Monday, August 28, 2006

Les Nouveaux CyberCelebs

The world is changing. It has always been the case in TechLand but never before has there been so much mobility and opportunity for impact and name-making.

New CyberCelebs emerge every day largely by dint of being there first, by being early users of a new medium or area or product and as things are moving so fast, finding themselves de facto experts whose opinions are sought. CyberCelebs are most often not formally educated in the underlying aspects of their substrates (e.g.; psychology, art, composition, game design, economics, politics, etc.) or sometimes even at all.

Some notable CyberCelebs include Julian Dibbell (gaming economies), Jerry Paffendorf (metaverse worlds) and Robert Scoble (blogging).

That the new experts are not those schooled in underlying principles, but early experiencers of the milieus suggests that:

1) there is tremendous opportunity for anyone to have impact in world-shaping and making a name for his/herself

2) formal education can but slip farther behind in preparing anyone for the world of accelerating technological change. Unfortunately something seems to be missing from both sides, traditional education is anachronistic and irrelevant, and TechLand misses by being homogeneous and narrowly focused.

The best way to be a participatory citizen of today is to splice a self-study program of traditional education with learning new areas though direct experience and blogs.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Personalized Virtual World Views

Metaverses (metaversi?) are proliferating, from Project Entropia to ActiveWorlds to Blaxxun's 15 communities to There to Sims Online to Second Life (whose residents have more than quintupled since the beginning of the year, especially since credit card identify (and age) verification is no longer required as of June 30).

However, these early metaverse worlds carry in too many incongruous metaphors from the physical world. One is not making use of VR to change the concept and physical layout of space. It should be possible for users to personalize by choosing a profile for the sims (properties/mini-sites) that will display in their virtual world views, at minimum with ad-blocking. The Berners-Lee Internet, in 2d or 3d, is about pull not push; users should have the right to populate their own attention flow streams.

With teleportation being the navigation method of choice, there is no requirement (or detriment to virtual real estate markets and traffic) that sims/locations be contiguous or in any static formation. People visit locations they prefer in virtual worlds anyway, personalized views is merely a facilitation tool that could also lead to greater creativity in developing and using the metaverse world medium.

In addition, personalized virtual world views could help with the zoning, local government, and enforcement growing pains that were expressed at last weekend's second annual Second Life Community Convention.

Imagine logging in to a virtual world and finding sims in your interest profile grouped all around you (possibly above and below as well), showing in different light tints or colors per parameters; a new and growing VR smorgasbord with each visit. View preferences could be changed at any time and could be set to "all" or "random" or even the meta metaverse channel.

As with cell phones, multiple environment profiles (with customized avatars) could be stored for easy access to professional collaboration, education, information gathering, hobby #1, hobby #2, sexchat, etc. Multiple full or partial avatars with simultaneous existence can hopefully be realized soon.

Thinking ahead to business and military applications, flexible user profiles would also allow different hierarchical (meta) tiers and permissioned views of virtual sites/information. There are many ways the property of spatial flexibility can be used to improve and extend the use and value of metaverse worlds.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Making money in video games - ethical?

Is it ethical to make money in online video games? That is by spending video game time earning gold pieces or other game valuables and currency through patient monster slaughtering and skill/trade acquisition (skinning slain beasts for pelts). The gold can later be converted to physical world currencies at game trading sites like MarkeeDragon or eBay or by trading with other players.

Anachronistic economic imperative persists
Despite general resource abundance and continually increasing efficiency of matter usage, there is a diminished but still present economic imperative in the physical world; it is necessary to earn or have some degree of money to provide for survival needs. Given the economic imperative, the rational being will find the most expedient means of meeting this requirement and would certainly consider video game income generation as an option. If one can make the same or more money in less time in a video game, why not do it! And many are, from MMORPG gamers to Second Life metaverse merchants.

Is video game playing a potential career?
Some might dismiss video gaming for income as a dull routine of repetitive tasks, hmm...which sounds exactly like...most physical world jobs. Gaming has many benefits including allowing one to set one's own hours, providing a clear means of status and progression up the hierarchy and the ability to choose the degree of partnership with others. Again, why not cover expense demands via gaming and pursue other projects and interests with the rest of the time saved by not having a regular job.

By parallel, stock market traders have been denounced as parasitical for not making real and tangible products but living derivatively from the efforts of others. In reality, investors provide liquidity and take risk, without which financial markets would not exist. Video game income earners are the same; they could also be accused of being parasitical but in reality are providing the liquidity which makes virtual markets work and in addition are facilitating the transition and advancement of humans and intelligence to the machine substrate.

A large class of humans is growing that is comfortable with a variety of physical world and virtual world activities for a wide variety of purposes ranging from social to creative to income generating. Video gaming skills and knowledge often translate back to physical world activities too, who doesn't list their WoW Lvl 60 Mage 200 person raid-leading skills on their resume?

There is the usual tired argument that what if everyone wanted to make money in video games, who would make the "real" physical world stuff? Well, not everyone has become financial traders, so presumably not everyone would seek to earn their only income in video games, also with the likely increases in robotics and molecular manufacturing revolutions in materials, the world of stuff will continue to occupy fewer and fewer people.

Future of Transactions: Virtual Affinity Groups
There are already many virtual markets, including financial, prediction, eBay, P2P lending, MMORPG and metaverse worlds to name a few, and the type and nature of virtual markets will continue to grow. The Internet is awash with social liquidity that will likely be directed into Virtual Affinity Groups that self-assemble for the purpose of economic, political, etc. transactions.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Five years to Chinese economic domination

Applying the CIA Factbook's 2005 growth rates to GDP numbers and extending for several years suggests that China's GDP will have surpassed that of the US by 2011 (in less than five years) when both countries will have GDPs of about $15 trillion. Of course it is expected that China's torrid 9.9% growth rate will slow, and China may be more prone to reporting errors but the trend to economic dominance role reversal is clear.

In 2005, the US had a GDP of $12.4 trillion and a growth rate of 3.5% and China had a GDP of $8.9 trillion and a growth rate of 9.9%. Developing world peer India starts with a lower base ($3.6 trillion in 2005) and has a healthy 7.6% growth rate, but is not forecast to catch up to the US and China in the next decade, if linear growth persists.

Interestingly, the arena for China's growth is not limited to the traditional, physical world of GDP; the more important Chinese economic dominance may be in digital worlds. Merely the opening act features China as already a huge participant in the digital economies of metaverse worlds like Second Life and Internet gaming by manning and sometimes creating and improving bots to mine gold and other MMORPG video game valuables.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Future of Writing: Blog extensibility

Software and web applications - wikis, blogs, photo-sharing, bookmarking, tagging and open content management platforms like drupal have revolutionized Internet communication. These new applications create an alive and interactive web as they allow commenting, profiles, links, rating and editing. This transformational wave is still accelerating, but it is clear that how we conceptualize and engage in communication and content creation in all contexts of our lives is being reshaped.

This alive and interactive web has two principal benefits: serving as a self-expression mechanism (see "The Real Killer App: Personal Expression") and socialization facilitator and, more importantly, leading to better content. Some comments are like cocktail conversation, language niceties, essentially another human analog to the communal grooming of apes. Some comments extend the conversation which creates more information. Tags, links, comments and trackbacks build an information-plex much greater than the views of one person around the original post and more information (less entropy) is always desirable as astrophysicists attest. Content is better and creates more information because it is alive and interactive.

Blog Books
Now there is a trend to take online content back to traditional print content. Lulu and Blurb are publishing platforms where blogs or any other content can be uploaded (free) and printed as a book (charges vary). Which points up the question, what is the role of books and other traditional print media in this new era of increasingly alive, interactive, connected content? Circulations for newspapers and magazines have plummeted; what is the future of books?

