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Is Amazon Destined to Replace Marketplace and Buy SL?

Posted in Op/Ed, Real Life, RL, SecondLife®, SL® Business, Virtual Worlds with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by Valiant Westland

For years I’ve been predicting that the next wave of Virtual World development would be driven by the inevitable competition of e-commerce, marketing and gaming heavyweights like Google, Amazon & Microsoft.  All of these players have a huge vested interest in capturing the annuity income produced by the rapidly expanding world of Virtual Products and services.

SL Now On AmazonSo imagine my “surprise” when I saw the Second Life Community announcement, about Linden Lab offering Start-up and Enhancement Kits on Amazon!   I believe this is a first step towards the eventual disbanding of the Standalone SL Marketplace, in favor of an Amazon-powered alternative.  If I’m right, SL itself could be an acquisition target for Amazon in the not too distant future.

The early failure of Google’s Lively Virtual 3D World and the lackluster performance of Sony’s PlayStation Home Virtual World offering, should not be used to throw out this line of speculation.  These earlier efforts have one thing in common that Amazon and even SL doesn’t, a lack of profitability.

In addition to an Alpha-level user interface, no realistic profit potential is the main reason Google pulled the plug on Lively.  Interestingly enough, Sony, in response to Microsoft’s hugely successful xbox.com webstore, has used this years CES show to announce it is bringing its own SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) store to the US and integrate it with the PlayStation Home experience.

Amazon Web ServicesSo why would Linden Lab give up running its own primary revenue source (Marketplace)?  Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and a potential increase in Net Revenues by outsourcing e-commerce to an organization like Amazon.  Amazon has arguably the most cost-effective and efficient e-commerce platform in the world.  They also have something Linden Lab does not, more than “164 Million paying customers!”  This is a huge potential untapped market for Second Life, that would be almost impossible to reach, without this type of partnership.

Many people, not directly involved with Second Life’s back-end development, might be surprised to learn that since 2006 “Linden Lab has used Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store elements used in the Second Life world and to distribute the Second Life Viewer to end users.”  In fact, Amazon has featured Linden Lab in a Case Study, from which this quote was taken.

Every company reaches a point where one or more things happen.  They either fail, diversify with new products & markets to sustain growth, go public, acquire additional private capital or are acquired.  Linden Lab has thus far failed to expand its market.  Their attempts to diversify their product via their Enterprise product was, as reported by Hypergrid Business, “a costly mistake.”  Their more recent Time to Sell!Patterns and Creatorverse products seem unlikely to generate the type of revenue or market expansion required to have a measurable impact on their overall business.  Going public is an unlikely option and it is doubtful any more private capital would flow into a stagnant business model.  The only remaining choice for the original investors to cash out, sell Second Life!

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has proven he is a fierce competitor who is willing to take risks and sacrifice margin to dominate an industry.  In fact, a Jan 8th, 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek story on Amazon was summarized like this: “As long as consumers are consuming and shareholders are buying what Bezos is selling, Amazon looks fairly unbeatable.”

Hang on to your virtual hats ladies and gentlemen, I think 2013 could shape up to be an interesting year.  My advice.  Buy Amazon (AMZN) stock and look forward to a Virtual e-Commerce SL Marketplace experience powered by Amazon in the near future!

Second Life ‘s “Cloudy” Future

Posted in Op/Ed, Real Life, RL, SecondLife®, SL® Advertising, SL® Business, SL® Education, SL® Fashion, Virtual Worlds with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2013 by Valiant Westland

2012 – The SL Future That Wasn’t

Before we look forward to what I believe is/should be SL’s “Cloudy” future, we might want to glance back at what 2012 brought us.  As we entered 2012, Linden Lab CEO Rodvik Humble told us we could look forward to:

  • A New Path-finding SystemMesh Avatar
  • Server side performance upgrades and bug fixes
  • More Premium benefits/features and content
  • New tools, like those used to develop Linden Realms
  • Stable tier pricing
  • Additional advanced features (Mesh!?)

