Virtual Worlds Conference at UT Austin


I had the good fortune of keynoting the Virtual Worlds conference at UT Austin. The conference was broken into two days: Academic and Enterprise. You can see the agenda here.

On Thursday, the winning papers submitted to Management Information Services Quarterly (MISQ) special edition on Virtual Worlds. Over 60 papers were submitted to this special edition – a significant number to be sure. The papers spanned both MMORPG and Virtual Words and explored issues of indentity, place and space, and virtual trading/commerce.

There is some GREAT academic working going on in the Virtual World/MMORPG space and I would encourage you all to get a hold of the special issue when it comes out.

Last night Eilif Trondsen and I had the chance to walk around the campus and check out the famous bats in Austin. It was certainly a sight to see. Here is a shot of the tower at UTA. I just love campuses so much energy and curiosity. Wherever I go I always try to walk the campus to feed off that energy.


On the enterprise side, Craig Becker form IBM addressed a very large audience at the Business School yesterday evening. He did a great job of sharing the IBM story. Most notable to me, however, was when Craig asked how many people had an Avatar in SL, less than 10 folks raised their hands…and most of them were faculty not students.

This morning I addressed the group and worked hard to tie the research papers to the Seven Sensibilities of Virtual Worlds that I talk about a lot. Turns out that there was a very good mapping.

Here are the charts:

Panel 1: Virtual Worlds as a Platform for Commerce and Collaboration
Right now, listening to a great panel that includes Dell, Cisco, American Cancer Society, and U of Stockholm.

Laura Thomas from Dell mentioned how she leverages twitter to drive spontaneous virtual world interactions around emerging news. She simply tweets that she will be in the Virtual Cafe on Dell island and those who follow her on Twitter show up if available.

Anne Lange from Cisco, following on Laura’s theme, brought up some great points about Virtual Worlds being but one component of the emerging digitally enabled Human Network. I think she is right on. I have written on this before in this post where I ask “What is the Uber Web 2.0/3Di Mash Up for the Enterprise”.

David Neff had a great talk on how the American Cancer Society is leveraging virtual worlds and seeing significant value. In building their environment on a community model, ACS generated $2,000 in charitable donations in 2004. In 2005 that number rose to $5000, In 2006 it jumped to $41,000, in 2007 they were at $118,000, and in 2008 that number rose to $215000. David’s talk was truly inspiring and a GREAT example of how they are able to leverage the virtual world for a very noble cause. As he says Cancer never sleeps and neither will we.

Robin Teigland from University of Stockholm is talking about the commerce in Entropia Universe from Mindark. Entropia does not get near the visibility of Second Life but they are certainly worth checking out. Entropia is very much oriented around virtual commerce and they are now a real Sweedish bank, having secured a license in March 2009. Entropia is different in that virtual assets deteriorate. If you are a digger and you use a shovel, it wears out and you need to buy a new one.

Mindark is partnering with CHINA (yes China) to create a “Virtual Economy District – A Virtual World where millions will work, communicate and be in love.”

Robin’s View of the she explores two key uncertainties to set up a potential set of scenarios:

    In 2012 how advanced will the usage of virtual worlds be? Very Advanced or Less Advanced

    How integrated will virtual worlds be? Integrated or Fragmented

This analysis sets up Four Scenarios for 2015: Integrated Worlds versus Fragmented Worlds and Advanced Usage versus Less Advanced Use.

Scenario 1: In one converged universe (Integrated and Advanced)
You have a gigantic market of consumers. High penetration, easy avatar mobility, High scalability and Security and Business Transformation.

Scenario 2: Digital Divide (Integrated, Less Advanced)
Ease of mobility, self governance, dominance by gaming, traditional versus virtual biz.

Scenario 3: Virtual Silos (Advanced, Fragmented)
Many competing limited worlds, Difficult Avatar and Asset Mobility, Limited Scalability,

Scenario 4: Wild Worlds (Less Advanced, Fragmented)
MMORPG like context. More grassroots and not a lot of business traction.

Key question for panel, if Virtual Worlds go behind enterprise firewalls for legitimate security and privacy reasons won’t we be further fragmenting the VW space? This speaks directly to one of the key issues I see in terms of what kind of business model virtual world providers will use: Software as a Service or Enterprise License? If it goes enterprise license, we will end up with a lot of enterprise islands of collaboration but not an overall virtual market within which people participate wholesale in a 3D virtual economy.

Keynote: Eilif Trondsen – Virtual Worlds for Work and Learning

Eilif gave a great overview of enterprise applications and again echoed that virtual worlds are but one of many collaborative technologies. Business people do not like to bring in disconnected tools. They need them to be connected and integrated. Eilif also mentioned that there are 100 lawyers holed up in Silicon Valley working on the IBM/Sun deal and that could set up a lot of opportunity (or threat) for enterprise virtual worlds.

Eilif also had some very good analysis of the different platforms available. I will ask him to post the charts. In looking to the future Eilif proposed five possible futures: Grand Unifying Theory (Habbo and Disney say no), Balkanization (Where we are today), Semi-Unified Theory (Sun and IBM), De-Facto Standard (Microsoft), Web as a hub (sending data back and forth between worlds via the web).

All very interesting stuff and I leave the conference pumped up for 3DTLC!

Hope to see you all there!


Virginia Tech Memorial in Second Life

OK, I’m back.

Sorry for the delay, but I really felt that my rant on jounalists deserved top billing for a while.

Picking up right where I left off on the idea of Web 2.0 not just being a mechanism for CrowdSOURCING as many have written about…it is also an enabler of CrowdSOOTHING. Students from all around the world creating digital surrounds to support and console their fellow students at Va Tech.

In my travels I also learned about a permanent memorial that has been set up in Second Life. The video below is my own meager attempt to put together a memorial that showcases the memorial in SL.

I mashed up some of the most moving photos I found on the web, put Nikki Giovanni’s powerful speech in the background and, half-way through, I pay my own tribute to Dr. Librescu who taught me Dynamics during my Sophmore year at Virginia Tech. He was a very kind man and a great educator. May he rest in peace.

Stay Strong: Go Hokies!

Virginia Tech Tragedy: Web 2.0 to the Rescue!

GO HOKIES! I am a proud graduate of Virginia Tech. The education I recieved there prepared me for a wonderfully exciting career at the nexus of technology and business. The friends I met there are the ones that I have held closest to my heart over the last 20 years. In fact, my roomates from sophmore year and I had already planned to meet up in Blacksburg this year for the Miami game. That encounter will no doubt take on quite a different tone given the recent news.

Most importanly, the friend I hold closest to my heart, my wife, is a fellow Hokie. We met during her sophmore year. For me, it was without-doubt a case of love at first sight. Seven years later (it took me a while to convince her about the love-at-first sight thing ; ), Theresa and I were married at the Virginia Tech chapel. The date was April 15, 1995.

Yes, in case you are wondering, this is the same chapel where you most likely saw bodies being laid out on TV the other night. In fact, my uncle called me from England because he did not put two and two together until he saw the news footage of the Chapel and called to make sure that all was well with us. He had attended our wedding 12 years ago and the light went off in his mind when he saw the images on TV.

To Theresa and I, Virginia Tech is more than simply a place on some map. It is a huge part of who we are as people. When Virginia Tech takes a hit so do we. Theresa was lucky enough to have Nikki Giovanni for English her Freshman year in college. Dr. Giovanni’s address to the Hokie faithful is nothing short of astounding. The response to her address is simply 100% Hokie Nation. Those of us from Tech will take much solace in this video.

When I first watched this short address I found myself simultaneously steeped in the emotions of deep sorrow and incredible pride. A truly eerie feeling. I was tearful because that part of me that is Virginia Tech is battered, bruised and still laying on the ground not quite sure if it wants to get up. At the same time, I am proud that there are role models like Dr. Giovanni, a passionate and powerful scholar with a gift for words. Her passion and talent as a professor makes me want to become a better guide to all the kids I have the honor teaching at NCSU. I was most proud though, to feel kinship with my fellow Hokies who responded to Dr. Giovanni’s incredible address in typical fashion…With a “Lets go Hokies” chant!

I remain saddened to know that my alma matter will always be remembered for something that could have happened anywhere, anytime, anyplace. It just happened to be Blacksburg, on the 16th of April (one day after our 12th wedding anniversay) in Norris Hall and West AJ.

Virginia Tech is so much more to so many of us than what happened there at a particular time-stamp in the relentless unfolding of time. But unfortunately, since the invention of the printing press, and the recording of opinion guised as fact, and the search of the sound byte rather than the desire to share compassion, April 16th is the one day that will continue define our incredible alma matter many years to come.

Those of us who opt to live in the land of the soundbite errantly assume that we can Grok everything from the news. Well today is a new day. The big news today is that the students up at Tech are no longer talking to reporters. Instead, they are keeping their mouths shut and handing out flyers politely asking them to go home. GO HOKIES!

In typical Hokie fashion, these wonderful, creative, resilient kids are leveraging technology like never before. They are setting up Facebook vigils. What is that you ask? Well these kids are Digital Natives. Most of the victims had a Facebook or Myspace account.

For those of you who are Digital Immigrants who dont have teenagers, this means that there is a digial place in cyberspace that these students created as the silicon-based equivalent of their carbon-based self. It is a place that the typical user goes to at least 30 times a day. It is a place where owners work to continue to personalize and hone the place to be in tune with who they really are (and sometimes who they aspire to be). In short it is their digital persona.

So, now that physical peson is gone, those who knew the victims and were connected to them via digital friend profiles are using the power of social networking to invite others to the victim’s page to hold vigil. Hundreds of thousands of students from around the world are gathering around the victim’s pages to grieve, yell, question, talk, listen, and support their fellow students. Web 2.0 has become a coping mechanism for the ills of the world. Everyone particpates, no-one delegates and it makes us feel better.

In a Web 2.0 world like this who needs journalists who just want to reduce the enormity of what happened to a shocking soundbite by using the word “Massacre” everywhere you turn?

Where is the compassion in the reporting? Why are we moving beyond being here now with these wonderful Hokies whose lives have been ripped apart, whose souls have been bared to the darkest side of humanity and whose cognitions are reeling like reeds in a hurricane of inquiry to talk about who is to blame or gun control, but never to listen, support and share in grief. Seems like Journalists need to get back to basics. Kubler-Ross anyone?

Instead the question coming from all sides is Who is to blame? My response to that is… Who the hell cares? Does finding someone to blame make this tragedy (note that I did not use the word Massacre) go away? Of course not. So, I’ll say it again. Who the hell cares where blame lies? The truth is that the past is past and gone forever. The future is uncertain and can’t be known. The present is called the present because it IS a PRESENT. A gift where humainty can dwell in synchrony to make things better for themselves and for each other. Thankfully, today’s generation seems to be more aware of this than my own and they are leveraging Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate that collaborative healing process.

So, for all of our sakes, lets all just be there now (except the journalists that is) and lets be whatever it is the Hokie Nation needs us to be to allow them to begin that increasingly important human ability to forgive and foget.

I have steered clear of mainstream media throughout the past week. If you want to experience the truth about what happened in Blacksburg the other day go to where the people who are self organizing via the use of Web 2.0 tools. There you get the raw but honest sense of what these folks are going thorugh. You also start to see just how important and neccessary Social Networking is becoming in a world that is fueled by the relentless and accelerating flow of information/media from every angle.

Thank the universe for Web 2.0. I can YouTube Dr. Giovanni and replay her address over and over again. I can experience what it felt to be there chanting “Lets Go Hokies” out loud with my wife while we are here in bed in Raleigh NC. As a digital immigrant trying desperately hard to swim up the Web 2.0 stream, I can also share in paying homage and respect to the digital personas of the wonderful students whose lives were so horribly interrupted before coming to full bloom. In doing so, Web 2.0 helps to shrink my world and makes it really personal. Long live Web 2.0.

One final note. Social networking works in the carbon-based world too. Last night we went to a Flaming Lips show with some friends. We were not in the mood but forced ourselves to go. Thank God we did. The show itself was amazing and provided a neccessary respite from the back room boys in my brain processing all this stuff. Even more amazing though, was the amount of maroon and orange at the show. I also noticed that the confetti used throughout the show was burnt orange. Coincidence perhaps…methinks not.

BTW tomorrow (Friday, April 20) is Maroon and Orange day. So, please dig into your closet and join the Hokie Nation in showing your support for the people in Blacksburg and their extended families that reach around the globe many times over.

Anyway, I ran into a guy at the bar who had a Hokie hat on. I asked him if he was a Hokie. He said no but that his wife was. He said she was too upset to attend the show, but he thought it would be a good thing to wear the hat to show his support.

It was a good thing he wore his hat. We should all wear our hats. We should all go to Facebook. We should all wear Maroon and Orange tomorrow. And finally, we should all start to leverage 2.0 techology to do what it does best: Facilitate human interaction on a scale that was previously unimaginable. If we did there may be less of the kind of crap we tend to be seing on the news every night and more of the kind of humanity and humilty we are capable of would come shining through.

Long live Web 2.0 and Long Live the HOKIES. Become part of the solution. Web 2.0 is READ-WRITE web. Focus on the latter (that means WRITE!). Get a blog, get into the conversation. There are no excuses. If an old fart like me can do it, believe me anyone can!

Plus, it makes you FEEL a whole lot better.