METANOMICS HOSTS ROBERT GEHORSAM, PRESIDENT OF
FORTERRA SYSTEMS, INC. - FEBRUARY 4, 2008
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome, everybody. This is Rob Bloomfield—Beyers Sellers in
Second Life--and I’d like to welcome you to another edition of Metanomics here on JenzZa
Misfit’s Muse Isle. JenzZa, thank you so much for allowing us to conduct our main
Metanomics event here today. Welcome to our event partners on the New Media
Consortium, Etopia, ComMeta, Rockliffe University, Colonia Nova and the Terrace. And, of
course, thanks to our sponsors: Cisco Systems, SAP, Generali Group, Saxo Bank, Sun
Microsystems and Kelly Services. And a special thanks to my own institution, Cornell
University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Before I introduce today’s guest, I would like to spend a moment and just talk about what we
have coming up next week. So next week the Halle Institute of Emory University is
sponsoring a conference of Virtual Worlds and New Realities in Commerce, Politics and
Society. Sounds right up Metanomics’ alley, you might be thinking, and I was thinking the
same thing. So we’re actually bringing the two together at the end of the conference, 2:30 to
4 P.M. Eastern time, 11:30 to 1 P.M. Second Life time. We will have the final panel of the
conference. I am going to be moderating, and we are going to have some very interesting
guests, who are not only in Atlanta at Emory, but also here in Second LIfe. On the panel
we’re going to have Benn Konsynski, who is professor of Information Technology at Emory’s
Goizueta School of Business. We’re going to have Chris Klaus, founder and CEO of
Kaneva, a Virtual World. And, in Second Life, joining us will be John Zdanowski, better
known as Zeeland, and the CFO of Linden Lab.
And I actually suspect we’ll have other guests that I’m not yet in a position to announce, but
I think this is going to be pretty interesting. We will definitely be having feeds coming from
Emory into Second Life, coming from Second Life into Emory, and I’m hoping we will also
have feeds to and from Kaneva as well, but we’re still working out the technology on that.
Finally, before we get started, let me just remind our live audience that you should join the
Metanomics chat group in Second Life, to join in on the backchat. And we like it when you
chat away so that we can get feedback on what you’re finding interesting. If you have
questions, you can type them into chat. You can also IM directly, Beyers Sellers. You can
just right click on me, if you’re on Muse Isle. If you’re not, you will have to search for me or
just use the Metanomics backchat.
Okay. So all that said, let’s turn to our guest. Today we have Robert Gehorsam, president of
Forterra Systems, Inc. Now, Robert, welcome to the show.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, thanks, Rob. Thanks for having me on, and I’m happy to be
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now you’ve got an impressive résumé here. You served as
senior vice president of Programming and Production at Viacom’s CBS Internet Group.
Before that you were actually, it seems like, closer to where you are now: You were at Sony
Online Entertainment and dealing with the creation of games and game platforms, ranging
from, what? Everquest to Wheel of Fortune.
Now when we talk about Forterra--so Forterra--and this is right off your web site, “Forterra
Systems builds distributed virtual world technology for the corporate, healthcare,
government, and entertainment industries.” And so my first question for you is how does
your background in media and in gaming fit into Forterra’s game plan? I can see the games
pretty directly, but the media may be a bit more of a stretch.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, I suppose we all have different hops in our careers but,
fundamentally, it’s all about communication as well. So one of the things that, certainly, if
your question was about the time at Viacom, it was a very interesting time as adoption of
interactive technologies for mainstream media companies. And so that was an interesting
thing to spend some time doing. But, overall, I guess my background in games--online
games, really, since ’85 was really a great prelude to what’s going on today as--I guess
more and more organizations are seeing people come into the workforce who grew up
playing games, and they want to have a similar experience with their software at work.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I think you mentioned you saw in the backchat that people
were talking about Webkinz, so those are the real young people who won’t be in the
workforce for a while, but I definitely see your point.
