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PDF: Social Media for a Spin: Metanomics Event Transcript Oct 1 2009
METANOMICS: TAKING A SPIN IN SOCIAL MEDIA:
BUILDING A VIRTUAL ADVANTAGE IN ONLINE COMMUNITIES
SEPTEMBER 30, 2009
ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is brought to you by Remedy Communications and Dusan Writer’s
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I’m Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University’s Johnson
Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds and the larger
sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our discussion about Virtual Worlds
takes place in a Virtual World. So join us. This is Metanomics.
ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios in Second Life.
We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcome discussion. We use
ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the show. Metanomics is sponsored by
the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and Immersive Workspaces.
Welcome. This is Metanomics.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome to Metanomics. I’m your host, Rob Bloomfield, and today we’re
joined by Chris Abraham, internet analyst, web strategy consultant and advisor to corporations
large and small through his firm, Abraham & Harrison. They specialize in Web 2.0 technologies,
virtual communities, content syndication, online collaboration, blogging and consumer-generated
media. Chris is an expert on corporate and PR blogging, with a focus on citizen journalism, new
marketing and search-engine optimization. And, believe it or not, we’re going to get just about all of
those topics today. So, Chris, welcome to Metanomics.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Thank you. I’m happy to be here. This is a very unique and interesting
experience. Thanks for having me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, we’re delighted you could join us. Also, welcome to all of you who
are watching on the web at Metanomics.net or in Second Life at our Metanomics Sim or any of our
event partners New Media Consortium, Rockliffe University, Confederation of Democratic Sims,
Orange Island, Muse Isle and our newest event partner, Virtual Abilities. We’ll be tracking the text
chat so keep those questions and comments coming.
Chris, I’d like to start with the article that brought you to my attention. Advertising Age, in June,
published your article that was titled “Twitter is What Second Life Wasn’t: Light, Cheap and Open,
and That’s Why It’ll Outlive the Hype Cycle.” And you wrote, as I’ll quote briefly from your article
here, “I run into many skeptics who believe that Twitter is ripe with the sort of hype associated with
the ascent and crash of Second Life. This is not true. Twitter is suffused with hype, for sure, but it’s
a much different and more sustainable hype than Second Life. Here’s why: Twitter is light, cheap,
open and permanent, whereas, Second Life is heavy, expensive, closed and ephemeral. Twitter
does things right where Second Life failed.”
Now you got a fair bit of pushback on that, with a couple dozen comments, including some regular
viewers of Metanomics. And I understand now you had something of a change of heart. So before
we get into Twitter, let me give you a chance to dig yourself out of a hole with the Second Life and
Metanomics audience. Tell us your thoughts now.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Well, I think that one of the most powerful parts of a virtual community is its
loyalty and its passion. I think that my experience had been very limiting. I just didn’t have a lot of
friends there, and when you don’t have a lot of friends in an environment, you’re really not part of
the community, you are stored in the background, sucking your thumb. So I think by embracing me
and bringing me online and allowing me to experience a lot of the new innovations and some of the
more beautiful parts of Second Life, I realized that no matter how in or out of the hype cycle Second
Life might be, it is truly an impassioned community of real people in connection with each other. So
that’s kind of where I am now. I think I get it more.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. And so you had a bunch of good lines in these articles, and one of
them you said, “Second Life has always been rocking the mullet: business up front and party in
back.” So, first, did you make that phrase up?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Well, not the phrase about work up front and party in the back, that is well
known amongst the fans of mulletry, but, I think in a lot of cases it seems like, from my experience,
that there’s a real focus, at least from Mr. Kingdom, your CEO, there’s a real desire that he has
towards, if you will, getting a haircut and making Second Life someplace more comfortable, more
interesting, more accessible to people who aren’t, if you will, as edgy, and make it more accessible,
I think. He talked about--do you guys know what Skype is? Everybody in the audience, you have
the ability to get what’s called Skype Out and Skype In, which allows you to phone from Skype to a
real phone or phone into Skype, using a real phone number. And I was told that that’s something
that’s going to be added to Second Life, which means that there’ll be a lot less--you can have a
conference, a virtual conference in a room, and have your sales guy who’s in a car, you can have
him dial in to the conference phone, and you can have an all-hands meeting in Second Life, while
kind of integrating the people who aren’t in the office, if you will.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: As far as business goes, so far there have been two pretty different uses
of Second Life. One is the business-viewed consumer channel, where large businesses try to link
up with a virtual community and get some more brand engagement, and the second is within the
enterprise collaboration. I’m wondering do you have strong feelings on either one of those particular
methods and what the promise is?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Well, it’s really funny. I think that what I find the most compelling part is, is the
simulation environment. I was told that you can collaboratively develop a Nepalese clinic, or you
could collaboratively organize a Swat Team attack on a house. I’m told that there’s a lot of
mission-critical simulating going on in Second Life. I was surprised--when I was walking through my
experiences with Dusan Writer, I was really surprised that there wasn’t more ubiquitous use of
these kinds of simulation tools for environments that you find the space and real things cost or
space prohibitive. So if you were a young architect--I keep on telling young communications majors
that they have to blog to get the job that they want. And all I can think to myself is why aren’t there
more interior designers and architects and strategists and people in the Pentagon or whomever,
why aren’t they creating manifestations of their dreams in Second Life, to give people real
experiences of their vision.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So almost like a portfolio that they can show a prospective employer?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Yes. But I mean in more real worlds. The biggest problem, biggest barrier to
entry is, people just not getting it. You have to break into their attention span and their interest. If
you can literally turn the blueprints into something that people can get a real feel for, for example,
colleges and universities or retirement communities. A lot of people are making decisions based on
the equivalent of the catalogue for these things, and Second Life could offer a real community
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I see Gentle Heron is mentioning that people should check into the
Federal Virtual World Challenge being conducted in Second Life now. I don’t know a whole lot
about that, but, if Gentle or anyone else wants to give us a little more information or links in chat
that would be great.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: I know that the first version of people using Second Life was just basically
bill-boarding the place. Right? And that’s one of the reasons why your communities, in a lot of
cases, pushed back because they were experiencing a lot of bling that they just didn’t want from
various and sundry brands. And I think that these brands didn’t really get the “community” part. The
biggest problem that we have in social media is people spent all of their budget on the website or
on the platform and not enough resource on online community managers or people. I think that the
biggest problem is that corporate America didn’t get Second Life well enough. They were throwing
money at it, but what they needed to do is throw people and community and engagement at it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I know you’ll get a lot of very energetic seconds on that thought.
And let me also just add that first the technologists figure out how to make the technology, and then
the people in business figure out how to use it. And being someone who is working closely with a
lot of people who are trying to figure out what to do with this darn thing, I can tell you there is still a
great deal of learning going on.
I’d like to turn to Twitter because that article back in June, in Advertising Age was--so maybe a lot
of Second Life residents pushed back on your saying Second Life was a failure. But, at this point,
now Twitter’s clearly been a success. Last week the New York Times reported they were valued at
a billion dollars. They’re raising another hundred million or so in capital. They’ve got the attention of
just about every celebrity. So I have a bunch of questions on this. The first one: How do you see
this affecting the public relations industry? What’s Twitter’s role?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Twitter’s role, in my opinion, is the first opportunity to a lot of people for brands
to be able to respond back to their detractors or their fans. People thought it was blogs, but really
blogs are not fast enough to be able to quickly respond to the cascade of hate that can happen with
regards to brand crises. What Twitter allows one to do, if one spends enough time preparing and
becoming part of the community before the crisis happens, it gives one the ability to quickly
respond to a crisis. It gives companies, brands and corporations the ability to meet at the same
level. So if you build enough brand equity, there’s a pretty good chance that your followers and
friends will come to your aid at a time of crisis or assist you in some way.
You can also actively respond to people having problems to kind of diffuse, release the steam, if
you will, before anger or hostility or resentment builds up. It seems to be flattening the conversation.
I think for a long time brands were at a distinct disadvantage, and Twitter is allowing people using
search.twitter.com--I don’t want to use the term “search and destroy,” but “search and repair,” if you
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So a couple reactions we’re getting from the audience are, I guess, first
Dusan Writer is asking whether you’re putting down blogs, and is readying his pitchfork. And the
chat’s moving so quickly, it’s hard for me to keep up with who just said this. Mojito Sorbet is asking
whether you’re thinking of blogs as being primarily one-way communication. So then can you fit
Twitter in with the blogs and presumably they work together?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Presumably they do work together. When Twitter started to come on--
everybody sees the Apocalypse coming, and so everybody likes to talk about that. The truth is, is
that I believe that, if you want to make Twitter work in its 140 characters, you have to be willing to
dotdotdot. You have to be willing to ellipse to a larger, more in-depth article. So in many ways, my
Tweeting has fueled my blogging because I can start a conversation on Twitter, but, if I want to
complete the conversation, I need to do that in longer form.
So I believe that, for me, Tweeting has reignited my desire on longer form. Especially when I get a
pulse of the people I’m following, and they catalyze my brain in such a way that I come up with
ideas. I see how the mob is conversing, and then I oftentimes will write a blog response to all of
y’all. For example, what I did in Advertising Age recently, I wrote a response at the end; after I was
able to synthesize my experiences, then I wrote about it. And I also use Twitter as a way of
promoting that. There is certainly a lot of spam on Twitter now, and that’s true, but you don’t have to
follow those people back.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And you can block them. I find Twitter on the overwhelming side, and so,
for me, I haven’t worked it into a central part of what I do, simply because I haven’t been able to
figure out how to get the signal to noise ratio high enough. I see JenzZa Misfit is calling me the
anti-Tweet. But I’m not against Tweet. I just haven’t been able to use it effectively myself.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Well, after experiencing Second Life, I have to add one more negative thing,
quote/unquote, into that list that you used earlier, and I think that why Second Life is hard for me is
because it’s so immersive. And, in a world where I can Tweet while I’m checking Facebook, while
I’m working, while I’m checking my in-box and so forth, I find that currently, because I’m such a
neophyte, Second Life takes a lot of my cycles. So it’s an immersive experience for me and not
great for ADD.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So let me just point out. Everyone, put a little hook on that word
“immersive” because I’m going to be talking about that extensively in my Connecting The Dots
opinion piece at the end of the hour. I have one more question on Twitter, which is that, unlike so
many other new tech waves or fads, if you want to call it that, cell phones, text chat, for those the
early adopters were kids, and, for Twitter, it’s been an adult thing. So I’m wondering why you think
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Well, the average age of Twitter, as well is 34 or 35, most young
whippersnappers don’t cotton very well to Twitter. They’re on Facebook. And I’m old enough too,
yeah, to cotton to in a conversation so forgive me. I don’t know. I think that there’s not enough play.
There’s no applets in Twitter. There’s no applets in Second Life, I guess. A lot of people complain
on both sides. In these comments I’ve heard, the anti-Twitters say Second Life isn’t a video game.
The people pro Second Life are saying Second Life is not a video game.
But the people who don’t like Second Life often dismiss it as some video game without any goals or
aspirations. There’s nothing to kill, no dragon to slay. There’s not even any cold or any whatever. I
used to be in Ultima online, and I was always digging for stuff or killing things for [pelts?] to make
money. In many ways, Twitter and Second Life have one thing in common, and I think that might be
the reason why it attracts older people is, it seems to be more the box than the toy, meaning that’s
why people don’t get Second Life because it’s more of a framework than it is something to play
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I like the box versus toy. One thing I’ve often said is that Second Life has
a problem in that young people hear about it, think it’s a game, check it out, and they’re bored. Old
people hear about it, think it’s a game and don’t check it out. But the ones who do check it out--I
guess it’s as much a game to me as any other competitive business environment. The people I deal
with, most of them are producers, are trying to run businesses.
Let’s move on to virtual communities. You’ve been involved with virtual communities for a really
long time, and I guess, first, could you just real quickly give us a sense of your history with virtual
communities? I know it goes way back.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Yeah. I got my first IBM AT in ’83 and got a 1200-baud modem and then a
2400-baud model, and I dialed into BBS’s in Honolulu, but I didn’t know that that was virtual
community. I thought I was downloading the Anarchist Cookbook. I wasn’t really engaged. It was
something I went and connected to, maybe dropped a message back and forth. But, in ’93, I joined
a virtual community called The Meta Network, tmn.com. It still exists. It’s a walled garden, as they
call, you know, the Second Life. I needed to become a member.
Unlike Second Life, you needed to be what your credit card said you were so I was Chris Abraham,
login name Chris, and I became part of a men’s only group. We talked about our relationships and
our children. I didn’t have them, but our parents. It was a real intimate place where you could feel
safe. I don’t think the internet is a safe place. I think that these walled communities, these virtual
communities are safer.
But then I taught one of the first creative writing classes online, and--actually it’s really funny
because my programmer is actually a student of mine, and he’s actually in the audience. It’s really
funny. What’s his name? He doesn’t have the right name, the same name.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m name impaired, and Second Life doesn’t help because I forget two
names for every person.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Yeah. Well, anyway he was one of my students, and we taught creative
writing, using this platform called Caucus, and it was very amazing because, at the end of the day,
what it did is it was an amazing equalizer because the jocks weren’t the rock stars in this
environment. It was the people who could write. The person who was the most disruptive person
was the jerk; he wasn’t the funny kid. A lot of the most shy people were the most participatory
people in this environment, and it was just incredible. Then I became part of Howard Rheingold, his
community called Brainstorms, and that’s an amazing community.
Then I got busy. I joined the Well so I’m a member of the Well, but I haven’t really participated
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That’s Steward Brand’s community? Is that right?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Yeah. But all my experiences it was completely textual, and it was hard to--it’s
the same thing that you guys suffer from, like it’s hard to explain it to your Real World friends why
you feel such devotion and such intimacy and why you would never betray these people who are
bits and bytes, honestly, really just text, in my experience, on a website. So I get it, and I can’t
believe I made such a faux pas by dismissing an entire world of people, just dismissed it
completely. I forgot--oh, how the great fall, or the mighty fall.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I asked you last week about some of the key lessons that you’ve
learned about success and failure in virtual communities. You talked about the dangers of taking
weekends off. Can you elaborate on that?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Oh, yeah. So this is something that came to my attention by reading two really
great books. I think it was Twitterville by Shel Israel, and another book called Friends With Benefits,
and they both discussed how vulnerable corporations are on the weekends because the internet is
24/7, 365, and corporate culture is five days a week and how, if someone were to attack Chrysler,
for example, on the quality of customer service, customer care, how, if this happened on a Friday
afternoon it would gestate, if you will, all weekend long and maybe get to someone’s attention at
10:00 on Monday.
In a real-time web, the concept of synchronous communication versus asynchronous
communication, Second Life is synchronous, which is “Now, now, now I am synchronous,” and now
Twitter is getting closer and closer to taking the asynchronous communication of the past, which is
email and message boards, and bringing it real time. Corporations do not have the leisure of a
Friday afternoon--or, the bigger the company, maybe a noon tea time at the local golf club and then
an entire weekend. In that amount of time, there can be a lot of damage done to brand.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: With virtual communities and the blogosphere and the Twittersphere
gaining more control than--it just seems to turn the standard advice on its head. I had always heard,
well, you give out the bad news on Friday afternoon because the mainstream press, the business
community isn’t going to be following it. But what this means is, someone had better be on the ball
watching these sort of independent virtual community players who could really take that news,
amplify it into something that you can’t control when Monday morning rolls around.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: You can’t. And, even if you just need someone to--there’s a term in D.C. that
I’m discovering isn’t popular around the rest of the world, which is called stove-piping, which means
you need to at least have someone with your phone number. I think of it more along the lines of
either alarm companies or the Cold War nuclear threat. I mean you need someone in a hole, who’s
keeping track of the radar, to pick up the red phone the moment something happens so that you
have an opportunity to decide whether or not what the radar is showing is a flock of geese, a
weather event or a thousand Soviet missiles. Right? So I wouldn’t say that it’s as treacherous as 15
minutes before Armageddon, but I would definitely think that it should be at least 15 hours that you-
-quicker than 24 hours to respond to negative attacks.
I also saw someone mention Google Wave. My first response to Google Wave, from what I see, is,
it’s going to take over the world, if the world were populated with really smart people. But it’s highly
complex, and it seems to me like it will be a challenge to attract people who are not interested in
such sophisticated circuitry. So it’ll only take over the world of people who have above 130 IQ.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Which, of course, is our entire listening audience for Metanomics.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Oh, for sure. It’ll take over your world.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We are at the halfway point, and so we got something new that we’re
adding to Metanomics. This is the first time that we have done this. Now that we’re in our third year,
we have a lot of archives, I think around 80 episodes since we started up in mid September of
2007. So to spice up our third year, we’re going to be splicing into the middle of each show some
excerpts of [AUDIO GLITCH] archives. So we’ll be right back with Chris Abraham after this quick
stroll down memory lane.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: With Metanomics now in its third season, we thought it’d be fun to take a
look back at some of our past shows and guests, since September of 2007. With over 80 episodes
to choose from, we chose some of the most interesting, engaging and occasionally contentious
discussions. As always, you can see the complete episodes at Metanomics.net or on our iTunes
ARCHIVE: METANOMICS: RICHER WORLDS: A LOOK AT BLUE MARS
JUNE 17, 2009
JIM SINK: I think we have work to do, working with our partners to develop the tools that they
need. I think individual regions will create their own communities. We’ve always wanted to build a
platform that was customizable, everything from the interface to the path that people take through
their individual experiences. So if one particular area wants to build their social community, we can
work to help them with things like broadcast channels for that individual region. We have user
pages and developer pages and can extend those to allow membership in groups, group chat,
messaging, those sort of things. Is that getting towards the direction of the question you’re asking?
DOUG THOMPSON: Yeah. No, that is. That is. And I supposed it brings up another question,
which is: How many standard web tools and pieces of content can you integrate into the
environment? For example, can you pull html content into the environment? Can you build web
services around it, or is it all sort of within the closed set of tools that Blue Mars provides?
JIM SINK: I’m glad you asked that. I almost forgot to mention it. Blue Mars is an offline content
creation process, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have live content in the World. We use a
middleware solution called ScaleForm, which is a Flash interpreter, so you can have Flash files as
textures in your environment, that can call http sources or https sources on the web. When you call
a net resource from your region in Blue Mars, it doesn’t go through the Avatar Reality servers. So
we had a developer with a database with sensitive material, and they wanted to make sure that that
was going directly to their users, and that’s how it works in Blue Mars. There are no caps on that
bandwidth or how much data can be transferred. We support Flash Video and Flash files right now.
I’ve seen some very, very cool web-interpreter applications running in our labs, but I don’t have
anything to announce right now beyond that it’s compatible with Flash and Flash Video, and we’ll
see what else the rest of the year brings.
ARCHIVE: METANOMICS: INSIDE LINDEN LAB -
AN ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY BY THOMAS MALABY
JUNE 3, 2009
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I think the question I’d like to ask, as we just have time for a few quick
answers. One is the last chapter of your book is called Precarious Authority, and you refer to the
mutiny against Captain Cook, and this is a quote, “For techno-liberal institutions struggling to adjust
to post-bureaucracy, a similar precariousness may obtain. My sense that Second Life was always
on the verge of flying apart at the seams appears as a strong contrast only with the bureaucratic
era on the heels of which it has arrived.” And a few pages earlier, you also expressed the feeling
that Linden Lab itself was a hair’s breadth away from flying apart at the seams. So what is it that
gave you that feeling, and do you see this type of precariousness as being part and parcel with their
overall management style?
THOMAS MALABY: I do. I think it follows from the incorporation of the open-ended as a kind of
design goal, as a management goal. When you draw upon game-design techniques to try to run
your company and to try and run a product, you’re intentionally incorporating legitimate
unpredictability into how your product and your company work. Instead of doing what used to be the
case, which was to say that you weren’t allowing unpredictability at all, and then it would kind of
naturally be there just because that’s the way people are.
Peter Drucker’s ideas about management reflected that kind of claim back to the people who
thought very highly of a very rational and procedure-driven organizational management and saying,
“Look, they find the wiggle room.” They’ll always find it, no matter how much you and try and govern
the procedure. So yes, I think that institutions that are trying to cultivate open-endedness as part of
their strategy for innovating and managing their products are necessarily a bit unstable in that way.
[END OF ARCIVE]
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. Welcome back. Rob Bloomfield here with Chris Abraham of
Abraham & Harrison. During the break, we had a number of questions come in, and the first one I’d
like to ask is actually from Metanomics volunteer Devon Alderton. No, no. I’m sorry. Actually, this
one is from Pooky Amsterdam, and it’s, “Why is Twitter worth a billion dollars?” And I would add to
that, given that it doesn’t really have a revenue model yet, which I see Joel Savard just said. So do
you have an answer to that?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Yeah, it’s because their vision is much different than--well, first of all, there’s a
lot of things. Every new platform people have the same conversation about it. It’s not monetizing. It
won’t go anywhere. And it’s been proven wrong over and over again. You need to land-grab, and
then you can monetize. So you need to become the Xerox of your environment. I think the best
thing in the entire world was someone quote/unquote hacking into Twitter’s Google apps
environment and finding all their secret documents and posting them in TechCrunch or wherever it
was posted. Because you find out that their business vision is to be the phone directory of the
So anytime, if you want to find Chris Abraham, you search and find him on Twitter, and you can
engage with him. So their goal is grand and towards ubiquity. I think that that, plus the interest of
people well beyond the geek world, all the way into Hollywood, all the way into sports, into politics
and so forth, there is not only a perception of success going on with Twitter, but there’s a desire to
be associated. There’s a desire to be part of the venture capital clan to have said, “I invested in
Twitter.” In a lot of cases, money is a game. I met a guy the other day who invested $250,000 in
Twitter really early on, and, to this day, that’s his favorite drinking conversation over a beer.
So I think that this a perception-based thing. This is a distorted reality, and I think that this is a
platform that people believe is going to become part of the fabric, for two reasons. First is, you can
always find me on Twitter. The “@chrisabraham” is something that’s becoming recognized.
Secondly, Twitter is--it’s not even about Twitter per se, it’s about the creation and heralding of the
real-time web, and that’s what everybody’s excited about.
My friend Jeff Pulver is really excited about search.twitter.com and what that means to Google and
what that means to Now Now Now and how it really is, if anything, another nail in mainstream
media’s coffin because there’s only 30 seconds that happens between an 8.5 earthquake and when
it suffuses and infuses into Twitter streams everywhere. So that’s what people are really investing
in, which is the new Google based on Twitter’s real-time web and real-time indexing, as well as a
very strong branding. People are seeing there’s a telephone number. There’s IP address. There’s
email address. And now there’s Twitter ID. And that’s what people are investing in.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, that brings up an issue of privacy, and we’ve actually had questions
from a few different people, Devon Alderton and Dusan Writer have both asked, “How should we be
thinking about this as individuals? Should we be cautious about getting our name and information
CHRIS ABRAHAM: I kind of take a lesson from the Freemasons. I like to keep all my symbols right
out in front of everybody’s face and let them try to figure out. I like to hide in the chaff.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: I think privacy is a big concern until it isn’t. I think that most successful
platforms try to--what did my business partner Mark say. He said that, like the matrix, social media
platforms feed off of your energy and give you an experience. I thought that was the most amazing
definition of social networks. You put in your time and energy and focus and even maybe your
money, and what the platforms do in return is offer a matrix experience. So as I walk around with
that plug in my head--I think I’m a bad person to ask because I would love to be able to allow
DoubleClick to reconvene its empire so that every single ad I get is completely focused on me, to
the point where it’s like that movie where all the advertisements say, “Hello, Chris.” And what is the-
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. When we were talking last week, you used a term I had never
heard before, which was “reputation dysmorphic disorder.” You want to talk about that a bit?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Yeah. I’ve updated to “brand dysmorphic disorder” because “reputation” is sort
of an ambiguous thing, but I was using--as an analogy--I hate to compare it to people with eating
disorders, but that’s sort of where it came from is body dysmorphic disorder where what you see in
the mirror is much different from how others perceive you. I find that it’s really interesting with
Second Life because I guess you can actually become who you want to be. So I guess I have to
take it outside of Second Life because you can manifest perfectly. I mean I don’t look like a
salt-and-pepper haired boy adventurer in my real life.
But, in terms of body dysmorphic disorder or brand dysmorphic disorder, there’s an advertising
agency I know that hired a bunch of MIT media-school technology gurus in design and user
interface and all kinds of stuff. And so when this advertising agency looks itself in the mirror, it sees
chunky frames, a bald head in a black shirt, like a real social media hipster or edgy kind of
character. But when everybody else in Boston sees this advertising agency, all they see is a blue
blazer, gold buttons, blue button-down and Weejun shoes or whatever, penny loafers. Their
reputation is much different than how they perceive themselves.
I think that Second Life is trying to figure out how other people--you’ve got a huge brand
dysmorphic disorder here, I mean even to the point where your CEO is trying to say, “We are
Fortune 500,” and everybody else is saying, “You’re furries and flying penises.” And I think that
there’s a huge gulf between the two. I’m hoping, especially with the members and lovers and
loyalists of Second Life, there are more people who approach their detractors with love. I called it a
love bomb. I hope that there are more of loyalists who approach their detractors with a love bomb
as opposed to just negative and snarky and vengeful comments because I think that, if Dusan
hadn’t come to me with his hands open and a gentle invite, there’s no way I’d be in this seat with a
really fly new wardrobe.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’d love to spend a little time talking about some of the case studies that
you have on the Abraham & Harrison website. One that interested me a lot, especially as we see
the energy swirling around this year’s health bill debate in the U.S. You had a role with virtual
communities in the 2007 energy bill fight. Can you talk about what role you played in that?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Well, we were a subcontractor to the National Environmental Trust, which is an
organization that is primarily a Union of Concerned Scientists. Is that the organization?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Mm-hmm. UCS, yeah.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: And what they wanted to do is, they wanted to help push through something
that was going to die in the White House, which was the 2007 energy bill. Some of the desires that
they had was to increase fleet vehicle efficiency to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and other things.
There was no way that this was going to get through the--it could have gotten through the House
and the Senate, but it wasn’t going to get through the White House. So they hired us to do blogger
outreach, and this blogger outreach would be focused on environmentalists, greens. It would be
focused on conservatives, moderates, liberals, Republicans and so forth. We would have the same
deliverable, which is “35 by 2020.” But it would be delivered in much different ways to each
particular subset. For example, conservative bloggers--we always do outreaches to people who
have platforms because we want them to repeat our message and share it out as news.
