re going to have this event, and anybody who wants to show up
can show up. And then you have serendipity opportunity. But a lot of things, if we’re looking
at slides, you don’t want to look at imported textures on a prim in Second Life compared to
something like a WebEx or even more now the new Adobe Connect stuff. The Acrobat Web
Services stuff is just glorious, and it’s much more flexible than anything we’ve been able to
bolt on to a prim, so I’d much rather use that tool for the job than try to make this tool do
I owned a Porsche before my kids were born, and I never tried to use it as a truck because
that wasn’t the type of tool that it was. I think there’s a logical fallacy in saying this is
beautiful, and it is. Second Life is great, and it’s a great tool for a few things. It’s not a great
tool for everything. And I think where the flaw comes in, in talking with analysts like Peter
and John especially because they’ve been through a lot of these cycles, and they’re very
insightful and cutting. Every time I’d say, “Well, look at this opportunity for a spatial audio,”
and they’d say, “Well, you can bolt that onto Skype. You can bolt that onto a number of
things. There’s Codex out there to do that. Look at web conferencing.” Every time I’d bring
up a use case, they’d bring up a counter-use case. And quite frankly, if you have a particular
thing that you want to do--I participated in a customer meeting first thing this morning, and
the best tool for that was not a Virtual World; it was the Adobe application, the WebEx
competitor. But, if I was going to have a user group, oh, I’d have it in something like this.
One of my new businesses has a roundtable component where you talk with subject matter
experts and analysts, and it’s using an environment like this so you can have this degree of
intimacy. Somebody in the industry called it the magic of physical proximity.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you brought up your business, your new businesses, new
paths, so let’s transition into that part of this discussion. Before we talk about what you’re
doing in the future, I have to ask you a question about your public announcement that you’re
leaving Cisco. You illustrated your post with a pair of handcuffs. Care to comment on the
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Somebody asked that before we got started. There’s two or three
levels of meaning with that one. One is, in Silicon Valley, there’s the whole talk of golden
handcuffs which are your stock options, and make sure that you’re never going to leave
because you look at your unvested options web page, and you go, “Oh, my goodness! Look
at all this money I’d be walking away from.” And the problem is, they keep giving you more
options so that number continues to grow, and you never want to walk away from that.
The other thing is, obviously, when you’re part of a large organization like I was for a dozen
years. I was telling Cybergrrl yesterday I thought that was about 300 percent longer than I
thought I’d be at any one company. It’s very easy to get inert or to atrophy and not continue
to grow, both from just a learning perspective and then also professionally. Luckily I had a
job the entire time I was at Cisco that allowed me to stay running pretty fast and hunting and
keeping my teeth sharp. But, even after awhile, doing that from one location from one
company is going to be restrictive. So that’s a little bit more of why the cuffs were coming
off, and I was getting emancipated a little bit to range a broader landscape and look at quite
a few more opportunities.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So tell us about the opportunities that both you have found and
are working on and that you can talk about, given whatever privacy rules you might be
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: No problem. There’s two that I will talk about right away, and there’s
a few more that’ll be being announced either on my personal blog or as part of one of these
new startups. One is a company that I’m starting, or that I started actually already, and it
leads back to the role that I’d been doing at Cisco. I think everybody in here, by definition,
and this is a bit of a self-selecting audience, but I’d go out on a limb and say that everybody
in the audience today is a heretic in some way or another if they walk around their
organization and say, “Here’s what I’m working on.” You get a lot of raised eyebrows and
rolled eyes, and people go, “Oh, my goodness! This person gets paid--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hear, hear!
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: --gets paid for this?” And that is the punishment you get for being
a--Prospero doesn’t get that, but he works in an organization of heretics so that’s okay, but
in a non-pejorative kind of way. So you have a bunch of people who are hunters, who are
early adopters, who are technology mavens. And usually when they’re approached or when
you have an opportunity to evaluate a new technology and see how relevant it is to your
organization, there is very, very little, in “Ben Duranske speak,” there’s very little case law
behind you to support your supposition that this is going to be valuable to your organization
or that there’s some benefit to be derived from this. And typically, if you’re working at a
bank, they’d say, “Great. Go call up the Gartner people and see what Gartner says about it.”
