Second Life (FOO and beyond)

I saw Second Life being demoed at Supernova last year, although I stood and watched a bunch of avatars dancing to Chumbawumba, I didn’t immediately pay much attention. Oh yes, that’s me, on the cutting edge right there… no, back a bit…

I have this really annoying practical streak. Whenever I see something new, I think to myself, “Yes, but what can I do with it?” and if I can’t immediately answer that question, I tend to move on. A few months ago, I started to hear stories of what people were doing with Second Life, and my ears pricked right up. Mixed reality events. In-game stores created by real-world businesses. In-game stores created by in-game people. Commerce. Oh yes. Now you’re floating my boat. (Oh dear… am I really that much of a capitalist?)

So I signed up for an account (I’m TiddlesMcNubbin Goodnight) and logged in to find out what all the fuss was about. What I actually found out was that my iBook really couldn’t handle the client. I’d press the arrow key three times, then have to wait whilst the client caught up – totally sub-optimal user experience, that. But now I have a spiffy new MacBook and I’m away. In just the last week, I’ve learnt how to move around, I’ve left the Help Island and gone to the mainland, bought my first plot of land, and been given a terminal velocity-triggered parachute, a house and a four poster bed, and been treated to a fight between two Daleks.

Two Daleks having a fight

(Really, no user experience is complete without Daleks.)

And you know, that’s just the start of it. American Apparel have a store there, apparently a replica of a store they have in Tokyo, where you can go and buy t-shirts. Creative Commons have an auditorium where they hold events. Nissan have a presence (not quite sure what to call the big tower-y thing they have, and not sure if it’s official or not). Developers from the Amazon community are building things in-game like virtual bookstores in which you can actually buy books from Amazon. And I’ve heard that a chain of hotels, W I think, are creating a replica of one of their hotels there so you can go check out the rooms.

The possibilities really are endless and the above is just a tiny selection. It doesn’t really matter what you do or how you do it, you can do something in Second Life. You can stream audio and video into an in-game theatre, as BBC Radio 1 did from their One Big Weekend gig in Dundee. Actually, there’s a ton of music events in Second Life, as this Wired article shows, with a Duran Duran gig coming up. You can give away goodies – the BBC gave away headphones with their logo on. You can create and sell, for Linden Dollars, any object you like, from clothing to houses to jetskis.

So, whilst I was at FooCamp, I went to a couple of talks about Second Life. The first from Matt Biddulph about bringing web apps into the game, and the second from Philip Rosedale of Linden Lab, who talked about what is happening with the game and how its community is developing and behaving. Both were fascinating.

Matt’s talk was pretty techy, and I missed the beginning so I didn’t really fully grok it until I read Tom’s summary, but in short, it’s about taking stuff from the web, such as a Flickr photo stream, and bringing it into Second Life – in the case of the Flickr stream it is projected up on a big screen that anyone can go and look at.

Think for a second… you can take anything that’s out there and bring it in-game. And then people can see it in-game and follow the link out to the web. Does this make anyone else as excited as it makes me? Think of all the really cool shit that you can’t afford to do in real life, but which you can do in Second Life!

Philip was talking about what people do in-game. One of the things that interested me was that there is an in-game building industry, with skilled builders creating objects and selling them, either in-game for Linden Dollars, or on eBay for US Dollars. Bear in mind that both currencies are ‘real’, no matter how you define ‘money’. I’ll spare you the detailed argument right now, but if you doubt me go and read Play Money by Julian Dibbell and that should convince you.

So there’s a bunch of cool – and sometimes physically impossible – things you can do in Second Life and an ecosystem of skilled artisans in-game who can help you realise your ideas.

Of course, it’s never that easy. Like blogging, if you’re a business and you wanna get into Second Life, then you have to be really careful what you do and how you do it. Talking to Jeff Barr from Amazon, he told me about how people will turn up and protest – with placards and everything – when a business turns up in Second Life without been a part of the community before, or without giving something back to the community they are ‘invading’. People don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want the creep of commercialism to take over their play environments as well as their work and home environments.

So what is successful? Well it’s early days for me in Second Life, so I’m still figuring that out. Like my friend and fellow social software consultant, Stephanie Booth says, it takes a while to learn what’s happening in-world and how it all works:

What makes Second Life exciting is also what makes it really difficult to get into: it’s complex. I’m spending a lot of time learning stuff which isn’t really that interesting in itself for me (I have no ambition to become a digital hairstylist) but which is needed for what’s coming next. Feeling comfortable with your inventory, moving the camera about, doing things with objects… there are all basic skills and I’m not comfortable with them yet. But if you want a world where people can be digital artists, build businesses, organise live music performances or conferences, you need that level of complexity to allow users to be creative.

But I think the rules for businesses in Second Life are going to be similar to those for blogging:

– be a part of the community, and empower them to do stuff with your stuff
– be respectful, truthful, honest, genuine
– don’t sell at people
– give people something valuable in return for their attention
– do cool shit

And the capacity for doing cool shit in Second Life is huge.

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