Essence of Blogposts
Blogging is quite a new form of expression. The essence of a blogpost is often drawing attention to one or many ideas, happenings or news items and then commenting on them or deriving additional analysis and ideas from them. Even personal narrative posts are likely to draw in outside ideas, technologies and influences. A blogpost can be much denser and less linear than a page of text from a book.

What is reading a Blog Book like?
Blogs as a distinct form of writing leads to the blog as a book being an interesting concept. Unsurprisingly, reading a book of blogposts is different than reading a regular book. Blogposts are dense, non-linear, discrete entries complete unto themselves. The reader must create the connection between posts in the absence of flow across pages the way a fictional story or non-fictional argument slowly builds and develops. The reader performs the higher cognition of connecting themes and meta-messages from the blogposts.

Blog extensibility tools
A useful tool, an extension of Lulu and Blurb, which I thought both were at first, would be to take the text in a blog and pull it into one cohesive whole. From the body of disparate blogposts over time, themes, progressions in thinking and multi-dimensionality arise which could be further developed via a tool organizing a blog (by tags, categories, keywords, etc.) into the basis for chapters which the author could develop into a more complex analysis and comprehensive work such as a traditional essay or book.

Making books more alive
In addition to tools for aggregating blogs into more comprehensive wholes like books, making books more like blogs would also be useful. After blogging, writing in MS Word, etc. is hopelessly old world - linear, static and non-interactive. Tools are also needed for re-creating the traditional essay or book format in the non-linear, interactive, connected style of less formal web writing. This could be achieved easily by adding functionality to blogging software.

Information is Alive!
Imagine a future where all information is alive, interactive and linked: books, essays, academic papers, blogs, vlogs, photos, videos, music, email, etc. As the world's information is increasingly digitized and available and searchable in a single or linked repository, there will be more tools for knitting different formats of content on the same topics together. BlogSearches and regular searches will probably not be disjoint for much longer and will start to incorporate more media types. It would be great to have a universal information file with user-set parameters that continuously updates and auto-searches, auto-organizes and auto-summarizes all available information (from academic papers, books, press articles, blogs, etc.) on selected topics and could be viewed online, downloaded to an electronic or print book or directly into the brain.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Latest evolutionary meme: MommieBlogger Angst

The concept and act of parenting has changed dramatically in the last generation, thus far mainly in America, with many parents now viewing their roles as entertainers, body guards and support staff. These parents have clearly not read Judith Rich Harris’ defining work The Nurture Assumption which notes that quality of peer group, not parental behavior, is the key determinant of success and happiness for children (and adults).

The interesting question is what impact, if any, this shift in parenting will have on the psychology and reproductive trends of the next generation (assuming the singularity doesn’t arrive first). Will millennial children of boomer Parents 2.0 have more or less biological children themselves? If fewer, it would be another victory for memes over genes as Richard Dawkins in the Selfish Gene, Susan Blackmore in the Meme Machine and Keith Stanovich in Robot’s Rebellion purport.

Culture and cultural memes are highly effective at evolving, morphing nearly immediately in minutes, days and years as compared with biological evolution which, currently unaided, takes at minimum about 10,000 years.

Culture has created another first world disease, MommieBlogger Angst, essentially (per the MommieBloggers) a rebellion against the rigors of child bearing and child rearing (such unforeseen surprises!), but which is really an encouraging response from women striking out about how highly under-actualized they are. MommieBlogger Angst received big dialogue amongst the parenting set at July’s 2006 BlogHer conference in San Jose, California. By the way, where are the DaddyBloggers?

Luckily, there is an easy solution at hand for MommieBlogger Angst for those willing to apply critical thinking to social hypnosis; forego the kiddies and be part of the growing childfree movement. Nothing would impel women’s equality faster than refusing to have children. However, ironically, MommieBlogger Angst is more than just a reflection of the isolation and criticism mothers feel, it is actually (social science PhD topic seekers take note) indicative of a much more important trend, that of women demanding to use their brains, and voice their thoughts at not being fulfilled in the mother-only roles they think they chose for themselves.