112408 Electric Sheep Company Metanomics Transcript
METANOMICS: ELECTRIC SHEEP COMPANY AFTER SECOND LIFE
NOVEMBER 24, 2008
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Good afternoon, and welcome to Metanomics. I’m
Rob Bloomfield, and this is our 57th edition. Our spotlight guest today is Sibley Verbeck,
founder and CEO of the Electric Sheep Company. The Sheep were among the high profile
firms in Second Life, but last summer announced that they were directing their energies
toward a web-based service, Webflock. I, for one, am very curious to hear about why the
Sheep changed directions and where they’re going next. And, for your part, you may be
curious about why I, a mild-mannered and law-abiding accounting professor, am wearing an
orange prison jumpsuit. Well, you’ll just have to wait.
Metanomics is filmed from the virtual Sage Hall right here in Second Life, thanks to my Real
Life employer, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, whose home
is in Sage Hall. Thanks also to our outside sponsors InterSection Unlimited, Kelly Services,
Language Lab and Learning Tree International. I should point out, as the holiday season
approaches, that we’re starting conversations about sponsorships for the first quarter of
2009. So if you or your firm might be interested, please let me know as soon as possible.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to fit our entire audience into one region in
Second Life, particularly not when we have guests as high profile as our guests today. So I
want to say hello to our viewers at our many event partners Orange Island, Colonia Nova
Amphitheater, Meta Partners Conference Area, Rockliffe University, New Media Consortium
and JenzZa Misfit’s historic Muse Isle. We connect the communities in all of our event
partners through InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system, which transmits local chat to
our website and website chat to our event partners and chat from one event partner to all of
the others. So this great technology brings you in touch with people around Second Life and
on the web wherever you are. So speak up, and let everyone know your thoughts. Make
sure that you register on the metanomics.net website in order to tap in to this great
We start our show by putting Nonny de la Peña On The Spot. Nonny is a former
correspondent for Newsweek Magazine and writer for the New York Times and has directed
and produced four feature-length documentaries. She’s now a graduate student in the
University of Southern California’s Annenberg Program in Online Communities. But we have
Nonny on Metanomics today because she is the co-creator of the Gone Gitmo installation in
Second Life, about Guantanamo Bay. Machinima wizard Bernhard Drax, known in Second
Life as Draxtor Despres, has been awarded the Every Human Has Rights media award for
his report on Gone Gitmo, and both Bernhard and Nonny will be traveling extensively to
discuss their Virtual World endeavors. So, Nonny, welcome to Metanomics.
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: I’m really happy to be here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. I’d like to start with one of your other installations in
Second Life: Mauerkrankheit, which translates in English, I guess, to wall sickness. This is
another project that’s an award winner. It took one of the Annenberg Public Good merit
awards. Can you tell us about Mauerkrankheit?
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: Yeah, actually, Christine Leuenberger, who teaches in the science
and technologies study department there are Cornell, had initially sent me a paper that she
had written on Mauerkrankheit about her research on this wall sickness, what were the
ramifications, health and psychologically defects of having a wall that divided East and West
Berlin. And we decided to take that concept and use it to address walls around the world
and the human rights consequences that are brought to bear when you start dividing
So Mauerkrankheit is, we have put together, sort of seamed together, several past and
present border walls, including the Mexican-American border wall; the Palestinian border
wall; the Berlin Wall; the Malia border wall, which is between Morocco and Spain, and then
also the Great Wall of China. We’ve tried to do a few things to talk about how do you use a
virtual environment to sort of address some of these issues. For example, a piece of the
Berlin Wall, which has a photograph “Freedom,” which was spray-painted when the wall
came down, and somebody’s reaching over and helping somebody climb over the wall, we
made that a transparent piece so that you can actually walk through it.
And we’re also in discussions with an individual who’s been working on creating an island in
Second Life, that will be a space with Palestinians and Israelis can live together, not to talk
about their differences, but rather to live as an example of their similarities. And we’re going
to create a situation where you can walk through--our Palestinian wall reflects the moments
when parts of it was knocked down and people were running across the border to get things
like cooking oil. And you’ll be able to go through the border and, again, be transported to
this island. So that’s the basic premise of Mauerkrankheit, and we’re hoping to involve other
Real World organizations to come in and use this as a space to create dialogue and
conversation about what it means when you divide populations.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And let’s talk a bit about your newer project Gone Gitmo, that I
talked about at the top of the show. And we actually have some video of that, which our
friends at SLCN can show, without sound, while we’re talking. This is a video by
Bernhard Drax, Draxtor Despres. I guess while we’re taking a look at that, I guess you can
see us both in our orange jumpsuits here. I’m still wearing mine because I put it on to go
through the installation. But I thought, while people take a look at the video, can you just tell
us about what you think made this project so compelling?
