Friday, February 29, 2008

Virtual Worlds Salon

Ventured out into real life last night to the Virtual Worlds Salon, at the Hospital, a private members' club in Covent Garden. I wasn't at all sure what to expect; it was billed as a chance to meet others interested in virtual worlds, but nowadays that may encompass companies, universities, individuals, and many different virtual worlds.

I didn't really take in the exterior of the building itself. Inside it gives the impression of a modern one, with some quirky design features...leather rails up the stairs, a big light, odd pieces of art, lighting. Looking at their website, I realised that probably I hadn't seen the more striking areas of the building.

The gathering was held upstairs on the first floor, in a smallish dark room. On entry we were asked to fill in one of those sticky "my name is..." badges. Of course it is always a dilemma to know how to fill them in, but I put Fee/Cali and the company I work with, then Michael and I walked into a room heaving with people who had only put "Tony" or "Andrew" on their badges.

It was impossible to know who was who... it is likely I was in a room with people I have known for years in SL, but because I could only see their first names, with no clue as to whether they were from SL, There, Active Worlds, The Evil Empire....

I had an additional difficulty currently, in that I can't stand for long before my leg falls off. OK, it doesn't fall off but it goes completely numb. So, I have to walk or sit. It's very difficult to circulate while sitting, and people seem to feel uncomfortable with someone who insists on talking while circumnavigating them, although Michael did a sterling job in getting people talking and then bringing them back to talk to me.

Kaoru Sato from the Guild was there, and I met Lizzie Jackson too, who was recruiting people for a conference on Children's Virtual Worlds. I met Fau Ferdinand, who has been in Second Life nearly as long as I have, having joined in June 2004. She is a performance artist in Second Life, and planning a film there too. She sent me a friend request first thing this morning, so I am sure we will get to know each other better in SL.

Michael met someone from Sky, checking out the Virtual Worlds Salon, and we both met Lewis Nerd, labelled only Andrew, and Phil Mochan from a company offering backend programming and Christian Ahlert who is developing social networking for virtual worlds.

Many people (including us) were using Moo cards... but shockingly some people (you know who you are!) had fake Moo cards. Because it isn't currently possible to have an illustration or logo on both side of the card, they'd had them printed elsewhere to the Moo dimensions. I became intensely aware that our website is still in development at present... I shall have to chase it up over the weekend.

Bizarrely, alcoholic drinks at the Salon were free, but anyone who wanted a soft drink had to pay. It seems an odd policy: alcoholics, teetotallers and drivers and those who can't drink for medical reasons paying for orange juice or water while the wine and beer least for a while.

It was enjoyable as an event, but not very useful for networking purposes really, unless you were very determined, or very gregarious, and managed to circulate wildly. It was oddly difficult to deal with an event where people don't have floating tags and names. Maybe hats with a name suspended on a wire over the top would help!

Sasha Frieze from the Virtual Economic Forum, who organised the event, took some photographs, and so I assume that before long they will appear on Flickr. With any luck, as I was sitting down, I shan't appear in any of them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Eduverse in Second Life

Spent the day at the Business Exchange streaming the fascinating Virtual Web Symposium from the Balie in Amsterdam. The stream will be available on the web, and they will be producing a report on it.

I was sad to hear the contribution from the Educators Coop, a gated community in Second Life for elegible educators only. I think that the virtual world has the opportunity to be so much more than the real world, and that should include open access to education, and collaboration across professions and with people of no profession, many of whom have found their forte in the virtual world of Second Life. I think it will be a great shame if educators fence themselves off from the rest of SL.

I was interested in many of the segments, the virtual journey through the testes by Dr Danforth of Ohio State, the augmented reality of Georgia tech, and the learning technologies of NASA.

Two segments stood out above the others for me. One was the use of The Voice, a pair of glasses providing aural feedback to blind people, allowing them to navigate their environment and recognise objects. It was amazing, completely fascinating, and annoying that one of the questioners in the audience didn't seem to be paying attention to the information that had been provided.

The other, which preceded it, was the talk from Rhett Gayle from Colorado University.
Strangely enough we had been talking amongst ourselves earlier in the day and I introduced my fellows to the writing of John Taylor Gatto "What must an educated person know?" If you haven't read it I commend it to you. In short, the list, which comes from harvard Business School, is all about skills and hardly at all about knowledge.

Although it was briefly touched on in the course of the day, I think that the education industry has yet to recognise that education has to change. I think they could learn an enormous amount from home educators, although few of them would recognise that to be true. The difference between education and schooling was brought home by Rhett Gayle's anecdote about market a student's paper, where an A will make them feel good about themselves and an F very different, even when appended to the same piece of work.

