Does Occulus Mean That VR Is Finally Here?

by Giff on March 29, 2014

Occulus Rift and better immersion rigs have allowed the promise of virtual worlds to rear its head again. Raph wrote a great post the other night, and I feel compelled to weigh in as well.

Once upon a time, I was a near-expert in the space, obsessing about it from 2004 to 2008. I was also admittedly slightly bitter about it for a few years after the fall and Electric Sheep’s (our startup) drawn-out collapse. Because the third wave (there had been two runs at it before) of virtual worlds did fall, and while the games industry stayed strong, only Second Life (SL) remained standing, holding on to life as a creative/social MMO.

When I was bit by the bug, I was bit big, as you can tell from this video I wrote and shot in mid-2007:

I remember back to the Metaverse Roadmap session in 2007, which Raph alludes to in his post. My worry then was that VR would not become a reality until our immersion tools became near-invisible.

What I realized later is that it will require more than that:

  • great immersion capabilities (we seem to be getting closer)
  • natural-feeling “input/control” mechanisms (is fluid movement enough? or do we need facial expressions as well, which is what Neal Stephenson hypothesized?)
  • scalable environments (SL could never handle very many avatars together, or high levels of physics, without terrible lag)
  • more extensible environments, allowing for sophisticated 3rd party software development on top of a metaverse platform, necessary to create rich experiences (what we finally have on the Web with rich browser-based applications)

Social acceptance is also a tricky issue. During my years focused on this, I acquired a deep knowledge of why people fell in love with virtual worlds, and how they acted inside of virtual worlds. What I didn’t do was deeply study why people weren’t falling in love with virtual worlds. While I knew that virtual worlds would have an adoption-curve chasm crisis, I misjudged how long it would take to solve the technical and experiential problems. How about the social ones? Heck, in Ready Player One, Ernest Cline hypothesizes it taking a global energy crisis to drive people into the virtual world OASIS, and indeed OASIS is positioned as a crutch that distracts humanity from its real problems.

When we realized, at the end of 2007, that SL wasn’t going to be the metaverse platform we dreamed of, we turned to browser-based technologies, but that didn’t work either. I walked away thinking that it would take 15 to 20 years for the pieces to finally be in place. It has only been 7. While Occulus is exciting, I wonder how much progress has been made on those other issues.

When we all met in early 2007 for the Metaverse Roadmap, I remember Randy Farmer being the grizzled, cynical veteran in the room. He had created Habitat in the mid-80s, the first stab at a virtual world. At the time, we were the bright and shiny newcomers. We said, “this time it is really going to happen!” It didn’t. And so I became the grizzled, cynical veteran. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.


Lean startup is like a sine wave

by Giff on March 27, 2014

There are a lot of people trying to do “lean startup” or “lean UX” and fretting about whether they are doing pure lean (there are even more who talk about lean but don’t actually do anything close, but that’s a different story).

There is no such thing as pure lean. The right balance takes into account what you need to accomplish and learn, but also your context and constraints.

What you shouldn’t feel, in my opinion, is a need to be learning every second, or a need to test everything. You’ll end up being way too inefficient.

And when you do focus on the important things, I suspect that you’ll find that lean feels a bit like a sine wave.

You create an experiment and learn. Then your learning curve starts to flatten. You need to absorb and interpret your data. You need to make decisions and put your decisions into action. And then at that point you are ready to start a learning cycle again. Out of the building, then inside the building, then outside again. Learn, build, measure, learn, rinse repeat.

What Pixar Got Right

by Giff on March 27, 2014

Pixar is an inspiring place. In addition to prioritizing storytelling, they got a lot right when it came to process and human interactions.  Fast Company has a nice piece interviewing Pixar alumni, and I pulled out my favorite bits:

“There’s still a back and forth between creative and the audience, and you can’t be like ‘if I build it, they will come.’ No, we’re in a democratic world where everyone has opinions. If you’re making your cartoon and your joke’s not funny, it’s just not funny, it has to go.” [Suzanne Slatcher]

“One of the characteristics that made Pixar, and is very rare and important, is that the corporate culture recognized that contributions can come from everybody, anybody,” says Pam Kerwin

“They threw you into a lot of different things to try and eliminate fear from the creative process,” he [Gabriel Schlumberger] says. This meant improv classes, drawing classes, learning from people who were the best in their field–all in the interest of attaining confidence in your own artistic ideas. “Fear is the biggest killer of creativity,” Schlumberger says. “In order to cultivate a strong creative environment, you need to make people comfortable in expressing their ideas.”

A big part of this means not putting people into creative versus non-creative boxes. “Whether your job was coding, or drawing, or painting, or sculpting, nobody had a monopoly on creativity,” says Schlumberger. “As I transition more into management, I try to cultivate that.”

“The idea was to see ideas as a movie as quickly as you can, because that’s the medium it will be consumed in,” says Donohoe. “The same principle applies to any project where you’re trying to figure something out, like software design.”

“At Pixar we learned that you have to have patience,” says [Pam] Kerwin. “I was there in the beginning, so I know, and Ralph [Guggenheim] knows, and a couple other people know how long it took us to get there, how many pivots. That’s the kind of stuff that never comes out about Pixar, that we had a very rough beginning. (But) we were working for a common goal, and we learned to be patient until the world kind of caught up to what it was Pixar was doing.”

The important concept that Ed taught me, and that I have repeated and used hundreds and hundreds of times, is that you have to manage projects like you’re running a marathon–you can’t sprint the whole way,” says [Mickey] Mantle. “You’ve got to set a pace where you can win the race and be ready to sprint for the finish line. And then you’ve got to let people recuperate.”

“With a lot of Hollywood projects, a writer comes with a first draft and the executives are like ‘Oh my god! It’s the worst thing ever, you’re fired.’ But that’s true of every first draft,” he [Stephan Bugaj] says.

Ali Rowghani, who has been given a great deal of credit for sharpening Twitter’s business model ahead of its IPO last year, says that Pixar taught him “not to be precious about the first draft of anything. Ed used to say that the first version of a movie is always bad, and it’s not how ugly the baby is, it’s how much prettier it gets each time, each iteration. It’s a concept that applies to anyone’s work.”

Most important, though, is awareness and even embrace of potential failure.

“Ed Catmull says the purpose of an organization isn’t stability, it’s balance,” says Rowghani. “Stability is when you sort of pour concrete around something and just bolt it down. Balance is a state where if you think about yoga, you’re standing on one leg and you’re swaying left and right in these tiny little movements, but you’re able to stay balanced.”


What Lurks Beneath the Surface

March 23, 2014

I’ll believe it with my own two eyes Humans have a tendency to focus on what they can see to the exclusive of other things. Many years ago, my wife and I lived in a shoebox in Manhattan. We couldn’t afford to buy a place in the city, but ironically we could afford to rent [...]

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You Are Spending 3x-5x More Than You Should

March 12, 2014

In carpentry, the rule is “measure twice, cut once” because once you cut, you can’t go back. If you get it wrong, you end up wasting a lot time, money, and materials. Somehow, that concept has not made it into the vast majority of software projects. Even though “lean startup” has become a popularized term, [...]

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What Is A Product?

February 23, 2014

The title is a question we have been kicking around at Neo for the last few weeks. I often refer to us as a product agency, as opposed to digital agencies that do marketing websites and campaign work. But what is a product? Here’s an initial stab. A product is a repeatable capability that delivers [...]

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Creating, Improving… Managing?

February 15, 2014

I bet most of you have listened to Ira Glass on being creative. If not, ignore this post and go watch that video. His comments resonate with me deeply. Frustration with not being able to always produce work to the level of your taste. Demanding more. Overcoming that frustration through perseverance and relentless creating, making, [...]

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The Misogyny Has Got to Stop

February 3, 2014

This weekend I was startled by a tweet from Margaret Wallace, a game industry executive whom I respect in New York. Welcome to my world: She Was Harassed By A Games Reporter. Now She's Speaking Out. #onereasonwhy — Margaret Wallace ♕ (@MargaretWallace) February 1, 2014 Margaret is referring to a series of unacceptable, appalling [...]

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Myth-Making and the “Authentic Founder”

December 19, 2013

One of my pet peeves about startup-land is myth-making. I refer to the stories that get made up about a startup’s founding and trajectory. Entrepreneurs spin tales for two reasons: to get press, and, particularly, to get funding. Investors have a name for their intuitive filtering — they call it pattern recognition. But at the [...]

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Lean… startup? enterprise? Just use your head

December 18, 2013

Andreas Klinger recently wrote an article that made some rounds in the lean startup circle entitled “why lean startup sucks for startups.” Putting the attention-grabbing headline aside, I found much of the piece rather bizarre. Is lean startup different for startups? Yes and no. Hoping for a detailed playbook is lazy, naive thinking. Lean, going [...]

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