Well, first, let me step back for a second. What happens in any kind of these, I guess, lobby efforts
is, they create assets and collateral material such as, “Dear Brothers Udall, thank you for being
such a supporter of the environmental movement to the climate movement in the past.” And so they
create these things. They create full-page ads in local papers. They create advertisements and
full-page ads in Capital Hill only kind of vertical magazines that only Hill staffers and politicos read.
And yet, there they say. They just die there.
And so what our job was, was to collect all this messaging, all these assets, all this information, turn
it into web-viable, web-usable assets and then get them out to the bloggers so that they could
report it as news. It’s very interesting because--we had really cool stuff, like they went around on
Halloween. They went around, and they handed out candy to all the Senators and Congresspeople,
with candy, but also with flyers about the economy and how increase in mileage could help that.
But those things are so ephemeral. They can just disappear. So they would take photographs. We
would turn it into a social media news release. We would create a message, and we’d reach out to
these bloggers I mentioned earlier. For the conservatives, we’d say, “America first and oil
independence.” For liberals or for greens and environmentalists, we would talk about Mother Earth
and Gaia, and we’d talk about the effect of how increasing efficiency standards would help save
Mother Earth.” The same kind of content though. And we would do the outreach, and our goal was
not necessarily to educate and inform per se; that was collateral benefit, but it was to get and
confuse and scare. What I wanted is, I wanted staffers on Capitol Hill and in the White House to
completely freak out when their [Google?] alerts started splashing with all this new worldwide
content. By worldwide, we included people who were in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain,
because we’d give them an opportunity to say, “Well, we’ve been at 35 miles per gallon fleet vehicle
for the last 20 years. You crazy American lankers!” That was fine too.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m hoping you can tie this to some of the issues of the day. What you’re
saying sounds reasonable and effective, but, in the terms people are talking about this year, the
opponents of health-care reform are saying, “We have this big grassroots opposition.” And then the
ones who want reform are saying, “No, that’s just Astroturf. It’s just artificial grass produced by big
companies.” Would you say that what you did in 2007 is astroturfing or aiding a grassroots
community that’s already there? How would you characterize that?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Well, I know that for a fact with regards to the Tea Parties, I know that the
Heritage Foundation, on their blog, they had talking points. They were literally telling people what to
say. It was echoed in conservative talk radio. It was really about command and control. When we
did an outreach, it was sent out as a social media news release, and it was sent out with a request,
and it was, “Would you blog--Twitter didn’t exist, so would you blog about this? Would you let your
readers know?” And we had a press release, but we didn’t tell anybody, or we didn’t conspire to tell
anybody how they would interpret those words. What we wanted to do is, we wanted to make sure
that we had penetration. The virtue of ephemeral content, like articles or adverts that end up in
magazines that go into the garbage, is, there’s a lot of bloggers who really would love this content.
They just don’t have any access to it. So our attempt, as an example, that’s in a seminar for
October 5, World Habitat Day, UN Habitat for Humanities.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Okay. I see the link.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: But, yeah. So what it is, is people don’t have enough good information so we
offer the information to bloggers, like any other PR company would, and then it’s up to the bloggers
to go ahead and snark us out or repeat the message to their readers. We would never put out a
talking point memo, which is basically, “Come on, guys, we have to win.” We’re not trying to
activate zombies. We’re not doing a botnet distributed denial of service attack. We’re just trying to
make people, who never heard about us before, hear about the fact that Click and Clack are
anti-SUV and pro high-efficiency cars.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’re running out of time. Well, actually what I’d like to ask, and we’ve
got about one minute before we go to Connecting The Dots. I’m wondering if you’d like to give
advice to someone, whether it’s citizens, people running businesses or Barak Obama trying to get
health care through, what advice would you like to give someone?
CHRIS ABRAHAM: I think that the biggest problem is that there’s information, disinformation and
misinformation. I think that now that the conservatives are activated, there’s no stopping them. I
don’t see how there is a way of efficiently or effectively taking the air out of the disinfo and misinfo. I
could definitely see where you’d get a misunderstanding and misidentify what we do. We definitely
chaff. We definitely drop flyers, if you will, to use a “hearts and minds.” We’re definitely hearts and
minds. I would even say that it could be psychological operation, if you will, but it’s certainly not
astroturfing because we want to get the leaflets into people’s hands, but it’s up to them as to
whether or not they repeat the message. We not memetic engineers. We’re merely public relations
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Memetic engineers, that’s a great, memorable term to leave with.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: I think I even own the domain name so it’s hard to deny, but I think I own
memeticengineer.com. Did someone say that?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, Chris Abraham, thank you so much for joining us on
Metanomics. It’s been a pleasure to have you on. And a shout out to your many fans who,
hopefully, are either watching this live or downloading this from iTunes or looking at the archives on
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Well, thank you for being so graceful and generous and for offering so much
hospitality to this wayward son.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, let me just continue the grace and generosity. We have
Devon Alderton, who is noting that you enjoy sailing, and wants to know if you would like to go
sailing in Second Life? Yeah, you’re a sailor, rower. You can do all of that stuff in Second Life so
maybe we’ll see you back here on a weekend when you’re letting some virtual community go to the
dogs because you’re out on the lake.
CHRIS ABRAHAM: Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody, for being here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So we turn now to our closing opinion piece, Connecting The
Dots, and my opinion today is spending two days at San Jose’s Engage Expo, and I come back
with two terms stuck in my head: integration and immersive media. Let’s start with integration,
which is happening in the industry on two separate tracks. The corporate giants, like IBM and Intel
and some key enterprise adopters, are hard at work integrating virtual technology with the other
enterprise technologies these groups use, in a seamless package, so they’re allowing easy
transition to and from not only other forms of collaborative tools like SharePoint, but also tying
Virtual World assets to enterprise databases.
Over dinner on Thursday, Jennifer Swayze, from Johnson & Johnson, told me about her dream,
which was to have a meeting in a virtual space in which her team can manipulate a visual human
resource model of job descriptions and reporting lines and the like and then simply export that to
their enterprise database.
Now the other integration track is not technology but business processes. Slowly but surely, the
people who use Virtual Worlds are learning, as we are here at Metanomics, that Virtual Worlds are
just one element of a complete model of virtual enterprise that ranges all the way from face-to-face
meetings to enterprise blogs, social networking, email and, yes, you got it, even Twitter.
Now what about this term “immersive media?” This isn’t a new term, and, while I’m not sure if I
heard someone use exactly that term at the conference, it’s pretty darn close to ThinkBalm’s term
“immersive internet” that Erica Driver has been pushing. And I should mention that my neighbors at
Ithaca College, just on the other hill here from Cornell, they’ve already been proposing a minor
degree in game design and immersive media.
But, mulling it over on the flight from San Jose, it suddenly became clear to me that this term is far
better for Virtual Worlds when we’re trying to explain the place of this new technology in enterprise.
I don’t want to start a big term war. I’m not saying that we retire the term [because it?] describes
environments like Second Life and World of Warcraft very well. But Virtual Worlds are foreign.
They’re different, unreal. And, above all, they’re separate. Now separateness is one of the appeals
of the technology as Doug Thompson/Dusan Writer put it in his presentation at the Expo. A virtual
space can provide an island of calm, a chance for far-flung employees to tune out the constant
barrage of email and regroup both literally and figuratively, no matter where in the Real World they
But the promise of this new technology is this island of calm is integrated seamlessly into an
enterprise’s technology and business processes. And here’s where the term “immersive media”
comes in. First, the term fits well with other terms that are now being widely accepted in the
business community. An executive who’s already signed off on a project involving new media and
social media is already halfway to signing off on immersive media.
Second, the term identifies exactly the aspect of Virtual Worlds that is distinctive and powerful.
Immersion in a space, in creation and collaboration with colleagues, and perhaps even a new
identity. So sure, Virtual Worlds allow more than just immersion, but most of their other capabilities
are shared by social media. So you put it together, the term “immersive media” practically shouts
“integration and flexibility.” Integration because these days the point of a medium is almost always
to integrate it with other media. And flexibility because the term “immersive media” indicates what
Virtual World technology can become, rather than simply what Virtual Worlds are now.
Now again, no one wants yet another terminology war, but I don’t see one here. Go ahead, use the
term “Virtual World” to refer to Second Life, World of Warcraft and even a not quite 3D Metaplace. I
know I will because they are indeed Virtual Worlds. But when you’re talking about what these
technologies might offer to enterprises that already have instant messaging, email, desktop sharing
and social networking, let’s get right to the point and state concisely what those enterprises are
missing: an immersive medium.
Okay. Thanks, everyone, for joining us this week, and we’ll see you again next week with
Adam Thierer of the Libertarian Cato Institute and Progress and Freedom Foundation. We’ll be
talking about protecting children, privacy and related regulatory issues.
Don’t forget you can see over 80 hours of Metanomics in our archives at Metanomics.net and on
Bye bye. See you next week.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer