Remember how I blogged very skeptically about Clever Zebra back in January? Horse in Striped Pajamas. I had valid personal reasons, but I wasn't the only one in the Slogosphere to question whether this model, that seemed to involve shaking down everybody's free content and business cards and reselling it for a profit to outside companies was viable, let alone, well, ethical.
Now here comes Lordfly, to tell us late at night on Sluniverse.com that he has left the Clever Zebra, and apologizes to everybody for making them work for free and give content for free, given that, well...they didn't get anything out of it, really. The theory is that you get, in addition to a credit line on the object, which happens automatically with builds, objects, scripts, and textures in SL (although not with skins), a sort of job lead. Or, just "networking" which is always supposed to be beneficial.
My estimation for Lordfly can only go up for a) his having left CZ and b) truthfully describing what happened. I think most people won't hold it against him. But there's a much larger message here, that I'm not sure Lordfly concedes, and that is the non-viability of this freetard business model.
The formula worked like this: first, Nick Wilson (57 Miles) came to SL and started a website, Metaversed.com, which tried to draw more serious business and technical discussions away from all the hysterical blogs and forums. He then started an inworld Things to Do group and began having events with well-known speakers on technical and business issues. He then invited me to do a weekly podcast and write on the blog, and Caleb Booker to write on the blog and do podcasts, and that drove traffic to the site. He then, having now a ready made bundle of content, activities, and contacts, offered it up for sponsors. He got various sponsors like Cisco, Kelly Services, Otherland, etc.
Next, he systematically dumped my podcast, due to a complaint about criticism of ESC and pressure from sponsors on the pretext of an inworld incident; had neither of those things happened it would have closed anyway as Nick's plan then was to dump the news business and website and podcasting, and move to a consulting business. For a time, he was the host of the website and meetings of Metanomics, but then they broke away. Nick made Clever Zebra on the model that I call "your information wants to be free, mine is available for a consulting fee, however."
That model advertises to new entrants to SL, or real-life businesses wanting to get their feet in virtuality, or existing inworld or outworld businesses wanting to go to the next level of activity, the possibility of getting a suite of free goods and services, but then paying to have a long-term relationship. (NMC uses a similar model, having open-sourced or made freebies some of their basic kits and then renting land and services on top of that.)
But Clever Zebra goes much further, in that it hired Lordfly to 'make a community' -- which means getting all his friends and their friends to come and be in a big wiki or barn-raising where they all volunteer time and creations and scripts to the Cause of Networking and getting noticed and just being part of a groovy new thing.
More sponsors were got; more VC cash, so to speak. More events, including the inworld business expo, which from what I gathered, really didn't have any inworld businesses that really make money from the inworld economy, but just a lot of other businesses kind of hanging around and providing consulting to others who want to get in on the VW thing. Nevertheless, it was pronounced a success -- I'm sure there were those who found it valuable as networking -- to which I can only ask the same question that Amanda Chapel keeps asking all those social media gurus: but did you get paid? Who got paid? Did any money change hands? Show me the money, etc.
My own feeling was that CZ was basically being a glorified Business-in-a-Box, taking a lot of free content, like the stadiums or furniture that Lordfly and company made, or scripts for business use, and bundling it to give away as "open source," while meanwhile building a business of "consulting" on top of that, whereby CZ's staff gets paid to squire around businesses in SL.
Then it gets murky for me. How do those people who put in all the free stuff get anything later? Are they able to get jobs with the new clients? How does Lordfly's department, so to speak, generate revenue? Is he hired as the builder? Or are his building skills then part of what CZ offers clients? But...there haven't been any builds. There's just been these expos. Or *are* there builds?
I'm not saying that big corporate builds are the wave of the future -- I don't think they are. I think we saw a lot of them in this stage, which was kind of like having the World's Fair in Queens in 1964, but now...there haven't been any lately, because, well, people have other things like the Gas and Oil Expo in Ashgabat or Virtual Worlds 2008 in New York.
And for a time, all these builds were sort of demos or prototypes of a putative 3-D website/world that these companies might use for...training...or something. But then they didn't. They might. But...they didn't.
I think even if SL worked like a Swiss watch, they wouldn't, but that's why we're having this discussion. Let's pretend it does for a minute.
It just seems to me that this business model is doomed. It's doomed because it's socialism -- even Bolshevism. It involves either taking, or coercing to give, content and builds from people promised some sort of bright future that just isn't deliverable. You can get people to do an awful lot on the promise of a bright future, but...you need to deliver at some point.
And I find it iffy, the thought that CZ gets to vacuum up all this content, show it all off to clients that are paying *them* but not have a precise contractual relationship with the people who made the stuff.
Read the thread and you will get much more robust language than even I use on my blog -- basically content creators being dropped "like spent nuclear rods" after they had put out.
It's kind of like Second Life, too, you know. Lots and lots of people made free content and volunteered in communities for SL, too, and then felt like *they* got dropped like a spent nuclear rod.
I agree with others that I don't hold this against Lordfly -- I think he thought it was all going to be a grand gig. He's young. He's enthusiastic about all this new business model stuff. I think it's Bolshevism, but that's because I've lived in or worked on the countries of the former Soviet Union for 30 years. He thinks the Internet needs to have new models for content creation and distribution. I think this sounds like the old "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us" slogan that caused everybody to steal everything that wasn't nailed down from their factories, and their managers to pay them in things like a year's supply of nylon stockings or macaroni instead of money.
Anyway, keep this experience in mind going forward in this discussion of "what business model works".
I maintain that people should watch the whole CZ thing very carefully because I see it as a kind of prototype for Linden Lab and VWs in general. If it really is possible to build businesses on opensourcing content and providing consulting around it, or some suite of services, then...let's see it. Can it grow behind the stages of having to rip off everybody's content and not give them jobs? Can it grow beyond the stage where eager sponsors just give money for branding but don't stay involved in something that doesn't really have a viable community or more to the point *buyers* -- customers?
I mean, what's the point of having a "community of car content" like, say, Nissan, if none of the poor students, housewives, and unemployed geeks making the content are going to buy the Nissans? Just to put it very starkly.
Be sure to go down and read way into the comments on the "Obfuscation" thread below, too, for comments and responses from Jimmy Dell -- press NEXT and NEXT again because Typepad now puts comments on pages, and you can miss them.