But, if it’s an emerging technology, the analyst community isn’t covering it yet. By definition,
it isn’t a validated thing. It isn’t a foregone conclusion that the technology’s going to be
So most of us, and I will speak in the collective “we,” don’t have any resources available to
us other than the individuals that we know that have done things. And so there’s sort of this
dark net sort of black market of inside case studies and what have you done that worked
and what did I do that worked, and we swap those on conference calls and that sort of thing.
And at the same time you have a number of people in industry who really have walked the
talk. I mean if you just go to the Virtual Worlds Conference and watch some of the panels,
just in the Virtual World in technology space, you’ve got some people that have done
phenomenal things. I mean look at what the IBM guys have done with data integration, and
they’ve learned a ton from that. And how about them being able to communicate that out to
a broader audience without having to write a book, but giving it better treatment than just a
So the idea behind the first company--it’s called the Technology Intelligence Group. It’s
techintellgroup.com is get subject matter experts across a broad cross-section of emerging
technologies, not just Virtual Worlds, but all over the spectrum and have the people that are
real subject matter experts provide insight and analysis, something useful not something
cursory, directly to the mavens, to the early adopters. So you sort of skip two years of
chin-stroking and, like I said, all that for the dark net where we try to find who’s the guy
who’s done this or what organization has done that and broadcast that a bit more.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Will you also be using these new technologies to engage with
your audience and clients in ways that traditional organizations don’t?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yeah, as much as is possible. I mean obviously Virtual Worlds are
on the cusp right now between, I’d say, emerging and early, so the traditional analyst firms
are starting to have a position on Second Life and so forth. Steve Prentiss, over at Gartner,
and Eric [AUDIO GLITCH], guys like [AUDIO GLITCH] running papers for the big analyst
firms, so it’s starting to get into people are familiar enough with it that the large companies
are starting to cover it. In something like that, yeah, like I said, we’re planning on using
Second Life and other technologies to do virtual roundtables with analysts. In other
instances, if you’re talking about free space optics or [enon?] implementations or something
like that, it’s not applicable, I guess, because they’re not all collaboration tools.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. It looks like we may have an audio problem. If there is
anyone out there who can tell me whether SLCN is still capturing this for later rebroadcast,
please let us know. If no one is hearing us or even recording that, please let us know as
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Beyers, while we’re debugging that, you want to go back and look
at the chat log? Because I think a few folks have thrown some questions our way.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, there are some interesting questions in there. I think you
actually answered a fair number of them through your discussion as you went through
talking about interoperability, which generated a lot of discussion. Do you have any
questions in there in particular that you would like to address?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Let’s see. Let me take a quick look.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I guess it goes back to this issue of the competition
between the different groups who are supposed to interoperate. I think it was
Valiant Westland, I believe, was the one who asked, “Given that we still don’t have
interoperability of, say, text chat, why do you think we’d ever have it for the much more
complex space of Virtual Worlds?”
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: That is an excellent question, and actually I mentioned it during the
keynote at the Virtual Worlds Conference in San Jose. I got offstage, and the guy who was
in charge of interoperability at AOL Instant Messaging tackled me and pulled me into a
conference room. I think that instant messaging is a good counterexample of what happens.
So you have all of this potential functionality if we were all using the same system. I mean
Twitter, in many ways, is sort of the broadcast version of where IM is unicast. But it’s very
functional in that everybody uses that system. There’s very few competing systems for that.
