Whose side am I on?

I’m regularly asked why I give more coverage to one company or another, or why I’m biased against particular grids or platforms.

And, it’s true. I do have a bias.

You see, in my day job — I’m not actually running Hypergrid Business for the money — in my day job, I write about enterprise technology for user-focused industry trade publications. (Some of my articles are listed here.) That’s the work that keeps the house mortgage paid up and my two kids fed. They’re teenagers — they eat a lot. And both want to go to college, the selfish ingrates.

Hypergrid Business advertising covers its hosting costs with a little left over for payments to freelance writers.

So my bias is towards keeping my day job. And that means that I spend the day looking at the world from the viewpoint of enterprise users of technology. These are companies, big and small, in all industries, that use technology — hardware, software, and services — as well as educational institutions, governments, and non-profit organizations.

The better I am at seeing the world through their eyes, the more I get paid.

If I was writing for TV Guide, say, my primary allegiance would be to television watchers. I’d want to write more about television shows that were interesting and watchable. If a network had a lot of shows like that, I’d write more about that that network — but next season, I’d readily switch my focus to another channel if that one suddenly got interesting, instead. Not because I’m flighty, or have a short attention span — though that might be true as well — but because my primary allegiance isn’t to any one show or network, but to the audience as a whole.

The same is true when it comes to virtual worlds. A vendor might be the top choice one year, but replaced by another a year later. I’m not betraying the first vendor. I never had an allegiance to them in the first place.

Me as Ruth on first arriving in OpenSim.

In fact, when it comes to any particular issue, my interest is going to be with the enterprise users — even at the expense of virtual world vendors.

And it’s not a bad thing. The only way to grow an industry is to make the users happy. It’s not about the best technology. It’s not about the most elegant coding. It’s not about moral positioning. It’s all about happy customers.

Vendors who forget that do a disservice to their customers, to their bottom line, and to the industry as a whole.

Meanwhile, vendors and customers are often at odds.

Vendors want higher prices. Customers — all other things being equal — would prefer the lower-priced option.

Vendors want their chosen platform to be the winner — otherwise, all the money they invested in their technology is wasted. Customers want whatever platform meets their needs best.

Vendors want to have customers wedded to them, and them alone. Customers want to be able to switch vendors easily.

Vendors want customers to take a risk on their new, unproven technology. Customers want to see something that works, and has a track record.

Vendors want customers to understand the limitations of the technology. Customers don’t want to hear excuses — they just want their products to work.

Vendors want to have super-tight digital rights management technology in place and limit the ways in which their products are used. Customers want flexibility in how they use their purchases, but they don’t want to violate IP rights — corporate lawyers charge steep rates and, this economy, that’s an expense nobody wants to deal with.

Some specifics:

  • Hypergrid: Enterprise users want to have a choice. They want to be able to turn on hypergrid to enable cross-grid collaboration, bring in outside builders and designers, hold public events. They want to be able to turn off hypergrid when they need security and privacy. When choosing a grid for an event or marketing campaign, the critical factor is audience size. Some grids have large audiences without hypergrid (such as Second Life). But a small grid can host an event as well, if it’s open to the hypergrid and visitors can teleport in. The latter will become a much bigger issue in the future, as the hypergrid grows.
  • Lock-in: Enterprise users want to be able to switch vendors if service deteriorates, prices rise — or a competitor offers a better deal. However, they may be willing to put up with lock-in for projects of limited scope, or if the vendor’s offerings are sufficiently superior to the alternatives.
  • Open source: Everything else being equal, enterprise users will pick open source platforms to save money and get more control. They will opt for proprietary platforms if they offer advantages such as support, usability, or content. Many companies use Linux to power their Web servers and back-end databases, and have Windows on employee desktops, for example.
  • Avination vs. InWorldz vs. Kitely vs. SpotON3D: None of these are particularly enterprise-friendly. Avination, InWorldz and SpotON3D are primarily focused on serving retail customers and protecting consumer-oriented content. And given the problems companies have had marketing in Second Life, marketing in these grids is even less productive given their small user numbers. If a company wants to have a small meeting on one of these grids, Avination is the best choice because of Vivox voice. And for rapid design and prototyping, Kitely wins because companies can instantly export their creations as OAR region files.
  • Why we write about SpotON3D: It’s not so much about the grid itself, as about the patents. Patents can increase the cost of technology, narrow the choice of vendors that offer it, and restrict companies from developing something similar in-house.
  • Why we write about Kitely: It’s not so much about them as a vendor — they’re new, relatively untested, and aren’t even charging for their services yet. It’s about their business model, which promises to dramatically lower prices for some OpenSim users, and eliminate barriers to adoption.
  • Why we write about OpenSim: Today, OpenSim seems to offer the best combination of price, features, multiple vendors, content, and user community, plus hypergrid support. But other platforms are usually better on individual features. For example, for in-world marketing, Second Life has the most users. For building high-end life sciences training simulations, ProtoSphere is tops. For super-quick virtual meetings, I’d recommend VenueGen. The various Unity 3D-based platforms offer nice possibilities for using virtual environments for marketing on the Web — promotional games, campus tours, architectural walk-throughs, that kind of thing. But overall, OpenSim seems to be the platform with most potential. That might change in the future, and then so will our coverage.
  • Why we publish negative stories: Customers need to know what to watch out for. Knowing that some vendors are better than others in particular areas helps customers make buying decisions — and increases their comfort level with the technology overall. Meanwhile, if the stories aren’t published, then they get spread through rumor. Instead of “one vendor had an issue with backups, but has fixed the problem, and other vendors all have solid backup systems in place” you get the rumor that “all the OpenSim vendors will lose your work — don’t trust them.”
  • Permissions: Customers want full-perm content with site licenses. That means that they want to be able to share it with their staffers and use it on any company grid. They’re not going to distribute the content illegally — they don’t want the legal hassles, and they’re not going to give content for free to their competitors when they themselves paid for it. But they’re willing to buy proprietary, locked-down content for each user separately when they see a clear benefit — Microsoft Office, for example, over OpenOffice.
How to get coverage

If you are a vendor and want us to write about your product, event, or service, just send a press release to [email protected].

We run pretty much every press release people send us. We won’t run stories about new stores opening on individual grids, or party announcements — except for grid anniversaries — but we’ll run anything else of interest to enterprise users of virtual worlds and immersive platforms.

Personnel changes. Statistics — record user growth, transaction milestones, region growth. New feature announcements. Poll and survey results. Major pricing changes. And customer wins and case studies — we love those.

Sure, I have an RSS reader scanning the Web, and I have my Google Alerts set up, and people send in news tips, but you can’t trust me to spot every single announcement on my own.

So email the press release to me, and, if you’d like, follow up with a phone call. My number — 508-443-1130 — will ring both on my desk and on my cell. If I’m not on another line, I’ll take the call. During the dot-com boom, I used to screen my calls — PR agents were calling every couple of minutes to pitch their companies. These days — not so much.

Folks also submit opinion columns to us. We don’t need exclusive rights — we’re happy to reprint blog posts. The columns just have to provide some useful information or insight for our readers. We love vendor reviews and comparisons, advice articles, how-tos, and even think pieces about how virtual platforms will evolve.

How to write the perfect press release

First, the headline should highlight the user benefits of the announcement. Instead of “Grid changes price structure,” write, “Grid cuts land prices in half.” Instead of “Vendor release new product version,” write, “New product release supports vehicle physics and mesh, and makes coffee.”

Put a date on the press release, and the city where your company is based, then write a sentence fleshing out the main point of the release. Something like:

LONDON — Sept. 2, 2011 — Best Fun Grid rolled out a new version of its server software today, and now supports advanced vehicle physics and mesh, as well as the new osMakeCoffee command which actually delivers real hot coffee to the desks of premium account holders.

Add some information how it works, when it will go into effect, what the limitations are, and what the benefits are. Include quotes from company executives and customers whenever possible.

“Many of our customers use our platform for business meetings, and get sleepy,” said Best Fun Grid founder and CEO Jimmy Cricketoni. “That’s why we decided to include coffee delivery as part of the service, activated by in-world script commands.”

Customer response has been generally positive, he said.

“I was in the middle of watching a boring PowerPoint presentation. I could barely keep my avatar from slumping on the virtual desk,” said Owen Owenson, managing director at Boston-based Presentations R Us. “Then I touched the virtual coffee mug that was in front of me, and a real cup of hot coffee appeared on my desk. I was able to stay awake for the rest of the meeting. I think this is a great new feature and I will be using it in all my meetings.”

Side effects of using the Best Fun Grid osMakeCoffee script command include possible disruptions of the space time continuum, premature balding, and global climate change.

End the press release with a little bit of background about your company, and who to contact for further information:

About Best Fun Grid
Best Fun Grid is the leading provider of grid-based virtual meeting services  on the 400 block of Mayfair Avenue. For more information, contact Ann Anvers, head of public relations, at … or visit us at http://www.bestfungrid.com.

Save the press release in plain text format, and include some photographs in separate attachments — headshots of people quoted in the release, photos of the product, company logo, graphs or charts, or in-world screenshots.

Please don’t send the press release in a PDF with embedded images — it takes ages to dig the text and the graphics out of one of those. And keep the press release in the third person — he said this, the company did that. If you have a sentence with the word “I” or “we” in it, put it inside quotation marks and attribute it to somebody at your company.

Once you’ve written up the release, you should also send it to the other blogs covering this space, more general tech publications, and press release distribution services. The big free ones are  OpenPR in Europe and  PR Inside in the U.S. The big paid ones are BusinessWire, PR Newswire and PR Web.

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