METANOMICS WITH ROCKETON - JULY 14, 2008
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Good afternoon and welcome to a very special episode of
Metanomics. As always, we have a live audience in Second Life, but this time we’re also
going to take you on a tour of a new Virtual World still in Closed Alpha: RocketOn. And our
tour guides will be the company’s founders, CEO Steve Hoffman and VP Eric Hayashi. So
we’ll be able to get into the substance of their business strategy and some policy issues as
well as just getting a tour of this new Virtual World, which lays right on your browser and lets
you go just about wherever you want.
Metanomics is brought to you by Simuality, our primary sponsor, based in Evanston, Illinois.
We also have four supporting sponsors: Language Lab, Intersection Unlimited, my own
institution the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, and Kelly
Services. As usual our live venue in Second Life is the Muse Isle Arena, and we also
welcome everyone who’s at our event partners across the grid: Meta Partners Conference
Area, Rockliffe University, the Outreach Amphitheater of the New Media Consortium
Educational Community Sims and Colonia Nova Amphitheater.
If this is your introduction to Metanomics, we’d like to encourage you to join our Metanomics
Group in Second Life and also pick up a Metanomics kiosk. Those are both excellent ways
to keep up with our show, which I’d call “weekly,” except that it seems like we have more
than one show a week. In fact we had two shows; this is our second show of the day. Our
first, including also Philip Rosedale. If you missed that show this morning, it was before a lot
of you wake up, you’ll be able to see it on metanomics.net in just a day or so.
Just like we do every week, we’re using Intersection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system to
transmit local chat to our website and website chat into our event partners. Do keep in mind
that wherever you’re watching the show, your local chat is public and will be seen at all
event partner locations and on the web. Please do speak up though because that’s how we
know you’re out there, and that’s how you guys all meet one another.
Before we move on to RocketOn, we’re going to take a few minutes to put someone On The
Spot. Today that someone happens to be David Levine of IBM, the lovely avatar Zha Ewry
in Second Life. We had Zha on Metanomics as our main guest last season, and I think it
was the fastest hour of my life. There simply was not enough time to get through half of the
material that we wanted to cover. So, Zha, it’s great to have you on Metanomics again.
DAVID LEVINE: Hello. I’m required, so I’ll do this right away before I forget, to give you the
standard disclaimer. I work for IBM. I don’t set corporate policy, and, in particular, although
we’re working closely with Linden Lab, I don’t speak for Linden Lab, and I certainly don’t set
Linden Lab’s policy. So with that out of the way, let’s go ahead.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Yeah, that’s great. Now I can ask you anything, and you
can be outrageous. So, Zha, you’ve been quite a topic in the Second Life blogosphere lately
because of the recent announcement that you teleported from servers that were controlled
by Linden Lab, Second Life as we know it, to OpenSim servers that have been reverse
engineered to mimic the functionality of Second Life’s servers. So other than making you the
Neil Armstrong of the Metaverse, why is this development important?
DAVID LEVINE: Well, I actually should start with two quick clarifications. “Reverse
engineered” is probably deeply disingenuous or wrong, and it’s an independently developed
thing which has worked closely sometimes with Linden Lab, sometimes separately from
Linden Lab, to duplicate the function of a large portion of what Second Life does. The
OpenSim project, I think, would find it somewhat offensive if you had it described as merely
reverse engineering. There’s a lot of very creative original programming there. And second
of all, it’s not the main grid, in case anyone’s wondering. What we demonstrated as a proof
of concept was teleporting between a test grid that Linden Lab has set up specifically for this
purpose and a small number of servers that IBM is hosting on OpenSim, which is based in
the OpenSim software in order to demonstrate this.
As to why it’s important, it’s one of several steps I think we’re going to see over the next
several years to get Virtual Worlds away from being something of oddities, enclosed
gardens and into a much broader part of the interweb where we’re going to see content
creators have a bigger audience. We’re going to see a lot of innovation that happens in
parallel within Second Life and immediately surrounding Second Life and also as a way to
get corporations and educational institutions and governmental institutions opportunities to
build their deployments in ways which are separate from but coupled to parts of Second
Life’s grid. I think all of those developments are very exciting and very important.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now one of the things that I’ve heard, people who represent
enterprises say, is, “Well, we can’t really use Second Life because everything we do there is
on Second Life’s server. They or others can listen in. We don’t have the security that our
lawyers require us to have, and maybe even that our local law requires us to have in order
to keep our communications secure.” So when you say these are on IBM servers, you would
then have that type of security after you’ve taken that teleport into the [CROSSTALK]
DAVID LEVINE: Right. And this is an ongoing process. At the moment, we’re nowhere near
where that teleport gives you anything like a complete connection to something that feels
like or looks like Second Life or has the same functionality, though it’s certainly converging
on that. But the interesting point is, once you’ve taken that teleport, you’re hosted on a box
which can be placed behind a firewall, can be managed by your IT personnel and can, in
particular, handle things like your data retention and security policy. Now there are a ton of
related security privacy and policy issues that come up as soon as you do that. And so, for
example, you’ll notice if you’ve seen the video that Torley pulled of the demo work, that
everybody shows up as default avatars, not wearing clothing, not looking like their typical
Second Life self. That’s because, in fact, in the proof of concept work, we didn’t even
pretend that we were going to tackle those problems. We’re just tackling login and teleport.
