Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Inspired by Cory's talk at Accelerating Change, I've started Second Life. (Someone described it to me as a home for retired Warcraft players. ;-P) My name there is... Joi Ito. I'm still pretty confused, but if you have a character there, please give me a holler or tell me something interesting to do. Thanks!

Update: Philip just flickr'ed a photo he took when I visited him in Second Life.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

My experiences in changing cities five times and continents three times in the last 18 months have given me an insight into the shallowness of certain aspects of globalization from a consumer perspective.

(My experiences are used merely as example I know well, not because I think they are of world significance. )

I first had an American Express card in Hong Kong, then in the US and now in France. When I applied for the new Amex card in the US and in France, I was assured that my membership date would go back to when I first joined.

Each time I got the card, however, (my French card just arrived) they considered me a new member. A longer term of membership can confer benefits.

When I complained to the French Amex yesterday, the customer service person explained that American Express in Hong Kong is not the same as American Express in France. Funny, because that is not what their advertising seems to imply.

I had a similar experience with HSBC. Their Hong Kong service has been excellent (great website), so I checked out the bank in the US and then here in France. Each time I was informed that although they market the bank as HSBC in these different places, each bank is fairly independent country-by-country. They said this is partly due to banking legislation that varies in each jurisdiction.

What generalizations can be drawn? Products (McDonalds burgers, Coke, etc) globalize more quickly than services?

As you may have noticed, my blogging has been a bit light these days. This is partially due to the rigor in which I have taken on my research into the World of Warcraft (WoW). I'm still level 36 (out of a maximum of 60) so I am still a "newbie" but I thought I might share some of my observations.

First of all, it is no wonder over four million people play WoW. It is by far the most interesting game I have ever played. I started online multi-user games with the original MUD (Multi-User Dungeons) back in 1984 on the first server at Essex University. It was all text based and as far as I know, open source. After you became a Wizard, you could add to the world. In the original MUD, when you died, you were dead. I quit after my character died just a few levels before reaching Wizard.

Later, when graphical games came out, I sort of dismissed them, believing that a 3D world would never be as rich as text or as easily customizable and interesting. I did play my share of graphical games, but none of them had the same community feeling and the levels of social complexity that I had encountered on MUDs.

WoW has changed my opinion completely. With a customizable user-interface, WoW allows you to tweak and tune your interface to suit the race/class and type of play that you are interested in. Plugins allow you to automate and augment activities that you engage in most frequently. The interface for advanced users is as impossible to understand to other people as an airplane cockpit.

I started out poking around killing monsters and completing quests on my own. The early levels were a bit lonely, tolerable only because your level increases so quickly at lower levels. There is a lot to learn about how to play the game and use your controls (there are very customizable key-bindings). I think these early levels are really like a boot camp. Sort of like learning to type.

Later, I ran into "Way" in a ogre mound. Way was "farming" (killing) ogres because they "drop" (carry around and allow you to loot) silk. Way is a tailor (among other things) so she (actually a he) was picking up silk to make objects and to sell silk at the auction house. Way and I hunted together for awhile while chatting about philosophy and decided to start our own guild (we were in another guild together at the time) to focus on our own twisted sense of humor with our own friends.

I blogged about this and our guild was quickly populated by people we met online as well as people I know from blogging and IRC who had seen the post. At the moment, we have 36 people in the guild if you include people's alts (alternate characters). Being the guildmaster and feeling somewhat responsible for trying to build a foundation for new members, I decided to focus a bit on making some money. Way suggested the auction house as a good way to make money, so I downloaded the auctioneer plugin and got to work. Auctioneer scans the auction house and keeps a historical record of prices of things for sale. It is not immediately clear what each item is for, but the various online forums can tell you. The prices of objects fluctuate as quests are added that require items or rules change. It is also very dependent on supply which fluctuates as the volume of players in various areas change. Various professions allow players to gain experience and build exceedingly complex things.

For instance, I recently acquired the blueprint to make Aquadynamic Fish Attractors. These things increase your ability in fishing. (Some people don't seem to appreciate fishing, but it's a great way to pass time when you have low bandwidth and want to just relax.) To make one, you need 2 bars of bronze (which require a bar of tin and a bar of copper which require tin and copper ore which needs to be mined), nightcrawlers and corse blasting powder (which is made from corse stone, which is mined). You then use these fish attractors to increase your fishing ability so that you can catch, for instance, the Deviate Fish. These fish can be found in the lakes to the east of Ratchet in the Barrens. Add spice and cook these fish (if you have the proper cooking skill and recipe which is very hard to get) and you can create Savory Deviate Delights. So what? Well, if you eat a Savory Deviate Delight, you randomly turn into a ninja or a pirate.

So what? Well, it's cool. There are only a few people who are able to create these things so you rarely see ninjas or pirates running around. When I board the boat to sail to another continent or am in a group raiding a dungeon, I often transform into a ninja. To many people, I am the first ninja they have ever seen in the game. I then give everyone who wants one, their own fish. Soon we have a funny party of ninja and pirates. Why do I do this? Marketing. I sell Savory Deviate Delights at the auction house and I have a feeling this marketing increases demand. You can buy a stack of 20 of these for your next party in the Darkmines for a mere five gold or so. (The market price of the recipe is about 50 gold and about 0.1% of beasts in the Barrens carry it.)

One of the problems with WoW is that it is very difficult for characters at different levels to collaborate effectively in quests. If you have a high level character in your group, most of the ways to gain experience points are severely limited. Slashar (Don Park) yesterday, had a good idea and we all created new Horde (there are two "sides" Alliance and Horde) characters. The five of us all decided to choose orcs. We had heard rumors that developers at Blizzard play Horde characters themselves and that it was actually more fun to be Horde. We had a blast. You can type /dance and your character will start dancing. Each race has their own dance. Orc dancing was the coolest thing I had seen in a long time. Clearly the developers loved orcs. So now, in addition to our more formal Alliance Guild, "We Know" we have started a merry group of orcs which, so far is great fun because we are able to all play at the same level and collaborate more.

Anyway, I could ramble on and on, but I think I'll stop for now. I wonder if I should start another blog to talk about WoW in case people here aren't interested. Or better yet, maybe you should all start playing and we can talk there.

UPDATE: We're going to do an organized Orc run. We'll be setting up guild called "We Orc". Horde Guild on Khadgar. We'll run as a pack at 6PM Eastern Time on Saturday night every week or so. We'll hit a target level and people who miss that run should try to catch up by the next week. We're level 5 or so now. See you there!

Global Voices Live Chat on Handbook for Bloggers & Cyber-Dissidents going on right now. Join us at #globalvoices on Freenode. For more information see the post on the Global Voices blog.

Update: Just ending now. Will post link to transcripts when they've been posted.

Update: The transcript of the IRC chat has been uploaded.

I'm at the airport on my way to Hobart, Tasmania to give a talk at the AUC "Evolution of the Species" conference.

My apologies to anyone who cares for not posting very much lately. My travel has been getting continuously more crazy. However, I will be grounded for two week after this trip to renew my passport and hope to get thoughts and other things organized.

Thanks a million to Thomas for picking up the slack on this somewhat neglected blog. I will admit that my (cough) research involving multi-user games online has also been taking up a little time.

Anyway, see you one the other side.