Pretty much everybody who needs to do micro-blogging uses Twitter; whereas, Rob, you
and I keep missing each other because you’ll send me an IM on Skype, and I’ll send you an
IM on AOL or something like that, and we don’t catch them until days later. I think that’s a
poor example, or that’s an example of what the failure condition looks like if we don’t pursue
And really what it comes down to is identity and presence more so than it is avatar
portability and polygons. And so some of this may be resolved in that this, to paraphrase I
think it was John Sculley at Apple when he was asked about TiVo once: He said, “That’s not
an industry; that’s a feature.” Maybe as the social networks evolve and we get to open
social and interoperability between the social networking platforms, that then there is a
persistent 3D component of that, that then gets to ride on the coattails of open social
network interoperability, and then we’ll just spin from that, and that’s what this will evolve
into versus proprietary stovepipes like MSN and AIM and Skype and all these other IM
implementations that don’t speak with one another.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So I am getting word from my producer that SLCN has
indeed crashed, but they are logging back on now. So it’ll probably be a couple minutes,
and what I’d like to do, well, actually we’ll talk with them, but I’m hoping that we’ll be able to
go back and at least get you to talk about the Technology Intelligence Group. Right? I have
that name right? Technology Intelligence Group?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yeah. Yeah.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And your other business ideas. But I also wanted to ask, and
even though it’s not being recorded, I want to know the answer, and I know that people right
here on Muse Isle can hear us. So way back at the Virtual Worlds Conference, way, way
back in October of 2007--everything moves so quickly in this world in this industry, it’s really
amazing for this slow academic. I’m used to the academic pace, but you had this great slide
that showed how many people were in the world, so you had this big image of the earth,
which represented the 6. whatever billion people. And then there was a smaller earth inside
it that had the 2.3 billion who have mobile phone connectivity. And then inside that you had
a smaller earth that was the 1.2 billion with internet connectivity, and you worked it down to
a $500 million addressable market for people who have all of everything that they need to
use Virtual Worlds.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Probably user not dollar.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Yes, sorry. Five hundred million user market size. And you
made the case that we basically need three things: interoperability between Worlds, not
Walled Gardens; better research on how Worlds can be used effectively, and good metrics
on how many people are actually in the various Worlds that exist. And so I’m wondering,
would you still see those as the top three? Clearly you care about the interoperability since
you’ve emphasized that so much today.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: I do. I think the interoperability is just as important as it was back
then. I think that the approach that we’re going to take to get there is going to be more of a
roundabout way than direct through maybe the Virtual World Interoperability Forum. I
wouldn’t be surprised, and I know Terra’s in the audience, and she’s a big OpenSim
advocate. I wouldn’t be surprised if a bunch of people just dog-piled on OpenSim, and it sort
of became a de facto standard or, like I said, if 3D visualization became a feature of an open
social networking fabric and that’s how we would be able to kick in the nitrous and the
network effect of going from single digit millions to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of
people using these environments concurrently. So I think interoperability is more important
than ever because the value of this is proportional to the number of people that are using it.
And you’re inherently going to be limited the amount of people they’re going to use any
There’s an interoperability component with outside systems, and I think that’s more
important than necessarily Virtual World to Virtual World, which is how do you tie in Skype
and instant messaging and video conferencing, all those things, into Virtual Environments,
other synchronous social networking tools. And I think that’s more important actually
because those are much larger populations.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And how about the metrics issue?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: I think the metrics issue is going to be important, especially now
that we’re sort of coming out of the hangover phase. Everybody was partying like crazy
around Virtual Worlds, and, obviously, the press which had already inflated Virtual Worlds
decided to deflate Virtual Worlds, and everybody was walking around with the hangover.
Now that we’re kind of shaking that hangover off, there’s a lot of skepticism, and I think the
bad press has lingered and so forth. But somebody made the observation, I think, on that
SRI panel that we were on Friday, that everybody talked about the internet the same way as
well. Originally, the web was just for porn. And, over time, a few trusting people got on and
built real businesses on it, and, as more of those use cases happened, as more of those
success stories happened, more and more people got in, and it became less of a risk
because there were other people to point to that had done well. And that’s really where
we’re at right now, as it’s almost a gestation phase where you accumulate enough success
stories to de-risk it for everybody else who wants to come in.
But that also blends into the third thing that you mentioned, Robert, which is research.
Somebody made a great comment about the Second Life crowd saying everything looks like
a nail. Being very, very sober and say this is where the technology is absolutely perfect for,
and this is what it’s not good for at all, and getting real tight on that. I mean that is, once
again, more towards the business community and towards the people who have to point at
ROI metrics for marketing and things like that, less for those of us who of us who get in and
socialize in Second Life. I mean that’s sort of an end in itself versus me having to tell my
wife an ROI metric about having a virtual roundtable.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I’m just getting word from SLCN. It turns out Real Life does
matter. They had a thunderstorm and lost power. So it’s hard to do really much of anything
without power. But they are rebooting. They are going to let us know, and then we’ll be able
to jump back in for the parts that will be recorded for prosperity. Yes, that’s right.