Moving assets, handling permissions, setting policy and determining exactly how we’re
going to eventually grow out a grid of connected--and I hate the word “Virtual World”--the
connected regions and hosting and so on is going to be an ongoing process. This is not
suddenly you throw a switch, and instantly you can teleport and bring all of your clothing and
avatar assets with you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: About how far do you think we are realistically from--assuming
the policies can be nailed down, just from the technical perspective, what’s the timeline?
DAVID LEVINE: There isn’t a precise timeline. We are very much approaching--this is an
engineering exercise, which means we’re building and testing and exploring what the
impediments are to the approach, what the challenges are in the approach. I would guess,
as an engineer, and this is speaking strictly from the technical side, the programming part of
this is the easiest part. The hardest part is policy and, somewhat to an extent, socialization,
to make sure that we have the right structures in place to protect content and protect the
creative right for the people who built content. That’s absolutely fundamental to making this
work. One of the things that I personally believe is part of the secret sauce that makes
Second Life compelling is the rich content creation and the fact that people are rewarded for
that. And so making that right is fundamental to this.
Also although teleport looks easy, it’s actually, in fact, and sometimes the trivial part of this,
because that’s merely getting your presence across the wire. Fetching assets, managing
assets and so on require substantial care and attention that hasn’t been done in terms of
engineering. We did teleport first because of engineering consideration. You can’t pursue
some of the other pieces without that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s see. I’d like to follow up, I think, with the policy issues
that you referred to. There’s been a lot of talk about intellectual property rights, and, in
particular, I had three different people today express concern about a very specific thing that
this type of transport would make possible. And that is that someone could take an item out
of Second Life and onto another grid that doesn’t have copy protection built in. They could
open that item up, modify it, repackage it, do whatever they want, bring it back in to Second
Life as an illegitimate copy. So what are your thoughts on how to address this problem?
DAVID LEVINE: Okay. Let’s start with two specific issues there, one of which is making the
connection and all that and how that’s exactly going to end up being policy and decision set
by the grid hosters. In the case of Second Life, obviously Linden Lab. Just because the
OpenSim software does or doesn’t permit certain things to be built, and, in fact, OpenSim
software could be configured a number of different ways, doesn’t mean that anyone who
has an OpenSim after we do some interoperability work will suddenly have direct access to
Linden Lab’s asset server. Just as a technical matter, that asset server lives behind a
firewall, and you’d actually have to have a defined agreement with Linden Lab to get them to
give you access to their asset. It’s not as if suddenly having this protocol worked out and
even tested would just magically make those security issues, which were put in place for
exactly this reason, go away.
Secondly, there’s nothing inherent in what the interop work is doing that makes it easier or
harder to engage in theft of content or, if you prefer, infringement of copyright than you can
do with the client today. The end constraints on those are always legal. The technical reality
is that the client today let’s people who wish to engage in unscrupulous behavior do certain
things because of the fact that the moment a texture is presented to 25 clients, it’s sitting
physically in the graphics memory of those 25 clients, and people can do things. That’s a
fundamental hard fact of life that we all sort of look at reluctantly and say, “There’s not a lot
we can do about it.” If I want you to see my shirt, then that texture is going to be visible on
your client. Nothing we’re doing changes that, and, in particular, the protections which exist
today which are fundamentally that there’s a legal constraint against your copying that aren’t
going to change. And, again, I can’t speak for Linden Lab’s policies.
The technical underpinnings will allow us to express those policies, mark content with
people’s intent and I would assume that rational, sane grid providers are going to sign
agreements with each other that let them protect their legal rights. It would be odd, I would
think at best, and foolhardy is another word that comes to mind to set those sorts of things
up in ways that don’t protect your legal rights. That includes, for example obviously, content
that Linden Lab has had licensed under the current terms of service isn’t explicitly marked,
isn’t necessarily takable off the grid. In which case, that defines the constraint that, in terms
of deploying a service, you may have to live with.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thank you very much. I’m afraid we’re basically out of
time, but I definitely want to have a more extended discussion of these topics and also not
just with you but with some people who can speak for Linden Lab. So I hope to pull that
together over the summer, and I do hope you’ll be able to join us for that.
DAVID LEVINE: Oh, I’d certainly be interested in doing that. Also, for anyone who’s
interested in this, we do meet in-world. I’m always interested in discussion in-world anyone
who wants to grab me offer friend or offer IM feel free to do so after this, and we can set that
up. This is very much an open process. I don’t want anyone to feel as if they’re input isn’t
value to this.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Zha Ewry, David Levine, IBM, thank you very much for
taking your moments in the spotlight On The Spot.
Okay. Let’s move on now to the main event of the day, which is that we’re going to take a
look at RocketOn, and we have two tour guides with us. Let’s welcome to Metanomics
Steve Hoffman and Eric Hayashi. Steve, let’s start with you. Welcome to Metanomics.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Thanks for having us.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And, Eric, you as well. Let’s just make sure we can hear you say
ERIC HAYASHI: Hi there, Robert. Thank you for having us.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now you guys founded RocketOn together, and you both
come from basically game development background. Is that right?
STEVE HOFFMAN: That is right. So I can tell you a little about mine, and I’m sure Eric can
tell you about his. I’ve been in games for years now. I started off at Sega when it was in its
prime, when the Genesis was out, and worked out of their Tokyo office. And then I formed
my own game company called LavaMind and made a number of different games. And after
that, I continued in games and interactive television with a company called Spider Dance
that I founded. And then Eric and I hooked up when we were at InfoSpace doing mobile
games together. And, Eric, you want to--
ERIC HAYASHI: Sure. I had also started in the game space as a programmer and spent
some time then working in product development and in management a companies like
Virgin Interactive and also spent a good amount of time as Hasbro Interactive, in their
casual games group, where I ran a number of teams focused on creating casual games
back in the mid to late ’90s, and moved then to manage a couple studios out of Boston for
Vivendi Universal and did some time in mobile games development as well. And like Steve
said, we met at InfoSpace.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, the gaming tradition does definitely come through
Rocketon. I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time playing around with this new site. Before we
go further, I also want to bring one more person into the conversation, and that is our SLCN
camerawoman, Texas Timtam. Texas, can you say hello?
TEXAS TIMTAM: Hello, everyone. I don’t get a chance to talk very much on these shows,
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that’s right. This is your moment in the sun. You want to do
the “Hi, Mom,” thing or anything?
TEXAS TIMTAM: Hi, Mom.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So are we getting Rocketon on the screen now?
TEXAS TIMTAM: We will in about one second, and there we are on the Rocketon home
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Wonderful. So first I do want to clarify for the people who
are watching this show that Rocketon is in Closed Alpha. So if you just go to rocketon.com,
you actually can’t do much yet. Actually, Eric, what’s your schedule for deploying into Beta?
ERIC HAYASHI: So we feel that we’re very far along and that we’re pretty close. I’d say
within the next couple of months we’ll be, hopefully, turning it on for the general public and
moving to open it up a little bit more than it is right now.
STEVE HOFFMAN: I’ll chime in there. This is Steve, and what we could do for your users
is, we could let them into our Alpha so that they can test it out and see for themselves.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, that would be wonderful. At the end of the show, you can
pass along the information to us, and we will get that to our community. I really appreciate
STEVE HOFFMAN: Sure.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So let’s see now. Texas, hopefully, you’re looking at me
because I want to say hello to some people so I’m going to wave. Here I am. I’m Beyers.
Okay? I’m not very original with my names. And now you can see, and, Texas, just tell me if
people can’t see this on the screen. But you can see Kahuna to one side of me. Kahuna’s
got, I guess, a giant ‘fro. Now he’s got his guitar. I feel better now. Oh, see now I’m nervous
because you have a war hammer or a two-headed axe or something, and it looks like you’re
drinking wine. So this is going to be an interesting tour. I’m glad I planned ahead. I sort of
map-quested what we have. And then Steve has used his silly emote, and he’s got a
weedwacker. So one of my first questions here is sort of: What’s the value proposition for
the consumer? So I’m a user. I’m going to get into this World. What are the things that are
going to attract me and keep me? Steve, you want to take that?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Sure. The biggest value proposition is that we’re sort of opening up the
idea of a walled garden Virtual World to the entire internet. So as whereas with most Virtual
Worlds, you’re either on a website and you play within that website like for Gaia and Club
Penguin or you’re inside an application like with Second Life, we allow you to take you
avatar and walk around the web and meet friends and other people on virtually any website.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And we can play games as well?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yes. We’ve actually taken the time to--and that’s what we’re in the
process of doing right now is building out Virtual Spaces on top of sites. So if you go to your
favorite band site, you may see a music game. If you got to your favorite celebrity gossip
site, you might see a celebrity gossip game that you can participate in. If you go to a fashion
site, you can dress up your avatar and find new clothes. And so on and so forth.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now, on Rocketon, I guess you’re into games of chance
involving gnomes. I am going to challenge Texas here to a game of gnome toss, and I’m not
going to bet. I’m given a screen here that says I can bet some amount of rocket points. I’ll
want to talk about those in a moment, but for now I’ll just point out that we’re not allowed to
gamble in Second Life, and I’ve got my avatar in Second Life, so I’m not sure what I’m
allowed to do in Rocketon while I’m also in Second Life. So I’m going to do this for free.
