Applications and Tools, Business in Virtual Worlds, Collaboration, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Killer Apps, Second Life Enterprise, LindeLogic and the Marketplace

Linden Lab’s SLEEK – or Second Life Enterprise as they prefer to call it, will rise or fall on its applications not its prims, although the logic of how 3D content is being handled has the sort of snake-eating-its-own-tail quality which drove things like homestead pricing or the illegality of nipples in the PG areas of Second Life: from where the Lab sits it probably makes sense, but put the thought process into the wild and you suddenly remember you’re running a world not a platform.

If what enterprise wants is a sim with a bunch of corporate builds and the ability for avatars to have real names, then they can just head off to Web.Alive or one of the many Flash-based corporate conference centers…there’s enough of them, there’s no client software, and they run just fine both behind and through firewalls.

But what enterprise wants are solutions, and solutions that work by being plugged in to their current infrastructure of code and legacy systems and standard operating procedures.

Proton Media’s Protosphere is the reigning champ at this stuff, hooking into Microsoft’s suite of products, letting you pull documents into the virtual environment that are stored in Sharepoint, or finding people through the Exchange directory or whatever and setting up a quick on-the-spot meeting and then jumping into the 3D space.

Forterra drives integration from another end of the spectrum, primarily focusing on government acronyms like SCORM, plugging into GIS data for simulations, and a bunch of other arcane stuff that makes sense to large agencies.

On Protosphere, you can be in a conference room, pull up the corporate directory, find someone with an expertise in accounting or widget polishing or whatever and invite them to join you….they get the invite, click a button, and they’re there. The functionality isn’t that much different from the work IBM did with Sametime integration. Or is the basis for a lot of the thinking by the folks who run Reaction Grid: build a virtual environment on the foundation of enterprise-type systems and see what kind of serendipity you can get going but make the suits happy that this isn’t some partitioned-off technology, it FITS, it leverages stuff you’ve already invested in.

The Lab was thinking along similar lines. They kept talking about the Marketplace being more like the iPhone store than XStreet – a place where you can download widgets and Web sites, plug-ins and system integration APIs or whatever. And with the coming MediaAPI, maybe they could take a run at Protosphere and the others – because once you can pull content IN more easily, and have sales figures or Excel spreadsheets popping up on your conference room walls you’ll start to see some kind of deeper utility, your sales meeting starts to look like more than just a bunch of avatars staring at a PowerPoint and you can get some deeper interactions going.

Combine it with HTTP-IN, and suddenly the prims can move and breathe and change color and you have ‘living landscapes’ on your hands, things that aren’t as easily accomplished when you’d using external modeling tools: the prim is king, and the astonishing flexibility of the prim is what gives SLEEK (AND Second Life) its distinct edge over all the corporate Flash conference rooms and 3DS-modeled work spaces elsewhere.

See, LindeLogic (or Lindillogical if you prefer) starts to make sense – it’s not actually about 3D content like chairs and tables and clothes – that’s a very thin slice of the enterprise pie, after all. Compared to the volume of sales in Second Life, no one will ever get rich off of selling chairs or tables to enterprise. Even if 1,000 SLE are sold, which is highly unlikely in the first year or two, it still pales in comparison to size of the SL economy, and the much deeper passion that people have to customize their avatars and to buy land and decorate their houses.

In SLE, you have some staff member somewhere setting up, what, 6 or 8 or 12 sims, but they’re for corporate use, you’re not parceling out offices for everyone in your company and sending them out to decorate them as they will. You’ll set up a meeting space or a training center and that will do it for a year or so, you’re not browsing XStreet in your off hours looking for a new house plant.

And LindeLogic is complete when you come up against the wall of content protection. Knowing how anxious content creators get when their stuff is ripped by third-party viewers or ported over to OpenSim, the Lab figures that they’d better not just abide by the letter of the law, but the spirit of it as well: that no matter what happens, they’d better not let anyone ship content created in Second Life over to these enterprise systems without iron-clad agreements and permissions in place. And this gets challenging because a lot of the content in SL isn’t even created by SINGLE creators: a chair with an animation in it might have the chair, a script, a handful of textures and an animation, and although each of these might be ‘full permission’, each creator would need to say “yes, it’s OK, send my script over to SLE, I don’t need to know what its being used for or what happens to it once it gets there”, and suddenly your simple chair has four different permissions to obtain, individually, with license rights being sorted out and signed off.

