From the Fire Pit to the Forbidden City

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May 062008

Dispatches from the Imagination Age: From the Fire Pit to the Forbidden City: An Outsider’s Inside Look at the Evolution of IBM’s Virtual Universe Community

is a 12-page paper that gives interesting insight into IBM’s moves in the virtual worlds space. It’s a mix of forward-thinking (they have people who do nothing but machinima?) and catch-up (I particularly liked the moment where a few IBM staffers decided on a definition of “virtual universe” in 2006 — fortunately, it matches the one all the rest of us use!).

It’s not very long, and it’s an interesting read.

  6 Responses to “From the Fire Pit to the Forbidden City”

  1. I find it strange when a company that produces few products announces a vision it has pioneered within the same company over a decade after that vision was enunciated on the World Wide Web. IBM is still a master of selling water by the river.

    I’d like to take it seriously because I enjoy virtual worlds; yet, I don’t think this is what the business market is in need of for the next five years, or maybe ten. As it usually happens, the evolution of the revolution is not happening in the BigCos. It is happening in small shops with decent chops solving a problem that is right in front of them.

  2. A publication like this kept inhouse on an IBM coffee table in the corner office to show clients? Fine. Nice, glossy, gets people jazzed about virtual worlds.

    A publication like this out on the Internet? A terrible embarrassment for both IBM and VWs.

    The scribe who hired himself out to perform this mission should be using a pen name, it’s not credible.

    Not a word about any kind of metrics, value, ROI — *anything*. Even whether it produces any kind of energy or travel savings *really* — or how the worker productivity is enhanced — or even maintained! It’s all such a feel good. I’m happy to feel good, too, about the possibilities of SL.

    You know, there’s something worse than being late for the Internet and Web 1.0, IBM. It’s showing up too early and way too enthusiastically about something like Second Life without any, well, *science* to it.

  3. Um… the Internet IS a coffee table.

  4. Uh, Michael? have you ever worked for a company? It doesn’t seem so, looking at your resume.

    The Internet isn’t a coffee table; coffee tables inside executive officers with house organists writing brochures — that’s a coffee table. And it’s fine, and it’s grand that somebody gets a gig writing glossy brochures, but it’s not journalism.

    BTW, the “scribe” is “she” and not “he” and you can read more here:

    I think there are less and less jobs in investigative journalism these days and people move into PR, understood.

  5. I agree that the IBM paper is just a glossy brochure. Some of the IBM people in Second Life are trying hard to fit in, and they are doing interesting things with OpenSim. But the gap between the corporate culture of a company as big as IBM, and the libertarian spirit of the Internet, is a bit too wide. Consider where IBM comes from historically: “Big Blue” was so named because all of its representatives wore identical blue suits. Consider what they do now: management consulting for multi-nationals. Being hierarchical and stodgy is in their genes, so to speak.

    Whereas the companies that best represent the entrepreneurial aspects of cyberculture are either small free-wheeling startups, or disruptive drivers, like Google, putting the “California Ideology” into practice. This ideology definitely has its dark side, as Prokofy keeps pointing out, such as the “lynch mob” behaviour directed against Sarah Lacey when she was interviewing Mark Zuckerberg, or the new techniques of white-collar sweathouse exploitation as perfected by “post-modern” management. I personally believe however that the emerging cyberculture does have real liberatory potential. But when you try to cycle it through the hierarchy of a company like IBM, the novelty and excitement gets filtered out, and you’re left with something that goes on coffee tables.

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