Making the Most of Meeting in the Physical World: Evocative Artifacts

MIT’s Technology Review recently published an article on how CardCloud Spells the End of Physical Business Cards.

As someone who spends most of their professional life immersed in the online world, I tend to agree that physical business cards are not an ideal tool for information exchange in the physical world.

But I have a slightly different idea about why I feel that’s the case.

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An Obscured Opportunity: Opensim and Content Creators

Opensim is a compelling platform for virtual world development.  And some new technologies have recently popped up that could potentially make Opensim even more compelling.

Tipodean has launched a preview of their web-based viewer.  And Kitely just opened its doors for people to create on-demand Opensim installations.

Opensim continues to grow, bringing both new opportunities and new challenges.

Content Creators and Opensim – Here There Be Dragons

Opensim poses a very real challenge for content creators who are used to selling and distributing their products in Second Life.  The permissions system in Second Life offers a reasonably decent DRM solution, allowing content creators to specify exactly how their products can or cannot be shared among other people within Second Life itself.  And Linden Lab responds to DMCA takedown notices to deal with illegally copied content that slips through the cracks.

But in Opensim?  Here there be dragons.  Permissions systems can be circumvented by less reputable Opensim grid owners.  Content can flow between grids in ways that strip the original creator’s name from an object’s metadata.  And content can sometimes be found that, while appearing to be freely copyable, is actually being distributed freely without the consent of the original creator.

This situation is not too bad for folks using Opensim as a way to distribute content licensed for creative commons or public domain use.  But for content creators looking for the same DRM safety net that they currently have in Second Life, the situation with Opensim is less than optimal.

These are all technical challenges for the Opensim core developers. Over time I have no doubt we’ll see new types of DRM solutions evolving in Opensim that will put content creators more at ease.  There are also various commercial Opensim grids that have ways of implementing DRM for people selling content within their own grids (the downside being that only users of their grids can use this content).

But I think all this fear of dragons is obscuring a broad opportunity for content creators and Opensim as a whole.

How the Rest of the World deals with the Distribution of 3d Content

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring the world of 3d content development outside of Opensim.  I’ve been using Unity3d to develop virtual worlds using ReactionGrid’s web-based Jibe platform.  You can even check out my own Jibe world if you’d like to see what I’ve been building.

With Unity3d, as well as in any other professional 3d development platform, you build environments that use industry-standard mesh models.  There’s a huge amount of commercially available mesh models for folks to purchase on many different commercial websites.  If you need something, and you lack the skills to create it yourself, it’s probably out there for sale somewhere.

And almost none of it has any DRM.

All these mesh-based items for sale typically have very clear and explicit licensing agreements.  But that’s basically it.  Content creators generally rely on legal agreements to protect the use of these creations, not any kind of DRM.

Many professional and hobbyist 3d artists make a good living selling their 3d content on the web in this fashion.  It’s a business model that works.  If it wasn’t, you simply wouldn’t see so many commercial websites selling content like this.

And I personally think it’s a business model that holds a lot of potential for creators of content in Opensim.

If it’s easier and more enjoyable to buy it than to steal it, people will buy it.

The devil is in the details, of course.  You need to create systems that let people easily buy and use content.  Apple and Amazon have learned this, which is why they are very successful at selling DRM-free music.  So have very large and successful 3d content sites like Turbosquid.

The only thing worse than piracy is obscurity

Right now, I see very few people selling DRM-free content for use in Opensim.  Most content creators are probably afraid that any content they sell for use in Opensim might escape out into the wild, or even be copied illegally into Opensim from Second Life without their knowledge.  And that’s a valid concern, absolutely.

But I think the opportunity to sell content to people who want to legitimately buy it and use it in Opensim far outweighs the downside of illegal copies floating around.  Not just in terms of making money from sales that otherwise would never have happened, but also in the fact that you will be building awareness of your brand and content.

And if you discover someone has a pirated copy of your work, definitely file a DMCA takedown notice.  But consider reaching out to such people in more thoughtful and creative ways.  You might be surprised at the results.

Mind the Dragons, but don’t let them Rule you through Fear

At best, DRM helps to keep honest people honest.  If someone really wants to illegally copy 3d content, there’s no technical way to stop them.  That’s simply the technical nature of digital media.  The best way to deal with illegal copies of any kind of digital media is through effective laws and legal process.  DMCA is a step in the right direction, but the legal world still has a ways to go in catching up to the world of digital media.

If you are a content creator and are not comfortable selling any of your 3d content for Opensim use without effective DRM, then by all means don’t do it.  But don’t let your fears obscure your ability to see new opportunities.

Think about dipping your toes in the water and selling some things, or even just giving a few things away for free.  Put up a website that makes it easy for folks to buy and download your products for use in Opensim.  Publicize it.  See how much money you make and how many new customers you get.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

-John “Pathfinder” Lester

If you are a content developer and are selling DRM-free content for general use in Opensim, please let me know in the comments.  I’d be happy to add a link to your website in this blog post to help raise awareness of your business.

Short Story: Part 4: Camper

“Oh, you bastard!  Campers suck!”

“It’s a valid strategy!” screamed a voice from around the corner.

Those were the last words Jeff heard as red mist seeped into his vision.  Headshot.

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Encouraging Exploration: Tales of Telehubs and Hypergrid Hops

We all have a desire to explore.  It’s in our nature as human beings to seek out novel things, both the conceptual and the physical.  To be human is to be an explorer.

Virtual worlds give us an opportunity to explore and discover new environments filled with new people.  And given the malleable nature of virtual worlds, we can design these environments in ways to specifically encourage exploration.

But trying to encourage people to explore by design is tricky.  Read on for some thoughts and examples.

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The danger in how we see

Tigers like to hide.

And, unfortunately for us, they are really quite good at it.

Tigers can magically blend in with their surroundings, giving us only glimpses of their true form.

But there’s much more to fear from tigers than simply being eaten alive.

It has to do with how we see them while they’re hiding in the grass.

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How to build the impossible

Throughout history, we have tried to build impossible things.

Insanely impossible things.

Things that require innovation, complex combinations of technologies, and a lot of coordination and work.

And despite great difficulty, we’ve managed to successfully build many impossible things.

Like airplanes.

But the main reason behind our success at building the impossible may surprise you.

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The Lattice of Coincidence

“A lot of people don’t realize what’s really going on.

They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things.

They don’t realize there’s this, like, Lattice of Coincidence that lays on top of everything.”

That’s a quote from the movie Repo Man.

And while it may be the ramblings of a character who did way too much acid in the 60′s, I think it has a deeper meaning in Virtual Worlds.

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You Look Marvelous

We all want to look marvelous.

And in virtual worlds, we want our avatars to look marvelous.

In both form and motion, we want them to possess beauty and grace.  We want people to gasp at their originality and for virtual heads to turn when we walk into a virtual room.

And we want them to look as lifelike as possible.

But there’s a catch.  As our avatars march forward into a bright future of ever-increasing realism, we’re going to face a major obstacle.

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How the Metaverse was Won

Most people deeply involved in Virtual Worlds, from researchers to developers to enthusiastic users, have read Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash.”

In it, Stephenson coins the term “Metaverse.” He describes it as a perceptually immersive successor to the Internet, populated by avatars interacting with each other in a collaboratively created virtual space.

If you’ve read it, you probably remember the Metaverse with its cool motorcycles, thrilling swordfights between avatars in The Black Sun, and the endless glittering stretch of The Street.

Seductive stuff, yes?

But I bet most of you don’t remember something mentioned in the novel.  And I can sum it up in a simple question:

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On Being Human

Artificial Intelligence is sexy.

At least, that’s what we’re constantly being told.

Technologists wax poetic about how computers can increasingly replicate our ability to think and reason.  Folks like Eric Schmidt gleefully proclaim that people really want Google to “tell them what to do next.”

Even Clay Shirky believes that people re-Tweeting on a global scale somehow means the Internet itself is beginning to engage in human-like problem solving.

Someone recently asked me “Do you think the Internet itself will someday become intelligent and self aware?  Like a big brain?”

I replied “No.  Never.  But something much better could happen.”

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