Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight I'd like to take you on a strange journey... but first I need to dial into my ISP...
(fiddles with computer)
While the computer is dialing in I'd like to get to know the audience better. So...
(Walks into audience)
How many people here have actually seen the palace? (About a third)
How many people have used some other chatting system, such as IRC or AOL? (About half)
How many people have hand-coded HTML? (About a third)
How many people have played the game of Doom? (About a third)
Of Myst? (About half)
How many people have visible tattoos? (None)
Wow, no one in San Diego has visible tattoos. Imagine that... Does anyone want a tattoo? (There was one taker - Jbum applied a rubber stamp of a "smiley" to his arm).
* * *
Okay, I see the computer has successfully dialed in. First of all, I'd like to thank Ron James for having the COURAGE to invite a genuine geek to deliver tonight's keynote speech.
I'm not often asked to deliver keynote speeches, for reasons which you'll soon discover, in fact tonight is the first keynote speech I've ever delivered, so I thought it would be helpful to go to the public library and get a book on public speaking. I found this really useful book called "Seven Steps to Public Speaking Success" by one Dr. F. E. Tunalu of the International Society of Public Speakers.
And here are his seven steps.
So, if you don't mind I'm just going to go through this list and check off each of the seven steps. And I guess the theory is that if I complete each step, at the end, you will all stand on the tables and give me a rousing ovation...
Okay, so the first step was "get to know the audience". Mission accomplished. (checks first box).
The second step is "start with a joke". Actually I had a whole series of Hale Bopp jokes prepared but perhaps this isn't the right crowd, so let's just move on.... (check's second box)
The third step is "Surprise your Audience" which I think means you're supposed to start with something completely from left field and then magically tie it in to the theme of your presentation. So let's do that...
* * *
My theme tonight is "Imaginary Landscapes". I take this title from a piece of music by the American avant-garde composer John Cage.
[ Note: most of these slides have a hidden "next" button in the top left hand corner. I didn't want to clutter the screen with widgets... This slide also has a hidden sound clip button centered just below the text. ]
Now, John Cage really has nothing to do with why we're here - The Internet, Virtual Worlds, Road Runner Cable Modems and all that, but I thought it would be interesting to at least provide a little background on the man.
Cage is one of my personal heroes. I've never found his music particularly nice to LISTEN to, but his IDEAS are remarkable. In the early 80's as a music student at California Institute of the Arts, it was Cage's inspiration that led me ultimately to the use of the computer as a tool for musical composition. And later as my principal tool of creative expression.
You see, Cage had a very general (and at the time controversial) definition of what music is - of what it is to be musical:
To Cage, all noises - the sound of a truck at 50 m.p.h, static between radio stations, the nocturnal dronings of your house, rain - all were music - if listened to in the right context - with an ear for harmony, melody, rhythm and timbre, and an appreciation for that most important musical element: silence. In fact, Cage wrote a piece called 4'33" which consisted of nothing but silence. The musician comes out, sits down, and plays the piece which consists of a three rests (or silences) which total 4'33". Needless to say, the audiences of 1952 were not amused and provided a great deal of "music" of their own in response.
I am now going to play you a piece I wrote called called 30'22". (fake turn up volume). Just kidding.
In 1939, as Europe went to war, John Cage wrote a piece of music he called "Imaginary Landscape". It was the first of several such pieces, and is now called Imaginary Landscape #1.
Here's a little bit of it ... (plays sound clip and talks over it after a few seconds) It was written for four musicians, one played chinese cymbal, one played the strings of a piano by sweeping across them with a gong beater. And the two others - the sounds you are hearing here, are using record players - playing old Victor recordings of electronic test signals and modifying the volume and pitch with knobs and a clutch, as notated in the score.
(1937 Cage Quote) [ Also a hidden sound clip button on this slide ]
Here's a little more from later in the piece.
This use of a record player as an instrument certainly predates rap. It might also be regarded as one of the first uses of electronic sampling. In 1937 Cage wrote the words shown here:
"I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments."
So I guess you could say that in 1937, John Cage was, as he still is, ahead of his time.
(The music fades during this paragraph) I find this piece interesting, if nothing else, for it's title. Because today I am in the business of creating IMAGINARY LANDSCAPES. Not just creating electrical music - but electrical worlds or to use more modern coinage - virtual worlds.
So this title no longer has the strange aura of mystery for me that it once did, when I associated it with this very strange kind of music. Imaginary Landscapes are my bread and butter!
(The Palace House) [ the house on this slide links to the main palace site ]
A couple years ago I created a tool to allow others to more easily create interesting virtual worlds. It was called the Palace. The palace is often thought to be a chat service - a single virtual world, but it isn't - it's a tool for making them.
Today I'm going to begin by taking you on a tour of a few different virtual worlds that were created with the aid of Palace software.
* * *
(Here followed a fast 10 minute improvised demo of the following servers. "Main", "Firebird's Forest" and "Starwars". The basic features were shown - avatars, avatar customization, basic cartoon balloons). Differences between Main and Firebird's forest were noted (Firebird's being a smaller and more intimate and sane community) and the cool scripting at StarWars was shown). * * * OK - you all get the basic concept.
Okay. So you've been surprised. Next I'm supposed to say something meaningful, so here goes.
* * *
All of you here tonight, have a real opportunity! With the incredible bandwidth breakthrough represented by the road runner modem you will be able to deliver fantastic content over the net! Certainly an awesome capability.
Yet I come here tonight with a gentle reminder. I encourage you to remember why the web is as successful as it is, the fuel that powers it: PEOPLE. Here is the mantra I often repeat to myself.
(community slide 1)
COMMUNITY = CONTENT
This isn't actually precisely true. But it's easy to remember and both words begin with 'C'. Stated more precisely, we have:
(community slide 2)
"What we've been calling content (published material) is the CONTEXT via which people COMMUNE".
...Or as my wife tells me "IT'S THE PEOPLE STUPID"
...Or as Pavel Curtis, the creator of Lambda Moo said "PEOPLE ARE THE NEXT KILLER APP"
...Or another great Pavel Curtis quote, shown here, "CONTENT ISN'T THE GOAL IT'S THE EXCUSE"
There's a reason why we don't go to the movies alone!
There's a reason why empty shopping malls feel very strange!
There's a reason why the experience of shopping in an Internet Shopping Mall completely devoid of people is like a Neutron Bomb has gone off!
Let's examine two related activities that people perform on the web:
(browsing vs communing)
BROWSING vs. COMMUNING
These are two activities that really go back to Neolithic societies. Two fundamental activities of human culture.
Here's the dictionary definition of browsing from Webster's.
You see it comes from an old word meaning leaves and shoots which animals feed on. Hmmm I guess this word goes back further than prehistoric societies - it goes back to cows! Also note the use of the word "casual".
Browsing is a stereotypically male activity. Give a guy an object with a push-button on it, be it a TV remote or a mouse, and you have an instant browser.
But we've all done it. How many times have you visited a new website -- It had beautiful compelling expensive content. You spent maybe five minutes at the site and left. NEVER TO RETURN. This is what I mean by "casual".
Now let's look at the word "COMMUNE".
From an Old French word meaning "to share" - to talk together INTIMATELY.
What did prehistoric cavemen do? First they browsed. They hunted and gathered. Out on the plain. Then, at the end of the day, they returned home, gathered around the hearth with friends and family AND THEY COMMUNED. Do you remember when radio and television served as a communal hearth? But no longer - we have turned into a nation of browsers.
But BOTH activities are important to our culture! Browsing without communing is ultimately a soul destroying experience!
* * *
Okay, I've said something meaningful. But there's still a few steps to go. Next comes the part when I'm supposed to give you a free widget. Tattoos anyone? Unfortunately, my company didn't have the budget to give me free widgets for everybody - but I did bring you an important useful mental tool. Here it is:
* * *
Yes I know - left field. But bear with me - it all comes together nicely...
I have found Biology to be a very useful tool for thinking about Online Communities. For thinking about the dynamics of online communities. How they form. How people migrate from one to another. How they prosper and how they die. Consider the following notions:
"BIO-DIVERSITY" "BIO-GEOGRAPHY" "BIO-HABITATS"
All useful notions from the world of Biology. I like to take these ideas and use them as metaphors. Creating these new terms.
"INFO-DIVERSITY" "INFO-GEOGRAPHY" "INFO-HABITATS"
Consider Diversity. Bio-Diversity is used by biologists as a measure of general health in an eco-system.
A lot of people talk about rating websites. Perhaps someone wants to rate your site? Perhaps they want to rate it for LANGUAGE. For SEXUAL CONTENT. For VIOLENCE. Well I'd like to see a rating for INFO-DIVERSITY.
This would be a simple qualitative rating. A chatroom in which the occupants talk about nothing but sex would rate a "1". A website which sells books dealing in various subjects might rate a "5". The world wide web itself would rate a "9" or "10".
It is my contention that Info-Diversity can be used to measure the general health of an online community. The more different KINDS of information there are - the more organic the site is, the healthier it is.
Now, what do I mean by Info-Geography? Well, in biology, as it turns out, there is a direct relationship between Bio-Diversity and Real Estate!
Take the island of Cuba. It's 10 times the size of the island of Jamaica but it only has twice the number of unique species of frogs and snakes.
And this basic diversity/real estate relationship seems to hold across many different species, and different land masses. In fact in the early 1960s, the famous biologist Edward O. Wilson did a study of hundreds of islands in the Florida Keys.
These were Islands, some 4-5 feet across, formed by Red Mangrove trees. Wilson counted the numbers of individual species on each Island and found that the diversity/size relationship holds.
So what does that mean for us? Perhaps there is a relationship between INFO-diversity and real estate. But how do you measure the "size" of a virtual world, which by definition, is VIRTUAL - i.e. it has no size?
Well - we can count the number of individuals the server is capable of supporting - that's one way. We can count the kinds of subjects, topics they're talking about. We can count the different kinds of media they are using to communicate with each other. Are they using text? Are they using voice? Are they using e-mail? Newsgroups? Video? Multimedia?
Clearly, the more media available to them, the more "INFO-Geography" available, and the more Diversity as a result. AOL, for example, is relatively rich in it's communications channels, and lo and behold, they have a fairly large and diverse community.
I don't think server capacity alone cuts it. I believe all virtual communities have an INHERENT MAXIMUM SIZE they are capable of supporting, and when they go beyond that size, problems begin to occur.
* * *
Finally, INFO-HABITATS. I like to think about how virtual habitats are formed. How do you start a virtual community? How do you keep it going? I offer you the following list:
There are "Bumgardner's 4 Methods of building an Ant Hill"
Method #1 - Dig a hole in the ground and pour sugar in it. Method #2 - Waylay the ants - find some ants, and dig a hole NEAR THEM. Method #3 - (this one is straight out of I Claudius) Poison the other nests Method #4 - Kidnap the Queens
Let's look at each of these methods in some detail...
The first method "pour sugar in a hole" is perhaps the most commonly used method, and probably the least likely to be successful. In this case the sugar is Content. The idea is that the sweeter the content, the more will be attracted and the more likely they are to stay. Sugar is expensive stuff, so this method can cost you.
It is also problematic because of another rule I've discovered, which is that ANTS are more attracted to OTHER ANTS than sugar. In a virtual community, the most important content is not provided by the provider of the world - it is provided by the participants. It IS the participants. In fact, the ants who DO visit your hole may simply steal some sugar and then take it back to the other ants.
The second method can be difficult to accomplish, but usually results in large collections of ants. The idea is that you find a trail of ants - and an area on the trail where the ants are forced to pass - a bottleneck. And you dig a hole in that bottleneck, forcing the ants to spend some time in your community. The Palace does this when we point the browser to the Palace. Netscape does this when they point the browser to Netscape. Yahoo and ICHAT have created such a site. Microsoft did this when they pointed a large collection of PCs to MSN.
Now - I can go into Grand Central Station, and I can dig a six foot trench across the grand concourse. I can fill this trench with Jelly Donuts. Tomorrow at morning Rush Hour, you visit Grand Central Station and what do you see? You see a large trench filled with commuters, wallowing in Jelly Donuts. And of course, you have to ask the question:
Is it a community?
And sadly... the answer is YES.
Because if you look up the definition of "community" - it's pretty general. Just a bunch of people who have something in common. And these people all certainly have something in common - they're trying to get the hell out of that pit! (And some of them are probably eating the Jelly Donuts).
"Poison the Nests" - I don't think anyone is poisoning the other nests (well, except maybe THIS guy), but except for that guy, nobody is out poisoning the other nests.
Nonetheless, the nests are being poisoned.
How do I know this? Well, when we first formed the palace, a number of the individuals who first came, who formed the beginnings of our core community told us so. They said things like....
Oh, X-Chat used to be so nice... It was small, and everybody was friendly. And then it got so BIG and IMPERSONAL. And it got so POLITICAL... Ugh...
So X-Chat was poisoning itself! Why? Because it's population had grown beyond the bounds of its natural limits. It's population had exceeded it's INFO-GEOGRAPHY.
So this is a real danger and we must all work to increase our info-geography.
Finally, my favorite method of building an ant-colony - "kidnap or persuade" the Queens. Who are the queens? The Queens are community builders. Communities naturally form around them. There are probably a few of them in this room, but they're hard to find - maybe 1 in 100. They naturally spend far more time COMMUNING than BROWSING. Randy Farmer, one of the creators of "Habitat" and originators of the word "Avatar" calls them "Caretakers" but it's the same thing.
And one of OUR goals, as providers of virtual communities is to identify those queens early on. To work with them. To NOURISH them, indeed to CHERISH them - for they are very rare.
* * *
Okay, you've received the free widget. At this point, the public speaker is supposed to tell the future. To prognosticate. So here goes....
* * *
Of course I'm no psychic. But I can at least give you an indication of some of the intimations in MY industry, and perhaps these relate to YOUR industry as well.
First of all, "MORE COMPELLING CONTENT". Well... DUH! That's why we're all here right! With the kind of broadband media you can deliver with the Road Runner cable modem, and similar breakthroughs, obviously we're going to be seeing more compelling content.
On a related note, The Palace is introducing support for Shockwave within Palaces. What this means is not only can you use Shockwave for the eye-candy it's usually used for on websites, but you can ALSO use it for TRUE MULTI-USER EXPERIENCES. This is really something to be seen - I won't have time to demo it, but do come and check it out.
Secondly, Games. I'm convinced that the multimedia and now web-design industry has continually underestimated the importance of games and gaming technology. I've been working in Multimedia since 1989 and most of my employers have made this mistake. Does anyone remember CD-I? Does anyone remember Philips? Well initially, Philips took a very low view of games, not wanting CD-I to be viewed as a "cheap game console". More recently as CD-I went down in flames, about the only thing selling on was games. Time Warner Interactive, my former employer, went through a similar process.
Ideally, we'd like to see the Palace used a hub for games. Again, using the metaphor of the community hearth to which the neolithic hunters return to.
Thirdly, Events. Big Events. Early on in the Palace we've tried to do distance learning, celebrity chats and the like. And frankly, it doesn't work out very well - because you can only fit about 20 people in a chatroom, and they can all talk at the same time which makes it a real free for all.
