Thursday, November 29, 2007

Looking for Your Input: What Might Bring You to Second Life?

Dear Museum 2.0ers,

As many of you know, I'm now working for The Tech Museum of Innovation on a new project in which exhibit designers, fabricators, curators, and visitors from all over the world can hook up to develop exhibit concepts and virtual prototypes in Second Life. We're launching very soon (mid-Dec), and I hope you'll all be a part of it.

But that's not what this post is about. I appreciate that Second Life is complex, frustrating, and has a very steep learning curve (but it makes great snapshots :)). Toward that end, I'm developing a set of classes and programs to welcome collaborators into Second Life and work with you from the perspective of museum/design work. I'd like to know...
  • What's the biggest barrier keeping you from getting into Second Life?
  • What might entice you to enter?
  • Would you be interested in single events (i.e. a one-hour how to build session) or a multi-session program?
  • Would you want events scheduled during the workday or after? On your time or on a fixed schedule?
  • What kind of support would be most useful to you? Documents, people, videos?
In particular, I'm imagining creating a multi-session program that would take you from a first time experience in Second Life to a place where you would feel reasonably comfortable building, prototyping, and working with others in that environment. I do believe there's a professional development incentive here (especially if you can be "in class" with other awesome museum folk), but I also understand that everyone is busy and the desire to learn has to be balanced against the need to finish tasks.

My plan is to offer a smattering of classes and times in December, and then start more formal programs in January. So let me know what you think, and I'll integrate it into the planning! And if you want to be a test bunny for any of this, please get in touch.

18 comments, add yours!:

Anonymous said...


I can tell you what the barrier is for me in Second Life. I don't really use it and I am in a certain sense "scared" of this kind of technology.
Let me say that I have a brother who is a teenager and his friends and he are always in front of pc and videogames and they live this kind of parallel life forgetting that they are in a REAL life!

This is the aspect that I don's like very much about Second Life.

I think museums are places to be experienced and sometimes technology can help. Websites and blogs to stimulate discussions are often great and I also have a blog where I like to speak about contemporary arts, museums, arts management ( just to share with other people what I think and what I feel. How can you create an experience in Second Life? Probably you can , but it is so anonimous, so unrealistic. It is a "place" where I actually lose myself.
That's just my opinion. I hope it can help.


Nina Simon said...

I understand this fear, but I believe that you can create a better experience--more social, more immersive--in Second Life than on the web. As you point out, there's a lot of good stimulus on the web. Many of us spend all day in front of computer screens. Might it not be better to do so in a social, 3D, contextual space? Particularly when it comes to designing/developing exhibits, so many museums no longer have active workshops, and all the design work is conceptual. Sometimes, putting something in a physical space--even a virtual one--can be useful.

I sympathize with the concern that virtual worlds represent an ugly mirror to this world. Why create great relationships etc in the real world if you can do so in Second Life? But that argument really, I believe, has more to do with personal comfortability than relationship-building. After all, here we are starting a relationship on this blog--through text only! I think we could have a meaningful interaction in Second Life--a true distributed conversation--even though you and I are 2000 miles apart.

At the core, my greatest interest is in serving and connecting people in physical spaces (museums). But I think the idea of connecting those physical spaces through virtual "pathways" which are more immersive than text or phone calls is pretty exciting as well.

Anonymous said...

With a new kid, a scattered tribe, a constant appetite for gourmet food, and a household to head, I feel that I already have too many responsibilities and time constraints in my First Life -- now I have to start another existence in Second Life?

No thanks. In my scant free time, I'd rather catch up on my correspondence, my reading, my hiking. I'm for enjoying the natural world while we still recognize it.

"Many of us spend all day in front of computer screens. Might it not be better to do so in a social, 3D, contextual space?"'s still a computer screen, Nina! "Better" is a loaded word.

late adopter/Luddite

Anonymous said...

I don't know Nina. If you believe it is worth it, go ahead. And you will probably find many people liking your idea. I still find some problems in Second Life. Too artificial pretending to be real.
I don't want you to misunderstand, I really love blogs to start interesting coversations. But I cannot see Second Life as an interactive place.
I am waiting for great solutions to change my mind!

Anonymous said...

I realize that Second Life may be the wave of the future, and as a person who has a lot to do with technology in her museum job, I will certainly need to become familiar with it, at least at some point. I looked at it after the Museum News article on it, and from the cost that seems to be involved to run things in it, it would be prohibitively expensive for my museum for the next 5-10 years, unless things change drastically first. So, while I would love to play around in it, I don't need to do so for professional reasons yet. I would be interested in learning more, but something asynchronous would be easiest for my current life schedule.

iheartgombrich said...

I've been looking at Second Life with half an eye for the last year or so... I can see that it could be fun to do but the cost and time involved could be prohibitive for me (and my organisation) - it has certainly put me off so far! However, having seen a demo of the Louvre museum, I might just be tempted...


Paolo Amoroso said...

The biggest barrier keeping me from getting into Second Life is time, I'm afraid. Possibly also computer power and bandwidth.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, for me any my museum coworkers, it's a bandwidth issue. Second Life has some really very cool potential for us, but unless things have changed since the last time I toyed with it, it's a major bandwidth hog and that seems an insurmountable obstacle... The thing just doesn't load or play smoothly for those of us with speed limitations, and our IT dept. has threatened us with firey death if we do video streaming things that eat up the system's brainspace.

Richard Urban said...

A little over a year ago I started the Museums in Second Life Group in-world and hoped it could be a place for people to find each other to explore their interests. Like a lot of other online communities and social situations it takes some energy and leadership to pull it all together.

Because of my studies I just haven't had the time to pull it together into a self-sustaining community.

Membership is open to all and I'd be happy to see the group put to good use.

As far as programs go, there are lots of places in SL for me to learn how to build and script. It seems what you have to offer is experience building/scripting things that are compelling products and relate to what we do as museum professionals.

Give me some pointers about where to cut my teeth, then lets get together and focus on the problems that are important to us.

Aethalides Kukulcan/Richard Urban

POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) said...

Hi Nina,

A model that is different than Second Life for presenting ideas is James Dyson's "Eye for why" site:

Worth a look in the context of exhibits/prototypes/developers I think.

VAM Jen said...

Nina--I've been reading your blog for awhile now, and thought it was time to chime in. As the Program Director for the largest state museum association in the country, I feel like I need to be on top of all the different possibilities that museums have to try to engage their audience in new ways. I would eventually like to be able to offer my members some training in social networking, and online experiences, and in order to do that, I need to learn myself. Second Life intriques me, but I have not yet taken the first step of entering it to try it out. A class would be very worthwhile to me, as a way to "get my feet wet," and get past the initial anxiety of using this new tool.

Dimitry van den Berg said...

For me there are no barriers, but I do feel people take it for real to much. I am a frequent second life visitor and the fun part is to create things, meeting people, do things that are otherwise impossible. But it is (still) a bad substitute for real life. Anyway what is the name of your avatar. As a museum professional from the Netherlands I am very curious about your project and willing to participate on a regular basis.

Hanna said...

Hi Nina, I have also been following your blog for some time, and really enjoy it (allthough your posts are sometime just too long for my everyday browsing; I need to do some work too! ;-))

As for SL, my main problems with it are with technology and interface. I play World of Warcraft and am used to the smooth movement you can experience there. I find it hard to move around in SL and I find it hard to actually find interesting places. If SL could have the intuitivity (?) and ease of movement of WoW I would be more than happy to actually meet and discuss professional topics there. There is absolutely something to be said for the meeting and chatting in a virtual 3D world. But SL to me is just not there yet user friendlyness. (Ofc I was also seriously put off by the amount of german guys offering me cyber sex in the introduction area the first time I logged in... -_-)

Will be interesting to follow your explorations there :)


Anonymous said...

My man Mick Jones and his new band Carbon Silicon may have something to add to the argument. Listen to "Buckethead" of the album The Last Post.


Anonymous said...

Hey Nina. I've blogged a bit about the whole Second Life thingy in a museum context and had a range of conversations with various people including some of those who have commented on your post. It's an interesting one. I don't particularly like SL as an experience because I don't feel it actually adds much to my life: it's actually pretty lonely in there, not terribly sociable, and I find myself continually asking "why?"... on the other hand is completely compelling to me because it is about social contact, immediate gratification (meeting different people) as well as visually beautiful. So the question inevitably comes back to "why a 3d environment?" rather than "why this particular 3d environment?".

What 3dness does for me is adds a very interesting *sense of place* which you don't necessarily get from other experiences. I personally believe that the notion of being *immersed* in an experience is where the web is going next. 3d might define that immersion, but there again so might the idea of ubiquity - date all around which you can get from any device you choose.

This is a long winded way of saying that I think SL is in some ways a red herring: it gets attention because it is attractive to us as humans: we understand the paradigm of 3D and therefore respond to it positively especially when it is created via a medium which is typically 2D. It feels exciting, but I'm not sure that it really *is*.

At the end of the day I think the same tactics should apply when considering SL experiences as when considering any technology or technique: Does it do something better than anything else? Does it provide the means to an experience which you can't have elsewhere, using another medium? Does it explain something in a new and exciting way?

With SL I personally haven't been convinced that the answer to any of these is yes - the experience itself is still the USP, not the content held within that experience.

Mike Ellis

Nina Simon said...


Thanks for all your great comments (and keep them coming!). Mike, I agree that the core value of any 3D world is not the 3D stuff (though seductive)--it's the opportunity to engage socially with others, real-time. And Hanna, yes, SL is neither as beautiful nor as intuitive as WoW, largely because it's all user-built and not well-structured. I'm hoping that search will get far better over the next year and help that. And we're planning to make The Tech place as active, with planned events, as possible, so you know that someone else will be there.

To that end, I'm thinking of this Tech project not as a Second Life project but as a collaborative exhibit design project that happens to use Second Life as one of the collaboration tools. We're planning to primarily use SL to support events--design reviews, discussions about exhibits--and support teams working together to conceptualize new exhibits. While not a skeptic, I understand and fully identify with the experience of Second Life as a tool with mixed value--not a superb, consistent experience.

We will go live on Tuesday, December 11 both in Second Life and on the web. From the 11th through the 22, I'll be running daily tours, build classes, and basic SL introductions in The Tech island. I'll be sure to post the full schedule of events and announcement here on Tuesday morning, and I hope to see many of you inworld. My SL name is Avi Marquez, and you can find me at The Tech.

For those who have never tried Second Life before (but have the computing power to do so), I hope this is a good opportunity for you to learn in a safe environment. You can IM me anytime in Second Life and we'll get rolling!

Eloise said...

I'm not a museum professional, but I am a Second Life resident, and a designer of interactive educational spaces in Second Life. It is certainly doable, in many ways it is more doable than in Real Life, because although there are financial implications, they tend to be much, much smaller than in Real Life.

I also find the comment from Mike that social interaction is hard somewhat alien to my experiences. Second Life has given me a network of friends and colleagues with whom, despite geography, I am in frequent touch. I chat about my father's ill health to people in Portugal, Australia, the USA and the UK. I work with people from all of those countries and more on a regular basis. It looks like I'm about to add Taiwan to the list.

To be sure I can log in and sit in silence and alone, and I have done this - sometimes it's a sweet relief not to have 300 conversations and to be able to sit down and concentrate on some work.

That said, equally, yes there are places you can go where you're the only person around, and sometimes they're the places you'd expect to see someone, but if you actually want to meet people it's not that hard, honest.

Leslie Madsen-Brooks said...

I spent some time in Second Life a little more than a year ago--so maybe it's time to revisit it--but I found it extremely difficult to move my avatar (even in a straight line), even after several hours of practice. I never did learn to pick something up and move it successfully, even on the tutorial island. Like hanna, I also found it difficult to find interesting places.

I was reading a number of Second Life blogs in order to try to better understand the place, but little I read interested me. Occasionally someone would trumpet a particular museum or library or heritage space as cool, so I'd go in-world to check it out, and every time I was unimpressed by the interface and the learning experience.

To be honest, I also felt like a junior high schooler again. There I was, moving awkwardly around, an avatar in the rough among avatars who were moving more gracefully and who had much better hair. :)

Part of my problem with SL, I think, is that I really do prefer asynchronous forms of communication over live ones. I've never really enjoyed chat or IM (except during really boring staff meetings). I prefer the greater depth of thought I find in blogs and sometimes discussion forums.