I believe that the new media will very quickly change the nature of education and enable an individual education tailored to the child and their interests and abilities. I think that home educating parents have in many cses already made vast progress towards the aim of tailoring education to the child, and this is particularly true of unschooling parents like me.

My vision for the future of education is to have a virtual space with countless levels of information and training which can be freely accessed. I think people will quickly find their own level... you won't find people capable of degree level English pottering around the remedial English classes unless they are there to help others.

I think the virtual world could be so much richer, more interesting, more creative and imaginative, and more open than real world colleges and universities, and could gain as much from opening their doors as they ever can from closing them.

Professor Gayle talked of the way in which 70% of students admit to cheating in order to jump the hoops that are set in their way to decide whether they move onto the next stage. What I wonder is whether, if you removed all the tests, all the hoops, people would then be able to settle down to learning for learning's sake... attending lectures and studying subjects because they are interested in them and wanting to do them.

I thought the day was challenging and thought-provoking, enjoyable and inspiring, and I look forward to many more in the future.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Metanomics in Another Place

Unfortunately my technology let me down and so although I watched the Metanomics stream from the world of Theredotcom yesterday, I was unable to hear most of the broadcast until it went online at SLCN this morning.

I visited There briefly before I came into Second Life, and I have to say I disliked it strongly. It might have been because two male avatars approached me and wanted to know if I was white in real life too, it might have been because I had to spend all my starter money on changing my hairstyle, it might have been because I didn't seem able to freely explore the world, or it could have been the disney-esque cartooniness of the world, but I just didn't feel at home there.

It has to be said, that in some respects Theredotcom beats Second Life (otherwise known to Michael Wilson, the CEO of Theredotcom and the subject of the interview, as "another place"). He seemed to object to the number of times Robert Bloomfield, AKA Beyers Sellers and host of the Metanomics interview, referred to Second Life. All depends on where you're standing Michael! Theredotcom is the other place to most of the people watching the stream last night.

As I say, in some respects it beats Second Life hands down, as Michael Wilson delineated: it can run on more or less any computer shipped since 2003, it can run on a 56k download,and is therefore accessible to many more people. The animation for two chatting avatars was much more realistic and integrated than you would find in Second Life, although the cartoon feel was unavoidable... and of course the cartoon flatness inherent in the design of the world is related: one makes the other possible, restricting the graphics is what makes it run on a far wider selection of machines than Second Life.

It's a case of what you see is what you get, because that Disney-like, unreal, blandness is reflective of the decisions they took to make the world as attractive as possible to people with brands to sell. They have made commercial decisions to make the world as populated as possible, thereby eliminating all non PG-13 content, on the basis that more people would be offended by non-PG-13 content than would be offended by their inability to access non PG-13 content in the world.

Secondly they took a decision to protect branding and to respect intellectual property rights. He talked about people wanting their product to be the real thing, although that is a distinction which is hard to justify in a virtual world. Sure in the real world you would want your canned beverage to be made by Coca Cola using safe water and cans which don't contain toxic metals... but in a virtual world where my pixellated can of Coca Cola tastes the same as their own Coco Cola, the distinction is rather less clear. If you look at the history of brand rip offs in Second Life, it is often the case that the products made by in world creators have actually been better than the product made by the company concerned, and so sometimes, while the ethical consideration of hijacking someone else's brand still remains, it is the brand themselves who are producing inferior product.

An example of this is the Adidas and Reebok campaign, widely reported to have cost the company around a million dollars, they had obviously put money into producing a shoe which respected the brand and looked like the real thing. Unfortunately they insisted on making it no modify to stop the residents from customizing and diluting the brand, I assume, which meant that it was bad luck if the size of shoes supplied in the boxes didn't fit. The shoes were over 200 prims each, which began to have a detrimental effect on sims where more than a couple of people were gathered, and soon it was one of a list of things that sim owners would ask people to remove before entering busy places. The shoes also came with an animation which was supposed to prevent your avatar from dropping into the falling down animation on impacting the ground, but instead many avatars got stuck in the animation, which was not exactly an improvement. There are hundreds of residents all over the grid working for no income who have made trainers of verious makes which work better as items to wear in world than those did.

I digress. Mr Wilson continued to outline the decisions which he thinks contribute to Theredotcom's success: PG-13 content, no brand theft, and thirdly, attracting as many people as possible to the world. I thought it was telling that he talked about members when he meant residents of the world, and customers when he talked about the brands who are in the world. He said that one of the aims for Theredotcom was to make the world as appealing as possible to other businesses.

Mr Wilson talked about the unfortunate rumour that someone had put about that if you put your brand into a virtual world you would need wheelbarrows to cart away the profits, and asserted that if a thing seems to good to be true it probably is, a philosophy I subscribe to myself. In a clear dig at Second Life he said that brands jumped into virtual worlds with little or no preparation and just went and built their islands, and then wondered where their wheelbarrows of money were.

"Our approach since we are very customer orientated is that we go out and we work with the brands that want to come into the world on a whole bunch of levels," Mr Wilson continued. "First of all we work on finding them an appropriate place to be in world and we work on integrating them with the community, so that our community doesn't reject them, and we work on putting them in highly trafficked areas in world that don't disrupt the community... so for example we are careful not to drop things in the middle of popular areas owned by our members... in all what we're trying to do is ensure that the brands that come in have a complete experience."

Theredotcom ensures that people respect other people's IP by making them go through an authorisation process before they can upload things to the world. Despite the talks of brand experiences, it seemed that in some respects Mr Wilson doesn't get it, since he questioned whether a Sony branded virtual world for children would encourage teenagers to be buying a Sony product in years to come. I'd have liked Beyers to have asked him what he thinks those people in Theredotcom are getting from their branded experiences in world, if he can see no point in manufacturers owning their own virtual worlds, as it seems to me that a branded experience in There is just a smaller version of a standalone Sony -- or Coca Cola -- or Adidas world.

He then went on to admit that Theredotcom likes to think of themselves as the Disneyland or family orientated theme park... I think that spoke volumes, and it made me itch to ask what the demographics of Theredotcom might be, how many of their members come from lands outside the pastelpink plasticated towers of this Stepford world where nothing that isn't PG13 exists? Do the Dutch, French and Germans show the same inclination to sign up for the sanitized world of Theredotcom as Brand U.S.A does?

It made me aware what I cherish about Second Life, and how different places which may be thought by outsiders to be very similar might be. I like the fact that I can be a grown up in Second Life, and can pursue adult activities if I choose to, or not, being a rounded and whole person in the virtual world is important to me. I don't trawl the bars of Second Life in a sleazy tramp avatar, indeed I usually wear long skirts and behave relatively demurely, but I like the option, and I like the grown up integrated whole of my personality to be there with me, not a sanitized cartoon of me.

What attracts me to Second Life, is the opportunity to leave behind the roles I play in first life, of daughter, wife, mother, friend, and take up the things and the people and the activities which interest me. I'd dislike being restricted to the same things I have in real life, in a virtual world, and there would be far fewer attractions to draw me into it.

The other aspect of Second Life that brings me back, keeps challenging and interesting me, is the opportunity to create, something which is severely curtailed in Theredotcom through both the authorisation procedure and the fact that you have to use 3D modelling software to be able to create things to upload. The tools in Second Life have enabled me in ways that I could only have dreamed of before I discovered SL.

Back to the interview, Robert asked Mr Wilson about the revenue model for There, which divided into four sections: subscriptions, in world currency sales, sponsorship and avertising and e-commerce. he gave away some very interesting information in the course of answering the questions, particularly when he was asked about a comment he made about throwing terabytes of data at commercial companies asking for information.

He shied away from agreeing that he had thrown terabytes of data, and then in the course of answering the question, agreed that the problem was really with knowing hoe to organise the amount of data they were able to provide to companies in world. Although he said that privacy was tremendously important to him and that There would never infringe their privacy, he did still say that it would be possible for There to monitor conversations for mentions of a brand...although they haven't done that.

It gave me a horrible feeling of being in a fishbowl, being subject to the demands of brands to deliver a tailored experience in a world where people do not swear, they don't have sex, where everyone is put through a cartoon making machine on their way in world to turn them into cartoon shadows of themselves and then watched to see what they do when faced with a Coca Cola logo or a pair of branded jeans.

Or as Michael Wilson says: "Making sure a brand can integrate with our community and the fact that we can help with that makes a strong statement."

Robert talked of Mr Wilson and his colleagues at There as benevolent dictators, but that rather poses the question about who they are being benevolent to... although as I wrote last week, the reality is that we have a choice about which virtual worlds we inhabit, and no one is having their arm twisted to make them visit there. I would have loved a few of the many terabytes of facts and figures though, the age breakdown, the nationality breakdown, the relative growth of the community and what it is that the brands who have gone into There find apart from a management that wants to hold their hand throughout?

I thought that some of the advice that Michael Wilson gave to brands was very useful, talking of getting to know the world you are entering and taking baby steps before giant ones... they're all things which brands in Second Life would do well to learn, and some have learned the hard way. He wasn't convinced about interoperability, and saw this as a red herring, preferring talk about the OpenID system to allow people to use the same authorization for many places.

I've written far too much and may write more when what was said sinks in, but I heartily recommend that you watch and listen to the interview in its entirety. It's interesting, has some useful information and it makes one think. What more could you ask? If Theredotcom is your place, good luck to you, but I shall log in with renewed fervour to Second Life, as the place that I call my virtual home.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Free Graphics programs

I was recently introduced to Paint.Net, which is a free program which can do many of the things that a casual user in SL might want to do. Best of all, if you make a texture with a transparent background, you simply have to save it as a tga file to keep the transparency.

The program allows you to edit photographs, make layered images, use transparency... many of the things you might want to do with images for Second Life.

For making textures, the two programs which are often recommended are Blender, which allows 3D creation and Gimp. As with all software choices, it's a question of how easy you find it is to use.

I'll add to this page from time to time if any other programs come to my attention

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Do we need gatekeepers in a virtual world?

I woke up this morning very clear on something that has been a vague feeling until now, and knew I had to write about it. I am passionate about the uses and applications of Second Life as a platform, and one of my sadnesses is that currently the teen grid and the adult grid are separate. I am slightly uneasy about the number of sims which are collected under the New Media Consortium umbrella, and I resent terribly the fact that one has to join a group in order to even visit them. Until now, I have only had a slight feeling that sims ought not to be closed off to the general public, especially if run by instutions which ought to want the widest possible dissemination of the knowledge and information that they contain, because they are educational establishments, dedicated to education.

I realised this morning that it is gatekeeping that I feel uneasy about, the way in which this extends the role of colleges and universities as educational gatekeepers into the virtual space of Second Life.

In real life, Universities and Colleges restrict access to the places on their courses, and there is a link between your ability to pay for tuition and your intellectual ability to cope with the demands of the course that you have applied to study. In real life people make terrible mistakes in choosing their subjects for study, or the course or college that they choose to study at, and changing from one subject to another or one course or another is difficult, may be costly, or may be impossible if the course you wish to take is oversubscribed or needs qualifications that you lack.

My vision for the virtual world is that people could have free and open access to anything that they might wish to learn, and that there would be no need for gatekeepers at all. To be honest this is my vision for the future of all education, this ability to pick up subjects and courses at a level to suit the individual, which puts the individual in charge of their own education and learning.

For well over a hundred years in the UK, the scientific theory of education has held sway, which puts experts in education in charge of the schools and colleges, and leads them to suppose that they can control what children learn. Here our children have been subjected to more and more testing, delivered at earlier and earlier ages, to the point that many children are now expert in ways in which to gain more marks in order to pass the tests.

Children are exhorted to work hard and get good marks in school, as though these were ends in themselves, instead of what they used to be, a reflection of the level of knowledge, interest and ability in a subject.

Meanwhile, the transformation of many jobs like nursing into all-graduate professions has diminished the importance of vocation and on-the-job training in favour of theoretical study.

My vision for the future of Second Life, is that it could be a virtual reality where there is universal access to learning. Where people do not act as gatekeepers to knowledge and there is no need to fill in forms, and to get people to assert that you are clever and dedicated enough to attend lectures, you simply have to attend.

I'd like that space to be a place where collaboration, and assisting those who are less able or struggling with ideas is not seen as the latter "cheating" but is a natural part of our humanity. A place where difference is celebrated and not condemned.

I suddenly realised that this would require sacrifice on the part of Universities and Colleges who have, until now, controlled who gets access to knowledge and training. Who have had a vested interest in restricting access, and in making obtaining a place in the hierarchy ever more difficult to obtain. I wonder if they are ready to meet that challenge, ready to throw open their doors to the public? Or whether they are currently devising ways in which to restrict access in the virtual world in the way that they do in the real world.

This then, is my uneasiness with the fact that one has to join a special group to visit the sims of the NMC, which are generally run by educational institutions: I wonder if it is the first step in shutting us out.

Peter Senge, from MIT, said that schools are generally not learning institutions. What he meant by that is that they do not change and adapt as the result of experience or current circumstances, the institution works hard to stay the same no matter what happens, or who the pupils are. I believe that if we are to have the best possible future in virtual spaces, it is very important that schools, colleges and universities should become learning institutions, and should begin to respond to the needs and requirements of the people who use them.

Perhaps that's the source of the fear that I sometimes sense around professional educators: the fear that by opening up their doors, academic study will be diminished, that the great unwashed do not value the things that they value, and the gatekeeping works to keep those who might change or attack the institution as institution outside the gates.

I think that maybe they need to look at the general effect of 130 years of compulsory education, compare the knowledge and interests of your average big brother housemate with the knowledge and erudition of the soldiers in the (English) civil war who gave evidence in court, and whose verbatim testimony still exists. I don't think that formal education can be said to have improved the personal development of the majority of people, despite the money that has been spent on it, and the fact that we live in an information age. Those soldiers were illiterate, but they were anything but ignorant, and had a far better grasp on the politics and history of their age than most people do now.

I think that we are at a pivotal point in human history, and that decisions made now may have resonances for thousands of years to come. I am hoping that we can open up access to learning and information in the virtual world of Second Life, in the way that it has been opened up on the internet. I want to see a world where the only limitation to learning is how much an individual wishes to know.

Event list spring cleaning

It is a mystery to me why some things which I consider quite straightforward and doable don't get done in Second Life, and one of the most infuriating is the poor state of the Events list.

When I first joined SL, every event was announced by a Linden in world. After a while, they only announced the upcoming events at the top of the hour, and then eventually the events were relegated to an events list which could be called up in the search window.

Gradually there was event creep, where people added poorly concealed advertisements for shops, yard sales, product announcements and other non-events.

Despite dire warnings of the consequences of posting non-events like yard sales and shop advertisements, the events list becomes ever more bloated by non-events which bury the real events in the dross.

Looking through the list, with the requisite God powers that are at the disposal of Linden Labs, I believe I could clear the dross for the day in about two hours. Given the power to wield my red pen, I would cancel and boot any yard sale announcement, any sale, new stock or obvious shop announcement, any gaming event (aren't they banned anyway?), and anything which is not a timed event at a set time with a host and an actual... event.

The terribly cluttered events list stops people from using the events list as a source of good events, and then leads to good and well organized events having only two or three attenders. People bemoan the lack of good events at the same time as good events founder without any attenders.

I cannot fathom why, if no one in Linden Lab has the time for this that they don't employ an event list organiser for two or three hours a day to boot the scammers and sort the list, to avoid duplications and to insist that people live by the rules they are forced to sign up to before they can post an event. Hell, for the right money I'd do the job myself.

I have to say that I would be pretty ruthless, expecting someone to prove to me that their event was a real events under the terms of the event list before I would be prepared to reinstate it. I'd also work on a three false events and you are prevented from posting events for three months premise.

Think of the advantages! We could rely on the events list for a list of events again. Yippee!

Goodbye to all that

It's been on my mind to leave the mentors for some time. I got into a fight with another mentor yesterday, and even made a post on this blog before I had cooled down, which I later deleted. I hadn't said anything too horrible, but I just knew that I'd broken the first law of blogging: if anything raises your blood pressure by more then twenty points, sleep on it before you put fingers to keyboard.

So apologies to my two readers: I know removing posts is verboten in most blogging circles but... oh well, this is my blog, and if you can't delete posts on your own blog, you might as well be being paid squillions to write what a company wants you to write, lol.

I once got told off for putting lol into a blog post. I can do that here, too. LOL. Ha!

Anyway, later in the day yet another notecard came from the powers that be in the VTeam for mentors, and suddenly I realised that I just couldn't go on fighting the rising tide of bureacracy and rules and regulations which they are constructing. I think it is completely different from the mentoring group I joined, they have brought in a hierarchy of some-mentors-are-better-than-others, rather than allowing experience to speak for itself, and I think they are turning it into something i don't want to be bothered with any more.

My criticism of what is happening stands: I think that there is no replacement for having questions and answers dealt with in chat before your eyes, and they can institute any number of hoops for new mentors to jump, but that induction still taught the mentors more than anything else. When there was a problem with group IMs that meant you couldn't cancel out of the chats, I could understand why people were so vociferous about stopping dialogue, but now that it IS possible to cancel out again, I think it is a mistake.

Making people IM answers to a question asked in open chat is the worst option - it means the person has to handle a lot of incoming mail, and may still not get the answer required, and meanwhile anyone else who might have benefitted from the answer has either to add to the mail the questioner received, or let it pass. in the old days, the people who couldn't help or didn't want to could cancel out of the chat, and leave those who had the answer or wanted the answer to continue.

Anyway, it has been on my mind that my only contributions recently have been to angrily close the chat when somebody has prevented any discussion about a legitimate question, and to post angry comments about that, so I left. I just left the mentor group and the Mentor Q and A group, and let it slip into the past. Frankly I think my life will be quieter and less stressful as a result.

The Eduverse Virtual Web Symposium

I'm excited to announce that there is an Eduverse Virtual Web Symposium sponsored by DutchX taking place on Wednesday, February 27, from 15.000 to 22.00.

The Symposium in the real world will be at De Balie (Leidseplein) in Amsterdam. The event will include Scientists, Educators, Web Specialists, 3D Designers and Technicians. There will be demonstrations, lectures and discussions (both live and virtual) about Education and the Future of the Virtual Web (for a list of participants and more detailed info see

The entrance is free but there is limited availability. To guarantee access please RSVP ASAP to: (as of Thurs. 21.2.08, there is still space available). Dinner is not included. Also please note that the Symposium will be in English only

If you have a specific question which you would like to have answered, please include it in your response.

The event will be streamed on the web at: (UK) (NL) and will be viewable afterwards from De Balie archives

The event will also be available to be seen live in Second Life at

Should you wish to stream it yourself, contact Caliandris Pendragon for details, or visit the website.

As you can see, we will be streaming it from the Business Exchange. I have been encouraging UK home educators to come in and listen there, and so hopefully we will get a good discussion going.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Headset to be controlled by the brain

The BBC website reports that a new headset is due out later this year, which will be controlled by the thoughts and emotions of the person wearing it. The manufacturers say that the technology is not new, but it is the first set which is made for consumers. It will be interesting to see if it catches on in SL, where you might accidentally delete your house or pelt your friends with prims if the lag gets between you and your thoughts....

I've done that...

I have to admit that I only occasionally get the joke with XKCD, as I am not a techie or programmer. Today's cartoon, which I first saw on boingboing, is something that most people who spend any time online will resonate with.

As I quite often say to my children as I tear them apart... sometimes it doesn't matter who is right, you just have to agree to differ. It's hard to remember sometimes though, very hard.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Current oddities

I haven't posted for a long time about current bugs and problems. I used to find that I gained a pretty good picture of what was going on by listening to the mentor channel. Mentors would post questions about whether this or that was happening a lot currently, or ask about workarounds and fixes for common problems, and one would get to know what was affecting people in general.

Unfortunately, policy regarding the mentor channel has changed and become very prescriptive: mentors are allowed to post questions but anyone who tries to answer the questions in open channel is jumped on and told to reply in IMs. I think this ia a big mistake, and the indications are that the Lindens recognise this as they have started a new Q and A group for the mentors where it is acceptable to post answers.

Anyhow, people are out of the habit of sharing their problems, and so it isn't so easy to keep track of what is bugging everyone this week. I've personally experienced a couple of strange things over the past few days however.

The first involved my alt avatar, which I use for testing things when I need someone who isn't a member of the same groups who doesn't have mods on my stuff. I decided that unlike my main avatar Cali, who is 25, slim and attractive, I would make this alt closer to my real self. I haven't spent a huge amount of time on her, but I was fairly pleased with the realistic appearance I had achieved.

Unfortunately I crashed out while in her body, and when I returned, her shape (or bodypart) had disappeared. The avatar was "ruth'd" having reverted to the default female with red hair, which looked very odd, as her wig was showing through her eyes, because the head was far smaller. The shape had been lost altogether from my inventory, and the previous shape too. Relogging, clearing the cache were no help.

What was infuriating was that the system kept telling me that I could not change my appearance or clothing because it was still downloading, and that message continued to appear when I attempted to change anything about her appearance, including taking off her wig, for at least half an hour. I was on the verge of seeking help when it cleared and I was able to put her out of her hair-in-the-eyes misery.

The second rather strange experience was that while testing a vendor in my alt yesterday, I appeared to be able to delete an item that I did not make or own, and for which I had no special mods. When I clicked to delete as an experiment, I got a blue pop-up which informed me that the permissions system in the sim did not allow me to delete the object. In the past if the permissions system did not allow you to delete the object, you didn't get this as an option on the pie chart.

Prokofy's choice

I've been musing on the broadcast on Monday, in which Prokofy likened Linden Labs to some sort of secretive government, only willing to tell a partial truth about itself.

Anyone who has spent time in Second Life begins to wonder about the company at the heart of the world. Initially, I realised that I was quite immature in my relationship with them; having come from a gameworld (UruLive) where there was considerable control exercised because that game was still in betatest, and because there was a storyline and backstory which was in the creator's control, I expected a similar level of control from Linden Lab in Second Life. I wanted there to be a Father figure watching over the world, resolving disputes, providing guidance, being all-seeing and all-powerful, banishing the griefer and rewarding those who tried to make the virtual world a better place.

I grew out of that, but there is still a fascination to know how things are decided, how things are run, especially when there are contradictions which don't appear to make sense.

Many moons ago, for example, when private islands were first introduced, there arose a dispute over whether it was possible to "sell" land on islands. At that time, in the forums, Linden Lab policy was "absolutely not"... meanwhile they attended events at which they praised the person then notorious for doing this, Anshe Chung, for being a trailblazer for others, and the future of Second Life. It was infuriating for people who followed the rules, to see someone breaking the rules and yet getting praise for it. I see the better analogy than government, though, being with a parent who behaves unreasonably, or arbitrarily. Strangely Prokofy has always seemed fairly pro-Anshe and relatively anti-Linden Lab.

Prokofy has often written at length about her feeling that there is an injustice at the heart of Second Life, a feted inner core (FIC) which is privy to Linden bounty in the form of information, special treatment or contracts. My picture though, is not of a deliberate injustice or lack of openness in Linden labs but a rather chaotic style of management which sometimes works for the good of the platform and sometimes doesn't, and sometimes appears inexplicably contradictory.

The BIG difference though, between RL selectively closed governments, or even outright despots, and those in the virtual world is the element of choice. If I live in Zimbabwe, I may be constrained by economics, legal complications or education from escaping the government I live under. No-one (currently) is forced to live under the rule of the Lindens.

Indeed, some might say that they have put quite a lot of effort into not governing the world, except where real life laws put them under an obligation to do so. The interesting thing for people engaged in the platform and those watching virtual worlds for signs and portents of the future, is whether the apparent wild west of the Second Life platform is just a foretaste of the burgeoning worlds and territories that may lie before us in a multiverse which has no ostensible government at all: a cacophony of worlds springing up.

I find the relationship between the real world and the virtual one a fascinating study, and I guess the evidence of her blog is that Prokofy does too. When examining the decisions made by Linden Labs, and her irritation with them as unsatisfactory government, she must bear in mind: in the virtual world she still has a choice - and may have many more before the decade is out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Metanomics on the media in Second Life

We've been streaming the Metanomics broadcasts on Business Exchange for quite a few weeks now. Sometimes the subjects are of special interest to the people who visit the BX, and sometimes they are not.

I knew that this week's broadcast was going to be interesting, but I had no idea quite how interesting it would be. What was fascinating was the way in which each of the guests had a different take on what they were doing as journalists in SL, and what the story was.

First John Jainschigg, Executive Director of CMP Metaverse, a division of multimedia publisher CMP, whose portfolio includes InformationWeek, Dr. Dobb's, Web 2.0, Black Hat, Game Developer Expo, WorldsInMotion and other business-to-business media properties, spoke very passionately about what CMP had found in SL.

He said that 3D worlds are going to be part of every computer user's experience and every business's experience. He predicted that it is likely, by taking forward the current growth of the grid, that there will be 30,000 sims by the end of 2008.

He explained that as one of the largest suppliers of business to business technology events, it was obvious that conferences were in the cross hairs as not green.... When they organised the first in world conference in Second Life, they weren't sure what to expect, but the metrics had astonished them. People had spent 29-30 hours in a week participating in the first live show. That exceeds by some measure what they might devote to a webinar or video, or even to a real life conference.

He also made the point that while in the real world you would exchange business cards with other conference goers, often you wouldn't see them again until the conference the next year. In SL, the people you meet at a conference may become real friends or customers, and you can keep in touch with them. If you put the right audience into the seats, there is significant ROI... and when companies complain that they aren't getting ROI we have to ask why not?

For Eric Reuters he agreed that the SL audience was tiny compared to the real life audience for Reuters news. For their company, the point of SL reporting was to treat it like any other country reported from... Reuters don't carry all the reports of local news, but hope to pick up anything which is of significant interest around the world. They were positioning their brand as a purveyor of high quality journalism.

Rhonda Lowry from Turner Broadcasting, and confusingly Time Warner and CNN too, said that they had started out in SL because they were looking at their social media strategy and SL counted as a part of that. CNN already has an "I report" project in the real world, and now this project has been brought into SL, with classes being held for people participating in the project, to improve the quality of the reporting and photographs accompanying reports.

Their research was based on a question: what are these technologies allowing people to do that they were not able to do before? It was important to learn what people are doing and how they are doing it.

Prokofy Neva, writer of the Second Thoughts blog, leapt in with her comments before Beyers Seller, otherwise known as Robert Bloomfrield, had a chance to ask any questions. She had already prepared a speech about reporting news from a place which was run by a government who censor what can be told about them, among people who often refuse to tell you anything about themselves. She said that bloggers were like the pamphleteers of old.

I recommend that if you are interested in the debate, you should watch the broadcast, which is available on the SLCN website sometime after the broadcast each week. It was full of interesting stuff, not least the revelation from CMP that if the world does double then it will be changing it's strategy and SL would become a lot more important, and from Reuters that everyone is waiting with baited breath to discover whether Second Life is going to be the platform for the grand new world, or if the wild west developers on the OpenSim project are going to steal that prize away from under the noses of Linden Lab.

After having been so well behaved in the broadcast, Prokofy and intlibber Brautigan descended to hurling insults at each other in the Metanomics group channel, over the heads of delighted metanomics groupies giving out congratulations and goodbyes on the end of the broadast. For all I know, they are at it still....

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What is SL for?

I've been thinking about this question for a few days now. Talking to friends, they have many and varied reasons for being in SL. What I find quite... frustrating is that people who live outside SL in the real world, can often see no reason for using SL at all. "I prefer to live in the real world", "oh I don't like computer games", and "I think it's all a bit sad really, people who are escaping from their real lives". My family all consider me batty.

According to Computer Weekly, within five years 3D environments like Second Life are going to be as important as email to companies. Yes, you didn't read that wrong. As important as email. Can you remember a world in which you didn't have email?

I can. In 1988/9 i was offered email by the company I then worked for, Lloyd's Register of Shipping. It was before the internet, but they had what was an early form of intranet, lots of IBM terminals all over the world, connected to HQ. I tended not to use the IBM terminals... I'd fought long and hard for Apple Macintoshs for the creative people in my department, which were new and shiny, but only connected to each other, not to the network.

Anyway, I couldn't see any use for electronic mail. If I had the time to write I would send a paper memo... and if I didn't I would use the phone. Why would I want email? It's a good question. Now that we have text, MSN-type messenger services, forums and message boards, internet mailing lists, email, mobile phones, desktop phones, computers connected to the internet and of course the old fashioned snail mail and face to face encounters, it is hard to explain just how a communication can be right for one medium and not for another. It isn't a problem though... one simply instinctively knows which medium is right for the message.

All of those methods of communication will get the information from A to B, but none of them does what Second Life does: gives you the impression that you are in the same place at the same time, sharing an experience with a friend or friends. In some weird way a video link from one desk to another enhances and emphasises the physical separation of two people having a conference. SL eradicates that, brings the two people to a place where they feel they are together.

I think we are at the very start of virtual worlds, and their myriad uses for business, pleasure, profit and entertainment, and as the technology grows and develops, the uses will increase. In some ways I think the very limitations which so frustrate marketers and commercial companies may turn out to be the best aspect of the early forms of virtual world: only being able to bring 30 or 40 people together for an event makes it intimate, and eradicates the hierarchy and status that people have in big institutions or at big events.

The pay-off for people who are really listening is that the quality of communication is on a different level. People connect on Second Life in a way that they are either too afraid to, or too shy to, in real life.

I am sure my friends will come round to the idea of 3D worlds in good time, the way I did to email. It's still to be seen whether I will have competitive advantages over them and their companies through being an early (February 2004) adopter of the technology. It's that which keeps businesses looking at SL, keeps enticing them in to test the water.

My feeling is that SL as a platform is for connecting people, in the end, like email, like the telephone, but different, very different, because it can provide an environment, entertainment, and a chance to find new people which most of the other media do not. Once companies beging to understand the advantages for themselves, and to see how their clients and contacts will start to be able to use the platform, I think their approach to it will change. Instead of being a fast PR hit, it will become a tool, and maybe, yes, maybe Computer Weekly are right to say it will become as important as email. Maybe it will become even more important, and lead to the development of a truly 3D internet.

With the changes that are coming in the next few months I guess that Second Life, and 3D worlds in general, are going to keep on challenging me, keep on sparking ideas about the way it can be used. Maybe the answer to what SL is for will change; maybe the answer is already different for everyone.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The love chain

One of the things which shocked me the most when I first came to Second Life, was how nice other people were to me. That may sound sad, but unfortunately in this day and age, most of the news that one hears about ordinary people is bad ... accidents, robberies, criminal acts of all sorts.

What amazed me was how kind and generous with both SL objects and their time and expertise people were. How easily they gave to others.

I was given a lot of help in my first weeks, from people who showed me how to build, to people who gave me their spare inventory and reassured me that all the talk of taxing the objects I had in world was just out of date stuff in the documentation.

In my turn, I have helped other people, both as a mentor, and as a friend. I have always shared my stuff with people if I thought they needed it. If they ask me how they can thank me, I always say the same thing: don't thank me, help someone else in your turn.

I have been prouder than a real-life grandparent when I have found that the people I have helped, have helped people in their turn, who have helped people. It's getting harder to do: people no longer wear a big green arrow on their heads to tell you they are a newbie -- in fact the aim appears to be to stop looking like a new avatar as quickly as possible -- and there are so many places for people to get in world nowadays.

Still, I hear people out and about asking for help, and invariably someone will help. It's a wonderful thing, pass it on.

I got the weirdest message...

I got an owner parcel return message this morning. It was from one of my SL partner's sims, so i assume someone was cleaning up and found something I had left somewhere. What I haven't noticed before was the message at the bottom of the email:
= Second Life is owned by Falk Bergman
= Location unknown.

Well... so now I know! I wonder if he does?