Prospero Linden says, “Can’t blame Linden Lab for that one.” I don’t know. I think Second
Life residents always seem to find a way, don’t they.
Let’s see. You were talking about better research on how Worlds can be used effectively.
You supported a few different research efforts when you were in your role at Cisco, right?
Didn’t you do some work with Malone at MIT?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yeah, well, the Media Lab. So a few things at MIT, the Center for
Digital Business, the Media Lab and the Center for Collective Intelligence. And then also
Coventry University over in the UK. Let’s see, a little bit of stuff at Stanford. Some stuff at
Georgia Tech. There were a number of different research efforts. This is the architect part.
You have to worry about everything from the beautiful façade on the building all the way
down to the toilets. Part of it is how do you take somebody--and this is what David Wortley
and the team did out at the Serious Games Institute at Coventry--how do you take
somebody who’s walking around a building and, when they get into a conference room, they
want to have a virtual meeting with other people and not have them have to fly their avatar
or teleport their avatar. So that was doing a little bit of mapping between your physical
location and your avatar’s location, on automatically moving that.
Did a little bit of stuff related to that with sensors, wearable sensors, with the MIT Media
Lab. Did some really good work with the Center for Digital Business, a guy named
Marshall Van Alstyne, at MIT, around sort of collaborative quotients. So what is it that builds
good collaborative teams, and how do you get to good decision making and so forth? So
this crowd of folks that we have with us today, what is our opportunity, or what is, if you
would, our quotient of being able to get a job done if we’re all huddled around a conference
table using this tool versus different tools, and what are the sort of primary metrics for that.
And then Tom Malone at Center for Collective Intelligence was: How do you build in sort of
more augmented things like prediction markets and collective decision making? Instrument
those into environments like this, and what can you get that’s better than an over-the-desk
interaction because it would be hard as hell if we were all sitting around a real room to
implement a prediction market. I mean you can have it on a wall or you have it on a piece of
scratch paper. It’s going to be a web page, and therefore, intrusive to the face to face
interaction. But if it’s a virtual meeting, I can have a little popup, like a friend off an SL, say,
“How well do you think this is going? Vote on it now and create a dynamic prediction market,
which is then very useful information to feed back to the broader organization.” So that’s
what we had Tom working on. So I’d say some of it was block and tackle work, how to make
these environments much more usable. Some of it was how do you leverage these
environments to make them much better than, and over-the-desk type of interaction.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I think we’re just about ready to start up again. Let’s see.
So, Texas, am I okay to count myself in?
STAR: Just hold on a second. Beyers, Star here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, hi, Star.
STAR: Hey, sorry about that.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: And Yxes just put a little something up in the local chat.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Okay. And, Christian, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to
ask you again about your new company. Well, I’m sure you’ve given the pitch more than
once. So this will make it 347 times that you’ve told people what it is you’re planning to do.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: That’s all right. It’s like the venture capital thing on Sandhill Road in
Silicon Valley. You start at the bottom of the hill with your pitch, and by the time you get all
the way up to the top of the hill, you've got a different company name, a different
PowerPoint presentation, a different business model.
STAR: Okay. Standing by whenever you’re ready. Live in 3, 2, 1.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So, Christian, can you tell us a little bit about your business
ventures going forward and, in particular, I guess let’s start with the Technology Intelligence
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yes. So Technology Intelligence Group is sort of applying all the
lessons that all of us have learned in the last quite a few years about the difference between
closed models and Walled Gardens and how inefficient those are in contrast to more of an
open innovation model. So it’s an emerging technology analyst firm, but it will have probably
one or two part-time employees at most. And all of the analysts are individuals that are
already out in the community. You probably know a lot of them. They’re subject matter
experts in emerging technologies, and each individual is an expert in one or two. But it’s in
contrast to the traditional analyst model, which is, I’m going to have some folks right out of
school, and I’m going to have a few greybeards, and we’re going to build up competency
across a certain set of technologies over time. This is a little bit more: find the people who,
whatever it is, if it’s the shrimp farming software, to pick an example from a Guy Kawasaki
book. If that’s the newest, hottest emerging technology, who’s the person who knows about
shrimp farming software on the planet, and that person would be the person writing analysis
and not somebody who talked to somebody who talked to them. That provides people with
direct access to the people who are most knowledgeable, the subject matter experts around
the space and provides those folks a path that’s much more topical and timely than taking a
year out to write a book. By the time it’s published, it’s out of date or giving it, at most,
cursory treatment on a blog post because you really can’t get into 15 pages of analysis on a
blog post. So it’s the spot right in the middle.