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: Well, I think one of the great things about Second Life is that you’re
dealing with sort of an architectural space. And when you deal with the human rights cause,
the fact that it’s represented by a physical manifestation and architecturally reproducible
environment I think that’s one of the reasons why the Gone Gitmo site has worked. We’ve
been able to reproduce an environment. We also take control of your avatar briefly and put
them in a C-17 transport plane, in a bound position, drop a black hood over you, and then,
when the hood comes up, you’re in a bound position in Camp X ray-like cage. At which
point, you’re able to walk around. But then, throughout the space, we integrated video of the
real prison so that, as you walk through, you trigger--these videos pop up, which are not
only images of detainees being transported among cages, but also there’s a video from the
father of Mozaam Begg, who describes what the experience has been like for his son. And,
after nearly three years in the prison, Mozaam Begg was released with actually no charges.
So we then also have tried to create other spaces, what we call habeas corpus
quote/unquote game so that people really understand what it means to lose your habeas
corpus rights. We’re really attempting to get people to think about what this means and
increase the conversation. I think we mentioned before that we decided early on not to
torture your avatar.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I’d actually like to ask about that because I went
through--you described the beginning of the experience, which I thought was very
compelling. And then I ended up in a cage and actually tried to walk out and realized after a
while, by the way, this is Second Life, and I can fly. So I just flew out of the top. I was a little
surprised that you didn’t, I guess, take a harder line and actually detain my avatar for more
experiences. Can you talk about why you didn’t go that route?
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: Yeah. I think anybody who’s not actually in the prison and is
learning about the prison is going to be able to walk away from whatever they’re reading or
studying or looking at. We just decided that we didn’t want to trivialize what it really meaned
to be locked up in the prison. And we know that people will turn it into a game-like situation if
they are permanently locked up, etcetera, etcetera. If anybody’s interested in partnering with
us on this, we wanted to do a fundraiser where we imitated the way that most prisoners in
Guantanamo Bay ended up there, which is the U.S. paid a bounty for prisoners. So most
literally, 80 percent of the prisoners who ended up in Gitmo, we paid for them. So we’re
hoping that we could get people to turn in their friends for pay and use it as a fundraiser at
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I know you’ve gotten quite a bit of media play for this project in
particular, as well as some of the other stuff you’ve done earlier. I think we have a little bit
more video from Draxtor that maybe SLCN can show for us, but while they put those images
on, I think they even have an article from Esquire Magazine, for example. I did have a
couple more general questions for you. You come out of basically a career of making
feature-length documentary films. What is it that brings you into Second Life, and what do
you see its role being in documentary film-making?
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: Well, Peggy Weil, or Ping Rau, is my co-creator of the Gone Gitmo
site, and we’ll be talking about Gone Gitmo in Yokohama, Japan, at a conference at the
same time that Bernhard Drax is picking up his award on the Gone Gitmo machinima in
Paris. The paper we’re talking about is what we’ve termed avatar-mediated cinema. We
think that the way that you can integrate video and put avatars to certain experiences in
Second Life creates a whole new potential way of creating a narrative and creating a whole
new story line. Obviously, we used it in a kind of experimental way with Gone Gitmo, but
we’d like to see it also be expanded in a general way for storytelling.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So what’s next for you? I know you’re hoping to graduate with a
Masters degree in the spring. Where do you see yourself going at that point?
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: Well, I want to continue supporting Mauerkrankheit and other
projects in Second Life. I want to work investigating more about what we can do with this
sort of spatial narrative line. I’ve been approached recently about potentially working on an
online community in Angola, working with the prisoners there, to let them create their own
community. So that project, hopefully, will move forward, and maybe we’ll get a chance to
come back and visit people like you at Cornell.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I certainly would appreciate that.
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: And certainly see you in Second Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I would like to just close by giving you an opportunity to tell
people about a survey that you’ve been working on for your research on sexual harassment
in Second Life. So why don’t you let people know about that? And our producer,
Lynn Cullins, Bjorlyn Loon in-world, can paste a link that people can use to find the survey.
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: Yeah. I’ve already collected approximately a hundred or more
survey responses, and I really urge everybody to go out and do this. I think it’s very
important to understand how sexual harassment develops in virtual environments. One of
the findings I’ve seen so far, probably not unexpected, that, if you’re a newbie avatar, you’re
more likely to be approached. But interestingly, if you’re a newbie avatar, you’re more likely
to approach people. So this is something I want to continue developing. We will be
collecting data through all of December, and I’ll be writing up the research in January, with
the second head of the department, Andrew Schrock, at the Annenberg Program for Online
Communities, which is where I’m getting my Masters. And, by the way, the deadline to apply
there is December 5th, and, if anybody’s interested, over at USC it’s been a great time
doing the Masters there.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And it’s truly a one-of-a-kind program. We actually have had quite
a bit of activity from there, featured on Metanomics, with, I guess, first the various
Annenberg public interest and nonprofit events in the early part of the fall and then most
recently Dmitri Williams, who’s a professor in that program on the online communities. So
anyway, December 5th, not too little time to pull together a statement of purpose and so on.
So thank you, Nonny, so much for coming on the show and telling us about what you’re
doing and where you’re hoping to go.
