Tuesday, March 18, 1997

Email about the Avatar Book and concepts with author

Date: March 18, 1997
From Mark R (helper guy)
To Peter Small - Author of the Web Avatar Project

Hi Peter,

All along one of my biggest pushes for you have been to "write some example, real-world avatars." In a selfish way, I've got some needs for them now. But I was thinking that the avatars would be good end of book example cases. I said you should start working on the end of book now, getting an income, and getting those all-important examples working, filtering, generating results. The examples are going to take time.

You seemed to want to delay avatar creation.

Well, after seeing these reviews -- I think my original ideas were on the money. I should speak it even louder. You need to give Avatar Examples (specific case studies with big results) right away before anything else. Do the book in reverse order. All the philosophy, A-Life examples and wonderful things you've already expressed need to be headed to the back of the book.

This is a how to book. Even better, learn how the sport surf network put avatars to work on its web site and became the #1 web-site in the world.


  1. This is me and my "client". (who)
  2. Here is what we did:
  3. Here is what could be done in general for your business.
  4. Here is how we did it:
  5. Here is why we did it:
  6. Back of book timeline (when)

  7. Here is why you too will be faced with avatars today and tomorrow. (your book goes here)
  8. Prepare yourself so you can sell these ideas to your organization.

Peter asked:
I now appeal to you for you help in getting this book across. Where am I >going wrong? Where do I go from here?
Examples: Working Models. Prove it from the get go. You gotta put the cart before the horse. The good get delivered - and it is easy to see that the goods are good. Put some avatars right into their faces from the get-go. Then, you can put chapter 1 as chapter 10 (nine examples later). Proof of what I'm thinking is found in the reviewers notes:

>without a strong endorsement from people more expert in the field than I am, I cannot pursue this book.
Have them endorse the avatar or the agent. Not the concept of the avatar book.

> I need books that are cutting edge, yes, but also books with a clear purpose, tight focus, and solid grounding in available technology.
Clear purpose! - this pathway for this avatar is x --> y --> Z. Very clear. Very focused. Very tight. The grounding is solid in a commercial endeavor.

>I could find no interesting technical insights
The technical insights are right in the example avatars. Put the avatars and agents in there first and then you have interesting technical insights.

> I think the majority will be broadly interested in the techniques and applications,
Let's do a book on the interesting techniques and applications that you applied to Sport Surf.

>In my experience people buy technology books to understand technology on a high level (business managers), or to solve technical problems on a detailed level.
Give the readers the - solved problems on technical level first - I did X, Y, Z with sport surf - . Then give them the high level business manager for the later part as to the wave of the future.

>This book doesn't state what it will help you achieve.
The Sport Surf site is going to jump from nothingness to greatness with avatars. Your site can do the same. Let's make a fairy tale come true and then people will know it is not a fairy-tale any longer.

Nuff said on that.

Now what. I think I need to give you a better tour as to what I have in mind with my mega site and my plans.

There are areas in my plan where I can see you playing a key role. I visualize this whole operation. How to share all of these ideas (mine and yours) is another matter that would best be solved with a face to face visit of a few days.

How are your frequent flyer miles? Can you come to Pittsburgh, PA, USA?

    Things to still talk about:
  • Peter building a list of lists
  • Peter building the list avatars for Sport Surf.

Take care.

Mark Rauterkus mrauterkus@pittsburgh.net

Reviews of avatar book

Subject:     Reviews of avatar book
Received:    3/18/97 10:10 AM
From:        Peter Small, peter@genps.demon.co.uk

Avatar book reviewers,

Being an author is not the fun life everyone would believe.  Below are some
of the comments from a rejection slip I have just received from one of the
publishers I've been talking to. The comments are not untypical as I have
received many similar comments in the feedback I have received from many of

Fortunately, I've also had a whole batch of complimentary posts which have
stopped me dragging everything I've written over to the trash can and
starting again.

However, it does indicate that the way I am explaining this avatar stuff
just isn't getting through to a lot of people, so, I need your help in
trying to find a way to do it more successfully .

What I am writing about is the implications of a technology which is only
just starting to come on stream - the protocol engines which allow
documents to communicate over the Internet.

Allegiant have started this all off with Marionet. Director 6 is coming out
in June with a whole lot of Web tools which will achieve a similar effect.
SuperCard and HyperCard are soon to be brought out as cross platform
multimedia authoring packages which will have similar Internet
communication tools built into their players. The burning question now is
how to use them.

They is going to make a large difference to the way the Web will be used
and the point is that this is not some "airy fairy" idea for the future,
but, is going to happen within a few months.

The second important issue is that the ability of applications and
documents to communicate with each other opens up a completely new way to
think about and apply communication techniques and information processing.

This is no bull-shit theoretical stuff - it is a real need for an eminently
practical way to think about and design new applications and services for
the Internet. The only problem is that it involves a novel and, to most
people, unfamiliar mind set - namely object oriented thinking.

Understanding this stuff is about conceptualizations and mental modeling
and *cannot* be taught using conventional step by step instructions. This
presents a huge problem as to how to explain it. Do not be confused by the
CC+ use of object oriented programming. Although similar, this conception
of OOPS is mostly applied in top down situations and is quite different
from the bottom up approach needed for the design of Internet stuff.

One way to describe OO thinking, would be to explain the construction of a
complex interactive working model as a proof of concept. The only problem
with this approach is that it would involve masses of technical code and it
would bore most readers to death before they ever got around to getting the
gist of it.

The alternative is to use metaphors. However, the ephemeral nature of the
concepts needed to explain OO requires the use of metaphors which appear
completely unrelated to any practical application.

The use of biological metaphors is, to my mind, apt for this new Internet
technology. Biologists are now getting around to thinking of cells and
biological mechanisms (even life itself) in terms of information transfer.

Those of you who have read "Lingo Sorcery" will be aware of the way in
which complex applications can be constructed from interacting software
objects. Those who have read "How God Makes God" will be aware of the way
in which complex mechanisms of life can evolve from very simple interacting
"objects" which evolve from the mixing of elements in a gene pool.

The point is, this book I am working on is not about some fanciful theories
which I have dreamed up by myself. It is about applying a practical
conceptual framework to the Internet which calls upon recent developments
in a whole number of related areas of science.

Evolutionary biology, medical research into drugs and theories about the
nature of life have changed dramatically over the past five years. These
new ideas and methods are only just beginning to filter through. It is the
application of these new idea to the Internet which I am trying to explain
in this book.

Unfortunately, many older unsuccessful ideas get in the way. In particular
I refer to the concepts of "life" and "intelligence". Up until fairly
recently, MIT have been seen as the leaders in these fields with their huge
research into Artificial Intelligence (AI). This has not produced the
expected breakthroughs or practical applications. It has now been
superseded by the concept of artificial life - or "A-Life" as it is
commonly known as - where the creative center is at the Santa Fe Institute.

A few years ago, all of this A-Life stuff was pooh-poohed as irrelevant
nonsense by the AI world. Now it is providing the answers and breakthroughs
which AI so dismally failed to do (BTW An excellent primer and background
to all this A-Life research is Steven Levy's book "Artificial Life" Penguin
Science ISBN  0-14-023105-6).

I now appeal to you for you help in getting this book across. Where am I
going wrong? Where do I go from here?

I am now working on a third chapter where I am going to try to bring out
the biological metaphor more strongly, give a more accessible explanation
of the object oriented concept and define the principle of "intelligence"
as it applies to avatars and software objects.

I shall also be arranging with a number of universities and private Web
site owners to set up ftp sites for biotelemorphic cells and will be
arranging a list serve to allow the exchange of programming documents as
described in chapter 2 (if any person or group would like to come in on
this please let me know).

In case any one asks, I shall not be getting onto the direct Internet
communication of cells using protocol engines until later in the book.
There is a lot of interesting stuff to cover before this which would be
overly complicated by bringing in Internet communication too early.

Please, I need your help and feedback on this. Take a look below at the
excerpts from my recent publisher's reject slip and see what attitudes I
have to contend with.




The Avatar book can now be read on the Web at:





Below are snippets of the rejection slip I have just received from a
publisher. You may well agree with the comments.


The reviews are in, and I'm afraid I will not be able to offer you a
contract on "Web Avatars". Of the three reviewers and myself, I believe that
my enthusiasm for the project is the highest, but without a strong
endorsement from people more expert in the field than I am, I cannot pursue
this book. I tried, as I do on every proposal, to get a team of reviewers at
least as qualified as the author. The three reviewers on your proposal have
impecable credentials: one is an expert on virtual communities, one was part
of the original CERN-NCSA-industry coalition that created the Web, and one
is a Web master for a major online search engine. I have included their
reviews below; you will see that they range from disgusted to luke warm.

I am at liberty to take risks, much more
than editors at larger publishing houses. But in terms of image, I cannot
afford risks. Our first few books in this area will determine how customers
and future authors perceive us. I need books that are cutting edge, yes, but
also books with a clear purpose, tight focus, and solid grounding in
available technology. Your book may evolve to meet those standards, but it
does not meet them yet.

Review One:
>Well, I think it's bullshit.  I could find no interesting technical
>insights in the "Web Avatars" material.  Apparently the guy has
>written an interesting book on Lingo tips, and now has "second-system
>syndrome": he feels his next book should be some great vessel of wit
>and wisdom.

Review Two:

>The audience these days is pretty large. I think the majority will be
>broadly interested in the techniques and applications, but not to the
>depth of a book.
>After reading of the proposal, it's on-line comments, and chapter 1,
>I believe that only digital media people, with an interest in the Web,
>and, at a push, online comunity people are going to be sufficiently
>intrigued and excited.

>I feel the main use of the metaphors is to attach questionable validity
>to the author's models and claims. Some of them are contrived, some
>distract from the topic and make it appear complicated.

>There is no clear purpose. In my experience people buy technology books
>to understand technology on a high level (business managers), or to solve
>technical problems on a detailed level. This book doesn't state what it
>will help you achieve. Worse, it talks about its techniques as the new
>True Way, to be embraced by everyone. The Internet doesn't work that way.
>I don't have time to invest my attention into a fairytale.

>>The author makes use of philosophical parallels. Is this helpful.
>They [philosophical parallels] suffer from similar problems as the
>metaphors -- they distract, they
>complicate, and worse, the have an attitude: "I have enreached enlightenment,
>if you can understand this subject and agree with me you are also a cool dude,
>otherwise your brain must simply be missing something". Give me a break.
>I find language like "it does not take long to realise",
>"triggered some form of enlightenment", and
>"perhaps you have already clicked on"
>Also, there are always limits to anything. Describing the limits to
>your approach is helpful, and shows a deeper understanding. The material
>I have reviewed is positioned as limitless, with a holy ring to it.
>But there is no philosophy involved. You need not be a guru to think this up
>or understand it. It is not "life". It is not a standard. It is limited.
>It is not cross-platform. It is not language independent. Security/privacy
>issues are not addresses. Efficiency and performance is not addressed.
>This does not instill me with great confidence.
>Finally I'm not that impressed with the author's writing. Of course it has
>not gone through editorial control, but some of the language just doesn't
>flow very well. My own spelling skills are not the best (as a non-native
>speaker), but I am pretty attentive when it comes to parsing sentence
>constructions on paper (maybe because I'm a non-native speaker).

>In summary, thumbs down, some salvageable material, eccentric/dubious author.

Review Three:

>However, the general population
>of Web professionals is highly unlikely, in the beginning of
>something this new and technically difficult, to purchase
>this text.

>This reviewer would not initially purchase a text of this
>type. With limited resources, proven, existing tools are
>preferred. Eventually, if "Web Avatars" prove fruitful, a
>purchase of this text would be likely.

Reactions from Mark Rauterkus and reply to Peter. The letter is titled, the cart goes before the horse.