Saturday, March 28, 2009

Virtual Theorists Project: Second Life Gets Freud & More in 3D

Dr. Freud
Location: Virtual Theorists' Project, Montclair State University

In a required graduate course in Counseling Theories, Edina Gumbo's students don't just read about Freud, Jung, Adler, and Rogers. They build their offices and make a model of the Freudian personality: an iceberg where one confronts the Id making demands, the Superego saying no, and the Ego playing mediator.

The students, Edina, and AJ Brooks spent a year making this project come to life. I had a sneak, hush-hush preview a few months back. You can visit the project for edification or to use in a class. The landing zone provides a map to the entire complex.


Visit Freud's office and chat up the Freud-bot. I told Doctor Freud of my childhood nightmares about a chimp that made me hold its sweaty little paw. The Freudbot was flummoxed by me, especially my question about billable hours.

Visit the offices of Carl Jung, Carl Rogers, and Alfred Adler to learn about their work. All three offices have note-card givers for information about their theories.

Visit the Iceberg. Freud's office leads to this marvel, and I plan to use it when I next teach Freud in our interdisciplinary first-year course at Richmond. It is open to other classes.

One begins below the water, in the realm of the subconscious, and walks up from the infantile cravings of the ID (represented by insistent teddy-bears):

The Id

Inquisitive whispers: Read to me!
Frustrated whispers: I want to stay home!
Angry whispers: Give that back!
Hungry whispers: Feed Me! Feed Me!
Inquisitive whispers: Read to me!
Happy whispers: Let's Play!
Greedy whispers: Buy me that car!
Angry whispers: Give that back!

Until one comes upon the watchdog of the Superego (represented by Lego-like cops). I vaulted the gate, hoping they would chase me.

Welcome to the Iceberg of the ...

The build will be there for future classes, who will add details and also make simulations related to other theorists.

So what did Edina's students say about building and using the simulations? They noted that it was more demanding, but more rewarding also. We quizzed them at a post-tour Q&A:
  • "SL made the theories come to life and were much easier to understand"
  • "the time applying the theories was effective"
  • "The fact that everything was so 'visual' really helped me"
  • "We were forced to apply the theories because of SL. Made learning it more well rounded."
  • "building in SL emphasized the need to do further research beyond just reading the text book"
  • "I feel that it was good using SL because it made us have to read and learn these things on our own. We didn't have to rely on the professor telling us everything"
  • "I think it was a very creative way to learn what we needed-- more than just reading and presenting in class"
Not everyone craved such active learning: students had the option to switch from a hybrid class to a traditional face-to-face class. Some did during the first week. One participant noted that the hybrid class meant "a lot of work outside of class to familiarize ourselves with 2nd life-setting it up, getting avatars" and another student added "and a lot of time building and searching for objects."

Theorists Project

Those who enrolled in Edina's section show how powerfully simulations can change educational practices. All it takes is dedicated faculty, supportive I.T. and administration, and a lot of time.

And just maybe some work by Linden Lab to add some Reality Principle to our avatars' Ids. Consider this photo from the VWBPE conference: I think the Lindens must have put in a default "stare at breasts" anim in male avis. I need a Superego HUD!

Teaching Etiquette in a Virtual World

Dining Etiquette 2
Location: Texas State Technical College virtual campus

Chris Gibson has a job that includes something I'd enjoy: teaching students how to behave at dinner. Well, I'd like the eating part. And Gibson uses Second Life to avoid the disasters that might occur were he to begin at a restaurant with real silverware, food, and dress codes.

I have heard horror stories of job applicants showing up for interviews or professional meals in inappropriate clothing, then not knowing which fork one uses for salad or what to do with new foods. A friend at such a dinner heard a participant say "I ain't never had no beans that didn't come out of a can."

Yes, I would hire that person.

I suppose Chris' students are better at flesh-and-blood events, but he takes no chances. Avatars must dress formally and act appropriately or their course-grade drops. He's worked with SL clothing designers to provide free formal wear to the class.

The dining room itself reminds me of a formal space I use, once per year, for a presentation to our MBA students. The grand ballroom at the Hotel Jefferson features similar decor and, when one dines there, a full spread of silverware and plates.
Dining Etiquette

Second Life will gain more respectability if it can be used for down-to-earth work such as reducing embarrassment as students prepare for lunch during job interviews. It's prosaic when compared to the cutting-edge interactive artwork of Burning Life or the depth of design in certain roleplaying sims.