So we've created this EXTREMELY COOL STAGE MODULE where you can have an event with say ONE THOUSAND people in attendance. Everyone on the palace can see the stage! It's like a big screen TV! And you can what the people on the stage are saying! Their real voices! And not only that but there's a FULLY FUNCTIONAL EMBEDDED WEB BROWSER and the moderator of the stage event can send URLs to all the one thousand people viewing the event. And those web pages can contain ANYTHING - shockwave, audio video or whatever. So this is a very cool thing coming down the pipe, and I should add that it's a REALLY good fit with road runner technology because that kind of broadcast media is gonna require big pipes if it's gonna be any fun.
Finally "ONE GLOBAL COMMUNITY". This isn't a piece of 60's idealism. I'm quite serious here.
Right now, all the virtual communities on the net are ISLANDS. Palace-space itself is an ARCHIPELAGO. Going from one space to another is like going to France, and as a result, people don't migrate willingly, because they want to stay in touch with their friends. One of the coolest new technologies I've seen is called I.C.Q. and it allows friends to stay in touch with each other on the Internet, regardless of the space they happen to be in. It's very cool and it's an important first step to establishing a global community. I think we're going to see more applications like it. I hope so.
* * *
Okay - finally, the big finish.
* * *
Now, we have some competitors. They use a real-time 3D rendering technology called VRML. These chats have been compared to the game of Doom - again - how many have played Doom here? (one third).
Now, the palace, has been favorably compared to the game of Myst. How many have played Myst? (about half)
And these are valid comparisons, I should note. VRML, like DOOM uses real time 3D rendering. It typically uses a first person viewpoint. It's really a lot like Doom, except without the nail-gun.
And the underlying technology behind Myst is Hypercard. And the Palace was modeled after Hypercard. I stole a LOT of good ideas from Hypercard. So the comparison is apt. But there's something missing from Myst, what is it?
Well - you got these gorgeously rendered islands.... Beautiful Architecture... Pretty Trees... Books.. Fog... Oh Yeah - there's absolutely no PEOPLE in the game!
In fact, the game was designed this way - it's central to the plot! Why is this? Well the designers were working around a basic problem, which is that PEOPLE ARE HARD TO DO. Or to put it another way:
"HUMANS ARE HARD TO FAKE"
Why is this? Well.. look at a baby. It's first few days of life, what is it doing?
It's going "That's Mommy" "That's Not Mommy" "That's Daddy" "That's not Daddy" "That's Mommie's friend"...
The point is... the human brain is largely a HUMAN RECOGNITION DEVICE.
This is why I can meet you for five minutes, and a year later, I'll recognize you again. All humans look different to us! Can you say the same for cocker spaniels?
Remember when you went to see the movie TOY STORY? The toys looked real... The buildings looked real... The cars looked real... But the humans looked really WEIRD..... Remember that? They didn't design the humans to look weird. In fact they tried REALLY HARD to make the humans look NORMAL. It was probably one of the hardest parts about making that movie! It's our brains that do it. Our brains can detect human fakery in an INSTANT.
And this is why, when a video game, or other online experience attempts to depict a fake human. It comes across as weird and unsettling. This is why the designers of Myst chose to exclude humans from their plot. The designers of Doom dealt with this problem by making the game dark and nightmarish, but even if it weren't designed that way, it would still be unsettling. Because ultimately, games without humans, or with fake humans are SOULLESS.
And here's where I get to the big finish part. I was going to bring sparklers but I thought the fire marshal wouldn't be happy about that, so instead I brought the American flag.
(big American flag)
(Jbum walks in front of flag, "Patton" style...)
Because YOU have a REAL OPPORTUNITY HERE. Because now, by combining technologies like the Palace with the broadband delivery you're getting from road runner. You can do something new... You can take this thing that was SOULLESS and you can put the SOUL BACK IN.
No one has yet created the multi-user equivalent of Myst. It could be one of you here today...
And I for one, am looking forward to pounding the pavement... ...in your IMAGINARY LANDSCAPES.
Thank you very much.