NONNY DE LA PEÑA: Really appreciate it. Really do. Thanks, everybody, for coming.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. And I see we have quite a bit of backchat. I should just
mention certainly soon it will start turning to questions for our next guest, Sibley Verbeck. I’d
like to encourage you all to participate in the backchat because it’s a great way for us to
know what you’re thinking about the show. It’s a great way for you to talk with one another,
and finally, it’s a way that you can pose questions to our guests.
So let’s turn to our spotlight guest today. Sibley Verbeck is the founder and CEO of the
Electric Sheep Company and is responsible for overall company strategy and management.
Sibley’s been recognized as one of the key thought leaders in the Virtual Worlds industry
and speaks and blogs very frequently. He’s a co-founder of the Virtual World Roadmap and
is frequently interviewed in the leading publications, not just tech but also general media, the
New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Today Show, L.A. Times and the BBC, for his
perspective on the business of Virtual Worlds in the technological future. So I’m so glad to
have Sibley here so that Metanomics can be the pinnacle of this public speaking and media
career. Sibley, welcome to Metanomics.
SIBLEY VERBECK: Thank you very much.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: When I look back at your bio, you were a former chief scientist of
StreamSage, Inc. and Comcast Online, and you did a lot of research on computational,
linguistic and statistical methods for analyzing audio, video and text content. What got you
from there into Virtual Worlds?
SIBLEY VERBECK: Well, I actually was interested in Virtual Worlds for quite a while and
felt like it wasn’t quite the time yet. I’ve always been interested in seeing the MMOs take off
in the ’90s and felt like, oh, there’s enormous amount of potential as that technology gets
applied to more open-ended Virtual Worlds. And there certainly was a spate of doing that in
the mid ‘90s, but then that really cooled down, and most of those Worlds didn’t succeed in
getting too far. So in about 2004, I saw what Second Life was doing. I thought, “Okay, this is
really getting to be real, and I’m pretty excited to start participating in it.” So it was a
long-time interest of mine that I didn’t pursue until I felt like the technology was getting to the
point that it may take off.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I just have to mention Mitch Wagner, of Information Week, has
just piped up in the backchat, “Good thing Sibley’s interviews aren’t just to those sleazy tech
pubs.” So I understand you have been quoted in Information Week as well, and you and
Mitch should both be proud of that fact.
SIBLEY VERBECK: Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now I just have to ask: I assume the name Electric Sheep
Company comes from the Philip K. Dick story.
SIBLEY VERBECK: Yeah, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Exactly. So that has special meaning to you in the Virtual World
space or you’re just a Philip K. Dick fan?
SIBLEY VERBECK: I’m a science fiction fan in general certainly and, as we were starting to
think about in 2004 working toward starting Electric Sheep Company, I also have to say I’m
not very good at naming things and it was Marley, my wife, who came up with the idea of
naming it after that book, which we thought fit in some many levels. And Electric Sheep
Company we felt like it was a great name with a great logo potential and great initials, all
those things, so it was just a real hit. I’m sure people are familiar with the fact that’s the book
behind the story in Blade Runner, although the book has a little more Virtual World aspects
to it that didn’t make it into the movie.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s see. There’s so much backchat going quickly. Metanomics
is always a highly multi-tasking situation. A lot of the backchat is actually about what you
have done in Second Life, but I’d like to put that off, if I could, to start with your newest
product, if that’s quite the word, which is Webflock. Can you just tell us what Webflock is?
SIBLEY VERBECK: Absolutely. So the goal of Electric Sheep Company has always been
to try to build applications that many millions of people would use if they use Virtual Worlds.
We felt like, as we were learning about Virtual Worlds, certainly doing things in Second Life
and doing things in other Virtual Worlds, which we’ve always done, we felt like in addition to
the great platforms that are already out here for different audiences, for different purposes,
one of the things missing in getting mainstream users into Virtual Worlds was a really easy
first step. One of the things we’ve always been challenged by is getting large numbers of
whatever mainstream users mean, but somehow a large number of users into a great
community like Second Life. So we felt like, well, a first step might be doing a little more
that’s like a Virtual World on an existing website. And that’s never going to be a rich with
user-generated content or with all the interactive experiences you can get in Second Life, for
example, but it can really take people to getting used to being in a multi-user environment
with avatars, perhaps creating content and so forth.
We looked around, and we didn’t feel like the technology was put together out there quite
the way we wanted to use it or we felt we could be successful using it in projects with other
companies. So we decided to create Webflock, and it is entirely Flash-based, and it simply
coordinates a Virtual World to the state of the World and the avatars and people’s accounts
and inventory and the economy and all those logistical things that have to happen, but then
it also is a front-end in Flash that makes what you can do in Flash a little more graphically
rich. So if people have seen the 2D Flash Worlds like Club Penguin out there where they
have the isometric viewpoint or something that might be considered 2-1/2D, maybe like
Habbo Hotel or something, we’re trying to go a little bit further with what Flash can do and
make things feel a little more 3D and through that provide more and more immersive
experiences in that environment that can be embedded straight into websites so that people
just have to load a URL and, suddenly, they’re there. And from a personal point of view, I’m
hoping that’s a gateway towards getting larger numbers of people into really rich Virtual
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So when I run through some of the features that were just
up on the screen a moment ago--so this is a private label or a white label product. Is that
right? Your goal is not to create a World called Webflock, that you guys manage, it’s more to
create Worlds branded by others. Is that right?
