I have been thinking about this post for some time. I knew I wanted to write about people transacting business in place removed environments and I kept wondering how to describe that. I kept circling around the word Virtualness as a way to describe what seems like a new way of doing things that I haven't heard described elsewhere. Before sitting down to do this post I did a quick Google search and there are apparently 23,000 references to this word. I imagine it really means what it means to me as well.
So virtualness, where to begin. My father in law, who lives in North Dakota has been trying to get me to set up home videoconferencing on my PC for something like 3 years. Knowing the state of PC based over IP video, I punted. That was until this year when we set up video for two remote guys we work with. I became very impressed with the setup using a Mac and iChat or Skype. I posted about this previously although I am not going to go back and find the link.
We set the machines up a couple of weeks ago and have started having regular video calls. To me it wasn't earth shattering but there were some subtle things I hadn't considered. My daughter would sometimes clam up on the phone when talking to her grandparents because she was shy. On the phone, this was lost to them. On the video camera this is adorable and it really transcends the communication experience by allowing them to share a moment that would otherwise be missed or taken out of context. I thought that this is a powerful change in the way we communicate. In fact at work, it's as if our remote people are in the office. We can wheel around the workstation with a monitor on the face of one of the guys. Its kind of freaky but it certainly works. My son initially asked me where his grandparents were. I told him that they are still in North Dakota. He didn't seem convinced.
Back in 2002 when I was running Vivendi's Internet music group, I originally had 4 offices from the various companies. We consolidated into two locations and I think we did a decent job of running a distributed office for a while. Ultimately though, we had to put some people on the ground from the other places to make it really work. I realized then that it was very difficult to run a distributed enterprise and that it required a lot of physical presence. These examples above have made me reconsider that belief and I have now crossed over to the other side and I think that with the right infrastructure you can really effectively run things in a distributed fashion.
The more I thought about this concept, the more I thought about CC Chapman. I met CC in the fall of 2004. The two of us were early music podcasters who came together when we formed AMP. With the setup of AMP we started using Skype for conference calls and a variety of shared tools. Before I journeyed into a year long hiatus with podcasting, I had established a strong friendship with people like Chris Macdonald from Indie Feed, Jason Evangelho from Insomnia Radio and Matt Galligan. I also kept in touch with CC when he went off to work with Podshow. Based on the initial interaction with CC I ended up meeting with him in Boston when I was traveling and got to see him at the first PME.
I ended up getting busy with the company and CC was busy with his job and podcasting. I hadn't paid attention but he started doing shows beyond music that were focused on marketing. Sometime a couple of months ago he sent me an email that said that he had quit his job at Babson college and was working fulltime with a new marketing company called Crayon. I thought this was great but what I hadn't realized was that this new company was comprised of a couple of guys located around the globe. To conduct business and to have company interactions, the principals work inside Second Life.
I had spent a lot of time on Second Life after SXSW. Eric Rice had gotten me intrigued after I said I didn't get it. I spent some initial time back then and hadn't really looked at it recently as I didn't have the time. During the holiday break I was thinking about CC and I fired up my account. I had accumulated a lot of Second Life money so I bought some land, set up a home, and purchased some art. As I traveled around Second Life I still came away with the feeling that it is still too geeky and too porny for most people. With the exception of what Eric is doing with his Slackstreet Island I still didn't see it.
Recently I was hanging out at the Crayonville office in essence stalking CC to say hello. I didn't track him down but I did run into a bunch of people hanging around the Crayon office chatting about marketing podcasts and new media marketing. It was pretty impressive. A good handful of those people were big CC groupies. I laughed my ass off. Not that it isn't warranted because I think that CC is a smart guy and doing a lot of things right, but because none of these people knew CC, or rather none of them have ever met CC. They knew him through the media he created. By his own hands.
Now I know that fame doesn't require a personal connection and I also know that I can be a fan of someone like Jon Kraukauer (who really turned me off when I saw him live on TV) or an athlete like Peyton Manning but a lot of these people are built up by the mechanism of marketing or the mechanics of fame. And here I was in a virtual world chatting with a bunch of people who I don't know and we all know this virtual person named CC that everyone is a fan of. To me it is a personal testament to the power of an individual taking control of the tools around them and building a following through whatever connections are available to them be it a podcast, a blog or an imaginary avatar in a virtual world selling eyeballs to big brands. It really is impressive and I am very glad that along the way I have come to know CC although not as closely as I would like.
I wish him and his friends much success as they proceed with their company. I think they are definitely doing some pioneering work that today is not broadly understood but in the future will be a common way of transacting business. I think that we will all find that the world continues to shrink and that there are aspects of ourselves that will increasingly become organized around ideas or concepts using tools that today we can hardly imagine. We will bring together people and ideas by the means of our virtualness or our virtualability. It should be a big adventure.