Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Your Questions about Second Life?

For game Friday this week, I plan to interview the esteemed Sibley Verbeck, founder/CEO of the Electric Sheep Company, the largest "metaverse applications" professional services company out there. He's also my fiance. When Sibley decided to start a Second Life-focused business last year, I thought he was nuts. I argued strenuously with him about the value and importance of something that looked to me like a diversion for nerds with big graphics cards. Well, a year, 40 employees, awesome projects, and a whole lot of hype later, I've been converted. I now believe in Second Life, not as a game environment, but as a new platform for social interactions with people, objects, and ideas. I used to ask, "how would I ever use this?" But now it seems evident that this is a great platform for long-distance, contemporaneous experiences--at concerts, ball games, museums, workplaces, reunions--of all kinds.

There have been lots of posts all over the place about Second Life and museums. Sibley and I plan to discuss the potential--and barriers--for museums in Second Life. We'll talk about exhibits, collections, educational programs, and audience. We'll talk about good and bad reasons for museums to get into Second Life.

But don't let him preach to the (mostly) adoring choir. What would YOU like to know about Second Life? There are plenty of places to learn the basics. Check out Sheep Giff Constable's excellent commentary on SL good, bad, and overhyped. What would you like to add to the conversation?

6 comments, add yours!:

N said...

Second Life... I don't get it. I don't have enough time to do everything I want to do as it is; why would I want to re-create my own reality online?

I wouldn't sculpt a model car to "drive" to model-work.

Doesn't real sex has the benefit of another, loving person in the room?

Can virtual money pay my real rent?

Fish stocks are depleting, the polar bears are drowning, people are starving, war is raging... and I'm supposed to be interested in sticking my head in this digital sand?

No thanks. Thbpbpbpttt!

Yours,
N
Late Adopter

I never played "The Sims" either.

Richard said...

N,

I'd suggest reading Synthetic Worlds by Edward Castranova for suggested answers to your first set of questions.

And just because some people aren't interested doesn't mean that there are lots of other people who are. I'm not all that interested in participating in a Civil War re-enactment group, but these are also people who are friends of museums who participate in a "synthetic" world.

Some of my questions about Second Life include whether the people who have an interest in virtual spaces are interested in seeing RL museums there. I think the answer to this question is yes.

Onto Nina's questions...

Second Life creates an conundrum from some museums. Often when we talk "games" all of our initiative and effort runs with the assumption that games are for kids (just like Trix). Last year I did an informal survey of games on museum websites. The majority were filed somewhere in the "kids" section or explicitly used the universal indicator for "kids" - a Comic Sans font in bright colors.

But Second Life isn't a game...it is a social and community space descended from the MUDs, MOOs and VRML projects of the past decades.

Are museums interested and prepared to engage an 18+ audience that has chosen to explore virtual worlds such as Second Life? Are they interested in being persistent in this world? (most museum interactives I've seen are non-persistent)

Partly this is a question of funding - often the dollars seem to flow more freely if it is for K-12 activities. How do we measure our successes in Second Life if it means defending the funding needed to be there and support it as an extension of RL presence. Clay Shirky and others have been creating quite the stir by calling SLs resident numbers into question. How do museums measure traffic in this space? Can our vistor evaluation tools for RL spaces work in virtual spaces better than other methods?

How's that for a start?

David K said...

n --

Though I share your disinterest in driving a model car to model work, virtual sex, etc., apparently Richard is right that some people are not disinterested at all in this phenomenon.

As for me, it is the social aspect of SL that I find intriguing. I love the feeling of walking through a virtual recreation of Dublin and meeting strangers from Bahrain and Ohio. Unlike Websites, it's easy to casually meet and interact with folks in SL in a specific environmental context but without any real-world geographic constraints. I think that this is the greatest asset that SL offers to museums... That, and a certain amount of portability for our virtual collections (ie, visitors can "grab" and "share" museum-generated objects).

So, my question for Sibley is what does he see SL developing in the near-term and longer-term to better facilitate social networking and communications within SL. The IM and Chat features function okay, but if we are going to facilitate better spontaneous communications and larger group discussions, we will need better integrated audio communication capabilities.

Also, what fantasies do Sibley (and perhaps Nina) harbor about how we may see communities like SL integrated in with RL? TV news is already using Google Earth in their international reporting. Should we expect to see more crossover with SL, too?

Finally, a challenge question for all readers, what can you imagine your museum doing in SL that it literally cannot, or would not, do in RL?

N said...

All right, you win -- I'll put my [personal, not general] crabbing on Pause and offer some [marginally] constructive comments on Nina's discussion-inspiring post:

Re: museums (because that's why we're here), the potential for re-aggregation certainly exists. Could I become a virtual science museum CEO in SL, and assemble my own exhibitions from around the Web about climate change? Conceivably, more people could visit my SL museum than my RL museum, and thus, I would be more effective in the virtual world at "raising awareness." Sounds like a plan, though I'd be afraid of preaching to the converted (or wasting my time). Can solving problems in the virtual world inform the problem-fight in the real world?

How about this: In SL, are the sea levels rising more rapidly? Can cosmopolitan SL-Dublin get submerged? If some SLers lost their livelihoods and SL property to manmade environmental disaster (or how about religious war?), would that be educational or just mean? In virtual worlds, can everyone suffer as the RL poor do? Would that be an acceptable integration of the real world?

...Or is SL ever an escape? And are escapes forever temporary?

If "some people are not disinterested in this [wirtual world] phenomenon," bully for them. "Some people" are also interested in kiddie porn, "more people" are interested in NASCAR.

Don't get me wrong; I love what the Internet is about, and what potential it holds. I expect that our future will be more like Neal Stephenson "Snowcrash" than Orwell's "1984." But I have a very strong skepticism for new technologies that work to separate us even further from the real world. The real world is beautiful and dangerous and exciting. On my death bed, I'm not going to say "I wish I spent more time in SL-Tierra del Fuego." I want to hike the real Tierra del Fuego with my kids and get the blisters to remember it.

I've ordered Castranova's book, though -- damn Amazon One-Click and my shaky mouse hand. :)

N

David K said...

N. --

I strongly empathize with your skepticism and fears about people engaging in online environments as an escape from reality rather than as a means to engage with real issue. However, I'm not ready to cede the terrain of SL to escapism and "kiddie porn."

Why are you so skeptical that people are any more removed in SL from the important issues you mentioned... environmental disasters, religious war, poverty... than they are in RL? It seems to me that I am just as likely (if not more) to interact directly in SL with someone affected directly by these issues than I am in RL.

I can tell you for a fact, that having experimented with giving my avatar an "unattractive" appearance, that prejudice based on physical appearance in virtual space seems to mirror that of the real world (people were not as outgoing with me as when I had an attractive avatar).

For examples of folks trying to solve real world problems through SL, check out the work of Global Kids (GK) and The Infinite Mind:

GK Blog re: Second Life --
http://www.holymeatballs.org/second_life/

Two videos re: GK in Second Life --
http://www.holymeatballs.org/2006/06/pod_gk_in_second_life.html

http://www.holymeatballs.org/2006/10/pod_camp_global_kids_video.html

The Infinite Mind Second Life blog --
http://www.lcmedia.typepad.com/the_infinite_mind/

David K said...

Here's an excellent (though now somewhat dated) entry from Ethan Zuckerman's blog regarding Darfur activism in SL -->

http://ethanzuckerman.com/blog/?p=545

BTW -- I was inspired to post this because today the US Holocaust Memorial Museum co-hosted an event at The Infinite Mind broadcast center on the topic of Darfur. The event was well attended (~60 avatars showed up and stayed through the hour long event). A handful of press representatives were there. The Q&A was lively. Several folks lingered after the formal program ended. The event was streamed to Global Kids Island on the teen grid and youth were able to pose questions, too.

Despite all this, however, I think we missed a key opportunity. Had we followed the hour long panel presentation with a series of small group workshops, I believe that folks would have stayed to participate. I think they wanted to DO something, in addition to getting information.

Folks were hungry for information and were happy when they received tangibles (like URLs to visit). I envision future programs with multimedia kiosks and brochure dispensers, creative spaces, networking rooms, etc. I am confident that had we provided structure and tools, folks would have begun to create something -- campaigns, exhibits, petitions,... who knows? To me, this is the difference between a space like SL and the Web.