Thursday, March 31, 2011

Second Life's Beta Viewer: Advanced Mode

Location: On My Way to Svarga

As my time permits, I'll be doing multiple posts about my impression of the Beta viewer. I'm liking what I see so far.

In this installment of "Adventures With a New Viewer," Roderick Reanimator had to find his inventory, met a pretty woman riding her horse, teleported to Svarga, and conducted a few experiments without making too much of a fool of himself.

Roderick rezzed, on the same machine that I'd used for testing the basic version of the Beta, but he appeared as the premade avatar he'd switched using Basic Mode's pick-a-look options. I had, after that, put him back into his usual outfit from another computer, but those changes did not "take" when I logged on today.

I'm happy to say that nothing in his inventory has vanished, but then I'm still using the Beta Viewer on a different machine from my usual SL rig.

The Client AS a Web Browser

I can see myself liking this client a lot. Linden Lab turned the call for a browser-based client into a client that looks a lot like a browser, back buttons and all.

The interface is as clean, in advanced mode, as the lean, mean Firefox 4 broswer. The annoying sidebar from Viewer 2 can be clicked closed or open, so that would enable a builder to have enough real-estate on the screen for useful work. My objections to it vanished when I saw that. I have since come to understand that Viewer 2 has the same open/close feature.

A right-click on the ground evokes a "build" option. There's also a "build" menu on the top of the screen.

On my Mac, Cntrl + ALT + D brought up the familiar advanced menu. I selected quiet snapshots and elected not to play the typing anim (I leave it on only in big meetings, where it helps identify a "speaker").

I also found the environment editor with its advanced settings quickly, under the "world" menu's sun option. That was very helpful for taking snapshots.

A Beta for Immersion? Augmentation?

The integration of real-life and virtual identities does not go as far as Facebook proponents might wish, but immersionists may not like how quickly the Beta client pushes you to use voice. It is enabled by default (though easily turned off). The "me" menu has a "my voice" option that includes--if one subscribes--a morphing option for roleplay and gender-switching.

Web profiles opened very slowly for me. I've not used them, so at this point I cannot comment beyond "that was slow."

Features I Use a Lot: Pretty Good So Far

I take many snapshots, so I find one aspect of the Beta a bit annoying. When one clicks the "view" button, a very nice camera control appears. It's intuitive until you click off, then it vanishes.  This means more clicks every time a photographer changes the angle for a shot.

I do like the ability to toggle between presets for the camera--front, side, or rear. These make moving a bit odd, but they add a function that I've never used in another viewer, though perhaps I was not aware of it.

Snapshots are easily done, from a camera icon at the bottom of the screen. Just as I was fiddling with the settings, Alecto Vella showed up on horseback. She notes that like Iggy, she goes out on the roads of SL exploring. I guess the horse does not cause the sim-crossing lag that my cars do, because she looked realistic trotting along the Linden highways. She agreed to pose for some snaps as Roderick learned the controls--pretty quickly in fact.

Given Iggy's work to transcribe all of the VWER meetings and publish the chat as a public record, I needed to find if logging worked. It does, from a "privacy" tab under the preferences. That is the first option of the "me" menu.

Perhaps using the word "privacy" is not only more intuitive but also a nod to those who seek to avoid giving too much first-life data away. We'll see how Linden Lab strikes that balance, but for me, it's soon back to Svarga to explore while using the new viewer.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

First Forays for the Beta Viewer

Roderick in the Basic Version ...
Location: Stonehenge!

Reading about the Linden Lab Beta Viewer for SL, I gave it a spin on a secondary machine (an older Intel-based iMac with lots of RAM). Respondents to a thread at the SLED list noted that they had real troubles with Mac-OS installs on their primary machines.  After a log in with the Beta Viewer, they were unable to relog with the Viewer 2.

On my first trip in-world, armed with this knowledge, I used Roderick Reanimator, the primary male avatar for our House of Usher simulation. He's a Poe character so we can take whatever fate throws his way. I only used Basic Mode, given time constraints but I'll try Advanced Mode next week.

