May 292009

ABC Island Second Life Panorama 3000 wide!
While lecturing to AFTRS students last week about multi platform, social media & new forms I got on to games and social virtual worlds. When I asked who knew about Second Life one student chirped up “oh isn’t that the place where ABC TV got bombed”. Now a few things immediately sprung to mind when hearing this comment

  1. Having built the ABC TV Island in 5 days or so and part running it at the time I knew the background to this intimately, so how much detail to go into?
  2. I was also bizarrely running a LAMP residential lab in Tasmania when this event occurred and Lisa Romano then an ABC producer was one of our mentors, she also was in charge of the ABC Island at the time – so very much involved in the response
  3. These events are very rare and my experience was either mostly technical server errors or simple admin error, so the problem was fixed in an hour or so as we immediately liaised with Linden Lab who run Second Life and fixed the problem

But the thing that really sprung to mind was, wow this event was back in May 2007. A two year old story. How and why would it persist so long and into the heads of ‘one so young’ – well mid 20s gen, young in my book :). Then I started to think about the story I used to tell not so long ago to folk who were fascinated by the story of the intriguing ‘ripple’ effect. How a technical error ended up with the CEO of ABC TV being interrogated in government about the act being about anti- Public Service commercialisation combined with terrorism training. This also reminded me forcibly of Laurel Papworth’s Ripple effect and more importantly the Long Tail of an influenced ripple effect – whereby a story is spread like chinese whispers and in some cases enters into folklore and myth – even with endless online interrogation. I also liken this to the Butterfly effect or chain reaction, where a small event can end up causing something far more significant. In this case study below of ABC Island, as you see below, it was more to do with a kind of mass hysteria about the medium of branded virtual worlds & the reflection of that out into real ‘prejudiced’ society. An example of online mass hysteria or clever marketing? You decide.

So here is a glimpse into the Butterfly Effect chronology on 2nd year anniversary of the momentus event 🙂

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Mar 192009

Complexity iPhone Camerakit App 22Ever since I joined Twitter (GaryPHayes) I have been fascinated by the subtle ‘etiquette’ of being followed, following and timely updates (as well as the enormous growth and creative potential twitter now affords). It is also interesting watching those traditional media brands and celebrities with a non-twitter and web 2.0 online reputation enter into the fray. What effect do they have? Do they corrupt this young new channel before it has found it’s own feet or is the invasion of old brands and celebs part of its maturation?

Laurel Papworth has far more in-depth coverage of this movement and etiquette across many and various posts on her main blog here but one thing became evident to me as traditional media and celebrities started to ‘infiltate’ Twitter – the instant emergence of old world, short head, long tail distribution. Those brands (individual and companies) already popular in other media on setting up in twitterville started to gain followers like magnets, they swarmed to them – in many cases regardless of what they were tweeting (film and pop stars particularly). We also see old form media channels such as news updates, emerging as useful ‘feeds’ and gaining instant popularity too. Merging with all these are the new stars, traditional bloggers find the transition to micro-blogging easy and so on and so on…

As Twitter has an open API the stats are relatively easy to pull out and there are quite a few sites that do much better analysis than mine below such as TwitterFacts blog, Damon Cortesi and TweetStats. For my little effort below thanks to Twitterholic and its dynamically updated top 1000 (based on followers), I was able to do a quick big picture overview – data taken on the 17 March 2009 !. Before we dig down into the charts themselves a quick high level stat on the Top 1000 tweeters

The top 1000 tweeters have generated 3.45 million tweets and are following 12 million but being followed by 35 million. (note: followers and followings are of course not unique, but the updates/tweets are)

The first chart is what I simply call the  Twitter Long Tail. Starting at the far left with top tweeters CNN Breaking News and Barack Obama at 543k and 486k respectively we move across to the 1000th top tweeter in the world Brad Will with just under 8k followers. I have highlighted a few random tweeters in-between for reference – key thing to note of course is the obvious almost perfect Long Tail shape (I would imagine over time this would smoothe even more – we are still early days)


The highlighted selection here include world renowned bloggers Robert Scoble and Darren Rowse (problogger), passionate artistes Imogen Heap and Stephen Fry, TV getting in on the act Ellen Show and Letterman plus trad media and social media folk. It is interesting for example that The Ellen Show Twitter ID appeared on the 16 March and generated around 200 000 followers off the back of one show – sadly there were only a handful of updates and virtually no following back, a poor user experience – traditional media really needs to make sure it doesn’t corrupt these ‘delicate’ new media channels as it so often does and then tells everyone they don’t really work!

