ISS founder in 3D venture in wake of buyout

Cybersecurity whiz and ISS founder talks about online virtual worlds

What are Kaneva users like?

This is designed for mass appeal. The users we're talking to get up and running pretty quickly and can navigate the world and figure out how to decorate their apartments. What's been exciting is that a lot of these people don't know what a beta is. They are not techies.

Initially, our numbers are skewing in the 18-to-34 demographic. We're not gearing toward the 18-and-under crowd. It's not a cartoon world. It's about half and half, women and men. The most active users are predominantly women. This has to do with our activities, which include decorating and shopping. We're not a blood-and-gore environment. But the game hasn't even launched yet. We won't be able to get a real initial sampling until six months from now.

How is Kaneva different from other virtual worlds that are out there?

It's a modern-day world. You are who you say you are. There's ease of use for mass appeal, and we're the first to integrate social networking into the media. This allows you to bring in photos and videos and share with others. We are adding a feature that will allow you to determine who can visit your apartment. Some users are decorating their homes so they can have a party and invite everyone. Other users just want their close friends and family to see their apartments. It depends on the users what permissions they'll allow.

What intersection do you see between virtual and corporate worlds?

Only 50% of Americans play video games. The other 50% have never interacted in a 3-D immersive experience. We're trying to get them to experience it. Then they'll realize that they can repurpose this virtual world for 3-D e-commerce.

Ultimately, companies can use this interface to provide an assortment of applications from help centers to trade shows to user groups. It could provide a way for a team to meet in a virtual experience, such as town-hall meetings or virtual conference rooms. Once a company reaches more than 100 employees, it becomes hard to know everybody and who is working on similar projects. It has always been a difficult task to break down the silos of information within a company. An informal, internal 3-D experience starts to break that down in a way that nobody has done before. It's about social networking. It's about putting in your profile what is your position, how long you've been with the company, what projects you are working on and what is your expertise. Ultimately, this is going to provide a quick way to find all the expertise in a company on a given subject. When you look at an IBM or a General Electric, there are thousands of projects and hundreds of thousands of employees. Trying to identify the right person internally can be a huge task. That's why you are starting to see social networking within a company.

What opportunities do you see for Kaneva in the enterprise market?

That goes toward our third business model of repurposing our virtual world engine. Long term, we'll probably bifurcate so that there are hundreds of worlds built on our engine. Ultimately, there might be Coca Cola World or IBM World where users can hang out if they are big fans of a certain company.

I think virtual reality will be as commonly used as instant messaging. Right now, we're on the bleeding edge of this technology. Entertainment will be a big driver for bringing people into this world. Once they have a great experience with it, they'll bring it into business use. Companies will ask: Why are we spending so much money flying around? Why not allow the Internet to bring us this human experience so we can watch videos, share product demos and interact with each other in a virtual world?

I'm a working mom with three kids. I can't get my laundry done in the real world, let alone find time to play in a virtual world. Do you see Internet users like me warming up to virtual worlds?

I hope so. We're really not shooting for the hard-core gamer demographic. Unlike most companies in the gaming space, we are not pushing the latest and greatest graphics. Hard-core gamers might find our world a little boring. Our world is about connecting with people in a casual way. In that way, we are similar to AOL. One of their successes is that they made their interface really easy to use. This is one of the reasons that iPod is so successful. You can play with it for two seconds and understand the interface. What we're spending a lot of time doing is usability testing. Our purpose is to let you create an extension of who you are and empower you to hang out with communities of people you may have lost touch with or are unfeasible because of geography.

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