So the Lab strikes on what to them seems like infallible logic:

- Create a new Marketplace which will be the home of all these new applications, applications that won’t even RUN in Second Life (and so why would they be available through XStreet?)
- Have a staging ground for content with all the sign-offs and permissions, because it’s not about an object being ‘full perm’, it’s about an object and all the SUB-OBJECTS being fully LICENSED
- Do so on a region basis, because technically a SLEEK region can’t connect to an XStreet-type application which delivers purchased content WITHIN the world – because SLEEK is BEHIND a firewall, and how do you send a dress or a chair through a firewall? But you can zip up a region file and ship it across much as you’d ship a new software update to a Microsoft Exchange client.

So the Lab’s logic is that this whole set-up will encourage application development and will reassure content creators in SL that their content isn’t being e-mailed from one corporate client to another.

The challenge becomes, however, that the people setting the rules of the game are saying “we’ll let the market sort itself out, but we’ll also control the keys, we’ll set up a ‘favored channel’, and we’ll explicitly endorse a small group of companies to make it all happen”.

You can either do one or the other. If you’re going to control the channels, fine – but don’t also spin it that is some big boom for us all. There’s an inherent contradiction between the operating philosophy of SL and SLE, and it undermines your message, your philosophy, and the Residents who made the world in the first place.

Marketplace Solutions
I understand the Lab’s logic in setting up this sort of “staged access” system with Gold Service Providers and approved content and ‘business-friendly’ purchase packages or whatever. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. They’re trying way to hard to be like Protosphere, although I suspect they realize that their true future happens AFTER work-friendly avatars and LDAP integration.

You want safe and friendly and dull, you go somewhere else.

You want transformation, innovation and creative empowerment you come to SLEEK or SL.

The Grid is stronger than the Lab, and like Philip said “we have not yet reached the limits of our desire to create”. So what we’ll end up seeing are alternate distribution channels, new markets, and GSP programs that are run like actual programs – like an XBox developer community or a Unity3D type thing or maybe something like a Microsoft SP program with certification programs and special Intranets and update packages that arrive in a large heat sealed binder.

But I strongly suspect that those programs will be run by someone other than the Lab – and in a way, isn’t that what ThinkBalm is trying to do, to some degree? After picking everyone’s brain for free for a year or so, now you have to pay big bucks to get on the inside – but at least behind the ThinkBalm wall they have white papers and research and stuff, whereas I suspect that behind the GSP program at the Lab you get a special office hour now and then and advance notice of blog posts.

I guess you get what you pay for.

I also suspect we’ll see independent markets. Think XStreet before it was bought out. I mean it’s not that hard really – make some stuff, export it using 3DS Prim Composer (which has full perm controls) and put the files and scripts and whatever up on your own little site with instructions for assembly.

Now, when it comes to content, the Lab could do a few things to quickly change the dynamic of all of this, while not walking away from the logic of protecting content and simplifying transfer to SLE via region downloads:

- Add a button to XStreet listings that says something like “I want this for SLEEK”. Enterprise clients can browse XStreet, find stuff they want, and push that little button when they see something they like. The vendor gets a notice and can answer:yes, I’ll sell this for SLE; no, I can’t, I didn’t create all the sub-components; and here’s my price and license conditions.

- If you MUST stick with the GSP approach, at least set up some kind of GSP page where content creators can directly and transparently sell their wares. GSPs should have a page where they can list stuff they NEED, and content creators should have pages where they can post what they have available.

- Publish explicit rules for how the program will roll-out, the timing, and the long-term plan for wider involvement.

