Whatever happened to Christopher Klaus, the cybersecurity whiz who founded Internet Security Systems and sold it to IBM last year for US$1.3 billion? Today, he's spending most of his time in a virtual world called Kaneva. He recently spoke with Senior Editor Carolyn Duffy Marsan about his latest venture.
What have you been doing since the ISS buyout in September?
We've been working on an entertainment virtual-world platform that's really started to come together in the last three months. It's a modern-day world, and it's completely online. What we've done that's innovative is brought social networking and media integration together. There's both a browser-based interface and a 3D interface into the world. What that does is allow you to socialize and connect with others and get content purely with a browser. But if you want to get more engaged in an immersive experience, there is a 3D interface.
We're in beta test mode right now. We've got more than 100,000 registered members with Kaneva, and they've all found out about us through word of mouth. We plan on being in live mode in the first half of this year.
What ongoing relationship do you have with IBM related to ISS?
Nothing directly. Obviously, I have a lot of connections with ISS, and I still keep in touch with a lot of people there. But on a day-to-day basis my 100 per cent focus is on Kaneva.
What is your business model with Kaneva?
We have created an environment for people to come in and have fun. They can create their characters, visit theaters, go to the mall, hang out at coffee shops -- anything that you can do in the modern-day world.
Our business model has three components. First, we will offer 3-D e-commerce within the virtual environment. People can buy upgrades to their apartments and clothes. Second, this modern-day environment provides us an opportunity to bring in real-world brands. It's hard to kill a dragon and then drink a Coca-Cola afterward. Our third revenue stream is that we've designed our platform to be repurposeable, so that multiple virtual worlds can be built on it. Other organizations can build worlds for training, education or games on top of our platform.
How did you get the idea for Kaneva?
I wrote a video game [years ago.] That never took off, so I decided to go into security instead, which turned out to be a good idea. I've always been passionate about gaming technology. What always fascinated me was multiuser games that allow you to connect to people in a virtual environment, socialize and have fun. If people spend three or four hours per night with their virtual friends, they are actually spending more time with them than with their physical friends. The fact that the world is virtual doesn't take away that you're talking to real people. When you have a cell phone call, it's not a virtual call or a virtual person. It's very real. These virtual worlds will be very real like the cell phone call is very real. It's going to be one of the most powerful forms of communications in the future.
How much time per week do you spend in virtual worlds? Which are your favourites?
I spend most of my time in our own virtual world. Until now, there have been no modern-day worlds. In games like The Sims, you are in God mode where you are controlling everything. In our case, you are participating in a world, but you're not controlling it. We give people the ability to bring in their own pictures and decorate their homes. This gives you an insight into their psyches that has never been possible. We allow you to reveal who you are in a virtual way.
Am I on Kaneva for three hours every night? I try to log on, but I have the challenge of being the CEO trying to make sure the world is successful. On weekends, I am definitely in there.
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.