SIBLEY VERBECK: That’s exactly right so we’re not publishing a World. It’s a tool, and so it
could be used to create multi-user games on a website or on whole Virtual Worlds or simple
visual chat rooms like we’ve put up on the L Word site, which is almost literally what you
would call a chat room because it’s chat in a room with avatars. And so, really, from
extremely simple like that to really complex, especially in kids’ Worlds, are very popular
whole Virtual Worlds.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One thing that you mentioned in the product description is that
this is an extendable product and one that has some capabilities for tracking metrics. We
have a question from Dusan Writer, who asks about whether there are built-in game
dynamics similar to what Metaplace is reported to have. And so I’m just wondering if you
could talk a little about those aspects, the extendability metrics and any built-in game
SIBLEY VERBECK: Sure. It’s not specifically for games in the way Metaplace is, but it is a
tool set on which you can create games, for sure. So it doesn’t, at this point, have game
engines in it so you would have to do a few more of those, really, game mechanics and the
software behind game mechanics yourself. But, in that way, it’s very flexible. So it’s a little
bit at a lower level when it comes to a gaming tool set than Metaplace might be considered
to be, but, at the same time, it does have perhaps even more of the features that would be
in other types of Virtual Worlds built in. So it’s just a little bit different feature set out of the
box, but I think on Metaplace versus what we’re doing, you could do similar things if you
wanted to go far enough with those tools.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I’m going to take one minute. I am being told we have a
record crowd for today, and I think it’s possible we have actually overrun SLCN’s hosting
capabilities. So I am just going to take one second here to see whether we are still live.
Okay. No, I am reported that we are fine. Maybe this is a problem with our Metanomics
websites and, hopefully, someone who can hear me can take a quick look at that. But let’s
I’d like to ask you about some of the projects you have in the works and one in particular is
the L Word, which is the Showtime series that has had a presence in Second Life. So can
you tell us what you have in mind for the L Word on Webflock?
SIBLEY VERBECK: Sure. Really, to start out with, it was, in a way, a Beta product
experiment for us. It was early in our development cycle how can we get something up on
the web really friendly with the folks at Showtime because of what we’ve done in Second
Life, which has been very successful for them, and they’ve loved it. And referring to, I think,
some chat that was there, we didn’t really want to put something up on the website. The
goal was not to take users out of the Second Life community and put them onto this
Webflock because those who come into Second Life and have the really rich social
environment and features, that they are going to stay there, and that’s what makes sense.
But it’s trying to say, well, we got thousands of people to come in, who are L Word fans, into
Second Life, what are the ways we could get tens of thousand or hundreds of thousands to
use something simpler on the web, and then maybe later they would continue on to Second
Life or somewhere else.
But to start out with, we literally just made this chat room with a few polling questions. You
could watch video in it, a few clippable items there, but just to see, well, people who are
coming to this website in the off season, would they click on this virtual chat link, and would
they hang out in there, and how long would they hang out in there, or would they start
talking to teach other? And just wanted to see what would happen, and, definitely, there’s
been quite a few people in there doing that. And so I think it remains to be seen what all
we’re going to do as we get into the season, and the final season of the L Word, I think,
here, to have more community on that website, using those tools. But it’s really been the
testing ground for us at this point.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I’m watching the backchat, and people are talking about a
$100,000 base licensing fee for Webflock. Is that accurate?
SIBLEY VERBECK: Not exactly, no. We sometimes mention that as what might be
considered a minimum project size. For some types of applications, it’s totally different.
Because if you’re going to build a whole kids’ Virtual World, it’s probably going to take a
couple of million dollars. If you want to put something extremely simple on the website, just
a visual chat room, that’ll only take a few thousand dollars. But, for most people, what they
really want on their website somewhat custom so, of course, it takes custom art, but
probably some custom software development to put in features and integrate it with their
website. So we might figure that just most of that $100,000 project would actually be the
custom work, not a license fee. What we’re doing right now is hosting Webflock, and so we
do charge a monthly hosting fee. That depends on how much use there is. So it’s a few
thousand dollars a month, depending on whether you want up to 500 concurrent users or
2,000 concurrent users, etcetera, and that covers, really, the hosting servers, the hosting
fees, much like in Second Life, as well as a small license fee that’s built into that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. When you talk about this World, it sounds like a very light
client that’s in the browser. It actually sounds a fair bit like Google’s Lively, that--we just
heard the announcement that Google is shutting down Lively at the end of the year. So I
guess first I’d like to distinguish Webflock from Lively, and then also give your thoughts on
why Lively didn’t work.
