Friday, April 11, 2008

A zebra and its stripes

Marty the Zebra: "I'm ten years old. My life is half over and I don't even know if I'm black with white stripes or white with black stripes!"

I've followed Clever Zebra with interest since they launched, but after some four months, I believe they have the same problem as Marty. Their value proposition is "SL entry made simple" and they promise to achieve it with a pack of business oriented builds and utilities - from an amphitheater to a slide show presenter. Their offering is RL company friendly - a stated up-front price of $4,950 and $395 per month enables companies simple cost calculation and moves them from perilous and possibly expensive project territory into the safe product zone. They will definitely get some customers and expand their presence. However, after some 6 months, I think they will have to reconsider the nature of their stripes.

Clever Zebra's basic fallacy is in their value proposition. Is the price and complexity of creating a Second Life presence really the major hurdle the real world companies must overcome? I believe not. The major problems are the unwillingness to invest human resources in SL; the complexity and immaturity of Second Life as a business platform; and the biggest one of all, the difficulty of forging lasting and valuable relationships with Second Life community.

How does Clever Zebra help companies overcome these difficulties? Their corporate product page is quite devoid of information; it's hard to discern exactly what services the list price includes. If it's consulting, there can't be much of it - let's say 30 hours at $100. Is 30 hours enough to get company personnel to grasp the UI complexity and get to know Second Life so well that they can begin to use it productively? I sincerely doubt it.

The kind of company that goes for "as low as $$" deals is not the kind of company that is willing to heavily invest resources in getting to know Second Life and extracting value from it (and is also most probably not a company that could use Second Life to "save thousands of dollars on travel"). Only a few real companies are - Cisco Systems, IBM, and Dell, to name a few. All of them understand that they are in virtual worlds for the long haul; there is simply no ROI to be made in short term. Does Clever Zebra tell that to their potential customers? I hope they do.

So what does the future hold for Clever Zebra? They will definitely sell a few packs in the upcoming months. But, to keep customers from leaving Second Life in disgust after 6-12 months, exclaiming "Second Life is totally unsuitable for business", they will have to start accurately representing both the challenges and the maturity of Second Life. They will have to admit that they are not providing a "solution" for real companies wishing to enter Second Life - they are only making the first step of many much simpler.

It's time to decide: black with white stripes or white with black stripes?


Robbie Kiama said...

Interesting thoughts iYan, I always believed in Nick and his abilities to see the future. I believe this one will not be any different, I think they are just starting and lots of exciting things will arise from Zebras stripes.

btw I think it's left for us to decide white with black or vice versa :)

IYan Writer said...

FWIW, I'm much more optimistic about their Virtual Business project - but their main offering feels.. wrong, in a way.

But, of course, we'll see - I have no crystal ball :)

Digado said...

As we briefly talked about yesterday I agree 100% with you (and I have to say the 'Marty' reference is genius). I came to pretty much the same conclusions in January when they first announced the platform:

"1. Will corporations that spend 'thousands of dollars' on communications settle for these ‘template generated’ structures if other brands use them as well. Sure, you can change the lay out, the sizes are customisable and you an add any variation of the structures listed above, but it sounds a lot like ‘Your title here’ websites. Applications that create your website for less then 100$ - but essentially they all look the same.

2. The cost of building might get reduced a lot (I don’t think its entirely free as they will probably still need to hire a builder to set Clever Zebra up and customise), the Linden Land cost is not (by Clever zebra). Private islands still absorb a lot of money, enough for any small to medium sized corporation to still think twice about entering Second Life in any way.

3. I am not really convinced of their business model the way they present it in the video. Clever Zebra should benefit from the results of getting more entrepreneurs and companies inside Second Life, facilitate the platform growth and perhaps act as a guide to these newcomers. The commissions on content development by the community reminds me of the ‘mash up’ economy - something that has yet to go anywhere on the 2d web."

IYan Writer said...


I agree with your skepticism - it's a Geocities kinda thing in a Ning era.. It might work if the CZ Enterprise package included an insta-community :)

Kanomi™ said...

I was at their offices once because they were giving away free buildings. I think it was them.

It was disturbing though because there was this strange voice that kept saying the same pitch over and over while I looked for the freebies.

I'm glad I don't have to try and make a living in SL, I would not be able to afford internet access if I did.

Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

For the sake of Clever Zebra, a bunch of very creative, talented, innovative, and nice people, I really wish that we're all wrong.

I'm afraid, however, that we might not be.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for voicing what many of us see, but cannot say.

Robbie Kiama said...

I don't know how far CZ wants to go, but let's just imagine, that one day hundreds if not thousands of developers add their content to CZ corporate package ( or whatever the name is ) Then imagine available selection, and appeal to business and not only to business.

I think this model could go far, but yes - lots of hard work is ahead... ( or maybe I understand the whole concept in a wrong matter? )

IYan Writer said...

Agreed Robbie, but still - it would only help with the first step, creating a SL presence.

CZ is building a bike and billing it as a "solution to go to city X" - I'm just saying there is a lot of pedalling still involved, however good the bike is (and that the road is very bad, to extend the metaphor to the platform stability). :-)

Aleister Kronos said...

I've stuffed a post on Slambling about this but a couple of thoughts.

For "the community" an Open Source one-stop-shop for all your SL business needs is appealing. But somewhere in all this you have to be able to make money. I'm struggling to see how that is going to happen - at least in a way that can scale to meet their aspirations.

I personally dislike what I categorise as 'inflationary speech' - it's a sales & marketing approach that feels 20 years out of date.

Dizzy Banjo said...

I think the CZ concept is most interesting, when viewed not from the position of the grid as we know it today, but from what it could be in 2 or 3 years ( if zero has his way ) and also in the context of a wider interoperable / not so interoperable metaverse.

In those situations ready to go packs to inhabit multiple worlds with various locations but with some form of common yet customisable graphic ident is an attractive product.

The issue of monetising all this is very complex, especially in an open source contributory environment. I would say I don't fully grasp the process of remuneration to contributors at the moment. But having experienced working with CZ I would expect a fair and sensible approach.

vBusiness Expo looks to be very interesting. Whilst I do attend some RL conferences on virtual worlds, and understand the value of physical 'facetime' with people, it always irritates me that these things don't make full use the virtual platform itself. I look forward to vBusiness Expo being one that does.

dyerbrookME said...

I've already posted that Clever Zebra is a Horse in Striped Pajamas.

Here's what's wrong with the concept:

o a manager and staff who already have a very long and proven trackrecord of being nasty, exploitative, and thin-skinned about criticism, as I and others have already found out. I don't know what Gwyn is smoking, but the records of 57 Miles, Onder Skall, and Lordfly Digeradoo on the forums, in their dealings with people, and on their blogs, are all amply visible. Nice is not the word one uses for this gang.

o leaving that aside, a "stone soup" approach whereby "community" is "leveraged" to provide the onions, chicken bits, and tomatoes to the stone of free open source and make soup -- but without ever calculating the time and resources needed for the old lady to grow the onion or the young boy to feed, grown, and chop the chicken -- it's as if model of stone soup is used not just to have a lunch with friends, but for all of life.

o What is included in the opensource package is a lot of free scripts in SL that weren't created with the intention of being handed away to corporations to help make them earn $5000 a pop, but designed to help a world grow in a spirit of open collaboration. A sad footnote to all of that, of course.

o The "consulting" and "connection" that Clever Zebra offers is obtained as follows: first, organizing events and scraping all the comments, data, lectures, calling cards etc from all those events and blogs at the old, now doing the same scraping and cultivating of freely offered participation in a free social network called VBusiness on a website where the owners can again, scrape and exploit the data, peddling essentially influence and calling cards.

o This kind of cut-throat, exploitative business that culls people freely participating in events for networking purposes and mines them for "consulting" fees later may be "the way it is done," but it's tacky and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

o If a lot of companies use this service, it will be a little scary seeing all those Stepford Wives clones of ugly concrete corp buildings all over SL -- I think most corps pay builders to get their own look, to have their own learning experience. Most corporations will find themselves being too cool to have a lookalike template, so perhaps the expectation is that poor but eager third-world companies will jump at it, in which case, it feels exploitative still.

o The model that Clever Zebra is using is merely a tiny microcosm of what Linden Lab itself will use, leveraging *all of us*. As Tao Takashi aptly remarked, they have trademarked *us* lol. They will take all the data they've mined, all the participation, the free good will, the sweat equity, and charge for it.

Meanwhile, we'll be required to see the inworld economy and our businesses destroyed for this "business model".

Stone soup -- where we get the stone leftover, they eat the rest.

dyerbrookME said...

>I would say I don't fully grasp the process of remuneration to contributors at the moment. But having experienced working with CZ I would expect a fair and sensible approach.

What are you smoking, Dizzy?! Your instinct is right: you CANNOT monetarize open-source in the way its proponents fantasize about. The opensource of the Internet that they all rant about is funded by foundations, rich VCs, and the mining of data for marketers.

Do you have a DIFFERENT thing to do in mind?

Furthermore, you must never have criticized *the sponsors* of if you believe they are "fair". Are we to live in a world where we can't criticize foundations and corporations that support OS?

dyerbrookME said...

PS Google forces me to use an email and not my preferred name, dyerbrookME@juno is Prokofy Neva.

Also, let me take this opportunity to say once again I HATE HATE HATE OpenID which I have signed up for and tried to use and never get working, if it worked, I'd use that. It doesn't.

IYan Writer said...

Update: Nick does seem to be addressing some of these issues in the VWN post today, so it might just be bad communication on their part.

dyerbrookME said...

iYan, the post isn't new, but from April 11th, which I read back the. Don't back down from your critique, or be bullied here. Nick says nothing new whatsoever, except to admit he has no pre-orders ROFL, which seems odd, no?. Kelly Services was a sponsor about a year ago, when they first started, so it's not as if they just came on board.

Metrics? Training? Event management? What are these things, really? The first is about a few proprietary scripts, for which there is some competition, there may even be free versions out there now of scripts that find the hot spots on your sim for you and return info on various things like how many avatars clicked on your widgets. The second is a hugely subjective and capacious category. Training in what? This could be everything from a motivational speech to the basics about how to use the land menu to expel griefers. Event management? This comes down to providing audiences. So we are back to my original point: scraping all the lists and business cards and groups and re-using them for clients for a consulting fee.

CZ also came into existence with this business model long before there were any price slashes from LL, unless they had inside tip-offs, so it's hard to justify their model based on something that happened later only fortuitously.

IYan Writer said...

Hi Prokofy,

he mentions training, too. I read his comments on the post as acknowledgment of some of the issues I raised. How they will address them, is, of course, up to them - and, if they don't, I may take them to task in a few months again :)

I am not backing down from anything; my post was not a result of personal disagreements or business competition. I'm simply sharing my views - and I'm always prepare to give anybody the benefit of the doubt.