Archives for September 2008

SLCN – trademark challenges

As this post by Benjamin Duranske alludes to, Linden lab have requested an extension of time to determine if they’ll oppose SLCN registering their name as a trademark.

The extension may lead to not much at all in that Linden Lab may decide not to challenge. We’ve discussed the trademark issue previously and the situation isn’t getting any less vexed. We contact SLCN for comment but understandably they’re not wanting to discuss the issue publicly.

What do you think? Are Linden Lab rightfully protecting their name or is it a move that’s only going to damage their standing in the virtual world community?

Reducing your Second Life lag

Tateru Nino has written a very useful guide on minimising lag in Second life – you can read it in full here.

Try saying ‘Sim Ping’ five times really quickly 😉

Whilst talking Linden Lab, CEO Mark Kingdon has provided a heads-up on progress toward a more usable Second Life. Lots more improvements are promised, the biggest one being the development of a new Second Life browser. Vint Falken has some interesting insights on what wasn’t mentioned.

Study: Students’ Social Systems Support Successes

Karl Kapp is an expert in the education and e-learning field. In his blog, he regularly answers questions and addresses concerns about the place of technology in educational and training scenarios. In this post, he follows up on three areas of concern that he has been made aware of in recent times. In this post, I’ll address the same questions and expand upon Kapp’s answers.

1) Kids use these “places” like Second Life, Facebook, etc. mostly for socialising.

Students are just as likely to be discussing education or school work as they are to be gossiping, chatting or otherwise passing the time socially when they are using digital social networking tools. These include mobile phones, web-based solutions such as Facebook and its ilk, and the digital environments like Second Life.

This study, completed back in 2007, provides compelling evidence to support this idea. Over a thousand 9-to-17 year olds, a thousand parents and 250 school district leaders who “make decisions on Internet policy” were polled in the study. It revealed that 59% of students discuss educational topics, and 50% of students discuss their coursework when using the wide variety of digital social-networking tools available. Apparently, this academic discussion is performed off their own bat to a large extent, rather than being a required part of their schooling.

Students today have a multiplicity of such tools to choose from when wanting to communicate with their fellows locally and at a distance. Students who would otherwise be somewhat isolated except for family after school, at the time they are doing their homework, and who would be limited for the most part to communication with people who are geographically proximate, are now able to easily contact and communicate with people who are not only from all over the world, with wide-ranging backgrounds. Students have plenty of educational reasons to reach out through these channels. Socially, there is less call to do so, as students are able to communicate with their fellow students  and friends face-to-face and on the phone. What is the likelihood that students are talking about the same stuff they’ve always talked about, and are just using digital tools to do so?

Despite the wonderful news that students are eager to further their own education and support themselves in their coursework through external communication, there is the continuing problem that services available to 9-to-17 year olds are quite restricted. This is in part to protect kids in this age bracket from “adult themes” which are not appropriate for them, and in part to prevent misuse by students. Preventing misuse of services requires greater supervision of kids in general than most educational institutions have the resources to maintain. Nonetheless, educational materials and tools have always been at risk of problematic use – should the majority of students who would use them responsibly be denied because of the actions of the minority?

2) Currently, it seems that much of the Second Life work is more about SL itself — how to use it, what you can do, etc. — rather than the actual educational effectiveness.

Essentially, it is common for new technologies to take in the order of a decade or more to become sufficiently well understood that they can be used as educational tools on a grand scale, unless they have numerous and active advocates. Digital environments and their capabilities are as yet poorly understood, even by the majority of current users, and there is as yet a paucity of data available that gives us any idea as to how effective digital pedagogies have been to date.

3) Much of educators’ enthusiasm falls short of the mark by deferring to what could be called the “You can…” syndrome. That is, the endless possibilities inherent in a system are the source of excitement, but get nailed down in very few instances.

Some of the excitement is bound up in misunderstandings about how tools can be used – it’s exciting to imagine that a new tool is the solution to many, many problems. It’s possible to let the imagination reign, up to the point at which you discover the limitations of the tool you are working with. At this point, some of the excitement fades, and it’s difficult to maintain the same enthusiasm once the hard work begins. Additionally, as with the point above, more testing and trials need to be performed and more data needs to be gathered before solid instances and use cases begin to appear.

If students are let somewhat looser in digital fields than they have been, it would be interesting to gather information on how the students leverage these technologies to further their own education – students make great teachers and leaders.

Burning Life 2008

In it’s 6th year, Burning Life is the Second Life event complementary to the real-life Burning Man Project that wrapped up on the 5th September. It’s one of the best opportunities to view the enormous variety that Second Life engenders, so do spend some in-world time checking it out.

All the details are on the Linden blog and the Burning Life subsite. We’d love to promote any Australian events at Burning Life as well.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. PC World (USA) – Real Life will Trump Second Life, Microsoft Says. “Microsoft’s Craig Mundie has dismissed the potential of “synthetic virtual worlds” like Second Life, saying that the potential for immersive environments will be likely realized through 3D tools that capture and model the real world. Mundie and robot/Photosynth demoMundie, who oversees research and long-term strategy for Microsoft, devoted a significant portion of his “Rethinking Computing” presentation at MIT’s Emerging Technology conference to what he called the “Spatial Web,” a blend of 3D, video, and location-aware technologies. At the center of several of his demos was Photosynth, a Microsoft software tool that can create 3D models using 2D photographs taken with an ordinary digital camera.”

2. Kotaku (USA) – ‘Next Big Thing, or Next Big Bust?’: Virtual Worlds. “The Cutter IT Journal is offering their latest issue — on the subject of the challenges of virtual worlds — for free (registration required); the issue includes articles on ‘real world’ applications of virtual worlds and the pitfalls and promises of such a presence. I’ve only had time to read the introduction and breeze quickly through the rest of the issue, but if you’re interested in the rise (?) of virtual worlds, it looks to have some interesting fodder.”

3. Associated Content (USA) – Armed Services Train in Virtual World. “It all began in 2001 when a Czech game studio released an award winning video game title on the PC called Operation Flashpoint. Developed by Bohemia Interactive Studio, the game was praised as being the most realistic war game to ever hit the market. Booming in sales with millions of copies sold, Bohemia Interactive decided to take what they have created, only this time create a product that deviates from gamers, and focuses on the United States Armed Forces and others. A new Bohemia Interactive was built in Australia, where Operation Flashpoint would be amped up into what’s called Virtual Battle Space 1 (VBS1). The USMC now uses VBS1, training soldiers in combat and strategy. It is also used by Australia and New Zealand.”

4. (USA) – An Avatar’s Bill of Rights. “The 3-D Internet, or “Web 3.0,” is an amalgam of virtual reality, convention center, circus, college campus, nightclub, mall, playground and Main Street. Users are getting their first taste of Web 3.0 on virtual world sites like Second Life, which are typically “members only” proprietary sites accessed through the Internet. People are drawn to the interactive, immersing experience these sites offer, and by some estimates there are as many as 300 million active users. Businesses are also intrigued by the promise of making real money there.”

5. Design News (USA) – Dassault Helps Microsoft Shape Virtual Earth. “outing a new 3-D remix capability, Dassault Systemes has released the latest version of Shape, its free 3-D modeling software, which also lies at the core of the newest release of Microsoft’s Virtual Earth platform. The new Shape 2.0, aimed at consumers who want to get their feet wet building 3-D models and similar to Google SketchUp, will now allow users to construct or “remix” 3-D scenes using models contributed by other users on the community’s content library.”

6. Gamasutra (USA) – How Do You Kickstart The Virtual Worlds Movement? “Defining the future of virtual worlds is difficult when clear guidelines for what they are and what they can do have not really been established — hence, the formation of the Virtual Worlds Roadmap Special Interest group, which plans to have its first formal workshop next month in the San Francisco Bay Area. The group, which is formed by high-placed members from a variety of technology companies, aims to meaningfully define what is required from virtual worlds in a variety of social and technological contexts, hoping to grow the nascent space beyond just a group of children’s online hangouts (like Habbo Hotel) and game-related MMO applications (such as World of Warcraft).”

7. InformationWeek (USA) – Second Life’s Popularity Rests On Breadth Of Activities. “The Second Life phenom could not have happened without the many in-world avenues for users, or residents, to express themselves, often through through collaborative play and performance.
As the company tries for a second act under a new CEO and targets new markets, users are busy doing what they’ve always done in Second Life. What is there to do in Second Life? Finding your way around and learning about what to do there can be tricky for newcomers. Here is some information to help you get started.”

8. Haber 27 (Turkey) – Textual Satisfaction: Beyond the Sex Machine. “It was just a matter of time before what we knew about autoeroticism became old news and conventional cybersex became just another devolved masturbation technique. In this era of sexual technology revolution, people are always toiling away at making things better, getting the bugs out and making a product more satisfactory. Masturbation has come a long way from finding creative ideas using items at home, other than your hand, to do the job. ”

9. The Sun (UK) – Super Mario vs … Sackboy. “Stand aside Super Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog –— this is Sackboy . . . and he is about to become a worldwide celebrity. The little cloth man is being pushed by video games giant Sony as their defining mascot for the Noughties — and he’s British. The Japanese computer giants, who are pumping millions into the character, reckon every kid in the world will want their own virtual one in the next few months.”

10. The West Australian (Australia) – A Second Life chance on the beat in WA. “WA Police have entered a new world in police recruitment – a virtual, 3D universe to attract real life budding police officers. The Second Life “Step Forward” Virtual Recruiting Pavilion is WA Police’s way of boosting new officers to the beat via the social network, Second Life.”

Forrester state the obvious

Market research firm Forrester have been following virtual worlds for a few years now. In their latest report entitled The Revival Of Consumer Virtual Worlds, they make the following statement in the executive summary:

Forrester recommends that consumer product strategy professionals watch the space carefully — if they are not involved already — as we expect the next 12 months to be momentous for consumer virtual worlds

I have a sneaking suspicion they may be right. For $279 US, you can read more about the revival in progress….

Weekend Whimsy

1. AC DC Tribute Band (Second Life)

2. Second Life Zombies

3. Eat the Worm in Second Life

Australians in Second Life Update – murky growth

As we mentioned yesterday, the level of detail in metrics supplied by Linden Lab has declined significantly. The last time we were able to report actual numbers of active Australian Second Life users, there’s been a bounce back to a little over twelve thousand.

There’s no longer a country breakdown for active avatars. Instead, there’s ‘active user hours’ by country. For July 2008, Australian users clocked up 694,580.20 hours, which is 2.01% of the overall hours. This places Australia 11th in the world – the same position we’ve sat at for a long time now.

The equivalent stats in April were 571,042.27 hours and a 1.97% share so it’s safe to assume there’s been further growth. Defining the context of that growth however, is harder than ever.

For a worldwide view, check Tateru Nino’s analysis.

Taking our biases with us into virtual environments.

Light skin or dark skin - it makes a difference even in virtual environments.

People are using the same cognitive tools in their social interactions within virtual environments as they would in the physical world. A recent study has confirmed this happens even though our avatars do not necessarily represent a clear picture of the people behind those avatars, with regards to gender, race, and all those other things that we have biases against.

The study’s co-investigators are Northwestern University’s Paul W. Eastwick, a doctoral student in psychology, and Wendi L. Gardner, Associate Professor of Psychology and member of Northwestern’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior. Eastwick’s past contributions revolve around romantic relationship development, and the use of speed dating and virtual environments to test psychological hypotheses. Gardner’s interests focus on the social aspects of the self, and the sorts of evaluation that are performed in the human brain that are unconscious.

Eastwick and Gardner performed the study in, which is billed primarily as a fantasy environment – it is social, and the interactions are with real people, but there are no programmatical constraints on how people represent themselves within those interactions. The management at showed significantly more interest in having the study performed in their virtual environment than did other services like Second Life.

Two classic social psychology experiments were performed within the realm of an avatar controlled by the study group attempted to influence an avatar controlled by a member of the native populace to fulfill a request. The door-in-the-face (DITF) gambit, in which a ridiculously large request is followed by a much more reasonable request, and the foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique, in which a small, reasonable request or statement is made, followed up with a much larger request, were used. Then, observation occurred to see how people reacted to a) the request in general and b) to the appearance of two different avatars in acquiescing to the request.

As in the physical world, the most successful technique was the DITF as performed by a light-skinned individual, with an increase in compliance of 20% over a simple request; compare this to only an 8% increase in compliance for the dark-skinned individual for the same technique. Less successful was FITD, which returned a result of only slight more compliance for either skinned individual.

Research has shown this disparity in the physical world for decades. DITF relies on a person’s perception of the person making the request: is this person worth impressing, and do I feel that I can risk offending them? FITD relies more on self-perception: how do I feel about my own reputation, and do I care how I appear to the person making the request?

Interestingly, many people seem to share the opinion that virtual environments are exempt from social influence. This idea possibly stems from the anonymity of having an avatar with which you do not identify, and which has no connection with your real identity. Or perhaps from the idea that virtual environments are in essence games in which anything goes and no-one can be harmed. Or even from the perspective that virtual environments are easy to leave, and therefore there need be no social ties with them. Nonetheless, it would appear that most people using virtual environments are heavily socially invested in them, to the extent that they apply their everyday social biases to the appearance of the avatars of those they interact with, and that they are just as susceptible to social gambits designed to increase compliance.

Source:  Real-world Behavior And Biases Show Up In Virtual World

Wendi L. Gardner’s professional page.

Paul Eastwick’s entry at the Department of Psychology, Northwestern University.

Social Influence Journal article.

The growing secrecy

Browsing back over some previous stories we’ve run, it reinforced to me again just how more secretive Linden Lab have become in the past year or so.


There’s a growing list of communication mechanisms that have gone by the wayside:

1. The monthly population metrics are no longer supplied in anywhere near the detail they used to. We used to report monthly on the number of Australians actively using Second Life – that’s now not an option.

2. The Second Life forums are a shadow of what they were 18 months ago. There’s been more traffic recently (see point 3 below) but the community is still fairly small.

3. The official Linden blog has had a marked decrease in activity as far as communication from Linden Lab, with comments either closed or moved to the forums. Linden Lab have never argued that the blog wasn’t well read. I can vouch for the significant readership as everytime we report on a Linden blog post, we get significant traffic via the trackback – that’d be a tiny percentage of the overall traffic for each blog post published by Linden Lab.

4. The Second Life Jira is the mechanism by which issues with Second Life are reported and tracked. I’m yet to meet a person who believes it is both user-friendly and effective. Have a browse for yourself – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

5. I’ve been involved with Second Life for nearly two years, a new user in some people’s eyes. Even so, I remember when Linden Lab used to run Town Hall sessions.

6. There used to be regular updates in-world and via email from Linden Lab’s PR – I can’t remember the last time this occurred. There’s an excellent post on Linden Lab’s media management here.

The six examples above are the more obvious ones. Some communication channels like in-world Linden office hours still occur but I’d be fairly confident in saying they’re less frequent than in days of yore.

I’d be happy to admit to being a sentimental whinger if anyone can point me to where alternate communication channels have popped up in lieu of the ones above.

Ahhh… the sound of silence.

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