We’re not actually going to pay any money. No betting now. And let’s see, Texas, hopefully,
you can see on your screen that little invitation to play gnome toss? And there we are. Let’s
see. You’ve got to choose, I believe, heads or tails. And there it goes. Oh, ho! I lost. Okay.
So Texas can send me to whatever website she wants to now.
Actually let’s talk just a little about these rocket points. I could have bet on those. Actually
when I started in this Alpha, I was endowed with some points. What’s the role of those?
That’s a Virtual Currency?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Eric, you want to dive in on this one?
ERIC HAYASHI: Sure. Yeah, that’s right. There are rocket points within the system, and
that’s a form of Virtual Currency. And we allow users to bet with those between themselves,
and we also give the users other ways of earning rocket points within the system just by
virtue by using the system. With rocket points, as you accumulate points, you can use those
points to purchase other items to create unique identity, bet points with other players. It
gives you a lot of in-world clout.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And you also have rocket dollars?
ERIC HAYASHI: That’s right. So we have another currency that’s rocket dollars. They’re
never intermingled with rocket points. And, with rocket dollars, we have an online payment
gateway where people can purchase rocket dollars, and there are certain items within the
system that are only available for rocket dollars. So if you really want to create a cool
identity, you want to get something really unique, pay some rocket dollars and do that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. And now is there an open exchange rate? Can I sell my
rocket dollars for cash?
ERIC HAYASHI: There is no exchange, so unlike some of the other Sims out there we’re
keeping our currencies completely separate.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Now you talked about putting content on top of websites.
What I’d like to do is go to another website and, Texas, if you’ll follow us up to the top left
corner here of the screen, there’s a little blue hole. So let’s see. Texas, tell me when you’ve
got me near this little hole.
TEXAS TIMTAM: I’ve got you now.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I see Steve and Kahuna are over there. Now who’s pets? I
see Rover and Meow, a little cat. Steve, are those your pets?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Those are my pets? I have a pet dog, Rover, right here. And Meow is
my cat. And I can see them. They listen to my chat. If they detect I’m happy, they’re happy.
If I’m sad, they walk away with their tail between their legs. They’re pretty smart pets. They
learn all sorts of tricks. I can have them do tricks. Do you want to see my dog do a flip?
There he goes. Boom! On my cat.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So now I’m going to click on this wormhole over on the left
here. When I click on that, it opens up, and it looks like something kind of out of Star Trek.
And when I click that, a dialogue box comes up. It says, “This is a Rocket. I’m a wormhole.
Click, and it’ll take us to cocacola.com.” One of their websites. So I’m going to go ahead and
do that and ask the rest of you to follow along. Okay. And so I’m now loading that site, and
let’s see. Okay. Here I am, and let’s let Texas catch up with us, our camera crew. We can’t
do anything exciting until the camera crew is here with us. Now, Texas, when I went through
I noticed that my Rocketon actually turned off. I had to turn it back on so you might--ah,
there we go. So I see Texas is there now. So you can see right in this corner here is a little
Coke vending machine or quasi-Coke. When I look at that logo, it doesn’t look identical. I’m
going to click on that, and it gives me a Coke can, and I’m going to go ahead and see what I
can do with that. So let’s see. I just have to find my stuff, and I’ve got a toy. All right. I think
that’s a toy, isn’t it?
STEVE HOFFMAN: We call it a toy.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. And there it is. So let’s see. Oh, yeah, there’s one: a little
Coke toss there. And I’ve got my own here. Let’s see what that does. Okay? So fun. You
guys definitely had some fun with this. What exactly is your association with Coke in
creating this site and creating this content on top of the site?
STEVE HOFFMAN: So basically we have the power to layer any sort of Virtual Object or
spaces over any website on the entire internet. So, with Coke, we simply put up our own
vending machine, and you can see it’s not exactly a Coke can because we didn’t want to
infringe on the trademarks, but we put our own version of a soda can up there, and people
can come there and start picking up sodas, and then they can use them wherever they go
on the web. And the same thing applies to any website. We’re putting stuff up now, like if
you take us to blackflag.com, the pest control company, you’ll see what we have there. A
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I can guess.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yeah. And we have actually a roach motel there where you can collect
roaches. And if you go to other sites, we are going to be layering on top of them content that
relates to that site.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So just so I’m totally clear on this: You can do this without any
permission from Coca Cola.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yes, as long as we don’t infringe on their trademarks.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And that’s because this is a plug-in that just puts basically a layer
over my browser and just has content that is tied to the website through the browser you
know that I’m at.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Exactly. So as a user, you’re installing on your computer the ability to
layer this Virtual World over that site. So that’s your choice, and the website has no say in
what you do.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I mean, in a sense, that means you don’t need anything
from a company like Coca Cola, but you might want something from them. So I’m wondering
what types of revenue models you have in mind that would provide win-win situations where
Coca Cola is happy to, in fact they encourage you and pay you to put content on the layer
over their site.
STEVE HOFFMAN: We have two things that brands can do with us. One is it can actually
put out virtual goods on their site, and users will pick up those virtual goods when they come
to the website. For example, if we did a deal with thegap.com, they could put virtual clothing
all over their site, different outfits. And if you go to thegap.com, as you go through their
online store, you could pick up virtual copies of each of their different outfits for your avatar.
Then when you go back out--first of all, that drove traffic to thegap.com, and it had the user
go through all the different pages of thegap.com to collect different items. Then the
secondary effect of that is, once a person dresses up in those outfits and goes back out
onto other sites, other users will ask them where they got them. And that will in turn drive
more traffic to the website. So that is our primary model.
In addition to that, we are allowing brands, and especially entertainment companies, to not
only put up outfits and clothing and avatars and creatures and toys that people can pick up,
but we’re also allowing them to embed games in virtual spaces on their site. So that when
other users come there, they actually hang out longer for making their site into a smaller
Virtual World, sort of like a Second Life island, but that connects to all the other websites out
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So I guess when I look at what you’ve done with Coke
here, one is, you’ve provided the wormholes that got us here, and the other is that you have
provided content that will be on the site. And now one of the questions we have from our
Second Life audience is: Can users create their own content, either now or in your vision for
STEVE HOFFMAN: Eric, you want to take this one?
ERIC HAYASHI: Currently users cannot create their own content. We’re trying to manage
that closely and keep that controlled, primarily not because users aren’t creative, but
because we really want to control the quality and the content of the site, at least initially. We
do intend to look at different ways of opening up the system, all of which we haven’t come to
any decisions or conclusions on yet.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So I have my own website, and I would actually like to take
you guys there. So what I’m going to do is type out here, and let’s see. So I just popped a
door on the screen a little bit below and to the right of Texas Timtam. And my understanding
is that everyone who is on this page, when I put the door down, when they click on that
door, I can basically invite them to join me on a journey to whatever that website is. So I
guess this time I will be polite, and I will let you go through first.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Great. Are you going to go there? I’m going to go.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And let’s see. Yeah. Okay. I see Texas has that on her screen as
well. Texas, go on ahead through. And let’s see. Texas, you see that door? Ah. There we
STEVE HOFFMAN: We’re all here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So let’s see. We’re all here, and here we are on the
Metanomics website. Okay? And a little confusing for me because the video is playing. So
actually the sound is playing. You know, the video, I’ve noticed, doesn’t work when I’m
actually in Rocketon. Actually it doesn’t seem like the door treated Steve too well. His avatar
looks a little bit different now.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Oh, it transformed me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But now I do notice that the functionality of my website
deteriorates with Rocketon on because it blocks the video. Do you know anything about why
Quick Time might behave unusually here and whether that’s something that you had
planned to fix?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yeah, that’s the reason we’re in Alpha. It’s to work out all the kinks.
The thing is, we basically layer on top of every site, so we have to work with all the different
sites, as well as with all the different browsers, so Firefox and IE6 and IE7 and Mac and PC.
So we are working out the kinks right now for small things like some video types. Now our
experience is most videos work without any problem.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, we’ll have to look into our site then and see what’s
the issue. But just more generally, I’m curious, how would you rate these types of technical
problems in the scheme of web design and interoperability? Have you found this to be much
more challenging than anticipated?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yes. Building this out has been technically more work than we
expected because we have to make it compatible not just with the different browser types,
but the different browser types and Flash on every site out there. So there are a lot of little
things, like you just pointed out, one of them that we are fixing one by one as we find them.
And we hope to have them, at least 99 percent of them fixed by the time we actually open
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So before we go to another site, I’m just disappointed
there’s no content on mine from you guys. So I’ll put a few dancing carrots here just so,
hopefully, that’s showing up all right on the screen. Maybe a little low for Texas, but people
see the carrot tops anyway. So let’s see. Okay. And then we’ve got a little crab there. See
now, if I had gotten hold of you guys earlier, I would have made sure that you built some of
this stuff in, and then we’d be luring a bunch of Rocketon folks to our site. But along those
lines actually, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Rocketon, interacting not just with the interface
and understanding the technical stuff, but also I’ve been interacting with the other Rocketon
avatars. And it seems like the age skews a little bit younger than Metanomics does. Not
many of the 13- and 14-year-olds I met seemed to be interested in business and policy in
the Metaverse of Virtual Worlds. So I guess I’m wondering: What is your target audience?
And if we bring in a group of people from Metanomics, are they just going to be interacting
with these young kids who have totally different interests? How do you handle these
communities? Maybe, Steve, you can take that.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Sure. Our belief is that we want this to be a broad system so to appeal
to a broad demographic and not a narrow demographic. So there are sites out there, like
Habbo, which specifically target the tween audience. And our approach has been 13 and
up. So initially a lot of our testers, because they have time, tend to be teenagers, but how
we see our system evolving is that people will segment themselves based on the type of
sites they’re interested in. So the Metanomics folks, everybody who is interested in a deeper
level of discourse than most teenagers are willing to talk about, will tend to congregate on
sites like Metanomics and meet other people there that they can chat with and interact with,
whereas, the teens will be hanging out on MySpace, on certain band sites and on YouTube
and other sites where their friends are hanging out.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So as long as we stick with our boring old business and
Virtual World blogs, we’ll be okay, and we’ll be able to form our own community.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yeah. I think you’ll filter out all the teenagers by virtue of the content,
and you’ll have people who’ll want to talk about the same things you want to talk about.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s see. I’m actually trying to give us another door, which
I did, but incorrectly I gather. What do you say we all just go to Google? Now we should just
be able to type right into the top of our browser. We ought to be able to just type
google.com. Let’s all head over there for a minute.
STEVE HOFFMAN: Okay. I typed it into my browser.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s see. I am there. I see Steve. I see Kahuna. Let’s see.
And there comes Texas. Okay. So this is a place where I’ve actually found that I’m able to
meet a lot of people because everyone goes to Google to do their search, and whatever
they’re searching for they’re still on the same page with me. I’m actually a little surprised
that we’re not seeing any other folks on this site. But, in fact, I mean if we were to all search
for something here, we’d all be seeing different information on our browser. Right?
STEVE HOFFMAN: That is correct. Eric, do you want to explain how we did this?
ERIC HAYASHI: Yeah. If you type in a search term and you’ll see the list of search links
that Google wants to give to you and likewise for everybody else that’s on Google, yet we’ll
still see each other on top of Google, by virtue of the primary domain. That’s the way it’s
STEVE HOFFMAN: And I will chime in. We actually have the ability to break off a specific
domain and allow people to both see the same page. So for instance, if you invited me to
join you, which you can do through your little friend’s console, I would actually come to the
specific page you are viewing at. So if it was a Google page that you had brought up with
specific search terms, I would see that. If it was a YouTube page with a specific video you
were watching, I'd go to exactly that video and watch it with you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Yeah, that sounds much closer to that experience where
you get to watch videos together, for example, which you know is a huge benefit of Virtual
STEVE HOFFMAN: [LAUGHS]
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: No. Serious. Actually being the host of a television show, I know
how important it is to the audience that since you’re not in Second Life you can’t see this or
watching the web, but there’s a lot of backchat. And actually a lot of great questions which I
probably should get to because they’ve been coming in. If you don’t mind, let me go through
a few questions here. We’ve gotten several about Weblins, which is a very similar type of
product, probably attracting largely the same audience. First, do you see them as sort of
your direct head-to-head competitors? And second, how do you deal with that?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Well, we don’t really deal with it, but we’re happy that other people are
playing around and having fun in the space. Weblins is the closest other Virtual World out
there to what we’re doing. So their feature sets a little different than ours, but they do allow
avatars to move from site to site just like we did.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, first of all, you were able to get funding relatively recently.
Right? D. E. Shaw gave you five million dollars in, what was that, series two? Do I have
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yeah. [Series three?] We’ve been building this out approaching a year
now, the back end for it and are just about ready to open up our doors. And we did our first
round of funding last August and our second round of funding with D. E. Shaw came in
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thanks, by the way, to Austin Scanlon for the question
about Weblins. I’d like to follow up. A little bit of a digression. But I’d just like to follow up a
little on the difficulties of raising capital these days. Every time you open the newspaper
these days, it is bad news. What has been your experience in the venture capital market?
Do you see things tightening up?
STEVE HOFFMAN: That’s a good question. I’ve been doing startups for a while. This is my
third venture-funded startup. So I knew a lot of people in the community, especially here in
Silicon Valley, so it was not too difficult for us to raise the funding. But we are seeing a trend
right now where, in general, the financial community is tightening their belts, and the
availability of capital is not as readily available as it was even a year ago. In our particular
case, we’re lucky we got our funding when we did because we have enough to last us for a
couple more years, so we have time to experiment and build out our system. But if you’re a
new company just starting out or you’re a company--I have several friends who are raising
money right now, who sort of are low on funds, then it can be much more difficult.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I appreciate the insight. I’ve got another question here from
Aki Shichiroji: This application tracks what you do and watch. Isn’t this service ripe for data
STEVE HOFFMAN: It is.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I guess what he doesn’t say is whether he sees that as a
good thing or a bad thing.
STEVE HOFFMAN: It depends where you sit. What our policy is, is to really protect the
user because, first of all, we feel like if user’s aren’t comfortable using the system, they
won’t use it. So if you look on the internet now, if you’re concerned at all about privacy,
which I personally am, you’ll see that it’s pretty easy to mine data everywhere you go. Like if
you logged into Google and you’re using AdWords, Google has a lot of access with the
cookies, where you are, what you’re viewing, and they know a lot about you. I think the real
important question for companies like ours and for every internet company out there is what
the company does with the data they gather, whether they keep it confidential, what they
track and how they share that data.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Do you have a specific policy?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yeah, we have actually spelled out our policy very clearly on our
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It must have been the thing I didn’t read when I clicked "Okay."
