Virtual Worlds 2007, Report #6: Final Score, Babbage Linden 72, Everybody Else, 0

by prokofy on 01/04/07 at 7:23 am

By Prokofy Neva, Dept. of Planets, Worlds, Universes, Multiverses, Metaverses, and Lost Socks in the Dryer

During one of the panels at Virtual Worlds 2007, Michael Wilson, CEO of Makena Technologies, maker of, made a number of astute and penetrating comments. Look up this guy to understand that he’s no newb. “Let me tell you the dirty little secret of virtual worlds,” he said at one point, abruptly, on a panel. “The dirty little secret of virtual worlds is that there’s nothing happening in them.” They’re empty, nothing’s happening.

What he means is the phenomenon everyone knows — acres of empty sims, nothing visible, nothing seeming to be happening. If television’s problem is that there’s 57 channels and nothing’s on, for the new person, SL’s problem is that there are 7800 sims and nothing’s on them *for him*. Anyone coming in new doesn’t understand what he is supposed to do to get the action started in this self-driven play. He’s confronted either with other clueles newbies, AFK “helpers,” inane griefers or avaricious managers of clubs where people are mindlessly standing around. It’s very hard to connect in this place which is supposedly made to enable everybody to connect.

During the Q&A, I made the point that it isn’t that nothing’s happening; it’s that people can’t connect to what is happening *for them*. The SEARCH function is vital. People need to be able to find what they’re looking for. Who’s going to run the SEARCH? I asked.

I spent a lot of effort in my infohub and in all my malls and rentals to give people information and help them find what they’re looking for. I even have a newbie orientation center on the boardwalk where you walk into a house and can click on things, one of which is a bed with a talking script asking the thing people often want to ask: “Where do I get laid?” And some suggested tips and places. No sense in leaving the customers unhappy. In the PG infohub, I have PG stuff about where to go meet people, how to use search, what the events calendar is, etc.

At the panel, Wilson said my query was an excellent question to ask because SEARCH needed to be developed. Things needed to be tagged and searchable. If I understood him correctly, they aren’t such tags in There but it’s something they’re working on. In SL, while everyone complains bitterly, the SEARCH PLACES, when working, is in fact effective enough to enable thousands of people to find what they want and go there, or at least explore, especially in conjunction with traffic and to enable people to make a living, even.

So why does a Linden win a conference that he wasn’t even at, given that the Lindens’ presence and performance at this conference were absolutely minimal, evidently as a backlash strategy? Because Babbage is bothering to attempt to make a thingy to tag everything in SL, enable people to rate the items, and make them searchable off a web-page. Of course, being at the tekkie-wiki stage now, even in a new iteration, it’s clunky and wonky to use. The problem, if anything, is that it generates way too much clutter because everybody is just taking everything and rating it “thumbs up” just in the testing. No matter. They’ll get it working.

So why does everybody else get 0? Well, because they didn’t really make SEARCH yet or focus on it and GOOGLE might as well have been the elephant in the room, if SL was the gorilla in the room.

No doubt by the time the next VW convenes, somebody or some company will have nailed this. They won’t nail it perfectly, and by nailing it they will raise the exact same issues that Google has raised with the problem of how people or subjects which get hits only get more hits — and nowadays it’s Wikipedia showing first on just about every major query, which is controversial and troublesome.

Yes, yes, I realize that ESC, specifically Forseti Svarog (Giff Constable), is working on some kick-ass SEARCH function or web-SL interface or inworld search, the details are not yet revealed and are eagerly awaited. I don’t know if this will be something they sell to their clients, so that their clients would get a more searchable world than we all would (interesting to contemplate, eh?) or more likely, that it would be open-sourced or open to the public. Let’s hope it’s open to the public not only to view, but to contribute to. As I’ve discussed, I have grave concerns about this effort of the Sheep’s. I don’t want them to be a driving force that causes the Lindens or users to break or stop using the existing inworld SEARCH, responsible for 70 percent or more of people’s sales *when combined with traffic scores*. It doesn’t work spectacularly. But the main thing is that it works; don’t replace it until you are dead sure you have something better. This isn’t FUD. It’s being respectful of where people’s existing world navigation and sales come from before you break it.

Of course, Forseti’s thingie might be better, less clunky, and more effective than a Linden thing, but the problem there is that he may warp and weave into it features/functions/samples that benefit him and his clients. That’s what anybody, even Bell Telephone making a phone book for the public, is going to do; in RL there are more checks and balances. Certainly the explorer HUD on Idea Island had that issue of being pre-packed and steered — and indeed anything that any company had would be likely to feature *something* about it that promoted them. It would have to, in order to justify the man-hours they put in it.

First and foremost, any SEARCH thing would likely benefit a third-party site to amplify its capacity — and one could reasonably expect that a company doing this like ESC would benefit their own shopping site like That would be normal and reasonable, after all, they aren’t here to benefit

Who could object to a better and more powerful search? Well, nobody, unless of course you discover that it doesn’t search the things you need searched, or the things you’ve put in to be searched — and we’ve seen that happen several times in SL when search is broken.

What I realized curiously about this conference only after the fact was that Google, who are the people who wrote the book on SEARCH, weren’t there.

Hmmm. Could that be? Anybody remember any suits from Google?

Maybe they don’t have to be, because they are already stealthily making up some mega SEARCH that will totally pwn the Metaverse, and all these games and worlds will be left with their jaws dropped and their tongues flapping. They might not have to bother to buy any of these worlds if all they do is figure out how to pwn the search into/around/through them.

Right now, there’s a few companies in SL doing SEARCH stuff — SL 411, which seemed great but caused issues by requiring you to have to put a physical object into a cube and worry about permissions (Babbage’s thing is better by capturing merely it’s name and letting you rate and send that info to a website). And a few others like SL Query, which relies on community volunteers to put in stuff, or Cristiano Midnight’s recommended sites, which rely on him to clear contributions manually. This kind of bottle-necking won’t do. We need the ability for anybody anywhere to tag and upload information and make it findable.

Social media may turn out to be a big drag. We may find that a million tagged things means that we find even less in Virtual Worlds than Michael Wilson warned us about, given the signal-to-noise problem.

Because what he meant by his insight is that professional content of good quality, that provides “stickyness” and guides people through what they need to do is vital for the virtual worlds to succeed for mass audiences. The kinds of criteria that he and others outlined for successful virtual worlds involved ease of use and governance — not the SL strong suit.

James Bower, CEO of Whyville, made one of the most memorable quotes of the conference. Out of 50 employees, he said, he had only 3 who were coders, and the rest were involved in process. Process. Now what is that? Social processes, people, finding things for them to do, guiding them through the world. Sure, that’s control of the user and not open-ended. Whyville appears to be mainly for young kids, to teach them things like science. But somebody is bothering with people and how they interact with the game interface and the world way more than any other world. Even entering the world the first time, you are walked through an “exam” that asks you about your concept of how you are going to chat inworld, and corrects some of your preconceptions.

Users can’t just be controlled, or can’t just control themselves, they need SEARCH and the SEARCH has to server everyone.

4 Responses to “Virtual Worlds 2007, Report #6: Final Score, Babbage Linden 72, Everybody Else, 0”

  1. Lev Kamenev

    Apr 1st, 2007

    I found SL search function pretty much useless. I am more an more rely Sloog recently: for discovering/searching new places.

  2. Prokofy Neva

    Apr 2nd, 2007

    Yes, actually I’m returning to SLOOG again as we speak. I checked it out a few weeks ago. It’s clunky to use like they all are, but a little sleeker in the web design. It has the ability to bookmark avatars and places, but not tagging objects that I can see.

  3. Prokofy Neva

    Apr 2nd, 2007

    I got SLoog working very easily:
    You go inworld to their HQ, just type it in SEARCH PlACES, grab a hud, drag it on yourself, and type: /7 tag: architecture for example.

    It’s meant for bookmarking places, it tags where you are standing and the keyword and sends it up to the web. You can see it pretty instantly.

    It offers tags for avatars too evidently.

    IT doesn’t have tags for objects, however.

    checking out some others too.

  4. Thereian

    Apr 4th, 2007

    Prokofy, you should check out There some time. Not only do they have real estate (you stated in a previous article that they do not), they’ve also had a fully functioning land/event/auctions search since the get go.

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