Category: interface

Another Rant On Immersive Worlds (and the Value of Mining Social Nets)

From a recent internal email thread (slightly modified and redacted):

I’ve done a reasonable amount of work developing 3D spaces and evaluating the opportunities in immersive worlds. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about virtual worlds and the people who frequent them, least of which is the unfortunate reality that nobody seems to be able to make any real money on the open-ended, user-generated content model.

While Second Life enjoys the occassional publicity bumps on the backs of Boing Boing and Wired et al, they have yet to really nail down their business model short of “get bought by Google”. As others have noted, the connection between their virtual economy and that of the real world are tenuous at best and criminal at worst (see the shady operations of some of it’s private banks…). IBM and others respond to the hype and dump millions into corporate islands, only to realize that people aren’t particularly interested. The tools offered to users suffer from poor UI and steep learning curves, leading to small cliques of content creators sucking up Linden dollars from downstreamers who wish their avatar was more interesting. As we learned with Atmosphere, letting the users take responsibility for all the content leads to very limited and insular creativity with a lot of folks simply standing around in fancy outfits. Spending any substantial time in SL or the other user-content worlds leaves me with the sad aftertaste that millions and millions of polygons are being wasted on a fancy chat client.

Now clearly, virtual worlds are extremely compelling. We want cyberspace and the metaverse, and companies like SL ride this sci-fi future dream as far as they can hoping that if enough people believe it, then it will come true. A common side-effect of the hype machine is that people jump on the panacea bandwagon and start to think that the 3D world can replace everything we do on the desktop or IRL. As others have noted, running trainingseminars in full-featured flat apps like Connect is much better than trying to do it in 3D. Likewise with watching video or surfing the web or writing spreadsheets. To find value in virtual worlds is to determine what they do better than flatware. Blizzard knows that one of the best things 3D worlds do is provide an immersive environment in which to unroll a compelling narrative. SL ditched the narrative and assumes that the users want to create their own world from a blank palette. A simple glance at the numbers shows who has the better game plan for virtual worlds right now.

Content creation in 3D worlds is fraught with peril due to it’s complexity. Modelling in 3D will always be a professional endeavor, as it should be. It’s fricken hard. Scripting actions is also challenging but a little more accesible. Skinning jpegs for fashionable avatar textures? Maybe your average photoshopper can do this if they wish but don’t we already make a lot of money off the professional gaming companies that integrated PS into their workflows a long time ago?

The real point of interest for me in spaces like SL is not the creation of virtual design content, but the creation and management of social content. The most compelling thing in any social network, flat or 3d, is the ability to find your friends/connections, to share and retrieve information, to discover affinity groups based on your interests, and to have access to simple agents that help better integrate the online self with the real-world self.

To my mind, the current value proposition lies in creating extensible flash widgets that crawl through social nets and help users manage the data and enhance their productivity. How can I find the knowledge experts that can help me use Photoshop for pre-press? As a knowledge expert, how can I let others know I’m here to help? How can a user manage and personalize their Suite workflows and integrate them with their online data? What’s the easiest way to meet a LinkedIn contact in a Connect session to show off a portfolio of Flash content? How can I derive a color space from an image that will then lead me to an online resource for similar images? How can I capture real world media inspiration from my mobile and make sure it easily and reliably gets into my Suite workspace? How can a Second Life avatar show more personal attributes, interests, connections, profiles, etc to others in the virtual world? If an SL buddy texts a friend from within the 3D world, can the friend receive the text and respond with their cellphone?

I think we need to regard virtual worlds not as islands of discrete opportunities but as extensions of the real world and of the datasphere. I see little value in creating tools to enable SL/There/etc content creation or in buying advertising space in-world. To me, the most exciting virtual space right now is the social information and collaboration space – and it’s moving into the mobile form-factor a lot more quickly than into 3D worlds. The best value, IMHO, is working on the interstitial technologies that integrate all of these diverse spaces and workflows.

In the meantime, I’ll continue dreaming about the metaverse until it arrives.

a new year note

Wow, I was in quite a fog over the holiday. Sleeping in, lazing about, drinking and huddling on the couch to avoid the cold and rain outside. It was great, mind you, but not especially productive (though I did make some impressive gains in Guitar Hero – and I managed to help nurse a car-stricken kitty back to health). So anyways, happy new year to everyone!

Speaking of Guitar Hero… Leave it to Sony to figure out yet another way to lose money. I tried to connect to the Playstation Online store from my PS3 and it told me I could not connect until I downloaded and installed the latest system update. This is like saying that you can’t get to the iTunes store unless you first install the latest version of iTunes. Duh. Way to make it harder for customers to give you money. Sony really has to let go of their maddening need to control everything.

But then it’s humbling when you spend so much time hating on asstards and then you suddenly find yourself being one. I almost changed lanes into another car this morning. Had it not been for the driver’s attentiveness, I would have smashed my car into his. Humiliating and scary. I really did look and saw noone but he was right there. Funny how the sensorium can simply miss things that are right in your face.

My special lady friend and I are actually thinking of setting up a hateblog for all the fine (but good-natured) hatery we get up to. So much stupidity in the world it’s hard not to be completely entertained by it all!

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m sure my 3 readers have been on the edge of their seats waiting for my next missive. Sorry to keep you waiting…

where is my rfid cat?

Deeper into the Googleplex:

One plan, which has already tentatively started, entails making literally everything in the world accessible at the click of a button. For now, this means every book, piece of music, film, TV and radio broadcast, official document and photograph.

But eventually… Google boffins believe it can be extended to people and their personal belongings.

The idea is that we, and our treasured possessions, will be fitted with minute microchips which could be linked to the internet, via computers, by a digital radio frequency.

In this way, you would only have to type “Where is my watch” or “Find Joe Bloggs” into your PC or handheld computer, and Google could assist you.

…More immediately, Google is switching its main focus from PCs and laptops to mobile phones.

mobile translators and cloud computing

NEC brings Japanese translation to the mobile:

NEC’s latest software is far beyond the drawing board… the firm has developed a system that can understand around 50,000 Japanese words and translate them to English text on the mobile’s display in just a second or two. The software was made compact enough to “operate on a small microchip mounted in a cellphone,” and was designed especially to help users convert common travel phrases.

Googles appears poised to bring cloud computing to reality:

Google… recently announced Android, a platform that allows people to build software for a variety of mobile phones. The alliance could spur the creation of mobile applications geared toward cloud computing… People want to seamlessly move their data between computers, the Web, and phones, Vander Wal adds. “If Google is starting to solve that piece of the problem, it could have an impact because that’s something no one’s been able to do yet.”

“I think every generation of application sort of peels away another layer of the computer,” he says. Initially, people interacted with computers using command lines, Schillace explains, then used a graphical interface; now people can do much of their work in a Web browser, which can be on a personal computer or a small handheld device. “It’s about letting the computer get out of our way so we can work with other people and share our information.”

We are in the midst of a computing shift from desktop and laptop devices towards mobile handhelds. Increasingly, the cloud will be where the data and processing power lives, with thin clients wired up to plumb it’s depths.

the mind reels

So here is the entire install pathway for your new plugin, as uncovered by your intrepid adventurer who has yet not been able to successfully download and install his $300 software.

1) insert CD and run “installer”
2) enter Serial # and email
3) installer queries hardware (—, in this case) for Authentification id
4) install then goes to the web and sends this data to the host, or some subsidiary handler
5) server then sends an email to your entered addy with a link to download the file
6) from email go to server and download the file
7) drag app pkg into applications folder
8) Launch
9) in app UI, enter activation code and wait for server handshake
10) run your new $300 application happy in the knowledge that your software provider no longer thinks you’re a dirty rotten criminal.

Note the many potential points of failure and multiple questionably-secure web connections. And I still don’t have any usable software. Now they can bear the cost of my tech support phone call, and emails, and blogging, etc…

Again, I really like their stuff but this is just ridiculous. Professionals pay for software. Kids and criminals pirate. And kids often end up becoming professionals who buy your software because they pirated it when they were in school.

terrible installer experience

I deal with installers and activation requirements often at work so this sort of thing really bugs me. I ordered a hard copy of the —- plugin. I received the cd and began the installation only to find that my CD is just an empty installer shell that goes to a web server to download the file. So here I am with no internet access on my workstation completely unable to fetch and download the plugin that I paid $300 for to have a 700MB cd that doesn’t even have the full installer on it!

Found a workaround that claims to allow me to download the installer file from a web-enabled machine, then manually move it to my music workstation for install. However, the installer shell asks for Serial & Authentification info (which I have – legally), but has no way of cross-checking the info to verify that it’s an acceptable combo, is entered correctly, etc… it simply passes this text onto a web server.

And promptly returns an error saying the page is not available. No feedback about my installation. No suggestion that I entered the serial wrong or that my email doesn’t match the one they have for me. Nothing but the eternal winds of suckage. And I haven’t even made it to Activation yet…

I’ve used — for 4 years now and I love the system, but this stuff really undermines my faith in their product. You should always always always do whatever you can to guarantee a successful and easy installation.

This does not keep your software from being pirated. It only pisses off the honest people that are trying to pay you for your product.

Again I implore you and every other software shop: make installation easy and reliable.