Philip Rosedale wants to improve upon the real world

The Financial Times runs an intriguing portrait of Philip Rosedale, the founding father of Linden Lab and Second Life and these days building a VR-compatible virtual world called High Fidelity.

The article not only focuses on the virtual world ambitions of Rosedale but also on his renovation and building projects in the real world of San Francisco, where he lives in the very exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood.

One of the remarkable quotes of the article (written by Hugo Cox) is this:

If you could work, play, meet, go to school, if you could do all these things in a virtual world then why would you not think that these spaces could become more important than this [real] one?

The idea seems simple enough but many interesting questions arise:

  • What are the reasons people would prefer a virtual world above this one? Is it because a virtual world is more convenient – for instance, one can teleport around rather than commute endlessly, one can ignore the laws of physics in colorful creative surroundings.
  • Or is it (also) because the “real life” cities and living conditions are disappointing for the majority of people who cannot afford to live in such an expensive place? Is there an implicit rejection of the injustices of the “real world” by an exodus to the virtual world? (read also the works of synthetic worlds economist Edward Castronova).
  • How “real” is real and how “unreal” is “virtual”? In the above mentioned quoted “real” is added between square brackets – I guess by the interviewer. But if one routinely works, studies and lives in a virtual world, would it not become as real to me as the current real world? Especially when augmented reality (adding digital layers to the physical surroundings) and mixed reality (adding digital 3D-objects seamlessly to the physical world) go mainstream, blurring the distinction even more?
  • Is life in a virtual environment the way out for many in a possibly jobless society, where work will be done by robots and AI agents, except for either low skilled labor which remains somehow out of reach for robots or for very skilled labor (developing the AI agents and coordinating humans, cyborgs and AI-agents)? [I have my doubts about this vision of disappearing jobs, at least for the coming ten to twenty years]
  • One should contrast a purely “virtual” vision with an “augmented” one – rather than retreating into a synthetic environment in order to get an education or go to work, one could imagine people staying in a mixed reality world, being in the physical world yet also at the same time using the affordances of virtual reality.

Even though I’m an avid reader of the Financial Times, I read first about this article on the New World Notes.

Blockchain for avatars

Even though I’m sceptical about the appeal of open-ended, user-created virtual worlds for a mainstream audience, I still follow people who are very active in that field because they tend to be highly creative out of the box thinkers. One of them is Philip Rosedale, the founding father of Linden Lab and Second Life, and these days busy creating a new world which takes full advantage of VR, High Fidelity.

In the post Metaverse Identity on the Blockchain he tackles the question of how we can prove our identities in a digital environment without revealing our real life identity:

As we begin to live and work in digital spaces, we must design an identity system that is safe, secure, and decentralized like the web. A combination of theblockchain and digital certificates seems like the best design.

Being a true Maker, Rosedale does not limit himself to a theoretical explanation, but will try the coming months to implement such a technology in High Fidelity. All this even fits into my ideas about Mixed Reality, as one could consider such a virtual implementation as a big rehearsal for ‘real world’ applications. Rosedale:

And of course, this sort of identity system might someday even work well for real-world things, like who can vote, or keeping track of who owns parcels of land. It seems likely that a distributed database like this, applied to identity information, could be a bigger value to people than the current applications which have been mostly for virtual currencies like Bitcoin.

Hat tip to Wagner James Au for discussing Rosedale’s article on the New World Notes.

Peter Diamandis: you will (also) be a virtual world citizen

The Belgian newspaper De Tijd has a great interview (Dutch language) with Singularity University co-founder, author, entrepreneur and futurist Peter Diamandis. When asked about the short-term evolution, Diamandis referred to virtual worlds. He expects interesting stuff to happen there as those worlds become more “real”. People will go there for work and entertainment. Citizenship will no longer be reduced to one single state. One will be a resident of a nation-state but at the same time resident of a virtual world. Kids experiment now already with such a double role in their game worlds. People will also experiment with new forms of government in virtual worlds. Diamandis mentioned Philip Rosedale, founder of Second Life: he considers him to be a pioneer. Diamandis predicts people will ask their governments in the physical world tough questions as they pay taxes but increasingly will take care of their own transport, health care and education.

My own opinion: I think nation-states and companies could also use virtual environments in other ways, for instance to facilitate “virtual immigration”. I remember that back in the hype-period of Second Life we had feverish discussions about immersing non-US residents in American virtual environments where they could work and contribute to the US economy and culture without actually entering the “physical” United States, thus avoiding political discussions about immigration levels.

 

 

Second Life 2.0 will be interesting, but no breakthrough for the multiverse

Quite some excitement among virtual worlds fans: Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, confirmed that they work on a new virtual world. They won’t let themselves be restrained by concerns about backward compatibility with the eleven year old Second Life as they want a fundamentally better virtual world and not just incremental improvements. CEO Ebbe Altberg of Linden Lab said that the ‘old’ Second Life will continue and new developers are being recruited for the new project. In the meantime, the founder of the Lab, Philip Rosedale, is working on yet another new virtual world, called High Fidelity.

More can be found on New World Notes and on Living in a Modemworld.

I cannot help being excited about these new developments, yet I don’t think we’ll see a spectacular growth in virtual worlds usage. My impression is that Linden Lab tries to benefit from the excitement around Oculus Rift, telling the world that the biggest open-ended and user generated virtual world is Second Life. However, people outside the fan base of Second Life are sceptical (as reading the discussions on Reddit makes abundantly clear).

My guess is that the niche of users of Second Life and OpenSim (the open-source version of Second Life) will be dispersed over three worlds now: the old and the new Second Life and Rosedale’s new project, but that the whole open-ended user-generated virtual worlds scene will remain a niche-thing. Will it change in a few years time when motion trackers, body sensors and 3D-cameras will become more mainstream? Maybe, but it won’t be next year.

Second Life fans often say that the lack of traction of virtual worlds is because of the learning curve and the difficulties in using mouse and keyboard to navigate those worlds. I think the real difficulty is the identity-play: the fact that people represent themselves by avatars which may be very different from the physical person using those avatars. For some this opens a world of creativity and exploration, for many others it’s just a bit creepy, especially in ‘serious’ (for instance work-related) contexts.

The other issue with these worlds is that they tend to be very time-consuming. Social networks and mobile communications help people to navigate from the physical to the digital world in fast bursts of time – checking updates, having a facetime of Google Hangout videotalk etc – but without spending hours immersed in a virtual environment.

Both these behavioral phenomena – preference for short time span interventions and for seeing ‘the real other’ – make widespread usage of open ended virtual worlds a tough sell.

The Singularity was in Budapest, Hungary

I attended the Singularity University Summit in Budapest, Hungary. It was like two days of total immersion in discussions about the concept of exponential growth, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, bio-hacking, medical breakthroughs and organisational change. I tried to bring some elements together in a wiki mindmap, people have added links and stuff:


Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

I also talked to CEO Rob Nail of the Singularity University:



How to replicate online the hands on experience of the SU and the intense social experience? Well, maybe by using a virtual environment? It seems the SU is exploring that possibility, but it’s too soon to tell. Which reminds me that Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, is one of those who inspires the SU people (just to be clear: he was not at the Summit). He’s working on a high fidelity virtual world, in which avatars would reflect the expressions of their real life typists:



Wouldn’t it be nice to replicate the Singularity University campus experience in a high fidelity virtual environment? It would be a welcome variation on Massive Open Online Course environments of Coursera, Udacity or edX…

More videos and links can be found in my coverage for my newspaper De Tijd (in Dutch).

Are our attention spans becoming longer again?

There has been an eerie silence on this blog for the past weeks. I was immersed in various learning projects. I had to focus for longer times, and this made me switch my attention away from social media streams, unless I could focus on certain topics via Twitter lists for instance.

howard rheingoldSo what is the learning about? I’m still absorbing stuff I learned at the various courses facilitated by Howard Rheingold (there’s a new one coming up about Mind Amplifiers). Also, I attended a real life class featuring Howard in the Netherlands (more about this in a later post, but that’s where I took the picture), where he discussed the major findings of his book Net Smart (which can be considered as a long and deep study of attention practices). In this part of the learning it’s all about forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat and Twitter.

– The other part of my learning is about tools for digital stortytelling and data journalism. I made a good start on Codeacademy, but somehow I need the intervention of real tutors to continue the learning process. So I decided to take courses at the O’Reilly School of Technology. They even deliver certificates for professional developments. I do realize it are not the certificates which are that important, but it’s a kind of an interesting gamification element. The ‘school’ offers a nice interactive coding environment and tutors evaluate the homework and give feedback.

Crucial technologies I want to master: the components of HTML5 (HTML, CSS, JavaScript), jQuery, and for stuff such as web scraping I need a language such as Python.

Data Journalism is something we’re learning at our media company, and our teacher is Peter Verweij (who was so kind as to include the very basics of using spreadsheets in his program).

– Finally there is a big experiment of helping a newsroom to adapt to the age of never-ending social media streams, community interaction and digital storytelling.

Frankly, all this is pretty exhausting – but at least it forces me to focus for longer periods of time on the same subjects. In this sense it’s immersive – when one is trying to meet some Python course objective, times passes very fast – it’s like playing in some 3D environment.

Is something changing?

These last few years I got the impression we were evolving from longer, immersive experiences to sequences of fast dipping in and out of media streams (status updates, tweets etc). In that context I was not surprised an immersive envrionment such as Second Life was stagnating. It quite simply takes too much time and our attention spans were getting too short for this.

But think again. Maybe we once again want something more. People start complaining about the ‘Facebook-experience’. They start reading books such as Net Smart or meditate about mindfulness. But there’s also something going on at the technology-side of things.

Philip Rosedale, Chairman of Linden LabPhilip Rosedale (archive picture), the founding father of Second Life, has a new company, High Fidelity, to create a new kind of virtual reality platform. True Ventures invested in the company. It’s about a new virtual world enabling rich avatar interactions driven by sensor-equipped hardware, simulated and served by devices (phones, tablets and laptops/desktops) contributed by end-users. Virtual worlds watcher Wagner James Au on New World Notes says that Rosedale is not alone: others are working hard to create new virtual reality platforms: “Overall, this feels like a real trend, made possible by continued leaps in computer power, especially related to 3D graphics, and their continued drop in price.”

But maybe this new trend is also driven by the need of balancing the short attention bursts by longer periods of mindful attention…

Read also: 

True Ventures about the investment in High Fidelity.

Discovering Makers (and Leanpub, and Readmill)

In an open ended, user-generated virtual environment, you get that exciting feeling that you can build your own world. You just start creating objects and scripting them, following the tutorials and getting help from community members. It’s a kind of ‘makers ethos’ which increasingly permeates the ‘real world’.

Of course, there always was something like DIY, but these days people ‘hack’ about anything. 3D printing, drones, hardware hacking using Arduino, biotech hacking and the DIY building and using of drones – it’s all becoming affordable and increasingly popular. It’s also evolving far beyond the hobby-activities, and something like a new economy is emerging between the ruins of the financial & economics & social crisis.

The individuals and teams working on those DIY-project experiment with new ways of running projects. The boundaries between users and builders, between the providers of infrastructure and builders, between the builders themselves often seem very different from the hierarchical and corporate-like organizational structures.

The founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, experienced what the possibilities and limits are of virtual worlds, and currently (Reuters video) he is very involved in how work and collaboration will change in the future (think co-working spaces, companies-in-coffeeshops, exchange of labor through social networks, and telepresence robots). This being said, Rosedale firmly believes virtual worlds teach us something profound which still needs time to be seen for what it can be. It seems to me that the technological evolution is increasingly empowering individuals and small teams to make very sophisticated stuff on a global scale.

I’m two years late in discovering the (free) book Makers, written by Cory Doctorow. How did I find it? I wanted to buy the e-book Model for the 21st Century Newsroom – Redux, but it turned out that the author, Paul Bradshaw, offers it for free, via Leanpub. The Leanpub site offers the possibility to use the Readmill-app, which allows for social highlighting. One of the free books I got access to via Readmill, was Doctorow’s Makers.

The combination Leanpub/Readmill demonstrates this ‘new thinking’ in making things – in this case books. Leanpub has a lengthy Lean Publishing Manifesto. Doctorow himself, in the ‘About this download’ section of his book, attacks the legal departments at ebook publishers – because they don’t believe in copyright law. They say that when you buy an ebook, you’re really only licensing that book. They can claim that because of the confusing and unreadable license agreements people click on, but the buttons on their websites say “buy this book” – which is problematic, as you can give away to whoever you want a book you own, but this fundamental right is far from universally recognized in the weird world of the ebook-publishers.

So the way the book Makers is published, is in itself a demonstration of what that book is about, and of what this new emerging economy is about: the joy and the urge of making, regardless of the economic and financial environment. Here, I’ll let Doctorow explain it himself:
https://youtube.com/watch?v=kjfOzSdX_W8?version=3&hl=en_GB”><

Rosedale steps down as interim CEO of Linden Lab, search for new CEO launched

Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, steps down (for the second time) as CEO of Linden Lab, the company behind the virtual world. Rosedale announced this in a short blog post. Residents of Second Life are surprised by the sudden announcement, even though Rosedale had made it clear that he replaced the former CEO, Mark Kingdon, as an interim CEO.

Only a few days ago a new avatar for Philip Linden (as his avatar name is) was shown to the public, and that timing seems odd now, according to some Linden Lab watchers. More about the announcement and reactions on my experimental page The Metaverse in Turmoil.

Rosedale about applying the principles of LoveMachine Inc in media companies

Philip Rosedale at the SLCC 2010, picture by Elisabeth Leysen

A few weeks ago I started exploring  liquidnews, an open project for collaborative media.  It reminded me of projects in Second Life, where developers at Linden Lab use the Scrum methodology for their viewer project (Snowstorm), publishing the documentation and getting comments from the community for the project.

The Second Life community also has a tradition of community conventions (SLCC), which are organized by residents of the virtual world, independently from Linden Lab (even though Linden Lab is a major sponsor and has key people deliver keynotes). Those gatherings are very inspiring and also give the residents the opportunity to question Linden Lab policies.

I asked the founder and CEO of Linden Lab, Philip Rosedale, for an interview. This was before Linden Lab made an announcement which shocked the education and non-profit community in Second Life: basically the end of the discount pricing for those organizations. So I’ll have to disappoint those involved: the interview was strictly about the application of Agile, Scrum and more radical versions of these philosophies in media projects. I discovered that ‘radical version’ of an open company while studying LoveMachine Inc, another company Philip started.

Even though MixedRealities is not a “Second Life blog”, I do have my virtual office there and up to this day Second Life is a major source of inspiration for my social media practice at my newspaper. So I attended today a gathering of non-profit and education people at Rockcliffe University, an online non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of education and science in 3d virtual environments. About 70 avatars discussed the new pricing policies. There will be a meeting with a representative of Linden Lab, organizations start looking for closer collaboration and/or study possibilities to move away from Second Life and establish themselves on for instance OpenSim grids.

There are lots of complaints about the communication by Linden Lab. Educators and non-profits are among the most interesting content creators in Second Life, but they don’t know what the strategy of Linden Lab is. Yes, the new thinking of “fast, easy and fun” has been discussed at the community convention, but educators were taken by surprise when it was announced there that the Teen Grid (Second Life for teens) would be stopped. They were also shocked when Linden Lab announced lay-offs and a reorganization, but then again, Linden Lab is a private company.

The whole situation is once again very interesting for all those who have a broader interest in social media. The content of Second Life is produced by the users/residents, using the platform and tools provided by Linden Lab. Does this mean that the residents should be treated as citizens rather than as customers of a private company? Is Linden Lab just a company, or also a kind of government? Should the residents have a right to be represented in the board of directors?

These are fascinating questions, and many others could be added (like about the relationship of Second Life with the open source universe of OpenSim). But, as I said, the interview was not about Linden Lab or Second Life as such, but about the organization of media start-ups.

Philip Rosedale told me that at Linden Lab he is not applying the same principles as at the LoveMachine. I also should mention that the LoveMachine is not a virtual world, it is a company building a crowdsourced review and bonus system (among other projects). It is a start-up and as such can experiment more than a more established company. Even though the interview is not about the transformation at Linden Lab, it was interesting to learn about Rosedale’s vision on a new model for start-ups, allowing them to survive and outsmart established companies.

Read the interview and the context on my blog at PBS MediaShift: Linden Lab’s Rosedale Considers ‘Scrum’ Method in Newsrooms.

Also Twitter wants to be fast, easy and fun – sounds familiar?

So Twitter should be fast and easy. And fun of course. If not, they won’t ever go mainstream. For someone covering Second Life, it all sounds very familiar.

One of the interesting points I learned watching Robert Scoble’s live video stream during the Twitter press conference this week was that the overwhelming majority of Twitter users just use the website, there where no self-respecting member of the tech-elite ever go. The social media and tech people think it is so self-evident to use clients such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic that they cannot even imagine that everybody else just goes to www.twitter.com.
That silent majority is rather, well, silent. They (okay, many of them) use Twitter as a kind of social RSS-reader without engaging in a conversation or even without retweeting stuff. Twitter itself seems to consider their service as a real time news network rather than as a social network. A news network like CNN let’s say, but more customizable. But many users are there to consume news, just as they consume news watching CNN.
Let’s compare this with Second Life. The most vocal residents are the builders and scripters, the traders, the organizers. They are a minority – even though without them there would be no such thing as Second Life. This is not surprising: on web forums, discussion boards and chat rooms the really active people are a minority, and the bulk of the activity comes from a tiny group of very active people.
The challenge is to keep that minority happy while realizing that the needs and expectations of the overwhelming majority are different. I guess the web version of Twitter will be a success among the majority, while the power users will stick to their sophisticated client where they can manage all their different social media accounts.
The same probably applies for Second Life and similar virtual worlds. One needs viewer versions or settings which cater for the socializers or for users of devices such as the iPad, other versions can focus on the heavy users and content creators.
“Fast, easy and fun” will be crucial criteria for new media wanting to gain traction. “Fun like the iPhone” Philip Rosedale said during the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) in Boston. “The iPhone is slower (…) but it’s delightful” he said. Just like reading Twitter or Facebook on Flipboard is maybe a bit slower, but more delightful. Don’t look down on that – making things delightful is the way to really change things.
Here is the video Scoble made at the Twitter conference: