METANOMICS: TANGIBLE EVIDENCE
FEBRUARY 9, 2009
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, Robert Bloomfield, and, on behalf
of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and Remedy
Communications, welcome to Metanomics.
Today we’re joined once again by Robert Gehorsam, president of Forterra Incorporated, a
Virtual World platform devoted to enterprise use. Mr. Gehorsam was on Metanomics about
a year ago so I, for one, am looking forward to hearing an update on what Forterra’s been
doing and where they’re headed now. As always, Metanomics is filmed from the virtual
Sage Hall, right here in Second Life’s Metanomics region, thanks to my real life employer,
Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Hello to our live audiences at our event partner locations: Muse Isle, Confederation of
Democratic Sims, Rockliffe University, New Media Consortium, Orange Island and Meta
Partners. I also want to say hello to our growing audience who watches the show live on the
web. For those of you who have trouble getting into Second Life, due to a firewall or lack of
bandwidth, you can go to metanomics.net/watchnow and, not only see the show live, but
participate in backchat through InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system.
We are going to go right into our main guest segment today and welcome
Robert Gehorsam, president of Forterra Incorporated. Robert, welcome back to
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Thanks. Actually, it’s very nice to be back after [AUDIO GLITCH] a
great job this past year.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Robert, you were on Metanomics. It was about a year ago. And,
at that point, Forterra was doing primarily government work, providing comprehensive
Virtual World solutions for a variety of agencies and then branching out a little bit into some
academic work as well. Now it seems like you’re doing more work with private for-profit
corporations. Can you tell us a little bit about your client mix now?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Sure. I think, as a little bit of a background, I should also add that
the strategy of the company has always been to work not just in the public sector [AUDIO
GLITCH] primarily in the private sector [AUDIO GLITCH] the time. We just saw it as an
evolutionary process. Second Life sort of has come to it from a consumer side. We saw that
the government was a very educated customer [AUDIO GLITCH] lot of opportunities there,
so we started there, speaking of There, aside from the there.com effort. And so, really, over
the past year, I would say at least half, maybe more, of the opportunities based our work in
the private sector. [AUDIO GLITCH]
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I actually have lost Robert’s voice. Robert, can you hear
me all right?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I can hear you fine.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. It’s going one way. Well, SLCN, if you believe there’s
something that we can do about this, with a quick pause, please do break in and arrange
that. But last I heard on that, you were actually giving a very different version. Usually when
we hear about government work, sort of “educated” and “informed” are not usually the
adjectives we come across, but you found them to be very effective partners for what you’re
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, sure. Our initial customers were in the Department of
Defense area, and, if there is any group of people who understand immersive 3D
environments and their benefits, at least for training, it’s that group. The other group, of
course, would be certain medical practices and the aviation industry. But, yeah, the
Department of Defense is a pretty educated customer about 3D. And, arguably, when you
actually look at the history, they were the inventors.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, yeah. So now this is a concerted effort these days to move
into the for-profit sector?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Always has been, from the very beginning. The time is really right,
and we’re seeing that response.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so let me ask, now that you’re getting some traction in the
for-profit sector, what are you finding as being the big differences in dealing with them rather
than dealing with governmental agencies?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: There’s probably a bunch of things. One is, certainly, the
government is very slow and has an enormous regulatory process infrastructure, right, for
making acquisitions. The second piece is that they are willing to do a lot of R&D so they’re
willing to fund the kind of R&D that corporations just simply aren’t willing to fund. So that’s
pretty helpful. So that’s one difference that’s sort of positive on the government side as
opposed to the sort of relatively slow process on the government side.
On the other hand, in the business world, people may move a little faster, and they may
have less specialized applications they want to do. We can talk about that in a little while.
But they also have a different ROI calculation, right, when you’re dealing with, for example,
training. Training for the U.S. Army, the ROI is measured in lives, which is actually a pretty
great metric. You’re tasked with saving lives. But in business, it’s, “Can I do this cheaper,
better or faster or all three?” That’s different.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So it’s hard to talk about for-profit organizations or government
organizations now without bringing up the recession. Are you finding it easier or harder to
make the case for investing in Virtual Worlds, given the current economy?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I actually think it’s a little easier right now. Cisco the other day
announced the ban on travel, and other large companies are also cutting back on travel. So
then that leaves you with a set of options for collaboration and meetings. That’s a very
broad term. And the fact is that the demand within a global corporation hasn’t gone down,
right, for teams to be effective and for people to meet with other people. So this is turning
out to be good.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You provided us with a really nice graphic that spells out the
advantages of Virtual Worlds for collaboration relative to conference calls on the one
extreme and face-to-face meetings on the other. And SLCN will be popping that up now so
people can take a look at it. Is this your basic pitch these days to corporations?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: For the collaboration area, absolutely. It turns out to be a pretty
good proposition to put in front of people. It doesn’t represent an either-or, but it fills in a
space that they’re unable to fill in with other technologies. It still remains very experiential. If
anyone here in the audience is sort of doing things like Forterra and goes and presents
Virtual Worlds to people, you can put up all the PowerPoint you want, but, until you actually
try it and experience it, these assertions are hard for people to accept. And then the moment
they do experience it, the light goes on. So that’s what we’re finding.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I was going to say, of course, our live audience who’s watching
this in Second Life is getting an immersive experience, not exactly the same as Forterra’s,
but similar. But for for our web viewers and our iTunes viewers, we can do the next best
thing. We actually have a little bit of a video that you made, that gets this immersive point
across with one of your clients Accenture. So, SLCN, let’s take a quick look at that video of
the meeting with Accenture.
MALE: When we’re all sitting around here, especially with Brian and Clair, with having to
Facegen faces, I totally feel like I’m sitting in a meeting with you. I don’t mean to go all
cheesy or anything like that, but the illusion is really immersive for me, and I was wondering
if you guys felt the same way.
FEMALE: And also, I find the audio quality is better for me than when we’re having a team
call, where everybody else is in the same room calling me. This is so much better because I
can hear everybody’s voices really clearly, which adds to that feeling of all being in the
same room, which is great.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So clearly, one of the people in that meeting, the light went on
with what it means to be in an immersive environment. And I’ll certainly want to hear a lot
about how Accenture is using your platform. But, before we get there, one of the points in
that short clip is that the avatars have faces that are getting closer to being realistic
representations of the actual people. Can you talk a little bit about how you managed that?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Sure. Happy to. We actually use a standard third-party tool called
Facegen, which is used for both prosumer and professional uses to model faces, and you
just really work from two photographs. And then there’s a simple art path to apply that to the
skeleton of a particular avatar. And then it’s uploaded onto whatever server that user is
going to be residing on. About a year ago, it took a long time. It took about almost a day and
a half to get that done, and now we have it down to about 15 minutes. I would love to
actually see the whole thing automated. So that’s how we do it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great! We’ll have time to get more into the technology in a
little bit, but, for now, let’s stick with the ways that the technology is being used. In your
recent white paper, Recipes for Success, you point out a number of reasons to use Virtual
Worlds for training: practice until perfect, add gaming or problem-solving, blend learning with
social contacts. Let’s have fun, and the millennials want this technology. Can you tell us
what is Accenture doing with Forterra, and which of these advantages are they exploiting?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Right. I would say they’re probably exploiting all of these.
Accenture really is looking at it in two different dimensions broadly. One is for internal use.
That’s a company with 168,000 employees. Many of them are consultants who work with
customers, and many of whom are trainers in management that support those people. So
the first pilot that we did, the one that’s referenced in the white paper, was for the internal
learning organization, building one of the most important organizations within Accenture.
And I guess you can call it a micropilot, to sort of say, “Is there something even here to
pursue for an internal deployment?” And so they really were looking at some general
capabilities and how believable and immersive the environment was.
I think they were using--as a sample case, I’m pretty sure it was an onboarding application
for new employees. They were working from a standard curriculum. They were able to
integrate that curriculum into OLIVE. Part of our SCORM capabilities probably played a role
there. And they ran for some period of time numbers of sessions. I think the video that you
showed there is kind of the review, the after-action review of what that experience was like.
So I can tell you that the pilot was very successful, by Accenture standards. And they really
felt that it achieved a lot of the goals, and there were some positive surprises too, which was
the cost-effectiveness compared to other meeting technologies and just how meaningful the
sense of shared space is, in terms of 3D.
People tend to gravitate towards--video conferencing, right, is the highest form of online
collaboration or meeting, but I sort of think of it more like watching Hollywood Squares, right.