- Set up some kind of region staging system, either bid out through a series of companies or handled on their own. Maybe set up regions on a very low tier, no up-front fee, but only accessible to, say, 10 avatars. If you want to build out a region for SLE, you can rent one of these staging sims knowing that a) the Lab will monitor its use, b) it will not be open to the public and c) it will be limited to your build team. Once you’re done, the Lab backs the whole thing up and gets it ready for the Marketplace, whether you’re a GSP or not.

Missing Insights
But the success of SLE will be its apps.

Now, if this is true – if enterprise is looking for solutions, and integration, and easy-to-use things “out of the box” – then where is the Lab’s support? Where is the research on what systems enterprise uses? Where are their market assessments? A road map? A needs assessment? If they want people to develop apps, where’s the support to facilitate it? Where’s the ideas exchange? The research portfolios? The market insight white papers? Maybe it’s on its way. If not, it’s mind-boggling.

It’s part of the contradiction in their approach: to let the market sort it out, but to simultaneously set up preferred channels which, supposedly, have access to all the data and insight or whatever. The open question is whether that ’special access’ provides a tangible benefit that helps to shape development efforts. But maybe someone else can jump in and let me know – if you’re a GSP or SP or whatever, do you have any MORE of a handle on where SL is headed than you do by, say, reading this blog? And I’m not trying to be arrogant or immodest or whatever the term is – I just mean that most of what we need to know is knowable, and the rest is top secret to the Lab itself.

But we can muddle along, and as I say, the Grid is stronger than the Lab anyways.

The killer apps come not because the Lab has some great idea about what would make the Grid a better place, or SLEEK a powerful tool for business – but because someone comes up with some brilliant idea and codes it, or builds it, or sells it.

And I don’t know what those apps would be. I can only start to vaguely sketch them out. And I’ll leave you with my own little short-list of “SLEEK-ready” applications, just a bunch of random thoughts, and if you’re headed in this direction let me know, or let ALL of us know, because in the marketplace of ideas, there is no GSP.

My Random Starting List of Apps
(By someone who really doesn’t know any better)

- Blog widgets: Wordpress, Typepad, Expression Engine, etc. For enterprise running ‘firewalled’ blogs, plug-ins and in-world kiosks. Install the plug-in on Wordpress, posts appear on kiosks, you can comment in-world and it is pulled out into the Web-side blog. Other widgets could include pulling stats into the 3D space, ability to post directly (kind of like Posterous) – but regardless, needs to be turn-key and ready-to-install.
- Yammer integration.
- Integration with ‘enterprise social media’ systems such as Jive. Probably something around the Jive API for Clearspace, but I don’t know enough about it. Something to do with finding other people in your organization and being able to invite them to an in-world meeting.
- SharePoint integration, built on the basis of MediaAPI availability. Be able to pull documents in from SharePoint repositories, modify, and track edits and versions made while in-world.
- Any kind of LMS integration – Blackboard being one example, SLOODLE being the primary one, “ready-to-install”.
- Data visualization with drag-and-drop connections between in-world data display and corporate real-time info. Load up the application on your internal Web site, create a link between the fields and other systems (e.g. sales data), define parameters for in-world objects, and have a ‘plug-and-play’ data visualization sim.
- Basecamp integration, with data being sent to your avatar or in-world dashboard or tasks being displayed in-world. Hmm. Actually, I have no idea what it would look like exactly, but just imagine a SLEEK or SL add-on appearing on their “extras” page just like a little iPhone app.
- Calendar integration – ANY kind of system to link in-world events to calendar systems would be useful. There’s no reason an in-world location shouldn’t be treated the same as a meeting room. Think of an Exchange plug-in where a meeting room is added to an internal system and the “booking” of that room locks the in-world parcel/meeting space.

Your Ideas…..
As I was writing this, I had a sudden urge to create a Wiki or something. But instead, I set up a page on UserVoice under a Metanomics account we set up, which is something I’ve been wanting to try out for a while now just to see whether it makes any sense or is easy to use or whatever.

I have no idea whether this topic is even worth expanding upon, but maybe pop over to the user voice page and add a few ideas or votes of your own if you feel like it….might not go anywhere but hey, who knows. :)


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