Metanomics: Interview with There.com CEO Michael Wilson

This evening another Metanomics session was on, this time with the CEO of There.com, Michael Wilson. It turned out to be a quite interesting interview as we learned Michael Wilson’s view of things. Unfortunately there weren’t many people in the Metanomics backchannel who shared his opinion.

But for the setting maybe: The actual interview was conducted by Robert Bloomfield from Cornell in There.com and streamed live from there (or There) to Second Life and to SLCN.tv (should be up there shortly).

So my main impression from this interview was that the important thing in There.com is earning money and doing marketing. Earning money of course for the companies and There themselves. People exploring There.com at the same time as the interview was on also supported this view. Somebody said that you not even can hit your nose without paying for it.

Creativity

And I think at no time during this interview the word „creativity“ was used in terms of residents being creative. All it was about wa s mainly the companies coming in and how the platform can help them to market their stuff.

Important for him is also the approval process which you have to go through (and pay for) if you want to put an item you have created in the world. There.com has a page for this with a lot of item types with different prices. While there are a lot to choose from the list is not endless though and thus it does from the start not allow for really new objects or ideas to be realized.

Thus creativity seems not to be really encouraged. One good thing is though that you can create objects in your favourite 3d modelling tool and upload them. Then again this is only useful for people who know how to use such tools and thus preventing from „average“ people to become content creators.

Michael Wilson said that this approval process is important though because it protects companies as you can prevent copyright infringements that way. That’s of course true but it surely comes with a price (literally) here.

Marketing

Michael Wilson was stressing this point all over. Because of the absence of flying body extensions and copyright infringements companies can have much control over their environments making There.com well suited for them. There.com also helps companies to find the right spot and probably give them all sorts of different support.

Numbers

No numbers ;-) Robert Bloomfield was talking about how good it would be to have usage numbers from all those virtual worlds platforms so that companies can compare and choose the right one. While Linden Lab publishes extensive reports regularly, Michael Wilson said that there are no plans to do so for There.com. He only mentioned that they have more than 1 million users. He also said that he might give that information out to companies who ask him.

One number is good though and this is the amount of people who can be in the same location at the same time. Not sure how they achieve it but I guess it’s also due to the approval process and the limit amount of objects available in general.

Interoperability

I was proposing in the backchannel to ask him about interoperability and also suggested an answer like „People do like Walled Gardens“. Robert Bloomfield was then asking this question later on (not because he read the backchannel but because it was on his list anyway) and we actually got to hear that answer.
Michael Wilson said that no customer never ever asked for interoperability. My problem was though that I wasn’t really sure who he meant with „customer“. Companies who want to do marketing or There.com residents? Somehow I never heard the word „customer“ from Linden Lab.

He also said that he would not know how interoperability should look like, giving again the usual example that it would make no sense to put a There.com avatar into World of Warcraft. This is true but WoW is a game and not a virtual world and it also does not need to be an avatar but simply my profile, friendslist, groups etc.
Even transferring goods would make sense so that I don’t have to recreate everything again in every virtual world. Of course those 3d models then need to be the same but maybe we will have different forms and levels of interoperability anyway.

The other thing with interoperability is that you maybe shouldn’t wait until your customer ask for it because then it might be too late. The internet world is going decentral in general and thus I think Linden Lab is definitely on a better track here.

Privacy

Michael Wilson was asked about which data they store and distribute to their customers (being the companies here). He said that they store quite a bit (IIRC) but respect the privacy of their residents and don’t give all this data over to the companies. He didn’t really say in which form they analyze it and hand over. He also didn’t say that they delete the data again at some point.

To me and others this did not sound too good even if he says he respects privacy. Who knows what he decides to do tomorrow and what does „respecting privacy“ actually mean?

Summary

All in all Michael Wilson did not convince me that There.com is a worthwhile place to put my time into. At least not as a resident, maybe as a company. But even then There.com seems to be very Web1.0, dividing producers and consumers. The internet seems to go in another direction though. This becomes clear when you look at sites like YouTube, flickr and others or even look at the pretty successful virtual world Second Life (he was criticizing Robert for too much mentioning Second Life, btw).

I also think for doing marketing in the future, a platform like There.com might not be well suited. Right now companies might believe in control and all that but this will become more and more a impossible to achieve.

Also community wise I am not sure how this might work out. It seems residents in There.com are mostly food for marketing companies. It also seems that they are pretty irrelevant in the thinking of Michael Wilson. It does not seem about creativity, freedom and so on. And compare this to Philip Rosedale and you have a difference which couldn’t be bigger.

And let’s think about a possible future scenario: OpenSim has grown substantially, more and more businesses have started to use it to build alternative grids, Linden Lab has finished their first version of their interoperability protocol, theoretically and practically linking all those grid together. Growth might be quite substantial, too. Corporations might choose to host their own internet or even external marketing grid with more or less loose links to the rest of the grids. Now where will the people be? In this mega-grid or in There.com?

Thus companies might reconsider and maybe forget about control for a moment. Think also of Coca Cola who already allowed to use their brand in Second Life even for commercial products being made with it. This is the right way and I expect to see more of this in the future. Michael Wilson might reconsider, too.

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