Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bait Shops, Cement Plants, And Dogfood

Over on Girl Meets Second Life, Caterin spent an afternoon at an SL Cement Plant. A cement works in SL? Is it part of an urban role-playing game? Evidently, the cement works is from FLSmidth, ‘FLSmidth is a Danish world-leading manufacturer of cement and minerals plants’. It's like a cement plant theme park. What do they expect out of SL?

This reminds me a lot of the early pioneering days of the Internet. Back then, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon - they didn't know where it was going or what it meant, but everyone was talking about it, so they had to be there.

The Internet was a heady, confusing, eclectic, mixture of sites back then. There were new forms of money, dog food was being shipped at exorbitant rates, and everything was free. How do cement companies figure into this? Well, small business was trying to get on the Internet or the Information Superhighway as the press was hyping it back then.

Small companies, who had no other desire or need to get on the Internet except that their CIO read about it in a magazine, were trying to make websites. Most of these failed.

Friends of mine who, at the time, worked building websites for companies tell me about small businesses coming to them and asking for websites. When asked what did they want it for, what purpose did it serve, and fundamentally, what did they expect, had no idea other than, "we need a website, if we don't have one, we'll be left behind."

"Left behind" of what, they had no idea about, but everyone was raving about it, so like greedy little kids, they wanted one and they wanted people to go to it. They thought it would drive real world sales. Website builders kept telling these small companies that you needed to "be different", to make the site like "a game" or to "give something away for free." The common logic was that you had to provide something that consumers wanted so that they would come see your real world products and then go buy them. I don't know about you, but I didn't sit around going to big name brand web sites playing cruddy games and then thinking, "I want a Big Mac."

To this day, some companies still think like that, have you ever been to Pepsi's website? Me neither. I've heard they run contests and they used to provide games to play, or something like that, maybe that was Coke's website or was that any of a number of other big, real world brands.

I've been watching Second Life since I came to it over a year ago and it bears much resemblance to the early days of the Internet. The graphics sucked, really, a child with crayons made better icons than what passed for cutting edge on the old websites and the first things in Second Life also look like anyone could make it. The ease of writing a simple web page and throwing together some graphics so that nearly everyone did it is very similar to how the simple prim and texture objects that we build with in Second Life are right now. Do you see many of those types of websites floating around on anything other than hobbyist pages? I didn't think so. You either spend lots of money to have an IT department to have a site or you use an internet application like Blogger or eBay Stores. If you are really fancy you use a "website in a box" on a rented server, like WordPress.

If we look at Second Life to determine what it will look like ten years from now, we will see that big corporate sites like Pepsi are only useful for finding the phone number so you can call to complain about their real world products and not much else. I think that Playboy and other sims are going to end like this. The real winners are sites that allow you to find what you are looking for or to buy those hard to find things. But, perhaps the most successful will be like the unforeseen winners of today. Perhaps, there will even be a new revolution in user content, like what you are reading right now, a blog.

The big counter-point to the "all websites are professional" is that most of what we do on the Internet outside of shopping is social networking, blogging, and watching videos and it's created by amateurs for consumption by amateurs. That is remarkably like Second Life. Is Second Life a YouTube, for person to person interaction, or is Second Life, like Linden Labs would lead you to believe, a platform like the Internet? I think it really is a platform and you are going to see more "Bill Joe Jim Bob's Bait Shop" style sims until both big and little business figures out what it's doing.

Eventually the real selling will arise and we will be using Second Life to buy furniture and clothes online because now we can actually "see and touch" them. You wait, open registration is only the beginning, Linden is probably thinking about registration-less Second Life, so that Ikea can point its website to a sim in Second Life with models of all of their furniture where you can see how it looks next to all of your other furniture and then purchase it. Or enter your measurements, an avatar is created and now you can see what an outfit will look like on you. Some sites are already doing something like this with your picture and trying out new hair-cuts before you go to a salon.

Then will come the "new media", similar to blogs or YouTube, what will we be trading around? 3D models, animations, toys and gadgets? Maybe. All I know is that for Second Life to realize its potential as a new "platform" it will have to become more open, not less. Less like a pay-per-month game like Warcraft and more like a browser - always there. Will Linden Lab go the way of Netscape, giving us a browser and a server for free, then dying? I don't think so, the asset server, lindens, and a few other things prevents that.

Anyway, enough pontificating and conjecturing, now I really do want to go find small businesses like the cement one and get any freebies they are giving away. I missed out on the "big freebie giveaways" of the mid to late 90s. Give me my free loot!


October Hush said...

I'm very disappointed with the lack of bimbo-related content of this post.

Caterin Semyorka said...

and now you know where to get yer cement from ;)

Tiessa said...

I am still wondering what the purpose of this build is - is it to educate us about cement? Is it to drive real world sales through advertising? I doubt they are going to see a bunch of avatars running around in cement branded t-shirts, which will be seen by the minuscule of people that this cement works can actually sell to in the Real World, and will remind them to buy from this company.

I just find it very illogical. My current leading theory is that one of the senior developers for that cement works happens to play Second Life and convinced his boss that it would be a way to advertise. Thereby allowing him to play Second Life while he was at work.

I've seen that sort of thing at a number of small businesses before; the head IT guys want to play with a new technology and the company indulges them just so they don't quit and go to a "cooler" company.