For years my 12 year old son has expressed over and over again how he wants to be in the video game space. He’s stayed on campus at the UofMN for two years with ID Tech Camp’s summer programs in video game design and is immersed in gaming and virtual worlds.
At first, my bride and I were concerned by his rabid and passionate embrace of games. “Hey…go outside and ride your bike or something” was our constant refrain on beautiful summer days when he was opting to be inside gaming with a buddy or a team online. As a parent, the key to successful launching of a kid is to find and fuel their passion — whatever it may be and regardless of how we might feel about it — so we’re fueling his gaming passion (and still ensuring he is balanced and in the fresh air!).
I’ve been skimming articles for a few years now on the examinations of gaming theory on learning, collaboration, team building and educational process. Great minds are examining the power of video games — a power which even was being looked at as a possible psychiatric addiction…but the American Medical Association recently eliminated it from inclusion in a widely used diagnostic manual of psychiatric illnesses.
Now IBM has been seriously exploring the future of work and gaming (by way of 3PointD) with the firm Seriosity.
Figuring out the importance, the best practices and zero’ing in on the most powerful aspects of virtual work — and creating software systems and processes that are effective — make perfect sense for an organization like IBM and this study and their initiative is highly interesting. But I’m more interested in the fact that IBM is even looking at this category as I join other strategists and visionaries in determining what it means when business, education, social ties and human consciousness are connected and increasingly virtual.
How do we come together in teams virtually? What software can we use that is instantly intuitive and fosters collaboration and, especially, creativity and innovation? What are the protocols and behaviors we need to exhibit in order to make virtual connections trustworthy, meaningful and productive? How can coming together virtually be really fun and delightful so it will be attractive rather than a burden to participants?
Minnesota is a great place to live and raise kids. Yes, the winters are brutal but the benefits outweigh the troubles. So much so that most of my 600+ high school graduating class members still live hereafter several decades.
There are A LOT of smart people in the Land of 10,000 Lakes — both home grown and those transplanted here. Successful businesses abound like Target, Best Buy, Medtronic, General Mills, 3M, UnitedHealth Group and many, many more. World class businesses and leadership in their respective industries. But as the world of business gets increasingly mapped on to the Internet, it’s highly unlikely that these organizations will lead us to the promised land of Internet innovation. They’ll just wait and see who is successful and leverage capital to buy-in strategically. Sadly this is often a too-little-too-late move.
Frequently I complain about my conversations with leaders in Minnesota and how I first need to educate them on Web 2.0 and Internet-as-a-platform before we can have a productive conversation about the paradigm shifts and disruption occurring. The next challenge is how to work on driving forward strategically and embracing the changes. “Why aren’t you already innovating on the rapidly accelerating Internet platform?“, I’ll ask. The answers range from “Not sure what to do” to “it’s not a big deal for my business yet“. The former we can work on…the latter closes the door.
Closing the door isn’t an option in a time of accelerating change. Every client I have and every industry I analyze is being disrupted in some fashion by the Internet. Fortunately there are thought leaders guiding us.
Last night I attended the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Awards. Just simply being at this event and absorbing the vibe was meaningful for me and I’ll bring forth a perspective that may be atypical and worth putting into the conversation about EFF.
Nearly four years ago was the first time that I donated to EFF and began my support of this organization. Though I look like “a suit”, a Republican and a mainstream sort of guy, I’m an independent, a closet liberal, enjoy some Libertarian leanings and am quite open to growing in my perspective as I learn — especially legally and politically — as we all push against the membrane of the future.
Five or so years ago I became more enlightened. I was stunned by the multiple, parallel, onrush of efforts by copyright holders, Congress, world intellectual capital bodies, governments globally as well as intelligence communities, to command, control and infiltrate all aspects of the Internet. As I started to try getting my head wrapped around even a few of the issues, I realized that there was NO way that I could be competently informed about even ONE of these issues shaping our future….let alone dozens of them at a time!
Enter the EFF. I learned that here was an organization whose mission was to be that competent, informed entity who’d act to intervene, stop or shape the debate about the most important issues facing us in our digital future. With more and more of our relationships, commerce, free speech, entertainment — you name it — being created or delivered digitally, I (and you) could either pull the covers over our collective heads or get involved…and support those who’ve rolled up their sleeves, dug their hands in the muck and are in the fray.
So that’s what I did. Last night was great for a lot of reasons and validated (in spades) the vital importance of this organization and the people who’ve dedicated money, support and all or part of their lives to the mission.
When Cisco bought into the social networking game, there were a lot of folks in the blogosphere scratching their heads wondering why they did it. I didn’t pay much attention to this acquisition since it seemed tactical and not terribly interesting. But now with Cisco buying WebEx (press release here) it sheds a whole new light on their potential strategy to become even a bigger and more material part of the Internet-as-a-platform layer.
What could this mean and why should you care?
If you’re a developer, it’s important to keep an eye on strategic moves since (by their very nature) companies try to position themselves for category dominance. Unfortunately, this often translates into trying to wrest control of standards and protocols or otherwise defend against competition, maintain growth and enjoy huge gross margins often to your detriment.
If you’re a buyer of I.T. products or services, you need to understand what’s happening strategically so that you know which horse to bet on and ensure you don’t paint-yourself-into-a-corner with some given vendor and their approach.
But there’s alot more to this acquisition than meets the eye.
Like me, if you’re paying any attention to the signs, trends and foundational elements upon which innovation in technology occurs, then you have to be seeing what I’m seeing…it’s sooo close. Do you see it?
Right there. Don’t see it yet? OK then, let’s push against the membrane of the future together for a minute.
If you look now you can just make out a mobile device, connected to a ubiquitous wireless network (that you can use even when you’re miles from a major metro area, off the autobahn or Interstate highway system, or at some point in the future on the Serengeti plain in Africa) and is so simple to use that you’re able to connect and re-connect to the global grid in an instant and have all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips.
When you’re in your car, at a restaurant, a dinner party, at a business meeting, at school…anything connected to the global grid you’re authorized or able to grab is yours for the snagging from a device in your hand.
We’re partially there now and more is coming.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, Apple’s eagerly anticipated iPhone is the closest concept yet to a just beyond the membrane of the future simple to use, multi-function device that will be useful for the masses to leverage our currently decent wireless network…and is one set to expand dramatically.
According to GigaOM today, there are distinct chunks of spectrum that hold the promise of mass geographical coverage and expanding the grid. An increasing number of mobile communications online applications are proliferating (e.g., this list at eConsultant). The World Wide Web Consortium’s Mobile Initiative adds even more fuel to the fire of a mobile, global grid.
Couple that with the always-on, always-connected, culture of participation (see “Rise of the Participation Culture“) and you have a brew from which all sorts of possibilities come forth!
Though I look like some geek when I do this, at least twice a week I’ll be in a conversation and someone will say something like, “You know…that ocean…the one by (country here)….what’s that called?” I’ll whip out my Treo, go to Google, enter a search string and, I swear to God, almost instantly I can find a reference to that country and there’s an obvious link that contains the data where I can answer that question. It’s a bit of a conversation stifler at the moment as I futz with the device, but I’m pretty good at glossing over my thumbing on the Treo, we carry on the conversation, and I circle back to the fact and insert it into our discussion. Works great.
Did this at a dinner party one evening awhile back when people were struggling with an artist and a song. No one knew, the conversation continued, and about two minutes later I mentioned the artist. “OH YEAH!” came the head-slap comments and we carried on. Trivial in the scheme of life I realize, but extend this to the DOZENS OF TIMES PER DAY that I look something up on Google, use Google Maps, find a phone number on Directory Assistance, send SMS messages, send a photo/blog post to one of my private client blogs, use Instant Messaging….all from applications that run on my Treo!
So how is this going to transform the world? In ways predictable but mostly ones that are not. Who knows what will be the killer application for the always connected world — especially when better geotracking is in the mix? What I do know is that some of it is already here…and if you push just hard enough on the membrane of the future you’ll have a good indication of what’s coming.
If there were ever a reason to work toward reducing our carbon footprint, building Web applications, online virtual spaces and other activities that allow humans to minimize our impact on the Earth, it’s the report from the United Nations that, “The world population continues its path towards population ageing and is on track to surpass 9 billion persons by 2050, as revealed by the newly released 2006 Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections.” (More detailed data is here as both a PDF and Excel spreadsheet).
Holy crap. Over 9 BILLION?
To give you some perspective on how population change is ACCELERATING, this quaint little map from the British Empire Atlas from 1918 that you see above says in part, “The population of the World is 1600 millions, the bulk of which is settled in two regions: the Indo-China-Japanese region about 800 millions (half the population of the world), and the Central European region about 360 millions. The only other densely populated region is the Eastern side of the United States and Canada with about 90 millions.” (More here).
Though population estimates are significantly more accurate today, 1.6 billion to 9.2 billion in 89 years is a pretty frightening increase.
- As I think about these numbers, the sustainability questions flood my brain: How can the Earth sustain this number of humans? What will we eat and drink? As industrialized nations move from growing food to growing renewable energy resources, is there enough to go around? Since most of the population growth is in developing nations, will the pressure on richer nations mean more wars, negative economic impacts or, God forbid, ways to accelerate genocides like what’s happening in Darfur?
- A continual migration from real-world to virtual questions abound: What happens as we disconnect from the natural world and move online? Will all of us move into our heads and be less in touch with the natural world? Even though I’ve shared many experiences with them in wilderness, I’ve found that my kids already are pretty unaware of the subtelties and nuances of the shift in seasons, how to align with nature and even their expectations as we travel down an Interstate highway in a remote area that a few miles off the highway there is….no one.
- Lastly, the enormity of the problem, the strategic political and governmental necessities, and the moral ambiguities between cultures and religions exacerbate attempts at controlling the problem. I wonder how those who consider themselves religious ignore these realities and object to birth control (no….I’m not going to discuss abortion) as a means of population control?
Remember last year when physicist Stephen Hawking proclaimed that humans *must* colonize other planets — he believes global warming, nuclear war or a genetically engineered virus could wipe out the earth –in order to survive as a species and he was ridiculed in many circles? I read dozens of blog posts, news articles (like this one) and opinion pieces that missed the point of his central argument: humans all settled in one place (i.e., our planet Earth) are vulnerable to mass extinction.
He didn’t even get in to a discussion that we might breed ourselves into extinction.
Last week I was delighted to receive an offer to be in a hosted session with Greg Nuyens, CEO of Qwaq, to take a pre-launch peek at a secure, virtual workspace product called “Qwaq Forums”…a product built upon the open source Croquet project (site Croquet Consortium site here).
In April of last year I wrote a post entitled, “Is Second Life the Future of Collaboration and Social Software?” since I’d been thinking deeply about the implications of metaverse world’s like Second Life providing us with ever higher ability to be involved in an immersive, persistent, engaging, fun and creative space. But just like Skype’s proprietary protocol limits the ability to leverage their IP telephony or Apple’s closed iPod (and soon to be closed iPhone launch) limits the expansion, this seemingly needed control limits what organizations can (or will) do with technology.
Qwaq’s approach is that their product, Qwaq Forums, “…enhances the productivity of distributed teams by bringing critical resources together in a virtual place, as if they were in an actual physical location, and providing them with all the tools and collaboration capabilities they need to work more effectively together. With Qwaq Forums, users can work together to establish workflow steps, create or review information in software applications, and evaluate designs in 2D and 3D, all while discussing topics using built-in text and voice chat. Further enhancing employee productivity, Qwaq Forums virtual workspaces are always available so users can return to a forum at another time to access and view changes that have occurred since they last visited the virtual space.”
So what was my experience like and why should you be keenly interested? I think you might be surprised by my perception…