Findings & Reactions:
  • The lack of landmarks or notecards in Basic Mode would hamper first-hour experiences for students, according to several SLED participants.  Hiro Pendragon disagreed, but he had a useful bit of advice about landmarks: "I wish Linden Lab would start treating them like we treat it in a browser - with a down-pointing arrow next to the back/forward buttons that pulls down history, and another pull-down menu treating landmarks like bookmarks."
  • I found that the Beta Viewer does have a back button like a Web browser, so Roderick was able to return home after his adventures with the Destinations at the bottom of the viewer's window. He made a visit to Stonehenge but was unable to get the landmark provided.  With a back-button click, he returned to his home location in SL.
  • Hiro also took issue with the idea that users need money or inventory in the first hour.  A few SLED members felt that the inventory and economy would be a good incentive for students to move beyond Basic Mode.
  • For my orientations with students, I'd need inventory but not money for the first hour, though as Eloise Pasteur notes, "you could get people used to chatting, IMing, moving around. With the destination bar you can get them to some places to let them see tping and rezzing in a new location. With the appearance bar you can move towards ideas about how you represent yourself in world."
  • When Roderick rezzed, he was in the old outfit he wore for our work with The House of Usher. I changed his appearance during his hour with the Beta Viewer, using the presets at the bottom of the screen, then logged out and switched back to my primary machine. I logged in with a standard SL client and found his inventory intact. He did, of course, have to reset himself to his old garb, hair, shape, and skin.
  • I used screen capture for my pictures, given the lack of snapshots.
  • The buttons for options are clean and uncluttered, and I found them to be intuitive.
I have not had enough experience with the new browser to provide a verdict. I don't plan to use any version of the Beta on my primary machine until I have a few more questions answered:
  • Does it prevent all third-party viewers from being used on the same machine? If so, is this a bug or a design feature?
  • Can the landmark feature be added? Can notecards? This little warning will not be of much use to noobs, who might decide not to log in again:
Beta Viewer (Basic) Warning
That's a short but important list. I'll share more about Advanced Mode next week.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    A World That Dares Not Speak Its Name?

    Location: New York Times Web Site

    image courtesy of the Language Lab site

    My departmental chair sent me this story about the use of the Virtual Globe Theater in a class at Bryn Mawr. I read it with great interest, seeing in it the sort of nuanced story about virtual worlds that too rarely appears in mainstream media outlets.

    Not once, despite the clear image of the Second Life client on the screen of a laptop, was the Linden Lab product mentioned by the reporter.

    I have an idea that, as noted in an earlier post here, that the name "Second Life" is so tainted by sensational stories from a few years ago, or tainted by the "once was big" reputation among technologists, that the brand name simply got dropped. As Hamlet Au noted for the Language Lab project, its site does not mention Second Life on its first pages. The video they provide flashes the name "Second Life" on screen for a brief instant, when the woman demonstrating how to get started downloads the client. The product name also appears on the Language Lab FAQ page about job opportunities. It is refreshing to see that SL knowledge is a prerequisite for a job.

    There's no mystery here for me: the Second Life brand-name is toxic enough, but the product good enough, to create this discomfort. How can Rod Humble rebrand his product?  If Linden Lab had taken a different route with the enterprise version and licensed it under a different name and with a lower price than they did, they might have achieved more uptake.

    Language Lab students do not need a larger world than English City and the cluster of other restricted-access sims, the Language Lab sim, to attend classes. The other "LL" in this story might have taken a different route to offering its product to just such potential customers.  Doing so under a different name ("NewWorld," "Metaverse," "MatrixLand," even the old standard "Linden World") would have helped make many projects like Language Lab's viable.  We might be talking about hundreds of thousands more regular users in various SL shards.

    Part of me is proud to see increasing evidence that the use of virtual worlds can go "mainstream," as we all hoped in the glory-days of hyperbole and utopianism before 2009. Part of me is sad, however, that when I do say "Second Life," in any group of colleagues, the grins come out still, because every negative (and usually exaggerated) stereotype about slave-girls of Gor, virtual sex, and more from 2007-8 rushes to mind.  Now that CNN plans to close its bureau there, the last of the big-media holdouts is gone.

    What next? That is Linden Lab's decision.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Under a Virtual Moon: Animals

    Totem Animal Journeying Area: Gaia Rising
    Location: Gaia Rising
    There's a new activity on Gaia Rising: Animal Totem Journeys with Shambala Kimono. According to her profile, Shambala is "certified in clinical hypnotherapy & energy balancing artist, writer & workshop facilitator." (By the way, I hate the new profiles. They're ugly white basic pages and you can't see Picks or Groups.)

    There have been two in-world guided journeys with Shambala and I've missed them both. They happened on Sundays at 10 am and I'm hoping there will be another this Sunday. In the meantime, there is the Animal Totem (or Power Animal) Journey area on Gaia Rising. I tried it out this morning. It's a two-parter: sit in SL and listen over the internet.

    I already have two power animals as friends and was not joined by a third on this journey. It was a good journey and I enjoyed visiting with my animals. I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you what or who they are. I've never asked them. Apparently, I'd rather not say.

    During the journey I also visited my teacher and was greeted by a second. Gifts were exchanged. At the moment I'm working on a Tarot layout given to me by my first teacher which he named "The Spreading Oak." Each time I see this teacher I get another piece of instruction on how the layout works.

    The first teacher I address as "Shaman" and the second one, new to me today, looks like a Hermit from the Tarot deck. However, I recognized him as an energy that has been with me for a very long time indeed. I followed Shambala's promptings to ask certain questions and received excellent answers from "The Hermit."

    In my next posts, I plan to show you more of the self-guided areas of Gaia Rising. There's quite a few of them and they focus on assorted neo-pagan topics. Those of you who are time-challenged (like I am) will be able to participate on your time.

    Group Events
    Coming up tonight is the United Healers of Second Life Full Moon/Ostara ritual at 6 PM in Ravenhart (contact ConnieJean Maven) and the Anam Turas Healing Circle at 7 PM on Clear Bear Ridge (Gaia Rising - contact Enchantress Sao). Aoife Lorefeld will be leading a discussion on the April new moon on March 31st at 6PM at Poet's Rock (Gaia Rising).

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Day Three at VWBPE

    Pathfinder talks at VWBPE 2011
    Location: Central Auditorium

    The conference ended early for me today, as I have RL commitments that keep me from attending other sessions. I want to thank the organizers this year for a great event. I admit to having been dubious about whether everything would come together, until the schedule appeared. In the end, everything came together beautifully. Moreso than in prior years, VWBPE seemed like a flesh-and-blood conference.

    John Lester's talk was a great way to end my participation. He's the soul of patience and has an optimistic side about the future developments of these spaces that inspires us all. His presentation, on Web-based interfaces, revealed the potential for Unity-based worlds such as Jibe from Reaction Grid. I did not, before today, know that Jibe worlds can be linked by something like OpenSim's hypergrid, nor did I know that OS worlds and Jibe worlds can, in theory, be linked as well.

    Amazing stuff as we begin building a network of linked grids that, for education at least, will be the future of virtual worlds.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Day Two At VWBPE 2011

    Maria Korolov Speaks About Hyp...
    Location: Conference Venue

    I'm enjoying hearing Maria Korolov speak about the use of Hypergrid and the maturing of the OpenSim constellation.

    It's a happy and accurate counterpart to Hamlet Au's misinformed comments today about OpenSim. He needs to get out more often; though InWorldz is a closed grid, it's no desert, nor are the linked grids we educators use.

    The VWBPE organizers have done a good job of including denizens of other grids this year, and the addition of field-trips really makes the event worthwhile.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    VWBPE 2011 Begins Tomorrow

    VWBPE 2011 Central Amphitheate...
    Location: Central sims, VWBPE

    For those seeking the schedule, check here.

    Lots of cool Steampunk decor; I hope no noobs get ground up in the exposed clockwork.

    See you at the conference.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Requiem for a Suit


    Location: 5th and Oxford Main Store

    With this week's conference, Virtual Worlds: Best Practices in Education looming, I felt an overwhelming need to look professional.

    I like supporting Second Life's merchants, who have had a tough time during a real-world economic recession.  My hunt this year for a good suit was a short one, given my reading of the hilariously tongue-in-cheek fashion blog, Look at These F*ucking SLipsters.  The blog highlighted the Madison Avenue suits from a firm called 5th and Oxford.

    Menswear is hard to find in Second Life, and it is harder to love. I don't want my avatar to be a tattooed love-boy fresh off his motorcycle. That's ludicrous. But a good suit? A suit that Don Draper might wear in Mad Men? Now you are talking.

    Arriving at the store, I found every item reduced to 50 Linden Dollars. They are closing. I snapped up all three shades of the suit and an all-black outfit with turtleneck that might have been worn by Andy Warhol.  Shops in virtual world close for many reasons, but this is final: the items will vanish from the grid soon. What happened? I've asked the shop owner in-world and at her blog. Copybotting? Anger at Linden Lab? A new venue outside SL?
    5th and Oxford: Closing Sale

    Come what may at the conference, my virtual self will have a good suit on thanks to 5th & Oxford. Sorry to see you go; I hardly got to know you. So gents, if you want a good suit, get over to the store now.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Across the Great Divide: Four Months in Jokaydia Grid

    Openlife Black Swan Region Air...
    Location: A Foot in at Least Two Virtual Worlds

    I realized an anniversary had just passed, from a post here in late October 2010 that marked my first prim rezzed in Jokdaydia Grid.

    Now I am preparing my presentation, "Lessons Hard and Wonderful From A Faculty Member Pioneering in OpenSim," for the upcoming VWBPE conference. This post also lets me organize notes for tonight's VWER meeting, where my colleague Kali Pizzaro will lead us in a the discussion "Across The Great Divide: Sharing Across Grids."

    What have I learned as an OpenSim pioneer that can apply across grids?
    • Travel before deciding. I made a mistake of rushing a class into Second Life in 2007 without enough time spent exploring, attending events, meeting other educators.  This time, I avoided the mistake by visiting a few education-friendly grids before signing a lease.
    • Friends can make a grid. I opted for Jokaydia Grid because some friends and colleagues were already there, and that made sharing content very easy.
    • Hair and skin do not make a grid vital. I love the inexpensive content in SL that makes educational work go faster, but let's not blind ourselves to what makes a grid vital. SL was vital, after all, and perhaps more inventive in the days of Linden World and Primitars.
    • Study how different OpenSim grids are from Second Life. Here a post at the VWER site may be useful. In it I share the lessons as a new builder on a new grid.
    • Build to share. I want my content to be free. That means making everything myself in a way that can convey across grids for our emerging constellation of hypergrid-linked educational spaces. It means releasing any scripts I manage to make, or photos I take, or assignments I write, to the community under Creative-Commons licensing.
    • Read all of a grid's fine-print. I love the (for now) closed Third Rock Grid, InWorldz, and what I recently found in OpenLife, and I'd considered opening the Usher simulation in one of these grids until I found out hypergridding to be a fast-maturing technology. Then I limited my search for a post-SL home to grids that are not closed.  You will need to make a basic decision: closed grid with vendors, such as Inworldz? Open grid with mostly other educators and limited content, such as my home? Other fine-print items will include the tier fees. Are they fixed or an introductory rate for a grid's beta-test era? Can you lock in a good tier as a pioneer?
    • Backup is key. Here I mean literal backup of files and regions. Not all grids allow OAR backups, something I insisted upon for my new virtual home. Most, including SL, will permit Imprudence to export items made by an educator. That was important as I began exporting content I made from SL for Jokaydia Grid.
    • Share outside your new grid. I am planning to open Usher for tours soon, and part of that will involve a Web site were source files may be downloaded for importing into other compatible grids. It's easier to download from a colleague's site than to travel to a grid to look for content.  I'll issue all of it under a Creative-Commons noncommercial license. 
    • Burn no bridges. "Iggy said that?" you may well ask. I've been venomous about Linden Lab's treatment of educators, and I regret that (a little). Now that the lab has a new CEO, I'll follow his actions but also very much remain part of SL. It's still the best place to meet educators in large groups. That may well change, and SL will be "the old country," to use a term Lalo Telling. (mostly of InWorldz) mentioned some time back.
    Wherever we travel, and whatever direction this technology takes us, the lessons of our old grids should convey. Good luck as a pioneer, settler, or happily settled resident!

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Escape Plus:'s Need to Turn a Page

    Location: Linden Lab's Public Face

    Before we ever create that first avatar, we visit a Web page. Think for a moment about how Linden Lab presents its product.

    This post rehashes a complaint that AJ Kelton made, who gave me permission to use his name. The issue shows why LL is chasing a certain type of customer at the expense of others. That is certainly a reasonable business proposition, but as Lindy McKeown replied at the SLED list discussion begun by Hiro Pendragon, Linden Lab has an excellent alternative to beginning the SL experience as they do.

    My post to SLED:
    A damning moment came up in our weekly VWER meeting. AJ Brooks had a few colleagues wanting to try SL. They did not get further than the SL Web site. One look at the Valentine's Day video on display, however, ended their interest.

    Sorry, Mr. Humble; tattooed love-boys with their Celtic ladies-fair might work for grown ups who want The Sims Plus, but whatever actually goes on in-world, you'll lose your remaining educators with marketing like that.

    So perhaps LL can have a less romance-and-escape-oriented front page with a page that manages to promote the service with prominent links to "What sort of second life do YOU want? Gaming? Education? Roleplay?"

    Show a video with some shopping, but then show visitors getting into the Titan II / Gemini Stack at the Spaceflight Museum. Show visitors in the virtual Sistine Chapel, then show them racing cars.
    Lindy's reply is brilliant:
    I have to say the messages on the front page of seem pitched at a single (and maybe extremely profitable?) market. People who want to make social connections that may lead to "relationships" (of one kind or another).

    Sadly business decisions by non education-specific vendors of products and services impacts education use of those services. Comparing it to Blackboard is like comparing not just apples to oranges, more like candy bars to oranges. Blackboard is designed as a learning management tool. Second Life is designed as a social tool that has been adapted for use in education and after that happened, Linden Labs made some mileage off that.

    I am left wondering how the education community might influence the "front door" policy to be more inclusive *nudges the business educators in the ribs for ideas* so that it isn't a turn off for newcomers from other potential markets like education? What a shame this page isn't the front page!
    That video includes education.
    I like Lindy's idea, and that community page a lot. Without too much difficulty, LL should pitch SL's amazing content at a broader audience. The "kiss on the fake Eiffel Tower" began before the new CEO arrived, and it's up to him to change it.  There's nothing wrong with a kiss or a Valentine in a virtual world. As for adult content, Linden Lab has done a fine job of zoning and moving it to age-verified regions or behind closed doors on private land. Too many SLED respondents took my complaint to mean "oh, that sex is wrecking education in SL." Nonsense.

    Sex is elsewhere on the Internet, and these Web pages about SL are not about sex. They are, however, about a narrow perception of a virtual world--an "escape" to use the Lindens' own words--that could be marketed far better to a broad audience.

    So Linden Lab, change that front page to something more inclusive than "escape": perhaps learn, explore, play, connect, invent, love, build, and (most importantly) return?

    Update 3/7/11: Hat-tip to Sheila for noticing the Freudian Slip in my original "location." Corrected after many guffaws.

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Poll For Educators

    Time to take another look at what educators have been doing this year in virtual worlds. I'll leave the poll open for at least a month.

    I realize that the words "own land" are, in practice, metaphorical. Here they mean "rent from a grid host" or "host on our own hardware."

    Flipping Scenes, Back to Openlife

    Shai & I at Openlifes Over th...
    Location: Openlife Grid

    I have covered Openlife, briefly, in this blog. I had found performance and stability to be increasing there, but last month I spent several hours in-world there, writing a review for Prim Perfect, and discovered a passionate and small community of builders at work.

    My Prim Perfect columns do include advocacy of a grid's best features, and Openlife has something I'd not encountered in a another virtual world: scene flip. This permits a region manager to set up five different "scenes" for a region and, with the push of a button, reload everything. Thus a roleplaying community in a space-opera setting might have ready, with just a flip, a massive starship interior, an alien world, and an empty-space starfield for space combat.

    Openlife's founder, Sakai Openlife, has persevered through a difficult update and the issues with performance that stymied my trips there in 2008 and 2009. This grid is worth another look, and several residents responded to my requests for advice with great enthusiasm.

    Pantaiputih Korobase came to the grid in November 2008, after he "escaped" Second Life for a new base of operations. Like the other Openlife residents I met, he notes that the new grid "made me personally turn into a much more active user, OL made me create, decorate regions with my own buildings and made me learn all the time. More over and most importantly, I made some really good friends in OL."

    His thoughts were echoed by Shai Khalifa and Cheops Forlife, who talked to me in-world and, in Shai's case, met me at the Over the Rainbow region to discuss the work of builder Surreal Numbers. The build quality of several sims was as good as anything I have seen in SL.
    Openlife Samarkand Region
    My Prim Perfect column will cover more details soon. But for builders and social users who want a small and closed grid with good prices, Openlife remains an attractive alternative.  Educators needing hypergrid access might not find the grid to their liking, but scene-flip alone makes handling OAR files of regions very simple work for changes to simulations "on the fly."