Before we talk too much about the clients and the specific jobs that you guys are doing at
Forterra, I’m hoping you can help us out a bit with just understanding sort of the corporate
structure and your relationships with some very closely related partners. So we’ve got
Forterra, we’ve got vare.com, which I understand runs on the same platform as Forterra,
OLIVE. And then we also have Makena, which is being used heavily on the entertainment
side and is also using OLIVE. So can you just give us a sense of how these all work
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah. Actually you sort of made it complicated by one. I guess this
will be a little bit of a campfire story. Maybe it starts with, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
But the company actually--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can we get the wicked--cue the clouds, JenzZa.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Really; and the thunder. But the company actually began in 1998
as There, and spent quite a number of years developing its technology platform solely with
the intent to offer a Virtual World service, which is today known as There--or there.com, just
so that people know exactly what’s being referred to.
In 2004, we made a decision, sort of seeing where the market was going, to adjust the
company strategy to be much more platform-oriented, meaning that we saw that there were
going to be many, many applications that could be built on this kind of technology that
wouldn’t just be in the social networking or entertainment space.
So like I said, we sort of redid the company. We renamed it Forterra Systems at that time,
and a year later we spun out the consumer service to a company called Makena. So There
is part of Makena, as is Virtual Laguna Beach and all the other MTV products.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. That helps. Oh, go ahead.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: So the only other thing I would say is that There runs certainly on a
version of technology that is loosely called OLIVE, but the stuff we do in our sort of more
enterprise and public sector work is a slightly newer, I suppose, version, which has some
features that There has, and doesn’t have other features.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So the implementation--I mean on the technical side, these
have diverged somewhat as they try to accomplish different goals?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah, they absolutely diverge that way. And we also saw that there
was going to be a need for more third-party development on the platform. So when There
was originally created, it was really envisioned that most of what would be created was
content, the way it is being done today, of clothing and textures and things like that. What
we saw was a future that really involved much more functional third-party development,
code development and, in particular, I’d say integration with outside systems. For example,
we have human physiology models that power some of our avatars. We didn’t write that; we
worked with a medical simulation company to do that. So that required some substantial
augmentation and enhancement to the code base.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, one investor that’s been involved with this is Incutel which,
as I understand it, is the venture capital that supports the U.S. intelligence community? So
can you talk a little bit about how that came about, and also how it’s affecting your strategic
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I guess I can only talk a little bit about it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I understand.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: And, really, there’s a press release, I think, on our web site which
describes what’s going on there, and what’s pretty much what we can say. You’re right;
Incutel is a very interesting and special organization--mandated by Congress, actually--to
enable the intelligence community to have some access to or to help create technologies
that I guess they felt they weren’t able to develop internally as well, relative to this pace of
innovation in the private sector.
Well, they’ve actually invested in one game company previously. That’s probably on their
web site, but they got very interested in us, really, at the beginning of 2007, based on seeing
what we were doing and learning more about what our architecture really is and what it
offers. And I think there was actually on the Second Life educator list there was just a little
bit of a discussion about that, about sort of the power of our distributed simulation approach.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can you tell us a little bit about OLIVE? And on the technical
side, what does this mean for the type of clients that are most appropriate for you?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: That’s a good question. I’m not a technologist by background so
I’m not going to go--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, that’s good because then I will understand your answer.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: So I won’t go super deep. I joined the company in 2002 and, even
though I come out of the game industry, I actually came to the folks at There, who I’d known
for a while, because I’d been doing some advisory work for the government on the impact of
basically massively multiplayer games on policy and security issues, which actually it’s a
very interesting topic and not maybe for this group, but for some other time.
And what I saw in the early alphas of There was something that was trying to solve the
fundamental problem of believable freeform human interaction, meaning that you have
game engines, right? But they have highly structured interaction governed by the rules of
the game, and even the social output of experience, or the social experience that’s created
from the game play, is fundamentally modified or contextualized by the rules. And what the
folks at There were trying to do was create something that was really believable and really--
to use an overused word--really immersive.
Well, let me just go off to the side. When you play a game, for example, you’re playing a
character. But in the world that we’re sitting in now and in There and in others like that,
nominally or notionally you’re you. So what does it mean to really be you? And so they went
to great lengths to create an immersive experience, which meant optimizing a number of
factors. One was believability of the world and the fidelity of the world. The other was the
security, which validated the experience. The reliability of the system. Did I mention
performance? If I did, then I’ll add redundancy. But what I saw was really something that
was less a game platform and much more of a real--call it a virtual reality simulation-based
platform. So it was really powerful and in some ways one might argue it was wildly almost
overbuilt for its light socializing goals, but for industrial-level clients, it’s fantastic.
The way that the physics works, the way that the architecture works, guarantees that you
always have accurate results from the simulation and that, if you see it happen in that
platform, it really did happen.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, I was very interested in hearing you talk about--you said
you have people who are writing simulations for things like--I think you said human
physiology, and that is then being imported into the world to affect--I mean I guess you
could have much more realistic shoot-em-uppers. I don’t know that the Department of
Defense would necessarily be interested in that, but that could be something that’s going
on. I mean the thought of trying to do that in Second Life, for example, seems like a real
technological stretch. So is that one of the aspects that you think differentiates yourself from
some of the other platforms?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah, probably. I don’t want to get too much into necessarily
comparing us to Second Life or to any other platforms. Each one of them has their own
virtues and vices, and we’re probably no exception. But lately I’ve been sort of using this
term--at least among my colleagues--of sort of “industrial-strength virtual worlds,” and it
seems to resonate.
And to be clear, no one has written a simulation for human physiology to plug into OLIVE.
We’re using one that is already existing, and that’s really powerful. So just as you can import
content in some Virtual Worlds--and I know now there’s a SketchUp exporter of some sort
and has been for a little while for Second Life. We work with 3D Studio Max and SketchUp
and Maya. So in addition to being able to use pre-existing content, what we’re looking at is
integrating with pre-existing functionality on sort of an application-by-application basis. And
that’s pretty powerful and for certain kinds of real-time simulations it requires some pretty
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now I know you were very politically correct and said you
weren’t going to compare your platform to others, but there are a couple questions that are
coming through the backchat--and I’m hoping you’ll be able to address them, and that, of
course, is your call. One is now Open Croquette, I guess, has very distributed processing,
and you mentioned that, so I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you see that
relative to what you’re doing.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, my political correctness probably masked the fact that I’m not
the person to do a technical dive on each of these platforms. And I know Open Croquette a
little bit less than Quack, which obviously runs on Open Croquette.
It’s my understanding that Open Croquette is fundamentally a peer-to-peer system, with
some server--call it adjudication. We are a client-server application, but we co-simulate on
the client and the server. So while the server’s running the master simulation for the world or
for, let’s say, a sector, the client is running the same simulation for the region that you, the
avatar, are in. And they’re sort of tightly coupled and checking each other so that the results
are always accurate. So that’s--go ahead.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: If I could, let me--so when we talk about how you relate to these
other platforms--I’m a business professor. I’m not a tech guy, so my question is who is it you
end up going head to head with when you’re--I know of all these project that are being or
have been shopped around. There’s a Virtual Congress project coming out of Indiana
University where, as I understand it, they’re going to get high school kids to play at being
Congressperson, senator and lobbyist--a useful reality segment there. Then the work with
Defense and so on. Who is it you end up going head to head with on these projects?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, it always depends on the project. Sometimes the competition
isn’t even a Virtual World company or platform. Many times when an RFP goes out or a
customer goes out, they have a problem they want solved, and sometimes the Virtual World
is a solution, and sometimes it’s not.
But in cases where there’s Virtual World stuff, there’s a lot of sort of the usual suspects.
Certainly Active Worlds, which is a company that’s really been around for a while, has been
present. Quack, when it comes to sort of I’m going to say lightweight--and I don’t mean it at
all in a pejorative sense. It’s a relatively light client, low resolution collaboration system. We
see them sometimes. And we also see Proton Media, which is a company that I think they
really began as a Flash developer of corporate training.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: They’ve been working, I believe, with Duke’s Fuqua Business
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I think so. So for example, where Quack has more of a
collaboration orientation, Proton has more of a corporate training orientation. I think they
really do training for Pharma sales reps, people like that. So we’re very, very general
purpose. So we have a very ambitious agenda, and what we see is occasionally these other
companies in very specific areas, but we don’t see all of them all the time.
And also, I would say a little bit in the medical area and also in the government, we see
Virtual Heroes, which is not a Virtual World platform company, but they’re the developers for
America’s Army, so we see them sometimes as well.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now I notice you didn’t mention Second Life. Are they just, to
you, a totally different space?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, I don’t think Second Life is really--and I could be wrong at
what I’m saying, but my understanding is Second Life is not in the application business.