Two of the most anticipated upgrades of 2012, Mesh and the new Path-finding System, are still not fully deployed.  I and many others have begun upgrading our inventory with Mesh creations, but the lack of a completed Mesh Deformer as part of the release viewer continues to generate wailing and gnashing of teeth for those with other than model-”perfect” forms.

Redgrave, one of Second Life’s most respected and innovative brands has refused to wait and introduced their own “Liquid Mesh (TM)” solution, that automatically adjusts their Liquid Mesh clothing designs to most avatar shapes.  It remains to be seen whether this bold move will result in a net gain in market share or cause confusion and ultimately frustration, when the lab finally releases built-in deformer technology.

Path-finding is another “almost here,” enhancement that can’t seem to make it to prime time.  The promise of enhanced path-finding is vehicles, BOTs and other objects being able to move more smoothly, including over sim boundaries, with less lag.  The reality for most users, who know nothing of these enhancements, is a strange new symbol and accompanying message appearing in their viewer.

Second Life URL Bar with Pending Changes Icon

Navmesh has pending changes The region has pending changes that have not yet been baked into the navmesh.

My primary SL property is a mainland region that is bisected by a Linden Road.  I have yet to see any path-finding benefits.  The same vintage automated 2005 vehicles continue to bounce and bumble up and down the road, in the same herky jerky manner, typically stalling, sinking sideways or even sling-shotting violently over the SIM border crossing near my home.

Why “Clouds” Matter

Disclaimer:  For those who are not aware, I make my RL living as a Consultant, helping companies develop and implement Technology and Online-media Marketing Plans that align with their strategic business goals.  I always urge my clients to be unabashedly “market-driven” and “surf” the technology waves whenever possible, rather than trying to fight them or create their own.  In 2013, I’ll be publishing a book on “Technology Planning In/For The Cloud.”

Cloud PartyWhile Linden Lab was busy trying to roll out in-world enhancements like Mesh, obviously designed to boost its revenues, through upgrade and new item sales revenues, the greater (Real) and virtual worlds continued their headlong flight to cloud-based computing.  In the Virtual World space, two cloud computing-based offerings, Kitely and Cloud Party saw significant user growth.  Many SL developers are eagerly porting content, in the hopes of establishing themselves as brand/solution leaders on these new cloud-based platforms.

Meanwhile the Google Apps cloud-based office productivity suite and Google Drive continue to steal market share from Microsoft’s venerable Office solution offerings, despite Microsoft offering their own cloud-based Office 365 solution.  There has been an explosion of Smart Phone and Tablet use.  In fact, tablets are now out-seLumiya Viewerlling laptops!  Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple of txt-only clients and one limited graphical viewer for Android devices called Lumiya, there is no way to access Second Life or even my.secondlife.com, from a Linden Lab official Smart Phone or Tablet client.

Although Linden Lab dabbled with a browser-based client over a year ago, there is no official timeline for the release of a full-featured cloud-based offering that I’m aware of.  Worse still, the primary user experiences in SL are still tied to antiquated 1960′s-era plain text NoteCards and graphics formats that 99% of the world doesn’t use!

Now Is NOT Time To Listen To Your Mother!
(Translation:  Get Your Head In The Clouds!)

If Second Life is going to survive, I believe they must aggressively move towards cloud-based offerings.  The longer the Lab waits to make their move to the cloud, the more regions, developers and regular users they will see opting for other platforms.

A 2013 Wish List For LL/SL

What follows is my personal 2013 wish list of SL enhancements, that I believe would go a long way towards slowing or even reversing SL’s slow downward spiral into irrelevance and make a majority of SL users happier and more productive! (Listed in no particular order)

  1. Deploy SL in a current-content-compatible cloud-based platform, similar to Kitely’s, with a pay-as-you-go option.
  2. Give us TRUE, persistent, Universal Status Indicator, that appears next to each persons name.  Allow status to be set prior to login!
  3. Consolidate login, account maintenance and inventory among “Alt”ernate accounts.
  4. Bring back user selectable Last Names!
  5. Provide automatic synchronization & watermarking of Pictures/Textures with users choice of Picasa, Flickr, etc.
  6. Replace the antiquated NoteCard system with integrated Google Docs / Drive functionality
  7. Upgrade My my.secondlife.com so that it’s mobile friendly and supports bi-directional web<>in-world messaging!
    Better yet, how about replacing the messaging engine with Google Chat!
  8. Deploy a C# application development/scripting environment and enhanced APIs for bi-directional object/data manipulation

Last but not least…   Please consider creating a true Reseller/Partner Network for the next generation of Second Life.  I continue to believe there are thousands of small businesses, franchises and vertical markets that could benefit from Virtual World solutions.  This market can ONLY be effectively tapped, if resellers have a S.M.A.R.T. annuity revenue incentive, support structure and marketing that originates with Linden Lab!

To all my Virtual Friends, Business Associates and Clients, whether still in SL or not, I wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Response To MetaReality’s – No One’s Driving This Ship PodCast

Posted in Op/Ed with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2012 by Valiant Westland

Proactive Communication, Collaboration and Effective Leadership Are Key!

Let me start by saying I agree 100% with Draxtor’s call for an “Adult” approach to the future of Virtual Worlds and specifically Second Life. It’s a huge challenge though, as these spaces are populated with a vocal group of people who tend towards emotionalism, rather than reason and feel strongly that whatever they “believe” has more weight and validity than any facts that may exist.

I also agree that Second Life has been horribly undersold. This ties into the first topic, as anyone who would otherwise consider doing business in Second Life, is put off by all of the whining, griping and constant predictions of doom & gloom.

Esbee’s and Charlar’s departure will remain a puzzle, without a clear road map by the Lap regarding their future product strategy. People leave companies every day, due to changes in the market and the company’s needs.

Proactive, positive communication is the key to this and most of LL’s other challenges. Whether or not SL is “dying,” LL pulling back from reporting SL Stats sends the wrong message to the user community. If things are bad, let’s hear some inspiring communication about how we can ALL make things better. If things are good, let’s hear more about the wonders and successes in-world and what LL is going to do to facilitate future opportunity and success for everyone!

As pro Second Life & Virtual Worlds as I am, I share the opinion that neither the platform nor the community are ready for a huge influx of people. One of these “not ready for prime time” issues is certainly user names.

Rod Humble’s Decision on Last Names is frankly, puzzling. In my opinion, the BEST thing that could happen would be for LL to assign each verified user with a “permanent” account number and allow people to choose BOTH a First AND Last Names. If people want to share a last name with someone else, let them voluntarily choose the same last name! If someone wants to be called “DufusIAm Stupid,” let them.

Relating to user accounts, what I WANT to see is shared user accounts, where machine ID’s / MAC Addresses are used to uniquely identify users and multiple “Alts” can share inventory. I believe this would be something that would be a tremendous improvement for both uses and vendors. I would like to see this discussed in an upcoming segment of Metareality.

Second Life truly is a beautifully chaotic world. However, as someone who is a Master Citizen Planner, Charrette Planner/Facilitator and two term Elected Official, and has 20+ years of IT planning experience, I have seen first hand the benefits of effective strategic planning, zoning and communication. My experience has taught me that almost every challenge, that is not engaged proactively, with community-driven citizen and stakeholder participation, ends up costing far more money/time than it should have!

Telstra Thumbs Nose @ SL Community

Posted in Real Life, RL, SecondLife®, Virtual Worlds with tags , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by Valiant Westland

BigPond LogoI was sitting in my home office this evening, enjoying the luxury of listening to my favorite Pandora streaming radio station and chatting with friends in SL and on Plurk when the news alert popped up;  “Big Pond pulls plug on Second Life.”  I believe Telstra‘s decision to pull the plug on BigPond has everything to do with bandwidth costs and little or nothing to do with the success of Second Life as a business platform.  This, despite the implication of a PhD student at the Queensland University named Ms. MacKenzie, who despite her prior defense of Second Life stated  “…companies such as BigPond were deserting the platform…”.

Telco MafiaThe “Bandwidth Wars” are definitely starting to heat up.  I’ve predicted access to bandwidth and fresh water will be the next decade’s most important determiners of individual, community and national prosperity.  In the case of bandwidth, tech writer Dana Blankenhorn said:

“Like freeway lanes, like sea and airports, the quality and price of your Internet bandwidth determines how much it costs to do intellectual business with you.”
Dana Blankenhorn – ZDNet

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has done a good job Explaining International Broadband Leadership.  Countries that help make ubiquitous, cost-effective,  high-speed broadband available to the greatest number of their citizens, will enjoy significant competitive economic advantages.  Those that favor the selfish interests of Telecom giants and allow them to throttle Internet access to services they don’t control, like Second Life, are doomed to fall further behind in an increasingly wired and “always-on” world economy.

Cracked Desert PondSo, the “Pond” is being drained for about 2,000 regular Australian users of Second Life.  My guess is that as many of these users as can find an alternative unlimited bandwidth option, will dump Telstra in return.  For those who are disabled, running home-based businesses or pursing educational endeavors in SL and don’t have other ISP options, it’s a black day indeed.

I encourage those interested in “Saving The Internet” and “Net Neutrality” to check out the following links for more information:

Suggested Links

The Social Media Integrity Challenge

Posted in Op/Ed on September 20, 2009 by Valiant Westland

Many of us create and reply to posts on a variety of Social Media networks and blogs, including Facebook, Twitter, etc. every day. Many of these posts contain content and links to content that express opinions designed to sway reader’s toward a particular position.

I read one such post today, on the subject of Net Neutrality. This is a subject I myself, with more than 25+ years of Internet experience; do NOT consider myself an expert in. I couldn’t help but wonder; how many posts like this are authored or shared by people who have little or no subject matter expertise in their content? How many posts contain content that has undergone little or no or critical analysis or fact checking by the poster?

The seemingly endless flow of non-expert, un-fact-checked 3rd-party content, begs yet another question. What is the source of the “trust,” imparted to various sources, be they people or an institution, which emboldens people to repost this content as fact?

Journalism’s “Code of Ethics”

Are there ethical issues or matters of “journalistic integrity” to be considered by average bloggers and posters, before submitting a post? To try and find answers to these questions, I turned to the very web that spawned them.

Even in the arena of “Professional Journalism,” there is no universal oath of integrity or ethical standard. A recent post by Beth Harte revealed that:

The Society of Professional Journalists “requires” its members to:

• Seek Truth and Report It
• Minimize Harm
• Act Independently
• Be Accountable

And the American Society of Newspaper Editors (founded in 1922) Canons of Journalism holds that journalists should display:

• Sincerity, Truthfulness, Accuracy (good faith with reader)
• Impartiality (news reports free from opinion or bias)
• Fair Play, Decency (recognition of private rights, prompt correction of errors)

Despite being encouraged by their peers and trade associations, many “professional journalists” have a tough time abiding by these “codes of ethics.” The “mainstream media” and professional blogosphere is filled with stories that contain questionable facts, disingenuous “truths,” and even outright lies. Bloggers and Social Network posters who spread these falsehoods, regardless of their motivation, not only join in perjuring the truth, but are often lying to the people closest to them, their coworkers, friends and families.

Blogging With Integrity

In July of 2009 a new organization called “Blog With Integrity” was created. The goal of the organization is simple; encourage bloggers to blog with the highest levels of integrity by:

• Providing clear disclosure of their interests so readers can evaluate their words.
• Treating others with respect.
• Taking responsibility for their words and actions.

I have signed the Blog With Integrity pledge and would like to see all of the bloggers I follow do so as well.

The Social Media Integrity Challenge

In the same spirit of integrity, I propose the following ethical standards for those who post content from blogs and the web:

I will:

• Post only from blogs with a published integrity policy
• Never post content designed solely to inflame or incite
• Never represent unsubstantiated theories as fact
• Think critically, write clearly and post with integrity

“I am for integrity, if only because life is very short and truth is hard to come by.” Author Unknown

Second Life’s Voice To Be Heard On Facebook

Posted in SecondLife®, Virtual Worlds with tags , , on September 15, 2009 by Valiant Westland

vivox_logoThe announcement that Vivox, the current voice services provider of Second Life, will be supported on Facebook is interesting.  Although, I don’t think it’s going to be a game changer (pun intended).  Those of us who’ve been using Second Life for the past year and a half are very familiar with the Vivox application.  It’s a great way to communicate with people in-world… when it’s working.
skype-300x300
Many Second Life users use Skype for conference calls or even person-to-person communication, because the Skype platform, at least up to this point, has simply been more reliable.  Skype also offers the benefits of file transfer and video conferencing, two features NOT provided by either Second Life or Vivox.

It will be interesting to see what any potential interest by 3rd party game developers will yield.  I already mute 98% of the “games” on Facebook.  Frankly, if I’m going to play a game, it’s not going to be some lame 2D SPAM-generating Facebook application.  Adding voice to Facebook games will probably boost my block rate to 99.9%.

Although the potential of voice interoperability between social media platforms, like Facebook and Second Life, may hold some allure, we should be wary of a single monolithic solution, owned by a single provider.  History has taught us that the communication needs of consumers are best served by open APIs, standards and competition.

Habbo’s Twilight Pale vs SL’s Rich Bloodlines

Posted in Review, SecondLife® with tags , , , , , on September 5, 2009 by Valiant Westland
The Cast of Twilight

The Cast of Twilight

The Internet has been buzzing this past week with the announcement that the hit TV turned feature film saga Twilight is coming to the 3D world of Habbo.  Summit Entertainment is pulling out all the stops to promote their Twilight Franchise not only on Habbo, but on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and even the iTunes store.

A Burning Hunger

A Burning Hunger

Vampire stories are supposed to be textured in rich dark velvety tones and at least a minimal nod to the gothic antiquity of their “bloodlines.”   Recreating this feeling in the Lego-people environment of Habbo is a FAIL.

The Avatars of Habbo are about as visually interesting and “dark” as a Precious Moments figurine. Even young children know the difference between this “Lego-Land” and the high quality digital characters (Avatars) of their favorite video games.

Habbo Vampires

Habbo Vampires

By the time they are old enough to appreciate the Twilight story, their aesthetic tastes are 15 years beyond the primitive early 80′s video game like interface of Habbo.

If you’re over 18 and want to hang out with some “real” vampires avatars, you need to check out Second Life .   Here you will find a diverse and beautifully rendered collection of vampire communities to wet your darker appetites.

Crimson Shadow by Winter Jefferson

Crimson Shadow by Winter Jefferson

Be a vampire, vampire hunter or familiar, choose your appearance, clothing and even wings.  Entertain, dance, socialize, “hunt” and even fly with others of your bloodline. You can even make your avatar look like your favorite Twilight character or buy/build recreations of where they live!

The extremely popular Bloodlines Vampire and Lycan Role Playing System in Second Life has thousands of dedicated players and includes a full line of products, designed to help you build and Role Play in a Vampire or Lycan world of your own creation.

If you are new to the SL world of Vampires, you may want to check out some of the following links to get your started.

* You must be logged in to Flickr to view this photo group.
** You must either have Second Life installed or install it to visit these locations.

The bottom line: www.secondlife.com is the place for “real” Vampire / Twilight fun. By comparison, Habbo “sucks!”

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