Virtual Currency Is Very Real
James Currier is a technology entrepreneur. As an early proponent of user-generated media and viral marketing, he founded Tickle in 1999, which he sold to Monster in 2004. In 2007, Currier founded Ooga Labs with Stan Chudnovsky to incubate consumer Web companies. Currier is currently the CEO of WonderHill, a casual games company spun out of Ooga Labs, and the chairman of Medpedia, a communications platform for the medical community worldwide. Medpedia operates in association with Harvard Medical School, Stanford School of Medicine and several other health and medical organizations.
Currier is a Big Think Delphi Fellow.
Question: What is virtual currency and why do you find it so interesting?
James Currier: The idea with virtual currencies is that you are having an experience at – on a website, or in a game, or at Burger King. Any place, any environment that you’re in is a place where you could take out your wallet and use U.S. dollars, which is essentially a virtual currency based on very little as we are seeing recently, right. I mean, the United States is now printing the money based on their brand. It’s a currency that we all agree to exchange value using.
You can then take that money and buy other virtual currency that Burger King or the game could make up. In the case of Wonder Hill, we made up Rubies. And you buy Rubies. You can then use those Rubies in that context to purchase all sort of things. You could buy a wheel barrel, you could buy land, you could buy the ability to shout out to the rest of the community by spending rubies. So anything that you might want in that context can be purchased using that virtual currency.
The British Pound is a good example. When you go tot hat world of the UK, you need to use their currency to buy things there. And now all we’re doing is doing that inside of games. And so, you’re taking what’s happened in the real world and just mimicking it in the silicon, if you will. Mimicking it in software.
Second Life has done a great job of selling Linden Dollars to people. It’s a $450 million a year economy in Linden dollars. And people take U.S. dollars; they buy the Linden Dollars and then they use those Linden Dollars in the world. They use those Linden Dollars to pay people to help design t-shirts in the world that they then sell those t-shirts to other people who pay them Linden Dollars to buy the t-shirts. And that’s all happening inside the virtual world in Second Life. And at Wonder Hill, it’s happening inside our games, if you will. They’re Flash-based little games. One of them is called, Green Spot and you build out your green spot and there’s actually land and you have multiple pieces of land and you put characters on it and you design them and you grow things in this world. And they’re beautiful things and its entertainment. And it’s an escape. And you’re willing to pay for that. There’s a certain percentage of people who are willing to pay for that. And that’s how the business works. That’s what virtual currency is.
And I think that, as I saw in the ‘90’s, everyone was focused on moving magazines and TV and radio onto the Internet, and that was the wrong thing to do. I mean, it has kind of worked for a few companies, but generally, the really big hits have been user generated content. That’s what the Internet uniquely does. And the same way that now everyone is focused on advertising, but the virtual currency model is actually probably a higher margin model that satisfies everyone in the community better. Right?
So, what happens with a subscription is everybody pays $10 per month, let’s say to get access to the content. Some people might value that content $1,000 a month, and some people might value it at $2.00 per month. And the people who value it at $2.00 won’t pay $10. So you won’t get any value from them, and the people who value it at $1,000 a month, you’re losing $990 per month of value that you’re creating for them. So, the subscription model is very wasteful in terms of how it captures the value that you’re creating for your users.
Whereas, the virtual currency model will allow that person who values it at $2.00 to pay $2.00 and allows the person who values it at $1,000 to pay $1,000. At every step of the way every consumer is happy with the service because they are paying up to the value that they ascribe to the service. And you’re happier because you’re actually getting more revenue for the service that you’re providing.
And so, it’s a much better business model, I think, than a subscription or in advertising because advertising is generally annoying. You’re interrupting someone from what they’re really here to do, and there’s a trade off between, you know, the more money you make the worse the experience is. You know, certainly with television or radio, that’s true. The more they interrupt the music with ads, the worse your radio experience is. The more they interrupt the TV show with ads, the worse your experience of watching CSI is. And that’s the problem with the advertising model is it’s annoying.
So, I think virtual currency is a much better model. And just as we went from – just as I felt we were moving from editorialized content to user-generated content, I feel like we’re going to move from subscriptions and advertising to virtual currencies over the next 10 years. I think that’s going to be the big move that we’re engaged in on the Internet. And I think you’re going to see that model, which is really most easily implemented on the Internet. That’s why it started there back in about 2000. You’re going to see that move external to the Internet. You’re going to see it move into Starbucks. You’re going to see it move into Burger King environments or to the NBA. You’re going to see it permeate other more physically-based entertainment environments. So, that’s why I’m focused on Wonder Hill.
Recorded May 27, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
A brief description of virtual currency and why it may revolutionize the way we pay for things on the Web.
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The images and our best computer models don't agree.
A trio of intriguing galaxy clusters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNDA0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTkzNzUyOH0.0IRzkzvKsmPEHV-v1dqM1JIPhgE2W-UHx0COuB0qQnA/img.jpg?width=980" id="d69be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d2664d9174369e0a06540cb3a3a9079" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The three galaxy clusters imaged for the study
Mapping dark matter<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d904b585c806752f261e1215014691a6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fO0jO_a9uLA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The assumption has been that the greater the lensing effect, the higher the concentration of dark matter.</p><p>As scientists analyzed the clusters' large-scale lensing — the massive arc and elongation visual effects produced by dark matter — they noticed areas of smaller-scale lensing within that larger distortion. The scientists interpret these as concentrations of dark matter within individual galaxies inside the clusters.</p><p>The researchers used spectrographic data from the VLT to determine the mass of these smaller lenses. <a href="https://www.oas.inaf.it/en/user/pietro.bergamini/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pietro Bergamini</a> of the INAF-Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science in Bologna, Italy explains, "The speed of the stars gave us an estimate of each individual galaxy's mass, including the amount of dark matter." The leader of the spectrographic aspect of the study was <a href="http://docente.unife.it/docenti-en/piero.rosati1/curriculum?set_language=en" target="_blank">Piero Rosati</a> of the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy who recalls, "the data from Hubble and the VLT provided excellent synergy. We were able to associate the galaxies with each cluster and estimate their distances." </p><p>This work allowed the team to develop a thoroughly calibrated, high-resolution map of dark matter concentrations throughout the three clusters.</p>
But the models say...<p>However, when the researchers compared their map to the concentrations of dark matter computer models predicted for galaxies bearing the same general characteristics, something was <em>way</em> off. Some small-scale areas of the map had 10 times the amount of lensing — and presumably 10 times the amount of dark matter — than the model predicted.</p><p>"The results of these analyses further demonstrate how observations and numerical simulations go hand in hand," notes one team member, <a href="https://nena12276.wixsite.com/elenarasia" target="_blank">Elena Rasia</a> of the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy. Another, <a href="http://adlibitum.oats.inaf.it/borgani/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stefano Borgani</a> of the Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy, adds that "with advanced cosmological simulations, we can match the quality of observations analyzed in our paper, permitting detailed comparisons like never before."</p><p>"We have done a lot of testing of the data in this study," Meneghetti says, "and we are sure that this mismatch indicates that some physical ingredient is missing either from the simulations or from our understanding of the nature of dark matter." <a href="https://physics.yale.edu/people/priyamvada-natarajan" target="_blank">Priyamvada Natarajan</a> of Yale University in Connecticut agrees: "There's a feature of the real Universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models."</p><p>Given that any theory in science lasts only until a better one comes along, Natarajan views the discrepancy as an opportunity, saying, "this could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales."</p><p>At this point, it's unclear exactly what the conflict signifies. Do these smaller areas have unexpectedly high concentrations of dark matter? Or can dark matter, under certain currently unknown conditions, produce a tenfold increase in lensing beyond what we've been expecting, breaking the assumption that more lensing means more dark matter?</p><p>Obviously, the scientific community has barely begun to understand this mystery.</p>
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Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
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