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yeah. But I can synopsize it for you. I won’t bore you with all the legal
text. But basically our policy is around respecting users and not giving away personal
sensitive information of our users to anybody.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And how about opt in, opt out policies? I have implicitly opted in
to any data you want to collect from me simply by signing on. Is that right?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Yeah. Some data we need, like the URL of where you go. We just
need that, otherwise we wouldn’t know what website you’re on and actually be able to send
you to the Virtual World associated with that. So there’s a certain base level of data we need
to gather for the system to function. And then, beyond that, for us it really comes down to if
there’s a partner, let’s say Coca Cola, what are they allowed to know.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Mm-hmm. Now for them to know something, as I understand it,
you have the data. It only appears that there is a relationship--all you really need to put the
appropriate content on, say, the Coca Cola site is--you know the URL the user is on, and
Coke is not directly going to get any of that information. That would have to be through an
agreement with you. Is that right?
STEVE HOFFMAN: That is correct.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, I’m sure there will probably be lots of questions about
the nature of those agreements that you make in the future. But, for now, let me go on to a
few other questions we have from our Metanomics audience members. A couple people,
including Valiant Westland, have asked: How do you keep popular sites from being
completely obscured by the presence of too many RocketOn users?
STEVE HOFFMAN: That is a great question. Eric, do you want to dive in on this?
ERIK HAYASHI: Yeah. Let me chime in on that one. There’s a couple of ways. First is that
we have designed our system in such a way that we create rooms. And so, if for example,
Google became crowded and started to get to the point at which we couldn’t see what’s on
the underlying page, we actually will spawn a new room, and any new users that browse to
Google would go into that room. And so, in that way, we’re able to manage the room
occupancy and, I guess, usability as well. So that’s the primary way in which we’re
managing room traffic.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Just ends up getting pretty confusing. The other thing that I guess
that I thought of, and I think maybe we haven’t quite made clear to our audience is that
RocketOn, this layer above the web page toggles on and off. So right now it’s toggled on,
and, if I try to click somewhere on the web page, even like if I click on my screen, it looks
like I just moved over the text box for Google search, and that’s because right now my
cursor is a little footprint, and it just makes me walk places. If I actually want to interact with
this site, I have to toggle off, and I will disappear. And now I can type in some search terms,
and I believe that, when people see this on the screen, I will be gone, and then I can come
back by toggling back on. So if I’m actually using the site, it’s not blocked by a whole bunch
of people because they all disappear.
STEVE HOFFMAN: That is right. We have two ways actually. We have to toggle on and off,
and what we’re adding which you can’t see in the version you’re using, the Alpha version,
but on our development server, we have the ability to click through to links.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Like hold down a control key or something like that?
STEVE HOFFMAN: We’re experimenting with usability because this is a question for us.
We want to make it as easy to use as possible, so we have the ability where you hold down
a control key and you can click through. We also have the ability where, if you mouse over a
link, the cursor will change from a little foot into an arrow, and you can actually--or a hand
that you can actually click on that link.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. That does seem like a step in the right direction for
usability. I’ve got another policy question here, and this comes from Vicki Silvanski about
gaming regulations that you allow gambling in RocketOn points. Do you see any cause for
concern there from a legal perspective?
STEVE HOFFMAN: No, and I’ll explain why because it’s different than Second Life. What
we don’t allow--we keep a Chinese wall between rocket points and rocket dollars. So
nobody can ever buy rocket points with rocket dollars or sell rocket points for rocket dollars.
Now rocket dollars equate to real currency, and rocket points are more like they’re just
points. They’re just gaming points so they mean nothing. You can buy things with them. You
can buy outfits for your avatars. You can buy objects soon for your personal rooms. And all
sorts of good things. But you can never buy something that would sell for rocket dollars with
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s see. I’ve got two more questions. One is: Couldn’t an
adult take a kid anywhere on the web?
STEVE HOFFMAN: This is something we’ve also addressed. So we have actually
employed a lot of different techniques for security. And the simplest security is that we never
take you to a website without showing you the URL first. We also warn you not to go there
unless you trust the person asking you to go. What we don’t want to do is totally restrict
people from traveling in groups around the internet together because that’s one of the very
unique things and compelling things about this type of Virtual World, which we want to give
people the freedom to do what they want, but we also want to protect, especially children,
who might be using the system. Although it is 13 and up, so we’re not constrained by COPA
laws, we also encourage any parents, who have any concerns about their kid browsing on
the web, to install one of the popular filters, like Net Nanny or Cyber Patrol. And, if you
install those filters, those are a hundred percent compatible with our system. So the person
who took you to the site, the child would be blocked from going there.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. We have time for one more question. This comes from
Valiant Westland again: How confident are you that Coke or any other major intellectual
property or trademark holder won’t decide that naked avatars or various toys or whatever
you put on their site are damaging their brand and take legal action to protect it? And I
guess here, I’d really say the brand more than anything else. So I guess this really is just
putting a point on that question we were discussing earlier. Are you absolutely sure that you
have total rights to put anything on anyone’s website you wanted, even if it were
intentionally derogatory or intentionally damaging to their brand?
STEVE HOFFMAN: Well, let me explain this. We’re not actually putting it on their site. We
are putting it on our Virtual World, which the user is choosing to layer over the site. So if
anybody goes to the Coke site, they won’t see our Virtual World unless they enter through
RocketOn. And that choice is made on the client machine. It’s not out there on the server.
So if each client is choosing that individually--so we don’t see, and we’ve had our lawyers
review this, any case for a brand to have any sort of legal recourse or action against us.
That said, our goal is not to antagonize brands. It’s actually to work with them.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I wasn’t proposing it as a business strategy.
STEVE HOFFMAN: So we will work with brands to make sure, and we have the ability to
do this, that the content that appears on their site is acceptable to them and companies in
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thank you. I think that we are probably out of time. So
yeah, I guess we do need to wrap up. I appreciate your both coming on the show and letting
us take a tour of RocketOn. It was an excellent time. It looks like the audience finds it
engaging. I personally must say that I’ve been playing around with Lively, Google’s Lively,
as well as RocketOn, over the last week, and I actually have found RocketOn to be stickier
for me, you know, something that I actually pay more attention to. Maybe that’s because I
haven’t gotten the CEO of Google yet to say he’ll come on the show. We’ll see. That’s next.
That’s next on the list. But anyway, Steve, Eric, thank you so much for coming on, and I will
talk with you after the show to figure out how we can get our Metanomics members into
RocketOn so we can hang out on websites we like and play gnome toss.
STEVE HOFFMAN: That sounds great. Thank you.
ERIC HAYASHI: Great. Thanks, Robert.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. Okay. So that closes out the main event of our show,
and now it is time to end the day with our regular opinion piece at the end, Connecting The
Dots. And my Connecting The Dots today is called I Know What You’ll Do Next Summer.
This week I’ve had lots of people remind me of just how much web technology can intrude
on our privacy. John Jainschigg, of World2World, wrote a blog post entitled Note to Google:
You’re creeping me out! Because, after writing an email on the political philosophies
underlying some Virtual World issues, he received a G-mail advertisement from
Marxist T-Shirts. That followed immediately on the heels of my communication director,
Lynne Cullen(?), telling me that since working with me on Metanomics, she’s now regularly
getting G-mail ads for Harvard Business Review and similar types of offerings.
Just today during the sound checks for the Metanomics special show, Philip Rosedale
confessed that when he was a little kid he would sit up on the roof and use the old antenna
apparatus from the old type of broadcast TV to eavesdrop on people in his neighborhood.
Think about it. So privacy issues aren’t anything new, but Virtual Worlds, I think, impose
upon us an entirely new level of privacy intrusion.
RocketOn, the focus of today’s show, gives us a good sense of why that is. We talked about
that a fair bit. Our primary sponsor, SlippCat, maybe raises even more questions. Because if
you’re surfing the web, you know you’re going to be giving the web host a lot of information.
If you’re using Google tools and cookies, you will be giving them quite a bit of information.
But if you’re in a Virtual World, potentially every avatar and every object around you can
also be collecting information, and, in fact, that is the foundation of the SlippCat technology
that comes from Code 4 software. It’s basically having enabled objects that can--well, let’s
just use the word--spy on you. So it isn’t just Google that may start creeping you out. How
about the people who made that chair in your room in Lively? Or that avatar that’s a
programmed bot tracking your every chat and mouse click. And did I mention, by the way,
that the bot’s avatar is invisible or so small that you can’t even notice it.
And finally, what happens when we bring in the statisticians? Much of my area of business
research, accounting and finance, is all about using statistical models to predict the future.
So give us enough data, and we’ll predict with reasonable accuracy where you’re going to
go next, what you’re going to buy and to twist that horror story tagline, “We’ll know what
you’ll do next summer.”
So what does this mean? I think first it means that there’s going to be a market demand for
people who make defensive tools. I used a product in Second Life called the Mysti Tool that
alerts me every time an avatar moves into chat range. But good tools are never going to be
perfect. So second, there’s a need for some privacy regulations specific to Virtual Worlds.
Terms of Service won’t be enough. As law professor Joshua Fairfield said in one of my first
Metanomics shows last fall, “Contracts between the World developer and the user aren’t
very effective at controlling disputes among residents. We need Real World law that
governs this type of data collection.” And we also need regulations on transparency, opt in
and opt out.
Addressing these privacy questions won’t be easy, but it is going to be essential if
businesses are to feel comfortable having their employees in the Metaverse and if parents
are going to be willing to let Virtual Worlds be the new electronic babysitters for their kids.
And I admit it does leave me thinking maybe television wasn’t so bad after all.
This is Beyers Sellers, Rob Bloomfield, closing out another episode of Metanomics.
Bye bye. See you next week.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer