Fishace – in-world environmental education

On a modest plot in Epsilon Orionis, Fishace Pye has set up a backyard waste management system to demonstrate the real-life benefits. Fishace sums up the purpose of his plot:

“Fishace Ecological Engineering is an Australian consultancy specialising in the design of zero waste systems. With climate changes ahead we need to do things in different ways. This system shows how you can treat your waste and get value back from recycling nutrients. The microalgae photobioreactor has just hit the news as one way to soak up CO2 from smoke stacks and then recover biofuels from the algal feedstock. The educational exhibition outlines future nutrient mining technology.

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Check it out in-world or go to fishace.com.au.

Making real music in real time

I was pointed to a fascinating blog post – a Tokyo-based artist, Lance Shields is the real-life alter ego of both Andres Watanabe and Juria Yoshikawa. He’s developed Sound Station 1.0 – there’s a streaming video on his site.

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If you watch the video, the Sound Station has obvious uses for musicians or other performance artists in-world. We’ve dropped Andres a line to find out more, watch this space. Anything that takes virtual music performance beyond streaming is a big step forward.

Bonza Gallery

Tucked away on a small platform in the sky is a new Aussie start-up business called Bonza Gallery. The gallery is the selling point for photos of various Australian places, landscapes and tourist attractions such as the Opera House. All scenes and photos are typically Australian.

Each picture is $150L and the proprietors have attempted to provide a product that allows builders to incorporate pictures for homes, commercial areas and any other settings SL residents are building.

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Being primarily a gallery of photo images sourced by its RL professional photographer Bonza Bailey, the offerings in their gallery are small in number at theBonza Gallery location. However, its strength is in giving a wide taste of the kind of images they claim number over 1 million images, all shot in Australia.

Bonza also offer a personalised service by which customers can request a specific type or style of image and they will attempt to source it for clients.

Look up either Bonza Bailey or Diaz Anzac at their gallery or IM them if you need an image for your current SL build.

Australian business popularity contest

On Friday we received an interesting email from Gary Hazlitt pointing out how well Australian business presences are doing in relation to their international counterparts. We’re fully aware that the Traffic statistic provided by Linden is indicative at best, but even so the performance of Australian businesses is impressive (Australian sites in bold).

Pondex Sandbox 5669

BigPond Welcome 5262

ABC Sandbox 4723

L Word Amphitheatre 4529

BigPond Billabong Bar 3151

L Word Welcome area 2348

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Nissan 2304

IBM Main island 1893

American Apparel 1782 

Sony Ericcson 1273

Apple Store 873

BigPond Club Illusion 820

Reuters 820

AOL 811

PA Consulting 803

BigPond Shopping Dome 702

BigPond Pyramid Spa 663

Dell Island 598

BMW 562

Sony Media Island 402

ABC Welcome area 392

BigPond Harbour Bridge 375

ABC Triple J 247

Sony BMG Music Ent 222

Text 100  183

Starwood Hotels 158

The comparative performance of Australian business presences is significant albeit due to the recent BigPond and ABC builds. Even at SLOz HQ we exceed a number of others (we were sitting at 578 at time of publication) so no complaints here either…

Correction: earlier today this article was published including live site visit stats compiled by SLOz based on visits to the sites today. These are obviously very different to the rolling average displayed on search results. This could have led to misinterpretations of the data suppplied by Gary Hazlitt so we’ve withdrawn those.

Interview: Gary Hazlitt (Gary Hayes) Part 2

We continue our interview with Gary Hazlitt. Part 1 is here.

Lowell: Could you talk a little about Australia’s presence in Second Life?

Gary: I think it is a very interesting time for web 3.0 and especially Australia which is one of the most remote communities in the physical world. I think there is both a strong camaraderie and inventiveness in the psyche of Australians and it bodes very well for their place in the global, virtual, metaversal grid. I created the first major Australian presence in SL with the AFTRS Island Esperance, and then a private island that I share with 3 other Aussies. It has always been a goal to try to create a larger community of connected islands. Originally the BigPond islands were close to ABC and the two above and other educational institutions were going to come into the mix. That will still happen – it is important to have virtual proximity with such a small population and market. A cluster of Australian islands is important as a foundation and seed to learn from each other and build an Australian community and have brand fights at this experimental stage.

Lowell: What are your aims with your company?

Gary: One thing that excites me most about SL (and this is with my LAMP hat on too I suppose) is to bring producers and corporates into the metaverse and develop a range of cutting edge services that cross-over between virtual and real world forms – in real-time so it is truly reality based. I think the potential for emergent and engaging virtuality cross forms is vast. But we also know that it is vital that the Second Life presence for any company adds that little bit extra to attract visitors which is different from anything that currently exists and give them an experience that they will enjoy. There’s nothing worse than spending time and effort to build a world online and then find no-one visits. So we are a company that spends time in-world to understand its sensibility and not a production agency that has just added Second Life to its roster. I liken SL to a foreign country and you need to be able to speak the language.

To be more corporate about our aims, the focus of The Project Factory is to bring established and trusted brands into this innovative world in a way which captures people’s attention and keeps them coming back. Companies in Australia are looking for ways to attract new customers, build loyalty with existing customers and build communities that bring them onto the world stage. With Second Life, we are able to produce brand experiences that attract international audiences and present an innovative message to customers. There are also companies that are keen to use 3D worlds like Second Life for employee training, internal communications, even basic meeting rooms. We are seeing an increase in interest in this sort of development from major companies. The Project Factory is uniquely positioned in the Australian marketplace as it is able to offer local development expertise, as well as relying on our technical and production network in the UK and South Africa. The Project Factory’s key areas of expertise are games builds, interactive storylines, in-world AI robots and events as part of its service to ensure that our visitors have the different experiences and challenges each time they visit.

Lowell: Can you talk about any future projects you have in the pipeline?

Gary: We are currently very busy with planning many new projects with three or four coming in each week. They range from highly corporate at one end to entertainment and game-like at the other. Of course we will be making sure all the projects we have initiated so far can grow and there will be announcements on that very soon.

Lowell: What are some of your favourite places in SL?

Gary: You can of course check my profile to see what are my favourite places – but these are usually a few months out of date. I have also done a sticky post on my JustVirtual blog called top twenty places in SL (admittedly based on a Channel 4 UK list). Oher areas that I go back to a lot:

Really immersive role playing areas:
City of Lost Angels
Midian City

Nice places to hang and dance
Lost Gardens of Apollo
Elements
Festival

Good recent brand entries
L Word Island
AOL Pointe

Place to play games
Pot Healer Adventure
Games island – footcake, danger zone

and of course recent Australian entrants
ABC Island
The Pond

Lowell: What developments in the SL architecture do you think will occur in coming months?

Gary: Well, regardless of all the anti-hype press and technical moaning I still think LL are still way ahead of many other companies in this space as they have an existing and loyal, persistent community which many others don’t. They still need to move very quickly to a distributed or peer-to-peer server model and begin to scale. I know they are working hard on reducing load on San Francisco and Texas, particularly as most traffic is from outside the US. I’m really looking forward to local Oz servers soon. All of this is being discussed on SL forums. I actually think the open source client will have far less impact than LL moving to a peer-to-peer model, so everyone has small parts of the grid and it becomes much more bit torrent. This actually makes most sense when typical SL users are permanently logged in, I can imagine half a million users all with a half a millionth of the grid becoming the norm combined with a series of distributed main servers that trickle out global updates.

Lowell: What improvements in SL would make your virtual work-life easier?

Gary: Most builders and developers feel limited by the in-world tools. I actually think they make the process much more rapid than it would be if everything was done in Maya or 3DSMax and imported – and I love the collaborative way of working which you don’t get in non-networked, more industry standard tools. But I think a combination of the two is important, particularly to use existing models to start from. When Warda and I were working out the best way to do the Opera House sails out of the scripted in-world building tools (thanks Cadroe Murphy), it would have helped to import many of the existing models – but no import available. From a dynamic perspective it is still tricky to get images from outside ticking into world. Important for events, RSS or up-to-date advertising, so a built in element to the client that uses LibSL to automate sound and image importing. I could go on with a list as long as your virtual arm but those two will do for now.

Lowell: Where can people find out more about your work?

Gary: The Project Factory have a great website and my main media blog has some interesting perspectives on the future.

Marketers not hitting the mark in SL

At SLOz we get asked regularly about businesses getting involved in SL and we commonly respond along the lines of ‘any company that doesn’t understand the SL community and drops in a standard business model is going to get burned’. It’s not rocket science – if you impose yourself in a new market without understanding same market, then there’s going to be resistance.

As reported by Digital Media Wire, German firm Komjuniti have surveyed SL users and surprise, surprise, there’s resentment building against companies just inserting themselves into SL without any real research or understanding of SL dynamics.

Interview: Gary Hazlitt (Gary Hayes) Part 1

With the launch of the ABC and Telstra presences in Second Life, Gary Hazlitt (Gary Hayes) has become a well know figure for Australian SL users. He’s managed both projects and built the majority of the content as well. SLOz caught up with Gary to get some insight on the builds done and the ones coming up.

Lowell: Can you describe a little about your background in RL?

Gary: Sure. From an SL perspective I am the Head of MUVE Development at the Project Factory and also the Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production since 2005. Prior to that I have always had positions at the bleeding edge of new service delivery including Senior Development and Producer at BBC New Media for eight years and Interactive Producer in LA during 2004. All the positions have given me a strong grounding in every digital tool there has been, so I won’t list them, and I have found having a range of ‘natural’ skills very useful in SL so my other ‘passion’ areas such as music composer/producer, sound design, professional photography and travel writer have been useful in metaverse development.

Lowell: When did you first get involved with SL and had you been involved with other virtual worlds prior?

Gary: I may be showing my age but I was one of the first to have a personal homepage on the web back in 1994 which had lots of experimental VRML elements and I also linked/joined this to pseudo-3D virtual worlds like Cybertown. In 1995, I joined the BBC as a new media producer as part of a team of 12 at the BBC Multimedia Centre, I did lots of cool projects and worked partly on one called ‘The Mirror’ – six themed VRML virtual worlds that had avatars wandering around talking about BBC videos amongst other things on large screens. A clunky time for virtual worlds but the potential was obvious even then for new cross-over formats. As well as producing many to-air services such as interactive and broadband TV, I worked on several BBC R&D projects (in departments such as Imagineering) looking at artificial life, TV-cross over games and artificial intelligence, many based in shared virtual social networks. I have closely followed the sims revolution, been in and out and back in various MMORPGs and indeed joined SL back in 04 when I was living in Santa Barbara. SL was a quiet place back then and was pretty limited community wise. I rejoined early last year just ahead of the swarm. The Laboratory for Advanced Media Production which I direct also has many projects that utitlise Second Life including Emergence, Inworld and City Games all detailed on the site.

Lowell: Can you give your thoughts about the Telstra and ABC builds – what were the biggest challenges and rewards?

Gary: I can’t talk directly about the thinking behind the Telstra project as you may expect, so will talk about my general approach to 3D immersive social network design and give more detail on the ABC project. The challenge with any build is to make sure the client has prioritised the experience for the user. To not talk about stuff that will be pushed at them (web 1.0) but about what the users should feel and be able to do. It is all about ‘doing’, and doing can take many forms – the most important being ‘creating our own stories’ by socialising in these spaces. So the spaces and specific builds must have character and allow play. Much of the philosophy of my approach for more corporate properties or brands entering into SL for the first time can be found in quite a few posts on my personalizemedia.com blog. A recent post talks about the L Word and AOL and 13 tips for new entrants.

In terms of what my role was on these projects, for ABC I am credited with direction and build. For the Pond project (as it states on the official press release), I produced and developed it. In fact, I built most of what you see in the Pond – having done an audit the other day I worked out I created 21 000 prims of the 22 800 on the islands, but if you had time you could find that out yourself! I did everything (including terraforming and layout) apart from the Opera House and Bridge because of time and also as they were add ons and partly to decorate the race track – which will be the real draw there, eventually. Both of the recent Oz projects are widely reported as being R&D so the investment and expectation are relatively low. The key for both companies is to get as much learning as possible from these islands, and use that to build on for the good of everyone in Australia.

Back to approach. I always begin by saying SL and any 3D MUVE is a social network so what can we bring that will be attractive to users (new and old) and that will develop a community and a sense of belonging. Once you have tha,t any advertising, product or media that you want them to watch will be part of the producer/audience agreement – much the same as ads are on TV – “you give me a good time, I will be happy with your ads”. It is great to see both spaces slowly becoming a ‘home’ type destination for users, but there is a long way to go yet. The old ‘build it and they will come’ needs a good dose of ‘and be around when they do, with lots of events and friendly chat’, so it has been interesting to see how each company has handled its ‘potential’ community.

I advise on the approaches but it does require a people resource to follow through and that is not easy for some companies – but this is not a website you create and leave, so new entrants need to think carefully about on-going community management. I think SLOz has reported a good deal on this issue too. Another issue that is often overlooked, and a challenge for incumbant media companies, is the rights issue. You often hear people say “this and this club are way more popular than here” and the real reason for that is that the clubs and various other big social areas are streaming internet radio or linking to full length ‘illegal’ movies in-world without any recourse to the rights holders. In some cases they are charging inworld for the privilege. Well known media companies cannot do this and have to negotiate rights out of respect for the creators of movies and music but also to not be sued by them. The creators are unlikely to sue the owner of Club X for example as they know it is not worth their while. But moving on.

To make the spaces feel like ‘home’ you need to build depth and an inherent organic, naturalistic feel to the place, which is the thing I get most satisfaction from – creating a space you can explore and always find something new. So it is great to see couples and groups wandering (flying) around areas that don’t necessarily have ‘stuff to see’ but have an atmosphere. It creates a loyalty to the brand that put it there. Also it is about creating personality, environments that have character. I am always surprised at many other corporate builds that are of cities, or whole town centres – they are great to visit once or twice, but you don’t really feel like you could hangout there or call home, I find them rather cold. With ABC particularly, the small team agreed on general ‘naturalistic’ principles and then layered on the other themes such as the alien thing, hidden clubs, odd Australiana structures, part outback, part sci-fi and so on. It was exciting watching this come together. With the ABC project we also wanted to leave breathing space for the community, so we made sure it wasn’t overbuilt – and that comes back to other brands who cover the land with concrete jungles. Many spaces require specific look and feel and function, big dance clubs, meeting areas with screens and so on – these are important too for the education and social aspect, but I have been lucky in both ABC and BigPond to be able to go beyond that in may ways. The real reward for me is watching users ‘be’ in these spaces, learning from what was intended to how they are being used. For instance, the Billabong Bar I knew would be a draw and I worked hard to make that ‘organic’ and it now has as much traffic (albeit early low numbers) as the bridge and opera house combined. To get numbers as high as some of the main dance or established sims (Lost Gardens of Apollo springs to mind) does require an iterative response to how the areas are being used. I hope this will happen.

    Part 2 – Australians in SL, recommended spots in SL for new users and future projects.

“second life online university degree”

Those are the terms I used for a recent Google search. And what do you think was near the top of the list on the results of this search?

The listing of Ohio University – their presence in SL was my first look at an in-world university when I was wandering aimlessly around some time ago. The Ohio University Island is a replica of the real life campus in pathways, buildings and layout.

Their presence along with a top 5 Google search billing makes for a formidable competitor to the Australian pathfinders currently under construction and development.

What makes this the more pertinent is the recent article “PM, analyse this: IT is going down the gurgler” by Grahame Philipson, which lays out some fairly startling facts and issues about Australia slipping down the IT rankings in a global market.

With the rapidity of technological change, the emerging powerhouse of India and almost weekly prognostations from political leaders that Australia is in some sort of parlous state education-wise, perhaps, the question that needs to be asked is can any amount of cash injection for broadband access from the Future Fund come close to reversing the kind of decline that Grahame Philipson has indicated.

SL has been around for a few years now. Ohio University has top billing on Google. India is currently dominating in many circles of technology R&D and commercial enterprise (remember where Hotmail started?).

Perhaps an articulated IT policy that goes beyond rhetoric and supports the future of an Australian based knowledge industry is in order?

Looking to start a business in SL?

This article provides some business ideas, albeit directly from the SL website.

If you’ve got friends or family still looking at you a little strangely when you talk about Second Life, the article does provide a simple overview that may help explain things to them.

Chez Xay

The Chez Xay Tropical Island Resort covers all of Tamita Island, Irukandji (a type of jellyfish native to North Queensland). I stumbled across Chez Xay when doing a search of classifieds using the term ‘Australian’. In Xay Tomesen’s own words:

“The resort is gay owned, straight friendly, with a focus on harmony and nature. Beyond the main beach and shops, Tamita Island is a maze of deep ravines, untouched plains, walking tracks, and rainforests.

Our residents are few and enjoy a quiet lifestyle. Most of the island’s visitors come to see its attractions, including a large RL art gallery, house and land rentals, and one of the largest menswear stores in SL, featuring original Australian designs.

The resort also houses the SL corporate head office of Body Sync, a Brisbane based chain of beauty salons, who use our facilities for staff training and conferences.”

Check it out in-world.

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