The virtual revolution has started

This weekend on prime time BBC2 TV saw the first part of the four part documentary “The Virtual Revolution”. It is hosted by Dr Aleks Krotoski know to many of the metarati out there for studies into Social Influence in places like Second Life, and also the living the rock and roll with Jim “Babbage Linden” Purbrick and Max Williams in the band 100 Robots. Many people will have followed the #phdhell that Aleks has been tweeting about too. Also the twitter stream has been full of the production of this programme.
All this leads to the fact that it was a much watch piece of TV. I tweeted early on “This is what we have the BBC for” because it was a very well made, not too geeky and well thought out exploration of “The Great Levelling”. Many notable shapers of the web we know today featured in interviews. It will hopefully be seen by many people who seem to assume the web and social interaction and sharing of information is some how a bad thing. It isn’t. It has arrived and we have changed many of the the things we do and enhanced others by engaging with one another.

I should add that whilst the programme covers the past 20 years it should be clear to us all that we have come a long way and still have a long way to go in human communication online. It starts by embracing what we have now, to engage and explore all the possibilities. (Yes that includes virtual worlds like Second Life!). However don’t assume we have the perfect solutions yet. There is more to come than avatars, islands, Facebook friends, blogs and twitter. An underlying social change is happening though.

To quote Stephen Fry in one of the many pieces of video available on the Virtual Revolution website “we are, constantly in need of, of connecting with people for, friendship, love, sex, knowledge, growth, enmity, territoriality all the, all the imperatives that drive us as human beings. Erm we’ve created villages and towns to help us do that and roads and now we’ve created something else that allows us to do it, us to do it even more. ”

For a slightly more reactionary piece there is always John Perry Barlow on freedom of expression (who I nodded in agreement a lot with)
“I wrote a piece for Wired Magazine in, in ’93 which they called The Economy of Ideas. And I recognised that the only reason that copyright had worked was because it was hard to make a book. And that suddenly anything that a human being could do with his or her mind would be infinitely reproducible at zero cost and infinitely distributable. And given that there is a fundamental quality in human nature that likes to share information. I mean if you think something is, is cool or interesting what’s the first thing you want to do with it? Tell everybody you like. You know, and if, and if it’s not just simply saying I read this great book you should go out and buy it but you can just sort of zap the book right in to the other persons mind practically, you’re gong to do that. And you’re not going to have much regard for, for copyright. Er, and so the powers that had been suddenly saw copyright as being a splendid way to control this scary new liberty. Er, that exerting powerful controls on owned word would be the, would be the real method of clamping down on this, this thing.”

One interesting thing that happened on the starting titles, and helped the twitter buzz was seeing on screen the hash tag for #bbcrevolution. It was just placed bottom right of the screen. For many people this will seem alien, “thats not a URL”. Whilst the general public, non tech geeks, have got very used (in the past few years) to seeing a web site URL they will not have seen the meta URL that is a hashtag. The #andsometext notation is used to lift a tag or label a piece of conversation as being relevant to a subject. It is platform agnostic, you can hashtag anywhere, its just text. It means searches can find threads of conversation across disparate sources. It is not organised, controlled nor policed. It just is. To see it on a documentary that has been create through many online collaborative efforts, putting its money where it mouth is is another indication of the validity of the programme.

10 thoughts on “The virtual revolution has started

  1. Surely the BBC is a cornered beast and as such we should be fearing it rather than singing its praises.

    The licence fee will not work in the internet age and they can’t simply charge a subscription for content because then they would be a company like sky and then they couldn’t simply throw money around and tell people it’s for there own good. Also unlike sky it can imprison it’s refusenik subscribers. Pulling money from increased general taxation is the only way the BBC empire can continue.

    The quality argument for the BBC is very weak. Dictators have very high quality palaces but the opportunity costs to society are so high that the resources are better spent elsewhere.

  2. I am singing the praises of being able to produce a quality documentary of this nature and the content and people involved. I agree it sits in a strange system of financing. However I think it has led the way in putting its content online and across multiple devices with the iplayer. The efforts of more commercial organisations to do such things has not been quite as successful IMHO. So whilst it gets adjusted in how it is funded and goes on, in any transition it is still producing fantastic content.

  3. The problem with the real world is that when you do your analysis you can’t just draw a box around something (pretending that it has no impact on anything else) and so simply taking it at face value. For example if we look at this lovely palace in isolation:

    we see that it is of the highest possible quality and therefore a most excellent example of interior design. However we must hold judgement on its value until we look outside the box to see the map of opportunity costs that were incurred to make it possible. When we do this we see that Saddam simply used violence to loot the money from people to build it. Money that a free market would have allocated to its most pressing demands (e.g. health, education etc …)

    We must always be aware that the modern (post WW2) super-state is so massive and complex that its capacity to disguise the misuse and misallocation of scarce land, labour and capital is almost infinite. While not by design this misuse and misallocation is the inevitable result of turning off the demand and price signals that allow the free market to ‘function’ (i.e. enable the market to deliver on people’s most pressing demands at ever increasing quality and ever lower price.)

    Why was your iPlayer so expensive to develop, 5 years late and lacking the BBC archive (which was the point of the project in the first place) while Hulu and YouTube executed perfectly ? It’s hard to have interdepartmental infighting when you only employ a handful of people. Why does my laptop cost £300 ? We are told that it is because new technology drives companies mad and they start cutting prices and crunching their margins for the love of their customers. I prefer the explanation that it is free market competition that drives down the price at the same time as lifting quality (BTW to generate aggregate price falls every year when the government engineers permanent inflation takes a lot of power – power only a free market can supply).

    It is very easy for an organisation that is granted a monopoly by the government to shake down the population like some giant Guardian reading Mafia to trumpet its successes like the iplayer. However even a basic Austrian analysis reveals the reality of the situation. What would people be spending their licence fee money on if there was no BBC – maybe something they really want ? The BBC has only one customer and that is the state.

    The state (including its appendages like the BBC) is a map of everything people do not want. We can also gage how much people do not want what the state gifts us by the amount of violence that needs to be threatened. Thus only the threat of prison can make people take EastEnders. If Big Auntie was so loved would a strongly worded letter not suffice ?

  4. Peter Erwood


    I have great respect, but… Meeting Ms Krotoski a few times, does not make you a contributor by association.

    You’re being very much the fan boy, your tweets last night were slightly fawning. Even worse, they could of been interpreted as a little self important, in danger of overstating your own role. Sorry, but the work was not yours, the people who did all the internet / virtual world development, the great people and teams at IBM. There is no “I” in IBM 😉

    Also, this is not just a BBC production, which is also a very pompous assumption. The money and development was from the Discovery Channel, TLC and the BBC. As is the case with the majority of BBC documentaries.

    As a 27 year old, it also made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Almost like my Dad waxing lyrically about how the Internet is going to change the world, five years too late!


  5. @AC I agree that that may be some need for some change in how the BBC if funded and that it may have been born of an age when tv was just getting started. In that case it was probably right to make it a publicly funded service in order to ensure it grew. At the time people were saying why on earth do we need tv. A similar reaction that many had/have on why on earth do we need internet connections.
    Clearly the pressure is now on the BBC. However I was expressing an opinion that the BBC makes good content, which I am happy to pay for.

  6. Peta Kenyon

    Peter, great points, well made. This blog is getting like a broken record. Ian tweets that he offered his help but that they managed to make it without him will be great comfort to Ms Krotoski! The IBM days are overblown and ancient history. They are not relevant anymore, move on. Actually, I think the same argument made about TV censorship applies here. There is always the off button and I will be using it for this blog. Over and out 🙂

  7. @Peter, I can’t really apologise for my enthusiasm. As many people who know me will point out if I like something I will champion it. The fact I have have degree of social tie to the network that produced this show through various ways, combined with the programme being something that we could all follow the development online and throw in the fact it is about a subject that has changed my life significantly over the past 10+ years then I was simply sharing my feelings on the matter.
    As for IBM’s virtual world development. Yes it was very much a team effort. It became much bigger than the seed that I planted as we grew eightbar out into the virtual. It is the power of that team, where people chose to get involved and to follow the path of what needed to be done, rather than wait to be told that fit so well with the programme. I do mix arrogance with humility in this. I started it, I funded it personally and I persuaded the movement to get going. Much of that is a matter of record. If it had just been me though, on my own, clearly we would not have been able to say to the company, customers and press look we have a movement of 8000 people in the company. SJP coming in world in china would not have happened if the guys had not had my personal Hursley island available to start building early. Wimbledon in SL would not have happened and become a major press and customer showcase. we would have not created such a buzz in the 2006 innovation jam with the movement in order to build virtual worlds in a top 5 technology and cause the formation of the Emerging Business Org.
    All this was done with support from colleagues, but an actual resistance of some magnitude from more local control structures.
    I am proud that we succeeded, I am proud of my colleagues but I am also personally proud of the part I played and hopefully still play in the future direction of virtual worlds and social media.
    I think the programme is one that is for us that understand what has happened on the web, to remember the fight we had to get people to take note. It is also for those who really have not felt the change that is occurring. In many ways I should be arguing the programme not exist as a major part of my consulting is helping people come to terms with this and see how they can get involved in a meaningful way, and not get left behind by a generation that already knows.

  8. @Peta Thankyou for reading and following up to now. The programme was actually about the history of the web ancient or otherwise. I was not seriously expecting to be anything to do with the programme it was merely part of the ongoing “minor celebrity” joke. I do often mix the past with the future, but it is as you say, free choice. Can’t please all of the people all of the time 🙂

  9. Aha, that new technology and that pesky lack of demand !

    You would have thought the 1930 mechanical Televisor was the wonder of the age Mr Chumley-Warner !!

    Look at the massive 2″ screen ! Who needs indoor plumbing when we could be saving up for one of these !!!

    It’s almost like the market is telling us more people need indoor plumbing before investment in TV ?

    It’s a good job the government stepped in and redirected resources into TV.

    Mr Mussolini and Mr Hitler have demonstrated the advantages of the corporatist state and Mr Roosevelt is busy burning crops in the fields to keep the prices up. Truly the future is big TV’s and big government to create the demand for them.

  10. i really have fun reading comments of other people on my posts..good or bad, well, it goes to show that they have indeed read ‘em. but i’m also guilty of not leaving comments on other blogs as well.

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