Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I am becoming my avatar (2): Big Stage

Last month I wrote an article on the Philips Design probes, titled I am becoming my avatar, in which I said:

In Second Life we often see people trying to shape their avatar as much as possible to their Real Life appearance -kinda counts for beach babes and sixpack Joe's I guess - or the other way around, people shaping their avatar in their ideal sort of way and then try to become like this ultimate adonis in real life too. With this combined technology Philips will provide the change to bring this a step closer. Soon we will be able to project those textures and skins from Second Life on our own skins and clothing.

In this article I focussed on the way we take virtual stuff and try to add them to our real life selves, but the other way around works as well of course, which I tried in June last year at Avatar Island in which I did a testdrive of the CyberExtruder software.

The avatarisation has a new chapter though, which is called Big Stage. Mashable did an excellent report on them:

Big Stage, a personal avatar virtualization service introduced in beta form earlier this year, has its official launch today. The company has marked the moment with more choices for use of their own unique “@ctor,” as well as an updated media player and social sharing functions.

The so-called “@ctor” is a user’s 3D facial representation, which the company calls “The Digital You.” The user can subsequently insert this representation into a myriad of places, like still imagery, social networks, video games, virtual worlds, music videos, TV clips, and even advertisements. An @ctor can be animated through the Big Stage Media Player.

Since launch, the founders of Big Stage have made it a point to emphasize the backend power that goes into the making of an @ctor. The process involves up to three digital photographs taken from different angles of your face, which must be uploaded and put through what the Big Stage team regards as “advanced stereo reconstruction.”

Read Full article at Mashable.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Connect - Again?

It's been around for a while, but somehow it hasn't reached critical mass yet in Europe. It was not untill yesterday that I noticed Yahoo had a nice new app out on the web: oneConnect. It was launched as early as februar this year.

Yahoo has upped the ante in its campaign to rule the mobile Web.

On Tuesday, the company announced at the GSMA Mobile World Congress here OneConnect, a new tool that allows mobile phone users to aggregate their social-networking updates and messaging in one spot on their phones. The service integrates directly with a phone user's address book and allows people to share status updates and messages from a variety of messaging and social-networking platforms. This means it can provide status updates from Facebook or MySpace.com as well as provide access to e-mail and archived instant-messaging chats. [Read full article here at CNet]



Okay, here we go again. Time for yet another tribal migration, another MeToo social networking app where we can leave our personal data up for grabs. Right now every new web 2.0 app is about converging streams, plugging things into something else, creating more of the same data stream, to pretty much the same people. Why is this different than say Facebook, or Plaxo?

Let's have a look at some of the features.

There is a distinct difference. oneConnect does connect. It doesn't require building a new profile like Facebook, LinkedIn and Facebook. It simply leverages my existing social networks in their current states which saves me going through the hassle of importing contacts and extensive profiling once more.

oneConnect services the usual stuff, converging contacts and lifestreams from multiple sources, but also adds some new features into the mix.

This is what I consider oneConnect's biggest advantage over the existing competition, it allows you to post across different platforms. Better yet, it let's you select which platform you want to push your content to. And although we often use these platforms for specific purposes, often we'd like to update our status to all of our networks, or just to announce a new blogpost without starting up Pownce, Twitter and Jaiku.

Another new one (to my knowledge) in the social space is the integration with Instant Messaging applications making oneConnect one of the most versatile communication platforms out there at the moment.

Now does this all make oneConnect the next killer app for the web? Not yet. It isn't stable yet, it's buggy and has performance issues. It doesn't support enough feeds or services yet and you're pretty limited in the amount of contacts you can add.

Aside from the number of feeds and sources to leverage, there are a few other things that are still lacking to get the next revolution going. We still need some innovation to make the next level of social networking. Yes, oneConnect has some nice extra features over other lifestream aggregators and social portals but it isn't enough to herald a new massive tribal migration on the web just yet.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can "Hello My Name is E" cure the identity confusion on the web?

I've been discussing the need for better Identity Management in the web 2.0 era for a long time now, see for instance my blogposts on Identity Confusion and the tribal migration between social sites. Earlier today I ran into "Hello, my name is E." which is was launched today at the PICNIC 08 event in Amsterdam and is currently selecting beta testers.

"Nice to meet you!
I’m your online life, right inside your pocket.
I integrate your social services and make sure you can share your online identities in real life.
I am the physical link to social networking.
My name is E. "

That sounds very welcoming. Small print says you'll need a mobile device capable of internet access, such as a Blackberry or iPhone. Does this exclude simple pc users? And, does it exclude new Google G1 users (since that was also launched today) too?


I can't wait to actually start beta testing this. We really do need to find ways to keep our data centralised, one account to rule them all so to say. One single point of entry with the ability to distribute content through different (media)channels to a variety specified contacts and groups.

I don't wan't to go to twitter, pownce or jaiku any more to type that I've blogged this to a selected audience of my twitter followers, then go through the same motions of spreading the word on LinkedIn or Hyves or Facebook, not even daring to think of autosyncing with Xing, Ning, Plurk, and so forth, yet I do want some control over whom I sent the information to as well. This last bit... that will be the challenge to tackle for the folks over at Hello My Name is E. or any other social media. I do want to discriminate. My family can see more of me (or less), my colleagues can see different thingies and my social network (and my virtual network) can see yet again other things. I want to be able to manipulate these datastreams with preconfigurable settings.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Forecasting on 2008

In my previous post I already did some forecasting on 2008 and 2009 in terms of where the NVE industry is going. Today, Virtual World News (the guys from the VW Conferences) released a survey on the trends for 2008. In this survey some 45 industry leaders participated.


For a good overview of the contents of the 36 page whitepaper visit Fleeep's blog. My general observation is that each of the respondents is very positive about the developments of the industry. 2008 will see explosion this, massive growth that and so on. Since the majority of the respondents are either from MDC's (Metaverse Development Company) or from MSP's (Metaverse Service Provider) this positive view can be expected. I'm not sure it's fully safe to base your investment plan on their opinion.


The Questions


The questionairre is simple, it's not a long list to pick and choose, but 5 open questions which makes it possible for all of us (not among the 45 chosen) to ponder them ourselves. The questions are:



  1. What are your top 3 trend predictions for 2008?

  2. What business goals have you set for 2008?

  3. What challenges do you expect 2008 to bring for the virtual worlds industry?

  4. A number of new platforms are launching in 2008. What are the biggest impacts this will have on the industry?

  5. How will the above changes affect your specific segment of the industry in 2008?

The Answers

  1. What are your top 3 trend predictions for 2008?
    At this moment I don't have a clear top 3, I see a number of scenario's and trends emeriging this quarter though, here they are:
  • In 2008 we're going to be disappointed in Virtual Worlds. As I've pointed out a few times in the past weeks on this blog the current setup is it's Dozens of Them (which by the initials DOT is probably heading for another dot-world crash). What I mean by this is that we've seen about a hundred big companies immerse in Second Life, all with pretty much the same content: Information stands, auditorium and some entertainment stuff. While these are created with great skills by the MDC's it's pretty much the same stuff over again. Right now, most of these virtual enterprises are Marketing & Communication department babies and they're going to be disappointed as they don't bring USP's and ROI's. From this angle we have to differentiate between type of immersion, like:
    - mere presence
    - branding
    - crowdsourcing
    - engagement
    and forget about Business Development.
  • As a result of this disappointment, more MDC's will have to cut down capacity like ESC, or bring in different expertise. 2008 will see a slight shift from the current MDC's to more traditional IT companies like Sogeti or Capgemini who have longterm relations with their clients and a proper supply of Business Analysts who know their clients core business and have the ability to translate that core business to IT and VW solutions.
  • The former means that 2008 will focus on integration, creating API's and mashups, providing data-mining tools etcetera.
  • From a social point of view there will be disappointment in Virtual Worlds as well, mainly produced by lag and hardware power. 2008 will be a good year for NVidia, Intel, AMD and other hardware producers as both the Gameverse and the Metaverse will require a boost in sheer graphical and processor power. Another fundamental part of this new univerese will be the availability of bandwith as worlds like Second Life use streaming technology and are producing over 8 Gbps in data traffic. It will be up to Internet2 / Lamdarail to put their 100 Gbps network into full production (which will probably be beyond 2008) to service this bandwidth need.
  • The Metaverse in general will concentrate in general on the Extraverse, the branded or themed worlds. Since we do not have the ability (in most cases) to translate our core processes into virtual representations, the NVE industry will still be an instrument in marketing media in 2008.
  • As far as extraverses go, they will get more and more aimed at specific groups, for instance girl worlds like Barbieworld and GoSupermodel will grow rapidly. 4th quarter 2008 might see it's first VW specifically aimed at 50+ agegroups in beta.
  • The majority of funding will be coming from governemental organisations exploring virtual worlds in serieous gaming ventures.
  • Social Worlds will lean heavily on the gameverse to find the key to upgrading registered users to active users. This will mean that more and more storylines will be implemented in the Metaverse and offer new handles for interactive media (convergence with television a.o.)
  • Another challenge for Social Worlds will be the mashup with social networking sites like linked-in, Facebook and the likes. This also brings in the all important question of Identity Management (and in its wake interoperability and portability).
  • On the part of Second Life we will see improvement in stability as Aric Linden's QA team will be finalising their tests on the new Windlight client in January, making it the most stable release Linden Lab has ever produced. Havok 4 will be implemented somewhere mid 2008 as physics engine.
  • Aside from taxlaws and other governmental regulations the industry will gain some significance for retirment funding and insurance companies as more and more people will earn their living in virtual environments.
  • A huge issue will be the "What if I die" scenario: What happens to my second life and my virtual assets when I'm no longer there. When I'm gone, who owns my identity, will there be successionrights?

Okay, past bedtime now, the other questions will have to wait.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Your expectations of the Metaverse in 2007

This evening I took some time again to skim through my Linked-In network and browsed the questions from my connections. There's this lad, Rick, who's working on a thesis on Second Life and the metaverse. He posed this question:


Has Second Life in 2007 raised or lowered your expectations for the
Metaverse?
Since the big hype in October of last year those who have been watching the Virtual World of Second Life have seen the hype come and go. But what have we learned from the most successful metaverse up to now? Has it raised or lowered your expectations for a social virtual world?

Now I had a bit of a fight with Linked-In tonight. My answer was too long (apparently 4000 characters max), I tried adding the last bit by clarifying, tried editing and finally deleting and start over again. However, that didn't work either as it said I had already posted. So here's my answer:



Early 2007 I said that the age of the Digerati was gone and that 2007 was the beginning of a new era, that of the Metarati, the visionairs that bring us the metaverse. It truly has begun. It's not just Second Life, but the whole industry.


The year isn't over yet and we've seen over 2 billion US$ in investments in the Networked Virtual Environment Industry. It's not just SL: It's platforms like Qwaq springing up for business, it's Neopets going 144 million subscriptions strong, it's Hipihi, Novoking and the other Chinese booms, it Football superstars and Barbie Girls boosting the extraverse (branded worlds) and it's Sony Home or Eve Online with the new Crytek engine bringing us superior graphics


Over the past year Second Life has drawn more media attention than any other virtual world, respectively positive and then later ill-informed negative publicity has driven the world of Second Life into a hype cycle, especially in the Dutch Press after the Dutch PCM Web (Personal Computer Magazine) picked up a story by the LA Times that companies are getting disappointed in Second Life.


It is another sign of old media living in total oblivion of what is going on.


"After an enormous hype om Second Life more and more 'experts' are getting sceptic on the added value of Second Life to business. Online visitors aren't big shoppers, but are mainly looking for entertainment" reads the introduction. Where did this come from? There's hardly a real life company to be found in Second Life that's actually selling stuff. If it ain't on offer, we can't buy it.
"Successfully promoting your company inside the virtual world of Second Life shows to be harder than expected. More and more marketing departments conclude that Second Life residents feel like visiting their online stores. "Actually there isn't any convincing reason to be present in Second Life" says Brian McGuinness, a Hotelchain bigshot in the LA times, and thus his company left Second Life"


Most of these 'marketing departments' probably have never seen Second Life from the inside. Many companies just use Second Life as another medium for corporate communication... without understanding it. It's back to the early 90's when serious companies launched crappy (excuse me) Frontpage websites.


In most cases there wont be a ROI (return on investment) indeed for the year to come, or even the year after. When will companies see that Second Life is not a commercial, a product flyer?
There are companies that dig SL though. Have a look at Intel and Cisco giving tech meetings and classes on Java and other skills. take a look at Philips taking surveys, or at ABN Amro organising sponsor events for non profits.


One of the most telling lines in this article is the following quote: "Analists from Forrester (yay, the big reasearchers) have calculated that at prime time there are only about 35,000 to 40,000 visitors in Second Life" Okay, prepare for another research paper (usual rates about $ 1.000,- US dollar / hard cash) telling you the same the counter on this webpage -an many many other websites - will show you every single day. The good news is: You don't even need to pay me L$ 1,000 to get this info. (Concurrent Logins as per june 07, now over 50K)


Now the Dutch seem to have been in the grips of hypecycles for several years now, on a range of subjects. The nation is becoming governed by the whims of media. The point is that most companies don't really have a clue either to what they want from a virtual world like Second Life. It still seems like many companies establish a presence in Second Life because everybody does so (that's no longer valid). It's like users: If you register for SL and have no idea what you want to do there, you're likely not to return. You're at a loss. Companies should have a goal in Second Life as well. Innovation, Exploration, Crowdsourcing, User Acceptance, Branding, Sponsoring whatever, just make up your mind and set some goals...


Aside from the misperceptions I have seen the virtual worlds grow. Many new startups stir up competition, challenging each platform to innovate and stay at the top. There’s the promise of new and converging media with projects like CSI:NY, The Office, Gossip Girls and the Korean Que Sera adding interactivity to television, which make me believe we are making progress on making these worlds fit for business. So yes, sofar 2007 has definately raised hopes of making the metaverse fit for business. Virtual Economies are the fastest growing economies on earth. Advancement in terms of stability and scalability are made in rapid succession. It's an enormously varied landscape though, different cultures, people and habits. A wide variety of engines are used to drive these worlds. Some are java-based, some are desktop applications that connect to grids and some are using streaming technology. It's almost impossible to try and define these worlds, let alone find ways for identity management unified communications, interoperability and portability for the sector. These are the steps we have to make these worlds an integral part of our daily work or leisure time.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

What's interoperability?

This afternoon I spent over an hour on the phone with Chritian Renaud, Chief Metaversal Bigshot at Cisco. Yes, that's right on the phone.... media 1.0 so to say. As I was on a sogeti-issued IBM T43 laptop I couldn't get Second Life to work (Ian please tell me this can be fixed) and also Skype failed.


After a good personal update (the us, timezone issues, busy schedules, kids, traffic jams, Prokofy Neva and stuff) we got down to business discussing the Metaverse and one of the VW Conference's buzzwords interoperability.


It remains hard to define the industry of NVE's, Networked Virtual Environments or virtual worlds. There's a mega grey area. You just can't categorize it straightforwardly. And yet we're trying. I'm doing so, Nick Wilson over at Metaversed is doing so, Christian is doing so and KZero is attempting much of the same.


It gets even harder when you get to discussing interoperability and some sort of unified communications or standardisation between these worlds. There's a few worlds out there that have a positive attitude towards the initiative, but others don't (see this post). What exactly is interoperability? Do we just throw all virtual worlds into a blender, find a common denominator, standardise it and run the risk of us all walking around in milky white avatars with jelly-green shirts and denying us all to use the potential of individual platforms?


Christian did quite a good blog on this over at Cisco: "Ode to Interoperability" It's truth, perhaps not the whole truth. It's a discussion. We're not there yet. What it all boils down to is that one of the key-elements will be Identity Management on the web. Christian tried to voice this in his piece, much of the same, not for virtual worlds, but for everyday web usage I run into every day, just like in my previous blogpost. I do have some thoughts to add to this discussion, but that'll have to wait. Bedtime now.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Best Practises for employees

Thursday, 1:30pm - 2:30pm


Best Practices for Employees in Virtual Worlds


With companies issuing avatars to large groups of employees what are the best practices required to create a smooth operating environment for those individuals. What standard operating procedures should be implemented to create the best experience a company projects when sending employees into public virtual worlds?



Speakers:


  • Bob Ketner, Creative Director, Studio SFO
  • Adrienne Haik, Metaversatility, Inc.

Bob gave a pretty fast ramble on best practises, kind of hard to keep up with taking notes. Here's a few tidbits though:

Why is doing Business in a VW a good idea?

  • Employees are already there
  • It can solve problems
    - I can't reach you
    - too little time to come over
    - info retrieval
  • Gamers are doing it better
    - Gamers focus on getting the job done (single action focus)
    - Gamers are selforganising folk
    - Your new (young) employees are aleardy gamers
    - Are using PC's a lot more effectively

Work can be a drag. How many of you say "Hey I can't wait to get to work on monday", and how many say "I can't wait to play World of Warcraft tonight".

IBM is currently looking into World of Warcraft Guilds, as it takes Guildmasters a lot of experience and compentence to manage all these guildmembers. These Guildmasters are actually people that distill and manipulate digital info in an advanced way. So which skills are involved?

The Avatar as a Uniform

Metaversatility's Adrienna Haik gave an insight as to how serious business in a VW can get.

  • It's important for employees to understand they are in a virtual workspace, and not a game.
    -Let your people take it serious and avoid them flying around during discussions and stuff.
    - Visible clues like chairs, desks and other office furniture may help.
    - Set up different spaces for different forms of communication and interaction.
  • Interaction guidelines, rules of engagement for the natives
    - How do you react to weird encounters? Your clients my come in as Furry's. A client new to SL can go ballistic if he's shocked by some appearances.
    - Take time for clients and new employees to acclimate. Take them shopping for instance.
    -Respect the community. You're on their turf.
  • Your avatarname is associated with your business.
    - Like with email, use a personal and business avatar.
    - Think about sexual harassment by avatars representing your brand
    - Your employee is your best marketing instrument inworld. Have them take the brand serious and advocate it.

There were several things in here which I didn't agree on. Especially the private and professional avatar distinction. I've only got one avatar as the lines between work and play are blurring. We're in a global business now and shifting timezones lead to business encounters at many different hours. Nor do I see the leaders of the industry, like Ian Hughes (IBM), Jeff barr (Amazon) and Christian Renaud (Cisco) have different avatars.

When speaking to Jeff Barr on this after the session was done he came up with several good reasons. First of all, these are community leaders. They've got a very professional attitude towards second life and have to build relations on their reputation. Switching Identities makes you have to build multiple reputations. Another thing (which at least goes for Jeff himself) is that they've probably all had PR training and know what they can and can't say. A third reason why you may not consider switching avatars is by self-protection. For some people there might be tempting stuff in Second Life. If you want to stay away from that, it's a strong motivator if you've got a reputation to think off.

It might be different though for regular employees who come into a virtual world to do some work then go off again. They have a completely different precense than their community leaders.

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VW Conference buzzwords: Interoperability and Portability

Christian Renaud's keynote this morning was generally received as an outstanding analysis of the Virtual World industry and the challenges that lie ahead of us if we want it to go mainstream.



Divergence


What it all boils down to is that the web, and especially the social web is getting very confusing. We need to have multiple identities, and now there are virtual identities to juggle as well. You've gotta go nuts if you have to juggle all that. This isn't much different from what I've blogged midway june (VeeJay juggles web 2.0 chaos). Like Christian said, we've failed to get openID into place when it comes to the web, let's try to get it right for virtual worlds.



Thought Leadership


In order to get this right for the Virtual World industry, several thoughtleaders met the day prior to the VW Conference, amongst which Cisco, IBM, Linden Lab and Philips. Linden Lab and IBM put forth a press release stating they are working on interoperability and portability. Other terms to describe this are unified communications between Virtual Worlds, or setting new industry standards (is it going to be VHS or Betamax?). IBM has made no secret of the fact that they have been pursuing this for months, the only speculation and blogosphere fuzz at the moment is that it's now an official tie-in with Linden Lab.



Convergence


So the market needs convergence, standards of portability to go mainstream. I personally feel this is a very, very good thing. In fact, I've been saying so for months. The real big challenges are:


  • How do you asses the value of virtual goods on various platforms in relation to other platforms
  • How do you get a sound Identity Management System in place

No consensus yet

In the beginning I said Christian's keynote was generally accepted as outstanding. Here's a few thoughts from the business

While talking to Craig Sherman on this he let me know that Gaia is pursuing its own target group and has no intention whatsoever to even start thinking about portability. pretty much the same goes for Habbo Hotel, as Timo Soininen doesn't see much chances to asses the value of goods for portability.

John K. Bates of Entropia / Mindark noted that value is generally based on user demand for goods and in a lot of instances World-specific. Like in Entropia you've got dung. Absolutely of no value if you return it to the Entropia caretakers, but a must have for landowners who need dung to fertilize their lands so they can grow monsters and tax those who come to their land to hunt monsters. So in entropia you might wanna be a dung-baron if you don't want to pay for stuff and still get rich.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

True Web2.0 still to come


All around the world we’re talking about Web 2.0. Almost everything is 2.0 these days. In the blogosphere we all get excited about every new web 2.0 app. But really, what’s web 2.0?


2.0 means there was a 1.0, and old web. However, the web hasn’t been closed a single day to migrate it’s content to a new release. So technically we don’t have a new web. It’s usage has changed. The way we use the web and the content we use and put on it has changed. The web hasn’t. But it will. It has to. True web 2.0 still needs to come in my opinion. The contemporary social networks and usergenerated content change our way of working with the net and is raising new questions, asking for new standards.


A little while ago I wrote that web 2.0 is chaos. It’s going from site to site, registering hether and tether, inviting old friends over and over again to join and meeting new friends. It’s getting too complicated. Too much going on to keep track. In the process we get sloppy with our identity. Do some good searches on the net, add profile data from one site with info from the other site. Throw in a good whois lookup and it’s easy enough to put together a complete profile and history on someone. Perhaps even enough to start making educated guesses about passwords.


The web itself, it’s core isn’t ready for web 2.0. Web 2.0 needs to be more closed than the current web when it comes to privacy.


This is a first blog on why web 2.0 still has to come. More will follow soon

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Put yer Trust in Second Life

There's tons of new goodies coming to Second Life. Windlight, Voice, Gambling Ban an now Age Verification. Okay, now I'm making friends....

Gambling Ban a good thing? Yes it is actually. Without it, there wouldn't be any Second Life left I think. In past issues of the Avastar and on many blogs there has been a row over Linden suddenly imposing a ban on gambling.

This ban saw an enormous dip in the SL economy, especially when it coincided with several banking scandals. It was unavoidable though as US law has very strict lines on gambling.


Anyway, these past hectic months may have been leading up to Linden Lab moving for Age Verification in Second Life in an attempt to steer the community into calmer waters.


"Trust is the foundation of any community. And one cornerstone of trust is identity. You’ve got to know something about the person you are dealing with before you can trust them. Knowing who to trust in an online environment presents unique challenges. Traditionally Second Life users have based their trust on relationships built over time, and often on some basic verification such as ‘Payment Info on File’," says Robin Linden.


Basically there are supposed to be two advantages:


"The IDV system aims to deliver two things. First, for Residents, it gives them the chance to independently verify certain aspects of their identity (their name, age, location and sex for instance) if they choose to. This will help establish trust by removing a layer of anonymity for those they interact with. It’s much easier to trust someone who puts their name behind their words and actions.


The second benefit of the IDV system is to help land owners and content publishers be sure that minors do not get access to inappropriate material. Again this is voluntary, but we wanted to provide the tools for estate owners to restrict access to content of a sexual or violent nature to those they are sure are over 18. They’ll do this by flagging the content as ‘Restricted’ which will only allow avatars verified as over 18 to access the land. Visitors to Restricted areas can also be reassured that all other visitors are over 18 as well."


I wholeheartedly agree to the second benefit, but the first one has me wondering. Where's the benefit in that? Here's the whole Identity Management discussion again. Where's privacy going in Web 2.0?

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