metaverse meetup

After a few days of completely non-technical law school socializing (nothing too significant to report there; classmates seem pretty nice and easy-going, and are willing to drink ;) I got my geek on for a bit at the ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Metaverse but Were Too Afraid To Ask‘ meetup. My notes, for posterity; taken mostly on the 770. (Nice to be computing and web-enabled but still be able to fit everything in a pair of cargo shorts.)

  • The space the meetup was in (the Eyebeam Open Lab) was great old warehouse space. It looked like they have a lot of very interesting looking tech/art mashups going on. I think I’ll be dropping in on more eyebeam events in the future.
  • This was the most diverse (age and gender-wise, sadly not ethnically) tech event I’ve ever been to. I think there is something to the idea I’ve heard thrown about that 3D worlds are more accessible to a broader segment of the population than traditional interfaces.

First speaker was Jerry Paffendorf, who is the Futurist in Residence at Electric Sheep. Hell of a job :)

  • Says web 2.0 is defined by masively interoperability between sites. Ed.: this sounds like the most cracked out definition of web 2.0 i’ve ever heard, but I heard this idea a  couple times tonight. So I have to figure out why it offends me so- I guess because sure, some websites now offer APIs, which was effectively unheard of 18 months ago, but the APIs feel so limited when compared to raw data access and true data-level interoperability. But I need to think on that more.
  • He thinks that in next few years Second Life will recreate virtually all important web functionality inside sl via bridges out to web, like they are beginning to do for shopping, for example.
  • Ed.: big question for the night to me: how useful/important will 3d be to things we now assume are 2d? For example, will we really want to use avatar-based chat to replace traditional text IM? Every speaker assumes the answer is ‘yes’, but I’m not sure that that is the case.
  • Lots of metaverse overview, inc. some videos, some of which work, some which don’t. C’est la vie.
  • ‘Many people now have photoshop skills. Well, in my world.’ Jerry points out that 2D is the next text, with 3D right behind. Ed.: the ‘in my world’ is very telling- the vast, vast majority of first-world people are capable of composing essays, but I’d guess less than 0.1% can manipulate photoshop with the same level of confidence/competence they would use to write an office memo. And the number must be smaller for video, and smaller again for 3d. So I think this is a ways off.
  • In a previous job, he researched ‘why do certain technologies accelerate when others do not?’ He believes that the metaverse was understudied, but that that is coming around.
  • Thinks the other big thing besides 3d is the ’embrace of games’, and uses flickr as example, since flickr was derived from a social game. Ed. This seems like textbook example of stretchibg concept of gaming too far to cover any non-work social interaction- I don’t see
  • Great zefrank video on ugly in myspace as a collaborative view into millions of people learning good taste; thinks we’re all learning collectively how to do design. Isn’t said explicitly, but sort of like if every middle school student posted all of their essays online- they would be terrible but indicative of learning

Prokofy Neva and Mark Wallace were next. Mark is the author of the excellent 3pointD blog- if you’re going to follow any one metaverse news source, he’s the one. Prokofy is (generously) a gadfly in second life; (non-generously) the most verbose troll ever; (factually) loathed by many, many active second life participants. Prokofy turns me off, so I admit I didn’t take very good notes here.

  • lots of people apparently want SL to be ‘pristine’ like early web, but it is getting like mid-life web- lots of commerce by big firms, PR, etc.
  • everyone seems to agree that there are big complaints about stability/transparency of linden; sounds like not ready for prime-time as a business platform yet.

Sibley Verbeck of Electric Sheep was up next:

  • thinks no 3d/metaverse platform is good enough yet; wants standardized, web-like platform but thinks it/is years away.
  • Is very interested in the interaction between the metaverse and the real world: taxes, impacts on governance, etc. Ed.: he needs to read wu and goldsmith’s ‘Who Controls The Internet’, about which perhaps more tomorrow.
  • His company (Electric Sheep) set up a virtual home run derby in second life as part of a partnership with MLB.
  • Stresses that metaverse content can’t just be dumping old content into the new worlds- must be collaborative/creative in order to work.

Tony Parisi, who was a co-inventor of VMRL and is now founder of Media Machines.

  • Despite having been through several hype cycles about virtual worlds (VRML, couple others) he is excited about the potential success of this round of hype because he  thinks the public is more ready for it now.
  • He thinks the metaverse, in the end, is just like web; the more like the web, the more successful.
  • Big Question #1: How to build the metaverse? Must be open and out of control. Open is open source, standards, etc.- all the thing Ed. wants to hear. He thinks almost all pieces are already there- scripting with javascript, serve it with the LAMP stack, etc.- just need a little standards icing on top, which they are providing with X3D and AJAX3D. Not clear what the business model is to fund the development, though; he sort of dodged my question on it- thinks Netscape underestimated MS.
  • Big Question #2: Who owns the metaverse? All current options are silos, because of ownership. So in future it will be unowned because it must be like web to succeed.
  • Q. #3: What is ‘between’ spaces? Says ‘just like web’- hyperlinks, bookmarks, etc.; ignore continuity and fake it via client. This pisses off some people (particularly Prokofy) who feel that continuity is key to the experience. Ed.: Prokofy is nuts.
  • Someone asks about personal data ownership; he points out (correctly) that it is no different in the metaverse than in web 1.0- Second Life or his company owning/controlling your data isn’t really all that different from Yahoo/Google/Flickr/etc. owning/controlling your data. Ed.: man, we need to solve the personal data ownership/licensing problem ASAP.
  • His company has an LGPL’d 3d browser plugin- currently Windows only. But small, and looks to allow people to do interesting things, including script it in Javascript- hence AJAX3D- just like the web.

Paul Hemp, Senior Editor, Harvard Business Review, author of Marketing To Avatars, speaks last. He has basically only one point, but I think a really interesting one- if I’m marketing to an avatar, should I market to the Real Person behind the avatar? To the avatar’s persona? (i.e., someone in the audience is a man in real life, but a woman in second life- does it make sense to sell him Man Stuff when he is in Second Life, or sell him feminine stuff, or what? The marketing bit itself is not all that interesting, but the questions it raises about identity, multiplicity of identity, and trends in identity (will early adopters be more creative in their identities than late adopters?) gets some good discussion and thinking.

There is one question about democracy online; Prokofy answers it (poorly, in my opinion); more constructively, Jerry says ‘talk to Beth Novec and go to State of Play’. The audience is clearly interested in the topic; I’m sure it will be a central issue in the future.
I went out afterwards and had good Thai at Nooch, and talked to the most excellent Ansible Berkman, Paul from HBS, and Grace from Turner Broadcasting. Great to meet new folks- hope to keep doing this.

And now to bed… :)