Content is not king

In researching today’s news story about Linden Lab terms of services change, content seemed to be the main topic. Protecting it, licensing it, controlling it, owning it.

Everyone wants content. Creators make content, then content attracts users. Without any content, there is no grid. Or is there? Is content really all that important?

I would argue that content is not that important, content is just a side-effect, a symptom of having a good, strong, creative community. And there are three main factors that help create a community, and content is not one of them.

christine-comaford2Those three factors? According to Christine Comaford, those three factors are safety, belonging, and mattering.

Comaford is the author of the recently-released book SmartTribes, a serial entrepreneur, executive, venture capitalist, and, now, CEO coach. Her ideas about corporate team-building also apply to grid community-building.

“After our essential needs for food and shelter are met, our next level of needs includes safety, belonging, and mattering,” she said in an emailed statement. “People simply can’t perform, innovate, agree, or move forward until those three needs have been met.”

Trust and safety

How can grids promote trust and safety?

One way of doing so is to have a Terms of Service biased in favor of the customer, not the grid owner — a Terms of Service that isn’t changed without warning or recourse. One that protects creator rights to the fullest extent possible.

But that’s just the beginning.

Can a resident who has budgeted very carefully for their region trust that the prices won’t change in the immediate future?

Do users feel safe? If they are bullied or harassed, is there someone they can turn to? If they have a problem with a merchant, will someone step in and fix it? If they work all week, all month, all year to create a build, will it still be there when they return the next day, or will it be lost to a server glitch?

A grid typically has dozens, or thousands, or millions of such issues coming up. I’m not saying that each and every one has to be settled immediately and to the satisfaction of everyone involved — nobody is perfect, and in a dispute between two residents probably at least one of them is wrong.

But the scale has to tilt towards trust and safety. That way, residents will keep interacting, keep creating, and keep inviting their friends and acquaintances to come join them. If it tilts too far in the opposite direction, residents stop creating, stop recommending. If it tilts even farther, they start leaving.

Belonging

Do residents feel like part of a family?

“It’s an admittedly extreme example, but think about gangs—where people will literally kill to stay in the tribe,” Comaford said. “That’s how powerful this stuff is.”

Okay, judging by recent flame wars, some residents of social grid do feel very strongly about the virtual worlds they are part of. And while their choice of language might sometimes be problematic, the passion they have for their virtual communities is a great thing.

The question is, how many of a grid’s residents feel that way?

Or do some of them feel left out, less equal than others, stuck on the sidelines while everyone else is having fun?

A Star Trek-themed dance party on UFS Grid. (Image courtesy UFS.)

A Star Trek-themed dance party on UFS Grid. (Image courtesy UFS.)

It is too easy for established residents on a grid to develop an in-group mentality, and look down on newcomers to their grid. It’s a human instinct to be wary of strangers.

The problem, of course, is that social grids need newcomers to compensate for natural attrition, to buy stuff from merchants — the established residents have already bought all they need. Plus, newcomers bring new energy and enthusiasm.

It can take effort on the part of grid management to make newcomers feel welcome, but successful grids make an effort. Greeters in welcome areas help orient newcomers, introduce them around. Mentors can help get them set up and oriented, and find people with shared interests.

Imagine walking into a party where everyone is a stranger to you. You walk in, and everyone turns and stares. Now imagine that you’re naked.

But it can go another way, as well. You walk in and the host is right there, welcoming you, putting a drink in your hand, taking your coat — or, in the case of virtual worlds, giving you a coat — and introducing you around. You instantly feel at home. You belong.

Mattering

Does what residents say make a difference?

One of the benefits of having a small, close-knit grid is that the founders can really listen to the residents, and take their needs into account as the grid evolves.

Grids do this through community forums, open houses, office hours, social media interactions, blog posts and comments, and much more. On some grids, the owners and managers attend grid events, answer resident questions, even take shifts greeting newcomers.

Does the grid have an engaging mission, vision, and set of values that residents contribute to? Are there resident-created rituals that are adopted grid-wide and celebrated by management? Is there transparency to the grid’s operations?

“What I’ve described is the opposite of command and control,” said Comaford. “You engage and enroll. You help people envision an exciting future and invite them to join you in creating it. That’s real influence.”

A fan club house in 3RG Music Village. (Image courtesy 3rd Rock Grid.)

A fan club house in 3RG Music Village. (Image courtesy 3rd Rock Grid.)

How does Second Life measure up?

There are some signs that Second Life is heading in the wrong direction. Recent decisions about mentors, about third-party currencies, and, now, about the terms of service are adding up to a “command and control” style system more appropriate for products that are all about content, such as video games, not products like virtual worlds that are all about building communities.

Does it spell certain doom for Second Life? I don’t know, and probably nobody else does either. Second Life still has a large, strong and engaged user base and it wouldn’t take much to turn things around. A little vision. A little inspiration. A little leadership and some real innovation.

Okay, maybe the word “little” isn’t appropriate. But a turn around is certainly possible, and, I believe, would be good for the metaverse as a whole.

So what about content?

Recently, a grid owner told me he turned off hypergrid connectivity on his grid because people were coming in and copybotting entire regions.

That’s a horrible thing, and I — as someone who makes a living creating content — do not in any way, shape or form condone this kind of behavior.

Of course, turning off hypergrid connectivity isn’t enough. Second Life is rife with copybotters, and it’s nowhere near hypergrid-enabled.

The thing is, I could go out and copybot the most successful grid out there, put up a clone of it, and wait for people to arrive… and wait… and wait…

There are lots of gorgeous — and completely empty — builds out there.

It takes more than content to attract users, especially the kind of users who will stick around, participate in events, and rent land.

It would be the same as if you went and copied all the content on the New York Times site, rented a server somewhere in Even-More-Inner Mongolia, and waited for readers and advertising revenues to roll in. Why would people come to your site — which is only going to stay up until the Even-More-Inner Mongolian authorities finally respond to a take-down request — when they could go to the original New York Times site? Would anybody really trust any stories posted there? Would anyone want to buy an ad?

Or, better yet, consider Yahoo! in the old days, when it was still a simple directory of sites. Copyright law doesn’t apply to directories. Someone could come in, copy-and-paste all their listings, and go into business as competitors. In fact, dozens of companies tried to do just that. Now, Yahoo may be struggling a bit right now, but can you even remember the names of the any of the alternatives?

Say I’m a competing grid and people show up, look around, and say, “Hey, I’ve seen all this before. You’re just like that other grid. Except for the fact that there’s nobody here.”

Worse yet, would-be creators show up, look around, and say, “Nope, can’t trust these guys with content.”

I once interviewed a company that made meditation cushions. Their business model was, you’d go online, order the cushion, get it in the mail, sit on it, and, if you like it, then you’d pay for it.

I wondered about theft. Wouldn’t the company lose a lot of cushions that way to folks seeing enlightenment on the cheap?

“You can’t go far on a stolen meditation cushion,” the owner told me.

The same principle applies to grids as well.

Whether you’re Second Life, or a start-up grid.

You can’t go far on stolen content.

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maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • hack13

    I completely agree with this article, in fact it is kinda the premis behind my up and coming grid with others. No matter what occures, content can always be stolen, people do it all the time. But it doesn’t get you very far at all, you must attack someone you don’t know, a niche that needs targeting, that is how to become successful in this business.

  • Paul

    This is an example of post scarcity economics.

    In a scarcity economy, you place a high value on objects because they are hard to reproduce or acquire. The laws of supply and demand rule.

    In a post scarcity economy, the laws of supply and demand fail because the supply is always sufficient to meet or exceed any demand (and increase in demand). This means the value of objects in a post scarcity economy can not be based on how hard they are to get or produce (as production is also at, or near 0 ). As digital content has virtually no reproduction cost, deliver cost or supply limit; then all digital content exists in a post scarcity state (although some try to force a scarcity state onto it).

    As there is no significant value supply and demand in a post scarcity economy, you need to leverage some other value. One example of this with Virtual worlds is the services on and associated with the grid and the reputation the grid has.

    A grid that uses copy botted content will quickly develop a reputation that the content they have is copied and content creators will not frequent that grid and users that visit the grid will not trust the content on that grid.

    Also, if your grid has good service and support for the users and creators, such as events, access to content, socialization and so forth, this will help your grid get a good reputation and encourage users to return, and as these extras can not be copied (or at least not without major degradation of the service), then it protects the value of your grid.

    So, when content is easily copied, the value of each copy is virtually nothing, but that does not mean that there is no value to be found. It is no longer a case of what you have, but what you do with it. Thus, when someone copies your content it does not decrease your value and does not increase their value, but in effect decreases their value.

    Find the value in what you do with your grid rather than the stuff on your grid.

    • Content distribution might cost zero, but content creation does not — it’s quite expensive, when you add up the training that a content creator requires, the tools he needs to buy to develop compelling content, and the sheer amount of labour involved. This is the fundamental aspect of the digital content economy: we have zero distribution costs, but content creators still have high costs of production, but few ways to get an income for their work.

      Second Life actually solved this rather neatly with their built-in DRM. This is so effective (copybotted content is actually way less than people think!) that content creators eagerly went to SL to sell their work there — sometimes even moving out of content marketplaces like Renderosity, DAZ, etc.

      The problem right now is that LL wants to have all rights on content creators’ work, without giving anything in return; while on OpenSim grids, except for a few, it might be legally hard to guarantee that their owners abide by their own ToS — it’s mostly based on mutual trust… in complete strangers, located somewhere in the world.

      • Gwyn —

        There’s an economics principle that states that, over time, the price of goods tends towards the price of producing and distributing one additional item.

        Initial costs are completely irrelevant here. A $20 million dollar movie is going to cost you $10 at the cinema, and a book that costs a publisher $50,000 total can also cost you $10. A TV show can cost several million an episode — and be completely free.

        What matters is volume, time, brand value, and monopolies. TV shows see high volumes, so the incremental cost of each additional viewer is lower than the incremental advertising income from that viewer.

        The amount of money you can charge for a product has almost nothing to do with how much money and time the product cost to produce.

        You can’t look to Second Life’s DRM policies as a possible solution to this issue. It might work in the short term, but not in the long term.

        A better bet is to look at the broadcast TV networks, which have been distributing shows for free for around 80 years. It is technically possible to charge people for broadcast TV, by, say, encrypting the broadcasts. But it’s not economically feasible.

        This is why:

        Network A and B have a million subscribers each and decide to charge $10 a month.

        Network A says: hey, if I cut my price in half, I can double my viewership. I’ll be making the same amount of money from subscription fees, and doubling my ad revenues.

        Network B matches the move in order to continue to exist. Now they’re both charging $5 each.

        Network C comes along and says, I can take over the entire market if I come in at $2.50. I’ll have all those subscription fees, plus all the ad revenues.

        And this goes on until everyone is back down to zero again.

        This is happening now with the Internet, too. And folks keep trying to apply inappropriate analogies. They think that because print newspapers cost money, online newspapers should also cost money — because reporting the news is expensive. Well, news reporting is expensive for TV and radio as well, and they don’t charge listeners.

        Or they look at printed books and movie theater tickets and record stores and think there’s something wrong with people for not wanting to pay for e-books and online movies and music. Or they look at clothing retailers and think people should be paying for virtual clothes.

        If you make and sell one item at a time — custom builds, for example — then your incremental costs are the same as your production costs, and you can charge a reasonable price for each item.

        But if you make an item once, and sell it multiple times then, over time, those prices will tend to zero. For example, you might be able to charge a high price when the item first comes out, and is unique, but then you’ll have to lower your price as you have competition, and finally you’ll be giving it away as a freebie loss-leader to get people to your virtual store to see your latest creations.

        • Aye, I see where you’re getting at: pointing out a future where unfortunately creative processes for mass-production will be unpaid — only unique items (like, say, marble sculptures) will be paid.

          Unless we figure out a different way of remunerate artists, this doesn’t bode well for literary authors, (some) musicians, and (many) digital content creators. These jobs will disappear, all thanks to the powerful, zero-cost distribution Internet.

          Note that I’m also curious to see what happens with the movie industry once nobody goes to the theatres to watch movies — since selling DVDs will become impossible, will merchandising be the only way of financing movies? (Crowdfunding also comes to mind, but that will not work for all kinds of movies). At least, TV — either using traditional broadcast media or modern distribution facilities like Internet streaming servers (YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.TV, Hulu…) — will still survive thanks to ads.

          Content might have been king, but we’re moving towards a communistic republic 🙂

          • No, I’m actually not. I’m saying that it IS possible for creators to get paid — even when the product itself is free. Broadcast radio and television are free, but the people who work in those industries certainly get paid. Some get paid quite a bit!

            Also, for digital content, the price will tend to zero OVER TIME. That “over time” is a critical distinction — creators will still be able to make money through innovation, brand-building, selling limited-edition copies, and so on.

            For an example of brand building — think of the diamond. It’s cheap to product in quantity and is almost indistinguishable from the real thing, even to exports. But people are still paying outrageous amounts for “real” diamonds.

            Or think of the Mona Lisa. You can get a decent copy for a low price, and probably won’t be able to tell it from the real thing. You can even hang a $5 poster on the wall, and if you step back enough, it looks pretty real. Or you can get Mona Lisa wallpaper for your desktop or smartphone for free. This doesn’t reduce the price of the real Mona Lisa at all – in fact, it drives it up.

            Photographers do something similar, selling originals or limited edition prints.

            You can see the same thing happening in fashion design. New clothes come off the runways and are worn by movie stars to premieres and cost thousands of dollars. Then the designs show up in upscale stores, then in the malls, then in the discount shops and, finally, in the thrift stores and the garage sales.

            As long as you don’t copy a designer’s trademark, you can make a profitable and legal business creating knock-offs. There’s no DRM on clothes. But it’s still a very healthy, thriving industry.

            A movie starts out at $10 in the theater, then $2 on pay-per-view, then winds up for free on broadcast TV or Hulu or Crackle. But the fact that the free options exist doesn’t mean the industry is suffering, or the creative types aren’t getting paid.

            It will take some business model innovation and some creativity (the business kind of creativity) to come up with workable monetization schemes, but I have no worries on this score. There’s tons of creativity out there!

          • Well, you’re using the Long Tail argument, which does indeed apply to a lot of products. A typical example: computer games. Some of them might still be 10-15 years old and they still get sold for a couple of dollars, as part of “Vintage Collections” and similar things.

            I hate to be stubborn on this subject, because it is one that is very dear to me 🙂 but some of your examples, unfortunately, are good in theory, but not in practice.

            Radio & TV are paid by ads (or sponsorships). You can’t sell books with ads, nor SL clothes with ads. It simply doesn’t work. It has been tested. It still doesn’t work. So while in theory ad-based content authorship works for a lot of examples, it doesn’t work for all. SL’s half-a-billion-US$ content creation industry is one example where it doesn’t work, and it’s not such a small industry at that.

            The example of brand building works… to a degree. You can get an iPhone clone, made with the same Samsung components, which looks and feels as an iPhone… but it’s not an iPhone. To get a real one, you have to buy it from Apple. So, of course, you can get cheaper products inspired by brands that look like the original thing, but they’re not the original thing. But that works in the atom world. A pirated WordPress template is exactly like a real one — same HTML, same CSS, same JS. It matters little who has created “the original” because the copy is exactly the same.

            I agree that this example is not quite correct for SL, for the reasons already mentioned: you need to add community to pirated locations for them to thrive, and that argument is very, very persuasive. As I also mentioned, SL/OpenSim have some unique qualities which makes content creation more compelling for authors — and one of them is that the content is not bought “by itself”, but because it will be used inside a context: you buy an avatar military uniform not just because you like the uniform by itself, but because you’re participating in a RPG where you have to wear it. You can copy the uniform and use it elsewhere, but you cannot copy the experience of playing the RPG.

            With the Mona Lisa example, you’re talking about merchandising. This works very well for the movie industry (including “cult” TV series — like Star Trek!) and to a degree to the computer game industry (see what the Angry Birds crowd is doing in terms of merchandising; they’re being quite clever at it). But you cannot “merchandise” SL content easily: you can certainly put a shop’s logo on a T-shirt given away as a freebie, but that’s it: a freebie. In the olden times, a few content creators tried to create brands that would go from clothes to vehicles and guns, and that worked somehow. A few even attempted merchandising SL content through things like CafePress. And, of course, in 2007, real-world brands tried the reverse approach (American Apparel and Bershka come to mind), which also didn’t work: creating SL content-as-merchandising to be sold cheaply, as a way to increase brand awareness and value. Again, while in theory merchandising is a solution for some cases, it doesn’t apply to most of them.

            Photographs is a job that doesn’t exist any more. If you don’t believe me, ask former photographers 🙂 I know a couple, and that’s the sad truth: the Internet and phones with cameras killed the profession. You still have a few left, who earn a living doing pictures of weddings and baptisms. And of course there are a few real-world artists that do photography as an art form, so they get paid from cultural funds and grants. But that’s it. There are no more photos to be had “on limited edition prints”. Instead, the few remaining professionals sell their images to image banks and get a few dollars that way (think Getty Images).

            As for fashion… I’m sorry, but you can’t buy clothes from the catwalk on shops 🙂 Fashion designers — at least the ones that do present their clothes on the catwalk — actually design two collections every season (and these days we have four fashion seasons…). One is “art” — unique items that are sold to individual customers. The other collection is inspired (e.g. similar textures, designs, or fabric) on those artistic items, but are prepared for mass-production, where they are sold multiple times — and yes, soon some clever clothes factory somewhere in the world will start to copy the design as well, and sell them way more cheaply. The difference here in this case is that the fashion designer will make a living directly from selling his unique designs that are presented on the fashion events; and, additionally, they will get royalties from mass-produced items.

            SL content creators can certainly work with that model. They can produce unique items for thousands of dollars — assuming that SL residents are willing to pay for that. Some will. Most won’t. So they have to rely mostly on the zero-distribution cost model to sell an item worth thousands of dollars in labour cost to make, say, thousands of copies and sell them for one dollar — thus recouping their investment while keeping prices low. This is similar, but not quite, the same as in the real world — where the original outfit presented on the fashion event is not mass-produced but is sold as an unique item, while it inspires a mass-produced outfit — a different one! — which earns the designer some well-deserved royalties.

            Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t any more models; nor am I saying that the creative people working as artists aren’t able to come up with new ideas to make money out of their products. My point is not that there aren’t many different possibilities — there certainly are! — but that they only work on paper. They’re great for presentations and conferences. They’re wonderful to make a point against protecting intellectual property: these ideas tend to show that it is theoretically possible to engage in different models to allow artists to make money.

            The first problem is that none of them work. The second problem is that someone who is creative as an artist is not necessarily creative as a businessperson. Very rarely, the two come together in the same person, and then there might be a working solution. Dickens, who, in his time, fought terrible battles to ensure that authors kept the rights of getting paid for their work, actually came up with a novel idea of making money out of his books: he would set up a show, reading excerpts of his work, adding special effects, and got people to come to theatres to watch him read — and pay for the privilege. At the end, he was making more money out of his shows than from royalties from his books!

            So, yes, Dickens is a good example how literary authors do not need to sell books to survive. So, in theory, we know that there are other ways of making money without mass-producing copies. The question is: how many literary authors are of the same calibre as Dickens?

            Not many. But all of them have to eat, pay their mortgages and their bills.

            On similar discussions elsewhere, I like to point out that the current trend is going to make a big slice of art simply disappear, because there are no valid models to make them earn their authors some money. As said, photographers are already a vanishing profession. Literary authors will come next, as in a few decades nobody will bother to buy books any more — it’s far easier to copy e-Books. 3D content creators will either work for the games industry or the movie industry, but they won’t get a job by selling their content to anybody else. Music will basically get back to what it was before the end of the 19th century: something to be appreciated in concert halls (it makes no sense to record music professionally which can be easily copied without paying anything to the authors).

            Radio and TV series still work thanks to ads (and, to a degree, journalism), and even if the medium changes — from air-wave broadcasting to Internet streaming — the model is still the same. So we will still have them. While people are willing to go to theatres, the movie industry will still survive. However, I disagree with the idea that they can make money from DVDs, etc. — this will disappear in a decade or so. Instead, they will still make money from licensing content to networks (either cable or Internet), and, in some cases, from merchandising. In a sense, movies will go back to the pre-1960s, where producers wouldn’t worry about “copies” — movies would be watched at theatres, or on broadcast, where the producers would make enough money to survive 🙂 The era of “home cinema” will be replaced by “home streaming” — if it hasn’t already.

            Then, of course, you will still have architects, sculptors, and oil painters — because they create unique items that cannot be reproduced easily. Of course, they might grumble from the lack of “extra” income from engravings, posters, and so forth — but in truth those art forms existed well before all those cheap reproductions were possible, and the artists got enough money to survive in the 1400s…

            As for whatever becomes the Metaverse… well, it certainly won’t have many fancy avatars and nice-looking buildings and furniture 🙂 Instead, it will look a bit like Trimble 3D Warehouse (formerly known as Google Warehouse) — tons of items for free download, with quality that varies from horribly bad to mediocre to barely acceptable, and one “gem” here and there from a well-off artist (who might have a contract with a CGI firm) who has no need of money to survive and might give a few freebies away. In fact, they will look much like most OpenSim grids: in some spots, you have awesome content; in most, it looks worse than SL’s mainland (which at least still benefits from available premium content bought from good 3D artists).

            One can argue that content is not king and that the community is more important than the content. I agree with that argument. Still, I also like pleasant environments. If I can have both, why should I limit myself to “merely community”? In fact, on the 2D Internet, what we have most is that, merely communities exchanging ideas and chatting with each other — they don’t “need” 3D content around the community for it to work.

            But it seems a waste to see a Metaverse emerging which is not much more sophisticated than IRC…

          • Just because a business model has been tried and it didn’t work, doesn’t mean it won’t work in the future when someone comes along and does it right.

            Books are a great example. Today, you can wait a little bit and get your book for a low cost at a garage sale, or borrow it for free at a library. Or you could pay almost the full price of a printed book and buy an ebook online — or pirate it, for free. Nobody is offering ad-supported ebooks.

            But why not? Hulu offers ad-supported television shows and movies, which are MUCH more expensive to produce, and there are tons of ad-supported print publications of various other types. In the past, it made no sense to put ads in books because the shelf life of ads is very short, and the shelf life of books is very long. Ads are more suited to magazines and newspapers, which are more timely. But with online or mobile reading, ads can be changed on the fly.

            Meanwhile, a startup just launched with a Netflix-style approach to books — https://www.oysterbooks.com/ — which I immediately subscribed to. The selection is small, but I want to encourage them (and possible competitors). I want to have all-you-can-read books.

            As far as digital content goes, there are already plenty of folks making money at it without charging for each individual piece of content. Video game producers, for example, hire artists to create the content (the artists get real money as a result) then give away the content within the game to players who have bought a license. So, for example, when you steal a car in Grand Theft Auto, you’re not charged additional real dollars for that car. You’re not charged an additional price for the clothes your character wears. Similarly, World of Warcraft — and all its content — is free for the first set of levels. But the artists who created that content still got paid.

            You’re right about artists typically being not great at business. As rare as it is to find a good business person, finding an artist who is ALSO a good business person is even harder.

            Maybe the problem in SL is that the artist is expected to be both an expert in business and an expert in design.

            Meanwhile, if I am, say, great at business, and can invent a profitable distribution system for virtual content inside Second Life — the profit margins are so low that it’s not worth bothering with. I’m better off putting my talent to use selling almost anything else.

            I’ve met a lot of real-world artists with the same problem. They make great sculptures, or textiles, or glass beads or whatever and win awards and everyone oohs and aahs, but they can’t make any money because they have no sales or marketing skills. But no successful business manager wants to bother with them because it would take a humongous amount of work to promote and market these guys — for relatively little financial reward. (Exceptions being super-star artists. As is also the case with super-star performers, actors, and so on.)

            On top of that, many artists, photographers, and virtual content creators are competing against people willing to work for free. And some of those people are really good.

            It’s really hard to make a living in that situation. You have two options. Either A. become much, much, much more professional than the other guys, or B. find a way to sell your work so you’re not directly competing against the free guys.

            The basic principle of sales is that your product is worth more to someone than their money. When there are free alternatives, then the equation changes — your product must be worth more to the buyer than the free product PLUS their money.

            I’ve spent my entire career writing — something that quite a few people are very happy to do for free. But fewer people are willing to write on deadline for free. And almost nobody is willing to cold-call people and ask them questions for free. Even fewer are willing to do this on topics such as compliance and payment systems. (Which is the kind of stuff I now write about.)

            Do I get upset that nobody is willing to pay me to write poetry about my cat? No, I don’t. A lot of people enjoy writing cat-related poetry, many of them much, much better than me. The amount of effort it would take to succeed at it is enormous, and the potential payoff is low.

            Just because I spent a lot of time and effort write these poems, doesn’t mean I deserve to get paid well for them. Even if I got paid for them ten years ago, doesn’t mean I can get paid for them now. Times change.

            Finally, I occasionally hear from consulting firms looking to hire 3d designers for their corporate projects. And they have problems finding people willing to work to specific requirements, within strict deadlines, and as part of a production team. These are multi-million dollar projects (including multi-million dollar OpenSim projects) that require a lot of work.

            It may be routine work, not fun and creative work. But that’s true of most jobs out there. Very few people have jobs that are all fun and creativity all the time.

          • Dang, Disqus ate up my comment (my fault really), so I’ll keep it shorter this time 🙂

            It’s true that a business model can be tried by tens of thousands of people, fail every time, but then someone comes along with a slight twist and makes that model work. We all know the best example: Google. When all the Internet advertising companies were failing by the tens of thousands, and specially after the dot-com crash, Google’s business model was laughed at. But Page & Brin not only showed that Internet ads can be incredibly profitable, they also bought up whatever competition existed at that time. Clever of them 🙂

            Most artists, however, are not as business-savvy — or lucky — as Page & Brin, so I have to assume that the few artists with “normal” business skills will also fail where others have failed before. It’s true that one or two might be business genius like Page & Brin and figure out a way to make money out of their content outside the established model that we have for the past 150 years.

            But in some cases, it’s society itself that provides solutions, and the artists are just “dragged along”. Consider graphic designers — something that was quite needed before desktop publishing software became commonplace in the 1980s. First, graphic designers even had more business, as they could produce better results with DTP and laser printers — until DTP software became so absurdely easy to use that graphic designers lost their market. However, they were lucky: in the 1990s, there was a sudden demand for a new medium, the World-Wide Web, and graphic designers became web designers instead. (Sure, we can all yell in despair at the horrible web design “made by designers” as they were experimenting with ideas and concepts in the late 1990s). Today, web designers can still get huge profits from selling outstanding, unique designs to large companies — or sell cheap themes for WordPress/Drupal/Joomla. Every month there seems to be a new marketplace for WordPress themes out there. So, yes, in some circumstances, society changes actually allow skilled artists to employ their talents on different fields, and keep a job or a source of income.

            3D content creators, for instance, had a huge market doing 3D models for architects and civil engineers, to show off to customers. But nowadays the tools used by architects and civil engineers (like AutoCAD) do everything in 3D and can output the result of the blueprints directly as a movie, ready to be shown to their clients — the 3D designer lost their job. Fortunately for them, there is some demand on the TV/movie and games industry; unfortunately, although those markets are huge, they don’t employ so many 3D designers. For a while, selling content on marketplaces like Renderosity, DAZ… or Second Life! — managed to give them some recurring income until they got hired by a 3D company working in the movie/TV/gaming industry. But this is becoming more and more rare.

            On the other hand, your other argument is certainly correct: just because someone is putting a lot of work into something, if it fails to attract customers, it’s worthless; similarly, from the perspective of an uneducated audience, a product made by an amateur (= kitsch) which is given away for free might not be distinguishable from a product made by a professional (= art). Kitsch is sold (or given away) at a much higher rate than art (1000:1!) and is a much more successful business area, because you don’t need much training or talent to produce kitsch 🙂 (that’s why you can offer it for free!)

            This reminds me of a story from my roomie’s mother. At some point, she remodeled her living room and had to buy a picture to hang up on the wall. But she was wary of spending a lot of money on an original painting. So, since she has a little talent (but she’s no artist!) and some knowledge (she teaches art history, after all), she grabbed some colours and did something abstract on a piece of canvas. This is pure kitsch: an untrained amateur, but with some understanding of art, who produces an unique artifact, which, however, is not art. She’s quite aware of that… but her point is, who is going to notice the difference? The vast majority of people who visit her aren’t art critics or experts, they have no artistic training, and they don’t even know art history — so, for them, that painting of an “unknown author” looks just like any other abstract painting commonly seen in museums or art galleries. The vast majority of people cannot spot the difference, because they have no background for spotting it!

            This is also a problem that occurs in Second Life and OpenSimulator (but not on the gaming/movie industry!!). The vast majority of users — consumers of digital content — have no idea on the differences between something done by a professional 3D content creator and an amateur, who gives their content away for free, because it was done in their spare time, after their daily work. In fact, SL started like that — with tons of amateurs selling their content, because there were few professionals around.

            Nowadays — and until they all get scared off by LL’s ToS! — the vast majority of content sold in SL is done by outstanding professionals, and, as you say, they have become very, very good at their work. They also sell their content so cheaply that they compete directly with amateurs who give away their product for free — because, well, for L$50 you can get incredible content out there, and while the freebies are great (if you don’t care so much about how you look like), who cannot afford L$50 now and then?

            SL is a great example of your “A” example: professional content creators are so good, so good, that they make enough money even in spite of the free content out there — and because they sell their content very cheaply. In my experience, the same happens on the world of WordPress templates — I stopped using “free” templates when I can get a professionally-made one for US$6. The difference in quality is way, way more worth — to me! — than the six dollars!

            And I’m sure there are other good examples, too. My whole issue with this point is that edge cases, success cases, parochial cases (it might work here or there, but not everywhere), etc. do not always work out for everybody, everywhere. They might work for niche markets, and may be explored successfully for a while — until that market is saturated or something new comes along. Again, this is all about business — and nothing about artists selling their content. If we take a good look at what opportunities our society gives to artists to survive, they’re not that many (outside the world of Government-funded stipends; and outside the tiny world of super-stars). The bad news is that it’s shrinking further and further.

          • I think it’s a supply-and-demand problem. We have too many kids pursuing art history majors, and not enough majoring in HVAC and metal shop. I was at a manufacturing conference recently where the biggest complaint the executives had wasn’t about competition from China — it was about problems finding new employees as the old guys retired.

            I don’t see anything wrong with someone doing a useful job during the day, and making art as a hobby on the side.

            The other problem is the “law of diminishing returns.” I have a few professional musicians in my family, and I see it playing out there, as well.

            Beyond a certain point of quality, the vast majority aren’t going to be able to tell the difference. That extra 1% improvement in quality is going to cost you a lot more than an extra 1% of effort — its easy to move up from low to medium quality, but gets harder and harder as you rise. And it also doesn’t translate into extra income.

            In fact, for some creative types, the effort they put into improving quality directly takes away from time they could have spent promoting and marketing their work, resulting in situations where an average artist who puts more effort into marketing does better financially than a genius artist who, for all practical purposes, hides the work away.

            So, for example, I’m not an expert on butter, and I’m not going to pay extra for some super-special blend because I know I can’t taste the difference. And, more than that, I don’t want to taste the difference. I want to stay satisfied with the cheap stuff, the cheap wine.

            If you want to charge a higher price to the connoisseurs, you have to find the connoisseurs (this can be difficult when you have few marketing channels to get to them by).

            Why aren’t there any SL gossip mags? (Or are there and I’m just missing them?) In the real world, most of us find out which brands are hot and prestigious and expensive in the gossip magazines and TV shows. In fact, stars actually compete, in a way, on who’s wearing the most expensive dress, the most expensive jewelry.

            Imagine of a segment of the SL population started doing the same.

            We’d need virtual paparazzi. If someone took pictures of me each time I made a public appearance and listed the price tags of my clothes, and where I got them, and mentioned that I keep wearing the same outfit over and over, I’d be mortified. I’d go right out and find a virtual personal stylist to dress my avatar!

        • Paul

          All these arguments about mass distribution and mass production of artistic works has been had in the past, and the results of such situations has been resolved.

          The invention of the movable type printing press (eg: The Gutenberg printing press) was one of these situations (other were: the industrial revolution, mass production, etc). There were people claiming that this invention would destroy the literary industry as the reduction in cost of printing a book would mean that no artist could charge enough for their books to make a living.

          As we have seen, the literary industry is not only still in existence, but it is vastly larger than it ever was, and many of the media industries that exist today are completely dependent on the fact that information in books became cheap and easily accessible due to the movable type printing press.

          An ironic twist to this is that the term “pirate” given to people who copy illegally comes from this time. Businesses and Governments were so swayed by the arguments that printing presses would destroy industry and topple governments that they passed laws to stop people running printing presses. They called the people running these presses “Pirates” (and at the time it carried the same penalty as piracy on the seas – ie: the death penalty).

          The people running these printing presses eventually won these arguments by moving their operations to countries that hadn’t passed these “Piracy” laws and operating there. And over time, as society didn’t collapse, businesses not only survived by thrived and entirely new industries were created due to the operation of the printing presses government changed their laws to allow printing presses to operate.

          Now days, these very industries that were created because of the printing presses (mass media, information technology, etc) are now trying to use these same arguments again, but not to support their position, but support the position, that if it has succeeded, their entire industry could not have exists in the first place.

      • Paul

        It is true that content creation does cost. Creativity is something that will remain scarce. But the point of my previous post was not about content creation but that stealing content does not really give the person stealing the content any value (but actually does the opposite).

      • Guest

        Since when did SL have any form of DRM on their content?? If you believe SL offers ANY form of protection for your content, you are living in a fantasy world.

        • Look, Guest, one thing is using a definition for a technology, the other is actually applying that technology and using it. The Second Life permissions system is a digital rights management mechanism, to label and identify the authorship and ownership of content, and establish the way that content is distributed. This is enforced technologically within the limits of the analogue hole, but it’s also enforced by the terms of service: if you’re in violation of the author’s intended distribution of their content, you are excluded from the service. So, by definition, SL has implemented a DRM since its launch, a decade ago, and is one of the rare examples where it works in 95% of the cases and even provides a mechanism to exclude violators from accessing the service … again, in 95% of the cases.

          What you’re pointing out is the remaining 5%. Thanks to the analogue hole, no DRM will ever be 100% efficient. Not even a combination of technologically-imposed limitations with legal/social enforcement will work 100% of the time. That’s precisely the same argument regarding computer network security: no computer, no network, is 100% secure. That doesn’t mean that “there is really no computer security so we should abandon any attempt of implementing it”.

          So, sure, SL (and many OpenSim grids) provide SOME form of content protection and SOME form of enforcement, but obviously, due to technological imperatives (you cannot plug the analogue hole!), none of those mechanisms will ever be 100% secure. Ever. Nevertheless, a system that works 95% of the time is better than one that never works at all. And that very system was what enabled content creators to feel a degree of confidence that, in most cases, they will be able to earn some income from their work, while still keeping prices absurdly low to consumers.

          And, yes, I’m living in a fantasy world 🙂 That’s what virtual worlds are!

  • Actually, I think you can go a long way on stolen content and there is plenty of it around both in Second Life and Opensim grids. Sure enough you wont find grids with a whole load of stolen content on display in it’s stores but you might be surprised how much is skulking in amongst the straight products and held in personal inventories whether the resident knows it or not and the reason is that people pass content to each other all the time. And the fact is a lot of that content is passed on after God powers were used to undo the perms that were set by the original creator – so tell me that is not stolen stuff? This has been happening for years and people mix–match both genuine freebies with stolen stuff or use it to make variations they then call their own. I would even argue that Opensim is so “open” that copy bot viewers are hardly needed to do the dirty deed. Copy bot is more likely used on closed grids and Second Life and, if anything, plenty of content and scripts are stolen from open grids to be sold in Second Life rather than the other way round!

    But I do agree that community building is very important and I can tell you now I have visited many grids, even biggish one’s (no names and no prizes for guessing) where I was not greeted or even met another avatar. And some of them claim to be the perfect grid to set up home! What seems to happen is folks identify hosting as the real money maker in the open grids because most content is free unless you go to a closed grid. So, along comes Bob and he sets up yet another wannabe Second Life grid and then waits for people to spend money renting regions. Some grid owners might actually put some effort into community building but I still find empty welcome areas even on commercial grids. As far as the open grids go there is plenty of activity if you know where to look even if most fall down on greeting new comers. I set up Opensim Virtual https://plus.google.com/communities/116284417302234467612?partnerid=gplp0 the Google plus social media site to try to get cross-grid community bonding going and it has worked to some extent – quite successful with over 450 members currently so it proves there is a viable community in the free Metaverse.

    I also think entertainment is up there with the most important requirements too. I would rather see and visit a lot more small grids and standalones running a role play or some kind of event than see them visited just to sift through the freebies to take home to offer on their own world in the hope it will attract visitors – yeah, visitors for what I ask? To wander around admiring an empty scene? Is that all? It would be okay I guess if you were visiting an art gallery maybe but most sims are not art galleries and, while many can be quite well built – even quite amazing, the freebies you find on offer can often be found elsewhere because the open Metaverse is awash with mediocre content at best and an awful lot of rubbish thrown in!

    That is not to say there is no quality content, there is but just not enough, and why should a professional put the time and effort into making quality content if it will be copied and they can earn nothing from it? This has lead to the quality content makers and brand names setting up on closed grids rather than attempting to sell in the open grids. I totally reject the argument posited in the article that content doesn’t matter. Of course it does and I think it is a very narrow view to say “content is just a side-effect, a symptom of having a good, strong, creative community.” That notion might work in a hippy commune but, unless the community as a whole agree – which they never do – then the free Metaverse will never become a hippy utopia. The fact is some people make money from hosting like Hack13 up there who has a vested interest arguing for a freebie paradise but the people that pay for hosting might want to off-set their costs selling their creations which, I might add, is largely how it works in Second Life where those you run role play sims or put on events and entertainment, seek to help cover their costs by running their own markets which likely sell themed clothes and other props.

    We need a more quality content and I would argue that the export perm will help to attract more of the professionals and branded Merchants. With more quality content it will dispel the age-old Opensim hater’s argument that there is no content worth having in Opensim grids and the other argument people give as a reason not to bother; “I can’t get the look I have in Second Life or anything near it.” So I would say the export perm will give professionals confidence that there is a way to protect their no-copy products and limit them to use on the grids where they are sold or grids the vendor trusts so they might offer free re-delivery after purchase. I would also argue that the export perm will help to bring down the barriers to a free Metaverse because export perms effectively act the same as a closed borders while leaving the gate open for avatars to travel freely via hypergrid. Even better that an avatar can have the same appearance anywhere they travel even though they might be wearing no-export clothes. That is part of the beauty of the system and it’s power should not be under estimated or reject in my opinion.

    Community is important but you wont keep people that have avatars that look like crap or can find nothing to do other than build stuff – if they are so inclined. And people building are hardly spending time socializing much. They are more likely to be making things to sell in Second Life probably. Communities grow around groups of friends and role players happen to form some of the strongest forms of community building because they share a common theme and set of ideas. But they will go where their friends are and where there is good content, a great build and plenty of story to get into so we need more quality content absolutely and it’s no less important than anything else.

    • Joe Builder

      Nice comment Talla I agree 100%

  • irony

    right.. dont steal others SL content.. just Star Trek.

  • ” And there are three main factors that help create a community, and content is not one of them.”

    i agree that this is true for humans but not entirely analogous to avatars

    as a real person, i have to exist and Ms. Comaford is extending Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

    as an avatar, a purely optional activity, i don’t care about these in the same way as i do as a human. my avatar can’t die from being in an unsafe environment – if it does lag out, it’s an inconvenience and not the same as the real me dying from exposure

    i pretty much need a home and being in a community that is safe is preferable

    but i don’t need to go to the movies or to an amusement park – this being more analogous, imo, to a virtual world

    content is important to attract and retain users, imo

  • AviWorlds

    I do not agree with this article at all. Sorry guys…
    Content is king and it is a very important matter and I will tell you why it is with a few words.
    In open sim grids people tend to COPY there content they already bought in Second Life because open sim grids have almost no content. So there is an escape from this by copying content.
    If people could not copy content to bring to open sim; they would most likely stay in Second Life. So that is an escape from the content thirsty grid.

    Now…Talking about Second Life.
    People like to look good, have nice AOs and homes, nice scripting etc etc. All this to feel good. That is the human nature. What people will think about my new shoes or new jacket or hair etc.

    Content KEEPS the resident coming back and SPENDING MONEY. Crucial for a commercial grid in order to keep its creators creating.
    Content is more like a drive. A mechanism that is there and currently or I may be outdated on this number but in SL content was responsible for almost a billion dollars in spending by its residents.

    Lets put it this way. If content is not king then a region in the middle of the ocean would be enough?

    Here is the formula.

    People bring demand for CONTENT. This brings CREATORS and CREATORS bring more people. Now this may sound like that famous saying or question. Who was created first? The chicken or the egg? Either one plays a very important role in the species. One could not survive without the other. It s a cycle.

    So the real formula is PLATFORM( a place that sustains business and content is given a value, currency- RESIDENTS – CONTENT (CREATORS + THEMATIC PLACES etc.)
    Trust me; you take away one of these factors above and THE WHOLE thing will fall apart.
    And for last if content was not king COPYING would not happen.
    ONE NEEDS THE OTHER just like the chicken and the egg. TRUST – SAFETY – BELONGING all these 3 factors are not relevant if CONTENT is not there. And I go further. A community can exist without these 3 factors and dont tell me about TRUST , SAFETY and BELONGING in second life. Most do not trust Second Life, there is no safety for your content in Second Life and alot of people feel they do not belong in Second Life.

    • About 15 years ago, my first kid was still a toddler, and I was living in the Detroit suburbs (for a very short time). I remember driving around looking for places for her to play. There were some gorgeous, expensive playgrounds out there. And they were always empty. The kids were all in afterschool programs or all-day kindergardens. There was no community.

      i moved to a small town in W. Massacchusetts, It only had one playground, shared by all the local schools. It was hardly anything compared to the giant playgrounds I saw in the rich suburbs. But it was usually busy — parents brought their kids because they felt safe, it was conveniently located near the schools and near the center of town.

      A hacker could go out with a copybot program and steal all the best content from Second Life (and probably several already did) and put it up on a grid somewhere. I remember coming across a few in the early days of the hypergrid. They just sat there, full of stuff. Giant freebie malls full of stolen stuff. Completely empty.

      Merchants and creators aren’t important to a grid because of the content they bring. They are important because of the community they bring — the community of creation, of fashion, of discovery, of socializing, of shopping, of exploring. A living community of people doing stuff together.

      • AviWorlds

        Again you are saying content is not important but at the same time you say they are responsible for the community being formed. Like I said before; The chicken needs the egg and the egg needs the chicken.
        When SL started it probably did not have much content but then by being the PIONEER of virtual worlds, curiosity and also the attraction of any new thing around the block; made it almost as an exception.
        But now its built and full of content. It started it all.
        No virtual reality world will survive without content now.
        Ask Christine Comaford if she can make COACH offer only one type of bag or only 1 product and then see what the lack of variety and content will do to COACH.

        • I’m not saying that CONTENT is attracting people. I’m saying that PEOPLE attract people. Every grid out there that has spent a ton of money building beautiful regions and buying content to stock its stores — then failed because nobody came — is proof of that.

          If you have a core group of content creators on your grid, their ACTIVITY is attracting people. Their products are a side effect of their activity.

          You could do the same with a core group of role players, a core group of performers, a core group of book lovers — anybody, really.

          So why would they come to your grid? Maybe more freedom. Or lower costs. Or more control. Or more possibilities. But I don’t think anybody is coming to OpenSim because it has “more stuff.”

          We come to virtual worlds to interact with other people. Stuff has value only in so far helps with that interaction — a stage helps a performance, chairs and tables help a meeting, costumes and props help roleplayers, clothes make us look good at parties. But the stuff is totally relative. If everyone at a party is wearing system clothes, and you’re wearing Linda Kellie outfits, you will look great and feel good. But if everyone else is wearing the latest mesh fashions, you will feel underdressed.

          If everyone is roleplaying with sticks and you have a sword, you’ll be the envy of everyone in the group.

          Finally, whenever you have a substantial population of people with money, somebody will show up to sell them stuff. If none of the “big names” from SL are willing, one of the players will step up and start making things. (Which is happening all over OpenSim.)

          Single-player video games are the big exception here — people do play them for the content, for the story. Like GTA V.

          • AviWorlds

            People attract people yes. But in order to have people the grid needs content. The whole article here says content is not king. I disagree with it and I have explained why I do.
            Hack13 is correct on having a NICHE. The niche will attract the starters the first few and in order to keep the first few people in you need content and a whole bunch of other things that work together. Content is part of that and if you take content out the rest will fail.

          • Paul

            Grids can, and do, attract people and have little content. A grid with lots of content and no people will not attract people.

            Therefore people are more important than content. Thus content can not be king as it is subservient to people.

            Also, as people create the content, then this is further proof that content is subservient to people.

            People are king. Or if you want to insist that content must be king, then people are the Emperor.

          • AviWorlds

            hmm…grids attract people and have little content…Somehow content is still in the picture here…even being little content is still necessary even in small quantities.

            lol….emperor….I still say the chicken question..Who was born first the egg or the chicken? lol…

          • Paul

            At no point has anyone argued that content is not necessary. The argument is that content is not the most necessary thing and that even if content is copied, it does not necessarily harm the creator (and there is evidence that it actually is beneficial to creators: http://ipts.jrc.ec.europa.eu/publications/pub.cfm?id=6084).

          • AviWorlds

            This article is about CONTENT NOT BEING KING. Yes my point is that it is king.
            Yes I am all for creators EXPANDING their creations. That would lower the need for people to copy stuff and export it to open sims. And that is called need for content. 🙂

          • Joe Builder

            Very tough subject here, Being opensims have to compete with SL. Maybe the word King is not the correct one to be used, But there are many factors needed for a grid to even pop up on the Map. So if we say people ok than, But remember People wont come if there is nothing. One is just important as the other, People/Content/Stability/Cost. Question is in what order. That’s the secret long sought after in a new grid struggling to be noticed.

          • I think people might, in fact, come to a grid that has nothing. Say someone famous in SL — or elsewhere — with a great reputation and well trusted, said, “I’m creating a new grid, come build with me!” People would come. Now, I don’t follow SL gossip as much as I do movie star gossip, so, imagine it was Angelina Jolie, and she had the idea for the Smurfs. And she said, “If you want to build a little Smurfs world, come join me!” And people would come, even if the grid was totally empty, because they liked her, and they liked her idea, and they’d have fun building together and when it was all done, and everything was all finished, there would be a big celebration — and everyone would feel a little sad and disappointed afterwards, because the fun was over.

            Because they came to have fun with people they like, doing a common thing together. To keep the grid going, the founders would now have to find activity planners and community organizers — people to create quests, hold parties, put on Smurf fashion shows, hire actors to play the villains (by the way, I’m available! I’d love to play a cartoon villain on a grid!). Content is not enough.

            Or, if you had a strong enough network, you could do a pop-up party. Put up an empty region, invite everyone, and tell them to bring their favorite party stuff with them, and see what happens!

            Too often, OpenSim founders are technologists at heart. They think: If I build a good enough platform, they will come. Then they build the platform, and nobody comes, so they think: If I have enough stuff, they will come.

            You could put up the biggest freebie stores in the metaverse (legal, of course!), and people might show up to pick up stuff — and then they’d leave again. They wouldn’t rent land and stay.

            Bringing in content creators as a group is one way to start a grid, especially if those content creators can jump-start a community. But any group could work as well — a group of musicians and their managers and promoters. A group of role players. A group of people who just love to party. A group of people who share an alternate lifestyle. A group of people who are voracious readers of dinosaur erotica looking for like-minded people to discuss it with.

            At least, that will help launch a niche community grid. To launch a large, social grid, one that directly competes with SL (or, say, a more reasonable target, such as InWorldz or Avination), you would need to bring several such communities in, and hope that the interactions between those communities are positive, and spur the grid to grow.

          • Joe Builder

            Agree

          • AviWorlds

            I still ask my questions. Which comes first? The egg or the chicken? Maybe both? lol….

  • Roger

    Content is king and the magic to a good grid anyone who thinks otherwise is not the king but the joker.