Category Archives: Update

Launched. What now?

In the interests of radical transparency… :-) :

I’m going to be on “vacation” June 4-22 — in fact the first week will involve working with International Polar Year at the International Society for Digital Earth annual conference in San Francisco. I will however be reachable via stefan.geens@gmail.com, which I check often. Karl Peterson will be taking over responsibility for Second House of Sweden in the meantime: karl.peterson@si.se.

I realize that that this is in fact a crucial moment in the launch of a sim and its long-term success — it is important that the initial momentum generated by the media attention be sustained through regular events on the sim. Exhibitions impress, but people do not tend to come back to them again and again. The Swedish Institute, in the end, is really a immersive platform for social events that involve Swedish themes, aimed above all at an international audience.

We’ve worked hard on getting the sim ready on time, but the one thing we have not had the time to focus on much is what kind of regular social interactions we can engineer. Regular office hours is a must, and in addition to the 5 hours per day that we can manage in-house, we are going to hire and train friends of Second House of Sweden to help out. But that’s an essential, default service.

In the next few weeks, the easiest thing for us to do will be to have film showings using the live streaming web account that we have with Qbrick, so that we can make the viewing experience social, with discussions about it afterwards.

I think the most obvious thing to do would be to invite the Open Society Archives in Budapest and the Jewish Museum in Stockholm to present the Wallenberg documentary that we have the rights to show. OSA is obviously already in Second Life, and the Jewish Museum could definitely be helped by us as they are nearby in Stockholm. This kind of event could generate some interesting commentary, as it is transcends technology — it is not about technology at all, and the technology is meant to become transparent here — so there is none of that self-referentiality that tends to characterize such in-world gatherings. This is how Second Life should/will be used in the future: for the enhanced social interactivity that it allows, completely oblivious to physical distances.

I hope that in the coming week we will also be able to announce a series of film showings of Swedish short films, and even long films. Here at the Swedish Institute we have the in-house contact network to set something like that up — and many young directors would love to get the exposure.

What we will need help with, however, is getting the word out. Alerting Swedes in Second Life is very easy: Both Second Sweden’s Johan Howard and Tina (Petgirl) Bergman have a very effective mailing list and/or blog. The group “Second House of Sweden” also reaches a good audience, but what we’re still lacking is a good contact network among Second Life blogs, where new event information gets mentioned. Does anyone have suggestions on who is best to contact with this kind of information? I think we should perhaps hire a SL media consultant for specifically this task, as it would take us a while to build up this knowledge, time which we don’t really have.

In addition, there has been one report of an avatar wearing a Nazi uniform showing up in Wallenberg’s office and behaving obnoxiously. The way you dress is very much a speech issue, and Nazi uniforms in this context are a form of hate speech. Such behaviour is very much like leaving a comment containing hate speech on a blog or article online — it should be taken down/banned as soon as it is noticed. Second Life poses an interesting twist on this: If there is a Nazi in Wallenberg’s office and there is nobody there to notice, does the Nazi really exist?:-) One thing is for sure: He does exist if somebody else is there to see him, and for such cases there should be a reporting mechanism which everybody else can use to alert us to such abuse.

I’ve created an gmail address for such alerts, soshos(&)gmail.com, which then forwards to all those who have the ability to ban people on the sim. Hopefully, at least one person will be online when the email gets sent, can log on, and then take action. We’d then also have to make signs letting people know they can help. Several Swedes — including Natalie Moody, Tina (Petgirl) Bergman and others from the Swedish Resource Center — have expressed a wish to help out with this; a kind of Swedish Community Watch. Giving everyone the gmail address should be the easiest way to do this, I think. We can set up rules that send sms messages and such. I do want to stress, however, that this is also very much a learning experience for us; there isn’t much prior experience out there on how to handle hate speech in virtual worlds.

On the opening day we also had some Danes protesting “the intrusion of reality into Second Life”. They stood outside the embassy with a big banner; a lively debate ensued among all present. This kind of protest is entirely welcome at Second House of Sweden, and not just because it gives us a chance to show that we believe in a broad freedom of speech in Sweden:-)

Footage of the inauguration

I see Johan over at Second Sweden was prescient enough to record the cutting of the ribbon today, and was kind enough to put it up on his blog via YouTube. Here’s what it looked like — acting by Olle Wästberg and Carl Bildt, cinematography by yours truly:

Division of labor

Apologies all round for the lapse in posting, especially so soon after launching this blog, but I have plenty of excuses lined up. They’re not that interesting, so I’m listing them at the end of this post.

Work on the Second House of Sweden is continuing apace. What’s interesting is how the work is naturally ending up being divided into tasks that correspond to the different types of content we’re going to have:

  • The platform: Our presence in Second Life is taking shape across two sims. Both are being styled to represent islands along Sweden’s coastline, not unlike what the Stockholm Archipelago looks like. One sim will give visitors new to Second Life a quick orientation, while the other will hold the virtual embassy and the amphitheater. A lot of attention is being paid to getting the mood just right — Swedish nature is quite distinctive, and we’re trying to capture that. The idea is that first impressions will be very positive — to that end, Söderhavet are plying Electric Sheep with plenty of photography and art detailing precisely how the archipelago looks. I can’t wait to see the end result — Electric Sheep are proving themselves to be master builders.
  • Repurposed web content: The Swedish Institute sits atop a treasure trove of information about Sweden in a variety of media, and much of this is already accessibly via our web sites — recipes, music, PDFs, pictures… These are easy pickings for repurposing in Second Life. What’s a challenge, however, is that some of this content is best suited for viewing in 2D rather than in 3D, so the focus is on building a compelling gateway to the content already served on our websites. Our PDF booklets, for example, will be downloadable from virtual bookstands, while our recipes will be linked to from within SL. A Swedish music stream will be available as you amble through the islands.
  • Second Life-specific content: More exciting perhaps are the projects that involve completely new content created specifically for delivery via Second Life. The embassy will house three exhibition areas, and two of these will (likely) house completely new 3D material around Swedish themes. (I’m not going to give away what precisely just yet.) In the longer term, we’re looking at changing these exhibition spaces every three months or so, though we may keep past exhibits accessible — hey, it’s Second Life, it’s not as if we’re cramped for space.
  • Events: It’s the events that are going to provide the most compelling reason to revisit the Second House of Sweden, I suspect. If you look at what are the most popular (serious) places in Second Life today, they are the ones that manage to regularly set up interesting group activities — discussions, debates, presentations, interviews, film showings, concerts, art installations, press conferences… Our first such event will be the opening of the virtual embassy, and it will be attended by Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt. Afterwards, we’re hoping to provide a regular stream of interesting events. Planning these will be a challenge, but I think that plenty of venues already cater to pure entertainment, so we’ve pretty much got the market to ourselves when it comes to debating Sweden’s politics and culture from a more scholarly perspective — especially as voice chat is coming to Second Life, which will make presentations much more compelling.
  • That’s the main outline of how development is proceeding on our end. I’ve been meaning to put up a quick flyover of the model for all this, just as an teaser, and I promise to put something up in the next few days.

    (The excuses, as promised: Most of last week I spent in Sweden, which was chock-full of meetings, the kind that don’t really work via Skype, and then last Wednesday, March 28, the Swedish Institute hosted a conference for Swedish organizations that either are in Second Life or are thinking of going into Second Life. On March 29 some of us at the Swedish Institute travelled to Budapest for a series of internal meetings, and I finally made it back to Cairo on Tuesday, April 3. Today, April 4, I finally (after a three week wait) got an internet connection delivered to my apartment, and you are now seeing the fruits of that.)