SIBLEY VERBECK: Sure. Well, backing up, and this applies to my interest and time I’ve
spent on Virtual World Roadmap, is that our philosophy, and certainly Electric Sheep, but
what I hope everyone does with virtual applications is to really think about the fact that this
is very advanced technology that’s still in its early stages and think, “Well, if we’re going to
get a new application or a new platform or whatever to take off, we’ll really have to focus on
what’s it going to be used for, what’s special about that use with a Virtual World as opposed
to things you can already do on the web or the telephone or wherever,” and really hone the
features of the Virtual World, how you roll it out, who you roll it out to, who you market it to,
all those things around that application and around that use case.
And so, in our case with Webflock, if we’re trying to enable websites that are really--our
target is websites that already have some community on them. So that could be anything
from social networking sites, dating sites, sports sites where people watch video, even the
television network sites where people watch video there, or really any community of interest,
meetup.com, anything like this. I really believe those sites could have a richer community, in
addition to the asynchronous communication they already have, whether watching video or
a single person experience, they enable multi-person real time experiences, like we’re
having now, but in a simpler way just right on the website. And I think that will draw a lot of
people into Virtual Worlds, and I think that can be really successful for those websites. So
that’s what we focused on.
So therefore, the reason we chose Flash, it’s a lot more limited than what you can do with a
plug-in, like a Google Lively plug-in or those others out there. But we wanted no barrier to
entry because that was the whole point because if somebody was just going to clip a link,
and boom, they’d be in a simple virtual environment. So one of the things is, by using Flash,
again, we’re limited to not being true 3D, but we felt they would have the least barrier to
entry. So that was an important distinguishing factor.
The others were really business factors that are just completely white-labeled, and so, when
I looked at Google--and I wrote this right as Google launched. I said, “It’s fantastic Google’s
into Virtual Worlds. I hope they’re successful because we really would like to see more and
more success of different types out there and certainly Electric Sheep would hope to find
ways to use any successful platform, but I just didn’t see that thinking of what was the
application they intended and how did all this work in those features that they built fit into
that. And, for example, the media companies I talked to that might be interested in creating
huge Virtual Worlds so it would be really entertaining or even small experiences or fun
games or related to pop culture, whatever. They really didn’t want to do something that was
hosted by Google. So because Google retained all the hosting, companies were worried
about that [and so?] the different Electric Sheep because we’re hoping to allow people to
host as our technology moves forward. But we’re not in a position to take away advertising
revenue in the future from many companies where they worry about that with Google.
And also people have to log in with their G-mail account when we go out, and anyone who
wants to create something on their website with a Virtual World, they want to retain the
relationship and the login information and all those things with their users. And that’s really
important to them, from a business point of view. So we felt like, okay, if we’re going to get
other people to embed this in their website, that’s the way we have work within their
business. And so I didn’t see Google fitting into that in different ways. Now I thought they
were closest to putting something out there that could get on the social networking sites--
individuals would put their own rooms on their MySpace page or whatever it is and decorate
it and get their friends to come in and have some real time interaction there. That was the
most promising, I think, and that would succeed with the most user-generated content tools.
And there were a couple problems. One is, they just didn’t get to the point of rolling a lot of
those tools out to be super user friendly. They weren’t nearly as easy as tools in Second
Life, which, themselves, I think, could go farther. So they didn’t really get to that great
user-generated content point, and, furthermore, then they were kind of, in some ways, going
for a teen market, but they didn’t have a way to deal with the adult content within
user-generated content communities issue kind of caught them by surprise.
And then, lastly, I think, honestly, in the end, I think Google Lively was more a victim of the
economy than anything because, no matter how well or poorly it was doing, Google should
have its product last more than four and a half months before they announce that they’re
killing it. They certainly didn’t get out of Beta, but they didn’t even get a lot of these
user-generated content tools out there. I would have hoped for more. And certainly, in other
cases, when they rolled things out even that didn’t succeed eventually, they had them out
there for years, and they tinkered with them, tried to improve them, and sometimes they
eventually take off. So I think it was as much of anything that Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google,
said publicly, “We’re focusing our business. We’re making ourselves more accountable.”
And here was a project that didn’t have a revenue model yet. It was sort of, from an
investor’s point of view in the stock market, off the beaten track of Google, outside their core
business. I bet they pulled it off the shelf, probably some other things as well, just to show
that they’re focusing their business, and I think that’s really unfortunate.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Boy! There are a lot of threads to pick up on there. I guess one
that I’d like to pick up on is, you were emphasizing how Google didn’t have a focus for
Lively. They didn’t have a specific use and implementation. It actually really reminded me of
something that Mitch Wagner was saying on Metanomics, way back in the spring, about
Second Life, where he said one of the problems Linden Lab has is that their target audience
is everyone on planet earth until we discover alien life, and then Second Life is for them too.
So I’m wondering if you see Second Life, as a product, as having similar challenges, that it
doesn’t have a specific focused target demographic and use case.
