I spoke before about the two very different platform models embodied by Facebook and WordPress. Today’s post will take the Facebook perspective, present theories of how a Virtual Reality platform could be built using that model, then finish up by discussing the possible outcomes. I call it “Project FaceSanBookSar.”
It’s important to note that this post is also one of my “conjecture” essays. That means I have no insider knowledge or information, I just have a lifetime’s worth of experience doing stuff like this. Okay, disclaimer out of the way … let’s begin.
Project Sansar as a Platform
We have to start with the assumption that Project Sansar will eventually be some sort of “Platform”. That means a web site or server farm that provides some sort of experience or service for paying customers. Common platforms are Google, Facebook and WordPress. Second Life is also a Platform in that it provides a Virtual Reality service by means of its web sites and servers. However the depth of the Second Life platform is very shallow. There are basically two levels of participants: Customers and Lindens.
We are beginning to believe that Project Sansar will deepen that structure by interposing a middle-layer of more highly skilled Content Creators. All indications are that the Project Sansar end product will be a presentation provider that can host and deliver Experiences. Those Experiences will be created and maintained … and sold … by the new intermediate layer. Linden Lab will derive their income both from so-called “Taxes” on Experience Sales, and also from usage fees and miscellaneous whatnots paid by the people playing Experiences.
So that’s the Platform machinery of Project Sansar: Customers that play Experiences, Creators that make and maintain and sell Experiences, and Linden Lab as the computing host and delivery host for those Experiences.
The Facebook Model
Now let’s zero in on Facebook. It is a massive platform that has far more members than I care to count. In their early days they did not allow external companies to “hook into” their customer base. They tightly controlled everything presented to their customers, and nothing came directly from “outside”. But they did eventually create a method for outsiders to put stuff onto a Facebook page, draw Facebook customers into a separate application or game, and coincidentally convince those Facebook customers to pay money for the opportunity. Facebook then took a cut.
That’s a familiar model: Customers that visit Facebook (for everything going on there), Outsiders that create games and distractions, and sell those to Customers, and Facebook as the host and delivery mechanism to Customers. So far, so good … right?
Platform Model Differences
There are two places where these models differ dramatically. The first has to do with the core business or product. In the case of Facebook, Outsider-created content could fail without seriously compromising the entire platform. Facebook was already a growing and going concern. If the outsider-provided content failed horribly, as long as people could still get to the core function of Facebook then things were relatively okay.
People didn’t come just for the external content, they came for Facebook and stayed for the content. That meant that they could have a pretty small and tightly controlled set of Creators and their core business would not suffer. On the other hand, Project Sansar will be totally dependent on that content. Failure to provide good content, interesting content, salable content will cause people to leave the platform completely. That’s point one.
The second point of difference is in the total number of potential customers. Facebook has shown its ability to attract and retain a truly massive number of customers. Even though it is extraordinary in that respect, we can also easily accept that the total number of potential customers for Project Sansar will be very much smaller. In fact, much smaller even than the “Casual Internet User” demographic that is already much smaller than the Facebook Devotee population. The only way the population will grow appreciably is if the Content Creators find ways to create something that bridges the gap into other demographics.
The Making of FaceSanBookSar
In order for Linden Lab to draw Project Sansar closer to the Facebook platform model they would need to provide a core product that is attractive to a broad number of customers. If Project Sansar is only capable of providing VR Experiences then it will fall on Linden Lab to create the first revision of the world that people can inhabit. There has to be dirt before you can dig a foundation.
But there is also another method that perhaps could meet with better success. We have known for a long time that the money people behind Linden Lab want to drive a tap into the money bloodstream of platforms like Facebook. What if Project Sansar is not so much Platform as it is “Content Host”? What if it hosts externally created content … to an audience like Facebook? What if Farmville was in 3D?
Benefits of a Platform Host
We have been talking for a long time about the various 3D Engines (such as Unreal or Unity), but always within the context of standalone products. They are very nimble components and can serve a lot of purposes, but to my knowledge no one has really looked outside the Gaming box … or at least hasn’t looked very far.
But suppose you defined a Platform, a set of specifications, interfaces and standards that must be met by a Content Creator. Suppose you could offer that Content Creator access to a population as diverse and broad as Facebook. You could create a limited platform at first, keep things tight and well maintained (and functional) and still catch a lot of nibbles as people fly by.
Flipping the Coin
In my opinion, if Linden Lab works toward a final product that is, in and of itself, the core product meant to attract the primary customer … then they will fail. However if they use their expertise to build a “Platform within a Platform” that can be connected into things like Facebook then they stand a good chance of succeeding.
Which way will they go?