Both of those examples do not, however, teach good dining etiquette. And that sort of learning goal, easily supported by assessment data and evaluations, will sell campuses on SL.

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Conference on Education in Second Life

Location: VWBPE Conference 2009

Tomorrow and Sunday, this gathering will bring together a few hundred SL educators to discuss Best Practices for teaching in virtual worlds.

Main page is here and schedule with SLURL links here.

Kennesaw State University hosts the event, and presenters are also taking participants to satellite locations and SL field-trips.

After my talky-talk I took a group to Richmond Island to see my students' build-it project. There's just a small group shown here, but we filled the island so no more educators could teleport in...a first for Richmond.

Richmond Island Tour

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Notorious Enoch Holler Prude Comes to Second Life!

Location: Hiding My Dirty Magazines and Liquor Bottles

There must be one of those stargates between Enoch Holler and SL. A notorious prude who had long made war on the Holler's hillbilly population, Miss Petunia Amaryllis Courtney Taliaferro, has come to Second Life and begun a League of Decency.

She's writing Op/Eds for the Alphaville Herald! Read her first salvo fired, like a broadside from the battleship Missouri, upon SL's dens of iniquity.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Armada Dispatch: Shipmates

Location: Armada Breakaway Sim

From the Desk of Professor Onomatopoeia, Dealer in Arcane Tomes

I'm delighted to make the acquaintance of Mr. Remington Thursday, one of the Council of Four who represent the citizens of our floating city. Mr. Thursday enabled a few changes to my abode so that I could follow certain biological experiments on the lower deck. The blasted lock is not quite to my liking...well, the experimental subject is still small and weak.

Some of this work will, I suppose, prove slightly dangerous. But in the name of science, free from the tendrils of New Crobuzon's corrupt and repressive government, I can continue my experimentations unhindered.

It goes without saying that I go armed here, less in fear of my fellow Armadans but out of concern for raiders appearing on the horizon or, perhaps, something getting out of hand in the vats below my bookshop.

As for trouble from below: a stout oaken hatchway, banded with steel, and a brace of flintlocks should deter any intruders or, well, extruders. Must remember to purchase a better lock.

Moreover, Miss Tenchi Morigi, a seasoned and capable warrior, will be joining me in my business ventures. She's growing ever more familiar with the culture of Armada as she persues her studies of Mr. Mieville's historical works about the world of Bas-Lag.

Miss Morigi and will certainly thrive at Armada. I think her fighting skills may come in handy, as the brave community stakes its place upon the untamed oceans.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Armada Dispatch: Moving In

Location: Armada Breakaway Sim
Iggy's Note: I'm going to be writing dispatches from this new Steampunk roleplaying sim. It's based upon concepts from China Mieville's novel The Scar, about a floating city of the world of Bas-Lag. Armada is made from hulls captured by pirates. I'll be doing so "in character." Don't expect objectivity in these reports!

Armada Breakaway was the work of four founders; Viv Trafalgar is shown (as one of the merfolk). Viv built the undersea portions of this city of ships. The main builder of Armada, Albus Wekaus Weka, has not met me yet, nor has Remington Thursday. I've met DreddpirateBob Streeter, who has a fascination with explosives.
From the logbook of Professor Onomatopoeia

Day One: I'm fortunate that this city-of-ships would take in such a wretched castaway, stuck in a battered whaleboat with one change of clothing in my portmanteau, a case of old and curious books, and a few odd biological specimens whose nature still eludes me. My vessel sank quickly, and these were all I could salvage. No others survived the strange storm, surely a work of thaumaturgy, not nature. But on Bas-Lag, who can tell the difference?

The local Council was on hand to greet me, drenched wretch that I was. Miss Trafalgar and Mr. Streeter, who insists that I call him "Bob," made me welcome and discussed finances so I could let a room. The idea occured to me that a bookshop might do well in a floating city of castaways--I have yet to determine how they keep finding new ships let do not leave this place. Given the sometimes dangerous nature of my work, I had to find a remote--and stout--dwelling place. One must keep certain things locked up tightly.

Day Two: I've let what the locals call "the White Ship" and hung out my sign: "Office of Professor Onomatopoeia, Dealer in Arcane Tomes."

It's a metal hulled vessel stout enough to repel boarders...or any dangerous contents of my shop. And this floating city does get attacked by scoundrels in league with the corrupt government of New Crobuzon, my old home. I miss that city, but I don't miss its Mayor and Militia. I took ship just ahead of the party sent to arrest me...

My texts are a little damp from the storm, yet no ink ran. That is the nature of the strange volumes I manage to find on my journeys. I'm not even certain that some were written by mortal hands of any of the races on Bas-Lag.


I was delighted to find that Miss Morigi, a long-time traveling companion, drifted to Armada Breakaway upon a bit of flotsam. I'd so feared her loss with our ship. Armada's citizens welcomed her as well, and she found a snug corner for her abode in part of the White Ship.

Day Three:

I've encountered the residents who live below our city and protect it from all manner of undersea harm. The Mer are curious and creative, I'm told, and they live in unity with the surface-dwellers of this labyrinthine construction.

to be continued...

Monday, March 16, 2009

There is no place like

Location: Under the Cherry Blossoms of my home

Generally one would expect that an avatar doesn´t need anything for its existence in SL. It doesn´t have to eat, drink or rest to survive. Actually it wouldn´t even need clothes since it looks like a Barbie or Ken doll and can be clothed in basic stuff by just the click of a button.

Yet virtual worlds are the mirrors of the real world and so virtual clothing is possibly the hottest topic on the grid since the basic stuff quickly gets boring or in case of hair looks gross. So it is no wonder that a large industry around avatar beautification has established itself. Even the hardliners on spending money in SL see a certain sense in these modifications since they help building a unique persona out of the anonymous starter avatars.

Owning land on the other hand is discussed rather fierce. Why should you own virtual land which is in fact just a virtual bit of serverspace to place some polygons onto? I think giving the answer is not that easy. Of course nobody needs an own place since there is no need to retire to rest or something. The general purpose of a place to live doesn´t really apply to SL since the basic usages of a home do not apply to SL. Even redressing can be done without showing too much skin once you have understood it ;)

I have been a landowner from my second month in SL. I started out with a small 1024sqm parcel which had barely enough to put a small house and some furniture into it. From that time on I always lived in some sort of community projects which ultimately ended in the Givenchi Estate which was a whole sim large. After that was given up in early 2009 I came back to a nice hidden parcel in the hilly countryside of a private estate in SL.

But why didn´t I simply stay a hobo? Another good question with an more difficult question. In fact nobody needs land ... me neither and I also think that land isn´t the key to SL happiness, since everything you want can be achieved in the current spaces provided. You can even find the relative privacy of a skybox when you set it up temporarily in a sandbox and shoot it up into the sky. So why own land?

Well I think that the only valid reason to buy your own land is that it gives you the ultimate opportunity to model it the way you want to have it. My current parcel resembles a classical Japanese mansion but has a front yard for my car, my motorcycle and my Tardis ;) The combination of the different styles is only possible because I own that place and can shape it to my own will. Just like the design of the avatars is an expression of myself this whole parcel is shaped to my personal tastes. Since I regularly like to invite friends over and have them around, maintaining this place is definitely worth it for me. This certainly does no apply to everyone else in SL that owns land, but one should always remember that a lot of content done is SL is user generated and not from LL themselves.

One shouldn´t forget that most of the content we enjoy in SL every day is done by individuals or groups of individuals out of pure enjoyment for creating these scenery and only a minority generates revenue. While there is a number of clearly commercially structured zones in SL, I think that most of the non commercial parcels are simply there to give the avatars a focal point. It gives them a place that makes them comfortable and so finally fulfills a basic requirement of a place called home. It is only bits and bites on a server but the bits and bytes behave according to the wish of the owner.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

More Sound and Fury Over Adult Content in Second Life

Location: Mature-Themed Sim After Random Search for "Free Sex"

Either the search engine is really broken, or the Lindens are blowing steam when they claim that only 2-4% of mainland businesses, and 5% of all businesses, deal in sexually explicit materials.

SL residents have strong opinions on this one: 700+ posts in one Linden Lab forum on the new policies. 400+ in another. Yes, this is the biggest flap I've seen in 2+ years, though "oldbies" in SL will remind me of earlier uproars that came and passed.

Yet unlike the recent Open-Spaces policy-change, a change to adult zoning goes to a visible and, some claim, essential part of the SL economy.

Whatever numbers the Lindens trot out about percentages of content, cyber-shagging appears to be big business. Do a few place searches with dirty words of choice, and check the traffic figures.

And children are getting into SL, whatever the Lindens' policies may be. We have all met them.

We've also met the "where is the sex?" noobs at the Welcome Areas, and we had a good laugh at their antics.

As I cruised--well, plodded--through the forums, one post struck me almost like a blow to the head. You have to wonder what species of idiocy would lead a teacher to bring her 4th grade students into SL. Yet that is exactly what one teacher admitted in the Linden Lab forums, and the reactions were so caustic that I cannot repeat them here.

Suffice to say that we all--educators, nightclub owners, virtual hookers--slapped our heads with one big "whack" and reminded the teacher that she'd violated the Linden Lab Terms of Service multiple times. I'm not sure that she should even have an account, if she could not be bothered to read the guidelines from the lab.

Her case reinforces an idea that educators bumble into SL clueless, and that we are responsible for the changes that the Lindens have announced to their content zoning. I don't think that we drove this change, but concerns about educational customers may have contributed. After all, in the US at least, we have "helicopter parents" who stay in touch with their children constantly. They would be outraged to find their sons or daughters in a club selling the sorts of goods pictured above. I could not run photos of the interior, or even of the sign for the Men's shop, "Woody World."

While I had a great laugh at that marketing--on a private island, by the way--I'm not sure that a broader resident-base would. Expanding that base has been a stated goal of Mark Kingdon since he took over as the CEO.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thoughts About Education & Second Life's Adult Zoning

Location: Linden Lab Blog

I'm interrupting my blissful exploration of Armada to consider the bombshell (not bad-girl Hojo Kilda, pictured above) that exploded yesterday, with the Linden Lab announcement that certain adult-themed content would be relegated to a new continent, and that other such content would have to be placed in regions that age-verify all entrants.

I posted some mustings to New World Notes as an overly long comment. Here they are, edited a bit:

Many European colleagues are laughing at Americans' puritanical hand-wringing over adult materials online. They should. We are a repressed and fretful people.

Meanwhile, lots of US academics are teaching in and with SL, and more of us--deliberately frumpy fashion criminals, mostly--are on the way in tweed jackets and would-be-hip "Foucault" eyewear. This pushes LL to do something, since they are courting the .edu market.

A few factoids from my perspective as an SL eduator:

1) Utopian educators among us resist any notion that the adult content of SL hurts them. Right now they may be correct. The new policies won't hurt these "Oh Brave New World!" sorts.

2) As more US colleges and universities come in world, the "in loco parentis" culture of some campuses will collide with SL's libertarianism.

3) Schools with savvy I.T. folks and hip admins will not fret. My own school is cool about the adult content; the new president, meeting me about our writing programs, recognized my wallpaper as a screen shot from SL. He recognizes its potential for education.

4) Students don't really care. They mostly chuckle about sex in cyberspace or find it mildly "creepy" (a bit of groupthink that has been drilled into them by "helicopter parents" and zealous counselors).

5) That "creepy" adjective indicates how some administrators and hovering parents will regard SL once it appears their already long worry-lists.

6) Cautious admins at many schools, responding to parents and state government (rather than spontaneous student interest in SL, which is light) will push LL to "protect our customers...I mean our children." I've been asked a few times from folks at such schools how the "X rated stuff" in SL leads to resistance by my administration. It doesn't--see point #3.

7) If LL wants to keep growing in the .edu market, they had to do this, if only to permit US first-years who are 17 years old into SL. I don't believe for a second that the Lindens won't lower the age-of-consent, I mean registration, in SL.

Courting higher ed could be a fatally flawed move. I can only see the small picture for my own teaching, which has gone very well in SL, if student evaluations and measures of improvement in their writing abilities are to be trusted.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bringing China Mieville to Second Life

Armada Panorama 2
Location: Armada Floating City

I'm fanatical about China Mieville's fiction, so when I encountered a post in New World Notes about this region, based upon a city of ships in Mieville's The Scar, I had to zip over and begin exploring. The city, like that of the book, is an amalgam of pirated vessels rigged together into a Dickensian nightmare of multiple levels, dangerous alleys, and an acquatic underworld inhabited by merfolk and other water-dwelling races particular to Mieville's world of Bas-Lag.
Armada very much fits the Steampunk theme so popular in SL, and my initial exploration of Armada shows that the residents are already appropriating some of Mieville's puckish humor...
Mieville Humor
I will continuing looking at the residences and businesses of Armada, as my time allows. Perhaps I'll even rent a dwelling and get into the RP. I want to support something based upon the work of one of the finest writers of speculative fiction now living.
Armada Map
Rationality definitely takes a hit in Bas Lag, a place where fog can solidify into stone, giant Spiders move in and out of multiple dimensions while reciting free verse, and hideous monsters feed upon our fear, like a bat lapping flower-nectar. Perhaps my favorite moment from the novel that gave birth to Armada is an ancient race's playing with the laws of probability (well, to be honest, they mined probability, like ore) with disastrous results that ripple into the present.
Armada Panorama 1
Teleport link to begin exploring this world. Go now, and you can help residents shape the experience. And buy all of Mieville's books. They are worth the mind-bending and night-fears they induce.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blog Spammers....grrrrrr

Location: Expression Engine Home Page

It's sad that the spammers of the world cannot be dragged through the streets and then beaten with chains.

At most blogs you can filter comments. Not at Expression Engine, where the Times Dispatch keeps the scrubbe-up version of this blog. Anyone can comment, and writers cannot delete commentary! Our only option has been to repost spammed posts without the stupid remarks. Here are some from the ever-more-desperate blog-spammers.

Anyway, here we are:

I certainly appreciate the write-up about this topic. This is something that weighs on my mind constantly, and I am looking for any alternative choices to product and touring. Thanks for the awesome post man, Posted by Bizz

Really a educative and informative post, the post is good in all regards,I am glad to read this post. Posted by Michel-Alaska Personal Injury Lawyer

Who on earth would consult a personal-injury lawyer to posts his services as spam to a blog about SL? He will need a personal-injury lawyer, if I ever get my way with his sort.

You can help me by contacting "Bizz," at, with your kind words about spamming blogs. They are plumbing contractor in Raleigh, NC.

Pappy Enoch has already left them some kind words. Use the contact form at their site to share with them what you think about blog-spammers.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Substantive Stories about Second Life: Turning Point for Mainstream Media?

Noobs, Boobs, Lindens
Location: Ahern/Morris Welcome Area

There was a Linden Lab employee at the welcome area the other day. Doing his best in a Federation uniform, he was batting about quips with the sharp-tongued loungers who congregate there, even as he helped the occasional newcomer. It seemed odd to see a Linden in this place; I understand that at one time, company employees regularly mingled with residents.

Perhaps Linden Lab is getting ready for something new.

In the past two weeks, PBS, NPR and the New York Times have all run substantive pieces about business, art, and education in Second Life. The NY Times story of artist Jeff Lipsky’s rise to fame as SL artist Filthy Fluno shows clearly how virtual worlds have an astounding ability to alter how we live and work.

For those of us who endured a lot of misinformed worry-mongering and doomsaying about the virtual world, these stories come as pure vindication. Whatever happens to our particular world of choice, the media are starting to “get it” and do a better job of treating a story as a story. We are getting beyond the sort of knee-jerk, and ironic, responses of some students, who worry that we’ll all soon “live inside a computer” even as they frantically text each other, check their Facebook profiles, and tweet about the banal events of their day.

For a long time, stories about SL have resembled a na├»ve foreign correspondent’s story from, say, Kirgizstan. The audience would not get “ohhh…look at that unusual hat!” or “Those wild and crazy Kirgiz. They still have shamans there!”

For too long, that was the approach to SL, and I see the trend away from “gee whiz” or “what a bunch of goons” to “there is a real story here, something important to those of us without avatars.”

Slowly and surely, stories like Filthy Fluno’s success in the real-life art market are being told. And the Lindens are at the welcome areas again. When I messaged the fellow, wishing him luck with the unruly crowd, he said “I come here to have fun and a few laughs.”

If the media pay more serious attention to SL again, Linden Lab may have reason to laugh…all the way to the bank.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dispatch from a Vampire-Hunter

Location: Undisclosed
By Skye Wolf, Vampire-Hunter, Guest Writer

Iggy's Note: We here begin what I hope to be a series of dramatic posts from one part of the in-world roleplaying community...or is it only a game?

I’ll just say it. Monsters are real.

I’m not talking symbolically either, like how serial killers or politicians or someone’s mother in-law is a monster. I mean the kind of monster with claws and fangs, horns and leathery wings. Yes, you heard me. They are real. Now, for those of you who are still reading this, you fall into two categories. The first category is made up of people who think this is a joke, or a piece of fiction, or just some nonsense from someone who likes talking bullshit to pass the time. You’re not going to take any of this seriously. It’s going to be purely entertainment for you, nothing else. I’m fine with that. Have a nice life, for however long that may be. The second category is made up of people who know exactly what the fuck I am talking about.

You know. You have seen them.

It’s really kind of funny. Parents used to prepare their children for that horrific moment when they came face to fanged face with a monster. They used fairy tales: Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk. I mean, the old, old stories, the ones that taught kids to observe, improvise, and act swiftly, before they got eaten alive by a werewolf, or a witch, or some other terrifying fucker. And then one by one, all of our storytellers started losing their balls and self-censored themselves. All of the old fairy tales got sterilized by uppity people who thought it would be a better idea to entertain kids with shiny, happy stories rather than save them from getting horribly killed.

And now? Now there isn’t anything to fear. Monsters aren’t real, right? Thank Jim Henson for that. Monsters don’t eat children anymore, they eat cookies and sing the alphabet song and laugh when we tickle their fucking bellies.

Even in the face of cold evidence, people don’t believe. We can upload shit to Youtube or Facebook and share movies and photos of whatever it is we experience. Even monsters. Even people dying because of monsters. And what do people say when they see reality in all its gory details?

FAKE. It’s not real. Photoshop. Digital trickery. The shadows are all wrong. Blood doesn’t splatter like that. That guy isn’t animated right, he doesn’t even look human.

Doesn’t look human? No shit.

People have somehow repressed the very thing that has kept the human race ahead of these ancient predators for the last millennia: Our survival instincts. People have become too reliant on science, too reliant on technology to notice the dark things that lurk in the shadows. That’s how the monsters are going to win, and feast on every last one of us.

Except for one thing: People like me. We bring the light of hope into the shadows. Also, we kill the fuck out of every monster we come across. But mostly it’s the hope thing.

It’s a thankless, lonely, and brutal job that we have. Most of us don’t live to see middle age simply because as we get older, and slower, and weaker, the monsters don’t. Sometimes it’s the very people we protect that get us killed—just because we know the malicious fucker we had just staked through the heart is a fanged beast, doesn’t mean the cops arriving on the scene of a witnessed “homicide” pointing their guns at me knows that. I’ve had one too many friends end up shot to death by police officers, or worse, end up in prison.

So, now you know the truth. The truth about the world, about the monsters, and about the people that live and die trying to keep the monsters from eating us. I’m not really sure why I felt like blogging this, except for maybe that I’ve lost a dear friend of mine last night. There are precious few times when someone like me affords themselves the weakness of loving someone else, but dammit, I couldn’t help it. And now that person is dead, and all I have left are my tears, my emptiness, and a burning rage to find the monster that killed my friend and fucking tear it to pieces.

I guess I’m hoping to spare whoever might be reading this the agony that I’m feeling right now. But I’m not going to beg and plead for you to believe what I’ve said. I’m tired of trying to convince you, so either listen to me or don’t. It’s your funeral.

I’m done talking. I’ve got some hunting to do.

Ask Di: Unfriending Someone

Di poses
Location: Our Virtual Advice Desk

Dear Di:

What is the proper way to un-friend someone who has a fragile ego, without hurting him? There's a guy who I'm sure wants more than casual friendship with me. I'm not interested in SL romance.

Often when I log on, he invites me to events or wants me to "just hang out." Maybe he isn't after sex, but at least he wants a close friend and I'm not sure I can spare the time for that and still enjoy SL. He's always online and I don't want to log in as an ALT constantly.

I'm tired of making excuses.


Ms. Popularity

Dear Ms. Popularity:

If you have truly exhausted the "I'm busy right now", "I won't be on for long" and have done the logging on as invisible, there are only 2 options I see. The one you pick depends on how blunt you are.

#1 (really blunt) - Just unfriend them and mute them. Don't tell them, don't say anything, just do it. They will not be able to contact you, and you move on with your SL. Chances are, unless they have few friends in SL, it will take them a while to notice you have dropped off of their list anyway. They will eventually get the hint tho. With this option there is no going back tho, even if they get thru to you somehow you have to ignore them and you can never be friends again.

#2 (not so blunt) - Tell them you are on SL to have fun, but you feel they are looking for more than that, and a SL romance is not on your agenda. Tell them you would like to still be friends and talk to them, but they can't be smothering you and pouncing on you the second you log on. If they can stick to that maybe you can keep them around, and if not, see #1 above.

P.S. Can you set them up with someone else?


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Camping Crackdowns: Is Linden Lab Being Unfair?

Mary (not her real name) feels picked on. Her mall and club would have been typical in an earlier era of SL, when mainland sims often hosted businesses that encouraged camping. Often enough campers and regular visitors piled in to make the region fill up, and other SL residents could not get in.

This got Mary in trouble. When a neighbor complained about the lag and the filling of the region, Linden Lab came in like a SWAT team.

"They left me the camp master and 6 camping chairs, Then returned 12 dance pads, 4 beach towels to my lost and found folder before they disabled my account," Mary told me in an e-mail. "My staff told me they shut the Sim down to do this."

While she got off relatively lightly--a one-day suspension--she claims that she also did not first receive a "Warning, followed by Suspension," something Linden Lab notes in its Community Standards (see "Disturbing the Peace"). She got the warning and suspension all in one notice.

Here's the note she got:
Disturbing the Peace - Camping Chairs Linden Lab desires that the Residents of Second Life share all simulator resources fairly. It has been determined that your use of objects generally referred to as camping chairs is either adversely affecting region performance or preventing access to the region which is a violation of the Disturbing the Peace portion of the Terms of Service. Your camping chairs have therefore been returned to your inventory.
While some sim-owners park a pile of zombie-avatars near their business to put dots on the map and attract traffic, Mary's club does not use this approach to bring in visitors. She has a pole-dance/escort service that brings in adult-themed business. She also needs customers to buy goods at the shops, and she's tried a number of strategies:
I been trying to encourage people to come buy what I sell or rent a shop in my mall, also have advertising displays too, have to keep the traffic numbers up to get shop renters. One thing I have been putting in is Lucky Money Chairs, and traffic seems to be a little better since I put that in. My traffic was around 35000 or so, but now its down to around 22000. So in effect when they did this, it caused my traffic rating to drop.
Linden Lab hurt Mary's employees by returning not only camping devices for visitors but also dance-poles that pay Mary's staff a few Lindens each hour, while they dance and flirt with club-goers. Mary plans another system to pay her staff now.

I expect a few snarky comments about "a crisis in a strip club," but a business is a business.

Losing access to her account means real problems for this owner. She adds, "I have thousands of dollars (Real $) in the inventory of my account and I don't want to lose that."

The camping probably attracted too many zombie-avatars, who converge on places with open chairs, beach-towels, and dance-pads. They stay around, afk, when their camping spot maxes out and another camper takes their place. Thus a sim fills up quickly. It's not uncommon to see campers who are afk piled up like cord-wood on a camping bench (as in the pic above).

There is no perfect solution to the camping issue. Most SL residents who comment on blogs about camping hate the practice; at New World Notes and The Alphaville Herald, readers regularly call on the Lindens to ban the practice.

Perhaps Linden Lab is being preemptive, and heavy-handed, with owners like Mary in order to warn the community. With only 100,000 or so regular SL users, we are a small town with a great telecom network...and a better gossip network. So rumors and news travel fast.

What CAN be done about camping? Even at camping sites like HippiePay, that transitioned to a bot-resistant system based on IP addresses, other troubles followed. HippiePay, Welfare Island, the The Pharm--all popular sites with their own islands--closed in the past six months when they began to lose money.

Campers--noobs, bots, and others--are being pushed into fewer and fewer locations. I expect many more stories are out there like Mary's. Until Linden Lab comes up with a better system for search and classified ads, what the company decides to do about camping will have a large impact on business owners who use it to drive traffic.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Qwaq and the Suits: Should Linden Lab Worry?

CIA HQ take 2
Location: Qwaq Web Site

I feel a long way from Buddy's live music and Olivia's Art Garden. I'm in the dreaded Land of the Suits, a culture I fled for academia decades back. But these suits are not the ones I knew; they are using virtual worlds: They are the Suits from Gibson's fiction.

Though Qwaq's solution for project management has been around for some time, it offers a few features that may pose problems for Second Life.

Isolation from SL Weirdos (like me): In SL IBM and apparently other corporations are using a "behind the firewall" solution, running their own part of the Metaverse walled off from the rest of us. This has the important benefit of keeping data and conversations private in those regions, so competitors, griefers, and nosy journalists cannot snoop. Yet employees can leave the "walled garden" to explore a wider world.

Qwaq takes it one step further. I'm reminded of a few lines from Neuromancer, when Case finally regains the ability to jack into the Matrix again:

Inner eye opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of military systems, forever beyond his reach.

We may see such a constellation of unreachable systems in the distance soon, as we grubby "ordinary" folks bumble about in virtual worlds that are locked out from corporate and government invented realities. Read the April 2008 article on IBM's work in Virtual World News for more detail, but essentially its boils down to how "the private sections will be blocked off from regular Second Life users, though IBM employees will be able to transition between locations without exiting Second Life."

Qwaq, unlike the IBM solution, offers no connections to other virtual worlds. It's a meeting space, perhaps a virtual operations center or factory, floating alone and untethered in cyberspace. Why should Linden Lab worry?

Document Sharing: After spending some at Qwaq's site, I found that inside one may: "Share common document formats such as Adobe® PDF and Microsoft® Office, as well as traditional and Web-based enterprise applications."

In a recent SL Education Roundtable, we discussed what features would make for a "killer app" inside (or in an alternative to) SL. My claim was that document sharing would be key to using SL for "immersive" learning that seems as natural as passing a physical document from one hand to another. It is a game-changer. To cite another cyberpunk classic, Stephenson's Snow Crash, such document-share does not "break the metaphor" of a place we want to seem as natural as possible.

"Business Friendly" Avatars: To quote from CIO's review of Qwaq, "This vendor takes virtual-world meetings beyond cartoonish avatars sitting at a table." Ouch. That's a barb aimed right as SL. The very creativity that many SLers embrace is incredibly put-offish to the senior people in business and academia. And they hold the purse-strings. Unless you are a scientist from M.I.T., these buttoned-down folks are not so likely to fund your project if your avatar is a gorilla or robot or tragic vampire.

And as cool as the Web-based MetaPlace is, it is deliberately cartoonish, showing another divergent direction for virtual worlds. Thus Qwaq fills a niche that some companies want. Nowhere I'd work...but somebody's gotta do it.

I stumbled upon "ROI in Virtual Worlds - Anatomy of an Avatar" by Caleb Booker. I think I'll have my students read this in the fall. I highly recommend it for understanding the business challenges that "dressing up" poses for different virtual worlds.

An Easy-to-Use Client: Here SL could be in trouble. Qwaq also promises an intuitive interface that can be set up in minutes, not hours. That would prove to be a clear advantage. My students, not slouches with technology, struggle every semester with the SL client.

Conclusion: Wait and See

Are the benefits of Qwaq--more-than-a-firewall security, document sharing, "serious" avatars, and an intuitive interface--enough? SL offers the latter with the IBM approach (I have heard of dress codes at company meetings), and document-sharing is, we were promised, a feature Linden Lab will implement.

I began my blog thinking that Qwaq would lay IBM's efforts low. Now I'm not so sure.

For the stodgiest firms, association with a culture like SL's might not appear prudent. Better to have carefully vetted avatars in a space completely walled off, so they can share work and meet cybernetically instead of traveling long distances. That makes a lot of sense in a time of Hobbesian conditions on airlines and in the larger economy. At the same time, these firms miss the creative synergy (and potential customers) of the larger SL economy. For IBM, that lies--splendor and squalor alike--right outside the firewall.


Big Blue: put a Suit into a gorilla suit, and he'd fit right in.