METANOMICS: ARCHITECTURE IN VIRTUAL WORLDS
NOVEMBER 17, 2008
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Good afternoon. I’m Rob Bloomfield, and welcome to the 56th
edition of Metanomics. Just about every week on Metanomics we hear from people who
refer to terms from the field of architecture. They’re building software, and they’re talking
about software architecture or building their business processes, but they’re almost always
using these words in a metaphorical way. Today we’re going to be much more literal, and
we’re going to examine the opportunities that Virtual Worlds offer professional architects,
from helping them create Real World buildings in a better way to giving them a platform in
which they can create buildings that simply are not possible in Real Life. So stick with us.
This should be a great hour.
As always, thanks to our sponsors InterSection Unlimited, Kelly Services, Language Lab,
Learning Tree International, and, of course, to Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate
School of Management. I’d like to say hello to our viewers at our event partners Orange
Island, Colonia Nova Amphitheater, Meta Partners Conference Area, Rockliffe University,
New Media Consortium and JenzZa Misfit’s historic Muse Isle.
We are using InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system to transmit local chat to our
website and website chat into our event partners. This great technology brings you in touch
with people around Second Life and on the web, wherever you and they might be. So speak
up, and let everyone know your thoughts. Make sure, if you are doing this on the website,
that you register on metanomics.net, in order to tap in to this great resource.
We start our show today by putting Kirsten Kiser On The Spot. Kirsten is the publisher of
arcspace.com, an architect and an independent curator. After practicing architecture in
Los Angeles and New York, she opened and managed Kirsten Kiser Gallery for Architecture
in Los Angeles. She’s the founder of the Architecture Park Kolonihaven developed when
Copenhagen was culture capital in 1996. She has a build under construction at the
Louisiana Museum in Denmark and has been the European editor-in-chief for design
architecture. Kirsten, welcome to Metanomics.
KIRSTEN KISER: Thank you, Beyers. I’m happy to be here and to contribute my thoughts
about Second Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, thanks. I appreciate it. I’d like to start by asking you about
your online magazine Arcspace. When we talked the other day, you mentioned you get
17 million hits on the web every month. So can you tell us a little bit about this resource?
KIRSTEN KISER: Absolutely. It sort of started when I closed my galleries. I had a lot of
connections in architecture, and I realized I wasn’t going to be a great architect so I decided
to start the magazine. I started it nine years ago. So I travel around the world all the time,
and I get a lot of information from architects around the world. I have a good connection to
them because I’m a curator at the same time, so I’ve done many museum exhibitions with
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It has a travel focus as well?
KIRSTEN KISER: Yes, it does. I have a deal with Design Hotels so whenever I travel I stay
in one of the Design Hotels and write about them. So this was kind of a clever way of me to
make my traveling a little less expensive.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: In the U.S., we call that a boondoggle.
KIRSTEN KISER: Well, then, it’s a boondoggle. It’s very nice because I do an architect or
two of the town. I’ve done Barcelona. I’ve done Hamburg. I’ve done Tokyo. I’ve done
Beijing. So wherever I go, I do an architect or two at the same time and visit architects.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I was going to say you were able to create such a big readership
for your web magazine, but, as I understand it, when you tried to create a virtual community
around Arcspace here in Second Life, it didn’t work out quite as well. Can you tell us a little
KIRSTEN KISER: Well, I think initially I though naively that all my readers would find it
exciting to come in here and talk to each other and meet. And it just didn’t happen. I actually
got some letters saying, “What are you doing now? This serious magazine is now in there
doing that.” So I got very discouraged, and I talked to a lot of architects about it because I
think that virtual reality technology is wonderful and a powerful technology, and it should be
applied. And it probably will more and more, as it evolves and improves, as a tool. I think
that when I talk to architects, my opinion is that the building tools in Second Life are very
primitive, and I don’t think Second Life is doing Real Life architecture in architecture favor by
having a lot of nonprofessionals calling their work architecture.
I mean this worries me because I think we have to respect architecture, and I think it’s a big
deterrent for Real Life architects looking at Second Life as a possibility. There are
exceptions like Scope Cleaver, for example. He’s a fantastic Second Life architect. Actually,
there are buildings in Real Life I wouldn’t call architecture. But the thing is, it’s a problem. It’s
a problem right now. I think that’s the biggest problem because the tools are just not
available yet. But then again we can come in, in other ways, like I’m doing now with
Frank Gehry’s master plan, and I think that’s sort of an exciting thing.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, let’s explore that a little bit. I had a chance to spend some
time in the Arcspace Gallery, in the Avant Garde region of Second Life, aptly named. And so
you have an exhibition there of Frank Gehry’s master plan for the Sonderburg Harbor.
There’s a little video there that I could watch, as well as having diagrams and the like. I
noticed that, in all the pictures in the master plan, the buildings right along the harbor are
just these blocks. I thought, well, it’s modern architecture, and that’s the way it’s going to
look. But, in the video, Frank Gehry actually just says it’s too early to know what the
buildings themselves will look like. And then he modestly remarked that, in the past, he’s
done a reasonably good job designing buildings and making them turn out okay. I’m
wondering what you see as the possibilities for Second Life in this particular project.
KIRSTEN KISER: Well, first of all, the master plan is in its first stage, and Frank Gehry is
going to do one or two buildings or maybe three or more and different people who come in
doing different things. I mean to get the master plan into Second Life, that we have to get it
at some scale, and it could be great to have it be larger scale than the Real Life model, but
still smaller than Real Life scale and then add some detail as it develops. We can’t build full
scale right now. It’ll be giant building blocks. And then maybe blow up one building area to
full size, to see what we can do with it. I think we can then have meetings with the client and
residents of the city and prospective investors and discuss the design. I think this would be
a way of using Second Life, at least for these people, and the client is very excited about it.
I was hired by the client because of my long connection to Frank Gehry’s office, so I’ve been
on that project and the other project from day one. Then I think, along the way, we learn
how it can work and incorporate comments and feedback as we go along. I mean that’s how
I can see I can use Second Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You were kind enough to send us a visual of a 3D model of the
Cancer Center that I guess was created by a 3D modeling program, Rhino. This is another
Frank Gehry project. Is that right?
KIRSTEN KISER: Yes, it is. That’s under construction right now, and I’ll tell you how we
think about bringing that in too. This one I’ve just been on the construction site. Rhino is a
design tool and Digital Project is a production tool where everybody from the contractor to
the subcontractor, the engineer, the client, the architect, everybody works on the same
program daily so everybody can see what goes on. But the Rhino is great because it’s
inexpensive, and it’s easy to use so I think the day that could be brought into Second Life, it
would be fantastic.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But that isn’t yet possible.
KIRSTEN KISER: No, it isn’t. So I talked to the Cancer Society also about maybe building a
sort of primitive building but holding consultations in there because they have a lot of IT
equipment. They will have a lot of modern equipment and computers at the Center. So
that’s another way. I mean we’re all sort of learning as we go along finding out where
Second Life can be of use. I totally believe in Second Life. I mean I know I’ll be here forever.
So we just have to wait and see how it evolves.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: [AUDIO GLITCHES] another project, the [AUDIO GLITCH] project
which is also [AUDIO GLITCH] pictures of this also in the Avant Garde region just outside
your gallery in what looks kind of like a bamboo forest. Can you just walk us through how
that competition worked and where you’re headed with it?
KIRSTEN KISER: Yes. I was working with INBAR, International Bamboo and Rattan
Society and China, with Hainan, an island there, and somebody called David Greenberg,
who has Tree Houses of Hawaii, he’s built a lot of tree houses there in Fiji and in China. And
he was approached by the Chinese of doing an eco-friendly community built with bamboo.
And International Rattan Society were going to contribute, sponsor it, with China. So we
decided, as we have done in other competitions together, we decided to do this in Second
Life and narrow it down to three winners who would then be invited to come to China and
build the houses, which we did with the tree houses also. They went to Hawaii to help build.
Unfortunately, the earthquakes happened, so it became impossible for us. And it’s put on
hold. It’s by no means ending. It was just put on hold, and, instead of just choosing three
finalists, we have chosen eight so that we will have more of a competition going on part two.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, it’s exciting to see designs from the Virtual World making
their way into the Real World.
KIRSTEN KISER: Exactly. Yes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’s fascinating to see, as someone who really has no ability to
build. I can rezz a cube, as long as no one asks me to resize it. So the stuff that you and all
of your colleagues are doing in Second Life is really very impressive to me.
KIRSTEN KISER: As long as you don’t call it architecture. I will quote somebody. I will
quote Oscar Niemeyer because I was listening to him on CNN the other day, and he said,
“The architect was the mother of the arts, and it should move you on the visual side and
transport you like a great symphony.” Now do you think a prim does that? I’m just joking, but
I thought that was so beautiful, this almost hundred-year-old man saying that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, I have a quick question here from Tammy Nowotny
asking about importing data from walkthrough tools like Pictometry. Is that a product you’re
KIRSTEN KISER: No, I’m not. No.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Sometimes you go to a website for a hotel or something
like that, and you can actually virtually walk through something.
KIRSTEN KISER: You know what is very funny, apropos walk through, it’s like in Real Life
when we work in Rhino or other programs we call it flythrough. And, in Second Life, we call
it walkthrough things. And here, we’re flying. It’s very funny.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, a little irony there. Well, thank you so much for spending
some time with us today and telling us about your projects, and I wish you the best of luck,
especially with those projects with Frank Gehry, and I look forward to doing a walkthrough
or flythrough of the Harbor master plan. Or, who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to get back
to Denmark sometime soon and experience the real thing. So, Kirsten Kiser, thank you very
much for taking a few minutes to be put On The Spot.
KIRSTEN KISER: Well, thank you. Bye.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We turn now to our spotlight guest, Jon Brouchoud, famous in
Second Life as Keystone Bouchard. Jon has one of these résumés that just has to be seen
to be believed. He got his Masters degree in architecture, has won a number of awards for
his work, both real and virtual; has demonstrated his work in Second Life at the
headquarters of Linden Lab, Clear Inc. and during Autodesk’s CEO’s address at Autodesk
University. He has built a number of very high profile projects in Second Life, including one I
was in, back in April, the Virtual U.S. House of Representatives, where I went to observe the
streaming of the Congressional testimony from Philip Rosedale and a number of other folks.
Well, let’s see. Maybe I’ll just leave a lot of this bio for Bjorlyn, our producer, to paste into
the chat. But, let me just say at this point, Jon, welcome to Metanomics.
JON BROUCHOUD: Thanks for having me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I figure the stuff you’ve done, you must be about 137 years
JON BROUCHOUD: Second Life makes it possible. You can really accelerate that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: How did you get started working in Virtual Worlds?
JON BROUCHOUD: Well, it was kind of a culmination of several different things. I had
done my Masters thesis in architecture several years ago on how Virtual Worlds will
eventually affect Real Life architecture. And, at that time, I was really looking at Everquest
and games like that and wondering why that couldn’t be an effective tool for architectural
collaboration. So it was a little bit early, but then one day I was reading Wired Magazine and
saw an article about Second Life. I knew immediately what it was when I read “User
Generated World.” It’s like what I had been waiting for, so I literally ran to the computer and
logged in and got a lot of help from a lot of great people, including I saw Clubside Granville’s
here. Without his help, I wouldn’t be here at all. I mean he spent hours and hours with me
and was very generous in sharing land and really getting me started.
The last part of that is, around that time, I had a couple of clients I was working with in Real
Life, and one of the clients was in London at the time, but had purchased a piece of property
in Wisconsin where I was practicing, but wouldn’t be coming to the United States for a while.
He had some real specific ideas about design that he wanted to explore, and he’d already
had the site picked out. So I built a replica of the site in Second Life and built a replica of the
design that he was exploring and kind of some of the design iterations that we came up with
and really got to know this client, using Second Life. So it just really had a profound impact
on me, and I realized that this is eventually going to become a pretty powerful tool for the
professional practice of architecture.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We will spend most of the remainder of the hour exploring those
possibilities. Before we do, we got a question here already from Roland Legrand, who is
asking about whether Second Life architecture does or should correspond to Real Life
constraints or should we be experimenting with the virtual possibilities of things that are
impossible in Real Life. Before you respond to that question, I’m going to take the
opportunity to quote you from your very popular blog, The Arch. So here let me just quote
from one of your recent posts, “Among the most frequently debated topics related to
architecture in virtual reality is the fact that the majority of the content replicates Real Life. It
may initially seem absurd to replicate physical architecture of any kind in a virtual
environment since no amount of effort to recreate physical reality could ever be totally
successful. Avatars can see through walls are free of gravity, and there are no weather
elements to protect them from. While most of the people I talk to tend to write off this
phenomenon as mundane and unimaginative, I think architects and designers might
consider taking it more seriously. There is significant value in understanding and embracing
a multitude of psychological and visually functional reasons for recreating familiar replicas
based on Real Life architecture.” So what do you see as being the most important
psychologically and visually functional reasons for doing the possible in a setting that lets us
do the impossible?
JON BROUCHOUD: Yeah, there’s so many different facets to that question. First, I would
say that there’s room for all of it. I think we have to replicate some physical buildings that
are iconic. We have to build purely virtual architecture that looks like it’s physical, and we
also have to be exploring the future of purely virtual architecture. There’s room for all three,
and there’s very functional reasons to do all three of those things. But, from a purely virtual
sense, I think that more and more, over time, I’m learning; I didn’t get this right away, but I’m
starting to understand that we really do embody our avatars to a certain extent. And, as
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: What do you mean by that, “embody our avatars”?
JON BROUCHOUD: Well, it’s as if we feel it’s not just our conscious attention. It’s a part of
who we are. Like, for example, if several people are sitting out in an open field, and
suddenly somebody rezzes a prim and stretches it out and puts it right over their heads, like
a real low-lying ceiling, it immediately affects our perception of that space. So we’re
somehow embodied. What I mean is connected to our avatars as though it was an actual
human. I really struggle with that because I never used to think of it that way, but I’m really
more and more starting to think that that’s true. And we’ll talk about reflexive architecture a
little bit later on, but there’s so many different things that we can do with the Second Life
interface to really enhance that sense of embodiment. So I really think that we have to look
at what elements from physical reality give us visual cues that we can read and inform the
way we find our way around.
We can fly anywhere we want, but a ramp or a stair still has a very important function
because it tells us that there’s something above where we are now. So there’s certain visual
cues that we can still call on. And, if we just eliminate that and we just build purely virtual
architecture floating in the middle of nowhere, we run the risk of isolating or confusing
people who can’t figure out how to move around, and it just ends up kind of falling short. So
I think there’s room for all of the above, and I think, as we get more familiar with this
interface and as more people reach a critical mass of understanding of what you can do,
we’ll start to be able to push the limits. But, right now, if we want everybody to be able to
have a meaningful experience, we have to be able to borrow from some physical elements
that can be comforting and help us find our way around.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’s interesting to hear you describe it that way. It reminds me a lot
of a discussion I heard at the Second Life Community Convention, from a panel of
Machinimists who were being asked, “Why does Machinima animation [AUDIO GLITCH] in
Virtual Worlds? Why is it so similar to traditional forms of movies or, in this case, a talk
show?” And the answer that was unanimous among the Machinimists is, “We still rely on
this language of film, the language of the medium that people expect to see these types of
transitions. It means something when you focus in, when you do a close-up on someone,
conveys a lot more information, even though you wouldn’t have to do it that way necessarily.
That’s what people expect.” It sounds like you’re getting at something very similar with
JON BROUCHOUD: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know at what point it’ll be appropriate to go to
this next point, but I think that, along that exact same line, there’s a limitation though. We
don’t want to get stuck replicating physical reality too much though. I think that’s something
I’m starting to see more and more now is that we’re building architecture, but I do think it’s
architecture. I think most of us would say that we’re sitting in a building right now. And, if it’s
a building that we’re sitting in, it’s architect. You might not consider all virtual architecture
good architecture, but it’s still architecture nonetheless.
We’re bringing architecture in because it’s a three-dimensional interface, and we have
windows and doors and all these things. We refer to it as architecture, but, along with that,
referring to it as architecture, there’s baggage that comes with that because, in Real Life,
architecture can’t change. It’s too expensive. It’s sort of static and dynamic and unchanging
phenomenon that ends up kind of shaping us instead of us shaping it. Like
Winston Churchill said, and I come back to this all the time that, “We shape our buildings,
and afterwards our buildings shape us.” That’s true of the Real World.
Unfortunately, if you think about that, architecture actually molds us, but there’s no reason to
drag that limitation into virtual architecture because here the interface, the prims, the
architecture behaves a lot more like a liquid than a static artifact. I think we can take
advantage of that in a lot of different ways that I don’t have time to get into now, but to be
less afraid to change it, be a little bit less intimidated by it. In Second Life, we can afford to
make changes, and we can afford to continuously modify the architecture, not just build it
once and be kind of stuck with it and hope it works.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s get into that just a little bit now. You mentioned the term
“liquid artifact,” which I liked so much. That’s the title of our show, Liquid Artifact, today. And
we spent some time in your exhibit of reflexive architecture, a term I had never heard before
I started doing research for this show. What is reflexive architecture? And I know SLCN has
some graphics they can pop up so people can get a visual sense of this. But tell us what
you mean by this term.
JON BROUCHOUD: Well, it’s an architectural theory basically. I had done so much writing
about these ideas that I had, I just wanted to actually build something that kind of embodied
those principles, at least on a very simple level. So I was talking to Fumon Kubo, who is
here in the audience, and said, “Hey, if I asked, could you to write a script that responds to
my avatar, if I walk up to it the prim gets bigger, and if I walk away the prim gets smaller?”
He says, “Well, yeah, I can do that.” Five minutes later, there it was. I kind of copied that
and pasted it and made a little building out of it. It was just tremendously profound what that
did to your experience to have the architecture actually sort of genuflect or reflex or change
as you move around the space and then kind of modifying that script and trying to different
ways to manifest it over time. It ends up becoming this whole gallery of little experiments.
Fumon was gracious enough to Open Source all those scripts for us and all available on the
blog that you can download and use. So these are very basic fundamental scripts that aren’t
very comprehensive, but, by Open-Sourcing it, the idea is that the community can then take
that to the next level. And, in fact, they have. In YouTube, look at reflexive architecture. A lot
of people have taken these and done some of the most incredible things with them. So
that’s really, in a nutshell, what reflexive architecture is.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Shortly after Thanksgiving, you’re going to actually have an
installation for the Exeter Phoenix 2nd Live project. Is that a collection of exhibits similar to
what you have installed in your current gallery?
JON BROUCHOUD: Yeah. Basically I’m just trying to take it to the next level. I keep looking
at these scripts and wondering what a practical application of these scripts might look like or
even a more artistic sense or even a little bit more literal connection between how this
connects with what we think of as Real Life architecture versus virtual architecture. I really
think that we need a new language of virtual architecture, and I don’t know that I can come
up with that language, but every new technology that we’ve seen, whether it’s electricity or
steel or glass or elevators or whatever, every one of those new levels of technology brought
a new language of architecture and challenged architects and designers to look at the new
opportunities that those new technologies afforded.
Now we have Virtual Worlds where we can do anything we want, and what can we do now
that we could never do before. And so I think we need to take a look at that, and we need to
kind of prevent ourselves from just dragging in the same limitations of Real Life. We have to
build on what the native or inherent capacity of this environment is capable of so we’re not
just sort of left being shaped by our buildings.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I guess if I had a wish list and I got to add something to your
to-do list, it would be to study what are the needs of Virtual World conferences, like
Metanomics for example, and what sort of architectural innovations could make these more
effective events. Because certainly classroom architecture is a science all to itself. I know
through the process of building Sage Hall in Real Life, the Real Life version of the building
that we’re filming this show in, that we dealt with a large number of architects that do
exclusively classroom-style architecture for schools because it has its own set of needs and
demands. So maybe you’ll spend a little time looking into that for the virtual live event and
figure out what the state of the art can be.
JON BROUCHOUD: Yeah. Just imagine the possibilities. It’s really pretty mind-boggling.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have been talking about, really, the end product, actually
building a building and what you end up with, whether it’s real or virtual. But you’ve also
been spending a lot of your time focusing on the process of architecture, and you’ve talked
about what you call a decentralized approach to architecture. Before we get into the details
of exactly how you decentralize and the different components, why should architects be
thinking about decentralizing and doing that in Virtual Worlds?
JON BROUCHOUD: Well, I think about user-generated empowerment, empowering the
community of individuals who actually use the architecture to be able to have a voice in how
it shapes up. We haven’t found all the answers yet, but at least we’re looking at the idea of
enabling a loose and diverse group of individuals that can then work together, from the
bottom up, to create something that’s a lot greater than the sum of their individual
contribution. And, if that idea sounds familiar, it’s because it’s already very common in
two-dimensional or information-based [goods] seen with Open Source software or
And all we’re trying to do is really apply the same wisdom of crowds principle toward
creating architecture in a build environment. And it’s about kind of tapping into our larger
mindshare and sort decentralizing the process of creating architecture, instead of looking at
it from the top down and making it the province of just a few select individuals, instead kind
of empowering the community to be able to participate at the very least in that process. So
that’s really what the Wikitecture project that Ryan Schultz and I have been working on for
the past couple of years, that we’ll talk about in a little while.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, we have an interesting graphic of, I guess, the shared
project model, where you distinguish between a traditional and an integrated practice of just
how people connect together. I’m wondering if you can just explain this to us.
JON BROUCHOUD: Sure. That diagram really points to the very challenge that we’re
facing, that the traditional practice of architecture is all about everyone kind of doing their
own little thing, and then they pass it to each other. It’s kind of like the telephone game, you
know, we do a little bit, then we pass it on to the next person, and you just know that, by the
time it gets all the way back around again, there’s things that get lost in translation. It’s just
not an efficient means of communicating. It’s not an efficient way of creating architecture in
a build environment. So everybody’s in their own little silo, and so it leads to tremendous
inefficiencies. The construction industry or the building industry, based on that model, is so
inefficient that it’s actually decreasing in efficiency over the past 50 years of all non-farm
industries. It’s actually getting less and less efficient, so we have to fix that problem.
The AIA, the American Institute of Architects, has this new approach--it’s not really new
anymore; it’s been out for a few years--but it’s called integrated practice, and the idea is that
everybody that’s involved in the entire life cycle of a building is involved as early as possible
in the creation and after it’s actually been occupied into post-occupied [AUDIO GLITCH].
And so what that does is, it enables everybody to actually wrap their minds around the
project earlier, and it’s been proven that that actually does lead to greater efficiencies.
Problems are solved earlier. It’s just a better way to practice.
And then, finally, to bring that home for virtual Worlds, the integrated practice model,
typically everybody’s accessing a central file called a Building Information Model, or a BIM.
And BIM is really the way forward for the practice of architecture. Many architects are
switching over to BIM. So where I’m interested in is the intersection of Virtual Worlds and
Second Life and how that might intersect with building information models and how we
might be eventually collaborating around Metaverse-based building information models, and
how do avatars and decentralized collaboration play into that whole picture. So that’s a
really longwinded architectural specific answer to that question. But, hopefully, it was clear
enough to at least get some value out of it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’s a great lead-in to probably the thing you’re best known for in
Second Life and maybe now in the Real World, which is Wikitecture, a tool that actually was
covered by Architectural Record recently. My producer pointed out that, if you look, the
cover story on that is “Buildings Get Real.” But here we’re talking about some virtual
processes. Of course, SLCN will have to show the cover of the Architectural Record, but
they can also pan around; we actually have a nonworking model version of the Wikitecture
tree here in Sage Hall. So can you just give us sort of the 30,000-foot view of how
JON BROUCHOUD: Sure. It’s actually pretty simple at its common point. The way it works
is, everybody can submit ideas around a common architectural challenge that we put
forward. So the last project was actually an entry in an architectural competition in Real Life
for a medical clinic in Nepal. And so that was the challenge. We put that forward. We asked
the community to collaborate around that. We developed this WikiTree tool, which is
basically a technology that we developed based on what we had learned in previous
experiments about how people work together and what works and what doesn’t work. And
how do you get people to work together. And how can you roll back to previous iterations if
someone goes off in a bad direction. And how do you enable the community to vote on what
they like or dislike. So the WikiTree was kind of a culmination of what we had learned.
So the way the Tree actually just works is, it gives you a primitive object that you use as the
seed that you start building with. That primitive object has a script inside of it, and all modify
and share privileges are already established so that the rest of the group can use them. And
the script inside that prim enables it to communicate back with the Tree after you’ve finished
your design. And so you just take that prim, you go out, you build a design idea. You come
back, and you give it to the Tree, and it automatically creates a leaf sphere containing that
design, above the trunk. So when someone else comes up, asynchronously some other
time, clicks on that leaf sphere, the design that that person submitted rezzes on the site, and
they can look at it.
When you submit a design, it also creates a cell on a website externally so people that
aren’t in Second Life can still look at the design. They can vote on it too. Everybody in the
community gets a total of three positive and three negative votes to cast on each of the
designs that have been submitted. And so the color of the leaf sphere that you see is
actually derived from the design contained within that leaf’s popularity with the community.
So the idea is that the really good ideas burn bright green and are very healthy, and the
least popular ideas turn dark red, and the Tree actually automatically prunes itself so it
leaves only the best ideas as options for further refinement.
The idea is that people can just come to the Tree and they see an idea that they like, and
they say, “Well, I like that idea, but I could improve the entry to that,” or, “I know something
about the culture of Nepal that would make this a better design.” So they take it into their
inventory, and they go somewhere, and they fix it, and they come back, and they use that as
a branch or an iteration off that design concept. So what you see is, over time, there’s this
kind of evolving iteration process where the design just keeps getting better and better, and
eventually we arrive at the final design. In this case, we submit it as part of this competition,
and this community in Second Life, using this WikiTree, actually won the Founders Award
out of over 500 entries worldwide, in international design competition in Real Life. So we
were really out of the group, which really, at the very least, proves that there’s some
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So this is the Nepal Clinic?
JON BROUCHOUD: Yes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I think we have a graphic of that. I’m just warning SLCN because
I think we’re skipping a graphic or two, to get that one up there. Then you had more than 40
people working with this Wikitecture device to pull that off. I mean I’m just reading; this is
from the Architectural Record. Not only were approximately half of these contributors not
architects, but also the group never collaborated in the same room, so that’s really quite an
impressive feat. So this is something that has been built in Real Life or no?
JON BROUCHOUD: No. The actual winning entry for the Nepal group is going to be built in
Real Life. One of the things--we’re talking with the group that’s actually building this about
how we could bring Second Life to the Nepal Clinic in the future. We’re looking at the future
of it, but this design will not be built in Real Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thanks for that clarification. We have a whole bunch of
questions in the backchat, and I’ve been saving them up. So if I can, let me jump in with a
few of these. Actually one of the most recent is from Latha Serevi, who asks what progress
you’re making on an Open Source version of the WikiTree tool.
JON BROUCHOUD: Oh, that’s a really good question, and it’s a very, very complicated
question, more complicated than I would have originally anticipated. But we really would
love to Open-Source the WikiTree, but the challenge there is that Wikitecture in 3D
collaboration is, it’s so much more about the methodology and the research that we’re
having to do around how do you motivate contributors, how do you resolve conflict, how do
you aggregate votes, and how do you actually make the methodology, the process work out.
The technology can be relatively straightforward, but it’s very important that it’s tied in very
closely with the methodology that actually makes it work. So we think that, if we
Open-Source the WikiTree--first of all, the WikiTree is really just a very early and rude
prototype that--it’s very fragile, and it works really well for us in these preliminary
experiments, but, if we were to Open-Source the code of the WikiTree, it would be kind of
pointless because we’ve since taken so much of what we’ve learned and moved on with all
kinds--I mean we’ve got a document that’s 300 pages long of different things that we want to
make improvements and build the next version of the WikiTree. So we think, at least at this
stage, we’re looking at every possible avenue, but, at this stage, it’s probably better for us to
at least bring this to the next level and then think about what we should do because,
otherwise if we Open-Source it too soon, it just isn’t going to get anywhere. It won’t get any
traction and could end up actually backfiring because it’s so tied to the methodology.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This is actually a question from ManqoQhapaqInca Qunhua, “Is
the idea that you’re going to make something that is available to a Second Life community
of users for free, or is this going to be a commercial product?”
JON BROUCHOUD: We really don’t know. I’d love for it to be free, if there’s a way that we
can work that out. It’s an idea we come back to time after time, but we’ve got a lot of
different options on the table, and, obviously, we keep coming back to Open Source
because it is an Open-Source-based idea. We’re asking people to collaborate in an Open
Source fashion, so it only makes sense, on some level, that the technology be
Open-Sourced, but, again, it’s not really about the technology. It’s about how you actually
make it work. So it might not do any good to release this as a public and free tool if it doesn’t
We have to figure out the rules and the protocols that will actually be able to harness the
wisdom of the crowds. Because there’s a lot of wisdom of crowds experiments that don’t
work, and they go “clunk,” and then it’s sort of pinned as a failure. But I think, if we keep
working at these experiments, we can actually refine this to a point where it really does
work. Whether that’s a technology or a tool that we actually sell or distribute throughout the
grid, we don’t really have all that figured out yet. So I wish I had better answers, but this has
been something we’ve been wracking our minds over for years now.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One way to pull together a good product like this is to get lots of
money because I know building this stuff is obviously quite an undertaking. Can you talk a
little bit about how you’re pursuing funding and how much you think it’s going to take to
make what you envision?
JON BROUCHOUD: Sure, I can be pretty open and honest about that. Ryan Schultz and I
have spent thousands of our own dollars on the existing prototype, and I3D now has put a
lot of their time into it as well. So the existing prototype wasn’t exactly cheap for us. We’re
just architects. We don’t make money.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’ve heard that about architects.
JON BROUCHOUD: Yeah, we don’t get paid very much. It’s difficult for us to fund this kind
of bootstrapping, but, again, we have this vision of what we want to do at the next level of
the technology, and we have a scope document that we’ve crafted over the course of many
months so we know what we need to do to make this process better and to make the Tree
more stable. And, to get that to the next level, we’re probably looking at somewhere around
$50,000 to get another prototype essentially, but it would be a much more robust prototype
with a lot more functionality, a lot easier to use and probably quite a bit more effective in
actually harnessing the wisdom of crowds than the existing Tree is.
And then, if we wanted to polish that and make it really shiny and distributable, we’re
probably looking at quite a bit more because it’s a pretty complex tool. We’re probably
looking at even 250,000 or more dollars to make that into a really solid tool that we can
distribute and feel comfortable that we’re not going to be giving everybody technological
headaches trying to figure out how to make it work and then breaking our buggy. We really
want to iron that all out. To get to that point, we’re probably looking at well over $250,000.
So how we’re going after that funding is another story. Again, there’s more questions than
there are answers about how we do that because there’s so many models.
Ryan and I are specifically interested in architecture, and we would love to take this to an
architectural place. We want to use this for architectural-built environments. So maybe we
distribute the tool, build a for-profit model over the top of that, but then the question is, can
we get people to contribute to an Open Source project when it’s a for-profit ownership over
it. So then there’s a question around that. Or, do we actually fund the project by securing
investment and actually distributing this as a tool and actually a salable tool that you’d sell
individual units of [AUDIO GLITCH] be able to use.
So there’s so many different ways that we can go about moving forward with this. I mean
there’s literally dozens, maybe even a hundred different ways. There’s so many different
ways because everything 3D really could benefit from this. It’s not just about architecture,
and so how do we diversify the offering so that it’s not so locked to architecture. It’s a
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. On a somewhat different topic, I’ve got a question from
Bettina Tizzy, who I think a lot of Metanomics viewers know as the leader of the Second Life
group, Not Possible In Real Life, and she’s asking, “How do you feel about using Second
Life to create models for architecture firms in lieu of 3D printing?”
JON BROUCHOUD: That’s a good question. That’s originally how I started. Like I said, I
built replicas of our design ideas in Second Life. It’s not to a point yet, the technology I don’t
think is to a point yet where you can build an exacting model to have the kind of
photo-realistic and shaded and shadowed visual that you could expect from the more
professional architectural software, like Revit or 3D Studio or Architectural Desktop. It won’t
replace those applications, but it can replace study models, the kind that you see with
cardboard where you’re just ripping and pasting cardboard or watercolors, pen-and-ink
sketches or whatever. On that level, it works really well. When you’re just looking at the
relationship between spaces, you’re looking at just basic massing and hierarchy and things
like that, Second Life is really good for that. And I think, over time, it’ll just become
increasingly feasible to be able to use for architectural modeling, but it’ll just take a little
while before it gets to that point.
Then, hopefully, someday we’ll get to a point where we can import models from that
professional architectural software so there isn’t this intermediate process of having to build
everything twice, which we have to do now because there isn’t an import tool to bring those
models in. So obviously, the architectural community using Second Life is really kind of
sitting with baited breath waiting for that tool because that will be a game changer for all of
us, once we can actually import our content from architectural software into Second Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Just a couple quick comments and questions here, which is one
as I see Latah Serevi has started doing a little Open Source collaboration networking and
getting a bunch of people to IM if they are interested. So people who are interested in
joining this, I guess, send an instant message to Latha Serevi or, no doubt I guess if you’re
following the chat, you [AUDIO GLITCH] volunteering on an interview, I don’t catch all of it
so look through the chat and get the information.
JohnHenry Ames asks whether there are professional CAD systems for architects,
computer-aided design. My understanding is that there are extensive 3D modeling options
that are not compatible with Second Life. We talked about this a little bit last week, that
there are naturally technical problems with actually importing professional 3D
computer-created models into Second Life. Just to make that happen no doubt is a fair bit of
work. And you also mentioned there were some policy concerns. Can you talk a little bit
about the policy concerns?
JON BROUCHOUD: I personal believe that importing measures could have happened a
while ago, but I can certainly respect that something like that might be a challenge to the
economy in Second Life, and I think that might be one of the reasons why Linden Lab is
very careful about launching a tool like that because really, if suddenly people that have the
$5,000 software applications can build things that are better than the even playing field that
everybody can create with prims, it rocks the boat. I think it could have a pretty profound
impact. But that said, I think that like an OpenSim or some of the work that Real Extend is
doing, you can import 3D models into those platforms. Those platforms still need a lot of
work, but it’ll be a quick exodus for the architectural community the minute that you cannot
import models somewhere else.
So I think it’ll be kind of a waiting game in seeing which platform does it first because I think
it has to happen eventually. It’s not just for architects, but anybody who works in [3D?],
anybody that works with complex data that they could visualize better in 3D and import that
information or engineering or product manufacturing. So many different fields could benefit
from that. But I think the reason it’s not is because of the policy, because of the politics,
some of the question marks around what that would do to the economy.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me follow up on these ideas of the level playing field and
Linden Lab policy a little because you have been somewhat vocal about your concerns with
a relatively recent announcement from Linden Lab, that they are linking up with Rivers Run
Red to create a behind the firewall enterprise solution for groups that want to be able to use
Second Life, but want to be able to house their own servers behind their own firewall so that
they have a lot more security. And I actually quoted you on our show, from a comment you
made on Dusan Writer’s blog, where you basically said, “A lot of us have been working to
develop the Second Life platform, and this is a wonderful thing we all wanted, and now it’s
being given privately to different organizations.” I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit
about your take on that issue and how it might affect the builders and architects.
JON BROUCHOUD: Sure. And it really doesn’t have to do specifically with Rivers Run Red
or even this immersive workspaces solution. I think Rivers Run Red is a great company
that’s delivered a lot of great content, and I think will continue to do so. I think the immersive
workspaces solution is something we’ve all been waiting for. I can’t wait to get my hands on
it. It’s something that we’ve all wanted to do. But I think my concern is just I’m probably
being oversensitive, but it’s just that there’s a lot of great people from Second Life that are
leaving. I see a lot of some of the best creators are sort of losing interest because there isn’t
a lot of work to be had. The work is kind of slowing down a little bit. I think it’s temporary,
and I see it is picking up again. But, when you see companies going out of business or
leaving Second Life, it really kind of leaves the rest of us that are kind of hanging in there
very sensitive to any announcement that Linden Lab makes, that they’re forming an
exclusive relationship with one company over another because we’re all tethered to this
Those of us who are building this platform, we’re out there promoting it. We’re giving
presentations, and we’re creating Machinima, and we’re writing about it, and we’re all trying
to build this platform together. So anything that could potentially offset that platform, I mean
what if it fails? If the platform fails, that’s going to affect all of us. But, if this one exclusive
relationship succeeds, I’m not sure that we’ll all see the benefit. So there’s just kind of that
even playing field that I really think is important in keeping everybody motivated on an even
level. There’s a lot of people who are out there independently developing collaborative
workspace environments, and what’ll happen to them?
We’ve all been waiting for behind the firewall solution. We all want to offer that. It’s my
understanding now that this will eventually be offered to individual solution providers evenly.
It’s not just going to be one company so that did shed a little bit of light on what their
intentions are, but it still reads as though it’s an exclusive relationship, and I think that’s just
kind of a dangerous thing to be doing at this point when we’re all kind of working so hard to
build the platform. We all want to be treated equally, so I think that’s where my concern was.
As I’m learning about it and I’m reading about it, I’m learning a little bit about why I may not
need to be so alarmed, but I’m keeping a close eye on it anyway.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, let me say, if people want to learn more about this
collaboration between Linden Lab and Rivers Run Red, we have Justin Bovington, the CEO
of Rivers Run Red, appearing on Metanomics on December 15th, and this will be certainly a
major topic of discussion.
So I’m afraid that we’re already out of time, and it always feels like we just got started when
it’s time to end. I would like to thank you, Keystone Bouchard, Jon Brouchoud, for coming
on to Metanomics and telling us about your reflexive architecture and Wikitecture.
JON BROUCHOUD: Thank you very much for having me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I will point out you got your two names, the first and last name,
they’re so similar but not exactly right. I vacillate between deciding it was a good thing or
just really confusing, but I know we misspelled your name by mixing and matching syllables
from your Real Life and Second Life names, and I do apologize for that.
JON BROUCHOUD: Oh, no problem. It happens all the time.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So as we end, I have a few announcements that I’d like to make
before I Connect The Dots. So first of all, right after today’s show, we have an Orange
Island architecture show and tell, and Bjorlyn Loon, our producer, will be pasting information
in. We also have, from 1:00 to 5:00 Pacific Time--so that’s now--for another four hours, the
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation USC Network Culture Project and Global
Kids are coming together to give a sneak preview of the Foundation’s Sim in Second Life.
It’s going to be featuring [character?] programs and grantees. Next week we are going to
have Sibley Verbeck, who heads up Electric Sheep Company, on Metanomics. Many of you
will remember that they were one of the highest profile builder-consultant groups in Second
Life, and now they’ve virtually cast their fortunes elsewhere, with their newest Flash
platform, Webflock. So we’ll be taking a look at that.
Last announcement: Many of you might not know that this show is available tomorrow on
iTunes. You can go to iTunes and search for Metanomics, or go to metanomics.net and
follow the podcast link. And you can get all 55 of our previous Metanomics shows from
iTunes as well, if you want to catch up on all we’ve been doing.
Now I’d like to take my final minute to just connect a couple dots. Today’s topic is “If you
build it, they will come.” As every marketing student knows, certainly those here at the
Johnson School, that just is not true. People need to know what you built is there. They
need to have a good reason to go there, and it has to be cheap and convenient. Getting
professionals to come into Second Life for professional activities has never been easy, and,
from time to time, it’s made a lot harder by an article like this headline from Time Magazine
that probably many of you have been told about by your friends, “UK Couple to Divorce
Over Affair on Second Life.” So it just doesn’t make Virtual Worlds sound like a good place
to do real work.
Now one way to combat bad press is to get out a lot of good press. But, we don’t want to go
out and encourage a lot of businesses and enterprises to push flashy stories about all the
great things they’re going to do in Second Life. We’ve seen that, and, if enterprises aren’t
actually doing the things they told the press about, the good press turns bad in a hurry. So
what we actually need to be doing is redoubling our efforts to build the communities we want
in Virtual Worlds, doing the things we believe people can do in Virtual Worlds. So, for my
own part, I’m doing this now with weekly events that bring together academics and
policymakers, to discuss accounting standards.
But the question is: How do you build a community? And let me tell you my answer, after
doing this for a while, is one person at a time. Give them a good reason to come into
Second Life, one person at a time, and make sure they understand why. And make it cheap
and easy. I’m even mailing headsets to people so they don’t have to haul themselves off to
Best Buy, which can sometimes be the last thing that keeps them from trying out your virtual
event. So those of you who are trying to persuade your professional colleagues to consider
a Virtual World like Second Life, don’t think, “If I build it, they will come.” Instead, remember
that the thing you’re building, the hardest part of the design is the community itself, and, for
most of us, there’s no substitute for the slow and methodical way. These are high-value
customers in our community. Build it one person at a time.
Thanks so much for joining us this week on Metanomics, and we will see you next week at
noon Pacific Time for Sibley Verbeck of Electric Sheep Company. Thanks a lot, and
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer