SPECIAL METANOMICS INTERVIEW: DR. LARRY JOHNSON
OF NEW MEDIA CONSORTIUM - APRIL 25, 2008
NICK WILSON: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the vBusiness Expo. My name is Nick Wilson,
CEO of Clever Zebra. It is my great pleasure to introduce you today Robert Bloomfield,
good friend of mine in Virtual Worlds from way back in Virtual Worlds, meaning last year.
Robert is a professor at Cornell University and runs a very popular TV show in Virtual
Worlds called Metanomics. He is interviewing today Larry Johnson from the NMC, New
Media Consortium, who is live with us from an airport lounge, on his laptop. So bear with us.
We’ve had some technical difficulties, but we seem to have got everything up and running.
Take it away, Rob.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, thank you very much, Nick. Welcome, everyone, to a
special edition of Metanomics, the weekly show on business and policy in the Metaverse of
Virtual Worlds. As always, we start out by thanking our sponsors SAP, Cisco Systems,
Generali Group, Saxo Bank, Kelly Services and Sun Microsystems. Thanks to my own
institution, Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, for supporting me in this
effort, and to SLCN for filming and distributing the shows. And a special thanks to
Nick Wilson and Clever Zebra for bringing us in to be part of the vBusiness Expo. Having
Nick introduce me brings back some memories. Nick and I were partners on Metanomics
way back, as Nick said, it seems like a long, long time ago. It actually started in September.
So anyway, Nick’s moved on to Clever Zebra. I’ve kept the Metanomics fire burning, and I
think we’re both having a great time in this.
For those who want more information about Metanomics, check out our website
metanomics.net. We have a Face group, Metanomics, and you can follow Metanomics on
Twitter too. I’d also like to invite everyone right now to join the Metanomics Group in Second
Life so that you can participate in the backchat. This is a great opportunity for you to share
your ideas or pose a question, not just to the people who are here at Clever Zebra, but also
to the people who are watching Metanomics at our event partners around Second Life, and
that includes Rockliffe University, ComMeta Convention Center, Meta Partners conference
area, Colonia Nova Amphitheatre and the Outreach Amphitheatre of New Media Consortium
Educational Community sims, which, of course, is one of the many things that
Larry Johnson’s New Media Consortium is doing in Second Life.
We have a few people here who are going to be, I believe, posting some links that you can
click on them, and immediately you’ll be able to get added to the Metanomics Group. And
the backchat is already going, making fun of the fact that I say “Clever Zebra,” instead of
what every real American would say, which is “Z bra.”
Okay, well, while you’re all linking up to Metanomics Group chat, let me introduce today’s
guest. Larry Johnson is CEO of the New Media Consortium, which, according to its website
is, and here I’m quoting, “A community of hundreds of leading universities, colleges,
museums and research centers. The NMC stimulates and furthers the exploration and use
of new media and technologies for learning and creative expression.” Larry, welcome to
Metanomics and the vBusiness Expo.
LARRY JOHNSON: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You certainly get around. It’s hard to get on you schedule. I
believe, what, you’re in the airport, probably returning from the Federal Virtual Worlds--
LARRY JOHNSON: Federal Virtual Worlds Consortium. Yeah.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --Consortium. And earlier this month, you testified to Congress
that NMC is the largest educational project of any kind in any Virtual World. So you were
sworn in, I believe, so that’s true, right?
LARRY JOHNSON: It’s true in a way. The NMC is not just what we are in Second Life
though. What I actually said to Congress was the NMC "operates" the largest educational
project of any kind in any Virtual World. In fact, that’s a common misconception about the
NMC. We’ve been around for 15 years, and we do a wide range of projects, actually
spanning seven initiatives that are focused on emerging technologies and applications to
teaching, learning, research and creative expression. One of those initiatives actually is
related to the educational gaming, and our entire Second Life effort fits under the umbrella
of that educational game initiative. So we’re doing a lot of other stuff as well, and people can
find about that on our website. But, for this audience and this context, most people do in fact
know us for our project in Second Life. And we’re about 120 islands now on that project and
about 140 institutions, somewhere near 8,000 members of our groups that are actively
involved in it. So the numbers sort of speak for themselves.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that’s a very impressive operation. One question I had--
and I know I’m sort of university centric, in the sense that I’m here at Cornell. Our own
Joan Getman is on your board, and so I’m familiar with the university side. Particularly in
your Virtual World operations, to what extent is that really primarily on the university side?
Are you working with museums and research centers as well?
LARRY JOHNSON: We are. Not at the same level. For example, the Almaden Research
Center at IBM is a member of the NMC, and we’ve been working with them on a wide range
of projects for many, many years. But something that most people don’t know is that one of
the very first islands--actually I think it was the very first island that IBM began to experiment
with in Second Life was Almaden Island, and I actually bought that island with my credit
card to enable them to be able to do that a little bit under the radar. Of course, these days it
doesn’t have to be that way, but two and a half years ago things were a lot different.
With museums, we operate the Aho Museum on the NMC campus in Second Life, which is
a showcase for really some of the most amazing virtual art that I’ve ever seen. Of course,
there’s a lot of great art. But that museum actually started off as a collaboration between the
NMC and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. And the first show that we had was a
joint show between the Aho Museum in Second Life and SFMOMA in Real Life. Then we
did a couple of others collaborations, notably one with the George Eastman House.
So for a period of time when we first came in, we were looking at the museums as a way to
mirror what museums are doing in Real Life and in Second Life. Ultimately we decided that
that was misinformed in a lot of ways because a Picasso on the wall on a virtual museum
doesn’t quite convey the same import that it does when you see the actual thing in the real
museum. But, at the same time, it helped us to really think about what does art mean. And
that was a part of the early NMC efforts. We also had a secret laboratory that we had inside
of a mountain that we would literally bring in museum curators for discussions about where
is the line between representation and art. And that’s when we really began to get a handle
on virtual art. And so today, we actually operate an entire sim devoted just to large-scale art
projects. Dan Quixote and AM Radio are both doing projects there. We’ve worked with
Strawberry, and actually quite a few other artists have made full sim installations on the
NMC. We have Ars Simulacra, which is home for all kinds of traveling exhibitions in Second
Life. And now the Aho reopened with a brand new building in December. In Real Life, we
doing a ton of things with museums, but that’s probably for another show.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. So now at this point--I guess I’m aware of so many
universities that are here in Second Life. So just looking at the Second Life activities, is it
now still just numbers-wise, the majority universities and other educational institutions?
LARRY JOHNSON: Museums haven’t found the same rationale as universities have for
being in Second Life. There’s some notable experiments going on, but it’s just a handful. So
I think that for bona fide museums to really be moving in institutions like the [Met?], which is
an NMC member, or SFMOMA. They’re absolutely watching what’s going on, but they
haven’t figured out a way to make this be part of either the visitor experience or the gallery
experience yet. And until they cross those milestones, I don’t think we’re going to see a
whole lot happening.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I wanted to talk a little bit about another thing that you
mentioned in your testimony to Congress. Two little words that mean a lot to so many
nonprofit organizations. You testified that NMC’s Virtual World operations were
“self-sustaining.” So can you talk a little bit about your business model in Virtual Worlds?
Where are you getting the revenue?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, we have essentially two business strategies that we’re pursuing
in Second Life. One is a very simple strategy around _____ of virtual land, and so in that
way we’re operating a business much like Anche Chung, except that the communities that
we build seem to be educational communities, and they’re limited to bona fide faculty or
staff from bona fide educational institutions. And so one of the concerns that educators
typically have when they come in is, they don’t want to have to worry about what’s going on
just on the other side of the property line. And so we have tried to meet a need for that, and
it’s been a fairly quiet business. We don’t advertise really any of our services in any kind of a
typical way, but just through word of mouth and through trying to establish a reputation in
the community. But our goal for that was really quite simple, and it’s very consistent with
what the NMC does across the [range?] of all our projects. And the idea was that we wanted
to make a safe place for educators to easily get into the Virtual World of Second Life and
operate, and all we were really looking to do was recover our costs. And so our pricing is
very attractive, and we haven’t had any trouble filling up. I guess we have about 40 of these
educational communities now.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s say I’m with Cornell or Tompkins County Community
College here in Ithaca, what would be the value proposition that would lead me to say,
“Yeah, I want to work with NMC on building my university’s presence here,” as opposed to
any of the vast number of other builders in Second Life?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, we’re very careful not to sell our services, and so I’m not going to
answer that question directly because it would be in [sales mode?]. Whenever I feel that
way I always put [AUDIO GLITCH] a little bit because that’s not what we’re about. What
we’re really about is trying to help institutions figure out how to use this space and so, to the
extent that we work with institutions, it’s as much a decision on our side if we want to take
the project as it is a decision on their side. And so what do we bring to the table? Well, we
bring a real interest in teaching and learning. I mean we understand it deeply. It’s our
business. We’ve been focused on that for many, many years. We don’t just do it in the
Virtual World, we do it in Real Life. We’ve run dozens and dozens and dozens of
conferences over the years. We do conferences in Second Life. We do conferences in Real
Life. And we know this landscape.
So for 2007, when this was really new for most people, we were really interested in
understanding what does it mean to have a campus/presence in Second Life, and what
kinds of things really make sense. And so we did help a lot of campuses build out their
virtual equivalents. But, in every case, we were really looking to experiment with this space
and to understand the space so that we could, each iteration, do something a little bit
different and push the boundaries on our understanding ever with each project a little more.
This year--I mean we still build out islands for colleges and universities that kind of fit what
we’re looking for to do this year. But this year, what we’re really interested in exploring is not
so much the physicality. We’re still very interested in architecture as a way of establishing a
sense of place. In fact, one of my full time builders is a Real Life architect.
And so rather than focusing on building out campuses and the main building and the clock
tower and the other aspects of what a virtual campus had been--for most of the places that
I’ve seen, we’ve been looking at, thinking about, architecture when it doesn’t need to have
anything to do for shelter. If you don’t need shelter, what’s this architecture do, how does it
establish [defensive?] place and developing architecture that meets pedagogical needs. So
we developed a lot of thinking around meeting spaces, for example, and we’ve probably
built every kind of meeting space that can be built in a Virtual World and have really put a lot
of thought into that.
In 2008, most of our projects now are really looking at more directly the learning piece that
is happening in Second Life. And so we’re actually fairly picky about our projects, and it’s
not at all--you know, just because somebody would like to work with us doesn’t necessarily
mean that we would like to take the project. We’re really trying to accomplish something with
the work that we do. So in that way we’re fundamentally different than other developers. The
reason why people come to us is because that’s what they’re looking for. They’re not
looking for somebody to just build their stuff. There are lots of good builders, as you know,
but they’re looking for somebody that brings that extra expertise that comes from knowing
the academy the way that we do at a fundamentally deep level.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great! Fascinating. You started out by saying there were sort of
book ends there, “We’re not about selling. We’re not about selling,” and in the middle you
give what, to me, is a very persuasive pitch, intentionally or not.
And I notice your colleague is Alan Levine (CDB Barkley) is posting some school links in the
Metanomics backchat. So again, those of you who haven’t joined the group yet to see that
backchat, there’s a lot of interesting stuff being discussed there.
I’d like to move on, if we could, to a little about government policy. I would like to quote you,
if you don’t mind, from your testimony to Congress.
LARRY JOHNSON: Sure.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I admit I’m sort of mashing together what you wrote in your
preparation testimony that was submitted and what you said there. But you said, “When the
country was expanding westward, the Morrill Act set aside lands for universities, ensuring
that education would flourish as the country expanded. When it was clear commercial
interests would only provide electricity to the cities, where profits were easy, the Rural
Electrification Act brought the modern age to all Americans.” And then you basically said,
“We need that kind of visionary leadership today.” So what policies do you think Congress
should be considering?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, the first thing that Congress needs to consider to address is "not"
doing anything that’s going to keep us with the kind of infrastructure that we need to have to
be a leader in this space. The U.S. [AUDIO GLITCH] in the world right now, in terms of
broadband penetration, but that’s not the only statistic that’s important. We’re nineteenth in
the world in just the basic product that we deliver to our citizens. Japan, for example, the
base entry level broadband that’s available to anyone there is ten times as fast as ours, and
that’s just the entry level. Okay? They actually can go up to 50 times as fast as us, if they’re
willing to pay for it. We can’t even get to ten times as fast in the models that we have unless
you’re actually a university or a large organization that you can afford to bring in your own
DS3 or larger pipeline. And so there’s some basic infrastructure issues here that I think are
related to the [deregulation?] of the telecommunications industry.
We have the same problem with broadband mobile. Mobile broadband everywhere else in
the world is a much different product than the product that we have in the United States.
And the Congress today has basically taken a hands-off approach. I know that there are lots
of philosophical arguments made on either side of the question about regulation, but I think
this is an example where it’s not in the nation’s interest to have deregulation of this industry
be public policy.
I think that it’s proven that, in fact, the companies that are providing our infrastructure are
not stepping up to the plate. They’re selling us a shoddy product. We’re fourteenth in the
world in the cost, in the basic value rather, not the cost. Our internet is one of the most
expensive products in the world, and it’s basically a shoddier product. So that’s the first
We really need to be looking at policies that make our infrastructure be the infrastructure
that we want. If we just leave the way they are, we’re just not adding enough fiber, we’re not
adding enough switches, we’re not adding enough basic capacity to reverse the trend of us
continuously every year falling further and further down the list. So programs that spur that
and add to capacity, I think, are really important.
I would like to see government investment in the 3D internet in the same way that we saw
government investment in the 2D internet. In fact, it was the High-Speed
Telecommunications and Computer Act of 1991 that actually led to the development of the
Mosaic Browser. The funds that supported that were NSF funds that came as a result of that
program. I’d like to see targeted investment in that way.
And then finally, I think we need programs to address the [digital divide?] issues related to
that as well. And those are the three things that I took to the Congress as recommendations.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Let me ask, are you active lobbyists or just
concerned observers? Do you get involved?
LARRY JOHNSON: We’re not lobbyists at all. And, in fact, our charter does not allow us to
engage in lobbying activities, and so I wouldn’t have made these comments in another
setting. I was invited to testify. That’s an exception. That’s not lobbying. That’s expert
testimony and very, very different. As a private citizen though, I feel very strongly that there
needs to be things done. But the NMC is not a lobbying organization.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I ask you--just a little bit more, you know, it seems like there’s
some sort of back story or subtext with this Virtual World testimony. Being someone who
actually was called in to Congress to testify, do you know why they had a hearing on Virtual
Worlds? What motivated that or anything along those lines?
LARRY JOHNSON: I don’t have any particular input to that. No, the Subcommittee sent the
four people that testified a letter that spoke to what the Committee was looking for, but I
mean you could be a cynic and say, “Well, they were just grandstanding,” and there
certainly was some of that that happened. I apologize to the audience for that airport
announcement, but it’s just part of the place I’m in. Sorry. I’ve lost my thought. That’s
actually quite loud in my ears.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I’m sure it’s a lot louder for you than it is for us.
LARRY JOHNSON: But I was very impressed with Congressman Mackey and with a
couple of others on the Committee that actually had put in the time to really consider what
some of the affordances over the space and why is it unique and special. And I think they
were the ones that drove the reason for the hearing.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I don’t have subpoena power, but I can respectfully request
Congressman Mackey to come on to Metanomics, and we can continue the discussion here
in Virtual Worlds.
LARRY JOHNSON: I wouldn’t be surprised if he wouldn’t say yes. He seemed to be quite
interested in all this.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: He seemed very proud of his avatar, that’s for sure. I’d like to
move on to a topic that really is a mainstay of Metanomics, which is just talking about the
various challenges and opportunities that enterprises face when they come into Virtual
Worlds. And for educational institutions in particular, there’s been a lot of discussion about
the challenges. And one of the first is something that also comes up very frequently in
Metanomics, and it’s what I think of as the game taint. Now the very first line in your written
testimony really was my favorite of the whole couple hours. It was, “My name is
Larry Johnson, and I have an avatar.” And that just gets so clearly at the notion that here we
are, all of us in Virtual Worlds with our avatars, we must need a support group, some sort of
AVaholics Anonymous because people just think this is--you know, every time I deal with
my colleagues here at Cornell or at other business schools, it’s sort of, “Oh, there’s the
gamer guy who has an avatar.”
One way to address this, we heard Fleep Tuque, who actually I see is being very active in
backchat today, Chris Collins from--
LARRY JOHNSON: Hi, Fleep.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --the state of Ohio. She gave a talk yesterday where she
emphasized the importance of taking a very businesslike approach. You have a
business-like avatar; wear a suit and tie. Well, I guess you’re looking a little cool there today
with the unbuttoned shirt and all. But I’m just wondering--I guess two questions. One is: Is
that the type of advice you would give to educational institutions coming in to Worlds like
Second Life? And the second is: To what extent is NMC in the business of providing that
kind of advice to organizations as opposed to really just giving them the tools that they need
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, I think Fleep has a very important point, and I wouldn’t disagree
with it. And I have to be honest, I actually did have some moments where I considered what
I was going to wear for this. And I decided that, since it was a business meeting, that I could
relax a little bit, so I did not wear a suit on purpose. But, in fact, this is closer to the way that
I typically dress. I don’t think it’s unprofessional, although my shirt is unbuttoned, and I am
wearing an undershirt. So it’s okay, in a way. But it’s not the kind of attire that I just saw at
the conference I was at for example.
But I think what Fleep is talking about on another level is exactly what we think about every
day when we engage in the work that we do in Second Life, and that is that we really try to
focus on serious matters. It’s not just serious matters about the Virtual World.
NMC operates, and we have from the very beginning, we’ve run forums and events on all
sorts of topics. And the most recent of the NMC’s symposia, we’ve done four now, have all
been on topics that could have been done in any forum. One was on the evolution of
communication. We’ve done one on mashups. And we did one on creativity. And we’ve
done one on the impact of digital media. In each of those, what we noticed is that people
came into the Virtual World because they were attracted by the topic. That’s when we’re
going to know that we’ve really begun to do this well--is when the setting becomes
transparent, and it’s not novel anymore, that you would do this just in the same way. It’s not
novel anymore that you might attend a conference that’s done in Adobe Connect or in
Illuminate or go to a webinar or participate even in a conference call that there’s an
accompanying set up media with. When we get to that point, then I think we’re going to have
really resolved a lot of these issues.
So that’s our focus. We just try to keep our eyes on the ball, or another way that I think
about it, we focus on our knitting, and we just do the work that we do day in and day out
in-world and out of world. I think that the understanding of why we’re in the virtual space will
come, as long as we just continue to model the effective ways to use it.
That said, one of the things that I think makes this space more compelling is that you can do
social things here in ways that you can’t do in a high definition video conference or a
webinar or in Adobe Connect. You know you can’t have a reception that feels like a real
reception, but in Second Life you can. And I think those are legitimate activities as well that
add to the experience of being at a true academic conference in a virtual space. So that’s
the way we’re looking at it.
We don’t try and minimize the fantastic elements. In fact, we really try and showcase them,
as long as they are relevant. And so we don’t try to showcase the fantastic elements just
like, “Wow! Look at that amazing sculpture,” although we do have an art museum for that.
But it’s in that context where we’re thinking of it as art, which is a discipline. But we very
much would be interested looking at tools that one might consider as fantastic, such as the
Wikitecture tool and that project, which I would rate as one of the most amazing pieces of
work I’ve seen recently. Absolutely fantastic.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I’ll say you’ve sparked some very interesting backchat here
and, in particular, I’ll say Fleep Tuque says she agrees with you. It shouldn’t matter what
your avatar looks like. And another educator, Cindy _____, comes back and says, "It will
always matter what your avatar looks like." I think it’s going to be very interesting to watch
as educational institutions struggle with this.
LARRY JOHNSON: I don’t know if you’ve had Beth [Ritter-Guth?] on your show, but she
did some very interesting research early on in her experience in Second Life around
particularly notions of female identify and very much took on the persona of almost a
burlesque persona. I would let her choose the correct precise words to describe it, but
certainly not something you would normally consider a professor would choose to look like
on campus, to try and understand what the impacts of that was. I think it’s a fascinating
topic. There are reasons why you would want to choose a shock value kind of avatar if you
were exploring particular dimensions of identity. I think it would be extremely useful. But I do
tend to agree that it does matter what your avatar looks like, so I wouldn’t want to appear
here necessarily in some warrior kind of costume, like I think you would actually be in the
way of a conversation like this. We’re trying to talk about policy and economics and
business topics, so I wouldn’t choose to dress that way.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’ll be interesting actually next Monday. Just a few days from now
I’m going to be interviewing Susan Tenby, who also testified along with you on behalf of
TechSoup, another nonprofit. I understand she will be appearing on the show as a pink cat.
So I’ll have to think about my avatar for that interview.
Let’s move on to some other challenges, if you don’t mind, and, in particular, this is going
way back to September. There was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, by
Michael Bugeja. I think I’m pronouncing that correctly. He wrote, “When it comes to
technology, we in academe usually only see the positives often without assessment data to
justify the expenditures.” And he talks a little about the cost. But then he goes further. He
says, “When it comes to Second Life, we’re not only talking about money. We’re talking
about whether you as a professor or administrator will be held accountable for introducing
your students or employees to a Virtual World that accepts little responsibility for anything
that happens among avatars, including online harassment and assault.” So what advice
would you or NMC give to educational institutions to deal with those concerns?
LARRY JOHNSON: We were hypersensitive to those kinds of concerns during our first year
and a half, and actually in a quiet response to this article and the thread of stuff that went
around it, we did some research into our fairly extensive community of educators. We were
not able to uncover a single incident of the kind that was referred to in this. I don’t want to
discount that it could be horrifying if something like that could happen to you. And people did
talk about that they had--well, actually the people that surveyed us were not [part?]. The
main things that they talked about, we talked about, “What was the worst day you had in
Second Life?” was one of the questions because we wanted to just kind of not frame it as a
harassment or not have leading questions because we were trying to have that be a good
And so we asked: What was your worst day in Second Life, and what happened? Well, first
off, we didn’t find any information that people were complaining about harassment or
particularly sexual harassment or virtual rape or any of those horrific types of topics, which
we found very reassuring. That’s not to say there aren’t some sophomoric attempts to put
up flying body parts occasionally, but we actually haven’t seen that on our sims in more than
a year and a half. I’m not actually inviting anybody by that comment. But I think what it is, is
that the community itself is strong enough now and well respected enough within Second
Life that the community takes care of that for us. I don’t really see it as an issue.
The other thing is, is that I would say to these professors, “Do you let your students use the
internet? Have you ever heard of hustler.com or Penthouse?” I mean there’s plenty of
shady, shaky places on the internet, yet we still see value in it as a place to go and do
research and seek information. I think a lot of it is just that it’s really important for people in
Second Life to have safe places to go. And so that’s one of the values of having a
community like the NMC project is that you can go there, and you can be pretty assured that
your students are not going to run into that kind of thing. We have our own orientation, and
we’ve really tried to set it up so that it’s not only a safe environment, but also it’s an
environment that very clearly is about teaching and learning and understanding the higher
values of this space. Now if people wanted to go somewhere else than our continent, they
might find some of that stuff, but I think that’s just really something that is an educational
thing, let people know, “Hey, stick to the places you know.” Just like going to New York City.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now another thing that came up in testimony, this was, I believe,
by Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan. He expressed some concerns about Virtual
World addiction. As I remember he put it as people spending more hours a day in Virtual
Worlds than they should, which, I have to say, sure seems to apply to me because trying to
pull off Metanomics every week has been an incredible amount of work. So I’m either
addicted or just a workaholic. But I’m a grownup, and I ought to be able to take care of
myself. But when an educational institution brings kids into the World, whether they’re young
children or college students, that raises new issues of responsibility and, frankly, of liability.
So is that something that NMC has been paying attention to, this Virtual World addiction
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, I think that’s hyperbole, honestly, and we haven’t actually
searched on that particular term or done any research. But we’ve done extensive research
on how long people spend on our sims. We’ve done extensive research among our
members about how people are generally spending their non-work time, and we’ve learned
a couple of things. One is that the average amount of time that people spend on the NMC
campus, and this is over some--I just pulled these numbers before we talked, and so this is
back to January 1st: about 40,000 visits and about 8,800 people, and the average was
52 minutes per visit. That’s pretty remarkable actually compared to web pages where the
average visit time is measured in seconds and usually less then ten seconds, certainly less
than 30. So there’s that.
And then we also looked at how people were spending their off-work time. In particular, we
asked them, “How are you making time to be in Second Life?” Most of them have replaced
their television time, and Second Life has become the time they used to spend watching
television. In that case, I would say that’s probably a good thing because now they’re
engaged in something that’s actually active. At least they’re not being passive. They’re
actually engaged in something which they can participate in, so I don’t see that as a
negative trend. Although the audience of NMC and the people we survey, these are
educators, and so they’re not representative sample, I wouldn’t think.
But 52 minutes of the average visit time is a tremendous opportunity for us, I think. First off,
it’s not so large that I’m concerned that it reflects addiction because actually the distribution
is not that broad, and so we’re not seeing people spending a hundred hours a week in
Second Life. It’s actually a fairly narrow distribution. And the people that we’re tracking
there--probably spending more are probably people like me and the folks that work at NMC
that are engaged in this project. And that’s kind of like your work on this show. If this were a
TV show, I don’t think you’d be working any less.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’d be getting paid more.
LARRY JOHNSON: Perhaps. Unless you were in public television. You’re definitely making
a name for yourself. The show is highly regarded, and I’m one of your biggest fans.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, thank you.
LARRY JOHNSON: But I don’t think you’d be doing any less work, and that’s the point. If
people are willing to spend an hour with us, then I think what’s incumbent on us as a
responsibility is to make that hour worthwhile. So it’s not so much to me about internet
addiction because I don’t think it’s a bad thing if people spend time on good stuff. In fact, I
think that the problem that we have in our society is that people are wasting a lot of time on
bad stuff, and I’m pointing to television as one of the examples. And if we can build things
that are engaging, that provide real valuable experiences in here, then we’re part of the
solution and not part of the problem.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great! Okay. Let’s see, we’re starting to run out of time. I
definitely want to get your take on a discussion that came up this week on Metanomics. It
was this Monday with Steve Prentice, from Gartner Incorporated, and Mitch Wagner, from
Information Week. And, in particular, Steve was emphasizing the concerns he had about
Second Life and really very bluntly said he does not recommend that enterprises use
Second Life in particular. He’s bullish on Virtual Worlds but had severe concerns about
Second Life in particular. He talked about the technology; you need a good computer. You
can’t use just any graphics cards. Notebooks are often not working well with it. The grids fail
so you have lack of availability and so on. So those of you who didn’t see that, hopefully,
someone can pop a link into the Metanomics chat and the local chat so people can find a
link to that show which was fascinating. I guess it got negative enough that Zee Linden,
Linden Lab CFO, was inspired to come out of the audience and actually give a rebuttal at
But despite all of Steve’s concerns, which seemed, frankly, pretty valid to someone who
tries to do live events here all the time, here you are in Second Life bringing in hundreds of
other institutions. So this is a short question: Why?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, I think the simple thing is that I don’t agree with Steve. Well, I do
agree with him on one thing. I don’t particularly think that Second Life is a good fit for
corporations if they continue to come in, in a way that they have in the last few years. I think
that’s a waste of their money, a waste of our time. It’s great for the developer community,
but that’s about the only group that’s benefiting from it. I think that, in far too many cases, I
being a notable exception, companies have come into Second Life, spent no time studying
the culture, no time trying to understand what’s new here, no time trying to understand how
can this really be used in ways to do things that we can’t do now. And instead they come in
trying to retrofit. They come in trying to bulldog old ideas into this new space, and, hey, big
surprise, it’s not working.
Now the technical issues that he [referred?] to about graphics card support and those kinds
of things, that’s a reflection of the fact that until--well, actually still true today, corporate
policy generally is, they don’t want you to do this on the company computers. They don’t
want you to do this on the company network.
I’ve just come from the Federal Virtual Worlds Conference, and, believe me, we had a heck
of a time with the DOD Information Network getting Second Life to work at all, and we had
some serious challenges there. I wonder is that really not so much an issue with the
infrastructure and the policies that are in place or an issue with Linden Lab, Second Life and
Virtual Worlds in general. I think it’s the former. And I think that what we need to allow a little
time for is for enterprises to discover reasons why they see value in Virtual Worlds and not
really expect for them to move into them until they’re ready. And when they are ready, then
they’ll make the investments in the infrastructure and the computers and the kinds of things
they need to work.
Now, on availability, I’m bullish on Second Life. In my comments yesterday at the Virtual
Worlds Consortium, I said however you look at Second Life, it’s been the early leader in this
space. It is forever going to be seen as the seminal first instance of whatever this becomes,
and I think they deserve a lot of credit for creating something that literally did not exist
before. And, in the process, energizing an entire, really, across the globe, the level of
At the same time though, people are asking Second Life to be things it was never intended
to be, and I think we need to be fair about that, and so Second Life was really never
intended to be a system that the Department of Defense could do Army training on. That
wasn’t part of their requirement to building, I’m certain. And it wasn’t part of their
requirement to building, that it would be a place that corporations could have the secure
conversations with customers. That’s wasn’t part of their requirement to building, I’m certain
On availability, Phillip [AUDIO GLITCH] said this at SLTC, at the meeting in August--and I
think it’s actually personally a big improvement since then, by the way. But he pointed out
that, up until just recently, the main ethos of Linden Lab was that it was a lab. They were
engaged in a grand experiment. And so there’s a lot of externally imposed expectations on
this platform that I think are, frankly, a little unfair. And if people were to back up and kind of
look at what the planners really intended, they’ve really done something pretty substantial
here. And what’s going to happen with the internet and so forth is, we’re going to see new
products come along and solve some of the issues these other folks have.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So I’m afraid we’re out of time. Thank you so much.
vBusiness Expo has to go on to the next show. For those of you who want to join us on
Monday’s Metanomics, 11:00 A.M. Second Life time, Susan Tenby of TechSoup, and there
will be a rebroadcast of that at 3:00 P.M. Second Life time at Muse Isle. So thank you very
much, Larry Johnson, of NMC, for coming on Metanomics, and I really hope you’ll keep up
the good work, and we will keep in touch.
LARRY JOHNSON: All right. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Bye bye, all.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer