Sunday, December 30, 2007


Since James asked, my personal and professional connections to the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California go back to May of 2005. Randy Farmer, of Lucasfilm's Habitat fame, posted to his blog that the USC Center for Public Diplomacy was creating a new project: Public Diplomacy and Virtual Worlds. This project arose out of research Doug Thomas and Josh Fouts conducted in Star Wars: Galaxies indicating that virtual interactions could generate opinion changes similar to exchange programs. Randy noted that Second Life would be a good platform for this and I agreed, so I emailed Doug and Josh, who were nice enough to respond. We met at the Hotel Fig during E3 '05, and after hours of discussion about Second Life, public diplomacy, working for the US government, hacking, and virtual worlds in general, I had two new friends and they agreed to go take a look at Second Life. In the years since, CPD has been central to some amazing projects in SL.

Along with the Berkman Center at Harvard and the Institute for Information Law and Policy at NYLS, Annenberg has been a regular source of knowledge and debate. So, I was excited when Annenberg asked me to co-teach a class back in August. I was originally planning to only spend one evening a week in LA, but now that I am no longer working at Linden, I may spend a bit more time at USC.

The class I am teaching is part of the Charles Annenberg Weingarten Program on Online Communities, an intensive 1 year Master's Program that pulls together a gifted cohort of students and a great mix of professors. As the class progresses, I will definitely be writing more about it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

grading my 2007 predictions

Since 2004, I have been making predictions and then grading them the following year over on Terra Nova. Here are the past results:

  • 2004: 6 out of 10 correct, for a 0.600 batting average which would have me on the front page of the Mitchell Report.
  • 2005: 5.5 out of 10 correct, for 0.550.
  • 2006: 5 out of 10, 0.500.
Not the best trend line, but overall not too bad. Plus, a lot of them arrived a bit late.
  • In 2004, I predicted that successful MMOs would start being released by small, independent developers. Took a while, but Second Life, Club Penguin, Webkinz, Puzzle Pirates, Sherwood Dungeon, and many others have changed how we think about MMO development.
  • In 2005, I predicted the use of a virtual world as part of a CAD/CAM tool and Caligari added collaboration features only 3 weeks too late. My prediction about reality shows in virtual worlds also came true in 2006.
  • In 2006, it was the idea of a philanthropic/research foundation, which the MacArthur Foundation ran with in 2007. And the winning candidate from the 2008 Presidential campaign will most likely have leverage virtual worlds as part of their strategy.
So, how did I do with my 2007 predictions?

1) Intel and AMD’s battle in the MIPS/watt game will take servers below 30 watts/core

  • 1 for 1. Per core TDP is now below 16 wats/core and about to plummet again.

2) Second Life’s peak concurrency, currently at 25,000, will reach 150,000

  • 1 for 2. Second Life was on track for this for the first 4 months before growth slowed. However, concurrency is still at 60,000, making it the largest single shard world.

3) Graphics cards will be released with small batch rendering and unified texture memory thanks to John Carmack and others

  • 2 for 3. While those specific changes aren't exactly what happened in 2007, thanks to the FPS community, DX10 class cards are worlds ahead of where they were a year ago for rendering highly dynamic scenes.

4) A Second Life development company, such as Electric Sheep or Rivers Run Red, will surpass 100 employees

  • 3 for 4. At least 3 solution providers exceeded 100 employees during 2007.

5) Exchanges within MMORPGs and virtual worlds will still not be taxed until converted into real-world currency
  • 4 for 5. W00t!

6) At least one Presidential candidate will use Second Life to build a community around issues rather than simply holding a single press conference

  • 4.5 for 6. This is a tough one. On the one hand, many candidates have had multiple events and built communities within SL, but I haven't seen a real commitment to building an ongoing issue discussion. On the other hand, NPR's Science Friday and SciIslands have built an ongoing, regular science discussion, use of SL to host global warming discussions is heating up. So, giving myself a half-right.

7) AACS will get pwned and at least one major Hollywood studio will experiment with downloading unencrypted DVDs

  • 5 for 7. Well, AACS got pwned multiple times and some independent studios have non-DRM download services, but no major studios, so half-right.

8) Relay for Life will raise over US$200k in Second Life this year

  • 5 for 8. Relay for Life raised over US$120k, so I'm still thrilled for their success.

9) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will have more US$ sales on its release day than any book, movie or video game in history

  • 6 for 9. HPatDH sold over 11 million copies in the first 24 hours. Even assuming a discounted US$18 average sale price, that passes Halo 3's US$194 million first day.

10) Dmitri will agree that I have won my quarter [EDIT: link added to original bet] by the end of the year

  • 6 for 10. Sadly, the one I really wanted to win. On the plus side, I'll get to teach with Dmitri down at USC in the spring, so that makes up for it somewhat.
So, reversing the trend, and back to 0.600. Stay tuned for far less-SL-centric predictions coming in 2008.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Today was the day.

After 7 years, I no longer work at Linden Lab. It was surreal to get home last week and see myself on the television while carrying a banker's box of stuff from work, but all good things come to an end. Lot's of different writers have already weighed in on my departure and really I don't have anything more to say. Linden has great people working on an amazing product. I wish them all well.

This space is for what is next.

With this initial post, I wanted to take a moment to look at a few pieces of Second Life work that have appeared just as I leave Linden. First, MIT Press has published the MacArthur Series on Digital Media, including the Ecology of Games volume with my chapter, "Education Unleashed." Second, the journal Innovations: Technology, Governance, and Globalization just published my paper "Collapsing Geography," which this blog is named for.

As I ponder my future, I am most interested in continuing to explore how we -- how people -- can play, interact, connect, collaborate, learn, and innovate at a distance. How we can best leverage our myriad talents as a social species that are today so hamstrung by geographic distance.

I can't wait for 2008.