Tuesday, 31 July 2007

SLeek - Working again!! :-)

Yay! SLeek is now working again so I can chat to my friends in SL!!! Congratulations and thanks to Delta Czukor (Paul Clement) for updating the code. Thanks must also go to the Best Western hotel Dauphitel (Grenoble, France) who are providing me with internet access tonight!

My observations on the latest incarnation of SLeek are that it works! and that it has managed to let me chat and IM to friends wihtout any hitches! The only down-side (though this may have been recorded in the installation notes..... erm... perhaps I ought to have read them :-* ) is that if I search for anyone, they are shown as being "off-line"..... which is not necessarily true... but pinging them an IM soon shows if they are there or not (Anyone off-line, and the message is queued for later delivery)

However - with nearly 2 months away from SL, I really must start chatting to people again and see what is happening...... I feel REALLY out of touch... but then on a personal side, having spent a couple of months away from SL, I am less inclined to stay up half the night browsing around strange new virtual locations... so my wife is a lot happier that she is seeing me in bed at night and not hunched over a computer screen! It is quite surprising how quickly I have fallen out of touch! (with SL that is!)

Still, with reasonable internet access and a working SLeek, I'll have to see if I can come up with some more interesting blog entries than this drivel!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


Well, Linden Labs make the SL interface "open" so that anyone could write their own UI. Three Cheers for that.

So we have a 3rd party interface (SLeek to name but one)... Yippeeee I can now access SL from my work laptop when I am stuck in a hotel room away from my shiny turbo nutter ba*&%$d PC with decent graphics card sitting at home un-used. NOT!!

Just as I thought I'd got my SL withdrawal symptoms fixed (a night in a hotel room with my company laptop, SLeek, and a free wifi internet access) I find (not for the first time) that SLeek has been broken by changes to the SL interface. So much for an "open" interface.... it may be open and freely published, but it sort of defeats the object if every new version of SL goes and breaks the interface (or 3rd party clients).

Sorry.... I'm probably suffering from a hefty dose of cynicism and a couple too many beers and glasses of wine!... but it is certainly a pain that I can't get into SL from my non-graphics PC.

What adds insult to injury is that the web interface via Katharine Berry's server doesn't seem to work via the hotel wifi connection either DOH!

Monday, 16 July 2007

More interfaces

Gosh - over a month since my last blog entry..... I really must do something about my (lack of) blogging.

To explain; since the start of April I've been working 3-4 days a week away from home, so have not had the opportunity to go into SL and "play". (for some strange reason my wife does not see exploring SL as a priority activity..... in fact she does not see ANY use of the computer as a priority activity... so when I do get home I don't have time to spend in SL). But enough of my home life.

Whilst working away, depending on the hotel's internet facilities, I am sometimes able to do some web surfing using my laptop. Unfortunately it is not beefy enough in the graphics department to run a full SL client, but it HAS been able to run character interfaces like SLeek (see earlier posts). Unfortunately, SLeek has a nasty habit of breaking every time that the Lindens update the SL protocols. (I understand that the next release of SLeek is likely to be a lot more resilient to interface changes.... we will have to wait and see..... currently it is broken!) However, there is an alternative....

An enterprising young lady (well, I say young lady... it could be an old man for all I know) called katharine berry has developed a web interface to SL. Always liking new toys, I had a play with it earlier this evening.

I'm pleased to report that the interface works! It took me a while to come to this conclusion, as no-one I knew was logged onto SL this evening!! However, once some of my friends came on line, I was able to send them IM's & the system seems to work.

The interface allows you to Chat, IM, view the map and teleport (though to teleport, you really need to know the coordinates of your destination to do the job properly). My only complaint (compared with SLeek) is that the interface does not let you send an IM to someone who is not on-line.

There have been questions raised about the security of entering SL username and password into a third-party web site, but I guess this is one occasion where you just have to trust the site designer (Katherine claims to encrypt username and password, and promises not to store them).

So if, like me, you need to access SL from a machine that does not support the necessary graphics, you might like to give ajaxlife a whirl!

Friday, 22 June 2007


Trying to pick up some momentum in my visits to SL and blog posts, I was back in world last night.... I tried "1900s Paris" but this seemed to be full of french-speaking folk (not surprising really!), very busy and desperately sloooowwww. So instead I took a look at what events were happening and popped along to an opening of an art exhibition at "pumphouse9". This was extremely well attended.... so much so that the lag was horrendous.... either that, or my SL client and PC had given up the ghost! After a few seconds, I found that I could swivel myself around, but no way could I move backwards or forwards, or fly or TP!! I was completely stuck! In the end I just had to crash out of the interface.... goodness knows where I will materialise when I next go in world!

Now, with performance like this, I can see how newbies and sceptics will find SL to be a total waste of time and space. Pity really, as in my experience, such poor performance has been an occasional inconvenience rather than a regular feature... but could that be because I end up visiting deserted SIMs, or has SL just got too busy recently?

Meanwhile here are a copule of photos from the gallery.....

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

I think therefore I am real

Well, after a few weeks away from SL, I finally managed an hour In World last night, & had an interesting time meeting the "thinkers" to discuss matters of Life, The Universe, Everything...... well, actually to discuss what is "reality".

Before I get onto reality, I think it worth looking at the meeting itself. I actually gatecrashed the session (I IM'd an old friend who invited me over to the think tank!). When I arrived, there were about a dozen or so avatars deep in conversation. I actually found this to be quite hard going, as many people were trying to speak at the same time - which made unscrambling the discussion threads a bit of a challenge. Once the numbers dwindled to about half a dozen, we were able to have far more meaningful chats. Which makes me wonder just what is the optimum size for a group discussion in SL?

As for the discussion itself, we ranged from (not) hearing trees falling in a deserted forest, to the idea that we were, in fact, all sharing the same illusion. We even touched on one of my old favourites of What does your avatar do when you are off-line. All quite stimulating stuff.

Unfortunately I didn't get any photos, and the roll-call was too long to mention!

Perhaps I'll make it to their next thinker's meeting.... if it REALLY takes place that is!

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

SLeek is fixed! and improved

Well, following my last blog entry bemoaning the fact that SLeek had been broken by the recent changes to SecondLife, I am pleased to say that the latest version has fixed the problems and is better than ever!

You can find details of the update and download here

As I have said before, using SLeek is a bit like being blind - you can "hear" the people around you, and you are aware that they are there - but you have no idea what they look like, or where they are relative to yourself. You also don't know where you are or what your avatar is doing. In my case, when I used SLeek earlier this evening, apparently I'd been "Ruthed", so instead of being an "elder geek" - a man with long white hair and a beard, I looked like this....

(Team is the one with the short hair in the foreground... demonstrating that it is important to make sure your avatar is always wearing clean underwear!)

Thanks to my friend Aleister Kronos for taking the photo (though I think he was just enjoying letting me know how daft I looked!)

Back to SLeek though.....
The interface works... though I made the mistake of forgetting to select "use last location" rather than "use Home location" when I logged in. This meant I materialised in one of the welcome islands rather than in the nice safe place I left my avatar the last time I logged out! However, fortunately the teleport works, & I was able to spirit myself away to meet Aleister and his friends on the Comcast island.

I was also pleased to see that it is now possible to pull down the user profile of the people around you... so at least (when people had put their photo in their profiles) I was able to get a idea of who I was speaking to!

There is also a neat map viewer.... give it the name of a location and it will bring up the thumbnail map. Unfortunately there's a bug in the libsecondlife library, so it always reports that there are no people in every area!

Still, the interface works - chat works; IM works; teleporting works. It also has the option of connecting to the beta and teen grids (though I haven't tried these out).

I can certainly recommend SLeek to anyone who would like a chat/im interface into SL and doesn't quite have the graphics horsepower to run the full interface (in my case, my home PC will run SL with no problem, but my "company laptop" doesn't stand a chance with full-blown SL). Thanks again to to Delta for updating the code.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

So much for SLeek! :-(

Well, you may have noticed that I've not been doing much blogging recently.... that's because I've been finding it hard to find time to visit Second Life (thanks to an assignment at work that takes me to France for 2-3 days a week) However - now that I'm getting my act together on the foreign travel front, I've started to make the most of free wi-fi in hotels.... so tonight I am availing myself of the wifi access provided by Campanile in their "bed in a box" outside Annecy, France (so much for the name-drops).

All WOULD be going well (apart from Liverpool having just lost the Champion's League final..... sorry Aleister!) but first the network link is a bit flakey (despite claiming to be anything from "weak" to "Strong";) THEN I find that Blogger has got too smart for its own good, and is now displaying everything in French; and finally, (as I was about to try to get a chat session going with Aleister Kronos) I Find that my SLeek stripped-down SL interface doesn't work.

A quick delve into the SLeek blog reveals that it has been broken for the last 6 weeks or so - thanks to an upgrade by Linden Labs... and the "fixed" version does not appear to be available as a compiled bit of code.

So - if anyone is considering trying SLeek right now, the bad news is that it doesn't work anymore :-(

New source code is availablle here but you'll have to compile it yourself! Perhaps if enough people ask, a new compiled version will appear!

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Through the Keyhole

After a bit of a break, I finally found my way back into SL, and hence have something to blog about.

Today we go "Through the Keyhole" of one of SL's rising stars.......

But who can it be?

First, we find this person's back-yard is full of scripted sculptures and a strange temple... could this be a clue to their identity? Clearly we have someone who is interested in the art of SL, and, perhaps has a spiritual side.

The scripting theme continues as we get to the beach house, where we find volumes 1 and 2 of the scripter's handbook. Clearly this person likes to dabble, and is not afraid of reading the manual when they get stuck!

Next to the beach-house (which, by the way, has ambient bird sounds and the gentle crashing of waves) we find a meeting area with a camp fire and a couple of comfy chairs (though take care when you sit down.... the scripting has been put to use, and you find yourself doing a somersault as you sit!). So this person has a sense of humour, and likes cosy chats by the camp-fire.

So, we have a beach house, a temple, a meeting place and some scupltures.... just how far does this person's estate extend? A quick flight up to 200ft reveals a rather odd collection of buildings across the site....

For as well as the beach property and garden (which are all rather nice and tasteful) there is a second plot, behind the hedge, containing a rather odd collection of buildings and artefacts......

Let's zoom down and take a look....

We have the building with the inca pyramids on top.... which turns out to be a bit of an art gallery - so our celebrity has a taste for abstract paintings..... not surprising when you consder ther sculptures outside.

And then outside on the patio, we find a giant cofee cup - or is it a hot-tub? Clearly this person spends far too many late nights in SL, so needs vast quantities of Cafeine to stay awake!

Behind the building, there is a road to nowhere, and a giant bird, or thingamyjig, just staring out into space....

I wonder what it is looking for.... keeping watch for new islands appearing in SL perhaps?

And finally, to the last seating area by the sea..... our celebrity has spared no expense in buying some rugs and cushions to furnish yet another cozy meeting area.

So there we have it... let's recap the clues... this celebrity has an eye for art, yet is also geeky enough to write his own scripts. He has a beady eye on Second Life, to spot any newcommers in-world. He's always ready to chat to anyone that might have some interesting SL gossip, and has set up a number of areas around his plot to hold cozy chats by firelight. These chats are likely to go on through the night, requiring vast quantities of coffee to keep everyone awake.

And if you haven't guessed already, our guest celebrity visited "through the keyhole" tonight is the SL blogger and spotter of new islands, Aleister Kronos, famous for his SLambling blog of new islands in SL.

(Sorry, Al, but as you critique just about everyone else's builds in SL, I thought it fair game to blog your own back yard!)

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Innovation in SL no 2 - Play2Train

This may not be massively innovative, but I think it is a good example of where Second Life provides a useful toolset for a real application.

Play2Train is a disaster simulation area, used by the Idaho Bioterrorism Awareness and Preparedness Program, (IBAPP) to rehearse and refine their disaster planning.

The idea is that an island (well, two islands, actually) has been set up in SL to re-create a town centre, complete with schools and other public buildings, and a virtual hospital. Disasters are created in the town, and the RL response teams have to play out their action plan within the SecondLife environment. Now simulating disasters is nothing new.... response teams or other groups have simulated disasters in classroom or model situations for quite a while. The benefit of using an environment like SL, however, is that they can play out the simulation in real-time; and have a realistic view of what is happening around them. Compare this with a simulation on a model - the participants can easily communicate with one another; they can see the whole picture of the "disaster" in the simulation. Within SL, however, participants can only "see" what they could see in RL - they cannot suddenly switch to a "helicopter view" of the whole situation (well, OK, they COULD fly, but that's cheating!). Resources will not suddenly materialise out of the blue; transportation pinch-points become apparent.

Full details of Play2train can be found at Play2Train

So, from a simple concept, SL is able to provide a rich simulation that would require a significant software effort to create from scratch. Disaster plans can be worked through and refined with a minimum of effort. Hence, my vote for Play2Train as an innovation that supports the real world.

Friday, 6 April 2007

More on Meetings

As mentinoned in my previous post, I've just been involved in a discussion group over at PA Consulting, so I seemed a good time to note down some more observations on meetings in SL.

I've always been a champion of virutal meetings, and consider the avatar a key component in the meeting's success..... something about making the session seem more "real".

Today, perhaps, I could have managed without my avatar... but then it was good for introductions; and it was also clear that there was someone else sat in the room (not necessarily taking part in any discussions) who was taking notes.... so the avatars were useful after all!

(Here we were in the meeting.... note the person sat at the other side of the room just listening!)

The chat log was essential.... I was sitting at home for the meeting, and true to form, the rest of the household came up with 101 things for me to do immediately - so I rather rudely left my avatar to hold the fort in the meeting, whilst I rushed round solving domestic problems! When I came back to the keyboard, I was quickly able to look back at what had been said in my absence, and catch up on the discussion thread. I have since been able to refer to the chat log to refresh my memory of what was said.

IM proved useful - re-establishing old relationships with participants, without distracting everyone else.

There was a slight problem with people "speaking" at once, but it was soon possible to unscramble the conversation threads from the log. At least we didn't have to deal with thick foreign or regional accents... all the discussion was in chat.

So, overall, the meeting was a success. I don't think it would have been quite so easy had we had voice to play with, but that's for another discussion!!!


I took part in a group discussion earlier today about the use of virtual worlds for conflict reolution, negotiation and mediation.

As I have already noted several times, SL provides a medium which promotes communication. There seem to be many reasons for this..... not least the immersive environment; the use of avatars to give "presence"; and the annonymity afforded by the keyboard and screen interface. There are also key differences between a meeting in SL and a "Real" meeting - the lack of facial expression; the physical separation of the protagonists; the use of Chat and IM vs speech to name but a few.

Team sat in the discussion

Today's discussion got me thinking about how these characteristics could actually be an advantage in conflict resolution or negotiaion. Let's consider some of them.....

First of all, the participants in a virtual meeting are actually in different places. So even if they can't stand to be in the same room as one another, they can share the same virtual space. There is no threat of physical violence - after all, you hit my avatar & I don't feel a thing! No one has to lose face by condecending to meet the opposition; all 3D ground can be considered "neutral".

Next, particularly if CHAT is used, rather than a voice system, discourse takes place at a slow pace - with participants having the opportunity to review what they are about to say before hitting the "send" button. This gives the opportunity to put the brain into gear before setting the mouth in motion. Furthermore, it gives a full audit trail of what has been "said", providing an opportunity to review the discussion to date. There is no chance of missing something that was said (thanks to the audit trail) and in Chat, no-one has a strong regional or foreign accent to be misunderstood!

The limited gestures and lack of facial expression simplifies discussion - it means that the written text has to convey all the information, without the nuances of intonation or expression. It also means that there is less chance of a "knee jerk" response to something the other side has said..... it takes a conscious decision to START SHOUTING AT SOMEONE!!!!

With a 3D virtual environment, however, the protagonists have the chance to move around in physical space (relative to one another); so as a discussion progresses, the avatars can physically as well as emotionally get closer together or move further apart. The environment also gives the opportunity for all sorts of meeting venues - from sitting around a camp-fire to floating 300ft up in mid air!

So with all these points to consider, it would be interesting to see what a "professional medator" thinks of SL as a medium for negotiation. I think there could be some mileage in it.....what are YOUR views?

Monday, 26 March 2007

Where does my Avatar go when I am offline?

OK - before any helpful soul tells me that my avatar disappears when I go offline - I KNOW. The question is rhetorical... it is there to be slightly controversial, and to make a point.

Let me explain.

As I have already blogged, I am occasionally going into SL via the SLeek. This is a text-only interface; good for IM and Chat, but leaves the user completely in the dark when it comes to "seeing" where your avatar is standing. It is like being blind - but more-so as you don't have any other senses to work with either!

So, during a session with SLeek, you could arrive in-world with your avatar stood on someone's head. Equally, you could have a crowd of people stood on top of your avatar's head and you'd never know.

My answer to this is to find a "safe spot" to stand when I exit SL. Then, if I log in using SLeek, I know exactly where my avatar is standing, and am confident that there is no-one else stood on top of me.

Now, as I don't own any land of my own, I have been using a friend's property in SL as my "safe spot". I TP to their house, walk outside, and stand in a secluded spot in their back-yard. Every time I have done this, there has been no-one home, so I have not needed to mention to the owner that I've been passing through their house.

Here is Team, patiently standing in the back-yard, taking in the view

When I arrive in SL, my avatar is standing there, good as gold, staring into the woodland, behind the back of the house. Because I have been so conscious of where to leave my avatar, and where I find it on return to SL, I started to have the random thought of "where do avatars go when I am offline". I guess I've been watching too much Star Trek, with their pseudo-living holodeck characters! Either way, I decided to write this blog entry.... then I got to thinking further about the way I just TP into my friend's house, and wander out into the back yard..... really this is quite rude, and a potential invasion of privacy. I worried so much, that I have since e-mailed my friend to get explicit permission to leave my avatar in the back yard when I am off-line! (and yes, as I said at the start of this blog - I KNOW that the avatar is not there when I'm offline.... or is it.... a bit like the age old question of "when a tree falls in a deserted forest, does it make a sound?")

Which brings me to the serious point of this discussion.... even though logically I know my avatar is not really there (lurking in the bushes in my friend's back-yard), Emotionally, and irrationally, I still find it hard to accept. The immersive experience of the 3D world has left me feeling that my avatar is a real character, who is still there in SL when I log off.

Similarly, I know that my friend has no particular private "belongings" in her house.... I can't go reading correspondence, or even worse, rifling through her underwear drawer! ( and what does having these thoughts say about me!!) But it still feels strange - a bit like trespassing. (though I have since found that she has an automatic visitor log, so has "seen" me come and go via her security system)

I guess it is a bit like the feeling that people have about "being molested" whilst Camping.... (apparently there are some people who will animate their avatars to perform lewd acts with avatars that have been left "camping" in nightclubs). I mean, why get upset about an avatar.... it is just a computer generated image.... and if you are camping, you are not there to see what is going on!..... but equally, why get uneasy about standing in someone's back yard as you exit SL?????

Clearly there is more going on that meets the eye. People get attached to their avatars, and the avatars take on something of a life of their own... so, perhaps, the trick will be in tapping into this emotional bond with avatars in order to develop the "killer app" for 3D worlds.

Innovations in SL (in no particular order) 1 - Ramonia

My good friend Aleister Kronos asked in his blog the other day for suggestions as to the top 5 innovations in SL.

He came up with his top 5, & I came up with a few more. I've decided to write a series of blog articles on the various innovations. The challenge to fulfil is "Show me somewhere that represents the most innovative use of Second Life."

So, my first entry, and one which is always fun to visit, is Adam Ramon's sculpture park at Ramonia. I have already reviewed some of Adam's work in my previous blog entry... Art Installations

Adam has worked with Mashup Islander to produce an amazing number of sculptures.... or perhaps the correct word should be "installations" within SL. Each of the works involves an interaction space, and a set of sounds - be they musical notes, or spoken word. Interacting with the sculpture causes it to make new and interesting sounds.

Now some of these works could have been created in RL, but they would have been horrendously expensive, and actually quite dfficult to realise. Within SL, it is quite straightforward to script something that will drop balls when touched.... have the balls bounce off chimes on the sculpture, then have the balls disappear as they touch the ground. Falling balls can be achieved in RL, but not ones which disapear soon after use. Here's a picture I took of one of Adam's works on display in the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in the Neufreistadt sim.

Another of Adam abd Mashup's works is the piece Cantata Park 1..... There is a good article about the artists at www.justvirtual.com from which I have pinched this description....

Cantata Park 1 by Metamatic is an interactive, spatialised sound sculpture built in Second Life. The sculpture is made from 256 individual nodes in a 16 x 16 grid. Each node is embedded with a single word, triggered by a participant’s movement through the work. Each participant creates a random narrative, assembled on-the-fly, and in real-time. The work explores the possibilities of metaverse art, limitations of Second Life’s construction tools and scripting language, and the ability to appreciate conceptual art by proxy of an avatar. Cantata Park was produced in December 2006 Copyright 2006, Metamatic Collective

I had a rather excellent evening a while ago, visiting the sculpture park on Marni (Ramonia) with some friends. We were all able to fly through the work, triggering all sorts of interesting sounts....again, an act which would not be possible in RL.

So there's my first example of innovation in SL.... a set of sculptures that react to the user; that could possibly be realised in RL, but which are far more accessible, interesting an FUN for beng created in SL.

Friday, 23 March 2007

The Drive of Your Life

After a brief spell away from SL, I visited the new Mercedes island recently to "test drive" the new C-Class car.

The experience was far from good.

The new car arrived on time, and looked rather nice. Driving, on the other hand, was not very good. Steering was all over the place, with the car bouncing from one side of the test track to the other.

The next problem was that the car left the track.... not too much of a problem, but the barriers on the trackside meant that I couldn't get the car back on the road! Fortunately, I found a gap and was soon back on course.

The track is "interesting" with a section missing in the middle of a bridge.... this doesn't seem to be much of a problem, as the car flies over the gap with ease. What is more troubling is that the road was not resolving itself quickly enough, so I was driving over open countryside, only to have the tarmac appearing in front of me for the next 10 yards or so! It felt like the scene from "Wallace and Gromitt" when Gromitt is sat on a model railway train, dropping track in front of the engine as it whisks around the house!

Now, I don't know if these problems were all down to Lag, my PC, or the fact that my broadband connection is only 512Kb. Whatever the reason, I think it demonstrates that the Merc. demonstrator is not quite up to standard yet! I think that Aleister Kronos got it right when he asked Why are cars in SL always Crap?

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Web 2.0 and 3D

I've just been reading an interesting thread on Susan Wu's blog all about Web 2.0 to Web 3D. She's considering what the next generation of the consumer web will look like. There's a lot of discussion about the social networking facilities of Web 2.0 and a move from "web pages" to "web places".

Part of the discussion puts forward the view (which I agree with) that the development and adoption of 3D environments is closely mirroring the adoption of the WWW.

Something which is striking me from this discussion is that whilst Web 3D can be seen as the next step in web evolution, following Susan's curve of

Web 1.0 Information Sharing
Web 2.0 Interaction
Web 3.0 Immersion

Web 3.0 = 3D is not necessarily built upon the facilities and function of Web 2.0. It is a completely new paradigm.

So, environments such as Second Life are big on 3D functionality, but do not really have any of the features of Web 2.0 inbuilt. The developers at Linden Labs are still getting to grips with the wonders of managing avatars, simulating physics and gravity, getting voice working etc. Given time, I'm sure that the APIs and other interfaces will be in place to provide Web 2.0 functionality within a 3D environment. In fact, with SL, good old Web 1.0 functionality isn't really there yet, & there is still discussion about how an in-world web browser can be provided.

As has been stated, environments such as Second Life are currently a sandbox for evaluating the best ways to exploit 3D. If you look at the work that is being done in SL you will find some experiments which work really well (IBM's SOA Building as a sort of "permanent trade show"; PA's prototype banking hall etc.) and some which are pretty flat and boring, and could really be done better as a simple web page (e.g. IBM's SEARS building).

We are already finding that, for example, a 3D space works best if there is someone there to interact with, compared with a sterile, empty building full of static displays. Hence organisations are employing "greeters" on a 24x7 basis to add value to their buildings. As the use of the 3D space matures, so we will discover other changes needed to the way we work, and find new innovations and, perhaps, the illusive "killer app".

Given the way that SL engenders communication, chat and interaction, it will be interesting to see what happens when some of the Web 2.0 social networking tools are implemented within the 3D space.

The value of virtual money

Continuing the theme I developed a little while ago about the Virtual Economy, I noticed the other day that Linden Labs have a specific clause in their terms and conditions disclaiming any value (other than a license right) to the Linden Dollar:

Clause 4.1 states:
Regardless of terminology used, Linden Dollars represent a limited license right governed solely under the terms of this Agreement, and are not redeemable for any sum of money or monetary value from Linden Lab at any time

....Linden Lab may charge fees for the right to use Linden Dollars, or may distribute Linden Dollars without charge, in its sole discretion....

...You agree that Linden Lab has the absolute right to manage, regulate, control, modify and/or eliminate such Currency as it sees fit in its sole discretion, in any general or specific case, and that Linden Lab will have no liability to you based on its exercise of such right....

So the L$ does not actually have any value. In fact, Linden Labs have the right to flood the market with free L$ if they so wish; or to wipe out user's accounts (given that they see the L$ as having no monetary value).

Despite these assurances that the L$ has no value, it is interesting to note that the secondlife home page carries a display of the value of currency spent in the last 24 hours!

For me, it reinforces the idea that dealing in L$ is not something that RL organisations should be doing in anger, but is more a convenience for small transactions, or a novelty to be observed. In my travels around SL, I have been fascinated to see various financial products on offer, including currency exchange, stock exchange, banking and mortgages. I believe, thought, that we should not lose sight of the REAL value of the L$ - it is just like "Monopoly Money" - it has huge value with the GAME of Second Life, but has limited real value in the Real World.

Art Installations

A new site has recently opened up in SL, owned by an Australian media company Telstra. They have recreated a number of major landmarks, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. When I visited the site, I was interested to see that the basement to the Opera House contained an art installation by Adam Ramona.

The work is described as...

"A Rose Heard At Dusk
An immersive collaborative audiovisual environment for Second Life.
by Adam Ramona (real name Adam Nash)

Using many of the possibilities unique to the Second Life medium, A Rose Heard At Dusk is a participatory artwork that turns visitors into performers.

It was designed specifically for the cavern space under the Opera House on Big Pond Island. The work is designed to be "played" by visitors avatars.

Walking, flying and jumping through the space, avatars create a unique audiovisual composition, different every time. Colours and sounds combine to create a spatially immersive musical and visual experience.

The work can be played by single avatars, but it really comes alive when friends play it together.

It blends the different meanings of "play". By playing in the space, visitors are actually playing the space like an audiovisual instrument, creating endless variations of sound and vision.

It looks different at different times of day, the light reacting differently with all of the translucent colours. It sounds different from different positions - all sounds are attached to shapes in the space, so some sounds stay still while others move. Combined with the movements of visitors avatars, this creates an endlessly changing immersive audiovisual experience."

Here is a picture of Team flying through the space:

This really begins to exploit some of the unique characteristics of the SL environment. As the description says, flying through the work causes it to emit a range of wierd electronic sounds. It is an interesting experience, though to be fair it did remind me of a 1970's sci-fi programme!

What drew me to the work was a previous experience of Ramoa's work at the location "Ramonia" on the island of Marni. Here he created an installation comprising a 16x16 grid, with flexible blocks hanging in the sky above each square. Walk through the piece, and the flexible strips act like chimes as you move them. What makes the piece even more interestng is that each square has an associated word which is spoken as you pass over it. Start walking backwards and forwards in lines, and you can almost hear complete sentences. Here's a picture of Team Mascot, with the sculpture in the background.

I had a wonderful time a few weeks ago visiting this piece with a number of friends. Our avatars were running through the work, seting off words and chimes as they went.

It is hard to imagine just how such a piece could have been created in Real Life, and if it could, just how much it would cost. In SL, however, it is a simple (!) case of scripting and programming.

Heres a link to another review of Marni in "New World Notes", with more photos and a SLURL.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Social Networking in a 3D Universe

It sounds like there has been a lot going on at the Game Developer's conference in San Francisco this week, with a lot of talk about 3D worlds. . Apparently the rage is for Massive Multiuser Online games (such as World of Warcraft), with a number of large media companies trying to get in on the act.

In the meantime Second Life was predicted as being the prevalent "non-gaming" environment in the short-term.

The trend is for social networking to encompass 3D environments.... which is in line with my experience of Second Life being an environment that engenders communication; the experts at the conference expect there to be a lot of experments in convergence between social networking and MMOs. "Five years from now, as social networking site without a 3D universe will look like a dinosaur"..... so the experts in San Francisco see the ubiquitous 3D interface being no more than 5 years away.

Meanwhile Sony announced that they are to enter the 3D MMOG space in the autumn with a PS3 based game . I guess that they are trying to compete with the X-box live space of online gamers, who nummber several millions. I did wonder a while ago whether or not it would be viable for someone to develop an SL interface for the X-Box or PS3. I guess with this announcement, Sony are doing the whole thing themselves!

A video of the Sony announcement can be seen in the 3PontD blog.

Pipped to PA 2

You just can't beat some people can you? Having just nipped into SL for a look around, I recieved an invitation to the PA Consulting demo island. It seemed like a good place to visit, & I wondered if, for once, I could scoop Aleister Kronos at finding a new location. You've guessed it - no one can find a new island faster than Al - he's blogged it already :-(

Still, seing as I'd grabbed a few photos myself, here is my review of the PA Consulting Demo.....

My interest in the PA Demo is that it was billed as being "a demonstrator for business use of SL".... which just happens to be my raison d'etre for exploring... so definitely worth a visit.

The island is quite impressive, with great plumes of blue smoke and banners. Set the time to midnight for maximum effect. (I did have a photo to insert at this point, but Aleister has a far better image on his blog entry !)

There are 4 main demonstrators - a bank, a racecourse, a BP Filling station and an airport.

The bank has, apparently, been used by PA to gauge user reactions to a number of different RL bank layouts. This scenario was the sort of thing that first sprang to mind when I began to look at SL. Early experience "in world" had led me to believe that it was not such a good idea.... you just can't create a detailed enough space to be of real use. The PA example, however, has applied some neat scripting to allow the layouts to be quickly swapped around. The bank interiors were well presented, and the overall effect was good. They have also taken the opportunity to pepper the bank with a whole host of brand names... product placement or what!

A set of panels outside the bank showed the sort of feedback they'd been getting. There was also a video of one of the evaluation sessions..... so this was real use of SL, not just speculation about what could be achieved.

Next I visited the BP filling station. Apparently this was to demonstrate how the 3D simulation could be used to show where underground tanks and pipes run. Again, the representation was a good copy of the real thing. The shop had been set up with bitmaps of sweets and magazines - just enough to create the feeling of a real shop (but without the ability to mess with the goods on display).

Over the road was the racetrack. This was, apparently, a training facility to educate users into the ways of betting. I found it interesting the way that they had used cardboard cut-outs to fill the betting hall with people - simple but effective way of creating a crowd!

Finally there was the airport. After going through check-in (complete with magically appearing suitcase!) it was up the ramp and onto the airbus to try out the seats. There were a couple of other visitors there at the time, but they seemed far too interested in changing the colour of the lights, and chatting up the cardboard cut-out air stewardess to be interested in speaking to me.

As an aeroplane interior, I felt it left a bit to be desired.... but for an SL sim it was pretty good. (again, though, it does raise the question of how good is SL as a simulator for RL places??)

I only paid the island a flying visit, but what I saw was quite impressive. I felt that the demonstrators had a lot more "meat" to them than, say, the IBM Sears demonstrator The sims had just enough detail to provide some realism, without being overly complex builds, showing some innovation in their construction. In light of this island, I think I might have to think again about the viability of SL as a way of simulating RL environments - PA seem to have made it work..... though they have been thoughtful about what to try to emulate.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Water Water Everywhere!

I've come to the conclusion that a lot of the most interesting work (to date) in SL has come from the "not for profit" sector - libraries, educational establishments and charities. With this in mind, I was trawling through a series of podcasts by Wayne MacPhail on his rabble page Who's On Second - "A podcast about nonprofits and educators jacked into Second Life"

Wayne is currently (5th March 2007) up to podcast episode 15. Each one is generally an interview with someone from the educator or nonprofit sector who has been making good use of Second Life.

Having listened to a number of Wayne's podcasts, I was inspired to take a look at Better World (Better World 24, 51, 22) - an island full of exhibits to bring attention to world issues. Some of these were quite moving, and I really ought to write a blog entry about them. However, whilst on my travels, I bumped into Delia Lake (a.k.a. Linda Kelly in RL) who has created the Centre for Water Studies.

Delia has recreated a number of different water habitats, showing how important water is to our environment. She takes care to change the habitats with the seasons, and so the centre will always have something new to discover. It's actually a very relaxing place to visit, with the sound of breaking waves on the beach. Here's a photograph of Delia by the pond.

If you are particularly adventurous, you can take a ride on the back of an Orca (Killer Whale) whilst exploring the fish in a virtual reef. If you look carefully, you can see Team sitting sidesaddle on the Orca's back!

One of the great benefits of SL as an educational tool, is that you can get a feel for the size of something like a killer whale - by riding on its back, or swimming around it with your avatar.

Delia was inspired to create the Centre for Water Studies by memories of her grandmother taking her to see ponds and lakes when she was a child..... and now she is doing the same with her grandchildren... but this time in the virtual world of Second Life!

Sunday, 4 March 2007

What it feels like to be blind

Now that Linden have opened up the client, it is possible for third parties to provide new ways into Second Life. One such way has been developed by Paul Clement a.k.a. Delta Kzukor with SLeek . To quote the Sleek download site...
"SLeek is a mini-client that connects to the Second Life main grid. It’s useful for situations where you want to be in-world, but don’t want to have the huge overhead of the graphics engine"

The software works a treat! I have been able to connect to SL from my laptop (which does not have anything like the graphics capability to support SL client) and engage in IM and chat.

The only problem is that I am now "blind". I have an idea where I am "in world" because the client tells my my coordinates. I know who is stood nearby - because the chat list lets me know who is there, and I can hear them chatting. But I have no idea what my avatar is up to.... is it standing, sitting, dancing, flying ????

Am I stood on a table; up to my waist in water; sat on top of someone????

I'm going to have to learn a new set of communication skills to take account of my loss of "virual sight". As a start, I think I am going to have to find a nice quiet "home" location - so that when I arrive in-world via SLeek I know that I will be reasonably "safe" and not likely to make a fool of myself!

Having extolled the virtues of SL as a communications medium elsewhere in this blog, and commented on how communication is so much better because of the immersive 3D experience, I now find myself getting excited about a simple, no-graphics interface! How bizarre! But then it is a case of "horses for courses"..... the reason I am in raptures about SLeek is that I now have the capability of "low-tech" connectivity to SL. I just don't have the compute-power to carry around with me for connection to SL.

I guess this raises a further point about the viability of 3D immersive interfaces - you just can't hack it with low-power low-cost IT resources. But this has been the case for years..... as computing power increases, so the demands on the user interface grow to soak up the extra power. Going back over 35 years to when DEC first produced their VAX systems (late 1970's - sadly, I can go back that far!) we had a situation of 3 models of VAX - a 730 that supported about 4-5 users; a 750 that supported about 12 users and a 780 that supported about 20 users. A few years later, a new range of VAXes was introduced.... the 8600 and some other models which I can't remember just now... But either way, there were 3 models... all with about 4-5 or more times the compute power of the old 7xx range. And guess what - the rule of thumb was that the bottom of the range would support about 5 users, the middle box about 12 and the top of the range about 20-30. All because the Office software had bloated itself to be far more friendly and functional.... and soak up all that extra power!

So what has this got to do with SL and 3D interfaces? Well, I can see the same sort of thing happening here. We currently have a pretty neat 3D user interface that needs powerful graphics to make it work. So old laptops like the one I have at work just won't support it. But currently the users of SL are pioneers - working out how best to use the environment. In 2-3 years time, most of the world will have gone through a "technology refresh" & the more powerful graphics will be the norm (even in business desktops) so the power to run a 3D interface will be ubiquitous.

In the meantime, current SL users should think themselves lucky that they are in the forefront of technology, with the capacity to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and civilizations.... to boldly go....

Gaaaahhhhh where's the Teleport!

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Myspace or MSN for execs

There's been a lot of talk about how SL has balooned recently, with the massive influx of new users & the huge numbers of major RL organisations setting up islands etc. For myself, it has been interesting to observe how the expectation of SL, and it's use has moved on in the last 5 months or so.

When I first arrived in SL around September last year, the expectation was all around collaborative working; meeting rooms; 3D representations and the like. I was keen to find the new "killer app" and "wow factor" of this new 3D environment.

On exporing SL a bit more, I found myself chatting to librarians and teachers; still searching for wasy to exploit the environment in a commercial sense.

Taking a critical look at commercial builds within SL has revealed that the marketeer's approach to SL has matured, in that it is now recognised that simply putting up a building in SL with static posters advertising the latest widgets is not actually very impressive, and in fact, reveals an ignorance of the techniques needed to fully exploit SL as a marketing meduim.

As a communications medium,. however, SL has continued to impress. I've already discussed how having a 3D world and an avatar lead to easier communications than simple instant messaging or chat rooms. Now that more major organisations are creating active presences in SL, the benefit of being able to speak directly to decision makers and influencers is becoming apparent. Perhaps it is because of the novelty of SL that it is attracting interest from senior figures within organisations. Or, perhaps it is just that the influencers are the ones pushing for a SL presence, and so are going in world to check on their investment. Either way, it is now commonplace to find oneself chatting to key figures from organisations within SL. This level of contact is not normally possible in RL - thanks to the protective ranks of PAs and secretaries which surround people of power and influence. The communication is down at the level ofsimple chat (for introductions) followed, perhaps, by instant messages (once an initial contact has been made) i.e. nothing complicated or exotic!

So, in fact, one key benefit from SL is that it has become a sort of "my space" or "MSN Chatroom" for establishing communications with senior executives and decision makers!

But then again, as noted above, there is something more in the way that communications work within SL. The benefits and issues are disucssed rather well in this article from the Busines Communicators of Second Life blog.

Friday, 23 February 2007

The "Virtual Economy" - not for real?

I was looking at an article recently in The Register bemoaning the fact that the statistics on SL were being over-hyped by Linden Labs, and that the "virtual economy" was actually a small niche market. The article was effectively poo pooing SL as a marketing medium, concluding that

"this economy has a population about the size of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, or Troutdale, Oregon. And each business has the prospect of a market of no more than 100 people in one place - a number easily accommodated by a church hall"

The article's maths were based on the number of concurrent users, and the incidence of people actually doing trade in SL (premium accounts, buying $L etc.)

This raises an issue about the validity of the SL "Virtual Economy" as a force to be reconed with. When you look at the numbers (as in The Register) you find that there aren't actually a huge number of people dealing in $L. In fact, $L dealing is all about land, the craft industries of making artefacts or scripts, sex and gambling. OK, there have been attemtps to move into modelling RL financial institutions with things like the "World Stock Exchange", but this has proven to be a pretty amateurish undertaking which has exposed great holes in the financial governance of SL.

This got me thinking about the "paying" residents, and the state of the "virtual economy". I believe that the “virtual econonmy” really refers to the “hobbyist” SL users (who are also the same ones who were made up by LL’s suggestion that freeloaders should be blocked at times of high traffic).

Meanwhile the “commercial” or “educational” users of SL are more likely to be the ones outside of the “SL Virtual Economy” (i.e. not actually “trading”, but will be renting land or islands from LL). I think the argument goes that “commercial” users of SL (i.e. the IBMs and BMW’s of this world) will be happy to pay LL for the privilege of using their servers (i.e. rent for a private island) but won’t want to get involved in dodgy dealing of $L (as demonstrated by the the World Stock Exchange in SL) particularly as there are no controls or policing of transactions.

This extends further into how businesses permit employees to use SL... again, would you like to sign off my expenses if I were to put in for e.g. “£50 to cover purchase of $L” when I then can’t show how the $L were spent (is a really good hairstyle for my avatar a good use of business expenses????... or can you prove that I’ve not been purchasing dodgy animations from virtual Stringfellows??!)

Sunday, 18 February 2007

SL feeling the strain?

I've just come across a rather worrying post in the 3pointD blog which tells how Linden Labs may start restricting access to SecondLife when the servers are feeling the strain of too many users (e.g. at busy weekends). Apparently SL is just getting too popular! The official Linden announcemnet can be found here.

Being money orientated (c'mon, you didn't think Linden created SL just for fun did you??) the criterion for who gets locked out is based on whether or not your account is verified, and have you purchased anything from Linden (e.g. Linden Dollars, Land etc.)

So for a Yorkshireman like me (for the un-initiated, a Yorkshireman is described as "a Scotsman stripped of his generosity") who has done all his ambling in Second Life on the cheap (i.e. for nothing) then the chances are that I soon won't be wandering around SL at weekends!

Then again, we've already had pointers from Linden Labs that they are looking at opening up the servers so that others can host their own bits of SL.... but the indications were that this would not be happening for a while.

The question then arises as to how much this will affect the viablity of SL as a marketing medium - after all, the selling point for SL to advertisers is that there is an audience of about 3Million users... but if access is restricted, this becomes less attractive. Then again, if we follow the IBM approach to SL - i.e. that it is just a proving ground for 3D Metaverse activity, then are the restrictions a problem???? Perhaps.... after all, would you want to invest your R&D activities in a service which could run out of capacity?

** Footnote:
I've just been to the Linden blog to read the original announcement. There are about 380 responses from SL residents.... on a quick straw poll, the majority seem to be in favour of the move.

Not surprising really - if you have a financial investment in SL you will want to keep the environment running smoothly - preferably at the expense of freeloaders. But this also highlights a change in demographic over recent months; in which the influx of users has led to a significant number of unverified accounts compared with premium accounts.

I guess I'll just have to go and buy a few $L to keep my account active!

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Advertising like the olden days

I've just been reading an article in the Huffington Post about advertising and Second Life. I get the impression that Huffington readers aren't really into SL. The author of the article can't quite believe that advertisers are taking Second Life seriously as a platform.

But the article then went on to highlight a quote from Philip Rosedale, the CEO of Linden Labs on the topic of advertising....

Second Life is different than the real world because of the marginal cost of making [advertising] bigger. If you buy billboard space (in the real world), there's an ability to impose online advertising on people that is pretty leveraged. That amount of leverage does not exist in Second Life because people are in control of their own attention. You don't have to sit and listen to beer ads. On the flip side is that what many advertisers are doing in Second Life are way more interesting than what they're doing in reality. They'll consume happily because of the sheer novelty.

Huffington's take on this is that SL is a good place to buy advertising because the residents of SL are more receptive because they are given a choice of whether or not to view the ad.

Actually, it demonstrates why Advertisers in SL have to be more creative than they are currently in RL. Putting your message in front of consumers has become too easy with modern media - it is simple to create popup adverts on web pages, or put commercials in the middle of TV programmes. In SL, the user is able to choose whether or not to go and view an advertiser's site.... a bit like in the olden days when the only medium available to an advertiser was a poster or billboard.

Think back a hundred years or less, and shopkeepers had to make their stores attractive enough to draw in the customer (note: Customer and not "consumer"), and then offer a level of service that would retain their attention. Now compare this with the modern world where "consumers" have "messages" rammed down their throats at every turn.

So, paradoxically, the latest modern media (3d Metaverses) are taking us back to the good old days when adverts had to be novel and creative, and shopkeepers had to offer good service!

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Fashion for furries

A very short entry, once again thinking around the topic of Avatars.

I've already said how odd it is to have a conversation with a giant rabbit, or a wolf in a suit.... and mused on the motivation behind users selecting particular styles of avtar. Chosing the "right" avatar (getting the appearance, sex, size, species! right) can take ages ( as I discovered!). Of course, there is the myriad of clothes shops producing clothes, hair, even complete avatars to suit all needs.

Appearing in SL as a "Furry" however, can have it's problems (apart from not being taken seriously) as I discovered when reading about the recent SL Fashion Week event in SLNN.COM: A Fashionable Night Out

Photo courtesy of SLNN.COM.

What amused me was the paragraph...
"caLLie cLine..... said she spends about 7 hours a week designing new clothes for her line. When asked about how to manage tails with prim skirts, cLine indicated she would be doing some clothes for furries in the future."

The concept of having to design clothes specifically to accommodate tails on furries seems bizarre... but, I suppose, is a real problem if you have a tail.... it's just that we don't normally HAVE tails in RL..... so yet another concept to get our brains around in SL!

Friday, 2 February 2007

Stocks and shares

I have been calling into the World Stock Exchange (WSE) in SL recently... I'd been there earlier in the week to find out a bit about SL share dealing. The exchange was due to start trading a couple of days ago, but when I got there it was still closed... all marble halls, a few posters on the wall, and a message floating in the air to say the exchange would be closed until 1st Feb.

When I got there today, the exchange was STILL closed, but this time there were a few SL inhabitants (some in suits) coming to look at the exchange. Apparently something has gone wrong with the scripts, and the coders are all in bed getting some sleep (must have been a late night!)

This to me is something of a schoolboy error. It looks like the scripts for the exchnage have not been properly tested..... it can't have taken too much effort to set up a dummy exchange in a nice quiet spot and get some friends over to make test transactions. I think it goes to show that an IT professional is needed to do the implementation - someone who knows about test and release strategies!

The problem is that trading stocks and shares is all about trust - I trust the dealer to use my money to buy the shares I asked for. I trust the compnaies offering shares to be above board and honest. But when the company taking my money can't get their computer system running properly, then I wonder if I can trust them.

There was also a lot of speculation over the value of the current tranche of IPOs in SL. A number of the traders had the view that a few too many shares were being offered. My naive view is that they'd have been better offering just a few shares, and letting the first investors earn a packet. THEN go for volume once the market has been kick-started.

I think it will be interesting to see if the exchange does actually kick off & do some trading in the next few days.... or will it disappear into oblivion? There is, of course, the chance that an RL bankiing entrant into Sl will come along and snap up the SL exchange! Then again, with teething troubles fixed, it could be that the exchange goes live and makes a killing!

Monday, 29 January 2007

Don't Say a Word

My good friend Aleister Kronos was telling me today that he’d been playing with a Skype phone, intending to use it to chat within Second Life. We have a mutual friend somewhere in a different (RL) continent who has recently enrolled with Skype, but who hasn’t yet invested in a handset. Both parties have the necessary in-world headsets to initiate voice communication.

But hold on….. Aleister is now hesitating over whether or not to make the call. He’s been quite happy using Chat, IM and e-mail to communicate, but there’s something a bit odd about the idea of using “real” voice communication. Something doesn’t feel quite right…. There seems to be the chance of ruining a beautiful friendship!

So what is it about chat that is so good?

Similarly, why do teenagers insist in using SMS text messages rather than speaking to their friends?

Perhaps it is that Chat (or IM) keeps the interaction remote. The Avatars on screen show a virtual presence, but the keyboard and screen provide a protective barrier between correspondents. Switch to voice, and the person at the other end of the line becomes that bit more “real” and so able to inflict pain, or shatter an illusion as to their real persona.

Then again, the keyboard slows down communication, allowing time for consideration and refinement. How many times in spoken conversation do we blurt out a response and then wish we’d engaged our brains before putting our mouth into motion. Few people are so adept at touch typing that they do not have to check what they have typed…. And so inevitably have to read and consider what they are about to send, allowing tempers to cool slightly or responses to be moderated.

Finally, there is the concept of attention span…. You have to concentrate 100%, in real-time when having a spoken conversation. You do not have the opportunity to “rewind” the conversation if you were not listening or were otherwise distracted. With written (chat or IM) conversations, you can leave the thread for a while (seconds, minutes, hours even) before picking up conversation once more. You can go back and review what has been said. There is no question about what was said – there is an unambiguous audit log of the whole conversation.

Despite these advantages, it appears that Linden Labs are currently working on voice integration within SL. So soon it may not be necessary to procure a Skype (or other) external voice account. We will be meeting people within SL and chatting to them by voice directly…. Just like in RL…. But then, as I have noted in an earlier posting, we don’t actually speak to people so readily in RL…….. so will the introduction of voice be a backwards step? Or will residents still insist on using “old fashioned” methods of communication via keyboard? Only time will tell.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Historical Perspective

I'm currently struggling with finding ways of presenting SL to senior managers in such a way that it will not be dismissed as "just a game". To put SL in perspective, I started to look back to the way that the World Wide Web developed. (I could go back even further and consider the development of the underlying Internet, but then I'd start to feel REALLY old!) When WWW was first devised, it was to make the exchange of academic documents easier. The people using the Internet were universities and colleges.

Then, commercial organisations started to see the benefits of the www, and began to create simple web sites. These were pretty static affairs, containing some simple background information.... but the hype was all about marketing opportunities.

The Internet was viewed as something not to be trusted - full of pornography, and populated by academics and geeks. Few people had access, but demand was growing.

In recent years, access to the Intneret has exploded. Novel applications and business models have developed. Admittedly, there was the dot com bubble, when the hype outstripped the application, but now there are sound companies generating business based on the World Wide Web. Web applications have moved on to Web 2.0, with interactive page content, personalisation, voice, video etc. etc.

This development curve is now being mapped by Second Life. The environment started as a game for geeks. It has been adopted by academic institutions and libraries as a significant teaching tool. Companies have started to enter Second Life with simple buildings and static displays, to show off their brands.

Interfaces are being developed to Real Life applictions (e.g. Amazon)

We don't know what new applications are going to be developed in SL, but clearly the opportunities are boundless.

Just as I have been following this line of thought, I came across the Reuters interview with Linden Lab Chairman Mitch Kapor I've had the audio-stream of the interview playing whilst I write this blog entry. Rather spookily, his views have mapped directly onto mine (or is it that my views have mapped onto his??) Either way, have both reached the same conclusions about the potential for SL, and the way that its development is mirroring the Internet or the PC.

He had quite a few other interesting observations and comments - the broadcast is well worth a listen!

New ways in.

My good friend Aleister Kronos has just noted in his blog that "The L Word" has just set up a stack of islands in SL, with their own registration route into SL that avoids the standard Linden Orientation Islands. He briefly touches on the potential for this as a more controlled and structured route into SL for business users.

To expand.... what The L Word are using is the Registration API... a tool which enables organisations to offer Sl registration via their own web site. The only caveat is that it is made clear that registering for SL means entering into an agreement with Linden Labs. Once into SL, the user is free to wander where they please. Similarly, the alternate orientation islands are available for other SL residents to visit.

The potential for business users is that they can steer their users away from the hubub of the standard Orientation Islands (which, I noticed the other day, were heaving with newbies..... there is a veritable flood of new useres pouring into SL at present). They can bring users into their serious business applications, before getting distracted with the trivia of flying or furry avatars (see my earlier posts on these topics).

More details on The L World's site, and the custom entry point can be found in the "mynake is kate" blog

On a related tack, I heard recently of organisations with their own private (internally hosted?) areas of SL that were totally hidden from the outside world. I wonder how long it will be before it is possible to buy an SL grid for use behind a corporate firewall, just in the same way that we now have intranets firewalled from the internet??

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

More observations on Avatars

I have already noted (People Communicate More in SL) that in SL avatars are generally either all quite youthful and good looking or totally bizarre in their appearance. I'd like to develop the idea a bit further, and take a closer look at the sorts of avatars people use.

After my sweeping statement above, about the apparent age of avatars, I've taken a look at myself in the mirror (well, taken a look at my avatar on screen, which could be considered as amounting to the same thing) and see that I elected for the "elder geek" look; with white shoulder-length hair and a beard, dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt. OK, so I managed to lose the beer-belly, added a slightly more muscular frame than I have in RL, and I don't have long white hair, but apart from that, I went for a "conservative realistic" look. Similarly, my pal Aleister Kronos's avatar is decidedly not young. In RL, we're both just over the half-century mark.... so has this had an influence in our choice of appearance?

(Here is Aleister chatting to what apears to be a wolf in man's clothing and a slender young woman in bling bling stilettos)

It's not just us blokes who have taken a more conservative approach to avatars. Both Aleister and I know a couple of ladies in SL who have resisted the urge to go for the "happy hooker" look of short skirts and stilettos, electing instead for more a more conservative appearance.

Then again, there's quite a lot of work involved in creating an exotic avatar. The standard "out of the box" characters are all OK as they go, but they don't really posess any great style. I discovered this to my cost (in terms of time) last night, when I decided go "camping" in a nightclub to earn some Linden Dollars. (more on Camping in a later blog entry), It didn't seem right to retain the "elder geek" look for this exercise, so a change in appareance was called for. Just for fun, I went for a gender change whilst I was at it. This was a mistake. Just as in RL, it takes an age for women to get dressed, I discovered that in SL it can take just as long! Admittedly I was trying to look presentable on a low budget (limiting myself to free clothing, hair and skin) but after an hour of preening, I still had a pretty ordinary looking avatar. I think it will be a while before I take her out of the box again..... it was just IMPOSSIBLE to find the right thing to wear.... & then to get suitable shoes to match!!!

On the bright side, I'd been able to package up Team's appearance and store it in my inventory before making the gender change. So after my night on the tiles,it was a quick and easy task to drag the"Team's Normal Appearance" box out of my inventory and bring him back to normal. (well, almost.... somewhere along the line I hadn't saved his skin properly, so he ended up still sporting a fine sun-tan, lip-gloss and eye makeup!)

This ability to swap avatar within seconds is actually rather handy. I have already noted that the choice of avatar is important in business situations (can YOU take someone seriously if they look like a giant chicken??) But with a packaged appearance, you can pull on your business suit within seconds. Apparently IBM Chief Executive Samuel S. Palmisano has two persona - one for formal presentations, the other for more casual situations. (see www.businessweek.com )
I just wish I could switch appearance so quickly in Real Life! Pehaps this is another of the attractions of SL - the ability change yourself at will and take on a completely different identity in seconds.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Working in a 3D World

I've just been eavesdropping on an interesting conversation about a building project in SL. The plan was to investigate re-modelling a meeting room. The flexibility of a virtual environment soon became apparent.....

First off, how do you compare the new room with the orignial?

Simple - take a copy of the room before you start! Then if the modifications go pear-shaped, you just reinstate the original.

Then, where do you do the work.... the plan was to involve a number of people in a collaboration exercise.... but how to stop them from trashing the rest of the building?

Again, relatively simple.... put the copy of the room in a sandbox away from the original building.

But then came the further leap of the imagination, as it was suggested that the sandbox area should be created in a box 300 ft up in the air! Now OK, this is a routine technique in SL, but for the un-initiated person still immersed in Real Life, it is another of the radical differences between SL and RL. And remember, something that YOU consider to be blindingly obvious is often seen as something REALLY clever and imaginative by someone else!

As well as considering vertical space (for a "private" venue) the vertical also proivdes a way of utilising a plot of land to the full.... but whereas in RL, you need foundations and supports, in SL objects can be suspended in mid-air just by "Art" *

Other concepts to consider when building are templates or grids to aid in layout.... again, in RL you can use something similar, but in SL you have the advantage that a whole layout grid can be put in place or deleted at the click of a mouse.

Finally, from another security perspective, the map function in SL provides an instant areal view of any new island or parcel of land..... so even if you have access controls and a virtual fence to keep intruders out, anyone can bring up the map view and zoom in to see what you are up to. Anyone wishing to keep their building works a secret, must remember to put a giant virtual dust-sheet over the whole operation to keep out prying eyes!

So, once again, we have SL mirroring RL, but then going beyond our normal boundaries and requiring a much broader mind-set to take full advantage of the (virtual) environment.

* Suspending objects in space using "Art" - a concept developed by Douglas Adams in the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Used to suspend a plastic cup in mid-air as part of a 3-mile high statue of Arthur Dent throwing his cup at a Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

The Immersive Experience

Following on from my discussion about why people communicate more in a 3D environment, (See the previous post) I began to consider the way that a meeting or conference within SL can be so much more rewarding (and more flexible) than a simple multi-way chat session.

How is this?

Dana Gardner recorded in his ZDnet Blog that the IBM launch in Second Life was a huge success, because participants from around the world, and were able to communicate directly with senior managers and key thinkers from IBM. There was a feeling of "being there". Similarly,Betsy Stoll recorded in her blog that when Michigan Library Consortium held an in-world event to discuss MySpace, they found a their meeting in SL to be far more productive than other types of meeting, as everyone was involved in the discussion. (on a different note, a key speaker did observe that this was the first time they'd made a presentation to a group of people whilst still wearing pyjamas!)

But this still doeesn't explain WHY the meetings worked so well.

Perahps it is in the visual clues that are available when avatars are involved. You are able to see who is speaking (or, through the avatar's and movements, who is typing). You can see if someone gets bored and starts to wander away from the discussion. If you have a question to ask, you can "approach" the speaker (or whoever you wish to address) so that they are aware that you are intending to speak to them.

Similarly, if you find a group of people who you would like to chat with outside of the main meeting group, it is simple for you all to move away, "out of earshot" of the main discussion to have your break-out session.

The whole experience is more immersive. You feel that you are "there".

This can sometimes be a little TOO much.... On one occasion, I was in an SL disco, chattting to a friend. Our avatars were on a dance floor, which had built in animation - so the avatars were dancing away to the music whilst we held our chat conversation. I was watching the avatars dance, whilst at the same time following the chat. It was quite tiring.... I felt psychologically out of breath (though, obviously, was not exerting myself physically). There was the in-built associatioin that if I was "dancing" and trying to speak at the same time, then I MUST be shouting and exerting myself. I must be getting old... it was far too much... I just wanted to move away from the dance floor and continue the conversation whilst sitting in a comfy chair!

Monday, 15 January 2007

People communicate more in SL

In my travels around SL, I have found that the environment is far more conducive to communication than, say chat rooms or simple instant messaging. So lets spend a few minutes examining this, and trying to understand what it is about the 3D environment that makes us more communicative.....

First of all, compare viewing something in SL with looking at a web page.

If you start exploring a location in SL (a library in Cybrary for example) and see another another users' avatar looking at the exhibits, it is only natural to strike up a conversation; exploring your common interests. In fact, it feels quite rude NOT to speak to someone if you are about to invade their personal space.

Once you "meet" someone in SL, you are able to quickly pull up their profile to get an instant view of their interests and experience. So you are able to establish at a glance, whether or not this is someone you could easily relate to.

Compare this to the more solitary pastime of browsing web pages..... you have no idea how many other people are looking at the pages you are reading. Even if you ARE given details of how many other people are visiting a particular web site, you have no idea who they are or what they are looking at. More fundamentally, you have no simple mechanism for striking up a conversation with them.

Once you are in conversation, it is difficult for interlopers to "lurk" in the shadows. You are generally aware of other avatars within earshot, and are quite likely to bring them into the discussion. (though if you are keen to hold a private conversation with someone in SL, the answer is to stick to Instant Messaging to ensure that you are not overheard).

Finally, you can easily forget that the avatar is not really the person you are speaking to; that there is actually someone else hiding behind the avatar. The plus side to this is that you can see their hands moving as they type - so are more likely to wait until they have finished the next message before butting in with your response. Furthermore, they are invariably either young and good-looking, or totally bizarre (think purple dragon with wings!) but that's another topic of discussion altogether.....

Brigadoon - a project for Asperger's Syndrome

Brigadoon is a private island in Sl for a group of people with Asperger's Syndrome. For the uninitiated, Asperger's is an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. People with AS have difficulty in following the subtler aspects of communicating with people (picking up on double meanings, reading body language etc.) On the positive side, some people with AS may appear to be "geeky", having high level skills in e.g. Maths, or having an obsessive approach to a particular hobby or interest.

The Brigadoon project has been looking at using Sl as a means of communication for people with AS. The argument is that, because an Avatar does not have the same body language as a human (in fact an avatar has hardly any body language at all) then communication for someone with AS is that much simpler, as they don't have to try to deal with difficult body language.

Details of Brigadoon can be found at > braintalk.blogs.com

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Main Page - Sl Wiki

My good friend Aleister Kronos has created a Wiki all about Second Life. Here's a link to the Wiki....

Main Page - Sl Wiki

Friday, 12 January 2007

IBM SOA Island

After visiting SEARS on one of the IBM islands, I hopped across to the nearby IBM 8 - their Service Oriented Architecture promotional site. It is still under construction, but they are putting together some rather impressive exhibits. The place was crawling with IBM'ers who were either putting finishing touches on the displays or just being nosey!

Here is a bit of a phototour of some of the innovative ways that IBM are presenting their services in SL. Their approach certainly shows a lot of commitment to SL.

First, a rather straightforward display.... nothing too creative here...

But then the displays got a bit more creative, as the diagrams were 3D objects rather than simple flat-panel pictures....

Once inside the builing complex, there was a display to take you to the various entry points for SOA.... these mapped directly into rooms within the building. Note that the shape of building mapped directly onto the shapes in the original SOA diagram.

To get around the building, they had built a "teleport centre"..... a model of the virutal building... just click on the teleport pad to take you to the appropriate floor / cell within the building.

Next, if you are visiting a vendor, it is aways good to take something away to remember them by. First off there was a table full of "toys" for finding your way around SOA.... things like SL bikes, jet-cars, boats etc. Something which I must try playing with in a sandbox somewhere! (but then I always was a sucker for a good freebie gadget!)

Then there were the more sales-oriented gadgets - items that were fun to own, but which had a built-in message; like the SOA Sunglasses which will (apparently)explain about SOA terms; or the hard-hat which is supposed to come with an inforamtion card about upcoming IBM envents.

Then, rather cleverly, were the podcasts - or to be more precise, web links to podcast downloads. The neat feature here is that you click on a virtual i-Pod to get the podcast! I guess the next step is to include an in-world player and have the podcast immediately available to listen to within SL.

Finally there was the reference library - full of software titles and documentation that was available for download. Again, this pointed off to web links for the download sites. My only criticism of this concept was that the various CDs on display didn't actually have any titles visible.... but again, remember this all appears to be a "work in progress" so I'm sure someone will be back to add the necessary labels.

As you can see, I came away from the site being very impressed. I'm surprised that I was able to blunder around without being challenged... but I did find that I was blocked from creating a landmark to take me back to the building. The surrounding buildings also looked worth a visit.... but I think this blog entry has enough information in it for now!