SIBLEY VERBECK: Well, I actually can’t speak for Linden Lab, of course. But how I see it
is, I think it does. And I think Second Life is by far the best Virtual World that’s ever been
created for user-generated content. And the people that it attracts, the core of the audience
of Second Life, are people who create content and are very creative individuals. And then
others come in and socialize with those folks and make a real community. And I think that’s
the core engine. I think the core engine of Second Life is user-generated content, and it
builds out from there. And so when we were hearing our previous speaker talk about Gitmo
and Guantanamo, for example, and possible other projects, that’s something you can’t do
on any other Virtual World is really just pick it up and, for a reasonable amount of effort,
create those things, get that publicity out there and do a lot of experiments. So I think it’s a
great community for people who are really creative.
And then for entities or organizations outside of Second Life, maybe not individual users, but
organizations trying to promote something, it’s a perfect experimental tool. Whether you’re
going to create machinima to prototype something and then show it to the rest of the world
or whether you’re going to be trying other experiments, like all the enterprise
experimentation that’s going on in Second Life right now, it’s a wonderful platform for that. I
think, in a way, Linden Lab does think of it that way. Always when they’ve given talks about
the origin of Second Life, and especially when Philip Rosedale speaks, he always speaks
from his own position of himself, growing up, wanting to be able to create anything. And you
can see that vision translate into Second Life.
Certainly, our initial approach at Electric Sheep had been how can we do some other things
with Second Life, and I really believe the Second Life platform could grow and be quite a
few other things to other groups of people, for example. And one of our initial strategies had
been what can we add to the front end software. Of course, the viewer. And we created our
own viewer, as some people are aware. That might be great for a mainstream audience
coming in and getting in a little more quickly so we get more people into an entertaining
experience in Second Life. We then go on and use and enjoy and consume all of this
user-generated content that’s the mass of cool stuff in Second Life. And then I believe that’s
a solid direction.
At the end of the day, two things happened with Electric Sheep. One, the hype that fueled
our ability to create some of that technology and do some of that experimentation was all
these marketing projects, and those largely disappeared. I think there’s good reasons for
that. And we had hoped they would carry us forward a little bit longer in that path.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’d love to talk about that a bit.
SIBLEY VERBECK: Sure.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I guess, like 18 months ago, you were one of the go-to builders
and I guess what might be called marketing solutions providers in Second Life, probably
best known for CSI New York. Although you did a bunch of other stuff, that was particularly
notable among residents in Second Life, seeing all the land being devoted to it and so on.
And so why do you think that fizzled? Are those just not good uses? Are Virtual Worlds not
appropriate for that type of marketing? Do you think it’s just not ready, or is that a long-term
SIBLEY VERBECK: Well, it is something that is long term. Absolutely. For better or worse,
Virtual Worlds will be the most successful advertising medium ever created, and, in some
ways, it’s like advertising, you know, is that a good thing. On the other hand, I think it’ll make
advertising a lot more user friendly to us because, really, advertising in Virtual Worlds ought
to be actually selling virtual products, not actually in-your-face advertising. It should be in the
way that Google Ad works, is about helping you find things, and you can ignore it easily. I
think Virtual World advertising will take a form like that and replace more annoying forms of
advertising, like television advertising. So I think that will be successful.
But the very, very basic problem with that, as an engine of growth in Second Life right now,
is simply the size of the community. The Second Life is equivalent of a small city, and, for
brands that are spread out all over the world, and it’s a small city with sort of too much
centralized media. There’s still more and more ways, I think, to reach more people in
Second Life now than there were a couple years ago. And Second Life continues to grow, of
course. But it’s still relatively small, so major brands are not going to put a big amount of
effort into big campaigns within a small target market. I think that’s it. I think that’s the only
real issue there.
And what happened was, something that’s happened repeatedly with Virtual Worlds, I think,
to some extent, which is that it’s so easy to be starry-eyed about them. It’s so easy to dream
about what they could be because it’s so visual, creates such great newspaper stories, that,
in some ways, it’s way out there and futuristic. But, in other ways, everyone can understand
it, unlike way out there futuristic things in the details of the semiconductor industry or in
space exploration, which are sometimes harder to translate into an average audience of
Virtual Worlds, you can always tell a great story. So that causes the hype to explode in
some ways, and then companies are realizing, “Wow! We can get newspaper articles
written about us for doing things in Virtual Worlds so we better get in there.” And then
there’s this bandwagon effect, and then pretty soon it gets a lot harder to get things written
about you because there’s a zillion companies from the outside world trying to do little
projects in the Virtual World. And then it all kind of collapses, and people realize, “Well,
we’re not getting that many people to see our advertisements,”--which could be community
events. I’m just calling them advertisements. They’re not necessarily billboards--“but ways to
promote our brand within the Virtual World so now we’re going to pull back.”
When there’s a bandwagon effect, and I said this about our business all the way through, it’s
like you hate to bet on an exponential curve, which was the growth of Second Life and the
growth of these businesses in Second Life, but, if you don’t bet on it to some extent, you’re
going to miss out as it goes, if it goes far enough. And, it’s impossible to predict when it’s
going to stop. So our strategy had been can we take technology further before it stops
because that was what was paying for our business. And, in the end, we realized two things.
