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Power lunching with wizards and warriors

One "World of Warcraft" guild is comprised of technology executives, venture capitalists and some very well-known bloggers. Images: Warcraft's executive guild

"We Know" isn't your father's country club.

Sure, it has about 100 members, some of them wealthy, a few of them wildly wealthy. On the membership roster are at least 10 people who have the letter "C" in their job titles. And members of this particular club say they've joined so they can bond with friends and other like-minded people.

We Know guild

But there's one big difference between "We Know" and famed clubs like San Francisco's Olympic Club and the New York Athletic Club: "We Know" exists only in the virtual world. It's one of many virtual guilds, or groups of kindred players, in the popular "World of Warcraft" online game.

With more than 5.5 million people now playing WoW and joining guilds for everything from police officers to soldiers returning from Iraq, it was bound to happen: The rich guys have carved a virtual space to call their own.

In fairness, the six-month-old guild isn't just for rich folks. There are plenty of bartenders and regular workaday types in the group as well. But what sets "We Know" apart is its concentration of movers and shakers in the technology world. The guild includes Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText; Sean Bonner, who runs the Metroblogging network and who is a popular blogger in his own right; John Crain, the chief technology officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); and Diego Rodriguez, a product developer at Ideo, a well-known design company.

The name "We Know" is actually a self-effacing joke, said guild founder Joi Ito, a tech investor who has put money into well-known tech outfits such as Technorati. The tech movers and shakers, said Ito, joke that they don't know very much, but they sure like to make people think they do.

Still, being the tech guys they are, they can't help networking and talking shop. Even as the guild members--virtual priests, hunters, warriors and paladins--go on raids together or sit around in WoW talking about the game, some are using their access to one another to do what they do best: put their heads together to create new software.

"Because we have a lot of IT geeks in our guild, a lot of us are now focused on building guild management tools," said Ito, "which I think is going to be a key part of the guild eventually."

While some might view WoW's sophisticated socialization features, which allow people to chum around in the virtual world, as a sort of "new golf," Ito thinks it's more than just a way for people to hang with their own kind.

"It's the guys at the bar that keep calling you back," said Ito. "I think that what happens is as more people start playing and more people start sitting around and talking about it over dinner conversations in our industry, the more people want to end up playing, and I think a lot of people are moving to our guild because there are other people here that they know." And since Ito is one of the most well-connected people in the technology industry, it was inevitable that other well-known tech personalities would join up. He expects the guild to be a place where non-WoW tools can be created, largely as a result of its members' technology expertise.

"I've got a couple of developers now in my lab working on setting up collaboration tools," he said, "and I'm going to set up our guild as a test bed for that."

"I think that the combination of the game and the people that I'm playing it with makes it very, very attractive."
--Sean Bonner, blogger

Some members of the guild think WoW provides a rare atmosphere where like-minded people can come together to talk high-level technology some of the time, then run off to kill virtual monsters when they get bored. That even applies to players who aren't hard-core gamers.

"I definitely wasn't a gamer at all," said Bonner, who began playing WoW and joined "We Know" because of Ito. "It was like, 'You have to come play, you have to come play, you have to come play.' I finally went and played and it was so much cooler instantly than I thought it was going to be that I got hooked right away."

Bonner says he simply couldn't resist joining a guild like "We Know." "I think that the combination of the game and the people that I'm playing it with makes it very, very attractive," he said. "I can throw out a blog idea that I'm talking about to people who would actually know what I'm talking about while I'm running around hunting ox or something."

Of course, not every potentially valuable business contact that "We Know" members make happens within the guild. Mayfield said he recently started a potential deal with someone he had previously met rampaging around in WoW.

"I met (up with) him in 'World of Warcraft' and we ran the stockades, which is a dungeon, together," Mayfield said, "and then at some point we were whispering a little bit between each other (in WoW) and today we had a call about how to provide a solution for him."

In any case, despite the fact that "We Know" has all kinds of members, to Ito the guild is a refuge for his high-powered buddies. Is it far-fetched to believe the Next Big Thing may get its start while online pals cooperate in their virtual conquests?

"Most of the time, we're talking about things that are more social, or talking about the game, and the game is really more of a social bonding experience," Ito said. "There are a lot of people making connections and talking about working with each other or bringing in their friends from work."