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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Voice to Come to Second Life

Voice will soon be an option in Second Life. If you have done any extensive text chat there you would think that its an obvious positive. The debate is more complex than I had thought.

New Views of Synthetic Worlds

In a recent post I mentioned a symposium I attended sponsored by Cisco and The Santa Fe Institute. All about synthetic worlds. Second Life and games like World of Warcraft are now well publicized examples of these ideas. Interfaces, really, with a new capability to expand interface into a third dimension .... plus another dimension ... a fourth synthetic and social dimension, allowing new kinds of interaction with people, especially in groups.

This is all not new. Back in the 90s we connected with a company called Blaxxun that wanted to do some of the same kinds of things. Bandwidth was still uncommon outside of universities. We were asked to advertise there, but there was little social component, and we passed. Even before then, back to the 70s. the military was building 3D worlds to help trainees interact with battle environments.

Edward Castronova of Indiana, author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, gave a talk, perhaps too tongue-in-cheek, about how the Second Life currency of Lindens was becoming more real to many than dollars. Well, OK, but then it has not been taxed yet. Still Castronova made the point that alternative currencies are making people take notice. They are being used on E-Bay, exchanged for actual labor. Economists know what that means. Cisco's Christian Renaud talked about their new space in Second Life and how they were seeking to use it as an engagement space for clients. MillionsofUs CEO Reuben Steiger gave a pep talk about where all of this is going and what we should expect, and not expect. Byron Reeves of Stanford gave a talk on some extensions of work he had reported on in his book The Media Equation. That work had inspired us to do early work on having advertising avatars talk to consumers. A good meeting, with lots of interesting ideas being posed.

The meeting turned out to also be a revealing view into how easy (and not-so-easy) it was to use SL as a collaboration space. The talks were delivered in real and second life, and then transmitted to both. There were some problems, created by lag, that occurred along the way, making it unclear who had seen what, except for the people in Real Life, who could nod in acknowledgement.

From an engineer's perspective we have worked with synthetic worlds for a long time. Simulations (sims) have been used since before computing became personal to model proposed worlds to test them before construction. Synthetic Worlds are places where a very general purpose interface has been constructed, mostly with social interactions in mind. Its still not easy to do complex specific things there. As Steiger suggested, its still a place where you can do mostly chaotic, unplanned things, not precisely scripted or planned actions. Sure you can build, construct 'scripts' of object interaction, and text chat all you want. But the interface is still mostly limiting, as opposed to enabling. I have seen things there that are breathtaking, but they are mostly about art as opposed to about engineering and science.

I remain optimistic about where all of this is going. In its current form its really not completely ready for business, but I can see how its evolving in that direction. The enterprise needs some help in making this work. Even better interfaces, stability and interaction. It may not happen in this go around. Looking forward to it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Google Apps Re-Examined

Check out Google Apps Grow Up. The introduction of a set of premiere application for the enterprise. I was an early user of Gmail, which though it did not do everything the 'enterprise' email applications did, had some advantages in sheer retentiveness and simplicity. When I first took a look at Google Spreadsheets and docs I was not impressed. In the early days I took several fairly simple spreadsheets in my collection and sought to convert them, with not a great deal of success.

Now things are changing, and some notable large companies are looking at the possibilities of using Google applications. First because their cost is far less than the cost for full featured packages. Feature creep has led us to the point where we use a small percentage of a packages capabilities. The average user, even at a large company, rarely uses these capabilities, and may be better off not introducing the complexity they allow.

They won't do everything, they won't serve all needs, but as long as there is upward compatibility between basic user needs and the advanced applications, your can segment the needs of your users. And the basic segment of users can be very large. Certainly the needs of the home and small business are often addressed by these basic ideas. The apps are worth another look for businesses large and small.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tapscott Now BusinessWeek Columnist

Don Tapscott is now a BW columnist, His recent book Wikinomics, which has lots of references to P&G, is a good overview of collaborative and group models at large companies. Here is hi first column, about open source models at large companies. Few new revelations here for people who have tracked this. But a great introduction.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Made to Stick Call

I mentioned the book Made to Stick : Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Have not read it yet. Jerry Michalski is having a conference call with co-author Dan Heath on Monday, February 26, 1:30 EST, 1-800-615-2900 or 1-661-705-2005 access code: 778778 .

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Group Brains

Paul Saffo sends along a note about Harvard's Group Brain project:
" ...The Group Brain Project
Our project is focused on developing a model of how analysis and problem-solving occurs in groups of professionals, and how the complementarities of cognitive processes among team members can affect team performance. A lot of the existing work in the psychology of problem-solving focuses on the cognitions of *individuals*; however, what is less well understood is what takes place when the "analysts" need to confer with one another, share information, and come to a consensus on what the answer is.Brains work effectively only when the various specialized areas operate in concert. And groups work effectively only when they are structured and led in ways that enable them to exploit the complementarities of their members. Given that we can now assess the kinds of cognitive and emotional activities for which different individuals are especially adept, might it be possible to adapt such assessment devices for use in composing teams that perform analytic work? And might it further be possible to identify the specific conditions that would increase the chances that such teams would be able to draw upon the full complement of member talents in the interest of excellent collective performance?

Friday, February 23, 2007

TV Remote Inventor Dies

Max Kalehoff writes an insightful obituary of the inventor of the TV Remote control, Dr. Robert Adler. Perhaps our first example of personal remote interaction. What were the implications of this idea? Update: The Wikipedia says his remote was the not the first, but a vast improvement ...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Synthetic Environments and the Enterprise

Atty Mullins of the Santa Fe Institute sends along a link detailing the February 20 SFI sponsored Synthetic Environments and the Enterprise meeting. Much of the symposium will also be presented in Second Life in Cisco Corporation's theater. Details in the link.

" ... There’s a lot going on right now in a place that doesn’t really exist. Millions of people are spending part of every day engaged with others in intense collaboration, competition and exploration in virtual online worlds. Some are playing massive multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft™ and others are meeting people via their computer-generated avatars in a virtual world known as Second Life™. Entertainment applications are driving technology — as always for cutting edge media — but serious people are asking more and more thoughtful questions about how these new ways of connecting people and problems can be harnessed for real-world challenges. This meeting is a chance to see what business can learn from the rich tapestry of human behavior now playing out in synthetic environments. We will look at initial corporate efforts to meet customers in these worlds and attempts to address the challenge of managing collaborations across large scales of time and geography. We will explore how old models of leadership hold up in these brave new worlds and which of the successful game design principles can be integrated into enterprise workflow today. Invited participants will have a chance to place their own bets on the pace of innovation in enterprise application of game-like technology ...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Visualization as a Problem Solving Tool

SF writer and Transparent Society author David Brin writes about a talk he gave at Google. Video of talk here.
" ... In October, Google invited me to fly up and give one of their company-wide Tech Talks on "Visualization as a Problem-Solving Tool in the 21st Century." For this topic, I asked to bring along one of the most ingenious "visualizers," Professor Sheldon Brown, my colleague in the Exorarium Project. The Google talk (hosted by my friend, the appropriately named Larry Brilliant) stretched 90 minutes, but for those who are interested in the evolution of online tools, it should offer a few new perspectives. We also met with Sims creator Will Wright, whose new game "Spore" will knock you out of this world ... "

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Silence is Deadly

Robert Scott in Computerworld: Silence is Deadly: Five key conversations can mean the difference between success and failure in IT projects. (note that the actual 5 conversations are found in a link in a sidebar to the right of the article.)
" ... These days, however, less than 30% of corporate initiatives come in on time, on budget and on spec. The rest either fail outright or are significantly disappointing. So while much has been done to improve new processes, tools, techniques and governance concepts in the past 20 years, there is surprisingly little progress to show for it.

This point was dramatically emphasized recently by a major study called "Silence Fails: The Five Crucial Conversations for Flawless Execution." "Silence Fails" was conducted by The Concours Group and VitalSmarts LC to identify the causes of IT project failure. This worldwide study involved more than 1,000 executives and project management professionals representing a cross-section of major corporations. It included analysis of more than 2,200 projects. The Procter & Gamble Co. was one of 40 companies participating. Our goal was to determine how we could take our project management competency to the next level. ... "

Monday, February 12, 2007

Baby Journeys Goes Live

A new Procter & Gamble external blog, Baby Journeys has gone live. Includes 7 bloggers, representing 5 stages of baby development. Looks to be a very good start.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Global Digital Natives Call

Another one of Jerry Michalski's conference calls that I thought would be of interest:

" ... We've talked about different generations' uses of technology and attitudes in general. This time we'll address today's youth, those Digital Natives, the kids who never bought an LP or stood in line to get cash at a bank. With Jennifer Corriero, founder of TakingITGlobal, let's discuss:

What do Digital Natives think about global-scale change?
How do they prefer to be involved?
Is climate change a priority? How are they tackling it?
What practices help connect and catalyze their actions? ...
Date: Monday, February 12, 2007
Time: 10:30 PDT, 1:30 EST
Primary Dial-in Number: 1-800-615-2900 (Toll Free in USA and Canada)
1-661-705-2005 (for callers outside the USA and Canada)
Participant Access Code: 778778 ..."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Japanese Subway Ads

A colleague sends along this link to top Japanese subway ads. Some impressive examples, including one that effectively uses the movement of the subway itself like a old time movie zoetrope, like these Dasani ads done on the NYC subway. To the right, two Pringles in a soup bowl. A 3D effect in a normally very 2D space, a Trompe L'oeil effect. Also, examples of making whole spaces, like a subway car, transform into a single message. Not sure how much actual subway advertising we do, the Pringles example here aside, but the effects are inspirational.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Tagging Video

RFIDupdate points to a video that shows how easy it can be to find tags in your environment with a small amount of money. The author, Chris Paget, finds passport tags in the city and says that RFID is particularly unsuitable for tagging people.

Monday, February 05, 2007


WorldMapper is a visualization project brought to my attention by the Santa Fe Institute Newsletter:
" ... developed by the University of Sheffield and Mark Newman (SFI Faculty Member and Associate Professor, University of Michigan). Worldmapper turns "all sorts of obscure statistical information into vivid pictures," and is based in part on a 2004 paper by Newman and Michael Gastner (SFI Postdoctoral Fellow) entitled "Diffusion-Based Method for Producing Density Equalizing Maps."... Worldmapper is a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest. 366 maps and PDF posters will be finished by February 2007. ...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

To Blog or Not to Blog

From Knowledge@Wharton a fascinating view of how the blogosphere is being used to provide value. As I blog internally and externally I have changing impressions. When people provide feedback I feel that value is being provided, at other times its hard to tell.
" ...Kevin Werbach, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics, is a dedicated blogger, especially when it comes to technology news and innovation. He sifts through 300 to 400 blogs using NetNewsWire for the Mac, a blog management tool that allows him to quickly scan new posts. "I look for blogs that tell me something I don't already know, including in areas where I am an expert," he says. Knowledge@Wharton asked several faculty members and technology experts to comment on the appeal and usefulness -- or lack thereof -- of blogs..."

Friday, February 02, 2007

EDS on Workflow Processes

Correspondent Charlie Bess of EDS on Workflow/Process Management. He makes some excellent points about workflow.

Generative Social Science

Just received a copy of Joshua M. Epstein's new book: Generative Social Science: Studies in Agent-Based Computational Modeling. While the worlds of engineering have used simulation methods for a long time to do analysis, research using simulation in the social sciences has always seemed less useful. People are by their nature less predictable and thus the results of such models have always been less useful by industry. Social models I have seen to date still treat people with an engineering mentality. Scanning his first chapters, Epstein covers some foundational assumptions of his methods. I look forward to better understanding this view.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

BMW in Second Life

An article in the Second Life Herald talks about BMW's relatively recent build in Second Life called BMW New World. At the right is an aerial view. The article complains that most corporate sites are usually empty. I agree, whenever I visit SL, I make a point of quickly scanning several of the corporate spaces. The much vaunted Dell site, with multiple islands and some clever 'AI Agent' ideas, rarely has any visitors, and I have yet to see an actual Dell employee there. Artificial agents can be clever, but you need the intelligence of real people to make the experience noteworthy.

The exception is IBM, who appears to have taken a very different approach. At any one time there are dozens of their employees 'in world' in their dozen plus sites. Some of their employees are performing tasks, meeting with clients and many of them are willing to engage in conversations. The most recent activity was the build of a Lotus Sphere area that mirrored some meetings in the physical Lotus conference. While IBM's build investment, compared to their TV ads, has to be insignificant, the investment of researchers time is considerable. I have met several researchers I knew from the real world in their Second Life Almaden site.

New IBM employees (based on their 'born' date) appear to be arriving every day, learning and experimenting. I witnessed a number of small group training exercises of IBM users and their clients. Its a great way to speak to researchers off-the-record. Its possible that this works well because the experience is novel, and that may wane. Clearly there is some corporate direction to do this.