WE, FYP, Startup and Halo :D

12 08 2009

Alright! After one month+ of not writing, I’m sure I need to give you guys an explanation for my disappearance on what I’ve been up to. To avoid this article becoming length and boring, I’ll do very very quick point forms.

1) Internship at Waggener Edstrom ends

I spent my term break interning at Waggener Edstrom’s Studio D where I was doing mostly Social Media Marketing and Digital PR. For those of you who are unfamiliar with buzz words, it is planning and conceptualizing digital campaigns for clients to tell the right stories and experiences to the customers. In more simple terms, I have a license to Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter all day long 😀

It was a very interesting experience for me because my life activities have been turned over. What do I mean by turned over?

In the past:
During work: Code and develop stuff
After work: Read up on marketing strategies, plan campaigns and brainstorm creative ideas for own projects

At WE:
During work: Read up on marketing strategies, plan campaigns and brainstorm of creative ideas for clients
After work: Code and build my own fun stuff 😀

…and I have to admit I really like the switch in environment. A great company that knows how to recognize and value great talents 🙂

Would really like to thank Melvin for pulling me into the company and exposing me to the PR industry.

The Studio D team and Jen Houston during her visit to WE Singapore
For more personal pictures with the team, check my Facebook ^_~


2) Final Year Project and Startup
It is official now! After a few weeks of indecisiveness and running through various phases of paperwork, I will be working on my own proposed Final Year Project at NUS. I know it is quite a huge risk to take but I believe it is worth a try.

Although the focus still needs refinement, it’ll be about measuring the diffusion of “Word of Mouth” marketing both quantitative and qualitatively on Social Networks. My team and I will be building a youth retail site with an environment that would trigger “Word of Mouth” marketing (hopefully). We will then measure the flow of information about products/brands from one user to another and how recipients act on this information. The platforms we plan to integrate with the site are Facebook and Twitter. This retail site will also be the startup I’m currently working on.

Will update as more things are finalized ^_~.

3) Halo Session with HP’s CTO – Phil McKinney
This Friday I’ll be waking up in the wee hours of the morning (okay its not that bad! just really early for a morning person like me) to attend a video conference at HP’s office with HP’s CTO, Phil McKinney. It will be a roundtable discussion using HP’s Halo technology .

I’m really excited about this event as the topic we will be discussing is Natural User Interfaces! What is Natural User Interfaces (NUI)? In short, it is interfaces that are easy to learn through experience. To put it simply, they are interfaces designed so well that you don’t have to read the manual to learn how to use the device. Unfortunately the only experience I have with NUI is my little, amateur-ish, out of the garage interactive kitchen table. Would be really interesting to hear how the pros go about the innovation process. 😀

Alright that’s about it! Feel free to e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, drop comment if there are any questions you would like me to ask during the discussion with Phil. I know some of you are real experts in this area judging from the e-mails I got on the touch table in the past.

Have a good half week! ^_~


The Future of TV Stations

5 06 2009


When was the last time I watched cable TV?
Many many years ago… when I flipped my cable TV on recently out of EXTREME boredom, I didn’t realize which channels were which anymore. The station had revised the channel numbers TWICE and I missed both iterations!

How do I use my TV now?
Hook up my laptop to my HD TV using a HDMI cable, stream/play video on my laptop, watch away on the nice, big clear screen.

Will I get Cable TV when I have my own home? Will my friends get Cable TV?

But why??!!
Isn’t it obvious?! We’re arrogant. We don’t arrange our schedules around television programs anymore.. waaay too troublesome. We’ve tried that in the past and have always ended up going “When did this guy die?? o_O??”.

A couple of weeks back my colleague Calvin and I were talking about how long it has been since we last watched TV.. I realized that all I remembered was that it was EONS ago… leaving my Cable TV to collect dust (and continue feeding the TV station subscription fees). The interesting thing is, we know it is happening to majority of youths now, we’re sure the TV stations know it too but we still see the usual “$XYZ per month for 100+ channels” packages being promoted all over. However, instead of laughing at the death of these stations, we embarked instead on a discussion of how TV stations would change their models in the near future.

Model 1: Pay Per Channel Collection model


Saying Pay Per Channel may be very misleading as there are Cable TV stations that allow you to pay according to the number of channels you subscribe to. Instead of saying channel to avoid confusion, I’m going to say Collection. Every TV Station now have their own line of series like AXN with CSI and House, Star World with American Idol, MTV with Punk’d, Sweet Sixteen and the list goes on. I love watching all these programs and I’m subscribed to all these channels! but I watch them online now.. all because they do not fit into my schedule.

Instead of making viewers pay for PROGRAMMED Television, why not give them UNPROGRAMMED Television? How it works is simple. I subscribe to the channel and I instantly get on-demand access to any show shown on that channel, whenever I want. The next question that came was, whether there should be ads for these shows.. Currently, we are paying for channels and am kind enough to tolerate the ads shown on them. This is a convention that has been in place for years and people have gotten used to it.. When it comes to paying for on-demand access however, we have gotten used to a no ad policy and will probably be really unhappy if we saw ads popping up here and there. It doesn’t help either that a large portion of a station’s revenue comes from ads, hence a subscription-based on-demand model might not work.

Model 2: iTunes, meet TV


How about we apply the iTunes system to TV programs instead? Pay per episode of a series you want to watch. I admit that I am unsure of how much cost actually goes into the creation of each series but my guess is each episode would not exceed $1 million? So assuming that the cost of producing an episode of a TV series like Prison Break is $1 million and we charge users, say, $3 per episode taking into consideration users are already willing to pay $1 for a 4-minute song, $3 for a 1-hour video should be well-received. Multiply $3 with the average number of viewers during its worst season, we have:

$3 x 5.3 million viewers = $15.9 million

This is a profit of $14.9 million per episode not taking in the in-movie advertising and endorsements by companies. Even if the cost of the episode was $10 million the profit would be $4.9 million for each episode..

Prison Break was a huge success, so lets take a lesser known TV series instead. Lets try Harpers Island. Their latest episode only managed to garner 3.62 million viewers. Assuming that as this is not a popular series, we have only 20% of these 3.62 million viewers willing to pay for the episode.

20% x 3.62 million viewers = 724,000 viewers
$3 x 724,000 viewers = $2.1 mil

This still covers the cost of $1 mil per episode.

Consequences of model
The model actually feeds into a trait of consumers becoming more and more selective. If we feed into that trait, that would mean we are giving consumers a free hand to pick whatever they wanna see.. which also equates to lesser known TV series and movies dying. Is this a bad thing? No because even today, bad TV series are being pulled out by stations very quickly except that with this model, it may be pulled out faster as there are no ads to reduce losses. The result will be an ever more competitive market leading to an increase in the quality of media produced.

But what about series which are actually good but fail to succeed due to bad marketing? What if consumers only stick to the few series they are only aware of and never give the other series a chance? To tell you the truth, I, as a consumer actually do pay attention to the little icons and animations that pop up at the corner of the screen every now and then advertising an upcoming new series. I look forward to those as they give me a guide of what to check out in the gazillion series to choose from out there. In other words, I don’t mind paying for episodes that have some little animations and bars appearing to promote an upcoming series that is currently being practiced by TV stations. I believe most consumers wouldn’t mind those unobtrusive elements either.

If TV stations want to continue operating, they have to move towards new models that feed into the traits of UNPROGRAMMED, on-demand televising. If they don’t change their models soon, they will start to see their finances dwindle until it is too late and we will all be left with nothing but old video archives on the internet to watch. Coming up with a “Support TV stations! Don’t let them die” campaign won’t work because the benefits of on-demand streaming online is just too good. Better change before it is too late for all of us! (and we’ll just stick with computer games and box office movies). 😉

Note: This post was written from a consumer’s point of view. I am unfamiliar with the inner workings of the TV industry and as I couldn’t find much information of what elements of costing goes into the production of a TV series, my values were made based on estimations from costs of blockbuster movies

Lobbying: Formula for Facebook Pages?

23 05 2009

During a recent conversation my friend told me he had set up a Facebook page for his company’s new initiative. The first thought that went into my mind was “Not again..” but before jumping to any conclusion, I replied “Oh hey, that’s interesting. What are you doing on the page?”. To my disappointment, I got the answer I expected. “Engaging users, posting videos, links, news and inviting people”.

Many companies nowadays are setting up Facebook pages for their products and initiatives to “engage users” but most of these end up being a gathering of inactive users who either joined the page out of interest for the company/product, or out of goodwill for an invite from a friend. There are definitely several companies who have done well by doing what my friend did like Coke, Intel and Seventeen Magazine but the rest, especially by lesser known brands are quite dead.

What is the formula then for creating a successful Facebook Page? This is the question I was wondering before I decided to find common traits between 2 successful campaigns which I believe might work for other companies as well. The keyword that popped into my head was:


Note here what I mean by lobbying is not lobbying done by the company but rather by users and fans of the company. Also note that this probably applies more to specific events / campaigns rather than general company pages. Let me illustrate by drawing on 2 examples:

1) Victoria’s Secret PINK Campaign (Over 1 million fans)

This was a hugely successful campaign not because it gathered lots of fans, but because its fans were voluntarily creating groups, activities and content around the campaign. What Victoria Secret did was create a PINK collegiate collection where users could nominate and register their school to be part of the collection. Victoria Secret would manufacture a PINK collection branded with the school’s logo and mascot. This created a lot of excitement and gave their users (aka college girls) enough reason for them to lobby their friends into it, garnering more than 1 million fans.

2) Target Bullseye Campaign (Over 75,000 fans in 4 days)

Image from Inside Facebook

Target wanted to donate US$3 million to charity this year but didn’t want to do it in the traditional way where charities receive the money and a picture of them holding a gigantic mock cheque appears in the papers. They wanted something that would capture the attention of youths on Facebook as well, and hence created a Facebook application on their page. In the application, fans could vote for their favorite charities and at the end of the 2 week campaign, the US$3 million will be split amongst the 10 charities based on the percentage of votes they received. Almost immediately, this campaign has given the charities MORE than enough reason for them to lobby all their supporters to get onto the Target page and vote for them. The campaign is now over but according to Inside Facebook, the campaign garnered 75,000 fans after just 4 days.

Reason for lobbying??
The next question is how do you go about creating these incentives for people to lobby their friends. I’m no expert at this either as I’ve not created any successful Facebook pages/groups before but these are my observations based on what gets me to lobby my friends:

1) Something I want or strongly believe in…
If a campaign would give me something I want should I get my friends in, then I’d lobby for it. One example would be to look at the immensely popular and addictive Facebook game PackRat (sorry for picking a game, but I think they have great incentive systems). PackRat is a game where you go around collecting sets of collectible cards and stash them in a vault by stealing from your friends. They give 2 very strong reasons to lobby your friends:
i) You’d have more friends to steal cards from and grow your collection
ii) Inviting a certain number of friends gets you a limited edition card

Note here that there is a clear guarantee of reward if you achieve certain milestones which I believe beats crappy “invite 3 friends and increase your chances” incentives.

For an example closer to home? Take the latest GI Joy SoyJoy campaign which got bloggers like Nadnut to rally all her friends, blog readers and companies she knows to vote for her and participate. The prize for her? A trip to Japan (and all the buzz that comes with it).

2) Something I can own…
This may come a little hard as if you’re a company on a low budget / just starting out, you wouldn’t want to spend money on physical products as rewards that people can own. The alternative is a digital solution which a lot of people have come to dislike.. my friends still prefer handwritten letters and physical greeting cards to electronic ones anytime. However, if you give them something they can own and show off to their friends, chances are they will participate more. This reminds me of the super old and probably forgotten Vampire & Werewolves game on Facebook where everyone was literally inviting everyone else to get the side they were on (Vampire or Werewolf) to get bigger than the other for “world domination”. The items they are owning here are was something very simple. A small tiny square badge on their profile with a vampire/wolf picture that would evolve with their rank and 2 lines of statistics.

3) The Cold Start problem
Like many new brands / products, there is the cold start problem. Not every company has a huge database of customers whom they can already mass mail to start getting them lobbying for them. The key here is to reach out to key people in your target audience who will be inspired to do the lobbying for you. This brings me back to the NEXUS ’07 by TDM which attracted over 800 registrations within 2 weeks (and we had to turn some away). The publicity was done purely through only social media and none of the traditional press methods. I’m not trying to promote NEXUS or anything here but I thought this was a good example of a cold start problem to highlight. Back then I was very skeptical about the power of social media and had a very traditional mindset of how events should be publicized but Ming Yeow, the founder, was trying extremely convert me. This started with us looking for key experts to work with us on the conference programme. Believe it or not, the very first person we contacted was Kevin Lim. We met up with Kevin, told him what NEXUS’07’s inspiration was and from his immense knowledge of Second Life, we invited him to run the Virtual Worlds track of the event. What I didn’t expect after that was that the plug on his blog would lead to many other blogs plugging us as well and a sudden surge in website hits. o_O

4) Eat your own dog food
Okay.. this is starting to sound like a start-up lessons thingy but seriously, this point is very relevant here as well since you are creating something to market your initiative. Nothing much to elaborate here except the simple point: Will you be excited enough to get your friends involved? Or will you only be excited to submit an entry and not be motivated to tell your friends about it? The first question should be the one you’re answer “YES!!!” and the second question is where you say “NOPE!”. If it is the other way around, then the chances of visitors to your campaign lobbying their friends for it will be low.

Concluding Words
I know coming up with a good reason for getting people to lobby their friends and organization members for your initiative may be hard as you don’t want it to sound too gimmicky either (and potentially end up ruining your company’s reputation) but if you get it right, you should have a pretty good chance of generating a lot of buzz around your Facebook page. And trust me, this is much easier than creating a successful Facebook application. If I’m not wrong, the only somewhat successful Facebook app by a company to date is Whopper Sacrifice by Burger King? That is like a once in a blue moon thing.

Other formulas for a successful Facebook page:
Successful Facebook Fan page article by Mashable
How to develop a Facebook Page that attracts millions of fans by All Facebook

Virality: Reduce efforts of customers

7 10 2008

I was reading Ben’s post about social media marketing examples from Singapore and I can’t help but wonder why most of these initiatives are limited to YouTube and blogging. If you think about it, the idea of getting people to blog and create videos requires quite a bit of effort.

Why am I emphasizing on the word “effort” here? Of course you will say that these people did it all on a voluntary basis and there is definitely no doubt about that. However, did the voluntary efforts of these people encourage more people to voluntarily do the same as well? I believe more often than not, when we see someone’s video entry for a competition or a blog post about a blogger night/review, very few are encouraged to do the same leading to no virality. This in turn leads to people only talking about your product with friends instead of actively becoming voluntary ambassadors for them.

Having said the above, I would like to highlight a very simple but successful campaign which got many youths in America championing the product, voluntarily. The product is no other than your M&M chocolate. When I visited the states in February 2007 last year, I can’t help but wonder why almost every friend I made had M&M characters as their avatar profiles. It looked so cool that I wanted one as well! It was all from the new “Become an M&M” campaign.

M&M-ed Yuen!

M&M created a very simple online application where anyone could visit, no sign-ups, do some clicking and poof! They have their M&Ms. Every M&M my friends had were very distinct and different. The application is very well crafted, complete with a plethora of accessories, expressions and styles to choose from. I actually found my pair of favourite boots and hat which I personally own to clothe my M&M. Even though the whole process was very simple and easy, I ended up spending 2 hours on it because I really wanted it to represent who I am. In other words, I, and the thousands of “M&Mers” out there were voluntarily putting in effort out of interest and hype, and this lead to our friends and their friends doing the same too.

Why was I interested to even try out the “Become an M&M” application from the start? Apart from the concept being intriguing, it came across as something that is very easy to do (aka requiring very little effort). It didn’t matter that at the end users spent more time and effort than initially expected customizing their M&Ms. The effect of getting many people started was there.

If you’re a company owner, you might argue that coming up with ingenious campaigns like these take quite a bit of effort, time and creativity. However, one thing is for sure: people don’t voluntarily do things that look like it is going to take up their time. Sometimes, it pays to try something different, something that helps the user become cool (part of the hype) and most importantly, something that requires very little effort on the user’s end.

Google Insights: Measure your marketing strategies

25 09 2008

Nowadays when most of us tech-savvy people read about something in the papers or hear about it from a friend, the first thing we would most probably do is Google it. If you think about it, statistics of search keywords on Google is actually quite a good measure of your company or product’s popularity among netizens which is a huge proportion of the population in most developed countries. Consequently, it is also a good measure of how effective your new marketing campaign has been.

I don’t know when Google released this new feature but I’ve only come to know about it last week while trying to get hold of some Google search statistics. This new feature is Google Insights which allows you to analyze trends of Google search keywords with enough volume. It is so comprehensive that you can use it to narrow search statistics down to not only countries, but also states and cities. I was quite skeptical about the trends shown in the statistics at first but decided to test it out by checking the trending for “David Cook” in the past 12 months.

The statistics look very accurate with the trend peaking during the May-June 2008 period when he was competing in the finals and crowned American Idol.

Seeing how accurate the statistics can be, I decided to use it as a measure of how effective some marketing strategies of products I’m familiar with is. A good example would be the popularity of the HP TouchSmart PC at the period when HP had the Bloggers’ Pre-Launch event. The event happened on the 24th of June so I took a look at the trend from June 2008 – August 2008 for the search term “HP touchsmart” with “Singapore” as the location.

If you scroll over the peaks and troughs in the graph above (within Google Insights), you will see the following data:

Date Search Index Comments
Until 22 June 0 Before Blogger event
29 June 70 After Blogger event + Launch in Berlin – Rise observed
6 July 82 Further rise observed (more posts about blogger event?)
13 July 69 Fall despite bloggers hosting competition on their blogs
20 July 82 After official launch in Singapore. Rise observed
24 August 100 Rise observed all the way until 24 August

Between 29th June to 6th July there was a rise in the trends, showing that the blogger event may have do HP some good by getting more netizens to know about the HP TouchSmart. However, there was another wave of bloggers blogging when HP hosted their “Win a TouchSmart” Competition but this time, a fall was observed (13th July) based on the assumption that all bloggers who attended the Blogger Event also blogged about the competition. This sort of shows that the earlier rise from 29th June to 6th July was more because of the HP TouchSmart launch in Berlin than the bloggers from the Singapore blogger event disseminating information on their blogs. 20th July onwards, the TouchSmart has been receiving a steady rise in popularity showing that the “old media” marketing strategies have been effective in reaching out to many more netizens.

We can see from the above that the Blogger Event may not have been successful with other factors like the launch in Berlin and the “Old Media” channels having a greater outreach to netizens. However, just like all statistics, the above analysis were based on many assumptions like during the official launch period, HP did not employ other “New media” marketing strategies that may have complemented and boosted the rise in trending and that they were doing a lot of heavy old-school advertising. The point here is, instead of estimating the influence a blogger event has on a product launch from the number of blog postings, a blog’s authority rating on Technorati, etc etc, it’d be better to maintain all other marketing projects constant and watch how the trending is affected at the period the event is held.

I’m not saying that blogger events, social media nights and new media marketing are insignificant but it would be more efficient to measure which type of events(including activities done during the event) and strategies(like starting a competition on Friendster or creating an app on Facebook) worked for a product and which ones did not. Subsequently, marketing strategists who are aiming to use more digital means can also have a better feel of what is more effective for their company / product in reaching out to their specific target groups than blindly using strategies others have used. As the saying goes, not every shoe fits everyone. You have to cut the shoe to fit your own feet.


Note: There are many other statistical tools out there which you can use for various purposes like Facebook Lexicon to view popularity of keywords on Facebook walls. This post was written to highlight an example of how a tool like Google Insights can be used to measure a popularity of your product/company among netizens.

Friendster dying? More like growing

29 06 2008

On Wednesday, The Digital Movement(TDM) had the privilege of hosting Jeff Roberto, Marketing Director of Friendster Inc who was here in Singapore for the Ad:Tech conference! It was a closed lunch session at the porsh Global Kitchen located in Pan Pacific Hotel with 10 people consisting of TDM’ers, bloggers and thought leaders in the social media space.

What I really liked about this session was how everyone was seated together on a round table and had ample opportunity to ask Jeff questions while he talked about Friendster’s plans to move forward and grow in the social networking(SNS) scene of Asia. Okay I know you’re probably thinking “Who cares about Friendster? They’re dead” with most of our friends having moved their attention to Facebook. However, we often forget they only represent one sector of the Gen Y population from the age of 20 onwards from a small segment of Asia.

Interesting Statistics (Global)
Here are some statistics from Jeff (source of data: ComScore Inc.) that gives a better picture of Friendster’s position globally:

7th Largest Website in the world with 22 billion page views. The only SNS ahead of it is Facebook

Monthly page views increased from 6 billion to 22 billion over the past year. Looks like Friendster is actually growing. My interpretation of this is the number of people joining/spending time on Friendster has increased and is more than the number of people leaving.


A variety of statistics showing Friendster’s growth over the past year


This graph shows the average number of minutes spent monthly on each site. I find this information very interesting. Even after Facebook introduced Facebook chat, people are still spending more time on Friendster. Could it be the explosion of noise from the insane amount of Facebook apps that is causing this? Might explain why the upcoming Facebook profile interface will be separating apps from the main profile page.


Interesting Statistics (Asia)
Alright I know you have had enough of Statistics. I’ll get to the Q&A part soon. Just one more graph to show how Friendster is doing in Asia. ^^;;

Currently Friendster is at least twice the size of any SNS in Asia but as Facebook has just started picking up its pace around the region and I don’t have the growth graph for Asia, it is hard to say where Friendster will stand in the future


Future Plans

1) Users leaving
One of the questions I asked Jeff was whether Friendster has any plans to reduce the number of older youths from leaving to other SNS like Facebook. His response after a quick laugh was that they are definitely very interested in retaining their users but currently their main target group (which is a majority of their users) are in the age range of 16 to young adults. If users want to move to Facebook which has an interface that caters better to the mature audience they won’t stop them.
I would relate this to the business analogy:

Instead of customizing the product to fulfill everyone’s changing taste and interests(and risk having a bad product), it is better to focus on the needs of one segment and deliver a really good product

To me his response makes sense as most of the teenagers (at least those I know from Malaysia and Singapore) are still actively engaged and signing onto Friendster and not Facebook as most people their age are not on it. However on the other hand if the tastes of these youths change to liken that of Facebook’s interface and content, Friendster might be facing a problem just like how university and college students are moving now.

2) Tapping on local celebrities

Another question I asked was about Friendster’s marketing plans to continue growing their user base in Asia. One of their plans is to partner with local celebrities to set up Fan Profiles to not only encourage their fans to support them on Friendster but to also build their fan base among the Friendster community. I thought this was a very interesting strategy that have not been done by any SNS in the region.

An interesting point about Fan Profiles is that unknown artists have built a larger fan base than well known ones. One of the success stories is Karen Kong, a Malaysian singer who built her career and fan base on Friendster. She has done some interesting things to build her popularity like broadcasting an online concert series. She now has 168K fans as compared to famous singer JJ Lin’s 40K.

3) Building content with local companies and developers
Instead of leaving the community to develop content for the platform, Friendster will be working closely with local companies and developers to develop content that is attractive to the locals of each country in the region. This campaign has been tested with Rexona’s campaign in Malaysia and Nokia’s iTalentStar contest. The Rexona campaign was a competition where users had to sign on to Friendster and add the Rexona Room Makeover app to participate. Nokia’s iTalentStar was an American Idol style online competition with participants from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillipines with users voting for their favourite talents on the contest pages. Both campaigns received tens of thousands of fans on their fan pages.

4) Going mobile with text alerts!

So yea, Friendster has gone mobile but there’s no big deal about that. Everyone is mobile. The difference though is text alerts. Not everyone in Asia can afford a 3G connection and have access to Wi-fi but everyone has access to a phone service. With text alerts, they will be able to literally keep up to date when on the move. Think about it as Twitter for Friendster.

The nice thing about this is that it is not one-way. Users can use text alerts to update shoutouts, post bulletins, send messages and friend requests. When I asked Jeff about the costs, he said that they’ll be partnering with local telco companies so that only standard text messaging rates will apply. I must say it is a good and unique mobile strategy for Asian countries. Now they just have to add the application feature and users will be hooked on their profiles all day.

To sum the meeting up, after meeting Jeff my perception of Friendster’s current state and future changed as the statistics presented looked positive, the plans sound solid and Jeff’s excitement gave the impression that the team of 65 at Friendster’s office is equally confident. Looking at their plans to open country offices in Asia, we can expect some exciting things coming along our way very soon.

Alright! Before I sign off here are some pics 😀

Side note: About offices, I asked Jeff whether the offices in Asia will be doing any development work coz as we all know, most APAC offices do sales and operations. He is unsure of the exact arrangements but the office in Phillipines will be doing development work while the rest will focus more on sales and marketing. Oh well…

The press kit comes in a small, elegant tin box.

Inside is a USB drive containing the press kit, data and presentation slides. I just love the USB drive. Its so cute!

The small group of us 😀

By the way, food was fantastic!

Second Life from a non-gamer/non-techy’s perspective

26 08 2007

Last week as I was having dinner my floormates popped me a question, “Su Yuen, what’s new and interesting in the technology space?”. Knowing they don’t play games and are not technologically inclined, I decided to tell them about Second Life because I figured it was one of the less geeky and more interesting concepts to talk about.

They’ve never heard of Second Life but the idea of virtual worlds was not alien to them. However, their idea of a virtual world was very different from what Second Life is, one like World of Warcraft where there is a fantasy magical world with mages, monsters and creatures. Upon being informed that Second Life was just literally a virtual version of our current world, the first thoughts that went into their mind was “BOREDOM!!”. Why would anyone want to live in a virtual world that was like the real world? This reaction came as a shock to me as I never saw it that way, neither did my geeky friends who are always up to date with everything tech. I knew this was going to be an interesting discussion.

As a person who once thought Second Life was a great idea, I strived to defend it by tying it in with the concept of an online version of The Sims, but with much more freedom (and without a retarded family AI). I explained how the game worked, where you are an avatar with no goals and infinite freedom to do anything under the sun imaginable. The idea of being whoever you want and doing whatever you want went down well with them. They started to understand why many people would play Second Life, you could be a whole different person living your dream life.

Then the downside came, where you had to work for money to buy the things you needed to fulfill your dream life like cars and houses, and these do not come cheap. In other words, Second Life is not spared from the rat race of the real world. I explained how they could earn Linden dollars by working, getting a job from the classifieds, starting a company and creating objects for sale. AND, of course I did not hesitate to tell them majority of the job listings are red light jobs; prostitution, porn movie productions, pole dancing and strip dancing. “Huh? Why were people looking for employees in this field?” They were more shocked with the employers than the employees of such jobs. Was there a market for such services?

I then told them “This may be surprising but pornography is the number 1 growing and flourishing industry in Second Life”.

Friends: Umm….? You mean people actually PAY to watch avatars strip and have sex?

Me: Yes, they do that

Friends: Wait, do the avatars look realistic?

Me: No, they look like polygon meshes with not much detailing.

Friends: But why would you pay to watch meshes strip? Why would you even pay for your avatar to have sex with another avatar? You are not the one experiencing or benefiting from it but your meshy-looking avatar which you are not cognitively and sensually connected to.

I didn’t have an answer as I wasn’t one of the patrons of this industry in Second Life.

In the next segment of the discussion, I told them about how people are using Second Life to earn REAL money and not just Linden dollars. Their eyes gleamed with surprise as I continued to explain how you could exchange Linden dollars for US dollars and vice versa. “Wait a minute, and vice versa? There are people who exchange REAL money for Linden dollars?” This phenomenon blew their minds as they couldn’t believe people were paying money in exchange for something non-existent with a perceived value, something which the gaming world is familiar with. Gamers are used to using money to buy gold, characters and rare weapons/items in MMORPGs but to people who have never been accustomed to this, it was unbelievable.

The question that followed was “How do the creators make money?”. My answer was “Real estate”. Another look of jaw-dropping shock displayed on their faces particularly when I told them about Anshe Chung, a real estate agent who has earned more than $1 million. Again, the idea of using real money to buy something unreal shocked them, especially virtual property which is expensive. In other words, Second Life’s creators are making money from selling a concept/idea that is non-existent with a perceived value. This equates to a high profit margin, maybe 90-95%? My friends started to think of the geniuses behind Second Life in awe.

Towards the end of the discussion, thoughts about a large portion of the world economy being driven by activities in virtual worlds ran through their minds. This may seem absurd but no one knows how virtual worlds will disrupt our culture and lives in the future. After all, no future is certain. I, on the other hand, left the discussion feeling glad with no regrets. My friends’ reactions and thoughts gave me a perspective of Second Life and the phenomenon of virtual worlds I’ve not come across before (one that hints at humans being crazy and totally unpredictable).

Interesting articles you might want to read:
1) How Madison Avenue is wasting millions on a Deserted Second Life?
2) Virtual Tokyo to be unveiled in cyberspace’s Second Life (Thanks to Estee for highlighting this article)