They are happy to enable others to do so, but they’re not doing maybe specific business
development, for example, in places where we go, whether it’s public or private sector.
That said, there are developers--Electric Sheep, Rivers, individuals, whomever--and they
might decide to use Second Life as a platform. And so to that degree it’s an alternative
platform. But it’s those developers who would represent alternatives to Forterra and OLIVE.
We also have a small, but very quickly growing number of people who are starting to
develop their own Virtual Worlds and applications based on OLIVE. So it’s small now but, in
a year, you’ll probably see a similar ecosystem emerging.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. I think that gives us a much better sense of the
business environment in which you’re operating. I’d like to move on now to talking about one
of your specific clients. I understand--and we had a little chat last week--I understand that
most of the clients you can’t tell me about or you’d have to kill me.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, not quite.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that includes not just on the classified side, but on the stuff
that you’re not quite ready to announce. But one that I think it will be a great one to talk
about is your work with the CATT Lab, the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology
Laboratory at the University of Maryland. And so I understand they’ve been working with
you and the I-95 Corridor Coalition to create a training program. So I’d like to ask now a
Second Life cable network has some of the video that gives people a visual sense of what
this endeavor is all about. So if they would go ahead and cue that up, audience members
will be able to see that silently while you tell us a little bit about this project. So if you can
just give us a sense of what these people are doing and where Forterra fits in, that’d be
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Sure. Well, in 2007, we began a relationship--a discussion with the
Center for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Maryland. And they’re
part of a consortium of public sector and maybe some private sector organizations that are
really responsible for policy planning, training, security, all sorts of things that are tied to
Interstate 95, which, for those of you who don’t know, runs from Florida up to Maine and is
arguably one of the major economic arteries of the United States, from an interstate
perspective. And so there’s a lot of issues, obviously, with keeping it running smoothly. They
came to us actually with a very simple proposition, and they said, “Look, between Baltimore
and Washington there are just massive headaches with accidents and traffic. And, roughly
speaking, about every hour that traffic stops on Interstate 95 because of an accident.” It’s
cost about $100 million in lost productivity to the GDP. I’m not an economist, but I kind of
love that kind of idea that there’s economic value associated with a traffic jam, besides the
environmental damage and the emotional frustration from everyone in the cars.
So they said the reason those accidents last so long is because the emergency workers just
don’t get the cars off the road fast enough. They don’t set the scene property, and it’s
getting so bad that they’re actually thinking that it may be more economically viable to just
toss the car off the side of the road and buy the accident victim a new car. So I said, “If we
can just get these guys to put traffic cones down, we might have enormous benefit, and
injuries could be prevented, economic conditions could be improved. So we basically have
licensed to them their own OLIVE platform and tools, and they’ve been developing a
complete training system for highway emergency workers, from police to ambulance to road
workers, you name it. I don’t know if you can all see it up on the screen, but these are some
scenarios that they’ve created themselves, the content, the curriculum, the role players. All
of that is them. We provided them with certain training in technology, but what you really see
there is a homegrown effort. And so that’s a first step, I think, in what they want to do.
You can go to their website. I think it’s catt.umd.edu or umd.edu/catt. And you can read
more about what they do, but you can see sort of what the roadmap for them is, which is,
you go from training those workers to starting to integrate more AI models of traffic flow to
really understand the larger policy issues, the building out geo-specific versions, not just
geo-typical versions. And ultimately to integrating real time sensors from the highway to
have basically--I hate the term “command and control,” but to have an operation center view
of the highway in a virtual world. So that’s a kind of interesting progression of applications
on a scale that can be done with something like OLIVE.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That’s so much to talk about and follow up on. I’d like to start, I
guess, by following up a little more on your working relationship with the CATT Lab. And I
know we have a lot of people who listen to the show, who are in a position wanting to do
something like what the CATT Lab is doing. So if you could talk a little bit about what their
experience would be like, what rests on their shoulders. And what exactly is it that you
provide, other than just licensing of the ability to use the OLIVE platform?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: We’re all in a very new and emerging market. It’s just one cliché
after another, I realize, but it’s a way of saying that flexibility is really important. So we have
a studios group, which actually will do several things. One is, it will build applications for
people who don’t have that capability themselves. We will provide training for content
developers, training for operations people, training for coders as well. Or, we can
recommend, in some cases, third party developers to a customer who also doesn’t want to
either avail themselves of our services or build it themselves. So at this point, really have to
be flexible for people who want to do these things. And we have no pre-stated preference or
judgment about how that should go.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And you also talked a little bit about the mirror world aspect of
this. This is maybe getting a little bit speculative, but it sounds like you have in mind that you
can have sensors in the real world that are going communicate information into the virtual
world. People can be in the virtual world, making decisions that end up affecting traffic flows
directly. Is that the idea?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, maybe not that specific example. I may not want to reroute
the traffic but, ultimately, the membrane between sort of agency in the real world and
agency in the virtual world is going to blur. You already can see it. It’s not that far off. You
can already see it, and there’s things going on Second Life as well where you see things like
air traffic and so forth. What sort of the next step is--well, there are several next steps.
One is a tighter integration that’s secure, obviously, that has sort of the much more
guaranteed performance. Because if you’re trying to affect the real world, you better want to
know that when you commit to an action, it’s actually going to be happening.
And the second is that, I think when you talk about mirror worlds, we’re talking about things
like Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth. And a lot of the data there is not timely. I
mean I look at Google Earth’s picture of my street in New York, and it’s three years old. So
how do you start to integrate call it real time content updating from GIS or Mirror World
sources that can then be rendered appropriately in a 3D world. So I think this is a--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Go ahead, finish up.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Anyway, I would say, at this point, there’s an aspect of this that
seems sort of more cool and intriguing than it seems useful, but there are places that it will
be useful over time. And I think there’s a valid--how do I say it--there’s a valid interest that
these environments being distributed, being immersive and being very easy to use, relative
to other kinds of systems, could be really great operational control tools.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now there’s a follow-up that came from Aldon Huffhines in our
backchat, asking us to take this further. He wants to know if you’re doing anything with
ROBERT GEHORSAM: We’re not right now.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, maybe we should define that. I guess I’m assuming
what Aldon means is actually being able to push additional virtual content into what are
normally real life interfaces. I don’t know. I hope that’s an intelligible description. But go
ahead. I didn’t mean to interrupt.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: We’ve looked at it. It’s certainly something we’re tracking, we’re
interested in. We’re doing some work with caves. I can tell you that. The sort of very, very
large chained-together displays, sort of holodeck kind of stuff but without the holograms. But
you go into a large room, and the entire environment is rendered on multiple giant screens
rather than just one screen. Someone has asked if you could repeat the definition, by the
way, of augmented reality.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m glad that was a low volume definition because, boy, I don’t
know if I could actually define augmented reality on the fly. You can give it a stab, or my
guess is that there might be other people who can type it into backchat, and I’ll read it out
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Right. There is another term, which is maybe a first cousin or
half-sister to augmented reality, and that’s mixed reality. And that is the idea of incorporating
activities in real life with activities in the virtual world. We actually helped establish a lab at
the University of Central Florida, called the Virtual Worlds Research Lab. And that’s
affiliated with the film and digital media school there. One of their theater professors did a
performance piece--I guess it was a mystery--that mixed live performance with virtual
performance. I’m not dexterous enough to find and type in the URL for that, but maybe if
individuals want to ask me later, I can get that to you. And that’s another area that’s
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I know UCF has been doing incredible things with virtual
reality and, in particular, I’ve heard about fire control policies. And actually, I do have the link
right here to put into backchat.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Great.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So yeah, that’s Glen Harrison is an economist there, who has
been really at the forefront of all of that. I hope to get those guys also on Metanomics at
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Right. Well, UCF is--oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: No, No. I’d love to hear about UCF.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: All right. So UCF is one of the biggest sort of unknown universities
in the country, certainly, and it really is, for various reasons, probably the simulation capital
of the United States. Something I didn’t know until a few years ago. As some people have
sort of drolly put it, it’s at the center of the military entertainment complex. All the Services
have their simulation commands based in Orlando, and you also have all the theme parks.
