I was asked up to talk about Second Life at Webstock in Wellington this week. There are more qualified people than I to talk about Second Life โ€“ New Zealand’s Aaron Griffiths (Isa Goodman – SL user name) and Prof Clare Atkins from NMIT would probably be a good start, but I guess it was my turn, so I gave it my best shot – starting with this wiki page to organise it.

You can download the video recording of the talk here.

I typically talk about Web2.0 – or more precisely the social and educational implications of ICTs generally as they affect our cultural landscape. Second Life is one of those things that I have been slow to comprehend, lazy to understand, woefully unimaginative in thinking about, and perhaps tittering on the not-so-sure skeptical perspective. But there’s nothing like a 100 + crowd of savvy, critically aware Wellingtonian web developers and government workers to motivate me to do something and address this shortfall on my part, and that’s what I’ve been getting sweaty palms about over the past few days.

Thanks to Nick Noakes, Alan Levine, D’Arcy Norman, Brian Lamb , Malcolm Jolly and Glenda McPherson and of course the persistent and generous support of Jo Kay and Sean FitzGerald I was able to get through the affair reasonably unscathed. My plan was to meet all these people ‘in world’ and start by demonstrating to the conference what it’s actually like in SL with a small group of ‘virtual friends’. I was anticipating that most people at the conference would have had the less than satisfactory experience in Orientation Island. I hoped to demonstrate the shared experience, informal and somewhat fun aspect of SL while attempting to tour educational facilities in world. After that I was going to jump around my desktop and show a sample of SL movies from the copious quantity on Youtube and other video services. Then I’d make a few opinionated comments myself and face the music of question time from the crowd. Here’s how it went, with links out to the movies I showed and didn’t get to show, as well as a few postcards from the brief but valuable ‘in world’ demo that Nick and co helped me with.

 

While all the conference goers moved into the theatre after pre event drinks and eats out in the foyer, I was up on stage with a big projection of an in world view of Nick Noake’s sim (environment) and all the above characters sitting around a campfire in fancy dress๐Ÿ™‚

There was Alan with his foxy head on, D’Arcy in a storm trooper suite, Malcolm as Darth Vader (Not in picture) and Nick, Brian, Glenda and I looking rather under dressed. We just spent a few minutes chatting, cracking jokes and hanging out. I was trying to let Nick and the others know what was going on in the real world movie theatre I was in while explaining to the crowd what was going on and who were all these weird characters I was chatting to โ€“ it was a bit of a juggle.

 

It was all going quite well and thanks to some funny text messages the conference crowd was having a good laugh.. ice broken. I suggested all of us around the campfire have a go at flying Nick’s hang gliders over to the neighbouring New Media Consortium Campus’ and that’s when it all went a bit everywhere. I thought it might too, and wanted to show the conference what its like trying to orientate and remain connected in world. One by one we lined up on the launching pad grabbed a glidder and took off out to sea…

Alan and Nick saved me with a few offers to teleport back to where I should have been and I think everyone got a good idea of what it’s like in SL. Fun!

 

But man! Time flew, and before I knew it the clock had spun forward and I had to leave SL to show the vids and offer comments to get a bit of consideration about the wider implications of it all. I was sorry to leave actually, I don’t think the group who where there to support the demo had much of an opportunity to show their wears and such, but the main objective was achieved โ€“ to show the sense of connectivity and real time shared experience in a pretty impressive virtual world.

 

So I jumped out leaving the others to continue without me, and started to talk through a series video excerpts I had downloaded in the days prior. I started off with the lovely tour of Second Life through a movie called Ogilvy China Dragon Dance in Second Life, where:

A beautiful dragon created by Ogilvy China dances and flies through many worlds in Second Life. His journey takes him through Asian-inspired landscapes and even to outer space! Ogilvy China wishes the world a Happy Chinese New Year in this Year of the Pig with the first Second Life dragon dance ever.

That helped to fill in any gaps the crowd may have had about what SL was on the larger scale. I explained that all the scenes and objects in the movie had been built and programmed by the users themselves. I forgot to point out though, the impressive artifacts being created using SL – known as machinima โ€“ movies created using scenes and characters in SL. I wanted to point it out as a significant aside.. but hopefully it spoke for itself through these movies…

 

I then showed Ohio University Second Life Campus promo as an example of the many evangelistic marketing campaigns of SL. Its a nice vid, but I wanted to point out that SL is crowded with evangelism and verbage that can make it a tad difficult to get a grasp of what its actually like.

A promotional video for the Ohio University Second Life Campus; a virtual campus featuring multiple learning and collaboration opportunities for students on the Ohio campus and all over the world. For more information contact: metaversity@ohio.edu

To help widen the perspective, I showed the first few seconds of Second Life: First Perversions to point out the existence of the more fringe elements in SL.

A cautionary tale of the evils parents need to be aware of in the wildly popular kid corrupter, Second Life.

Staying on this theme I then showed the opening sequence of GriefZilla – Second Life Machinima as a way to introduce the presence of griefing, hacking, general disruption and chat spam in SL.

A film I created for the Fox Atomic Second Life Machinima Contest, It shows GriefZilla the giant duck as he destroys the world of Second Life. Thanks to all the people who voted for me, I came second place (although they call it first!)

 

At that point I moved the focus away from SL and onto that old post about Early Film. I showed ye ol classic 1897 commercial Admiral Cigarettes and talked a little bit about the time line of movies, highlighting the amount of time it took for people as a whole to become accustomed to that new media and the decades it took to develop a unique vocabulary of cultural expression through movies.

I tried to use Admiral Cigarettes and the evolution of film to suggest that virtual worlds have some way to go still, and to reinforce and expand that message I brought up the demo movie for some incredible new software: Photo Tourism (Full)

Photo tourism is a system for browsing large collections of photographs in 3D, developed by the University of Washington: http://phototour.cs.washington.edu/

This new development is one of those things that seems to have crept up on us unexpectedly. It suggests a powerful function for social media and a very useful application in the construction of virtual worlds – along with Google Maps and their new Street View!

Street View is a new feature of Google Maps that allows you to quickly and easily view and navigate high-resolution, 360 degree street level images of various cities in the US

And Microsoft’s hefty investment with Virtual Earth

Microsoft’s Stephen Lawler gives a whirlwind tour of Virtual Earth, moving up, down and through its hyperreal cityscapes with dazzlingly fluidity, a remarkable feat that requires staggering amounts of data to bring into focus. Google might still be ahead of the game, but even in beta, Virtual Earth shows incredible promise. Microsoft’s visions for the product — as a provider of real-time weather and traffic data, or a realistic backdrop for game developers and IM conversations, or virtual ad space — all seem well within the limits of possibility.

 

I then explained how Second Life still does not offer an easy interface with the web โ€“ particularly web2. I wondered whether other developments will take over where SL has done the spade work and made us all reasonably ready and accepting of this freak out virtual world dimension… hmm

 

I probably should have left it at that, but I didn’t want to end on a seemingly discouraging and nihilistic note for SL. There’s no doubt in my mind that people โ€“ particularly web developers and the like should be getting active in SL and working out a variety of angles in there. Prompted by questions I finished with another evangelical video โ€“ this one by Apple showing off their shop in SL – Second Life Apple Store

Fifth Avenue Apple Store Second Life (Music Video) AppleStore SecondLife

I tried to find Text 100’s presentation about their developments in SL that I had previously downloaded, but ended up just verbally explaining their reasoning when a case of file blindness prevented me showing it. Their take is to develop an authentic presence in SL and work for a loyal support base within the community. Best off watching Text 100’s presentation, I think its a good one for finding the motivation to explore SL more and think about it as an extension to business and marketing. Branding building in Second Life.

Andrew McGregor, Regional Director, Text 100 EMEA discusses the founding of Text 100’s office in Second Life at the Amsterdam New Media event, Picnic 06, August 2006.

 

There was no time to show any samples from a recording of a presentation by Cory Ondrejka – lead developer of Second Life, but here’s a link out to the raw footage. Its quite an informative series of clips and well worth watching even if your just a curious user or developer looking for an angle on SL developments.

 

So that’s it. I think I managed to cover quite a few perspectives on it. I think I should have explained more about the economic aspect of SL and a few tips on how to actually do business in world, but time just flew by and tell you the truth I know very little about that – no experience. Giving the talk was fun though, and I’m glad for the pressure to actually sort my stuff out and get something of a presentation and personal understanding pinned down a bit. Thanks to all who helped.