Monthly Archives: March 2007

Second Life and the web blur… and this is a good thing.

A week ago, there was no web presence for Swedish Second Life projects by organizations. Now there are two (in addition to this here blog):

  • Second Sweden has a blog, used for announcements and event reports — for example, with shots from their recent ABBA night. (In Swedish)
  • So Else, an “intercultural movement in Second Life” started by Swede Lukas Mensing, also has a blog. There is no specific Swedish focus, but Swedish culture is represented at the events held by So Else.

Natalie Moody/Therese Åhs, a Swedish in-world live music performer, also has a website up, where she posts her schedule and writes about herself.

A couple of conclusions:

The barriers between the web and Second Life are blurring. Not only is it getting easier to access media files already published to the web inside Second Life (Quicktime video, images, news feeds), there is a flurry of new services that are providing web 2.0-like social services, like social bookmarking and web/SL instant messaging.

It’s a good thing that these barriers are blurring. The web and the metaverse/Second Life have different strengths. The web is by far the most efficient means of disseminating textual information and documents, or accessing calendars and mail. The metaverse provides a far richer and more intuitive means of live communication, both between individuals and groups. As 3D virtual worlds go mainstream, I suspect we’ll see a division of labor: We’ll simply choose the tools that do the job most effectively. This means, for example, using a blog to alert people of social events in Second Life — and it makes sense, because we are not in Second Life all the time (at least most of us arent:-)

I think there is one likely source of friction in all this: some of Second Life’s early adopters, the true believers in the metaverse, are romantics, and are wishing for an independent metaverse, where the rules (and identities) of the real world don’t apply. All this blurring is going to be a challenge when new adopters of Second Life, who see the virtual worlds mainly as a pedagogical and communications tool, will demand real, verifiable idenitities from the people they interact with. It’s mighty hard to know who to trust in Second Life right now, not without getting real-life assurances as to whom you are dealing with. I think that in the future it will be difficult to be anonymous in Second Life if you also want to interact with real-world organizations and their presences in SL.

Olle’s avatar needs a makeover

Talking about identity, Olle Ivory, the avatar of the Swedish Institute’s Director General Olle Wästberg, is looking for a makeover. He’d like to look a lot more like himself, and get a really impressive-looking outfit, suitable for virtual embassy openings and such.

If you, or somebody you know, is interested in designing a new skin and clothing for Olle Ivory, drop me a line in-world (Belmeloro DiPrima) or else email me. If you can show some previous work, that would be great.

On Second Life and national identity

One aspect about a virtual world like Second Life, where there is no common mythology imposed on residents by those running the world (literally:-), is that this clean slate offers some fascinating insights into the relative malleability of the many components that make up a person’s identity.

When people create avatars for anonymous use they will probably experiment with some aspects of their looks and their behavior. In terms of appearance, they might change their sex, size, skin color or dress code, and in terms of behavior, they may change sexual orientation and/or shed their inhibitions.

But some aspects of people’s identities seem to be harder to let go of. Not many people seem to switch nationality or religion. Come to think of it, not many people I know seem to change their ethnicity either.

There are several possible explanations for this. Maybe it’s harder to fake being Swedish or French if you’re not. Language is clearly a challenge: You can’t rummage about in your inventory for Swahili and try it on.

But even in the case of religious affiliation and ethnicity, these identity traits don’t seem malleable. I suspect it is because the real-world common mythologies that underpin these identity components are so strong that they bleed into Second Life.

One way to judge the relative strengths of identity components is to look at which ones people spontaneously choose to organize themselves by in Second Life. We’re not just talking folksonomy here, but auto-folksonomy — those attributes we spontaneously pick to describe ourselves to ourselves.

Here, it’s clear that nationality is one of the most persistent self-organizing principles in Second Life. There are national “watering holes” for a good number of countries — Sweden has Second Sweden, of course, but also the Belgians, the Dutch, the French, and many more have a place to fraternize.

And in many a conversation with new Second Life acquaintances, my avatar has been asked where I’m from — and never if I am actually a tall white bald well-built male (all except one of those attributes is true:-). The nationality question, in Second Life as in real life, seems designed to get a quick fix on people, because the answer is hard to fake for long, and because there seems to be so little interest in faking it.

3D import tools for Second Life – when? And then what?

Right now, almost everything you see in Second Life has been built in-world with the Second Life client’s own tools. There’s been some speculation about what will happen when/if conversion tools start appearing that can bring existing libraries of 3D objects into Second Life — not just toasters and cars, but entire buildings — have a look at what’s available in Google’s own 3D Warehouse, aimed at Sketchup and Google Earth.

The Arch alerts me to an upcoming meeting in SL on March 22 at Architecture Island that will discuss precisely this topic. I hope to be there.

Personally, I think such a tool would result in a big bang for Second Life, and radically change what is cheap and expensive in-world, because the creativity and time that is in scarce supply could then focus on constructing more Second-Life specific experiences — which involves mainly scripting. In other words, the supply of static virtual buildings will go up and their production will be commodified, but scripting will become more popular and in demand as all these new imported objects now have to be given something to do.

I think many people are pining after such a conversion tool. An entry on IBM’s Second Life developer blog Eightbar from September 2006 on efforts to create one still sends traffic everyday to this post on Ogle Earth (about converting SketchUp files to Blender, an open source 3D authoring tool).

Finally, Google Earth CTO Michael Jones recently commented here that creating such a tool for SketchUp should be feasible via a script using SketchUp’s built-in support for Ruby. All we need then is for somebody to actually do it:-)

More FAQs: We’re in it for the long haul

Susanna sent me some more questions the media have been asking, so I thought I’d answer them here first before adding them to the FAQ page:

Is this a temporary project, or will you maintain the site indefinitely?

This is not a one-off project, like a website you just produce and then host passively. All indications are that much of the value of having a presence in Second Life comes from having a platform where you can host events — meetings, concerts, films, ceremonies, group tutorials and collaborations… And that the objects you build on your sim (“island”) should facilitate such interactivity, because that’s what draws visitors. If you build those, they will come, to paraphrase a bad movie.

What’s been the reaction to this project from the Swedish/International media and the public?

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Swedish media & marketing watchblog Researcher.se compiled a little list of English-language articles written in the aftermath of the original announcement. Back home in Sweden, the subsequent month has seen an upsurge in curiosity about Second Life, and many more Swedish organizations — for profit, semi-public and educational — are mulling establishing a presence in Second Life.

Critical commentary has revolved around the suspicion that the Swedish Institute doesn’t quite know what it is getting itself into:

  1. That there are far fewer actual users of Second Life than what the headline number suggests, or
  2. that Second Life is hype — and certainly not a sufficiently serious or mature medium to be entering, or
  3. that the Second House of Sweden will most likely be just another sterile corporate-looking edifice commissioned by marketing people who don’t actually “get” Second Life, and that as a result the sim won’t see much organic use by actual residents.

For points 1 and 2, the answer goes something like this: Yes, we were well aware of the debate about active users while we were deciding whether to go ahead with the project (I do read blogs:-). Ironically, once concern we had was that the decision to go ahead with the project amid the hype might make it look like we were taken in by the hype, when in fact we were going in despite the hype, because we felt we really wanted to figure out now how to use virtual worlds as a place to tell people about Sweden. Second Life is the world that right now gives us the biggest bang for our kronor. (More about this in a post from January.)

For point 3, the answer is: Not if we can help it:-)

(There are a couple more questions to answer, in an upcoming post.)

Second Life group “Second House of Sweden” now open

The launch of this blog on the web today coincides with the opening of the group “Second House of Sweden” in Second Life — and anyone can join.

We’ll be using the group to keep members updated on the project’s progress, and when the virtual embassy is ready we’ll use it for announcements about upcoming events.

Connecting Second Life, Real life, and the web via tags

Sloog logo Tagzania logo Del.icio.us logo

Last week Mark Wallace at 3PointD blogged Sloog, a new place tagging system native to Second Life developed by the sleek-looking Mosi-Mosi company in Barcelona. Their approach made me very happy, and I plied them with feedback. A tagging system like this is a far superior way of maintaining an inventory of interesting places in Second Life than, well, my avatar’s Landmarks folder in the inventory.

Mosi-Mosi has now added support for RSS, which allows me to highlight my most recent locations in the sidebar of this blog. I’d love to also be able to alter the title and add a description, but I think some of these features are on their way.

What’s interesting is that the original del.icio.us method, so effective for tagging and sharing places on the web, has also been applied to places in the real world. Tagzania lets you tag specific real-world locations via Google Maps and then provides feeds of your tagged locations, both as RSS and as KML (the file format native to Google Earth).

So now we have three tagging systems, one each for the three separate coordinate systems that we use to navigate — in the real world (latitude and longitude), the web (URLs), and Second Life (x/y/z coordinates, parcel name and region name). What’s next?

I’m hoping for mashups that connect all three of these spaces — meta-mashups, if you will. Take the House of Sweden: It has a physical location in Washington DC; it has a website associated with it; and the Swedish Institute will soon have a simulacrum of it at a specific spot in Second Life. These three places are obviously linked, but there is as yet no way of making that connection visible. Or another example: Harvard Law’s Austin Hall in the real world, on the web, and in Second Life.

In database-speak, it would be great to join the lookup tables of these three different tagging databases so that if you find one location, you automatically come across the others.

How to do this? Getting it mostly right may be possible just by comparing supplied tags in all three coordinate systems and joining the most similar ones. Otherwise, it’d have to be a collaborative effort, letting organizations themselves supply the requisite metadata.