Everybody’s in a separate panel, and there’s no sense of shared space. Accenture realized
quickly this gave people a shared sense of space, a better way to connect and a cheaper
way to connect, so they’re actually moving forward with a larger internal effort, and there’s
some work going on with some of their lines of business in certain areas.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’ve got a couple questions already from the audience, and one
is from Fleep Tuque, Chris Collins, from the University of Cincinnati, who wants to quibble
with your point about millennials. And I know she deals with a lot of young people, as
involved in the K-12 educational space. And she’s basically saying, “In my experience,
millennials do not want this technology. If it isn’t a game, it ain’t fun, avatars or no.” Do you
have an experience with the younger crowds and the new Accenture employees, I guess,
straight out of college?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, I don’t know if I could say about Accenture employees
straight out of college. But watching my teenage kids play around with Sony Home the other
day and giving it up after five minutes because there was nothing to do certainly would
support that perspective. However, when we say this technology, you got to look at what
we’re really comparing it to, which is web-based course ware and pretty bland stuff. So I
think the general assertion that the incoming workforce wants more immersive and
stimulating environments to work in is generally [AUDIO GLITCH]. That’s pretty much what
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One part of your pilot program I found really very interesting,
which is that you included four different constituencies: advocates, skeptics, learning
executives and IT folks. And they were brought into the pilot across three separate
sessions. How did you choose these particular groups, and what were their different
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I think you understand the advocates, right? And especially at this
phase of technology adoption, advocates tend to be high enthusiasts as well, who see, I
don’t know, with Virtual Worlds, if there’s a problem, a Virtual World can solve it. I probably
sort of fall into that a little too. So there are the challenges to focus that group. The second
group is the skeptics. They come with a lot of different motivations. It used to be that it was
the skepticism of the “Oh, my God. This is a game. I don’t want this here.” But that’s
disappearing, my experience has been in the past year, partly because popular culture’s
been so inundated, right, with press about Virtual Worlds. So now they’re skeptical not
about whether it’s a game or not but whether there’s a valid use case for it relative to some
And learning executives tend to be stressed between budgets and responsibilities. They’re
practical. They want to know that this is actually going to provide them with an enhanced
capability that’s within their reach [AUDIO GLITCH]. So IT tends to be actually where a lot of
enthusiasts can be found, and, on the other hand--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, real foot-draggers often. Right?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, that’s what I was going to get at is both sides. So, on the one
hand, you’ve got enthusiasts because they’re people who work with computers. And, on the
other hand, they have sort of responsibilities for security and performance and maintaining
things and doing all that. So they can be a roadblock, and they see their job, in some ways,
to do that to be cautious. So that just has to be dealt with.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’ll say I’m dealing with similar issues with an organization I work
with on the IT side. They’re very interested in narrowing the set of platforms they need to
deal with, and they don’t want to just go ahead and add yet another every time some
enthusiast has a new idea of something that can cure the world’s ills.
Let’s turn a little bit more to Forterra’s position in the Virtual World industry and how you
compete with the other platforms that are out there. A good part of that positioning, of
course, is in the technology that you’re providing, and then part of it is in service and
But, starting with technology, let’s take a look at the OLIVE environment, and this is another
graphic that you prepared for us. Actually, it’s out of your standard materials. But it starts
with the core OLIVE engine, which is the heart of the World. It’s got the 3D space, graphics
rendering avatar’s physics, and, I presume, a bunch of the communication tools. And then
that rests inside OLIVE’s software development kit that allows developers who have the
skills to actually create a lot of new capabilities and modify existing capabilities. And then,
outside of that, you can bring in the third-party plug-ins, and some of that there’s content
that you’ve developed for military or medical or emergency response and so on. And then
finally, you have the ability to bring in content from a number of content-authoring tools like
Autodesk, [AUDIO GLITCH], COLLADA and Motion Capture.
I guess my first question is about the core itself, the OLIVE core itself. As I understand it, it
doesn’t allow for user-generated content, like Second Life, where an avatar can just go into
the World and, within the platform, use in-world building tools and things like that. But then,
on the other hand, if you were actually developing your World using the platform you have,
the development kit gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility. Do I have that right?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah. I think saying that doesn’t allow for user-generated content
should be, I think--I just want to specify a little more. Currently, there is no capability for
real-time in-world content generation, using sort of proprietary tools inside the client. And
there’s good and bad to that. It has certainly given birth to unbelievable innovation in
something like Second Life.
On the other hand, we do provide API’s and all kinds of other paths for software developers,
content creators and subject matter experts, to create things in, I guess you’d say non-real
time. They can certainly be manipulated in the World in real time. That’s a different issue.
But it’s a real software development environment. So that’s, I think, something that’s
I was going to say, to do that, of course, that means you have to have a corporate
infrastructure to support that. So we, in addition to sort of the documentation you
need--which is always never good enough, right, because people are always trying to do
things you haven’t even thought of--but, in addition to documentation, we run a variety of
training programs for developers--different kind.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I know that Microsoft has their Microsoft developer’s network, and
they provide, of course, a lot of people developing for Microsoft, even though they don’t
work directly for or even officially affiliated with Microsoft. So you’re doing something
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Absolutely. Yeah.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’d like to take a look, just to make this a little more real, I’d like to
take a look at a video about a World that we discussed last time you were on Metanomics,
which is the Transportation Lab at the University of Maryland, which is working on traffic
studies of I-95, which runs up and down the east coast of the U.S. So, SLCN, if you can roll
that tape, with the sound, we’ll take a look at how they’re using plug-ins.