While we are on the global view worth noting that adding all the followers up (thats means each persons follower amount) we end up with 35 million (remember that will contain many duplicates). The point though is to demonstrate the short head’ness here where followers are effectively a ‘rating’ (abstract) of popularity.

Of that 35 million totalled followers

  • 55% are in the top 100
  • 67% are in the top 200 and
  • 85% are in the top 500

To demonstrate this rather spookily smoothe long tail curve I removed the top 50 (that have rather exponentially big figures) and looked at the top 50-500. I started to think also here about the number of updates – do updates bring in followers or is it all about pre-twitter trust and reputation – of course its a to be calculated mix of the two of them – but look below at updates and position…
I went further down this road and looked at the top 100 and their update distribution – the spikes are named. Fascinating again to see that updates do not equal popularity (OK that’s obvious and I will stop labouring that one) but there is a significant high amount of updates going on the in 13-30 areas – remember though we are looking at the creme-de-la-creme of tweeters here and might be too ‘zoomed in’ for meaningful insight?


If your still with me, for reference, here is a quick snapshot of the top 50 World tweeps based purely on following (now you can go and follow them all!). As I keep saying this is not the whole story as we can see – for example CNN following 1 person (is pure broadcast) and Al Gore with only 14 updates (is pure pre-twitter reputation – or 14 amazing world shattering tweets?! – I will go with the former). Of course automated tweeting is rife and there are many in the top thousand who have or are resorting to bots to send messages in their ‘down time’. More after the list…

Some time ago I thought a twitter quotient that took into account updates/followings too is important and the chart below is the same top 1000 tweeters now ordered by a Gary algorithm (made famous on Twitter Agency and Laurel’s post of Australian Journalists on twitter), which changes the landscape significantly. Reproduced from my little contribution to twitter agency here.

Here is a little formula I just cooked up called the Tweet-GQ (Tweet Gary Quotient) that works out a Twitter rating. To be considered as a valuable system to be used on top 100s etc. Before I go into explanation, here is the secret formula

( ((Following/3)+Followers) x (Followers/Updates) ) / 10

This takes into account the raw numbers of followers weighted over following. More importantly it then has an critical multiplier – that of how many updates you do in relation to the followers you generate. So simply, it rewards high numbers of followers but also takes into account how many tweets or updates it took you to get that many followers.

To do this yourself without needing a degree in pure math (or an online calculator – to be done by someone). Here is a simple 3 step DIY version.

  1. Divide followings by 3 and then add this to followers – write the number down
  2. Divide followers by updates – write the number down
  3. Multiply the two numbers above and divide by ten – et voila. Your very own TweetGQ


Finally and while I am on this twitter topic heres a lovely mosaic of 360 out of my current 1300 followers…seems so insignificant now 🙂 But this shows off the power of open API – each of the faces are clickable and therefore followable – is that a word. Bye for now, see you in the twitterverse.

Get your twitter mosaic here.

Get your twitter mosaic here.

Feb 162009

I have blogged long and hard about the future of the metaverse and particularly how key sectors can make use of them as a functional tool. Education are already motoring, social activity is still the key driver, artists use it for music, video and performance and buying/selling ‘user to user’ businesses are still strong. One area that has received most contraversy is of course ‘real brands’, a so called exodus and ‘really’ what is the ROI. I published over at my MUVEDesign VW development site, a first stab at where I think we are on the Gartner Hype Curve for social virtual worlds (not game worlds!). Here it is again (linked from my flickr account).

Gartner Hype Cycle SVW

I do believe we are probably at the lowest ebb for brands in second life. This is bourne out by the SL brand stats I founded over at The Project Factory – you can see the dwell traffic for most brands outside the top 10 are exceedingly low. That doesn’t mean its game over. Far from it, as the lessons are learned and now it is time for companies to get it right, by avoiding developers that focus on build it and run (yes they are still here) and deliver experience, social interaction and relevance. I cover this in a lot more detail in posts back in 06-08!

Andy Mallon over at the Social Research Foundation has published a nice Annual Surver PDF report which is an inworld survey of Second Life users who ‘know’ second life – vs the tourist reports we often get from fly-by-night journalists or Gen Y social marketeers who don’t get it! Heres the blurb on the report (seeing I use the nice charts below!) Gotta earn my keep 🙂

The First Opinions Panel is the largest consumer research panel in Second Life with 10,000 members from newbies to the most active and involved “residents” who, Own the most virtual land, Spend and earn the most money there, Spend the most time there, an average of over two hours a DAY!, Run the most groups. Over 1,000 of our members own one or more groups in SL, many with hundreds to thousands of members. These are the leaders in Second Life. They are studied by over 33 demographic and psychographic attributes from both their real and Second life.

Firstly the longevity for users in Second Life. Remember that at the moment there are between 60-75 thousand users inworld at any moment and 31% spend an average of TWO HOURS a day in Second Life – 2/3 spend at least ONE hour a day! The next question is what is the churn rate, how long do people actually hang around using the service?



So Second Life is perhaps not ‘for life’. It seems many folk do tire of it at around 18 months with only around 20% going for longer than two years. Again this isn’t a real issue for brands as the culmulative user hours across the board puts Facebook, YouTube and other social spaces to shame.

This culmulative dwell is also on the increase. Get a user loyal to your brand and you may have them for longer than a year. Which seques nicely onto how do those inworld for these long periods actually want to interact with brands…


The item that stands out for me is ‘product development’. This has been consistently under utilized so far and there is still a big gap in the virtual marketplace for a big brand to really go beyond designing a hotel layout or fantasy coke machine. I know one brand will be stepping up to the mark this year and demonstrate how powerful this aspect can be. One item that is missing for me is brands ‘presenting’ to inworld inhabitants and facilitating ‘Ted talks’ like events rather than that being the domain of academia only. The SRF published a few choice statements from savvy inworld folk that reinforces several of the key points I and others have been bleating about for years.

  • “Don’t advertise to me – give me something that does not waste my time – make me want to learn more about by entertaining me, informing me or educating me. And make it cool.”
  • “Don’t just expect to do normal marketing – you have to hold events and interact with people”
  • “Bringing real world products inworld is the next inevitable evolution.”
  • “SL is a great way to reach those whom may need services that you may not reach otherwise. ”
  • “Real life companies tend to create great places but just leave them behind. They should assign some people to stay online and accommodate those people who visits their places in Second Life.”
  • “You have to engage people in SL, not simply put up marketing messages and expect residents to flock to you.”

The survey goes beyond well trodden areas too by asking about their Real Life Primary Job and how Second Life has been an enabling tool for it. It is no surprise that learning, collaboration and meetings are high on the list but what will become more and more significant will be real world recruitment – gauging a persons abilities and/or personality inworld. Kelly, Accenture and others are already versed in this space.


With the level of doom about brands in second life this question goes to the heart of what activities are on the decline. So looking at this chart the shorter the bar the better and running RL businesses in Second Life is the least in decline. (It is not clear from this chart if surveyed folk actually answered all questions so will leave it a little to your imagination as regards a true split here)


As a finale and related to the above, Clever Zebra’s Virtual Worlds for Business 2009 is now out as a free publication looking at VW for business applications. Unsure of the ‘enterprise readiness’ of all ten worlds author Nick Wilson highlights companies that are already sold on VW for meetings at least – which is slightly contradictory to him saying, expect to be logged out of meetings regularly? Anyway in the free report here are a few quotes from the document:

Dell “Employees report that they are more engaged in the 3D environment than on a conference call and that they feel more involved and apt to participate. An added side benefit is that this pilot project affords Dell the opportunity to experiment with moving toward a greener future where more and more employees work from home, not the office.”

IBM “IBM estimates that they saved approximately $250,000 by taking the conscious decision not to hold the Virtual Worlds for Business conference (normally a 2.5 day in person meeting) physically this year, and more for the Annual General meeting (normally a 3 day event for 400 Academy members and affiliates).”

Sun “Sun were able to transform an otherwise exclusive, expensive event into an inclusive inexpensive one open to a much wider audience of junior engineers who would benefit from the real learning experiences provided in a virtual setting. They were even able to get Hal Stern, Snr VP Systems Engineering to come in and do 2 full chat sessions exclusive to the virtual component of the 2008 CEC.”

Dec 112008

…and a little end of 2008 Virtual Worlds, State of Play…

Broome Australia 2008_07

Just back from a short break in the lovely town of Broome in NW Australia (my pics). It was interesting being disconnected from ‘the cloud’ but in the process having a few ‘virtual experiential’ moments. One of these was watching the controversial film ‘Australia’ in the worlds oldest picture gardens, Sun Pictures (pictured below). Several parts of the film are set in an open air cinema in the 40s and it was so odd to actually be ‘in’ more or less the same scene of deck chairs, insects buzzing around – as the real sun set, the wind blew off the Northern Territories outback while the film panned around those environments, and lizards crawled around on the screen, bats flew overhead, propeller planes took off from the nearby Broome airport and in the audience several from the Broome aboriginal community. A kind of forget 3D lets get to 4D film experiences.

In other parts of Broome I talked to a few people about some of my work, y’know, the web, cross-media, film and virtual worlds (and just like those low hanging fruit journalists who are constantly predicting the end of 3D worlds) even out here in the styzx a couple of folk suggested that games & social virtual worlds especially will really suffer in this economic downturn and may not survive. Which leads to the point of this post to put things in a little perspective.


First lets look at investor confidence in them. From Virtual Worlds Management Reports there was $1 billion US invested in 35 virtual world companies between Oct 06-07 – and since Oct 07 to the present day there has already been $918 million trusted to the success of this particular industry. This breaks down roughly as:

  • Q3 08 – $148.5 million invested in 12 VW companies
  • Q2 08 – $161 million in 16 VW companies
  • Q1 08 – $184 million in 23 VW companies
  • Q4 07 – $425 million in 15 VW companies

As a topical reference, and to put things into heritage media perspective the total spend on all film and tv drama in Australia in 07-08 was $420 million US (at current exchanges). Now the majority of these worlds invested in are youth based but many specialised ones aimed at the Gen Y hole (see charts for more info) that are focusing on key niches. These start to fill in the gaps that ‘generic’, jack-of-all-trades, social virtual worlds such as Second Life cannot truly cut the mustard as sub-builds inside the service. So we have recently had in the last week the to user launches of a dedicated real life buy with real cash Virtual eShopping just in time for XMas and what will be a real winner in my view (having just tried it finally) the social sports virtual world, Football Superstars which combines EA-like footy with social activity and even has a bit of WoW-like quest giving challenges.

The social aspect of virtual worlds are not lost on the big consoles either with the Launch of XBox and PS3 virtual worlds that I covered in a recent post and also the Inquirer’s article Sony, Microsoft begin battle of Virtual Worlds. I was going to talk a lot about how during hard economic times people turn to escapist activities. In the past it used to be film or TV, but now there are many more choices and as we haven’t seen a global economic downturn of this scale since the 2nd world war – the escapism of choice is now immersive interactive media. This will not be lost on advertisers who also need to optimise their spend across the many variants of shared social worlds.

Shared Social Worlds Diagram


Savvy businesses have now moved beyond the hype bubble of Second Life’s superficiality and realise the power of social collective collaboration. As well as education and science virtual worlds as ‘tools’ are developing into major economic government initiatives. The Athena Alliance have released a report called “Virtual Worlds and the Transformation of Business” with some optimistic summary lines.

The rise of the collaborative enterprise that is likely to result from the successful deployment of Virtual World technologies will usher in a new era of business. It will change the way firms compete with one another for customers in both goods and services industries. It is our firm belief that if our nation accelerates the development and maturation of Virtual Worlds, it will encourage a more collaborative and enterprising form of business. This will lead to greater innovation, sustained productivity, and competitive growth in the world economy.. the companies and workers can use the tools of Virtual Worlds to transform the United States into a collaborative enterprise-driven economy.”

The use of virtual worlds for simulation is not lost on the military either. This goes way beyond using first person shooter games to train late teens for an army life using well, first person shooter game technology in war zones. Last week the largest global simulation conference ever was held “The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC)” focused on the use of more social virtual worlds for training and education for military and scientific use. It was keynoted by General Wallace, the Commander, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command who talked with other big government players about the likely hundreds of billions of dollars that will be invested in virtual simulation technology. As we know most media developments have come about from love and death, porn and war. So this growth as always will resonate in the commercial entertainment industry. An example of how military and education are mixing here is The University of Florida recently announced too that it will be spending $1.25 million on building a Second China for the US Foreign Service and Military to understand the culture without the need to go there and fail-forward.

“The goal of the federally funded research project: To educate and prepare foreign service or other government professionals to arrive in the country prepared and ready to work.”


On the money side there is a great deal of research now going into how virtual world economic models and currencies will evolve from a range of closed systems to a state that may become viable alternatives to ‘real world’ currencies. The Virtual Economy Research Network just had an interesting article on the VW freemium model – free-to-play but encourages the adoption of the inworld currency rapidly, for example.

A brief look forward and in terms of users of these worlds there is going to be a big acceleration over the next 3 years with a recent Instat report suggesting that “registered users of virtual worlds are expected to exceed 1 billion” by 2012 and total revenue is expected to exceed US $3 billion. The majority of this revenue is not from an expected subscription or advertising but “90% of their revenue from the sale of virtual items, currency, land, and fees associated with these items”. Finally a reason why there is even more investment in youth worlds “70% of the more than 300 million registered users of virtual worlds are younger than 18.”

Forester and MillionsOfUs have just published a report looking at how traditional corporate business will begin to flourish in these spaces and to quote their executive four point summary:

  1. It grants unprecedented depth of engagement with consumers. Second only to inperson
    consumer meetings, virtual worlds allow marketers to get up close and personal
    with individual consumers. Using these interactions to allow for feedback, creative tasks,
    and just plain fun creates brand and product advocates in the user base who go far beyond
    in-world influence.
  2. It taps into an audience that is difficult to reach via other channels. Today’s virtual
    world users are seen as a minority vanguard for future usage, but they are also difficult to
    reach via other channels. This is especially true of youth groups and deeply creative
    communities supported by various virtual worlds.
  3. Newer worlds offer better opportunities for cross-channel tracking and more
    targeted audiences.
    Early virtual worlds, while technically groundbreaking and providing
    the necessary foundation for future worlds, often lacked audience-tracking tools and were
    open playgrounds without a specific purpose. New, recently launched worlds or those just
    around the corner will offer better tools for customer tracking and tend to target gamers,
    youth, conversation, or other specific tasks, rather than just being open. This allows better
    brand alignment and campaign integration.
  4. Virtual merchandizing resonates with youth — and can be very cost-effective. Virtual
    items and other digital assets resonate with Gen Y consumers far more than with older
    (physical-media-loving) consumers. They appreciate novel, unique items and accept brand
    involvement in these items and their distribution — provided it has been thought through.
    Needless to say, the creation, storage, and distribution of virtual items can be very costeffective
    compared with traditional merchandise like t-shirts and caps.

There is no decline happening. So journos, nay sayers, please look at your own industries please. To reiterate the above examples are social or simulation virtual worlds and there are around 78 currently being used by 360 million people. I haven’t touched on online game worlds or offline games which starts to turn the whole affair into a $40-50 billion industry overtaking movies (including home entertainment elements too). All suggestions are that VWs and Games will be the dominant entertainment form and a widely used tool for business and education and revenues will start to match that of the $300 billion TV industry within five years time. A big issue for me is the lack or real courses in higher education in this space too. Most training is on how to use software to make fps console-type games, there needs to be a paradigm shift otherwise media education will be irrelevant as the heritage media linear form falls into the background.


Now tell me again that these wacky 3D worlds are about to disappear?

To finish I will be adding a presentation I gave at the Online Distribution and Business Collaboration Conference two weeks ago as it contains many references to the above post…hold your breath…

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