Al Jazeera Unplugged: Twitter and the US State Department

This is a live blog. It may contain grammatical errors, but I tried to be as true to the essence of the comments as possible.

William May, US State Department and the office of innovative engagement, talked about public diplomacy as government to people or people to people diplomacy. The end game of that is mutual understanding. What we have now is very different than what we had 10 years ago. Ten years ago, we had 40,000 people that we moved across borders, and we had broadcasting. We have two bookends, the exchange programmes and on the other end, broadcasting. In the middle, we have all this new stuff like Twitter and QQ. Quoting another person at the State Department (Judy Hale), “The new media will work in certain places, and we’ll use the right media to reach the right people.:

There are segmented audiences (you won’t reach 15 year old via a newspaper), and we are moving form monologue to dialogue to communities. Where are those conversations taking place? Where are those communities? Mobile is a huge game changer for us. They may have never touched a laptop or a computer but they have a mobile phone. Virtual worlds is another opportunity to us. Using the right tool is a huge opportunity for us.

  • 2007 they began using Second Life. They used chat and IRC for training.
  • 2008 ECA Social Network on Ning to engage not just people in exchange programmes but engaging the whole world. Their own video contest. Went from zero to 20,000 users in months. They created a mobile game called X-Life for English language learning. They created a digital outreach team. (6 writers in Arabic, 2 in person. They are transparent that they work for the State Department. They attempt to counter misinformation.)
  • 2009 They created the Office of Innovative Engagement. They created 23 Things and the FSI training (institutional things he said)
  • 2010 They created the American Center in Jakarta and implemented a metrics programme (using something called Crimson Hexagon a metrics and opinion analysis tool )

He provided some examples such as President Obama’s speech in Ghana. They wanted to increase the engagement. The embassies in Africa created hard copy press releases to traditional media asking for text message questions. They got 17,00 SMS messages from 85 countries. They filter the questions into five categories and created a podcast that they sent out to traditional media in Africa. (FM radio is to Africa what Satellite TV is to the Middle East, a transformative shift in media.)

Global versus local. Everything is local again. He gave the example of climate change. Do people want the global picture or how sea level will change where they live?

The Department of State has 180 Facebook pages, 50 Twitter accounts and also YouTube accounts.

They are bringing contacts they made in virtual worlds in Egypt to the US, bridging the virtual and real worlds.


X|Media|Lab Melbourne: Jason Romney, Telstra-Big Pond

Telstra-Big Pond has 12 islands in Second Life. And he touched on some of the challenges of a major company operating in SL. People had protested against the telco’s presence, but he accepted that this was a risk of doing business in Second Life.

One of the most interesting parts of his talk was how the second largest bank in SL just shut today, reflecting turmoil in international financial markets in the real world.

He also showed off some interesting sound sculptures in Second Life where moving through light shards made some sounds or even had triggered words. In the US, public funding is going to support the Auden project

Big Pond created the islands just in March, and their presence has generated three-quarters of a million dollars worth of press coverage. They now have the largest brand in SL in the world, based on Linden traffic and time spent on their islands.

They definitely have a good strategy in that they have focused the development on their islands to focus on activities, giving people things to do. I don’t spend much time in SL, but Suw did for a time. And one of her complaints after a time was that she didn’t find much to do. After flying around for a while, she got a bit bored.

Now, there is a VoIP service in SL that is supplanting text chats. People are coming to their Billabong Bar to talk and play music. They also are renting out plots of land on their islands. They struggled with a lot of issues about privacy and what types of services they would allow. Very un-Telstra issues such as what would be their policy for ‘escort services’.

What they are trying to do is to balance governance with a desire not to interfere. Traffic is up 35% since they started the tenancy agreements. Telstra is working with Linden on both software and hardware improvements to make the SL experience better.

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X|Media|Lab Melbourne: Keren Flavell, SLCN.TV

The main theme of X|Media|Lab was virtual worlds, and one of the most well known is Second Life.

Keren Flavell is with SLCN – the Second Life Cable Network, which broadcasts programmes from Second Life or events in SL.

She is a strong believer in SL and talked about the empathy that people feel as an avatar. SLCN broadcast a presentation by an education consultant Intellagirl Tully about how distance learning attendance rates had increased to 100% since moving to SL because it was clear that you were there or you weren’t. Intellagirl Tully argued that SL provided a unique way to provide community and engagement for students.

Keren also showed how film companies were using SL to promote films and highlighted the launch events for Die Hard 4 and Transformers. Die Hard fans could jump into poses on virtual film sets based on the films, and Bruce Willis took questions from residents in SL.

SL residents feel a strong sense of involvement with the virtual world, and she showed town hall meetings in SL where residents were fighting for their rights. People are creating newspapers in SL. She also argued that virtual worlds were satisfying human needs that 2D social networks don’t.

They produce a programme called S’Life about goings on in SL and a talk show called Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe, satisfying a lifelong dream for her. They remove the obstacles to creation for residents in SL, she said. They also allow SL residents to play the role of sports broadcasters by calling hockey games or car races in game. “We feel we’re filling an important role in the burgeoning SL community,” Keren said. Marshall McLuhan was right when he said:

Instead of directly experiencing each other and nature, citizens of information societies share the world through media.

We all know that we’re operating in an attention economy. Google and YouTube are succeeding because they generate benefit for everyone who participates, and Keren said that was the model for SLCN.

Our second podcast pt 2: IBC, Hammond and This American Life

Ok, it’s taken me a little longer than I had hoped to post up the second half of the podcast that Suw and I did last Sunday night.

powered by ODEO

Again, if you want to download the podcast directly, you can click here. (29:32 14.2 MB)

I’ll add some more detailed show notes, but Suw starts off talking about her excitement about Second Life, watching the progress of Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond and the wonderful radio programme, This American Life.

Suw and I have a lot going on this week. Suw’s off to BlogTalk in Vienna, and I’m going to the Association of Online Publishers conference on Tuesday.

Our second podcast pt 1: A conference roundup

We recorded this on Sunday night, but I’ve really struggled with Odeo’s upload tool. In the end, I gave up, uploaded to the Internet Archive and just linked to it via Odeo. (Note: It does take a second or two to load into the Odeo player) The Creative Commons publisher worked a treat, and I’m happy that we’re using CC licencing anyway.

Suw has been on the conference circuit lately. I so glad that she got a new MacBook so we can do video iChat. Otherwise, I’d rarely see her. She’s been to FooCamp, EuroFoo, and EuroOSCON. It’s got her excited about Second Life among other things. And we talk about the devloper-as-journalist Adrian Holovaty.

She just left this morning to go to Shift in Lisbon.. We’ll have to talk about that later.

powered by ODEO

You can always simply download the podcast here. (20:28 9.8 MB)

We started off thinking that we really didn’t have much to talk about, but in the end, we talked so much that we decided to break up the podcast into two parts. I’ll add the show notes in a bit and post the second part in a bit.

UPDATE: Show notes:

00:30 EuroFoo recap Suw talks about FooCamp and EuroFoo, including talking about the Google Flyover, making a crashed Cylon raider out of beanbags
03:25 Suw talks about a presentation on chocolate. Remember, only losers chew. Real people suck.
07:00 Other topics at EuroFoo, future of spying, Ryan Carson talks about working a four-day week, and ‘Could we build a tricorder?’
08:56 EuroOSCON. Suw discusses Tom Steinberg of MySociety presentation about democratising government. I talk about distributed journalism. I space on the details, but Glyn reminds me in the comments.
11:52 Adrian Holovaty talks about adding structure to the data that journalists gather. Adrian talks about the developer as journalists.
16:40 It’s like Tom Coates who talks about a ‘web of data’. Journalism now is a web of news, Suw says.

The first half ends a bit abruptly, but I’ll post the second half now.

EuroOSCON: Jim Purbrick – Second Life (again)

Jim actually gave two presentations, and this was the first one, which I probably should have blogged before I blogged the second one, but meh, it’s all too late now.

130 million gmae players in the US alone
20 million MMO players
Age of gamer increasing by one year per year, i.e. people start playing games as children and don’t stop.

Tremendous value is being generated online.

Worldwide digital good strade of US$1-2 billion per year – this is paying for items or characters in MMOs, i.e. to take shortcuts.

Typical game is a subscription per month. That means the games tend to be designed so you have to put a lot of time in to playing in order to progress. Can take months to progress and do everything. Money-rich and time-poor people are willing to pay in order to save time. Trade across the boundary.

In-world trade 10 or 20 x the real-world exchange.

$30 billion USD traded internally and across the boundaries, which is twice the size of the games industry itself.

Second Life, is a 3D virtual world.
It is persistant – what you create stays created.
It is massively multi-user – it’s one world, rather than WoW which is a virtual theme park, and after 3000 people the world is full, so they copy the themepark multiple times. SL is a seamless world, so rather than make a copy, just add bits round the edges.
Resident built – compare to other games that are created by the maker. People build, texture, script, animate and *own* what they build. If you sell swords in most games it is illegal. In SL, you can build and sell stuff legally. Can sell for Linden Dollars, and exchange currency. Can records stuff in Second Life, and can sell machinima as video.
Linden Sells land and services, rather than subscriptions. so if you want to make something, you need to buy land so that it persists. If you then want to advertise it, you can stick it in the classifieds.

So this is “not a game”
– no game fiction
– no artificial conflict
– no winning condition

User creation is the big thing. Create objects on the floor out of nothing, like boxes or cones or spheres, etc. Then you colour and texture them and add them together to make things.

A tale of two pianos.

Ultima Online, you could build houses and could fill it full of stuff. But the stuff you could fill it with was the stuff that the games company had build. So you can play with it but they build it. So someone realised that if you took a box and put a chess board on it, then a box, and some t-shirts and then some bear skins, you could create something that looked like a piano… it wasn’t a piano but it looked like a piano. In SL you make a piano out of boxes, but then you create a script so that you make it play like a piano.

140,000 hours of use per day
25% of time is spent creating
140,000 hours * 2000 hours/year = 17.5 user-years a day

To create that sort of development, they’d need 6500 people costing $650 m per year.

That’s what Blizzard and EAA can do, because they have that kind of budget. But Linden Labs could not afford this, which is why it’s all user created.

Can also write code. It’s like C code – well, ‘sub-C code’ – but in a 7 day period, 5000 residents have written origanal scripts – 15% of people. and these people are not programmers.

12,000 distinct scripts written in 7 days, which is
3 million lines of script code

So people get others to help them, or copy other scripts.

Unanticipated consequences
So early on, people decided to be aliens, created a spaceship, abudcted people, probed them, and then gave them a t-shirt saying ‘I got abducted by aliens’. The aliens did this about monthly… and people found it kind of fun.

In WoW or UO that would be scary, but LL love it.

Traditionally ‘hard’ problems:
– making 3D objects – 100 million
– making humans – 10 million
– programming – 30 million

Compare to other user created content

Over 60% of people contribute to the platform. Which is a big deal compared to most others that produce less than 10%… or 0%.

Lots of the stuff people make is just experimenting, making something simple and then deleting it. There are huge sandboxes, but every 3 or 6 hours they get wiped.

Because land is valuable, that reduces the amount of crap that’s lying around. Land is a column – you buy a footprint and it goes up as high as you like (well until your avatar melts).

You also get a ration of prims (i.e. you can only create so many primitive objects such as cubes or spheres), so if you want to make a castle then you need to buy a lot of land so that you can get enough prims together.

People make games. Golf, for example, or Tringo – combination of bingo and Tetris, and instead of numbers, shapes get pulled out, so try to line up the shapes on the grid to make continuous blocks of colour. Social game, lots of fun, but it’s licenced in the real world games company, and to TV.

Beyond games, simulations, so for example FEMA simulating distribution of aid.

Massive experimentation, e.g. AI virtual fish. Serena (??) was an amateur, experimented, and now has started working with professors on the same issues.

Good for mixing up amateurs and professional.

Lots of charitable giving in SL. Sponsored walk in SL, people sold items in SL. Made US$40,000 on last walk.

Spaceport Alpha, every single rocket that’s ever been designed and launched, including ones taht exploded. They did it for a laugh, but it’s a great educational resource now.

Education, real world universities do real world learning in SL, loads of stuff.

Virtual Book signing, Cory Doctorow. Virtual book that could get signed.

Beyond Broadcast, someone in the real conference and the SL version of the conference with a dalek. Everything’s Better With Daleks.

People also make money, someone made US$150,000 from land terraforms and zones real estate.

Who’s in SL.

650,000 residents, 10% increase monthly

older and more gender balance, 50/50
women and older residents demonstrate better skills conversion into second life.

256×256 areas run on Debian servers
3000 CPUs
Area is three times size of Manhattan.
Add 300 servers a month.

Yet more stats… shitloads of stuff is happening, basically.

Why now?

People have been trying to do this for a while.
Broadband, the whole things comes down the wires all the time.
Routing capacity/low pings
Consumer 3d acceleration

But also…

Open Source
Lots of different OS libraries, cross-platform, so clients on Win, Mac, Linux

OS infrastructure. Almost al of it is OS, all the servers, are debian, mySQL, Apache…

Only PayPal, credit card processing and MySQL hot backup and Jira are closed source.

Made contributions to OS projects too.

Integrating Mozilla, any web place on a prim which will mean that you’ll be able to do any web page which can interact with Second Life. Hard to stick Mozilla on a 3D object. Interim result

OS projects in SL.

Such as OS Lightsaber construction kits.
Animation overrider, can upload animation for a golf swing, but some animations that avatars use by default, and they’re a bit rubbish, so some have done the overrider so people could bundle it with shoes, so the shoes actually change the way you walk.
Last Sound System, can stream radio stations into land in SL.
Lots of Creative Commons too, audio, graphics etc. Even a CC machine – touch the object which generates a licensing tag for objects.

Reimplemenation in SL, reverse engineering, people want to modify platform as well as world.
– joystick control
– SL teledilconics

Moving towards OS SL platform.
Still some closed source libraries getting in the way.
Duty to residences – it’s not just an app, it has people working in it, so need to make sure it’s not possibly to destroy it.

Everyone owns the IP of what they make.

EuroOSCON: Jim Purbrick – Second Life

User Creation. Very big thing. User creation tends to be quite low: Less than 10% of people that read the web create content for it. As difficulty of user creation goes up, so participation goes down.

More people in Second Life contribute than any other platform, but small numbers in absolute terms. Users growing 10% per month, and level of 60% participation is constant.

But just geeks? Community is older, ave age 32. Gender neutral by hours of use. Women and older residents demonstrate greater skills conversion than 18 yr old boys.

Just doing it for money? No, a lot of people do it just because they can.

Nearly all trivial? Yes, but you have to start somewhere.

Nearly all bad? Sturgeon’s Law Applies – 90% of stuff is crap. But ok, stuff isn’t always good, but it might be useful to that person. Creation is an end in itself. People just like to make stuff.

Why participate?
Instant Gratification? If you want to get people to participate they want to get results quickly, see the results, get rid of furstration. SL is not completely free of frustration, but you can make stuff pretty quickly. To make complex or pretty stuff takes time, but easy to hack simple stuff.

Always On Creation. There’s no ‘edit mode’, it’s always on. You can make stuff all the time. People are at parties they are still tinkering at the same time.

Collaborative creation. Can use sandboxes to make stuff, 24/7/365 Maker Fair. You can go and see what people are doing, ask them about it.

Culture of teaching. Ivory Tower of Primatives – how to make stuff. Easy to share and distribute. Unlike with some systems you have to build and then make a conscious effort to distribute it, but there’s little friction because if you mark something freely copiable, then people can just take a copy of it.

Creation engine. Used to think it’s like a bulldozer, but it’s more about the people – being able to communicate, hang out, and be able to participate. That’s what’s important, not the tools.

Another interesting thing – we are potentially coming to a turning point. People have created this vibrant world, so real world companies and organisations are coming into Second Life, e.g. American Apparel. Can buy t-shirts for your avatar and for your real life person. Also Creative Commons are in there.

So what will happen? Will the commercial companies come in and ruin it? Or will it maintain an open scouce feel? Probably will be a mixture. But everything in SL can be open sourced in the way that real things can’t, e.g. you can’t copy a real chair, but you can do that with a SL chair.

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.

d.Construct – Jeff Barr

I’m at the d.Construct conference today, here to catch up with friends, really, and see what geekery is occurring. No power strips in the auditorium, and the jetlag is making me feel very groggy, so blogging will be light to non-existant, frankly. In fact, this might be the only session I blog, but I do so out of a feeling that Jeff deserves it.

I was critical of Jeff when he spoke at Xtech, not because he had nothing interesting to say but because he managed to say interesting stuff in quite a dull manner. We had a really cool chat about that by email afterwards, so it’s great to see that his talk this time round is snappier, funnier, and far more engaging than Xtech. Obviously this is nothing to do with me, but nonetheless it’s great to see.

Jeff Barr, Amazon
Cool examples of the way that people are using Amazon’s APIs, including one that allows you to visually compare and contrast the specs for computers on sale in Amazon – really neat idea and if I can find the url I’ll link to it.

He also talks a bit about Alexa, which is a web information service which crawls 10 billion web pages and keeps historic data. Does usual link to and links in stuff, does speed data, and web mapping stuff too. You can use Alexa to build a vertical search engine and can specify your own subset of pages you want to search. Basically allows search without needing your own crawlers and server farm.

Simple Storage Service – for storing data on the web. 15 cents per gig per month to store, 20 cent per gig to access. Private and public storage, nothing indexed, nothing processed, just stored. 800 million objects stored already, and is reliable and cost-effective. Simple APIs. Good for things like bit.torrents.

Lots of cool apps: S3 Explorer,, S3 Ajax Wiki (just an Ajax front to S3), Backup Manager, S3 Fox runs inside Firefox and tells you exactly what’s your in your account so gives you your local file system and your S3 account (or multiple accounts).

M-turk – people to do real work, APIs to make requests and do work on your behalf. Work requests are called HITs, and you can control skill sets of the workers using ‘Qualifications’, e.g. you can check to see if someone can translate French into English by seeing if they can read French. So you put up your Human Intelligence Task, someone does it the task, and then you pay them. Puts human into a processing loop. Can have same work done by several people so that if the majority give the same answer you accept that as the correct answer.

Removes the need for AI in applications by simply asking a person. Have the ability to feed high-volume tasks through to a distributed workforce – access to 1000s of people quickly and cost-efficiently.

Examples. One early HIT was asking 10,000 people to draw a sheep. Huge variety of skill levels, but cost only $200. Created a ‘Sheep Market’. Took workers 109 seconds on average to draw a sheep, and harvested them as 11 sheep per hour.

Casting Words transcribe podcasts with very high quality results.

You can create your HITs using the HIT-Builder.

Amazon Powered things in Second Life, Second 411 – can use a HUD (heads up display), which you can use do to Amazon searches.

Life2Life is a search of Amazon inside Second Life.

Virtual kitchen that can be used to interview people based on what you want to purchase and will then guide you to a set of results.

Also a virtual book store.

Also a mixed reality presentation that Jeff gave last week that was attended by about 40 avatars in Second Life.

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