MALE: This first-person simulation game may look like the latest video game release, but
it’s actually a sophisticated piece of traffic management software. Each person that plays
the game has his own avatar that pulls them into the heart of the action.
MALE-2: Both those patients you were just talking about, are they from this black SUV
MALE: By creating a realistic virtual traffic jam, first responders gain invaluable experience
that before could only be learned on the job.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So that’s a fascinating example of what one organization has
done with your technology. Can you give us an update on where the Transportation Lab is
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yeah. They’re actually getting ready to roll out the production
system, certainly in the first half of this year. So they’ve been really doing a lot of work
themselves. We’ve certainly been helping them, but they’ve been doing their own code and
their own content and so forth and their own curriculum for what they need to do. So they’ve
written a bunch of codes. For example, they have the ability now to put hundreds of vehicles
in that World, all with their own behaviors. They’ve written their own vehicle behavior AI.
Maybe that would--put in the Real World it would help avoid some of the problems. And
they’re finishing up their curriculum in the in-world support for that curriculum well for the
workers who are going use it. Now that’s some example, and they’re developing all the
models, all the content, working on sort of advanced record and replay function, things like
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. And I guess just to get back to how all these different parts
of the platform work together, they created their own AI--
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --which then became, for them, a proprietary third-party plug-in
that they integrated into the OLIVE core.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So they own that AI. Do you end up with any rights over that AI?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: No. If there were some use for that, that we saw valuable, we’d
probably make them essentially a partner and offer that plug-in for sale, with an agreement
with them, to other people who found it useful, that was of interest to both us and UMD. And
that would be kind of a standard thing. For example, we’ve done work in the medical area
with physiology models, and, if someone had a physiology model that was reusable and
saw us as a helpful partner to them, there might be a way to resell that as a plug-in as well.
Those are some of the examples.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Then looking at this the other way, let’s assume I’m a client. I’m
working with you on some distance learning project for Cornell, say, so we at Cornell would
run our own instance of the OLIVE platform. We’d have our servers here.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: To what extent would this turn out to be like we’re buying a
product from you and install it on our machines and say, “Thank you very much”? And, to
what extent is this really more a long-term contract to provide the services?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: That is entirely up to you actually or any customer. Our goal is not
to be the gatekeeper or get in the way of people doing development. In fact, we really want
other people to do it, but, that said, because we’re pretty familiar with our technology, if it’s
helpful for people to work with us to sort of jumpstart their application development, we have
those services, and we’re happy to provide them. So it can go all the way from just buying
the product and do it; we train you, you do it yourselves; to working with us to build
something. Whatever you’d like.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We talked a little when we had the pre-interview. We chatted a
little bit about whether something like Forterra would make sense for a show like
Metanomics. It’s not behind a firewall. It’s a public thing. And your response was, “It’s a
myth that Forterra is strictly a “behind the firewall” solution. That’s right. I mean, if I wanted
to use your product, I could create an open World, allowing anyone to come in?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Absolutely. Yeah. it’s always been able to run out on the open
internet, and some of you have probably been in some early things we’ve done on public
demo servers. We bring people in actually 24 hours a day on the public internet servers. But
what we certainly focused on was the capability to also run behind a firewall for customers
[AUDIO GLITCH]. That’s just to clarify it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I appreciate that. There’s another thing I’m hoping you can
clarify for me, which is the relationship between the technology you’re using, the OLIVE
platform, and the technology that powers There.com. I understand that, long ago, it actually
was the same product, but you have continued, it seems, to upgrade your platform. Has
there been a big divergence now in the platform that you’re providing enterprises and the
platform that the consumer world There.com is using?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yes. I suppose it was an evolutionary branch some years ago. But
the important difference really, the architecture is actually the same. The way that we
organize servers and simulation and communications and objects, all that stuff shares a
common heritage. What is different, however, is that OLIVE is really meant to be a
development platform, right, so it has API’s. It has an SDK. It’s open in that regard. In fact,
part of what we’ve produced we have been putting in Open Source, for example. But it all
works with open standards, and it’s meant to be a platform. There is really an application,
and I’d say it doesn’t have those kind of API’s for an outside developer to work [AUDIO
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Just to push this a little further, the distinctions between
OLIVE and the There platform. Metanomics had a couple visits from Michael Wilson, who’s
the CEO of There.com, last year. And he emphasized a three-prong strategy. One of them
was emphasizing PG content. One was protection of intellectual property in the World. And
the third was to--and here I’ll just quote from the transcript from that show. The third was, “. .
. to make it possible for as many people to use our product as possible. So you find that it
turns out that our PC product will run on any PC shipped in 2003 and will actually run over
56K dialup. That’s why a lot of people look at There, and they say, ‘Well, it’s cartoon-like.’
And that’s because we limit, for the places we build, the texture budget to make sure that
you have a good experience.’” Is that true for the new OLIVE platform as well?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: We have a higher platform spec, actually, than There does. I
suppose if we ran without voice, we would also run on dialup. That’s an interesting aspect of
the sort of basic architecture. But, the fact of the matter is, we’ve migrated almost everything
to voice so you really need a 100K or more of bandwidth to have a good experience.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s see. We have a question from Valiant Westland, which is:
What type of channel and partner opportunities exist for system integrators and resellers
with the Forterra OLIVE platform?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: A slower pitch was never thrown. Right?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I just relay the questions, Robert.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: All kinds of opportunities. I mean we have resellers in the UK.
We’re developing reseller relationships in Asia and in mainland Europe as well. It all
depends. Some are very specialized. Obviously, there are some government resellers you
could imagine we’re working with too. And then there’s specialized people who may have a
specific application that they focus on, maybe their own technology. And then you could
have almost a reciprocal reseller relationship, so it’s very, very flexible. Any time you’re
early, right, in the evolution of a market, the configuration of relationships are [AUDIO
GLITCH] open. I hope that answers it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Are you saying to Valiant, “Valiant, call me”?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I’m saying, “Valiant, call me.” We were just named actually on a
very large Army contract, really, for the next five years. I won’t go into the technical
definitions of these kind of contracts. It’s basically kind of like a hunting license for winning
contracts in the U.S. Army for simulation. And we were named in one area on our own, and,
in some areas, we’re teamed with system integrators. So it’s really very flexible.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I gave you that softball question before. Now there are some
other questions in here asking, for example, Georgianna Blackburn, who is from
Sigma-Aldrich, a large chemical company, is asking, “Why is this better than immersive
workspaces?” So I’d like to generalize that a little bit and ask you, from your seat within
Second Life, just sort of give us the comparison between what you have and the enterprise
solutions that are arising. I guess first there are companies within Second Life who are
trying to do, especially with distance learning, alternatives to corporate meetings and so on.
And then there are “behind the firewall” solutions, both through groups like Immersive
Workspaces and then OpenSim, which is the Open Source products that are arising, using
protocols developed by Linden Lab in conjunction with IBM and others. How do you see
your competitive position there?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Oh, I hate those kind of questions. I haven’t been a user of
Immersive Workspaces. I’ve seen a little bit of the video. I’ve seen the words around them.
I’ve seen their press announcements. I think Justin and the gang have found a spot that is, I
would say, they’re articulating it coherently. I have no idea about execution at this point. I do
know that we’re getting a fair amount of business development from people who have
shopped around. I don’t know if it’s going the other way, but I’m certainly getting it from
people who’ve worked with Immersive Workspaces, people certainly who have been in
OpenSim is an interesting thing. It’s very easy for software developers in any company,
right, to pooh-pooh an early Open Source effort. But I think we’ve all been seeing a little bit
more traction on OpenSim over the past year. I just saw the new brainstorming thing that
the IBM research group did, where they have a piece of same-time integration, along with
OpenSim. But I think there’s a little bit of interesting progress. I think it has a ways to go
before it is really ready for primetime. My answer on OpenSim. And I just don’t have an
answer that is, I guess, ready for Immersive Workspaces, but they’re positioning [AUDIO
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see Georgianna has a follow-up question. She seems to mean
business here: Cost of the OLIVE platform? Ballpark, please?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium. Let me just tell you there’s two
categories of products that we own. And one is a developer’s kit which we use for people
who either run a pilot or develop their own application. There are three flavors of it. Two of
them are Windows versions, and the high end one is a Linux version. The Windows
versions are $10,000 and $30,000 for six months of work. Those are North American prices,
by the way. There’s $100,000--the Linux version which is much more scalable. All of them
come with different layers of training and support basically.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So rolled into that cost is some degree of training and support.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, Georgianna says, “I’m shopping now.” So Georgianna can
call you too, I guess.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I think she should. Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is
upgrading, watching how the software grows and changes over time as people get bigger
budgets and new graphics cards and so on. I interviewed Philip Rosedale a couple times
recently, and he’s talked about his strategy of pursuing what he calls small bets with
upgrades in Second Life, is basically trying to advance in small ways that won’t be financial
catastrophes if they fail. But, of course, there’s a tradeoff that, if you don’t make big
changes, then someone else leapfrogs you. I wondering, from a technological perspective,
how feasible is it to upgrade the platform in significant ways? And would you say, at this
point, you’re primarily tweaking, or are you looking at large-scale changes?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: We have a couple of major efforts on the roadmap this year, but
they are not going to break the platform per se, but they’ll be certainly additional new
[AUDIO GLITCH]. I think this is a great year to get the user experience right. So on the one
hand, that would imply little changes. They may just be little to the user though, and, behind
the scenes, there may be a lot to go on. I know, like in Second Life, Linden Labs--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We don’t really care about that though.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Right. You don’t. We actually have a compatibility upgrade policy
in place, which basically says when you go from version 2.X to 3.X or 2.X to 2.Y, here’s
what will be compatible from version to version. And compatibility can be measured from
assets to code and probably a couple of other things. And so the goal here is, obviously, not
to break anything. But, if you’re going to be doing major upgrades, to make sure your
customers know well in advance what’s going to need to be recompiled or reconfigured.
That’s just the nature of software.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a question from Zinnia Zauber, which is the following:
Your OLIVE environment has signs of respect for disability, wheelchair ramps and such, but
your user interface is difficult for people with disability to view. Will that access change as
your company expands as a leader in promoting the use of Virtual Worlds?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: That’s a great question. Thank you for the initial compliment. I
would say that it’s an area that we need to look more at. I think navigating 3D environments
on a 2D screen is inherently challenging. I don’t know that there are answers in place, I
guess, that are cost-effective or universal. But I’m really speaking outside my expertise. So I
would say we’d have to look more at it before I can give you [an answer].
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Those of you who are interested in this question, sometime in the
next four weeks--I’ll have to check the calendar--we’re actually going to be devoting an
entire show to the issue of disabilities in Virtual Worlds. This is one side of that topic, which
is the difficulties that the disabled have in dealing with what are inherently visual interfaces
that assume certain abilities. But then the other side of it is, there are large communities of
disabled, certainly in Second Life and no doubt other Virtual Worlds, who are finding it a
great way to do things they would not otherwise be able to do. Sometimes I feel like living in
Ithaca, New York, which we refer to as centrally isolated, gives me a sense of the things that
I can do getting into a Virtual World that I can’t do otherwise. So that’s going to be a very
You referred earlier a little bit to Open Source, that you have an Open Source effort. I’m
wondering if you could elaborate on that a bit. What are you doing Open Source-wise?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I don’t know if I mentioned it last year or not, but one of the pieces
that gets overlooked a lot in the creation of Virtual Worlds is terrain. It’s half of the term
“Virtual Worlds,” but people don’t actually think about what’s involved. And, for a variety of
reasons, we’ve given a lot of thought to what has to happen to make very, very large-scale
distributed terrain work, especially as it relates to representing the Real World.
For example, first-person shooters, they give you a flat earth. They give you a few square
kilometers. And the question was, “Do you have to hand-build everything?” So our challenge
was, OLIVE actually builds whole-earth models so [you] probably talked about it before--
most people have been here is, the World in OLIVE is the size of the earth. And it is now
properly geo-coordinated, pretty much--some standard, WGS84, something like that. So we
set out to develop a new standard for terrain that would handle really large-scale Worlds
that could then be distributed and have avatars inhabit them. It’s called Paged Terrain
Format, or PTF, and we published that into Open Source, I think the middle of last year. So
we’d like to see other people working [AUDIO GLITCH].
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: When you talk about Open Source, I guess the way your entire
platform is designed, you can keep the OLIVE core completely proprietary, but then just give
people the protocols for plug-ins. Is that it?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Yes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So then that leads to my next question, which is: There have
been a number of efforts toward standardization of Virtual Worlds, standard-setting bodies
and so on. I’m wondering what your view is on those. As I recall, when we talked about this
a year ago, they were not at the top of your list, interoperability and similar standards.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I don’t know about that. We were part of the original group that has
worked on interoperability. There’s been a lot of discussion. I’m not part of that day-to-day
aspect of the group, but I think there’s some discussions about which aspects of
interoperability are most important. Certainly, avatar transportability is--you can see how
that’s going to play an important role in the future. But we were more concerned, in the early
going, about interoperability with existing things like content creation. So it’s pretty
important. Or the SCORM piece, which someone else just mentioned.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I guess it was last week or so, you won the National
Training and Simulation Association’s Modeling and Simulation Cross-Function Award. If the
importance of an award is determined by how long the name is, then that must be a great
one. You got particular recognition for, and I guess this is the quote, “Being the first Virtual
World company to integrate sharable content object reference model, SCORM content into
a Virtual World platform. So for the non-technical people among us, what does that mean for
ROBERT GEHORSAM: What it means is that a lot of large organizations have developed
curriculum, web ware basically, of various kinds, and there is a standard that’s been
emerging over the years called SCORM or Sharable Content Object Reusable Modules, a
really appealing acronym, I guess. If you believe that Virtual Worlds are going to be useful
for elearning and instructions and so forth, then you don’t to have to reinvent the wheel on
your curriculum, right, to make it work in a Virtual World. We set out to develop a way to
reuse, to take the “R” in SCORM and make it work in a 3D environment. We’ve probably just
taken the first step at it, but it’s still significant.
If you think about most courseware online, it’s really a single user in front of a web page,
and it’s sort of like a vaguely interactive textbook. That’s a really different thing than the kind
of real time immersive training in a group that you’re going to have to do in a 3D
environment. So we started to do the work, get those objects in so that they can be used by
instructors and [so forth].
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m seeing Dusan Writer and Fleep Tuque, in the backchat, had
an interesting little exchange. Oh, someone else is coming in. So Dusan says, “We do
everything in SCORM, but objects never get reused.” Fleep says, “Yeah, Dusan, I was
about to say that.” And Joia Sands says, “I work for a company with the same problem.” Is
that your experience as well? Or, do you think that Virtual Worlds provide a solution to that
ROBERT GEHORSAM: They might provide an additional venue for it. Like I said, this is still
early. There certainly was a strong motivation by a lot of people to get this SCORM
component in. And, if they can reuse what they have into a 3D environment, then that’s a
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have another question, just relatively small but important
technical issue about how the environment works. Joia Sands asks, “I attended an event in
OLIVE and found the chat interface very limited. Everyone saw everything everyone said.
No private messages. Has that changed, or do you expect to change it?”
ROBERT GEHORSAM: We expect to change it. Actually, it’s in the original There code,
and it was, for various reasons, removed in OLIVE, with the intent to put it back in. We just
haven’t done it yet.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s see. I’m just looking through. We’re basically out of time, but
I’m just looking to see if we have one last question. Certainly, a lot of discussion now on
SCORM, which, among the educators, fires up the backchat almost as much as it does
when I mention No Child Left Behind, which I say right now just to antagonize many of our
educators. What’s next for you guys? As your closing remarks, what can we expect to see
out of Forterra in the next three, six months?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Well, I think, especially in this economy, this is an important time to
announce customers, with real uses, so that’s obviously a big part of our focus.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Anyone you want to announce today?
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I’m sorry.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I tried.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: No. So I would say sometime in the next 45 days, we should see
something. And I’m trying to think what else, but that’s got to be the singular focus of any
business right now. I do think that we are going to continue to work user experience issues
very, very carefully, more than grand functionality enhancements. I think when people find
that this is relatively easy to use and to set up, to learn, and then to use an ongoing basis,
they’ll be a lot more accepting.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Here certainly, in Second Life, people constantly talk about the
learning curve, that it’s just very difficult to get people over that first hour experience. Do you
find that a challenge as well? Is that one of the sort of toward the top of the list on adoption
ROBERT GEHORSAM: It’s certainly one of them, but nothing like what we just experienced
getting set up. That piece is much smoother and using the user interface is actually much
simpler. There’s a little more concern about download size, that maybe relative to some
others. People ask us a lot, “Can you make this run in a browser?” And then you sort of get
into the discussion of, “Well, how immersive do you want the experience to be?” And so
there’s all kinds of tradeoff. That’s more of an issue.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, thank you so much, Robert Gehorsam, for coming back on
to Metanomics. I guess we all had an interesting learning experience before the show, with
our sound [checks?] on a somewhat difficult day for Second Life voice. I certainly learned a
tremendous amount about Forterra. Even without being there, I’m hoping we can do a
Metanomics show in a Forterra World, in not too long.
ROBERT GEHORSAM: I would love to talk about it. That’s great.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you again for coming on the show, Robert Gehorsam,
ROBERT GEHORSAM: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We close our show with an opinion piece, Connecting The Dots,
which we use to bring out some points relevant to the day’s topic. It might seem for a show
on Forterra and their OLIVE platform that the topic is one of technology, but I don’t see it
that way. Technology is obviously the foundation of a Virtual World and a Virtual World
development company. But, for a company that’s selling a Virtual World platform to
enterprises, technology is only part of the story. The much larger part, in my eyes, is in
delivering the services that enterprises need in order to make that technology useful.
Now when I say services, again, I want to clarify that I don’t mean technology. Sure, we can
view software as a service, but companies like Forterra need to excel in ways far beyond
providing reliability and up-time, easy importing of graphics or other content, simple
interfaces. No, clients need to know what they can do with a Virtual World platform. What
goals can they accomplish? Does it make sense to use Virtual Worlds for training? Would
the State Department naturally think of using Virtual Worlds for role play to learn cultural
differences? Who better to scope out these non-technological possible uses than a Virtual
World developer working with, as Forterra’s Robert Gehorsam has told us today, people
drawn from the IT and training departments, as well as skeptics and proponents of the
Now, once the goals are defined, the developer has another crucial role to play: to identify
the best ways to make the project successful. How do you get buy-in from the right parties?
How do you take advantage of the platform’s strengths and work around the weaknesses?
And, of course, we know every technology has weaknesses. Again, who better than a
Virtual World developer to do that. Well, actually, I can think of some other people who
might have some good answers to those questions: those of you who regularly attend
Now I know that the vast majority of you are listening to me by watching this show on an
archive. You’re on SLCN.TV. You’re on the archives in metanomics.net or maybe you’ve
downloaded this from iTunes. But, those of you who are joining us live, participating in the
backchat, serving as a volunteer or staff member and helping us make this event happen
every week, you guys know intimately just what it takes to run a successful live event in a
virtual environment and to foster enterprise-quality learning, social networking and
So I close with two points. First, when we’re looking at companies providing Virtual World
solutions for enterprises, let’s make sure to look beyond the technology. We can all talk
about who has better voice or avatars or which interface you like better. But success
requires not only building a better mousetrap, but helping people understand which mice it’s
good for catching and how to use it to advantage. So kudos to Forterra for their progress on
this front. As you can see in their recently published white paper Recipe for Success.
My second point is that those of you who have learned from Metanomics, not from its
content, but from the practice of actually participating in the live event, please put that
knowledge to use. Put it to use by talking with your colleagues or potential partners, and
also put it to use by coming to our second Metanomics Office Hours event this Thursday, at
noon Pacific Time. Of course, yes, here is the shameless self-promotion part of Connecting
The Dots. But, we’ll be spending that time discussing the mechanics of Metanomics.
Everything we do is up for discussion, from what happens during the one-hour event to the
communications leading up to it and any social networking that does, could or should occur
afterwards. So let’s think about our own recipe for success. Of all the things we’ve cooked
up, come Thursday and tell us what tastes good and what might need a little more salt.
Before we end, I do want to just very briefly introduce a new feature of our show, which is
that we going to each week with a brief survey of upcoming events and also mention some
shows in our archives that might appeal to those who are interested in this particular event.
What do we have coming up? On next Monday, a week from now, February 16th,
Reuben Steiger, of Millions of Us, is going to be talking about their plays in virtual goods and
brands and, in particular, virtual goods tied to celebrities, their new effort, Virtual Greats.
On the 23rd, as we mentioned earlier in the show, we’ll be talking about disabilities in Virtual
Worlds. We’ll have Alice Krueger, Gentle Heron in Second Life, discussing those issues.
Anthropologist Tom Boellstorff will be coming on March 2nd, along with another
anthropologist who has done a good deal of work in the gaming industry, Celia Pearce. And
then we have Obama Transition Team, Beth Noveck, on the 16th. And, as far as we’ve
scheduled now, the last one we have nailed down, March 23rd, Mark Kingdon, CEO of
Linden Lab. So come prepared with your questions.
There are also a number of past shows, from our archives, that might interest those of you
who made the effort to come here today. Naturally, there’s our first interview with
Robert Gehorsam, from last year. We also have two interviews from Michael Wilson, CEO
of Forterra’s close relative There.com. Also, I don’t think we have this on the slide, but I’d
like to mention that, if you haven’t seen it already, you should check out our second show
ever--this is back in September of 2007--with IBM’s Sandra Kearney, then heading up a
good part of their Virtual Worlds’ efforts. That’s a three-World show. We were in Second
Life. We were in IBM’s build in Active Worlds, and we were in the real Sage Hall in Ithaca,
New York. You can find all these shows by clicking on the archives tab at the top of the
page when you get to metanomics.net, and you can just go to iTunes as well.
So enjoy the shows, past and future. And, see you next week. Bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer