Thanks for your many responses to my recent podcast on "Confusing Flapping with Flying". Seems this "flapping versus flying" phenomenon is one that resonated with many of you and my posting helped to shift your thinking towards finding better solutions.
Several of you asked if I could elaborate on this topic more. Are there current. significant examples of this "flapping" model—replicating the patterns of past successes?
Virtual flapping doesn't work either!
The one example that leaps to mind might surprise you. I'm referring to Second Life, which I suspect almost all of you are at least somewhat familiar with. Second Life (often abbreviated SL) has been around for a relatively long time now (since 2003) and has been receiving a lot—some would say too much—attention, press, and hype. It is typically described as a 3D online virtual world that is, as their site puts it, "imagined, created and owned by its residents." Second Life's Wikipedia entry provides more details, or you can do a quick search on "Second Life" or "virtual worlds" to find reviews, critiques and examples about it
First, let me get this out of the way right up front—I think that what Second Life has done is wonderful. It has done more than anything else to bring virtual worlds to the attention of more people. The hype/PR around it has been nothing short of stunning. SL will undoubtedly be recorded as one of the key milestones in the evolution of virtual worlds and the critical role they will come to play in our lives.
I'm also particularly delighted to see SL and other similar virtual worlds becoming readily accessible to anyone. Virtual worlds are no longer the domain of any one demographic and SL has caused a lot of people, organizations, and businesses to not only become aware of them, but to seriously change their thinking. Some have chosen to take the risks that are required with all major shifts and change.
If you have not signed up, created an avatar, and spent some time in Second Life, I'd strongly encourage you to do. SL is yet another example where experiential hands on learning is about the only way to truly find out what it is all about and form your own opinions.
I've only logged about 10-15 hours in SL and have not offered much comment on it or other virtual worlds to date because they are still very much in the "flapping" stage, but I'm anxiously awaiting their evolution and emergence into a more innovative stage of application and value.
While it's true that you really can fly in Second Life (and I suppose you could even flap your arms like a bird), at this point in time, in every other respect Second Life could be the poster child of my story about flapping. Almost everything in SL is an exact copy of our physical or "real world". As a result, I've yet to see what is innovative or improved by this model. For example, these virtual worlds have exact copies of things like land, in the form of continents and islands. You can build buildings and other objects, you can buy and sell things with cash using "Linden dollars", you can walk around, go inside buildings, sit in desks and chairs, and play "dress up". Where's the innovation and benefits in this?
Yes, it is true that SL lets you meet up with anyone at any time. While this does eliminate some of the barriers and certainly the cost of physical meetings, what advantage does it have over other ways of collaborating via phone, video, Email, IM, and Twitter?
I am NOT criticizing the technology so much as our limited thinking and use of these technologies. We'd do well to remind ourselves that almost any disruptive technology or innovation that goes on to become very important, starts out being awful or silly or both. Early versions are extremely limited, work very poorly and cost too much. But the essential elements and advantages are there as well if we can look past these early deficiencies.
The first one (1984) weighed 2 pounds, offered 30 minutes of talk time, and sold for $3,995! But now look where we are! Here is a fun photo of Rudy Krolopp, lead designer of the first cell phone, posing with the DynaTAC8000X and Motorola's new Razr cell phone from the recent MSNBC article "First cell phone a true 'brick'".
Or for those who are a bit older, how about the first "portable computers" that were portable only in that they had a handle on the top of a 30 pound box!
As the focus of innovation shifts more and more towards software, the characteristic problems of early innovations also shift from cost, size, or weight to the limited imagination of those developing and using them. In other words, the problem is staring back at us every morning in the mirror! The good news is that the solution is also staring back at us.
Those flapping away in Second Life know there is a problem and that they are part of it. Proof of its limited advantages and benefits at this stage in the hype cycle that I discussed in a previous post, are clearly borne out by the behaviors of the SL "residents" or lack thereof. This problem was the focus of the recent Wired article "How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life", which details an experience that many find common—it is eerily empty. The lights are on but no one's home! This article questions the huge investment that many commercial companies are making to create a presence in Second Life with virtual corporate buildings, hotels, night clubs, restaurants, and the like. As the worldwide head of interactive marketing at Coca-Cola put it:
"There was nobody else around." He teleported over to the Aloft Hotel, a virtual prototype for a real-world chain being developed by the owners of the W. It was deserted, almost creepy. "I felt like I was in The Shining."
Some of the limitations are based on the current state of the technology and bandwidth. The "fidelity" is still rather limited so virtual worlds still look and feel very distanced from the reality they are trying to replicate. However, as we've seen countless times, such as the cell phone examples above, these limitations are relatively short lived. More rapidly than most people estimate, the performance goes up and the cost comes down—often at exponential rates. I won't digress into any details now, but three areas to keep your eyes on are the development of "presence" technology; high definition visualizations of 3D environments and objects such as people, animals, buildings; and augmented reality.
So let's try to stop flapping and start flying. Think about this example of Second Life...its potential and its problems.
- What is it about being with people at conferences, in meetings or in classrooms that is unique and valuable?
- How can we use something like virtual worlds to dramatically increase the quantity and quality of these essential elements and benefits of physical meetings while concurrently reducing or eliminating their real world limitations?
See if you can discover what those essential elements are (the "flying" rather than the "flapping") and share them with me. I'll get back to you in a few days and give you my thoughts and ideas about it as well.
Flapping in the real world (something completely different and yet, the same)
Just so we don't completely dismiss the potential advantages of flapping though, I thought some of you would be intrigued by some recent news about the unusual flapping that enables bats and hummingbirds to be such amazing fliers. In the recent Scientific American article "Bat's Wings Strokes Unlike a Bird's" researchers have learned how these flappers are able to hover. In the case of bats, they seem to do so by turning their wings upside down as they flap. Anders Hedenström of Sweden's Lund University, first author of one of these reports:
".... that this seemingly awkward motion in fact produces lift, says theoretical biologist Anders Hedenström of Sweden's Lund University, first author of a report published online today in Science. "It actually generates a useful force also on the backswing, which is a very good thing when it hovers,"
Nice validation of our previous observation that one of the essential elements of flying is LIFT and that the point is not so much HOW you achieve lift, but just that you do!
This study does have some very practical applications for we humans. Hedenström is currently talking to researchers who build small flying machines to see if the wind tunnel results can help out. As he says, the study "gives detailed information about how a small autonomous flying system works."