METANOMICS: ENGAGING VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES
JUNE 23, 2008
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome, everybody, to the summer season of Metanomics.
School is back in session here on JenzZa Misfit’s historic Muse Isle, home of the popular
Rendezvous Friendship and Business Animators. We’ve got a host of the changes in the
content of our show and in the ways we engage with our community. As we start the show,
I’d like to mention a few of these now. First of all, we can’t pull off a weekly show like
Metanomics without some financial support so we’re grateful to our new primary sponsor,
Simuality, for making this show possible. We also have four supporting sponsors: Kelly
Services, Language Lab, Intersection Unlimited and, of course, my own institution, the
Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. All of these organizations
have fascinating plans for virtual business. You’ll learn more about Simuality, Kelly Services
and Language Lab and the Johnson School as the season progresses.
But right now I’d like to mention two additions to Metanomics that come from Intersection
Unlimited. First, Intersection Unlimited has developed kiosks that allow people to get
information about Metanomics throughout Second Life. These kiosks provide information
about upcoming shows, a changing set of freebies from us and our sponsors and really just
about anything that we think will be of interest to the Metanomics audience. We’re also
going to use the kiosks to engage with our community so, for example, if you look at the
kiosk now that we have here on Muse Isle, it’s got a question on the top, “Where are the
conservatives?” This is a topic I’m going to discuss at the end of the show, and you can click
that question on the kiosk to get a link. It will take you to metanomics.net where you can
weigh in with comments on the website and give us some advice. So you can get a copy of
a kiosk from a kiosk, and these are free to copy and transfer to others. So feel free to pick
one up, put it on your land, and give it to a friend.
Intersection Unlimited has also provided us with a service called ChatBridge. It helps us
overcome one of the main challenges of our show, and that is allowing people to
communicate with our guests and with one another. This is tough for us because our live
audience is too large for even a four-region amphitheatre to hold without excessive lag. So
as a result, what we do is, we spread our audience members across our event partners,
including Rockliffe University, ComMeta Convention Center, Meta Partners Conference
Area, Colonia Nova Amphitheatre and the Outreach Amphitheatre, the New Media
Consortium Educational Community Sims.
Now those of you who watch in Second Life might be surprised to hear that even more
people usually watch the show live on the web. Maybe they face a firewall issue at work or
simply don’t have a Second Life account. Whatever the reason, we need a way to bring our
web viewers into the conversation.
Now in the past, we’ve used our Second Life Metanomics Group chat channel to support the
backchat, but that doesn’t work so well because group chat is a bit unreliable and it doesn’t
include viewers watching on the web. So ChatBridge solves these problems by transmitting
chat to and from the web and between all of our event partners. So now you can be on the
web and see all the backchat in Second Life and participate as well. In fact, the only chat
that isn’t currently being distributed through ChatBridge is the Metanomics Group channel
chat. So in a change from last season, we encourage you to use your local chat channels if
you’re in Second Life rather than group chat so that everyone can see it.
I do want to remind everyone that wherever you’re watching the slow, at an event partner,
here on Muse Isle, or on the web, your local chat is public, and it’ll be seen at all event
partner locations and Muse Isle and on the web and will be part of a permanent archive so
be your most thoughtful and constructive and PG.
We have two great guests today, Professor Douglas Thomas from the Annenberg School of
Communication at the University of Southern California and Rik Panganiban of Global Kids.
These two are experts in engaging with virtual communities, and maybe they can give us
advice on how Metanomics can do a better job. But before we get there, what I’d like to do
is introduce a new segment that’s going to start each week’s show this summer:
Metanomics Roundup. We start today’s roundup with Joey Seiler, reporter from Virtual
Worlds News, who’s our new Metanomics industry correspondent. Joey will be joining us
from time to time, to keep us up to date on industry trends in recent events.
Joey, your reporting on virtualworldsnews.com has been incredibly helpful to me, and so I’m
delighted to have you on the show. Welcome to Metanomics.
JOEY SEILER: Thanks very much. It’s great to be here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi, Joey. Welcome to Metanomics.
JOEY SEILER: Thanks very much, Robert. It’s great to be here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I was really interested in a story that you had on June 12th, which
was Millions of Us and Virtual Greats: Merchandising in virtual goods. Let me just read the
very intro to this story, “Earlier this week, millions of us announced the launch of a new
company, Virtual Greats, based on licensing celebrity and entertainment branded virtual
goods and distributing them to various virtual world and social media platforms.” And you
write, “The idea of branded virtual goods isn’t entirely new, but this approach is striking into
new territory.” So what parts of this, Joey, do you see as being particularly novel?
JOEY SEILER: Well, as Millions of Us CEO Ruben Steiger explained it to me, the
difference is, is this is a transactional model. I think what he means by that is that, prior to
this, almost every instance of distribution and sale of the virtual goods within Virtual Worlds
has been approached as a promotional model of brands coming in and extending
awareness versus [AUDIO GLITCH] movie or _____, by giving away free virtual goods. But
what’s happening here is with Virtual Greats going out and licensing these on a
merchandizing level. They’re starting to see it as a real source of a revenue stream. To me,
that’s the really novel approach to it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So Millions of Us is going to handle sort of the
administrative and business side of securing agreements with managers and corporations
that own the licensing rights and these entertainment properties. Is that right? And then
they’ll be collecting the money and sharing it with the Worlds?
JOEY SEILER: Exactly. So what’s going to happen is that--it’s actually Virtual Greats, the
subsidiary of Millions of Us is going to be focusing entirely on their own down in L.A. They’ll
be pursuing the merchandizing contracts with various celebrity brands ranging from, I think
at the beginning, Justin Timberlake and Paris Hilton and Raven Simone, to the new
Incredible Hulk film. And then serving as a clearing house to distribute the virtual goods,
based on those items, to all of the partners that are distribution channels. Now whether
that’s a Virtual World or a social media platform, like Facebook or something like that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, well, it sounds like they really nailed the beginning choices
of celebrities because, just speaking for the World I know best, Second Life, I think half the
male avatars look like Justin Timberlake and half the females look like Paris Hilton, so it’s
going to be a natural fit. One question that I wonder about is interoperability and portability.
So this is going to be one agency that’s managing this. Do you know what their stance is on
interoperability between Virtual Worlds and portability of these items from one World to
JOEY SEILER: Right. That’s something that a lot of people have been interested in
because interoperability and portability has been sort of the hot topic for the last few years in
Virtual Worlds. And it seems like that sort of--this presents an opportunity for a user to buy a
virtual good, say a Justin Timberlake hat, on [Guy Online?] and have that accessible on any
of their platforms. That’s not going to be the way it works. Virtual Greats explains that, for
various technical reasons, that they’re creating specific items for their specific distribution
partners, but it’s not that you’ll be able to buy the idea of the hat, but you’ll be able to buy
the specific hat inside [Guy Online?] or if you want the analog in something like Zwinky or
Habbo Hotel or Second Life, you have to buy it again there, which, I think, might be a
disappointment for some people, but doesn’t take away from this still fairly revolutionary
approach to it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So this leads directly to intellectual property issues, and I know
you talked with attorney Sean Cain(?) about some of this. Do you see these as being
JOEY SEILER: I do think it’s going to cause some of them. Ever since Virtual Worlds
started to pop and sort of hit the public’s attention, there’s been questions about brand
protection and about intellection property and about protecting copyright and things like that.
And for a long time, people sort of skated by without having to go through any licensing
deals simply because people weren’t aware of it. But now that Virtual Greats, which is
intimately involved in the process is handling those licensing deals, I think it’s going to make
people a little bit more touchy about working with an unlicensed virtual good.
Sean Kane is the manager of Drakeford and Kane Intellectual Property Practice Group. And
the way that he looks at it is that we’re already seeing the huge change in the way people
are approaching news and seeing video games in Virtual Worlds written into entertainments
contracts, to begin with, and so from there I think we’re going to see more people wanting to
manage where those brands go.
For example, some people like [Fardol?] have already worked to start licensing some of
those goods, but not for all of their properties. And I know they’re interested in working with
Virtual Greats. Virtual Greats has, in turn, said that they want to take every opportunity they
can to work with partners instead of bringing in lawyers at the first possible chance. So in
short, I do think it’s going to raise a lot of new issues or bring up a lot of existing issues to
the forefront, but probably lead to more business decisions than lawsuits.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, that would certainly be a step in the right direction. Let me
ask you, along those lines, you mentioned that Virtual Worlds are being included in the
original contracts that are being signed in the entertainment community. So I just want to
make sure I have this right. You’re saying that some actor signs up to be a star in a movie
that seems like it would have natural Virtual World spinoff potential, so the revenue streams
from that are being spelled out now in the original contracts for these?
JOEY SEILER: Right. My understand from what Sean and various other people have
explained is that it’s not just that they’re spelling out the revenue streams, but things for
promotional rights and licensing and things like that simply because it’s getting to be a new
area as well. For example, those that Sean Kane walked me through is that Walt Disney
owns the copyright for Jack Sparrow and Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp still owns
his likeness. When you start licensing avatars based on that and selling them as virtual
goods, it gets into a slightly new area that we’re going to be exploring as we start to expand
this business model.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so do you see this as being a big step towards
mainstreaming Virtual World entertainment, like taking it out from the fringe?
JOEY SEILER: I do. I think it’s going to bring mainstream attention from both sides, both
the consumer and the brand managers. Well, the brand managers I think one of the exciting
things that Virtual Greats has taken upon itself is really reaching out and doing the
education for the virtual goods business model. That’s something that’s not familiar to
everyone inside of Hollywood, and they’re having to work through that, but they have their
own contacts through entertainment lawyers and entertainment workers and agencies inside
of Hollywood to sort of get that out there. And the fact that they’re even coming in at all and
seeing this as a revenue stream says to me that it’s beginning to be a mainstream
application. I think, from the consumer side, it’s going to be huge. You might not see this as
much in Second Life where the demographic is a little bit older and more individual. But, in a
lot of the youth oriented Worlds, celebrity items are some of the top sellers. It’s something
that people always wanted, that entertainment culture and the Hollywood culture and the
fact that now there is going to be more and more options for who they can buy and what sort
of items they can buy. I think it’s going to be a big appeal for a lot of youth users to come
into Virtual Worlds.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, well, this sounds like a fascinating development. I wish we
had more time to explore this one and other developments, but I know we are going to have
you on throughout the summer. Joey Seiler of Virtual Worlds News. So I would encourage
everyone who enjoys Metanomics to check out virtualworldsnews.com, where Joey writes
regularly. And also Virtual Worlds news is managed by Virtual Worlds Management, which
also runs the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo which is going to be in September. That’s
September 3rd and 4th in L.A. I hope to be there surrounded by celebrities and meeting you
as well, Joey. So thanks a lot for coming on the show.
JOEY SEILER: Thanks very much for having me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now we turn to our Metanomics gaming correspondent,
Hydra Shaftoe. Many people know Hydra as co-host of SLCN’s Second Question and
moderator of the regular Virtual Business Panel, which just last week was at the Nokia Sim.
Hydra is also a dedicated gamer, and this week he’s going to tell us about the newest game
to rock the Metaverse, Age of Conan. So, Hydra, take it away.
HYDRA SHAFTOE: Last month, Funcom launched their new online game Age of Conan:
Hyborian Adventure. With purchases in the millions, Conan is threatening the dominance of
the major players in the industry World of Warcraft. Having played Age of Conan from day
one of its launch, I have but one word to describe it, and that is “Success.” It may also be
providing a wakeup call to the most popular and profitable online game, Blizzard
Entertainment’s World of Warcraft affectionately known as WOW. The core concept of the
game is pretty much standard fare. Avatars adventure through the world of Hyboria, slaying
enemies and solving quest. But Conan breaks new ground with its technical requirements.
Conan is what we in the gaming community refer to as a pusher. Conan has much higher
system requirements than previous titles and is leading gamers to upgrade their computers
en masse and quite happily too.
This has rendered World of Warcraft’s gaming engine and level of quality quite behind the
times as gamers upgrade to machines capable of roughly 20 times the quality level that
WOW delivers. Blizzard designed World of Warcraft to be well below the average computing
power requirements of its time and thus was available at the start to a much broader
number of casual gamers who may not have had a cutting edge machine. But four years
later, Blizzard has had few rivals and little incentive to upgrade its technology. Conan may
well have provided that incentive. Funcom seems to have been surprised by the success
with Conan, as they started with only six servers, and only a week after launch are
struggling to get dozens more servers online to support the incoming tide of hopeful young
Hyborians. This seems to have been a total blindside to Blizzard who apparently didn’t see
Conan as a threat to their dominance until it was too late.
As for the economy, software bugs caused early hindrances in exchange of goods and
services. The brokers were broke. The postal system was nonfunctional. And online games
always struggle to stabilize their economy. Conan is no different. Within the first week,
Funcom banned hundreds of legitimate player organizations, banker characters, in an effort
to catch a few alleged money counterfeiters. This summary ban has put a bad tarnish on
many gamers’ view of Funcom as a company with a mature mindset and the ability to
manage a massively multiplayer world. But, for the most part, morale among gamers is still
at an all-time high. Counterfeiting is not as debilitating in Conan as in other games though.
As the economy seems designed not so much around currency, more of a barter system,
which would be far more fitting for its low fantasy role-play setting. The bugs with crafting
and auctions, however, are top priority on Funcom’s list of problems to be fixed and should
be repaired soon.
One sector of the economy, however, is alive and well, and that is real estate. Player clans
called guilds are already purchasing land to settle upon and are constructing player-built
cities deep in unclaimed wilderness. There’s an understandably focused rush for prime
locations to settle. In Brotherhood of the Spider, a prestigious gaming syndicate that
Metanomics has allied with to cover the gaming worlds of the Metaverse, has the distinction
of being the apparent first in the World to build an economically complete city. The design of
the World is such that these player-built settlements will eventually become the economic
hubs of the world, unlike other worlds where computer controlled cities act as economic
hubs. This is a departure from the established norm only shared by the far smaller game
world of Eve Online. Funcom has also used some novel approaches to addressing gold
farming, the slang term for people who collect end game items and currency that sell for
Real World money. All new players started in a city called Tortage, which is isolated from
the rest of the World and are forced to do quests amounting to around a day of an average
gamer’s time, keeping them in Tortage until they hit a certain level requirement. This makes
accounts too valuable for gold farmers to risk, being banned for spamming players, with
sales pitches and crowded areas on the mainland where people actually have goods of
However, the strategy also pushes gold farming deep underground, which can result in
many players being ripped off, victims of identity theft and other harmful effects. Funcom is
signally very strongly that their priority is to protect Funcom and not the gamers they
service. There have been confirmed reports trickling in of Chinese and Korean companies
already offering power-leveling services, where users can pay to have a character play for
them rather than slog through the low levels. I myself have adventured with some of these
power-leveling [ronants?] and have to say that they’re very good people and dedicated
players and excellent to work with if you want results fast. One in particular that I befriended
and who had a reasonable command of English said that he would receive a bonus if he
could get his character to maximum level within the first week, and he did indeed succeed at
this. Whether or not the Tortage filter is successful or not will not be immediately felt, and it’s
something to watch over the coming months as the economy gains mass.
As the gaming correspondent for Metanomics, I will be bringing you further updates in the
development of Age of Conan in collaboration with the Multiworld Gaming _____
Brotherhood of the Spider, Metanomics will bring you news about the economics of many
Virtual Worlds and their effect upon Real World companies and gamers paying to play these
games. This is Hydra Shaftoe, Metanomics gaming correspondent signing off. Now I hand
the reins back to our host, Beyers Sellers. Back to you, Beyers.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, thank you very much, Hydra. That was a fascinating report
on a new World and really a new area that Metanomics hopes to cover because the
economics of in-world games definitely of a lot of interest to me as essentially an economist
who studies small controlled economies. This one, I have to say, sounds not so small and
maybe not so controlled. So I look forward to seeing, Hydra, where you take us from here.
That’s Hydra Shaftoe, Metanomics gaming correspondent.
Let’s move on now to our guests Douglas Thomas and Rik Panganiban. Doug is the faculty
director of USC’s Network Culture Project, which is sponsoring Second Life and the Public
Good, a community challenge. And Rik has been a panelist on that judging to select a set of
five panelists, of whom three will be elected by a Second Life resident population-wide vote
to receive some award. So to hear about the details on this fascinating project, we’re going
to hear from Metanomics education correspondent, Fleep Tuque. Good afternoon, Fleep.
What do you have for us?
FLEEP TUQUE: Well, Beyers, the Network Culture Project at the University of Southern
California Annenberg School for Communication examines the rapidly changing and
evolving space of network culture through the study of Virtual Worlds, online games and
social networking. The project began from the premise that that we’re seeing a fundamental
shift in the ways that knowledge is being created and shared and that these changes will
transform the way we need to think about learning, interacting and living in Virtual Spaces.
The project led by USC professor Douglas Thomas has hosted a number of mixed reality
events to involve the Second Life community in a broader conversation about Virtual Worlds
and the public good. A notable example from last year featured MacArthur Foundation
president Jonathan Fanton and Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale, who discussed the role of
Virtual Worlds in the future of philanthropy and charitable giving. Over 230 avatars attended
and the event was featured in the New York Times and other national and international
Another panel that they did in Mexico City was simultaneously broadcast into Second Life,
where they explored how Virtual Worlds can help bring global issues closer to home. The
panel highlighted the issues of immigration, democracy and public diplomacy and all
recurring themes in the project’s work. Then in early May of this year, the Network Culture
Project opened the Community Challenge, a contest opened to Second Life residents to
plan and build something within Second Life that uses the Virtual World to enhance, develop
or sustain the public good. From the 27 proposals they received, project panelists narrowed
the field to five finalists. And they are now inviting the entire Second Life community to vote
on their favorite projects. The top three projects will be awarded 300,000 Linden dollars over
three months, worth about one thousand U.S. dollars, and access to land in Second Life as
needed to create their build. The final projects will also be showcased at the State of Play
Conference to be held in Chicago in October.
Just this week, the five finalists were announced at a special event at the USC Annenberg
Island. The Ability Commons Project would create a one-stop island home for 40
health-related support groups, for people with serious physical and cognitive disabilities.
The island would host a centrally located headquarters auditorium and meeting space for
providing peer support groups among those who share similar health conditions. The Ability
Commons hopes to encourage participants to stay in Second Life to socialize and share
information about their conditions and to give a voice to health issues in the larger Second
The Interactive Accessible Home Project aims to create a self-sustaining resource center
where people with disabilities could easily access information about living with a disability
and find information about remodeling a home to accommodate their needs. The Interactive
Accessible Home would allow visitors to try out different construction elements, like different
countertop heights, window designs or door and threshold sizes. By playing with various
design configurations and appliances, visitors could learn what suits their unique needs
before making expensive decisions about these things in the Real World. The group also
hopes to attract corporate sponsors and equipment manufacturers to provide information
about Real World products and services available to those who need them.
Mauerkrankheit translates into English as the Wall Sickness Project. This project would
highlight current and historical walls that divide nations, including a section of the proposed
border fence dividing Mexico from the U.S. and segments from the Gaza fence, the Berlin
Wall and the Great Wall of China, as well as other important political and historical border
walls. This project will integrate documentary, video and news footage and use Machinima
to document visitors to the virtual walls, who have actual experience with the same wall in
The Native Lands Cultural Outreach Project proposes a public space and safe haven for the
preservation and celebration of American Indian culture and heritage. They plan to use
Second Life streaming audio, video and voice chat to preserve traditional and contemporary
native music and language. The group also hopes to use video capture of real traditional
dance steps to create authentic animations that can be use in live performance, storytelling
and discussion sessions hosted at the Center.
The Texas Obesity Research Center is a Real Life Center located at the University of
Houston, and they aim to address the problem of obesity which affects one in three
Americans and has become a global epidemic in all industrialized societies. This team plans
to adapt games and activities used in the Real Life Center to improve health knowledge and
the skills necessary to prevent and reduce obesity. They’ll also host a group for people who
are interested in learning about healthy habits and obesity prevention.
These proposals are all terrific examples of how Virtual Worlds can be used to build
community and educate the public and demonstrate concepts to visitors in the Virtual
Space. For our listeners, to vote for your favorite projects, just go to metanomics.net for a
link to the Network Culture Projects voting page.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thank you very much, Fleep. I really appreciate that.
That’s a fascinating set of five projects. So I do want to encourage everyone to go to the
Metanomics page and find that link. I also see Dr. Ludovico, who is Doug Thomas, director
of the Network Culture Project, has put the link into the ChatBridge as well so you can pick it
up from there. So, again, thank you very much, Fleep Tuque, Metanomics education
correspondent. So, Doug, Rik, great work on that project, and I’m delighted to have you on
DOUG THOMAS: Thanks so much.
RIK PANGANIBAN: Thanks.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now you’ve both been extremely prolific in your writings on the
uses of Virtual Worlds and related technologies, and you’ve both held and still hold a
number of different positions. And we have full bios on the site. I should say I also know,
Rik, you are a swing dancer. Is that right?
RIK PANGANIBAN: Right. And sometimes my dancing virtually is much better than my
Real World dancing I would say.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, at least you know you can get that certain level of motion
captured. My wife and I danced a lot during the ’90s, when swing was making the big retro
comeback. You saw it in movies, and there were bands mixing rock and swing. I’m glad to
know you’re carrying the torch, Rik. That’s great.
Doug, I’m wondering if you can start out by giving us a bit of history into the public good
community challenge and, in particular, what prompted you guys to choose this as
something to do? And who did you have to convince to fund it?
DOUG THOMAS: Oh, a lot of questions there. This started actually talking with
Cory Ondrejka, who was a visiting scholar with us this past spring and identifying the fact
that there seemed to be within the Second Life community or various communities a real
desire to do things that were positive beyond simply having fun in a game. I mean we all like
to do that. We all like to spend time in Second Life, as space, but a real kind of hunger for
people to try to do something that went beyond the boundaries of Second Life. I think that
the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life has been a model for that, where people
looked at that and said, “Oh, my god, people can raise actual serious amounts of money
here and do something good with their activities.” So we’ve also seen other smaller
communities that do fundraising for foundations and so on, and we actually went to
MacArthur with this idea a couple of years ago, to try to understand whether or not these
spaces could be a good vector for doing philanthropic work.
So how could foundations use a space like Second Life to further their mission as a
foundation or philanthropy? And we came upon this idea of opening it up to the residents.
Since everything about Second Life is about user-created content, we thought who better to
ask than the people who actually create the content and use it, how they might envision
community coming together to support the public good. So the idea of the challenge was
basically three things. We first wanted to challenge the community itself to go beyond the
kind of things that they had been doing and say, “If we have the resources to give you, with
your imagination sort of unfettered, what would you come up with?” The second thing is that
we wanted the community to challenge us and to come back with different notions of what
the public good looks like or should like from Virtual Worlds. So we didn’t want to go in
assuming we knew what that was. But we were very excited because the 27 proposals that
came back to us all had different notions of what that public good should look like.
And finally, when we go to State of Play in Chicago, together we hope to challenge the
foundation world to say, “You need to start paying attention to what’s happening in Virtual
Worlds because there’s a real possibility for taking foundation work and really advancing it
through this new medium.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. And so the other organizations involved in this, this was
primarily the digital media and learning group from the MacArthur Foundation. Is that right?
DOUG THOMAS: Yeah, that’s right. They supported this work for a year, which included us
as was mentioned in the other report, a number of mixed events between Second Life and
physical world, as well as some other projects that we’re putting together, a white paper,
which will come out of this. An art exhibit that opened the International Justice Center and
so on. So we were looking for ways to actually take the medium of Second Life and use
things we found here that were interesting rather than simply streaming in content or using
this as a way to disseminate information. We really wanted to explore what the affordances
of this World really is and how that might be used in interesting or novel ways.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, Rik, I’m interested in your take on this effort. You were the
primary author of best practices for nonprofits in Second Life, which was a document I
believe also supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Maybe Wiz, from SLCN, if you guys
can get a shot of that bag on the stage, people can click that and get a PDF file of the best
practices document which I know a lot of people consider to be required reading for anyone
who wants to bring nonprofits into Virtual Worlds. So first, I guess, Rik, I noticed that in the
report, you mentioned, and this is a quote, “Friendly competitions are often good ways to get
people involved in creating content and working together.” So 300,000 Lindens and three
months of land use are worth what, about two grand. So I bet that is pretty friendly and
works pretty well too, to bring people in. What else do you see I guess within the way this
has been structured where you say, "Yeah, this really is setting new best practices for
nonprofits in Virtual Worlds."
RIK PANGANIBAN: Well, there’s a number of things that are innovative about this. I think,
first of all, just the very fact that it’s so open and that people were invited to a number of
different open forums where they could suggest ideas, get feedback on possible ideas, to
present them to a broader public. And we actively encouraged people to be talking to the
selection committee before they submitted their proposals, to get some ideas if they’re on
the right track or what things they might be missing and then having this process where the
committee could weigh in on what they thought were the strongest proposals and then
putting it back out to the Second Life community, to have people vote on the ones that they
thought showed the most value in addressing a particular need or a particular cause.
So all of this is really groundbreaking work, and I’ve been on both sides of the fence of
being the nonprofit applying for the funding, as well as being in a semi-foundation role of
funding work. And, on both ends, there’s so many ways that there can be
misunderstandings and not understanding each other’s role. So really opening that process
up and putting it on the table and having people really engage in a conversation about how
to do this, to me, is incredibly helpful and productive and a way of breaking through the sort
of traditional foundation-nonprofit dynamic.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I’m sure you don’t want to endorse one of the five or
anything. But I am interested in your take on what these particular five are doing that made
enough of the panelists vote that they should be the finalists. Where do you see within
these--what are really very small-scale nonprofits, what are your favorite features you see
RIK PANGANIBAN: Well, they all had different qualities. Different committee members, I
think, had their favorites that they kind of went to bat for. But I think, in general, what you
could say is that all five had a fairly strong sense of what was the particular good that they
wanted to create in the Real World I would say or in the Real Lives of the people behind the
avatars. They had a real plan for how they were going to implement it that was realizable
within the funds that they’d asked for. And they used the technology in ways that were
innovative, where we thought we would learn something, whether it was using the aspects
of 3D building within Virtual Worlds or the community aspects or the scaling and
international aspects of Virtual Worlds. These were all things that we wanted to learn from
and thought that funding this work would help all of us, really, to get a better understanding
of what you can do here or what’s hard to do in Virtual Worlds. I think lastly we thought that
it was a good mixture of different kinds of approaches that we thought we would like to see
impacting different aspects of life both in the Virtual World and in the Real World.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, Doug, what’s the last day of voting for this?
DOUG THOMAS: I think our announcement’s going to be on July 1st so the 30th I think our
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So we’ll be able to make one more announcement to
encourage everyone to vote, which I want to do right now. So go out there and vote for your
finalist. Read on the links, see who you like. And we have a show next week with
Christian Renaud of Cisco Systems, and I’ll remind people again.
So I’d like to move on to a slightly different topic, which I think we’re going to find is related
to this community challenge. Doug, in February, you wrote an article for Harvard Business
Review called The Gamer Disposition, which they had listed as one of their breakthrough
ideas of 2008. So congratulations to you for that. I think we’re all glad to see Virtual Worlds
get some highly respected press like HBR. Now what you did in that article is, you laid out
five key attributes of people who play games, particularly in Virtual Worlds, the massively
multiplayer online role-playing game. And the five attributes were they’re bottom line
oriented. They understand the power of diversity. They thrive on change. They see learning
as fun. And they marinate on the edge. So I guess my first question to you on this is: Where
did you come up with these five specifics?
DOUG THOMAS: Well, I mean a lot of that came from an extended period of ethnography
starting way back with a game called Diablo II and then watching players through a series of
massively multiplayer online games, including the Star Wars Galaxy, City of Heroes, City of
Villains, Eve Online, and finally World of Warcraft. And what we were trying to figure out was
what was different about the way in which people engaged with game spaces than how they
dealt with work or in a particular school. So what we ended up doing is just kind of watching
and trying to understand two kind of dynamics. One which is, how is it that gamers deal with
issues of change because, when games don’t change, they tend to be boring and people
quit. So it’s an environment of a lot of flux, a lot of change, which we saw kind of
characterizing the 21st Century workplace and education landscape.
And the second thing we really wanted to know was: What’s special about these spaces that
allows for a kind of joint coordinated action, synchronous communication and very complex
interaction among players, and how does that lead to things like innovative thought,
innovation or new ways of seeing the world and doing things?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now I see in the backchat Prospero Linden, who is one of the
Linden employees, who periodically bashes on the grid to make it behave, actually had a
question and says: I wonder if those five qualities are really more along the lines of--are they
Virtual World gamer qualities or early adopter qualities?
DOUG THOMAS: I think there’s a lot of overlap between those two, and I think it’s pretty
typical to find, particularly in MMOs, that there’s a lot of overlap in the communities that
people who are early adopters of technology, particularly network technology, tend to have
at least a familiarity with games, if not play them quite often. But something about the game
space for us actually separated it from spaces like social networking sites or forums or cell
phone usage. All of those which actually deal with technology and oftentimes deal with a
community of interest, but what makes MMOs and Virtual Worlds slightly different is that
there’s an element of co-presence, of being with others that’s more immediate and almost
embodied and visceral. And we actually see that as kind of strengthening each of those
qualities in an important way. Particularly things like diversity where you play a game like
World of Warcraft, you learn very quickly if you want to complete an instance or a dungeon
that you need five people with different kind of qualities that all help each other out in the
process. So tanks and healers and DPS, all these different roles become incredibly
important because they demonstrate kind of a strength through the diversity rather than
other spaces which may be more individualistic.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, Rik, in your position with Global Kids, you’re working with a
lot of kids. So I’m just wondering does this ring true to you, this sort of the bottom line
orientation, the change, and learning is fun? Do you see that disposition playing out well
with the kids?
RIK PANGANIBAN: Certainly the learning is a fun part, and I think a lot of what we do is
blending a lot of game-like play with learning objectives that we’re trying to meet, whether
it’s getting them to pay attention to an issue that we have identified as important, whether
it’s human rights or climate change or getting them to play a game where they just connect
with each other in different ways they normally don’t and realizing things about the things
they have in common that they didn’t know before. Certainly game play is something that we
highly encourage pretty much all our programs, whether it’s our creating virtual videos or
having them learn about the crisis in Darfur. We have a particular project that’s called our
Playing for Keeps, where our kids design their own game around a social issue, where
they’re coming out very soon with a new game that focuses on Hurricane Katrina and
people’s response to it. But the first thing that the kids want to know is, is this game fun. And
in the context of having fun, are they also learning about something that is important to
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Fascinating stuff. I think we’ve set up a number of issues
for our audience to ponder. What we’re going to do is take a short break and then come
back. I’ve got a bunch of additional questions, and I’m hoping that we’ll see a number of
questions come in through ChatBridge, on the web from our event partners, and right here
on Muse Isle, so keep those questions coming, and we add them to the set. So let’s take a
quick break, and we’ll be back in a moment.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome back. And we’re here with Rik Panganiban of Global
Kids and Doug Thomas of Annenberg School of Communication at the University of
Southern California. We have a question from Draxtor Desprey, who asks to hear from both
guests on how Virtual Worlds, like Second Life, are positioned relative to flash-based games
and lighter technologies like that when it comes to social issue games and, more generally I
will add, serious games. Rik, I seem to remember you mentioning some more Flash-based
RIK PANGANIBAN: Yeah. And that’s a question we deal with all the time with our games
creation program, Playing for Keeps. What’s the best platform to get across the message
that we’re trying to get across? We did a game last year called Consent that was built in
Second Life, using Second Life tools. That was focused on medical experimentation on
African Americans in the prison system. We felt, at the time that that was the best tool set
for the kind of experience we wanted people to have.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can I ask, because of the immersiveness and the fact that you’re
really taking on an avatar, was that what you were getting from Second Life that you
wouldn’t have gotten on a flash-based web game?
RIK PANGANIBAN: Well, also the ability of teens participating in a project to really see the
sausage being made, so to speak, and be kind of walking through the Sim as it’s being built
and that kind of thing. That’s harder to do with something where you’re just coding
something that’s a flash-based game. But it scales differently than something that’s just on
the web. So our new game focused on Katrina is going to be a web-based game and will be
presumably accessible to lots of people who will never ever come into Virtual Worlds. So
potentially it should--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now don’t say never.
RIK PANGANIBAN: --reach thousands. Well, it will be a while. And we’re not wedded to
that. If there’s another opportunity to do something that is going to be designed for the one
lap top per child computer or could play on mobile phone, we’re somewhat platform
agnostic, and it’s more about giving the teens an experience that’s life-changing, as well as
putting out a message through the game to different kinds of audiences.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And now, Doug, we have a question for you, which is: Is this
community challenge a one-time thing, or are you going to be doing this next year as well?
DOUG THOMAS: We’re trying to get through this one actually, so I don’t think we’ve
actually determined what is in the future about that. We’re really focused on getting through
this, we're learning as much as we possibly can about the different projects, the different
ways in which this world can be used. And we don’t know what the future will bring in terms
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I know how that is. I know I have a show planned for next
Monday, but I haven’t really been able to--I’m all focused on this week, so I think that’s just
the nature of the beast. Okay. So I’ve got a question of my own here, which is following up
on the HBR article with the gamer disposition. It seems to me that that probably had its roots
partly in your 2002 book A Hacker Culture. And shortly before that book came out, you
testified to a Congressional Subcommittee about cyber terrorism and protecting critical
infrastructure. I just want to quote one line from the report, which is--here is the quote,
“Hackers often have an antagonistic and oftentimes juvenile response to authority, often
producing behaviors that appear to pose a troublesome threat.” I guess I’m wondering
should we be adding “antagonistic response to authority” as one of the elements of the
DOUG THOMAS: Yeah, well, that’s definitely some sense within that culture, and the entire
dimension of grief play, I think, is an example of that. We think about all the wonderful things
that these spaces can do in terms of learning, in terms of education. There’s also some dark
sides. The idea that anonymity allows you to do certain things that you would never do in
public. The ability to use technologies in particular ways allows you sometimes to take
advantage of people. So at that level, I think that maybe there is an aspect that allows
people to act out both for good and for ill.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: When you talk about hacker culture, much of what you talked
about with this, I think the “antagonistic response to authority,” well, in many cases, the
authority was Microsoft. I think a lot of people read your book as a defense of the people
who are hacking Microsoft’s operating system and other operating systems that maybe
aren’t paying as much attention to security as they could. So I guess I’m wondering when I
go forward from ’02’s hacker culture book to Second Life today, should I be reading this as a
defense of griefers? That’s a new term to me, by the way. “Grief play” is a new term, and I
see a couple people are raising virtual eyebrows on that one. Do you defend that type of
DOUG THOMAS: Wow! That’s an interesting question. No, the book was more an effort to
explain that, in large part what I saw happening with hackers, particularly kids, was that as
they moved into the world of technology, they were doing exactly the same things that a lot
of teenage kids do growing up. Instead of spray painting the underpass of a freeway, they
were hacking and defacing web pages. Instead of peeping into the neighbor’s window at
night, they were peeping into Microsoft servers. But the stakes were raised so much for two
reasons. One is that we're hitting a point where people started to have a real serious
financial investment in networks, and secondly because there was a huge gap in
understanding between parents and kids. So adult authority knew the technology was
important, but they didn’t know it as well as some of these kids, and that produced a huge
amount of fear and a huge amount of anxiety around who hackers were and what they were
So, in terms of a defense, my reading on this was that the way in which the media and
popular culture would portray hackers was almost always more about the anxiety that we all
felt about technology than it was about anything the hackers were doing themselves. I think
that we actually find the same thing happening around Second Life. If you’d go read the
collective wisdom of the New York Times, Business Week and every other periodical, they
will tell you that Second Life is either about making money, and therefore it’s good because
you can become an entrepreneur, or it’s about breaking up relationships and destroying
families, and it’s bad. So there’s a sense in which those are the reflections of what our
culture feels and the anxieties we have around technology. I haven’t made a whole lot of
money in Second Life, and it’s yet to break up my relationship, but I still manage to do a lot
of things here. So I think almost all of us fall in the middle. Not that those other things don’t
happen, but that there is a kind of sense of anxiety about things we don’t understand,
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. These shows go by so quickly that I’m afraid that’s
basically all the time we have. I do have some follow-up questions for both of you, and I
think what I’m going to do is chat with you online and see if we can get you to provide some
text responses to a couple of these additional questions on metonomics.net, the blog. So
thank you so much, Rik Panganiban and Douglas Thomas, for coming on Metanomics. I
hope we'll see you here again. I’d now like to move to my closing thoughts, which will be a
new feature with which we wrap up every show.
My closing thought today is a question: Where are the conservatives? You can’t talk
business without talking policy, and you can’t talk policy without dipping into politics. And it
seems that just about every show we end up talking about regulatory and political
philosophies. You saw that right there at the end of our discussion on hackers and griefing
and cyber terrorism. And I’m sure that, as the Presidential campaigns heat up here in the
U.S., we’ll be examining the role of Virtual Worlds in political campaigns. Well, I’d love to
explore these issues from all sides, but when I talk with residents, when I study the
blogosphere, examine group charters in Second Life, I see lots of liberals. I see a fair
number of libertarian. But I see very little evidence of conservatives.
So here are some questions for all of you who have been following Metanomics: Where are
the conservative voices and organizations in the world that’s probably best suited to political
engagement, Second Life? Is it true that Second Life is dominated by liberals and that
conservatives are rare? If so, why do you think that is? And, if not, why does it seem that
way to me? Is it just that Second Life includes a lot of academics, Europeans and young
people who tend to be more liberal? Maybe techies tend to be more liberal? I understand
that is more of a disputed notion. Is the Metaverse somehow naturally suited for liberal
communities just as talk radio seems to be a natural venue for conservatives? Who are the
most active and influential conservative voices in the Virtual World community? And the
bottom line, who should I invite onto Metanomics to represent conservative political views?
So you can see that question right on our kiosk. So you can click a link on the kiosk to get to
the website where you can get to this particular blog posting and weigh in. Don’t restrict your
ideas to Second Life residents either. It may take a while to get a superstar like
Stephen Colbert on the show, but he’s more a virtual conservative than a real one anyway.
But taking this more seriously, how about conservative talk show hosts, like Bill O’Reilly,
Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, conservative bloggers like Jonah Goldberg in the National
Review? Or how about Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, who recently argued that
Second Life should be banned from U.S. schools and libraries.
I know that there are a lot of you watching Metanomics from the UK, from Europe, from
Asia, Latin America, Australia where SLCN is. I’d really like to hear your take on this. I see
Rik has already chastised me for being overly American, something we are working on in
this show. So if you know a thoughtful conservative or alternative voices in your countries,
let’s get those ideas out there and get them on the show.
Thank you for tuning in to this week’s Metanomics, and I look forward to seeing you next
week for our interview with Christian Renaud of Cisco Systems. This is a big week coming
up for Cisco, with CEO John Chambers coming into Second Life tomorrow for a question
and answer series. So you’ll be able to get information on that from our website and kiosk
later today. And, if all goes well, next week’s show will be filmed at a recreation of my office
building at Cornell, Sage Hall, which is being designed by R.J. Kikuchiyo, architect of
countless New England buildings and lighthouses throughout Second Life. So next week,
hope to see you in Sage hall on Metanomics Island. See you then. Bye bye.
[END OF AUDIO]
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer