Last Post

It’s my last day in the office today before I leave IBM, so it’s time to have a final cup of tea (and pint of something stronger) with my many friends at Hursley. To mark the occasion, I spent last night building Lego representations of the Emerging Technology Services team, with whom I’ve had such a great three years. Several of them are contributors to Eightbar, and as well as everyone’s individual blogs (Twitter, Flickr, etc) of course I will be following Eightbar closely after I’ve gone to stay in touch with what’s interesting at IBM.


Thanks for everything.

Metaverse Time Capsule

In case you missed this a couple of months ago, here’s Ren Reynolds (no relation) making sense of the metaverse.

Henrik Bennetsen is making a time capsule, capturing people’s responses to some short questions. Henrik got the ball rolling by uploading some short video interviews he conducted at Metaverse U in Stanford earlier this year, including responses from Sibley Verbeck, Raph Coster, Mark Wallace, Jerry Paffendorf, Corey Bridges, Wagner James Au, Robin Harper, Mitch Kapor, Eric Rice and many more. Cory Ondrejka shared his answers on his blog.

You can add your own responses via the Metaverse U group on YouTube.  Although I’m late to the party (and I hate making predictions), I will try to do that myself soon. The questions are:

  1. What excites you about current metaverse technology?
  2. What concerns you about current metaverse technology?
  3. What will be most the surprising impact of metaverse technology on society within the next decade?
  4. What barriers will metaverse technology never overcome?

BBC Radio 1 augmenting reality with a ‘band in your hand’

Remember two years ago, when BBC Radio 1 came to Second Life for One Big Weekend? This year they explored augmented reality with a Band In Your Hand. Here’s Scott Mills showing Chappers how it works.

Unfortunately the (Windows-only) download has already been taken down. Why? Because

Due to music rights restrictions this download was only available from 30.04.08 to 07.05.08

Hugh Garry, Radio 1 interactive producer, describes it in more detail here.

Nifty Note Manipulation

Jason Ellis works in IBM Research and maintains a brilliant blog about art and games. In a recent post, he links to this demo video for Melodyne’s new Direct Note Access technology, which looks frankly astonishing.

As the video shows, exploding a sampled chord allows the kind of editing we’re already used to with MIDI sequencers, at the individual note level, now from polyphonic recordings. Wow. I’m particularly blown away by the ability to change the key of a music recording, something I’d previously not even dreamed of.

Great fun for music makers, but Jason also starts thinking about the implications for games.

Imagine the kinds of new music games that could be built, making use of music the original developers never heard or even imagined – building from software that finally understands sound as intimately as the player does.

Exciting stuff.

Summary of social networks panel at VW08

I moderated a panel on virtual worlds, games and social networks at the Virtual Worlds 2008 conference today. I recently put out a request for questions here on Eightbar, and got a great response. Here are my (very poor and woefully incomplete) recollections of the event. I’m hoping to get a copy of the audio from the event organizers, which will help me flesh this out For now…

My three co-panelists introduced themselves

  • Christian Lassonde – President & Co Founder, Millions of Us
  • Susan Panico – Senior Director, Playstation Network, Sony
  • Sean Ryan – CEO, Meez

Susan described the attraction of worlds created “for gamers by gamers” so I pressed her on whether Home is going to include user generated content. (When Corey Bridges spoke at SXSW, he mentioned that in the late 90s, if you’d asked people who will be the biggest content producers on the web, people might have guessed ‘Disney’, or other big entertainment brands, and that this turns out not to have been the case. In quite a big way. The creators of the web are everyday people. Does the mentality of user-generated content have any space in the world of Home? (I also mentioned, in a hat-tip to timdp’s question that she should explain it in terms of what will make Home ‘sticky and compulsive’). Susan conceded that while the experiences would be participatory and social, the content is not going to be user-generated. Christian later revealed that Millions of Us are working with Sony on Home (which was new news to me!)

I asked a very summary version of David Orban’s question (I probably didn’t do it justice, but I pointed out that virtual worlds and games are generally synchronous and realtime, while web based social networks are largely asynchronous. What implications does this have for the future of virtual worlds and social networks?) Everyone agreed that social networks are generally asynchronous, and games are generally synchronous, and all predicated that virtual worlds were bound to become more like social networks in the future. Giff Constable ask a question to clarify that synchronous things don’t tend to happen in asynchronous spaces (not currently many examples of this in existing social networks) but hinted that increased presence information (“currently online”) might gradually augment what we see now (replay, ghost data to simulate synchronous activity in an asynchronous space). I should have pushed harder on this point, because there was a big gap between where everyone agreed we are now and where they all agreed we would obviously end up.

I asked about walled gardens.
(My friend kybernetikos wanted me to ask this question: Walled gardens have failed (spectacularly and famously) on the web. Yet people are making walled gardens in the fields of games, social networks AND virtual worlds?)
Christian said that he didn’t expect this to chance in the near future (though mentioned that perhaps in the long term things may be more open). In the short term, he described a business reality in which people have no incentive to help people migrate into a competitive.

Question from the audience re virtual worlds for learning and education.
Both Sean and Christian agreed with each other that education was not a big sector at the moment. I chipped in with the point that education and business are not mutually exclusive, and that there are lots of ongoing projects with education and training for business.

Question from the audience about networks which extend beyond one world/game, in which you register your avatar/user for multiple social spaces and share reputation and status in multiple places (including
Christian pointed out that these had been around for a while, and most have fallen away.

Final question from the audience on where is this stuff going in 5 years.
Christian says 5 years is particularly hard (1 year is easy. 50/100 years isn’t too bad. 5 years, someone will hold you to it.)
Pretty much consensus from the panel that virtual worlds are going to be big. Maybe we won’t talk about social networks and virtual worlds as separate things. I predicted that 2D content will still be around for a very long time (in addition to much more ubiquitous 3D stuff where it makes sense), and also mentioning that I’d been surprised not to see more Augmented Reality at this conference and to look out for it in the next few years.

‘Evolution of Games and Social Networks’ panel at VW08 – call for questions

I’ll be moderating a panel at Virtual Worlds 2008 on Friday, entitled ‘The Evolution of Games and Social Networks’. To give you an idea of what we’ll be talking about, the abstract for the panel describes it thus:

“With the planned introduction of Sony’s Home for the PlayStation3 and multiple virtual worlds providers now creating widgets for Facebook, Bebo, and other social
networks, we’re seeing virtual worlds reach out to every part of the Web and consumer life. This session offers a detailed understanding of how virtual worlds are taking advantage of these emerging distribution formats and how you can leverage Virtual Worlds Everywhere.”

I’ll be joined on the panel by some very smart and interesting people, including

  • Christian Lassonde, President & Co Founder, Millions of Us
  • Susan Panico, Senior Director, PLAYSTATION Network, Sony Computer Entertainment America
  • Sean Ryan, CEO, Meez

(Mark Limber from Google was supposed to be joining us, but I understand that he won’t be able to make it.)

What would you like me to ask them?

The intersection between virtual worlds and social networking is a pretty big and (hopefully) interesting topic, and should be a well attended session. I’ve been preparing some discussion points and questions for the other panelists, and I’d love your input. If you won’t be there in person, here’s a chance to let me know where you’d like to see the discussion go. Specific questions for specific panelists or general topics for discussion are both welcomed. Leave a comment on this post. I’ll be posting the results after the event (audio? text? video? at least one of those anyway), so think of it as a way of participating remotely and asynchronously. Alternatively, think of it as a blatant lazyweb request to make my own life easier. 🙂

IBM Virtual Worlds 1Q 2008 roundup

A brief summary of what’s been happening with IBM in virtual worlds in the first quarter of this year. It’s an impressive list.

Mike Rhodin, General Manager of IBM Lotus software, recently made five predictions about the future of collaborative working. They included open standards, increase in IM and other real-time tools. The number one prediction was

The Virtual Workplace will become the rule.  No need to leave the office.  Just bring it along.  Desk phones and desktop computers will gradually disappear, replaced by mobile devices, including laptops, that take on traditional office capabilities.  Social networking tools and virtual world meeting experiences will simulate the feeling on being their in-person.   Work models will be changed by expanded globalisation and green business initiatives that reduce travel and encourage work at home.

“The definition of “meetings” will radically transform and become increasingly adhoc and instantaneous based on context and need.  3-D virtual world and gaming technologies will significantly influence online corporate meeting experiences to deliver more life-like experiences demanded by the next generation workers who will operate more efficiently in this familiar environment.”

Bruce Morse (IBM VP of Unified Communications and Collaboration) and Steve Mills (IBM Senior VP, Software Group) are both quoted in a recent eWeek article, which discusses a major investment in UCC, as well as an announcement about a partnership with virtual worlds company Forterra Systems. Specifically,

Sametime development manager Konrad Lagarde gave a demo during LotusSphere this year. He demonstrated some early integration between IBM’s internal Metaverse and Sametime.

During the presentation, Lagarde text chatted with a participant, also a 3-D avatar, who shows his enthusiasm by jumping up and down. Lagarde also showed a conference call feature for the Sametime client with pictures of invited attendees arranged around a two-dimensional drawing of a conference table. Those that are already present are shown around the table, while at the bottom of the screen are shaded photos of those who are invited but have not yet arrived.

Dan Pelino, General Manager, IBM Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry announced the IBM Virtual Healthcare Island in Second Life in February.

“We believe that the use of our new virtual world provides an important, next-generation Internet-based resource to show how standards; business planning; the use of a secured, extensible and expandable architecture; HIE interoperability; and data use for healthcare analytics, quality, wellness and disease management are all helping to transform our industry.“ IBM’s Healthcare & Life Sciences (HCLS) Industry will continue to develop the new island in months to come.  The island can perform as a virtually “always on” demonstration tool for IBM’s sales personnel.

Michael Osias of IBM Research is quoted in an announcement about a 3D visualisation of a data centre, which was implemented using OpenSim.

Implenia, a Swiss construction, building services and real estate company, used the IBM virtual data center solutions to extend its existing virtual operations center which was previously used mainly for the facilities management processes. Adding the data from datacenter equipment allowed Implenia a finer control of the HVAC and security system. The virtual data center is a tailored 3-D replica of servers, racks, networking, power and cooling equipment that allows data center managers to experience real-time enhanced awareness of their dispersed resources.

“Viewing information about your data center in 2-D text — even in real time — only tells a data center manager part of the story, because our brains are wired for sight and sound,” said IBM Researcher Michael Osias, who architected the 3-D data center service. “By actually seeing the operations of your data center in 3-D, even down to flames showing hotspots and visualizations of the utilization of servers allows for a clearer understanding of the enterprise resources, better informed decision-making and a higher level of interaction and collaboration.”
see also

PowerUp ( is an educational game created by IBM, using the Torque engine. It teaches teenagers about engineering as well as environmental issues. PowerUp is

a free, online, multiplayer game that allows students to experience the excitement and the diversity of modern engineering. Playing the game, students work together in teams to investigate the rich, 3D game environment and learn about the environmental disasters that threaten the game world and its inhabitants.
see also

Emotiv ( and IBM announced a partnership in February around a headset which “interprets the interaction of neurons in the brain” and is due to go on sale later in 2008.

“It picks up electrical activity from the brain and sends wireless signals to a computer,” said Tan Le, president of US/Australian firm Emotiv.

Emotiv is working with IBM to develop the technology for uses in “strategic enterprise business markets and virtual worlds”  Paul Ledak, vice president, IBM Digital Convergence said brain computer interfaces, like the Epoc headset were an important component of the future 3D Internet and the future of virtual communication.

Bluegrass was discussed in January 2008 in the Virtual Worlds News blog

IBM Research is working to solve the digital divide in the workforce with Project Bluegrass, a project that integrates three key factors in motivating Millennials — collaboration, communication and visualization. Project Bluegrass takes the IBM Jazz technology and creates a virtual-world environment where software developers can work, chat and brainstorm around a virtual water cooler while “seeing” their teammates alongside interactive visual representations of ideas, data from the Web and from Jazz-based sources.

IBM at the NRF

Does your avatar know how to make actual money? Bernadette Duponchel’s does. She was recently at the National Retail Federation conference with the rest of her team, presenting IBM’s take on virtual worlds for the fashion design industry.


This is the second consecutive year IBM has demonstrated the use of virtual worlds at the NRF. The brief demo highlights the benefits of real-time collaborative design, short feedback loops when tweaking materials and costs, and even pre-selling the item before it is physically manufactured.

"The point of innovation is to make actual money…"

If you live in the US, you may have seen an IBM advert recently which has been raising a few eyebrows. People are saying things like “the company implies that virtual worlds are a fad and, as a result, a waste of both time and money” and even “The ad is an obvious dig at Second Life“.

I’m not sure. I can see why it looks like that, but I’m not prepared to be annoyed with IBM for damaging its influential position in virtual worlds just yet.

Before I go any further, I should make it clear that I had nothing to do with the making of this ad (if it’s not perfectly clear already, I don’t get asked about things like this <grin>). Additionally, I have not even seen the ad yet, I’ve only read transcripts, so I may be missing some subtle undertones here.

Since I have not watched it, let me allow someone who has watched it to describe it for us

The commercial starts with an employee showing off his avatar to someone else, presumably a boss. The employee is all pumped about how he can conduct business in this virtual world and how he owns an island there. The boss asks if he can make money. The employee responds with something like, “Virtual money or real money?” This sets up the boss’s response that “The point of innovation is to make actual money.”

I’m not sure what to think. Who is the fool here? Is the boss even right? Isn’t innovation about far more than just making money? (Would training and rehearsal count? What about collaboration, recruitment, developer relations, …)

Based on the transcript (tell me if I’m wrong), I think there’s another way of looking at it. What about that ambiguous question: “virtual money or real money”? The implication is that the ’employee’ character can’t use the virtual world to make real money, but everyone who reads Business Week knows that there is real money to be made in virtual worlds. What if the boss actually “gets it” and (unlike the hesitant employee?) knows that real money can be made in virtual worlds, and is pointing this out to him, and us? Suddenly the ad takes on a new perspective.

I’m not at all sure it justifies my broadminded interpretation though, and I’m as annoyed as anyone that the ad might be interpreted as “look. aren’t virtual worlds silly” and perhaps risk undermining IBM’s amazing position in this area. What do you think?

Update: since this post went up, Ogilvy have posted the ads from this campaign to YouTube. Here’s the avatar advert:

More connections, more possibilities

Someone recently showed me this BT advert from 2002: “The more connections we make, the more possibilities we have”.

It’s interesting for many reasons. It nicely sums up the internet of course, but it increasingly reminds me of a popular misconception about virtual worlds.

Yes, the internet is a bit like an auditorium which seats millions of people, and in which we all get a chance to talk to any (and all) of them. But it’s not exactly like it. If we were creating a 3D digital social space (with ooh, let’s say, avatars to represent people) would we actually create a great big auditorium to bring them all together at once? Probably not, no. For the same reason that although large numbers of people may come together for specific events in the real world, the number of connections you can make inside a huge crowd doesn’t scale with the size of the crowd. How many people are you likely to talk to at a sports event, or a music gig, with a thousand people around you? Tens? Hundreds? If the crowd was a million rather than a thousand, would your experience be any better?

The advert itself highlights how ridiculous (though naively adorable and even romantic) the idea of bringing millions of people in one physical space would be, so why is it so easy to obsess about doing the exact same thing with virtual worlds?  IBM is not immune from this, and when the 12 IBM islands were first launched you’ll remember the three large auditoria, capable of holding around 200 people each.

I’m pleased to say that although these spaces are useful, they’re used rarely in comparison to the rest of the IBM territory in Second Life. We rarely even attempt to fill these spaces, perhaps because of a realisation that an even bigger and more scaleable approach is needed. We need to (continue to) concentrate on what works on the web: the idea of multiple ongoing and concurrent conversations, with people picking an area (or even environment) which is most appropriate and interesting to them.

Ian just highlighted this very point in a post about the recent NRF (National Retail Federation) show, in which a custom shopping experience can be dynamically created. I find the idea of small social environments which can be dynamically created much more interesting than huge social environments which attempt to cater to crowds of unmanageable and unlikely sizes.