In the Virtual World Land Rush, a Landscape of Inconvenient Truths

No one following the news – online or off – is surprised by how often a story mutates beyond recognition. We have jokes specifically addressing the inability of most people to accurately relay information. However, beyond simple mistakes, I’ve noticed an increasing number of virtual worlds-based business blogs providing their own convenient versions of events in what seems to me to be the single-minded pursuit of selling themselves (or their client projects).

Here’s one apparent example, which I promised the site owner I’d blog.

Founded by Nic Mitham in 2006, Kzero Ltd – with associated blog – popped up on my screen fairly quickly. Kzero is supposedly “a world-leading authority of virtual world marketing strategies”. As I don’t see any justification for that claim, this boast appears entirely self-proclaimed. From what I can tell, Kzero is just another virtual world marketing and advertising effort hoping to capitalize on their so-called “insight”.

And that’s all fine and well if Kzero bothered to consistently do some research before using assumptions to back assertions. Case in point: this blog entry on Kzero: “Virtual Laguna Beach. The cross-world cross-over” (Link).

The problem I have with this entry is two-fold and starts with this particular piece of commentary:

This leads nicely onto Virtual Laguna Beach in Second Life and the title of this post. Very similar to the setting using the There platform, MTV also created an island in Second Life mirroring the initial strategy.

What Kzero is effectively saying here is that MTV made a deliberate and conscious effort to deploy their Virtual Laguna Beach project into multiple virtual worlds; first There and then Second Life.

However, anyone who followed the blogosphere regarding the opening of the Second Life island or made even the most basic effort to research the project would be aware that MTV did not “also” create an island in Second Life “mirroring the initial strategy”.

From the Business Communicators of Second Life blog entry “Virtual Laguna Beach Prototype Available in Second Life” (Link):

The Electric Sheep Company has posted today that the prototype for VLB was built in Second Life – and is now open to the public there.

From the Second Life Insider post “Virtual Laguna Beach in SL too” (Link):

What you may not have known is that the Electric Sheep Company worked with MTV and others to bring Virtual Laguna Beach to the computer screen. Also, the Sheep prototyped their There like popular culture mash up of technology and teen angst in Second Life. If you want to see this prototype it is now open to the public.

This prototype rendition of the virtual world is more of an opportunity to see the development process in action than a fully functional product.

And from the horse’s mouth, Giff Constable wrote on his Sheep blog entry, “Laguna Beach in SL” (Link):

Many of you know that ESC has been proud to work with MTV and the full range of partners who came together to create Virtual Laguna Beach. What many might not know is that before the major project got underway, MTV asked us to build a prototype inside of Second Life. In the spring of 2006, ESC took two builders (I was one) and two weeks to create some components of Laguna Beach. That prototype is now open to the public.

Thus, it should be apparent that with very little effort Kzero could have determined that what they claim was a “cross-world cross-over” effort was actually the public release of a prototype.

When asked (something Kzero should have done), I learned that the Electric Sheep lobbied MTV to open up the island prototype to the Second Life community. So, contrary to Kzero’s characterization of what transpired, it was not created with the intent of following a “cross-world cross-over” strategy, even if MTV might very well take that approach now.

Consequently, Kzero is using an incorrect assumption of how the project was developed as factual evidence to support a personal hypothesis. And while the position might have merit (I happen to be working on a “cross-world cross-over” project myself, so I think it does), the so-called validation of it is problematic.

I earlier stated that the issue is two-fold, and it’s the second part that’s more troubling to me: I believe Kzero is being intentionally misleading. Why? Because I alerted Kzero to the issue I’m pointing out. After reading the entry, I recommended in a comment that Kzero contact ESC and verify what actually happened on the VLB project; to ensure that the particulars being relayed to readers were accurate.

My comment, however, wasn’t approved and does not appear on the site. For a while it sat in the “Awaiting moderation…” cue, as if someone was debating what to do with it. Then, it was finally moderated quietly away; after which I left the comment that now appears: “Interesting. Guess I’ll have to write a blog entry on this one.

That second comment, unlike the first, was approved without hesitation. Since it can be read as an endorsement by those who aren’t aware that what was “interesting” to me is the curious moderation of comments which potentially challenge “a world-leading authority”, I can’t say I’m surprised.

To be fair, Kzero isn’t the only virtual world-based business blog playing this game. It’s just the one I’m using as an example. After all, I said I’d write a blog entry about it. I wonder if the trackback will be approved.

5 thoughts on “In the Virtual World Land Rush, a Landscape of Inconvenient Truths

  1. I am a bit troubled also by the accuracy and/or methodology of some of the data presented by Kzero and others. It’s troubling for those companies quietly doing very rigorous, very original, very experienced brand and avatar research in virtual worlds who must deal with the fall out of credibility when such companies use the “research” “definitive” “the only” “analysis” terms lightly and don’t/can’t produce the real value of those terms. It seriously hurts the perception of “real” vw research . For example, there are numerous surveys that get quoted endlessly in the press or on blogs, yet a look at the methodology just destroys (or at least should) the credibility of the data.

    I only know of one company (and I’ve looked into all I’ve become aware of) who is actually doing rigorous market research *with avatars* and has developed proprietary methods to deal with the unique issues of doing vw research (Market Truths).

    Thanks for highlighting this issue. I think we need more discussion on the credibility of research in vw – I’ve been mulling over a series for my blog, actually. In full disclosure, I have invited Market Truths to contribute insights, although they have not yet agreed. I’d love to hear more from you on it.

  2. Well, I’m no researcher, so I don’t feel qualified to speak on that level, but I’d very much enjoy reading a series of entries specifically devoted to the topic.

  3. Whoops. Appears that my second comment has now been removed by Kzero.

    I have to ask myself: What kind of reputable business person operates in this fashion?

    And btw, I’ve discovered something else on Kzero’s blog worth mentioning. Look for a comment in the near future.

  4. Rather than having a dialog either here or on his own blog, Nic Mitham of Kzero instead decided to send me a private email. I won’t post it here, but I will reply to it here.

    First up, and relevant to my most recent comment, Mitham informs me he was somehow unaware that a quote he attributed to Coca-Cola’s David Vanderpoel is actually mine (see the relevant Kzero post – Link; and note that my comment is once again being held in the moderation cue). That sounds pretty odd to me, because if one reads the quote with any comprehension, it’s difficult to believe that it could be attributed to anyone from Coca-Cola. Here’s the relevant quote:

    For those people who feel the need to use the Coca-Cola trade dress in ways that are detrimental to the brand’s reputation, Coca-Cola is more interested in establishing a dialog to help them understand why people want to attack them in the first place than they are in trying to stop them.

    This is by far the smartest position I’ve seen a company take lately.

    Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t think the competition could have been set up a little better, but the fact that they engaged the community, they adjusted (to some degree) after competition launch, and are now taking this extraordinary stance is, honestly, a welcome surprise to me. My hope now is that word will get out and other companies will follow their lead.

    How a “a world-leading authority of virtual world marketing strategies” could make such a huge mistake is beyond me, especially considering all the traffic and links I had to that blog entry. One would think it’d be almost impossible to screw that one up; that is, if any genuine effort was actually made to get it right in the first place.

    Furthermore, in order for him to correct(!) the Kzero blog entry regarding Coca-Cola, I’m asked if I have a “reference”. Huh? I’m at a loss here, since I can’t do any more than what I’ve already done: provide a link to the blog entry from which the quote comes (reLink), which is in the “Awaiting moderation” comment to which he’s responding.

    If, however, what he’s actually asking for is a quote from Coca-Cola, I’d suggest he do what a “world-leading authority” does: pick up the phone and call Coca-Cola himself. Maybe this time they’ll agree to being quoted (part of the reason I was so impressed with their approach: there are no quotes to potentially tie them down).

    As to the issue regarding MTV’s VLB project, Mitham informs me he would “like to open a dialogue”. Now that’s interesting. I thought that was the whole point of my commenting on the Kzero blog entry in question.

    And the reason he gives for not publishing my comment – his claiming to believe that I “misunderstood” what he was going on about – sounds like so much ass-covering to me it’s laughable. I mean, what better opportunity to explain the point of the entry than publishing it and responding to it right then and there? Instead, he deletes it.

    I can only wonder if Kzero is in the habit of deleting comments rather than engaging readers who take the time to provide critical feedback. Is Kzero only interested in approving comments that potentially help build precious reputation? Or is he more concerned about getting the facts straight?

    If it’s the first, that’s certainly not in keeping with the very kinds of Web 2.0-ish advice I’ve seen floating on the Kzero site. Then again, I’m not sure how much of that is generated internally and how much is culled from other websites. Heck, I wonder how much of what I’ve written is being used in those world-class reports (without Kzero being at all aware, of course).

    Then Mitham gets into how he’s offended by this blog entry because apparently he thinks he’s providing some kind of selfless service to the virtual worlds community. Or something.

    Well, Nic, I think it’s pretty apparent to everyone out there that the primary purpose of the Kzero blog is self-promotion. Period. And I don’t have an issue with that. I do, however, take issue with those who a) don’t get the facts straight and muddy the waters for everyone else, and b) try to pass off what they’re doing as some kind of selfless act… at £117.44 (€ 176.27) per world-class report. Save that for the gullible. Apparently you’ve found four so far. Congratulations.

  5. Nice to see that Kzero/Nic Mitham corrected the Coca-Cola blunder. Unfortunate that all he did was add a link to the ESC blog entry regarding VLB that I mentioned in this post, instead of making it clear that the SL effort wasn’t part of some overall strategy.

    Then again, anyone who depends solely on Kzero for information should probably lose some money anyway (either through paying for reports or maybe investing on their advice).

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