I mean, one, that hype cycle broke off precipitously. And, (b) the challenge of creating
front-end software for Second Life, that could really blow down into more types of uses for
more types of people, turned out, I think, to be a much bigger challenge than we had hoped.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So there are a number of comments in the backchat. I don’t know
how effectively you’re able to watch it as it goes by, but there are a number that are
somewhat critical of what you did. I think you’re right. I think most people objectively would
just agree that a lot of businesses came in, put in some marketing dollars and found it didn’t
work and pulled out. And so just sort of summarizing the tenor of these questions, what I
would ask is: Do you feel that you made a wise mistake, which I guess you were just
suggesting, saying, “Look, you’re betting on an exponential curve”? What do you think you
could have done differently, I guess, is one question. And a related one, this comes from
Simuality Nightfire, and I’ll just read this one verbatim, “The Sheep have always been on the
front of the wave, reaping the buzz, but rarely staying the course. Now that we’re into the
‘prove it’ stage, what will the Sheep do to prove the viability of Virtual Worlds to the Real
SIBLEY VERBECK: Sure. That’s a lot of territory there in all of those.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You have 15 seconds.
SIBLEY VERBECK: Yeah, thank you. There’s always things one looks back at in everything
we do and say we could do that better and that better. And we’re always trying extremely
hard, and I think people who know the Electric Sheep Company and who have worked here
realize that to always do something that’s valuable for clients that we work with, and it’s
challenging. Clients always have their own perspective on what they want to accomplish.
And, with any startup business, it’s always extremely hard to get any startup business to the
point of being profitable, and I certainly tip my hat to all of the entrepreneurs within Second
Life, who make a living, make a partial living, make a profit in Second Life, because I know.
I’ve started several business and helped start some nonprofits, and it’s just extremely
difficult. And so one has to place some bets, and you always make the best choices that you
can as you go along.
To that last specific question, that’s exactly what we’ve always been going for is how can we
help prove Virtual Worlds and really think about applications where they are really valuable
and how can we show that that works. Because, in the short term, we don’t get anything out
of it, certainly from a business point of view, by having short-term success, we have to try to
be here in the long run and, of course, try to be profitable in the long run. So, really, that’s
one of the reasons that we decided to build Webflock. We want to continue to do work in
We are continuing to do work in Second Life. Our most recent project that was public, I
think, was Cinemax, where we helped to do some events in September. We just now
actually started on the next project for a client in Second Life. So we continue to be active
there. We also continue to work on MTV’s Virtual World, of course, and we’ve been doing
that for three years. That’s always been at least as big a business for us as Second Life
throughout actually. And, really, as we looked at that and we said, “We’ll keep doing that,
but we really to help, and we hope Second Life keeps being more successful, we need to
start something else and make it successful.” That's why we started with Webflock.
The thing that has really taken off, the most successful thing in the last decade to come out
of Virtual Worlds is kids’ entertainment, really, of the last couple years. It’s the six- to
11-year-olds that are proving Virtual Worlds right now, and it of course started with Club
Penguin and Webkinz. But now there are dozens of kids’ Virtual Worlds, and they’re rapidly
getting more innovative, whether it’s connecting the Virtual World to Real World objects, or
it’s allowing kids to start doing user-generated content or playing different types of games,
that’s really where the biggest amount of innovation is going on in Virtual Worlds today.
We’re actually about to announce a kids’ Virtual World we’ve worked with a company for
quite a while to build, and so we’re doing work in that area. And so I’m most excited to see
that continue and see a lot of innovation come out of the fact that those are being successful
and making money. But I’m really excited to then again pull that somehow into other
demographics and say, “Okay, now these kids’ Worlds have been, in a lot of ways, bigger
hits than Second Life and are a permanent category of success. The MMOs are really the
Virtual Worlds that proved successful in the ’90s and that continue today to obviously grow.
Now kids’ Worlds is the next big set of Virtual Worlds to be really successful. How can we
take that with all the things that have been learned in Second Life and other more
sophisticated platforms and make Virtual Worlds successful for other types of people?”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I look forward to your announcement on the kid-oriented
World since, yes, I totally agree with you that’s where they proved to actually be profitable
enterprises and have that broad mainstream appeal.
In our final minutes, I would like to just turn quickly to another topic, the Virtual World
Roadmap. This is, I guess, relatively recent endeavor. As I understand it, it differs from the
Metaverse Roadmap project because that was a one-time couple-day event with a report
that came out of it, and this is an ongoing thing, where you’re going to be providing a variety
of reports and have a sequence of events. I should say that next week we have
Victoria Coleman, of Samsung, who is also on the Virtual World Roadmap steering
committee, and so we’ll be talking about that extensively. But I guess I’d like to ask you:
Your first report, you were the author of this report about virtual events. Given that that’s
what I do every Monday and we have a record crowd here at one, I think we’d all love to
hear your thoughts on what the prospects are for live Virtual World events and where we
might be heading with that.
SIBLEY VERBECK: Sure. So there’s a lot there as well. I’d love to generally introduce the
virtual roadmap concept, and, you’re right, it’s meant to be a long-term, ongoing program,
where there’s a few of us who have gotten together just to seed it and set it up, but it’s
meant to be totally Open Source contribution. And we’re just getting to that stage. We held
our first open invite workshop in Silicon Valley on October 14th. Hopefully, I’m about to put
up a lot of the content people created there onto the website. And that’ll be in a Wiki, where
we hope people add to it. The whole goal of it is to really bring a lot of people together,
whoever has vision and facts to contribute and go through this rigorous analysis of naming
all kinds of different applications that virtuals could be good for, from events, but drilling
down more deeply in that, like music concerts being a separate application than mixed
reality conferences, the Real World conferences you extend into the Virtual World, and so
on. So it’s looking at specific use case, like those examples of events or like many other
applications, and then analyzing.
Well, successful first versions of those have been done in many cases, in many of these
applications, like the event we’re at today and many other virtual events that have taken
place. But it’s not yet at the point that tens of millions of people are going to virtual events on
a regular basis. So what exactly is needed for a specific application, like I wrote the most in
that paper, which are just my thoughts. That’s not real Virtual World Roadmap output. I was
just getting that onto the website to show people some ideas of where this kind of thing
might go. We’re going to be more rigorous than that as more people work together to do a
really good job on specific applications. But anyway, in that [paper?] what I wrote the most
about is mixed reality conferences, extending conferences into the Virtual Worlds so more
people can participate. And so we really have to think about, well, those people who would
participate in that way, if you’re rally talking about tens of millions of people, exactly what
features are needed in that application to make it successful? Are all those features even
possible to build today?
So for example, one of the first topics that we brainstormed about at this workshop in
October was virtual meetings, just general purpose business meetings. So the kind of
meetings that happen by the millions every day in our economy, people coming into a room
and meeting, or people going onto a phone conference call. Those are the two most
common ways that the meetings happen. What’s it going to take? What are the needs of an
application to do those virtually so that tens of millions of people would choose to do that
virtually over the conference call? They’d give up the way they currently do it because this
would be so much better. And we really felt like, unlike the niche meeting applications or
scenarios that could be very successful in the near term, but we felt that general application
of supplanting a lot of meetings that are out there is probably several years away.
A couple of example reasons why are that a lot of people in meetings or on conference
calls, they want to use their computer for other things as well, and they may have a
three-year-old machine with Intel integrated graphics chip that their company has given
them, and so if they fire up a Second Life or other Virtual Worlds that are meant for
meetings, like Quaq or Forterra or Project Wonderland, they will completely take over their
machine, and they can’t easily access other information or other tools during the meeting.
That’s a complete shutdown for them; there’s no way they’re going to use it.
And then there might be people who are calling into the meeting from on the road. Or there
might be other barriers, just like the amount of nonverbal communication that’s gotten
across, would be something that’s not a barrier because you don’t get that on the phone, but
it’s a huge carrot. Once that’s there, this whole thing will be seen as far more valuable to
people in that scenario. So that’s the kind of thinking we’re doing, but we’re really trying to
list it out for dissenting opinions where people disagree, write some conclusions and some
predictions. That’s what the Virtual World Roadmap is meant to do. We hope we can set the
framework and continue to have events and continue to have people contribute online. And,
as far as events go, my own personal opinion on it, it’s just in some ways one of the
nearer-term applications of Virtual Worlds. It hasn’t taken off yet in a huge way I think that
could. And I do think conferences are one of the best served to that. I think music concerts,
for example, are probably a lot further off.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thanks so much for those insights. I’m afraid that basically
brings us to the end of our discussion. Well, it sounds like you’ve got a bunch of stuff to
announce between public announcements of some of the projects you have with Electric
Sheep to a lot of new content we can expect from the Virtual World Roadmap, and I hope
we’ll be able to get you back on Metanomics to tell us about it.
SIBLEY VERBECK: You bet! And I’m happy to stick around--people put up so many great
questions here--and answer a few more of them for a few minutes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great! Well, wonderful! I just have a couple quick reminders of
what will be happening going forward. So next week we have, as I mentioned,
Victoria Coleman, of Samsung, who will be talking about her views on the Virtual World
Roadmaps and where Samsung sees itself, in the Metaverse, in the years to come. I also
want to remind everyone that we have 56 interviews, like this one, that we’ve done over the
last year and a quarter or so. You can find those all at metanomics.net in our archives. And
you can also find them on iTunes. So let me just see. We have some other questions, but I
guess we’re out of time. So, Sibley, thanks for your offer to stick around. We’re out of time
so I’m going to skip my usual closing comments, Connecting Some Dots, other than to give
a quick thank you to JenzZa Misfit for being the avateer today for Beyers Sellers. So if you
have been watching the video and noticing that I have been emoting and that my avatar
seems to have been emotionally in sync with what I’m saying, if that was effective, if you
have suggestions on how we can improve that, please do let us know.
So thank you so much. This is Rob Bloomfield from the virtual and the real Sage Hall
signing off. Thanks again to our guests Nonny de la Peña, of USC Annenberg, and
Sibley Verbeck, of the Electric Sheep Company. Bye bye and, see you next week.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer