Third ‘Second Life’ Convention sees active media presence 

25 August 2007 tbs.pm/86

‘Second Life’ after the backlash

Second Life’s Real-World Problems

This weekend the Hilton, in downtown Chicago, is playing host to the third Second Life Community Convention – SLCC 07 – along with around 800 ‘residents’ of the on-line ‘metaverse’, or virtual world, out of a total of some 5 million, 40,000 or so of whom are regularly ‘in-world’ at any given time.

We’re here to listen to and participate in several different strands of discussion on the latest developments in-world and the potential for the future, including education, business, in-world film-making (‘machinima’ in the argot) and more.

Having been initially a darling of the media with widespread excited commentaries, especially in the business press about how this new environment could become a powerful sales and marketing medium, media relations have cooled somewhat, with recent articles criticising ‘SL’ and its creators, Linden Labs, on technical grounds while others have focused on on-line sleaze.

Very much, in other words, how the World Wide Web was reported in its early days, after the first wave of enthusiasm had died down. It was always thus: really large topics, especially those with a strong technical element as is the case with anything internet-related, are seldom treated accurately by the media, who never quite understand the technical side of what they are covering, and have a strong tendency to seek out the negative, particularly any apparently salacious element.

This year, a media presence is particularly evident with several TV crews roaming the hotel and interviewing in the corridors and hotel rooms.

Originally, I got into SL when a musician friend, Kirsty, whom I knew from working in the studio with her father, invited me to come to a party at her ‘virtual club’ in Second Life. Well, I’d already been tempted – I had visited the SL web site and toyed with the idea of becoming a ‘resident’ (it’s free, at least at the entry level). When I received the invitation back in late March I was recovering from a throat operation and was not allowed to speak – so interacting by typing, via email and IM, had become a fairly common activity – and joining to visit the party seemed like a good idea.

I signed up, and have since been having a great time, developing a business as a consultant on music and audio to musicians who want to perform live in-world – a popular activity as there are a great many virtual clubs and music venues with either DJs or live performers. Audio is provided via standard audio streaming technology (shoutcast/icecast servers) and while there are a number of excellent performers, their audio quality is extremely variable and often capable of significant improvement.

During the course of the first day at SLCC, seated in the main ballroom following the opening address, I was chatting to a friend who I had met originally in SL and now had seen for the first time in ‘Real Life’. She’s the mother of one of Kirsty’s musical collaborators. We were approached by a young woman who was involved in a TV documentary on Second Life for CNBC. An independent effort, the production company in San Francisco had subcontracted interviews at SLCC to a Chicago-based outfit, who had set up in a meeting room near the action on the third floor and were conducting a steady stream of interviews. We talked about how we knew each other, what I did business-wise in SL, and what we did in ‘RL’, and ended up being invited to come back later for an interview on-camera as someone who had come across to Chicago from overseas to attend. Great fun as I do a certain amount of broadcasting appearances, usually radio, and I enjoy them immensely.

Thus, later in the day I turn up at the appointed room and time. “Where’s my friend?” I’m asked. Well, she didn’t feel it was necessary to be here, I told them – but it turned out that they weren’t really interested in the fact I had come from the UK or that I was developing a business in SL: they were hoping for a nice little piece on on-line meetings developing into real-life sex. Well, sorry, but I’m not doing that…! So they didn’t want to know.

This kind of attitude is typical. Yes of course there is sex – virtual and real- out of Second Life just as in real life. But, dammit, there’s so much more. What about the amazing potential for giving disabled people a way to express themselves in a new world where their physical limitations are no longer an issue? Or the presences that an increasing number of universities, several from the UK, are developing for online seminars and instruction? Or the thousands of people in-world now, having good, clean fun – for example, buying and selling virtual clothing, furniture and little pieces of software that help you to make your way in the virtual world (the SL economy turns over around $1.5m US per day), or hanging out in an alternative-Victorian-themed region where everything is powered by steam and strange Tesla-inspired electrical machines. Or any one of a thousand other things. As virtually everything in SL is created by its residents, there is a lot there to talk about without ever needing to go for the salacious.

But all that potential is evidently of limited interest, despite the fact that this is what most people are doing with the virtual lives. Pity. They are missing so much.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Richard G Elen Contact More by me