And when you look at the birth of simulation, which really someone noticed earlier, related to
flight simulators, which led to motion simulators. The different between a ride, a motion
simulation ride, at Universal and flight simulator is kind of minimal. So there’s an enormous
amount of talent in the digital film and media departments, in the computer science
departments and all throughout that area. So for those of you who are students or interested
in looking at sort of more studying in these areas, that would be an interesting place to look
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I loved that phrase, the military entertainment complex.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Complex. Right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I know you’ve done a fair bit of the military and other government
work and just more generally on the Serious games. I notice actually we had David Wortley
from the Serious Games Institute at Coventry on last week, and I know they’ve adopted you.
Are you basically totally ceding the entertainment side to your compatriots like There?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, we’re not ceding it in the sense of surrender. We have a
business relationship that gives them the rights to pursue that. Our fundamental focus is
really on the platform and getting as many people to begin to develop on that platform and
use that platform for a wide range of uses. So they’re really--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Do you have clients coming to you from the entertainment side,
or are you just not going to go with that yet?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah. We’re not really going in that direction, except to the degree
that you could imagine a virtual world as a digital back lot, that it was a production tool
rather than a call it a distribution tool. And that’s kind of an interesting area. Whether we’re
doing something in that or not is separate. We’re really not. So Makena really is our partner
that faces the consumer for entertainment and social networking.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let me move on to what may sound like a technical issue,
but I guess with the two of us talking about it, it’ll be primarily a business issue, and that is
virtual world interoperability. Now I guess we actually met the first time in San Jose at that
Virtual World Operability Forum that was hosted by IBM.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And everyone was there, basically all representatives of not just
the platforms, but the people like Adobe, for example, that makes 3D modeling tools that
feed into the platforms.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I know that’s been a slow battle to try to achieve
interoperability. And, along with those, we’ve also got the Open Source issues going on.
Sun has their Open Source platform. Second Life has made some movements toward Open
Source. So I’m wondering if you can just talk about, and primarily really from the business
perspective, how do you see this interoperability and Open Source and Open Standards
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, let me take the second part first. Open Source shouldn’t be
confused with Open Standards, and they often are. I think there will always be a debate,
which will have a practically religious or ideological overtones about whether things should
be Open Source or not. We are much more oriented to the Open Standards, that it’s okay to
have proprietary software because that’s a business model that does enable innovation. I
suppose you could argue, in some cases, that it doesn’t but, in other cases, it does. But
certainly it encourages innovation, but it also allows for interoperability so that different parts
can work together. And so we’re really firmly on the Open Standards side, and you can see
that with certainly the decisions we’ve made about content creation. And you can also see it
by something that is upcoming that I think we’re pretty much the first people to do a very
specific virtual world standard or protocol and put it into the open community. And that is a
new format, which I think I mentioned to you, Rob, called Paged Terrain Format. So if you’re
going to build a virtual world, you need something to build the world with. I think I’ve been
implying we’re really interested in the issue of geo-specific fidelity.
There have been a lot of attempts to do databases that are very, very realistic in great
detail, but they tend to be at the aerial level. I’ll talk about Paged Terrain in a second, Aldon.
And they tend not to go down to the ground very well, and they tend to specifically not do
things like the deformation of terrain, tunnels, underpasses, overpasses, all that kind of stuff.
So we’ve been working on a standard that will handle very, very, very robust--the three
“very’s” is like the sixth sigma, I guess. Very robust terrain. Very, very large whole earth kind
of geo-specific that can work with pre-existing data as well and handle a lot of the
challenging physics issues that go along with that. and we’re going to put that into the
community, and, in fact, it is out there on our CTO’s website, interopworld.org. You can read
the draft spec, and it will be coming out in a near term release of OLIVE sometime this
spring. So that’s an example of an Open Standard that’s going on. I know that I’m being
longwinded in my response.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: No, no, this is great. No one wants to hear me.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: So that’s the first part. We just take a position that maybe there are
aspects that should be Open Source, but, by and large, we see that Open Standards as
also enabling the kind of interoperability that’s needed.
Now, on the interoperability side, I think there is a broad and general agreement that for
Virtual Worlds to take off to be a disruptive and internet-level phenomenon, you can’t go into
each virtual world with sort of separate sign-ins and all those sorts of things. That there
needs to be ways for aspects of Virtual Worlds to interoperate much the way that websites
interoperate. So I think everyone agrees on that. So there’s interoperability on the
production side. There’s interoperability on the run time side, I guess, and that’s what’s
starting to be discussed, certainly in--what is it--the Virtual World Interoperability Group and
a couple of other places. I think there’s an effort in Europe too, although why these things
should be geographically focused, I’m not sure.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. We actually had someone who’s working with the
European group, Dr. Yesha Sivan from Israel, actually.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah. I know Yesha well.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, that’s right. He presented also in San Jose at the
Interoperability Forum, and I will say one of his points is that he didn’t think we Americans
were ever going to get our acts together and that Europe would be able to actually do it
much the way they were able to deal with mobile phones. Now you may disagree on his
evaluation, but that’s the one he made.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: When you look at the companies in the room, they’re all global
companies, so I just don’t see how this is going to be a geographically specific effort by any
So that said, I think the interoperability is really important. Once again, not being a
technologist, I think there’s still the question of which things are really important. To
interoperate? That’s the first question. The second order question is going to be: What can
we actually already use from the 2D web that works just fine? I mean is Real ID okay for
universal login to different Virtual Worlds? Maybe, from what I can tell.
COLLADA: I noticed that someone also talked about Colada. Is COLLADA a good
interchange format for all that?
So I think there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered. Do we need to create new
standards or can existing ones sort of be re-contextualized and re-factored to work?
And then you finally get to the question of what are the really essential interoperability
standards that are specific to Virtual Worlds and the 3D internet. I think it’s a really slow
process. I think there’s going to be lots of skeptics. I think there is what I’m going to call a
natural level of concern about trust between parties since all the people involved all have
different agendas. I don’t mean that in any snarky way. I think it’s just something that gets
rationalized when you have big diverse technology companies like IBM or a company like
Cisco dealing with Electric Sheep. Those are all different perspectives.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So actually I got very much the feeling that that was going on
when I was sitting in the forum, but, from my vantage point, it was difficult for me to really
understand what those different perspectives are. So could you talk a little bit--and I know
you’ll want to be careful, but I do think that you could really give us some insight. What do
you see that, for example, the Intel’s and Cisco’s of the world, that sort of very low level
technology providers providing the most basic stuff--how exactly does their interest in
interoperability differ from the platforms like yourself and from the people using them, like,
say, Electric Sheep?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: You know, honestly, I have no idea. Our representative to the
group is actually our CTO, and so he participates on an ongoing basis. I do think that, at a
very, very high level, everyone has the same agenda, which is to increase the number of
people and the overall value that goes on in Virtual Worlds. So I think the interests will occur
at the implementation levels. That different people will be much more interested in having
certain implementations done in some area than another. I know that’s a really general
comment, but, like I said, I’m not in the ongoing discussions, so I don’t have anything
specifically more detailed to add to it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That’s interesting. I have the privilege, being an academic, that I
can spend my time as I please, not all of it intelligently, and one of the things that I’ve been
doing is following what this group is doing. I admit, first of all, it’s very heavily managed by
the tech people, not by the business side. And so I actually wonder, I worry a little bit when I
see technology folks at a big corporation potentially making key strategic decisions that are
going to affect the entire industry, without having the suits there to weigh in. I don’t know if
you want to react to that, but just my own little opinion.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, this group is not a group that actually has any authority to set
any standard. They are a discussion and recommending body only. And how standards
actually get decided on and adopted--it’s going to end up being a business discussion, with
a lot of support from the technologists. So I think that’s how we see it happening. That’s how
everyone involved sees it happening, and I think it’s a long way off before we see anything
concrete coming out of it. Which is fine.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, well, let the free market operate. See where we end up.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So we are just about out of time. I’d like to give you the last few
minutes. Just to talk a little bit about what you see in the future, and this can be what you
see for Forterra in the next few months or a year or ten years. Or you can talk about
short-term or long-term in the industry, but just sort of what is guiding your thinking and
where do you think this car is heading.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I could go out 20 years and start talking about implants sitting on
my optic nerve, giving me a real augmented reality view of things. You know what? I think
that stuff actually is going to happen. I think what’s really important to happen in the next
year especially is for us to have, I guess, a reality check so all of us who are here are here
because we really believe in this stuff, and we’re really excited, and we’re really
enthusiastic. I’ve been 23 years involved with some aspect of this, so I really must be nuts
to be doing it. But there’s a sense that now, for a wide variety of reasons, this is a time when
there can be reality. But when you actually look at what has been going on for the past, let’s
say, 18 months, there’s been an enormous amount of work in the sort of social networking
and entertainment side. We should never forget what the MMOGs represent to all of this
because that is the real business at this point.
But, if you want to imagine other parts of human activity migrating to this, then we really
need to start to see the results of all the early experimentation and pilot programs and the
corporate efforts. We need to see somehow publicly described results that this stuff works.
That people can learn better. That people can train better. That people can do things better.
And I think we all have an intuitive sense of that, and maybe some of even know some
examples for sure, but we don’t really know that as a community. I think, this year, we need
to start to see some of those results. So what I described with the University of Maryland, for
example, they’re doing work, and they’re going to start to get results, and it should be pretty
interesting. We do a lot of work in the medical area too, and some of it I can talk about, and
some of it is with clients I can’t talk about. But we’re going to see results this year and,
hopefully, they’ll be published, and they’ll be published, in some cases, in a proper research
form. I think we need to see that. Otherwise we really run the risk of hype meltdown
because the money won’t be there to do the things we want to do, and the disappointment
factor will be really high. So that’s a very short-term view, but I think it’s a gating factor for
getting to the longer term.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, well, I would also see that as maybe more of an immediate
call to action than anything else, and I think it’s an exceptionally useful one. I know, from
where I sit in academia, people talk about using games, use Serious Games and virtual
environments for learning. And the thing that always comes up is assessment. Is anyone
actually learning any better this way or really anything at all? For all we know. It’s very hard
to know what people are doing on the other side of the computer. I agree this is likely to stall
a lot of the progress that we’d like--you know, those of us who have already gotten excited
about this, you know, hoping for.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Right. Right. I know we’re probably out of time, but I can tell you
there are some early results that we’ve experienced that are really promising. We’re also
doing a lot of, I hope, interesting and useful work in sort of taking more traditional eLearning
techniques, technologies, methodologies and starting to adapt them to really real time
3D Virtual Worlds, which is a lot different than [course we’re?] on a web page. So LMS
integration, SCORM compliance, doing analysis of team training of the individual in the
context of team training, that’s all stuff we’re doing in various ways.
But I’ll give you one little bit of research that was actually done, not necessarily on OLIVE,
but with one of our partners at Stanford University Medical School. They were studying how
effective simulation techniques were for surgeons. And I don’t know how many of you about
this, but surgeons they used to practice on cadavers and now they use these amazing
quarter-million dollar mannequins, which are wired up. And they have these physiology
models, which I just was talking about before. We just rerouted to the avatar instead of the
mannequin. And what they discovered was, in some cases, surgeons learned more
effectively working on an avatar in a virtual environment than on a mannequin, which is
counterintuitive for something as tactile. Not a deceased mannequin. It’s like a robot.
Someone asked. They’re really quite remarkable, and they’re actually controlled from a
control room by a teacher or what’s called an observer controller. So anyway. So there’s
piece parts that show that certain kinds of learning can be more effective. But I think this
year we’re going to see whole solutions start to be validated.
And then I just will point out, on a very practical level, that even if you can do that, even if
you can prove it, then you have to have a technology that can actually be deployed and be
deployed securely and reliably and that meet the institutional criteria for that kind of
deployment. So that’s the other piece that has to be solved.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Well, Robert Gehorsam, president of Forterra
Systems, Incorporated, I thank you so much for coming into Second Life today and talking
with us about where you are and where you see Forterra and the industry going. I do hope a
lot of people will take you up on that call to action to work on assessment and show firm
evidence of the short-term wins, basically, that the industry is going to need to see.
So thanks to our audience. Special thanks to Second Life Cable Network that really did a
great job. I think everything not only has gone smoothly, but we were able to add some bells
and whistles, which we are continuing to do as we put time and money into Metanomics. So
thanks so much to SLCN and, again, thanks to you, Robert.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: You’re very welcome. Thanks, everyone.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer