A busy few weeks, during which friends (for whose generosity I am so grateful) came to talk about what motivates and fires them on the web and in online life. Since we started these occasional talks, we've been fortunate to have winner after winner — and the two most recent ones were no exceptions.
Back on 8 November, Paul Farnell and David Smalley, co-founders along with Matt Brindley of Litmus (and see, too, Salted), came in to talk about starting a web-based business. Being a young entrepreneur is of interest to several students I teach or know at St Paul's; some have already launched their first ventures.
So: start with an idea that solves a problem (Litmus was born this way, in 2005); don't keep your ideas close but discuss them openly; have a revenue model; work with vision and passion, getting your first version out as soon as possible — fail faster. Focus on the product, not on patents, NDAs, paperwork, limited company status … Earn money whilst your product cooks: freelance work (eg, web design) pulls money in for work on the product (until this starts paying its way) and also gives you the chance to learn new skills and to network (discovering potential clients). Strike whilst young: it's harder to make the jump to a start-up after earning a full salary working for someone else, and, if you start at university or school, you have a context within which you can take risks with greater safety and ease than later on.
Riccardo Cambiassi came in the following Thursday to talk about Second Life. Briefly tracing the roots of virtual worlds from William Gibson's 1984 novel, Neuromancer (cyberpunk, cyberspace), through Neal Stephenson's third novel, Snow Crash (1992) and its use of metaverse, he brought us to 2003 and Linden Labs' launch of Second Life (Wikipedia): blending science, art and technology this offered the user the possibility to create and explore innovatory, 'what if' situations. A quick run down on key terms: avatar (Wikipedia: 'In video games, the term avatar refers to the character in the game's diegetic world controlled by the player. Although Neal Stephenson takes credit for creating the term in his book Snow Crash (p. 440), earlier usage can be found in the LucasArts virtual world Habitat); world — reprogrammable (open technology), allowing you to be the magician and write the spell; people — the major difference between web experience and virtual world experience — IM (etc) and voice; metaverse (not the only one: see developments in some web sites and in MMORPGs) — you can read the web, email, IM … see how the virtual world economy is faring vis-à-vis the real world's.
The case studies Riccardo went through were great for our students, illustrating something of the range of what can be done within Second Life: creating 3-D mind maps; creating a space (in this case, the work of an Italian journalist) to produce a low cost conference with high quality content; creating art pieces; an art gallery with a PDF, downloadable library; the celebration of a real life marriage in virtual reality; and Riccardo himself as R2D2. Finally, ajaxlife.net, an AJAX based SL client created by 15 year-old Katharine Berry (Google Code: 'it does not rely on browser plugins, making it suitable for use where you cannot install plugins, e.g. at work, school, or games console') — but sadly, since Riccardo's talk, taken down (see here). There are screenshots of AjaxLife here and an interview with Katharine in Reuters here.
Finally, on Friday, 16 November, Mark Selby, VP Media, Nokia, spent two and a half hours with us. The rise of mobile computing and the rapid development of powerful handheld devices (I've been using an N800 for a while now and we have an N810 on order) lent special purpose to Mark's visit, but above all I wanted him to to see what we're doing, what our students are using and playing with … and to talk directly with some of them. I hope we'll be able to build on this visit.
Conversation follows these talks and visits, breaking out around the speaker and carrying on over lunch and coffee. My thanks, again, to Paul, David, Riccardo and Mark for giving up so much of their time and for proving such good and stimulating company.