So you have people who really desperately need insight on emerging technologies when
they’re still emerging technologies, before they mature. And then you have, on the other
side, you have subject matter experts who are constantly trying to find a way to
communicate to more people. So it’s almost a matchmaking service. And like I said that’s in
sharp contrast to--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You mentioned that the people who are going to be your
analysts, subject matter experts, that we would know many of their names. Are there any
names you can go public with at this point?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: There’s a few people, and I’ll go out on a little bit of a limb and
name off a few that have already confirmed and have stuff in the works. So one is
Tony O’Driscoll, who is now running Duke’s distance education practice. He’s re-crafting all
of their distance MBAs and that sort of thing. And Tony has forgotten more about education
in Virtual Environments and that sort of thing than I will ever know. People like
Ted Castronova on the Virtual Economy side. People like LeRoy Heinrichs(?) and
[Pardee Dev?] on virtual simulations. I’m just speaking within the boundaries of people, or
let’s say the Virtual World crowd. But I think, in total, we’re up to something like 15 different
people who’ve signed up to contribute content, to provide analysis and insight and do things
like virtual roundtables and meet [AUDIO GLITCH] thing, in addition to their full time jobs.
And [AUDIO GLITCH] those are Virtual World ready because obviously I’ve been going to a
lot of Virtual World conferences, and I met a lot of those folks in the last few years.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, let’s talk just for a second about organizational form. Is
this going to be a corporation? And so then what’s the revenue model for the business itself,
and what’s the revenue model for the experts who sign on?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: So this is almost, I guess, from a revenue model perspective, it’s
almost more like a marketplace. All I did was pay a couple guys I think the price of a laptop
to develop some web software so we could have a commerce engine and a nice flash front
end. And, as a result, my out-of-pocket’s really not that big. And since I was going to be
doing that anyway for some other projects I have in mind, leveraging that so these subject
matter experts can have a path to market for their analysis and insight is almost a freebie. I
mean it’s a few pennies a month. On Amazon, it’s three or something like that. So the
revenue model, really, this isn’t meant to be a multibillion dollar business or something. To
me, I’m helping these SMEs have a venue to market, and we’re doing a few things like
writing some papers on spec and a few other things, to help promote the site. But, beyond
that, it’s relatively low profile. It’s going to be the people who need emerging technology
analysis and insight are used to looking around and fighting for scraps and trying to find the
one or two data points that are out there, so this will be a little bit of an oasis for them. But it
is by no means meant to be some very large monolithic analyst concern, with a whole bunch
of employees and--full-time employees anyway.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. And you have another business you’re in a position to talk
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: I have a couple other startups that I’m advising to, sort of helping
them out with go to market and technology strategy and things like that. And they’re in
different areas of the technology space. There’s a couple of Virtual World companies that
I’m informally advising, and I don’t want to talk about that right now because that’s still
sensitive. But the other two companies that I’m formally advising are Windmill Networks,
which is the most recent company to try to rationalize a little bit of how computer network
management is done, because that gets very unwieldy very quickly if you have a large
network. And another company called Palisade Systems that is in sort of regulatory
compliance, something that you know a fair bit about, Robert, in how do you prevent
propriety and sensitive data, maybe things that you even have regulatory strictures from
either coming into your company or exiting your company if it’s not supposed to. So it’s a
little bit like a firewall or anti-spam idea applied to data content. So I’m helping them a little
bit on technology strategy. That’s Palisade Systems, and they’re working real good in the
small and medium business space. And then advising venture funds and other things.
There’s a bunch of smaller opportunities that keep popping up, and it’s a lot of fun. It allows
me to go off and hunt some more.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, this is a phrase I’ve heard Mitch Kapor use a few times,
saying Linden Lab is always facing “insurmountable opportunities.” It’s the nature, I think, of
being at the forefront of this technological innovation and really an industry that is being very
innovative on their business side as well. So just the way people are doing business seems
to be changing, and so there’s certainly lots of ways you can use up all that time you’re
saving by not hopping on an airplane.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yeah. I don’t know if you noticed JenzZa just made a quick
comment. She and I are going to be opening up a high fructose corn syrup distillery here in
my back yard here pretty soon.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Everyone lives in Iowa it seems. How’s your flooding, by
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Now it’s okay.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now it’s okay?
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Yeah. It broke through some levees, and it provided a few feet of
water downtown in some of the major cities in this area. It wasn’t a hundred-year storm, but
it was a pretty bad one this year, and it did a lot of damage to the crops, unfortunately, so a
lot of the farmers are going to have rough years. Never like to hear that, especially when
you have sort of the global food situation in the nasty shape that it’s in. You never want to
hear about crops getting washed out.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I know we are all going to be feeling that for more than just
this summer. Now we’re out of time, but, Christian, thank you very much for coming on to
Metanomics and telling us about where you’ve been and where you’ve headed. I wish you
the best of luck with the Technology Intelligence Group and all the other startups.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Thank you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And say hello to your family from Flat Rob. They can watch
Beyers on the show. I’m sure you share with them all of the speeches that you give and all
of the conference appearances, so they might as well watch a little Metanomics too.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thanks a lot.
CHRISTIAN RENAUD: Thank you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now, at the close of our show, we’re going to turn to a newly
named segment that will close all of our shows: a short opinion piece that we’re calling
Connecting The Dots. My title today for Connecting The Dots is Teachers, Meet Roflcopter.
If you click on the top of our Metanomics kiosk, you’ll be taken to a blog post in which I
welcome our newest blogger, Cornell student A.J. Tan, to the Metanomics website. Over the
summer, A.J. will be giving a student’s perspective on Second Life, and I’m very interested
in hearing from other educators what we might learn from his experience. My own first
comment focuses on the first action everyone takes when they create a Second Life
account. They take a name. Now A.J. started out in Second Life with a rather innocuous
name, Alistair Constantine. But since then, he changed to the name he plans to use for the
remainder of the summer: Roflcopter Robonaught. The “Rofl” part is spelled R O F L, which
kids use in texting and games to say, “Rolling on the floor laughing.”
Now. A.J. makes the point in his point that technology makes us all about seven years older,
and I think he might be underestimating. I’m still in my 40s, but seeing the name “Roflcopter”
makes me want to jump up and say, “Hey, you kids, get off of my lawn!” The name makes
me nervous because Roflcopter is a name with roots in gaming and in griefing, which I
would define as intentionally keeping other people from achieving their objectives. Griefing,
to me, seems to be in direct conflict with the educational process because learning doesn’t
require keeping other people from learning.
So now I know a name with roots in gaming and griefing is not the same as griefing so why
am I concerned? Well, first, many educators, especially people in the humanities,
emphasize that Virtual Worlds allow people to construct new identities and personas. Will
A.J. feel the urge to live up to the griefer persona that his name suggests? I don’t mean that
he’d do this intentionally, but psychological research has shown that the power of names
and narratives to shape the way we perceive ourselves is very strong, and that, in turn,
shapes our behavior.
So I worry that the name of a single avatar could not only affect his own behavior, but also
the behavior of other avatars, other members of the class. Will classmates play up their own
griefer personas? Will griefing be viewed as more acceptable?
And finally, avatar names send signals to outsiders and to school administrators. In these
days of school violence, if a student had a nickname like Killer, would you use it in the
classroom? I think your dean or your principal might have an issue with that, not to mention
your institution’s legal counsel.
Now I know I sound like I’m going a bit overboard. The question here is really quite simple.
As educators, what policies should we be setting for the names of the students who are in
our class? How do we balance letting students use the freedom that comes with creating a
new persona in Virtual Worlds and maintaining classroom discipline? And, more generally,
what’s it going to be like teaching a generation of gamers in virtual classrooms, which, after
all, are more their turf than ours?
Okay. That’s this week’s edition of Connecting The Dots, closing out our show. Thanks for
tuning in. And I will see you all at Metanomics next week for our interview with Bettina Tizzy
of Not Possible in Real Life, a group of Second Life builders and artists devoted to making
content that is, well, not possible in real life. But this content can definitely have very real
implications for people who are trying to make the most of what Virtual Worlds can offer,
and this should be a very interesting show. See you next week. Bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer