Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The future of virtual worlds

Over at Terra Nova, Richard Bartle has asked folks to predict what will be going on in Virtual Worlds (VWs) and/or Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) in 20 years. And while many prognosticators like to hem-and-haw and disclaim that, "Oh... I don't like to make predictions..." I, contrariwise, enjoy it immensely. In 20 years, who's gonna remember how wrong I was? And if they do, they'll be too busy gladiatorializing over petrol across a bleak landscape of sand, leather and feathers. So...

1. Overlays. VWs will increasingly allow for the overlay of real life (RL) information, advertising, content, connectivity and metadata. We're starting to see, now, that people can add virtual objects to Google Maps with SketchUp. Very soon (within 2 years), we'll see these objects and user-enabled advertising, metadata and links embedded in Google Earth and Google Street-Level maps. Within 3 years, we'll see a major VW like SecondLife (or Areae?) host a sim-perfect replica of a major metro, where you can then purchase VW real-estate that links to RL spaces and artefacts; right-of-first-refusal will be given to the RL owners of same. Within 5 years we'll have portable GPS + Wireless Web devices that provide virtual overlays of RL depending on choices we make. The "1900 World of NYC," for example, that overlays history and points of interest on your mobile device as you move around. The entire world becomes The Freedom Trail. Services will also include the ability to ping nearby users of the same overlay. Within 7 years (by 2015), always-on, mobile devices that present a wide-range of personal tagging options allow for rich, constant interaction on both the RL and multi-VW levels. By 2019, as more and more of our lives involve interaction at the virtual/data level, identity theft will be upgraded in terms of both the severity of the crime, and the amount of money, effort and time spent to control it. By 2022, wearable HUDs (either projected directly onto the retina or projected via one-way glasses) will provide overlays of constant, pinpoint information from your choice of VWs. Interaction with strangers who meet high levels of tag-matched data will become common, as you will be able to see everyone's 6-degrees-of-separation, their rankings on various services, what moode (combination of "mood" and "mode") they are in, etc. By 2027, most control and communications related to these devices is by gesture and sub-vocalizations (via tooth microphone). We constantly monitor and interact in those worlds that best suit our RL and our VLs.

2. Virtual Reality TV (VRTV). The popularity of shows like "Real Life," "Project Runway" and "Survivor," lead producers in 2011 to launch a series of VRTV products/shows where users (or groups of users) are screen-capped while involved in virtual reality exploits of all kinds. "Seduction Island" is the first successful venture; hosted on a private SecondLife island, contestants are graded by viewers as they attempt to seduce as many partners as possible during a 24-hour period. Positive ratings give players access to better skins, mods and bling. The success of the show prompts a "live" version, in which random audience members can IM with players over a 2-week period, during which teams of players take turns controlling one avatar. Other VRTV shows involve quiz-type game shows; artistic endeavors; political trolling; and a race for enormous teams (5,000+ players on each) to complete virtual "Wonders of the Un-World." By 2016 the popularity of these shows is so extensive that other, targetted entertainments become embedded within them. Howard Stern moves his shock-radio show exclusively to a VR game/world in which all players and the audience are immersed in a constant state of total "Dive to the Bottom." Rude, ridiculous, childish and violent acts give one more prestige and leveling-up requires driving out the more easily offended.

3. Mixed RL/VW events. Starting in 2009 with (essentially) the current SecondLife platform, event management groups begin to host RL events with VW features. The first of these to get any attention are created by "XRV Studios" in order to promote the opening of various art galleries around the world. At each RL opening, a VW construct with all RL art meticulously digitized is provided for guests who cannot attend the RL event. Cameras in the RL gallery provide context and communication for avatar guests. Terminals at the RL event allow live guests to interact with avatar guests. Music for both "side" is synchronized. By 2017 it is considered somewhat rude to not have a VR presence at a major event, and most fine-arts establishments and performance venues rely on VR revenue for at least half their net (ha ha) profits. By 2022, led by Cornell, most leading institutions of higher learning provide the majority of classes in both RL/VW overlapped settings, and do not distinguish between avatar vs. live attendance.
In 2027, Virtual protests at several major RL/VL political events lead to the creation of
the VFBI, whose main purpose is to keep the virtual peace. The VCIA, however, remains a nasty rumor...

4. User-Created Trumps Studio Content. In 2012, "Armagaedon," the first major MMO to feature a "blank slate architecture," allows players to take a world with basic elements, physical rules (which include magic as a physics), basic UI and modding tools, and have at it. Slow to get started, Armagaedon does, however, have an appeal to serious PvP players and RPers, because there is, essentially, nothing that isn't PvP (or guild-v-guild) or out-of-character. There is no backstory beyond, "You wake up in the world after the world you know went away." Out-of-character chatter is characterized, in the game, as "past-channeling." This isn't a game... it's *you* thrown forward into the misty future. Content creation tools and the rules for individual, group, guild and governmental ownership of content are so slick and grannular that all kinds of in-game systems of leverage and creativity flourish. The balance of combat vs. crafting in terms of pay-out in game-smack is so finely tuned that high-level engineers are just as sought after as tanks, healers, etc. In game publisher reps watch for particularly "qualitative" good activities and reward such with bonuses, thus making artistic, entertaining, dramatic "play" as much of a way to level as XP/grindage. Mini games crop up within the game and begin to attract casual players. By 2018, Armagaedon has passed WoW's previous record of 19 million players, as continent-level guilds begin to form. In 2019 an in-game engineer/priest discovers that there are other worlds in the Armagaedon universe that can be reached through tech/magic. The space race begins... By 2022, three other major blank-slate games have moved into the Nielsen MMO Top 10, and the combined revenue of these four games surpasses the other 6, as players are doing all RMT in game, sharing content creation profits w/ the game publishers. In 2027, "Pablo," a game that began in 2025 with no rules, no physics... nothing but connectivity and space... becomes the first MMO to win the Pulitzer Prize.

5. Fantasy Everything. In 2011, "5th Base," the first MMO Fantasy Baseball league to incorporate real-time virtual games based on player teams is launched. By 2014 it is a worldwide, billion-dollar industry. By 2020, more people play/watch fantasy baseball leagues based on RL stats than watch the actual games. Similarly, in 2011, porn-star Jenna Haze becomes the first well-known sex worker to license her image and voice for use in VR sex scenarios, creating an entire "tribe" of SecondLife escorts who look and sound like Jenna. The trend continues, with both legal and illegal crafting of online "avastars" to interact in a variety of adult, VR entertainments. By 2025, the ability of strip-off artists to recreate in perfect, virtual simulacritude, any star, living or dead, in any situation has become so common as to be unnoticed. In 2027 the Supreme Court rules that the virtualization of an RL person -- so long as no claim to other rights of the person him/herself is made -- is protected speech.

6. Duh. By 2027 virtual LOL cats account for approximately 10% of all Internet bandwidth usage.

(This is fun... I may do more. But now I must go do RL stuff). 

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

1st in a series: NetVoices respond to assinine PCMag post

Amber has been doing this hillariously a couple times now. I find it hysterical. I'm going to have a go, but probably do a bad job of it. This is, of course, based on the wonderful work of our friends at The Onion.

On an idiot PC Magazine post, editor Lance Ulanoff claims that MySpace, SecondLife and Twitter are all doomed. What do YOU think? Are these services all going to go belly-up in the next 2.5 years?

Ryann McSprankle, 29-year old Pokemon Cheat/Hint Professional

Hey! Mr. Ulanoff said that these services would be dead by the end of the decade! The decade doesn't end until January 1, 2011. That gives him 3.5 years to be right, not 2.5. Who's the idiot now?


Tranny Wind, 2-year old avatar and virtual land barron

SecondLife is already dead. The day that they made point-to-point teleportating possible, it became so unrealistic that all the fun just left. Beign able to "click" to any location in the world is just unrealistic. You should have to fly there or ride a chicken-headed friend.


Arthur "Che" Lowenstein, Professor of Internet and Metaphor, Yale

The PC Magazine assessment is correct, but for the wrong reasons. Teh entire Internets is doomed. By July 14, 2009, the Internet will be replaced by wireless devices known as "radios" whose use requires no permanent, fixed location.


Tinkybell Cuteypie, Princess of MySpace Bling and Hugs

Oh, you! Mr. Ulanof, I totaly luv yer page! Friend me for 200 Bling Pionts!




Ambrr (Just Ambrr), Hot Single 4-2-meet-U

Regardless of the specific platform, it is clear from the rapid growth and continued utility of these social networking sites that users value the connective and mediative activities enabled thereon. Whether or not these particular examples will remain monetized through the early years of the next decade may have more to do with established media managers finding ways to competently harnass the public's urge to create and connect than with the profitability of any given property. Also, my Web-cam shows are at 7:45, 9:15 and 11:30pm (Pacific).


I'm grokking yer falling rating

Saturday, June 9, 2007

"Should I trust Google?"

Good article at the Financial Times about "Google's Goals..." [By way of John Battelle's Search Blog]. A quote in the piece from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO is either hyperbolic, or scares the crap out of me:

We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation. The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ 

"What shall I do tomorrow?" "What job shall I take?"

Other questions that come to mind...

  • "Should I trust Google to make life-decisions for me?"
  • "Where have all the flowers gone?"
  • "How can we get out of Iraq most logically?"
  • "What number am I thinking of?"

When I get together with more than two-or-so friends, and we play the, "'What do you want to do tomorrow?" game... we spend at least half-an-hour shrugging, saying, "I don't know... whaddayouwanna do?" Debating Mexican vs. Greek food. Talking about what we did last time. Answering phone calls from people who "might join up... depends on what you're doing." Etc. Etc. Etc.

I guess, if Google could aggregate all of our personal search information at the same time -- maybe through an online group profile, I'd be interested in answering the question, "What should we do tonight?" as it would save scads of time.

I expect the answer would involve clicking on several ads for restaurants, movies/shows, music choices, etc. If Google ever spoutted back, "You should just hang out and talk and eat some of the great new cheese that Bill has in the fridge," my head would explode. 


New blog project: Kid Vid Id

So... My 7-year old comes in and says, “Dad… Moms says I’ve got 10 minutes to go before bed, and I’m supposed to bug you so that I’m not bugging her.”

“That’s cool. Whaddya wanna do for 10 minutes?”

He thinks for a bit, then says, “I want to watch some funny turtle videos on YouTube.”

My wife and I get lots of links to various Internet videos, and find them ourselves during the course of being normal Web-using folk. Many of them are fine to share with the boy… many of them are not. We watch with him, so we can tell what’s going to be appropriate. But sometimes it’s hard to tell, on the fly, what’s what…

I asked him, “Were you looking at turtle videos before?”

He said, “No. But Mom’s showed me other funny animal videos on YouTube, and I’m thinking about how I may want a turtle, and figured there’d be funny turtle videos on YouTube.”

He was, of course, right. We found “Turtle vs. Cat” very quickly, and then a couple more. Neat stuff. Took about 12 of the 10 minutes Mom had given him, and off he went to bed.

While searching for funny turtle videos, though… I found some that I would not ever share with a kid. Because “funny” means lots of things to lots of people. Sometimes it means stuff that a kid wouldn’t get, like stand-up comedy. Sometimes it means really, really rude stuff that you don’t want your kid to see, let alone understand at the age of seven. For some people, apparently, teenagers skateboarding off the roof of their garage and breaking a bone qualifies as “funny.”

I started looking for more funny videos that were appropriate for kids. And it was harder than I thought. In many cases, you have to wade through a lot of junk in order to find a good one. In some cases, videos tagged with “funny” and “kid” are videos about kids doing funny things. Which is fine… but not what I want to watch with my kid all the time.

So I figured, if I was going to put effort into finding videos I’m OK sharing with my 7-year-old son… why not share them with other people and their kids? Thus, the idea for KidVidId was born.

Why the name? Well, hopefully, the “Kid” and “Vid” parts are obvious. I added “Id” to stand for both “ID,” as in “identification” — a way to ID good vids for kids — and because “id” also means the part of you that likes stupid videos. As opposed to the “ego” which likes videos of your own kids, and “superego” which likes doing things not involving Internet video.

All the videos at the site are pre-screened to be OK for kids. And by “kids” I mean my kid and his friends. I’m plunking down an “average” here, and if you still find some of the stuff  inappropriate for your kid, I’m sorry. It will all be PG or G stuff, won’t encourage violence towards others, may be educational or funny, or just interesting. Use the category tags.

If any TinkerX readers know of blogs/sites that cater to kids, parents, funny videos, cats, inventions, juggling, etc., and think they should have a link or post about KidVidId, please pass along the URL, as I can use all the link-love I can get.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

50+ legal marketing posts

For a year and change, I was doing legal marketing consulting full-time. During that period, I wrote a legal marketing blog (often called "blawgs") that was consistently in the top 10 results on Google, Yahoo! and MSN search for the phrase "legal marketing." For those who don't speak SEO, that either means my blog was very popular in the legal marketing crowd, or that there weren't that many legal marketing blogs. Or both. The blog averaged around 300 unique readers per post, and topped out around 550 for subjects that got some attention elsewhere in the blawgosphere.

Well, when I stopped doing full-time consulting, I sold the blog to Larry Bodine, who rocks very hard in the legal marketing realm; I wanted someone to keep the thing going, since I'd spent so much time building up a good readership. So he kept the thing going for more than a year, but then consolidated his new writings on his other professional marketing blog.

Well, that means that the blog just probably ain't gonna be out there forever. So, to make sure that all ya'll won't ever suffer from a total lack of pithy Andy-style legal marketing wisdom, I've now collected them all here for your... pleasure. Or whatever.

I had fun writing them, and made lots of good contacts from the blawg. So it's a nice memory for me, too.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Experiment in social free-ness

I've been pimping TaleWeaver, my creativity/storytelling book/game for some time now. Between the newer one (which is better) on Lulu, and the one that got up on Amazon through no fault of my own a few years back, I've sold about 50 of the things, netting around $200. Which ain't bad, considering I created the game as a personal gift for my wife and son. That dough just about paid for the sets I personally had printed/cut at Kinkos a few years ago for friends.

Clearly, though, I did not do it for the money. And I'm getting into some social spaces to see what kinds of benefits they have. At this point, here are my findings:

  • MySpace: I can't keep it up enough for it to matter. I've got multiple blogs on my own, and blogging from MySpace seems... odd to me. Maybe I'll try just copying my posts from here, but that also seems lame. I really tried to get into some groups, but the ones that have anything interesting in terms of content have enormous numbers of users, and the signal-to-noise ratio is huge. I don't have enough friends that use MySpace to make the "wall-to-wall" form of communication any kind of meaningful, though I can see how it would be for someone whose buddies are all in the space. Mostly I get random friend invites from strippers and bands. None of whom return my calls...

  • LinkedIn: I've been using this site longer than any of the others. I have 67 direct connections as of the moment, all of whom I can actually claim to have known in real life or to have met online (eLationships). As of yet, it has been entirely worthless to me. I tried, several times, in my full-time consulting days, to establish clients or partners for projects. Some were in that first circle, some were one-step away, requiring an intro. Nothing came of any of it.

  • Facebook: I've been on Facebook the least amount of time... and it is proving to be the most interesting to me. Why? Because I have connections there both from work (OCLC) and where I teach (CCAD). I've actually had days where I get two or three pings from the network, and I'm enjoying the kind of "casual / formal" feel. It's formal, because everyong there has a current, meaningful reason to be connected. Casual, because not all the messages and moments are related to work/business, as is the case with LinkedIn.

So... Since I'm getting value from my Facebook account, I'm trying an experiment: I'm putting value back in. I found a widget that lets you upload files to your Facebook page. So I've put a free, PDF version of the TaleWeaver book and cards up there for download by anyone in my networks. And I put an ad stating such in the Facebook marketplace.

I'm testing to see if it does one of three things: 

  1. Makes people happy to get a free download of something they find even marginally interesting.
  2. Gets me more Facebook friends.
  3. Moves more copies of TaleWeaver from my Lulu store.
I'm not really counting on any of this. I hope #1 happens, at least. I'll report back later on the others if anything of note happens.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Pushing the brand out: Absolut "Pillow Fight" ad is spot-on

If you haven't seen the new Absolut TV ad, check it out here and come back.

[Yes, at some point I'll figure out how to embed videos right in the blog. It needs a plugin and I'm having issues with FTP today, if you care... ]

So. It's a good ad, clearly, from a direction/production standpoint. Good timing, funny, unexpected... I would go so far as to say that it is "joyful," which is really rare in ads that are supposed to be funny. Most funny ads are funny because they're just gonzo or weird or poking fun. None of that here. Just... the world's largest pillow fight.

But what transforms it from being just a good ad into a great ad, is that it fits so well with a couple decades of Absolut's print advertising from a brand standpoint.

There are hundreds to look through. One of my favorites is:


Which was the first I'd seen that was related to a person or style as opposed to a flavor or event, like this:


Since then there have been all kinds of ads. But they all feature a theme that visually answers the question, "What would this subject look like around/within the Absolut bottle?" The metaphor (or "gag" if you prefer) takes the outside wold and imposes it on the brand in an artistic, interesting, funny way.

Which is what's so brilliant about the pillow-fight ad. It cinematically answers the question, "What would the world be like if it was seen through the lens of Absolut." It takes a concept that was focused on pulling outside elements into the brand space, and then reverses it -- pushing the brand space out into the world.

This works better, of course, if you know the print campaign, but it's not essential. The words I'd used to describe the TV ad -- funny, fun, creative, interesting, unexpected -- are all ones that work with the print campaign, too. The fact that the print ads are so well known helps, of course. I don't think the ad would have been 1/10th as good if it had turned out to be the exact same spot... but for another brand of booze.

This process illustrates something similar to a creativity tool/exercize I've used with writing students: you take the metaphor of the piece you're working on and flip it, or take a theme and reverse it, and re-write the piece.

For example, if you've written a poem that describes the haunting feeling of deja vu in terms of being followed by a copy of yourself... flip the metaphor. What does it mean to be "followed by yourself?" That could also be a metaphor for paranoia or insecurity, but that's not the point here; we're not trying to re-use a metaphor, but flip it entirely... take the internal and push it out. You might write a poem about how when you closely examine whatever you are doing, it tends to seem like deja vu. Even new events and activities become less interesting if you're forever examining yourself. You never get to do something "fresh" if you're under your own microscope. Then deja vu becomes the metaphor for, "It seems like I've done this before."

See? Fun and new ideas for a piece based on flipping the theme or pushing it out. Absolut could have gone with an easy-peasy (and bad) TV implementation of their print commercials; you can almost picture it, can't you? Patrons around a bar shaped like the bottle... the bottle shape appearing in various locales as people do fun, drink-y stuff. It might have worked... but it would have been shallow.

What they did instead shows a real understanding of the brand on the part of their agency, and some real poetic thinking in terms of the creative.

Ask yourself, when crafting an ad or any kind of creative work, what would the world look like through the lens of this brand? If this product or event or theme were itself the icon of  by which people lived their lives... what would they do?

The TV ad answers the question, "What happens in an Absolut world?" Do that for your stuff.