More thoughts on the LoveMachine

Paul Raven @ 17-11-2009

Thanks to New World Notes, we get a little more detail about Philip Rosedale’s LoveMachine system, the reputation-based closed economy we mentioned yesterday.

Cory Ondrejka was Linden Lab’s CTO until 2007, and he was instrumental in developing the LoveMachine system as it operated within the company; here he is explaining a little more about how it came together:

One of my tasks was to invent a new system for employees to give each other feedback, one that would be fun, so easy everyone would use it, and that would generate interesting aggregate information about how individuals and the company were doing.

The design that emerged was tipping.

Tipping — via an internal web tool — would be a positive-sum, transparent game, a way to publicly thank a fellow Linden for going above and beyond. Finding a crucial bug, crunching some extra numbers, helping you figure out the right person to take a question to. Think “Twitter plus $1.” The key was to make it a small amount of money, as a payment makes it real but you don’t want to distort behavior with meaningful payouts.

Tipping was designed to solve three problems: help Lindens know what their fellow employees were doing, generate aggregate data on connections within the company, and identify extreme outliers. It wasn’t clear to me if your tipping rank would be important, but it might be meaningful data if you were generally at the top or the bottom of the list.

He also has suggestions on the problems that LoveMachine – or similar systems – may need to overcome if they’re to be of genuine utility:

The challenges that emerge, of course, fall into three broad categories. First, we optimize for what we measure, so unless you know what you are measuring exactly aligns with business goals, there are going to be misalignments. At Linden, people wrote tools to make it easier to use The Love Machine by irc, chat, email, and the web. This created “pile-on voting”, where an employee would thank someone and other employees would also deliver love to the recipient. This made the amount of love received a function of the time of initial delivery and the communication channel used, which may or may not have been desired. Second, people don’t like just being numbers, they want to understand what they can do to improve, so while The Love Machine should provide additional context for peer and manager feedback, it clearly can’t replace those conversations. Finally, with a transparent system like the Love Machine, are those ranked at the top retained? Are employees who leave or who are fired near the bottom? If not, you may introduce more communication and management overhead rather than reduce it.

If there’s one thing that can be said for certain about reputation engines, it’s that they’re not going to be an easy fix. I guess we’ll only really find out if they work once someone builds one successfully…

LoveMachine Inc: Second Life founder’s reputation-as-currency start-up?

Paul Raven @ 16-11-2009

Love, Second Life styleOh, to be a CEO of a tech start-up… they can get bored of their projects even faster than the public can, y’know. Actually, that’s a little unfair – Philip Rosedale, the man behind Linden Lab, hasn’t lost interest in Second life so much as he’s looking for a new fish to fry with his new company, LoveMachine Inc. [image by Mrs. Bones]

What does LoveMachine do? Apparently it’s developing a system of the same name that was used by Linden Lab as a points-based incentive tool:

Linden employees gave and received “love” for a job well done. If an employee was well-received amongst his or her peers, their accumulated love currency was redeemable for a cash bonus at the end of the month. Similar to social capital systems like Whuffie Bank, it appears that LoveMachine may become a reputation currency system for businesses.

Interesting to see another outfit chasing after reputation economies as a potential business model… and restricting such a system to the limited and manageable confines of discreet organisations makes sense, as closed economies are inherently easier to manage. I expect they’ve heeded Bruce Schneier’s advice on reputation economies, too:

You’ve all experienced a reputation economy: restaurants. Some restaurants have a good reputation, and are filled with regulars. When restaurants get a bad reputation, people stop coming and they close. Tourist restaurants – whose main attraction is their location, and whose customers frequently don’t know anything about their reputation – can thrive even if they aren’t any good. And sometimes a restaurant can keep its reputation – an award in a magazine, a special occasion restaurant that “everyone knows” is the place to go – long after its food and service have declined.

Details of the LoveMachine plans are understandably sketchy at the moment. However, Rosedale and company have got a public worklist of jobs that they need a contractor to take on, and – if you live in the San Francisco area – they’re looking to hire. [hat tip to Fabio Fernandes]

Second Life Enterprise: virtual worlds behind the corporate firewall

Paul Raven @ 05-11-2009

Second Life business link terminalHere’s an interesting development in the metaverse – Linden Lab, creators of Second Life, have announced the formal launch of their “Second Life Enterprise” platform, which is essentially a fragmented piece of the virtual world that runs on corporate servers behind the firewall. Private, hermetically-sealed virtual worlds, in other words. [image by Daneel Ariantho]

This is important for two reasons. First of all, it’s a major step in Linden Lab’s attempts to turn a decent profit from Second Life, which it has struggled to achieve with the free-to-use business model of the public version. If they can convince some big players of Second Life’s utility as a collaborative business tool, the subsequent inflow of money might enable them to step up the bug-hunt and fix some of the virtual world’s bigger flaws. IBM have been a presence in SL for some time, as have other big corporations (to whom we can now add the US Army’s Medical Research and Materiel Command branch, who are financing a “therapeutic space” for amputee veterans using SL Enterprise); the potential for the same tools in a more secure environment (e.g. devoid of flying penis barrages, for a start) may entice more money into Linden Lab’s coffers, and open up the field for competition from other virtual worlds. So now’s the time to set up a business making sharp business suits for executive avatars, I guess…

Secondly, the veil of privacy will doubtless encourage experimentation, and should lead to some new and weird ways of interacting with (and creating within) synthetic spaces. After all, you wouldn’t want to go developing your top-secret big-money idea in public where anyone could see (and copy) it, would you? Imagine for a moment that DARPA decided to set themselves up with an SL Enterprise installation… I’d pay a good big bribe to check out the crazy crap they’d have filled it with after a year or so of getting to grips with the interface, that’s for certain.

And, of course, one can’t help but be reminded of the abandoned corporate virtualities featured in William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy, most particularly Idoru. Like the adandonware websites that already festoon the web, sat on some server somewhere, waiting for a rental agreement between two companies that no longer exist to expire, the metaverse could soon become a multimetaverse, with a few vast virtualities with public access and countless little bubbles of digital existence locked away behind firewalls and restrictive protocols. Urban exploration is a growing trend at the moment, but in a decade or so, the adventurous people will be cracking their way into abandoned corporate and gubernatorial realities to see what they can find lying around… and hell knows some of it will be more interesting than rusty old swivel chairs.

The metaverse: booming despite your absence

Paul Raven @ 31-07-2009

As if an invasion of psychiatrists desperate for work wasn’t hint enough, the metaverse is still big business. Despite the media furore over Second Life and other synthetic worlds having died off considerably, the virtualities themselves have not, as Victor Keegan at The Guardian reports:

Actually, they are booming. The consultancy reports that membership of virtual worlds grew by 39% in the second quarter of 2009 to an estimated 579 million. Not all these members are active but I can’t think of anything, anywhere, that has grown so fast in the recession this side of Goldman Sachs bonuses.

There’s another curious thing: Facebook and Twitter are lauded to the skies, but neither has found a way to make money – whereas virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, Entropia Universe, Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin and Second Life are all profitable because their business models are based on the digital elixir of subscriptions and micropayments, a formula that other websites, including newspapers, would die for. Twitter makes the noise, Second Life makes the money.

If you think virtual worlds are a passing fad, look at the figures. Almost all of the 39% growth came from children.

It seems that many of the newer metaverse startups have learned from Second Life’s very public teething troubles, too:

In order to get a more streamlined experience, most of the new virtual worlds don’t allow users to make their own content. Twinity, which has just raised €4.5m in new funding, has a virtual version of Berlin and Singapore (with London still in the pipeline): you buy existing apartments or rent shops but can’t build yourself. – still in testing mode – promises much better graphics and more realistic avatars at the expense of not allowing members (as opposed to developers) to create their own content.


With technology moving so fast and a whole generation growing up for whom having an avatar is second nature, virtual worlds have nowhere to go but up. Only they won’t be virtual worlds – just a part of normal life.

Maybe more normal than normal life. After all, if we continue down the paranoid path of protecting children from reality’s every rough edge, the poor sods will still need somewhere to go and hang out.


Sarah Ennals @ 26-04-2009

Lag - Does Not Equal

Does Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennalscheck out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.

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