Friday, May 22, 2009

Real Virtuality: Preparing for a Long-Term Paradigm Shift (IT perspective)

Update: Quick access (free) to the 3d3c Identity issues: http://www.cutter.com/offers/infosecprivacy.html

A new Cutter IT E-Mail Advisor that I wrote. Posted as is.

20 May 2009

by Yesha Y. Sivan

IT managers need to have a split personality: they must be both conservative and innovative. On the one hand, they have to maintain older systems and keep current processes working smoothly. On the other hand, they have to continually examine new IT technologies that can alter the business. Around 1990, a "game-changing" technology, the Internet, emerged. New businesses that embraced the Internet in innovative ways -- such as eBay, Amazon, and Google -- thrived. However, companies that failed to embrace the Internet early -- such as Tower Records, Barnes & Noble, and Rand McNally -- were less fortunate. Tower closed, Barnes & Noble missed the online business that now belongs to Amazon, and Rand McNally failed to capture the online mapping business.

In the IT field, we have a technology shift of the magnitude of the Internet once every 10-20 years. Such paradigmatic shifts can break older firms, reshape entire industries, and create enormous value and wealth. Missing such a shift, however, can be detrimental to businesses and IT suppliers alike. Consider the shift from mainframe computers to minicomputers (which IBM missed and Digital captured), from minicomputers to PCs (which Digital missed and Compaq captured), and from PCs to the network computer (which Microsoft missed and Google captured).

I maintain that real virtual worlds will, in due course, offer such a paradigm shift. What we see now, with Second Life (SL), World of Warcraft (WoW), Club Penguin, and more than 100 other worlds, is just a beginning. I use the adjective "real" to distance virtual worlds from the gaming worlds. "Real" hints at a much more far-reaching potential. While today virtual worlds are used mostly for games and fun, real virtual worlds have the potential to alter our lives.

I define a real virtual world as an aggregate of the following four factors (for more on these factors, see " Identity 3D3C: Confronting the Security and Privacy Challenges in Virtual Worlds," Cutter IT Journal, Vol. 22, No. 4):

  1. A 3D world
  2. Community
  3. Creation
  4. Commerce

What I have also learned in the last two years in the field is that only hands-on experience by IT leaders inside the enterprise can pave the way to valuable and timely use of virtual worlds. Just reading about virtual worlds will not give you the visceral feel of the new medium. I call this hands-on approach "active research."

Following is my 10-day recipe for a good active research stage for virtual worlds.

1. Setup (1 day).

a. Select an internal service that connects people in the organization. (it will be mostly likely marketing related or something that has to do with collaboration).

b. Plan for at least a six-month period. (Things take time, and you need the time to learn).

c. Appoint an IT project leader; make sure you have a business leader. The IT project leader and the business leader should meet weekly to manage the project.

2. Explore worlds (1 day per world).

Open an account in the following worlds:

a. IMVU. Buy credits; get the adult pass. Join some groups. Buy items. Hire a designer to create a shirt with the logo of your firm. Buy IMVU credit from alternate sources (e.g., www.imvu-credit.com/).

b. WoW. Play a bit (just a bit -- this could be addictive!).

c. Second Life. Go through the training island. Visit NASA, a club (any), and a furniture store (any). Buy land in the main land and position a small house. Furnish it with things you have purchased.

d. Qwaq Forums. This is more for business collaboration. No money here. Less complex than Second Life.

3. Start exploring 3D3C factors (1 day per factor)

a. 3D. Use Google SketchUp to build a sample home; use Blender to build a small 3D logo for the project.

b. Community. Open a user account in Facebook. Organize an event for employees using Facebook. Appoint officers. Understand Facebook infrastructure, as well as Open Social (Google).

c. Creation. Find a 3D tool for Facebook, such as Scene Caster, Mini Life, or Lively and create a 3D space for yourself. Read about how open/joint development works.

d. Commerce. Explore PayPal and eBay; buy and sell something. Explore various payment methods: credit cards, store cards, SMS, and phone.

4. Share experiences and brainstorm for pilot internal projects (1 day)

a. Prepare a brainstorming day. Gather lessons learned and initial ideas. Invite both business people and IT people. Prepare to show concrete demos of what you have done. Encourage people to come up with their own creative suggestions. While I have heard many ideas, I'm still surprised by the creative concepts people generate when presented with virtual world opportunities.

b. Conduct the brainstorming day. Generate several options. Do both a business analysis (what should be done) and a technical analysis (how it could be done).

I welcome your comments on this issue of the Cutter IT E-Mail Advisor and encourage you to send your insights on the market in general to comments@cutter.com.

-- Yesha Y. Sivan

Real Virtuality: Preparing for a Long-Term Paradigm Shift

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