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 )
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 >

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!

Shopping for RL in SL

Just been to visit the IBM SEARS building in SL. This is a first introduction to one of the more obvious uses of SL - providing the ability to walk around a virtual store and play with the goods.

The building has 3 main areas - Kitchen, Garage and Living Room. These are used to demonstrate some kitchen layouts and appliances, garage storage and home cinema equipment respectively. Just at present, the demos are rather crude - touching an appliance brings up a link to the relavent web page, though there is a neat feature in the kitchen area whereby you can change the appearance of work surfaces and cubpoard fronts at the touch of a mouse.

From a kitchen design perspective, the next step must be to provide a 3-D design sandbox - with "standard" appliances and units to fit into a model kitchen of your own creation. The likes of IKEA and B&Q have such software available on their web sites as a stand-alone application, but it would be so much neater to have the facility within SL.

I think the Sears site provides an interesting prototype - though requires FAR more information / products to be made available before it is a viable commercial channel.

Perhaps this is something to ponder for SL and RL Retail - you need to have the range of stock available before you can attract many punters.

Once useful feature of the Sears store was that you only needed to click a transporter ball within a display area to be whisked away into the prototype kitchen or living-room. Far quicker than having to walk for miles from one location to another.....and in keeping with the comment in my last post - that SL inhabitants do more teleporting than flying!

Why do TV documentaries always show flying avatars?

Following the BBC Newsnight piece about Second Life on Wednesday night, I started thinking about how SL is portrayed in the media, and how this impacts on how SL is perceived in business.

As I have said earlier in this blog, a challenge for business is to dispel the idea that SL is "just a game". Unfortunately, when TV presenters put together a piece about SL, the immediate response it to show the more exotic avatars (after all, a key element if SL is your avatar) and then show the presenter's avatar flying over the virtual world. So, the memorable feature of SL is that you are able to fly! (Which is a shame, because anyone who visits SL knows that the only way to travel is to Teleport!)

(Photo courtesy of the BBC)

This is a pity, as some of the more useful concepts in SL are the ability to interact with people regardless of location; the ability to interact with 3D objects; the new ways of presenting information.... the list goes on.

Instead of just flying over anonymous buildings in SL, why not visit the Cybrary and see how librarians from around the world are getting together to share ideas? Or visit one of Aimee Webber's beautifully rendered locations; Or show one of the science exhibits that allows you to climb around a caffeine molecule?

Next time I'm in SL I will take some photos to brighten up this post!.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Cool representation of Sau Paulo

A friendly librarian (Elizabeth Rockwood) invited me over to take a look at this site..... There's an areal photo of Sau Paulo on the ground, and a series of photo-spheres linked down to key points on the ground. The spheres look rather odd because they are carrying full 360degree pictures of the points linked on the map. Stand inside the sphere, and switch to "mouse look" to get the 3D view experience. Turn on the sound, and you get a commentary about the location and image.

Once I'd mastered the art of standing in the sphere, and getting Mouse Look turned on properly, then it was a pretty amazing experience!

If you have an SL account, try following the SLURL link below and take a look for yourself

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Interview with Philip Rosedale - SL CEO

BBC NEWS Programmes Newsnight Home: " Second Life
Paul Mason interviews the creator of the virtual world "

Just spotted Newsnight - Part of Newsnight's Geek Week 2.0: a review of virtual worlds and their impact on society. As a follow-up to the item on TV, the BBC web site carries an interview with Philip Rosedale, ceo of Linden Labs. (audio stream). The site also carries a downloadable video podcast of the programme.

From the SL interview......

Rosedale sees SL as not being "addictive" but being more challenging and more rewarding that RL. It is where colaboration happens, where creativity happens - where things get built first.

How will virtual reality change the Real World?

Rosedale sees current cities as becoming "Museums" - places that are fascinating, and places to explore, whilst we do our work and information gathering in the virtual world.

A text version of the two items can be found here and part 2 here

Blogging from Email

Well, SL is down for maintenance just at the minute, so I am playing with this blog instead.   This post has been created by sending my blog an e-mail..... it is a quick and easy way of creating blog entries without the hassle of logging onto the blogger site.
Because my e-mail is in HTML format, I can use formatting such as BOLD or Underline, and these features carry through to the blog entry.
Sadly I can't include pictures directly as attachments, but I guess somewhere I may be able to experiment with embedded HTML and links off to something like Flickr, but that is for a later post.
That is all I have to say just now.


Welcome to my Second Life Blog.

I was going to start a blog in which my avatar Team Mascot recorded some of his more exotic adventures in Second Life.... but there are lots of people doing that elsewhere. Instead, I have decided to make this blog more of an eclectic mix of thoughts and observations about Second Life (and metaverses in general), plus a record of some of the more creative uses of SL (after all, the blog would become boring without some pictures!). Finally it is also an opportunity for me to experiement with blogging tools (so you may find some random entries, badly formatted, with "hello world" type messages that have been fed from strange locations). Where I have used a particular blogging tool, I will add some details about how it worked and what I thought of it.

Just as background, Team Mascot (that's a picture of him above - visiting virtual Morocco) has been wandering around SL for the last couple of months, trying to learn about how SL technology can be used in Real Life (RL).

I've been trying to avoid the "game", "making money by scripting and creating artefacts", "gambling" and "sex" aspects of SL. In fact there is FAR more fun to be had chatting to educators and librarians (strange that !). In my experience to date, the librarians are the friendly people to deal with (perhaps it is because they have more time to spend in SL!) (only joking!). In fact I will probably be adding blog entries to expand on these observations at some stage in the future.

Well, so much for introductions. I have a first page, and an uploaded photo.... upwards and onwards as they say!