Ben’s Social VR Adventure


There are lots of old and new VR sites with prognostications. This guest blog from a VCpreneur has four “requirements” for social VR, and it sparked some discussion at our office.

It reads to me very much like this investor fellow might be talking with some startup that features his four points, and he just wants to sort out whether the concepts are sticky. I’m imagining a company that uses Facebook for login, uploads your 2D and 3D albums and videos into your 3D space (which is zero-install via WebVR), lets you and your friends like/share from in-world, and folks that click on those shared things in Facebook get brought into your 3D space at the corresponding item. (I pitched such a thing five years ago as “Beyond My Wall”, using the Unity browser plugin instead of WebVR.)

One of the blogger’s “requirements” was that participants use their real-world identity, and this was what interested our gang, both for and against. I think this is a red herring. Although I use my real name online alot, my gut is that an alwful lot of VR is going to be about sex, and folks won’t want to use their real name. But overall, I don’t think it’s killer one way or the other. I’m guessing that he’s trying to turn the limitation of Facebook-login into a feature called real-world identity, and I think it’s a stretch. There’s clearly a lot of things that went into making Facebook win over MySpace, and I’m not persuaded that that real-world identity is the magic ingredient. Indeed, both Twitter and his other example, Youtube, are both counterexamples. I think real-world identity can be a part of many potentially successful killer apps, but I don’t see it being required for all such killer apps. (I think verified identity, whether real-world or not, will be a great service for High Fidelity to offer, but it won’t be required for everything.)

I do think he’s on the right track, though, with his feature set including pre-established friend links and content-sharing. But I’m not sure the guy has really understood why those two things matter or what they are part of. They feed the virality of a lot of social media winners, but the magic is in the viral math, not specifically in the features. For example, “pre-established friends” is helpful, but not necessary for Twitter, Youtube, or EBay. I think that each one of a Facebook liked-story, Twitter hashtag, Ebay auction, and Youtube video/discussion page forms a micro-community of interest with a specific “address” that can iself be shared out-of-band. Each user can and does “belong” to many such micro-communities. I believe that’s the real driver for virtuous-circle virality. High Fidelity is going to be great for this, because anyone can easily create any number of separate, persistent, domains of interest, and each one can have the computation shared by the people who are interested in it. (Our upcoming Beta makes it easy to organize one domain per user’s computer, which I think is a good initial model.) Nothing else I’ve seen (not even Beyond My Wall) can scale like that. This is so very different from social VR startups that offer even a large number of hosted chat rooms.

Of course, none of this is to say what is interesting about any of these domains. That is a separate – and more important – question that remains. The blog (and this response) are about what qualities are necessary, given something interesting, for it to catch on.

Separately, the comment from DiGiCT was interesting, that the huge numbers of Chinese HMD sold are just a series of upgrades to very bad/cheap/unsatisfying units. I wonder if that’s true.

Olivia’s Balls

Olivia, the Worlds Cutest DogHow often have I felt that I had to create Z, but before doing that I had to build Y. And of course before doing either, I really needed to find out how X affected either. This evil has many forms: feature creep, analysis paralysis, and so forth. I know it’s crap when other people do this, but every single time it comes up for me, I’m absolutely certain that this time it really is Important And Necessary to do all this other stuff first before the task at hand.

I’m as dumb as my dog.

That is, I’m every bit as steadfastly earnest in my insistence that it really does all have to be done, and I’m just as wrong.

Olivia is, by all accounts the world’s coolest and cutest English Cocker Spaniel. I’m confident about this because the title used to be held by our previous English Cocker Spaniel, Oliver.

It was hot this week. My daughter selected a few dozen of the balls that Olivia had carefully secreted under and within the couches, chairs, and china cabinet. My daughter then threw them into the pool, all at once. Olivia jumped in and got the first ball. She nestled it in her ample lips, looked with her Cocker’s eyes at the edge of the pool, and then swam with the first ball earnestly to the second. On reaching the second, she carefully spit out the first — leaving it where she could find it, right there in the pool — and took the second one in her mouth. A sound plan. She swam with the second to the third, and with consideration offered the second ball to that spot in the water before depriving that space of the third ball. Then she went to the fourth ball…

I think Olivia has shown me the single most common and important danger in all creative enterprises.

API Copyrightability in Oracle America [sic] v Google

Judge Alsup announced his findings on copyright as an order in the Oracle vs Google case. I’m surprised that I haven’s seen any discussion in my usual social channels. I can’t imagine why not.

The narrow conclusion is that the Java API is not protectable by copyright.

I found the judge’s order to be extraordinarily clear and free of legal jargon. I felt that he very much intended it to be read and understood by people in my field. You can read it yourself at Grocklaw

The principle seems to be that useful activity comes under the domain of patent law rather than copyright law.

  • Copyright asserts a monopoly for 95 years without any decision or action or finding by the government, but only applies to non-essential creative activity, and only to a single fixed expression of that creativity. It never covers the ideas behind that expression, methods of operation, or names.
  • Patent grants a monopoly for only 20 years, and only after an examination by a government agent, but it can cover useful methods of operation, beyond the specific embodiment being commercially protected.

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What Were They Thinking?

I guess I don’t have to worry about giving away any secrets regarding the strange behavior of HP in the last few months, because developers like me haven’t been told anything that isn’t available publicly. Maybe I’m a little more compulsive than most in collecting that info, so I thought it might be interesting to assemble the story so far as I understand it. Continue reading

One Word

I’ve changed one term in my “Weapons of Math Destruction” post : “value” has been altered to read “interest” throughout the post.

The original public expressions of Metcalfe’s Law expressed the theoretical potential value of a communications network as being proportional to the number of pairwise connections — growing quadratically with the number of users). Similarly for community networks being valued by the number of subgroups under Reed’s Law — growing exponentially with the number of users.

I originally used the same terminology, but I’ve found the term “interest” to be less confusing. It’s hard to reason about what “theoretical potential value” means, but I think the best way to think about is that it is simply how “interesting” a network can be.

In fact, if you look at the capital valuation of a community company such as Facebook, you see that it has grown exponentially — in time, not in users. Also, the number of users has grown exponentially in time. Why?

  1. To have exponential growth in users, the number of users added each month must increase exponentially. The number of users each month is a direct expression of interest, which as Reed says, is in proportion to 2 to the number of users (in the previous month).
  2. I’m not quite sure how to look at market valuation.
    1. If market valuation is simply an irrational expression of exuberance, than we should see it increase each month according to interest, just like the number of users grows. That fits the data.
    2. However, investors may be assigning a rational valuation based on the expected potential revenue. That also fits the data, using a sober flat rate per user (of about $100).

This revision of “value” => “interest” lets us reason separately about user growth and monetization. For example, the current fashion for monetizing social media is based on either subscriptions, virtual goods, or advertising. Each of these are based on an amount per user, not per subgroup. Thus monetized value for these will grow exponentially in time just as the number of users grow exponentially in time, but not double-exponentially.

летающий фаллос and the New Wild West

In December, 2006, flying phalli disrupted a Second Life press conference at a CNET event reflectively dedicated to making money in SL.

Two months later, US Presidential candidate John Edwards had his SL headquarters vandalized in a roughly similar way.

It took just over a year for the world to take the next step, when Russian chess champion cum opposition politician Garry Kasporov had a real world open meeting disrupted by a remote controlled dildo helicopter.

I find it interesting that it didn’t happen here in the US. Of course, five years earlier, cybersage William Gibson had published Pattern Recognition(1), in which Russia is depicted as a tech-hip wild west.

I don’t think the New Wild West is Russia or grassroots politics or astro-turf. It’s cyberspace. For better or worse, what happens there isn’t staying there. And, anyway, how real was the Buffalo West?

1. The netspeak prose didn’t really work for me, and I didn’t think Gibson’s rendering of a female protagonist felt authentic. But it’s easy to forgive these because they don’t really interfere with the spot-on, absolutely compelling ideas. Terrific, thought-provoking read.

The Treachery of Names

Would any other smell as sweet?

We changed the name of the company today. The geeks formerly known as Qwaq are now Teleplace.

I like it. Qwaq was a kind of goofy Google/Twitter/Yahoo sort of thing into which you could project whatever you wanted. At first it was (theoretically) just as plausible that something would be made for kids as for companies. But the Qwaq named didn’t really play well. It was too empty a vessel — not suggestive of anything we did. Even our friends spelled it wrong. I often told people it was the corner letters of their keyboard, but they tended to just tilt their head at me like a confused dog. We have a great set of photos in the office of David, Andreas, and the gang discussing potential names with Alan Kay. “Oink? No. Too obvious.” Anyway, now we’re respectable, and the name suggests something about what we do.

Oh, and the new client is out, too.

And the new server.

Off to sleep.

Google My House

A little experiment. I’m trying — again — to sell my house(1). In looking to buy or rent a house now, I always google the address to see what I can find. So now my wife is blogging about her experiences in having it professionally staged, which gives us a chance to talk about all the neat features that are hard to bring out in a walk-through. Hopefully, someone interested in the house will search for more info, and they’ll find the info we provide.

1. The folks who were going to buy it and were renting it out until then never got theirs sold.


How do we improve the breed of collaborative programming tools? Should we have spectator programming competitions on the Internet? (The people who like those things only watch for the crashes!)

I don’t think there’s a good commercial driver for improving programmer productivity(*), but spectator sports and particularly racing has been a good driver in other fields.

  • I think there’s a lot of relevance for the game-theory outcomes of nice-sized sprint programming problems such as whether, say, Tit-for-tat or Pavlov is a better algorithm for Free-Rider scenarios, or whether that changes for a mix of Free-Rider and Volunteer’s-Dilemma.
  • I think most programmers and programming managers still have never really seen very dynamic languages and live debugging environments, and such competition would be a great way to show them off.
  • I think it would put nice stress on the collaborative environment. How many people can watch? Can they see everything such as keystrokes and mouse movement? Is that important? Can they easily see who is doing what? Can they see multiple players’ activity at once? Multiple teams? Can they record and have instant replay?

What would it take to pull this off?

(*) Me on IT management, Tech failures, and the General Theory.

We lost our house yesterday.

It never was our house. We’re renting it, because the people who are supposedly buying our house haven’t sold theirs, and so are renting ours. So we had rented this house with the intention of buying it when we could. It was terrific.

But the owner has just decided that she’s going to move back into it, and we will have to leave. I can see why she loves it – we do. But I’m certain that she’s never really going to move back in, and in the mean time, we’re screwed.

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