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Lively dies, Second Life totters

November 21st, 2008 3 comments

From the Department of I Told You So, Google’s Lively has got the boot and Second Life continues to lose corporate traction. Reuters and Avastar have abandoned the platform. Quarter three in Second Life saw negative growth.

Business was interested in Second Life because it was a new interface and it was growing quickly. There will be interest again when there is a jump in the user experience or user numbers. Platform stability would also be a bonus. User numbers will grow only when there is a less demanding interface. Any bonehead can use Facebook.

Second Life’s legacy is significant; the compelling experience of virtual sex, the astonishing creativity of user-generated content in architecture and fashion, the rapid bonding powers of anonymous friendship…

It will continue to be interesting for at least two reasons; the education sector’s on-going search for a more engaging remote education experience and the governance issues surrounding virtual world environments as open as this. The most recent uproar in Second Life was over the pricing of certain types of islands, OpenSpace Sims but it is part of a long history of governance failures.

Linden Lab, who run Second Life, have complete authority but the passion of users who invest time in personal creativity and run virtual businesses makes law-making a very tough management task. I’ll never forget my first interaction with a Second Life entrepreneur; FURIOUS that someone had accidentally built over a virtual boundary, costing him (I calculated) around 20 cents an hour in revenue for a small number of hours. He was ready to rip someone’s head off.

The ego and significance that accrues in the virtual environment makes this a fascinating sandbox for modelling real-world decision-making. If LL work out how to make popular decisions in this environment, they will have learned something very valuable.

Photo by Miabella Foxley.

Lively and Vivaty

July 10th, 2008 1 comment

lively twitter lisa nova

Pictured: Me in Lively, streaming Lisa Nova’s Twitter Whore video into my room, Twittery.

Lively is described as Google’s answer to Second Life. It’s not. Second Life is a virtual world; Lively is chat software with 3D avatars. It’s browser-based, as opposed to Second Life, which operates with separate software, like a computer game. Contrasting the two environments highlights the originality of the Second Life product. Lively is imitative and cut-down in every respect. Conceptually barren. This is by intention; the Second Life interface has proved too daunting for most people. I note that they used to think that computers were too complicated for the mainstream too.

The interesting aspect of Lively is the ability to embed the interface in a web page, effectively offering interactive 3D chat on a web site. For a business, this has the same limitations of normal chat software, ie it only works if you allocate staff to interact with people. Kind of the opposite to what businesses tend to want these days. You can imagine teleseminars and teleconferences working this way, if they get the wrinkles ironed out.

And there are a lot of wrinkles. It’s painfully slow. There is no orientation. Things don’t work. Movement is difficult. Thousands of bad first impressions are being created as you read this. This is no way to run a ballroom.

My friends at Millions of Us are one of two development partners and have created a themed room for one of their clients, National Geographic. So; themed rooms, limit of 20 visitors at a time: looks like a similar scaling problem to Second Life’s.

Lively’s launch has overwhelmed another entrant in this space. Vivaty. It is easier to understand, is less ambitious than Lively and seems to work better, though I haven’t seen it under load.

Vivaty also allows you to embed your room in a web page (coincidence). Like Lively, it offers to suck you across from Facebook (just a coincidence). Quite an unsettling experience walking into your Vivaty room for the first time to find the walls covered with pictures of people you know. It loads pictures randomly from your Facebook account.

But most people I know don’t dwell in Facebook. It’s a ‘touch base’ medium. This is at odds with the 3D chat idea, which is conversation. I would have thought the concept was a better fit with MSN than Facebook.

Always risky making an assessment early on, but here goes. Lively will disappoint almost everyone who ventures into it, will get a reputation as nothing special and die of embarrassment. Vivaty will struggle to move people across from Facebook in sufficient numbers to give it traction. Both are kludgy and compare poorly to their 2D rivals.

Not through to the next round.

Categories: google, lively, Second Life, vivaty Tags:

Nice breakthrough, I’m writing you off

July 10th, 2008 2 comments

IBM and Second Life have announced the ability to teleport from Second Life into Open Sim grids (an open source version of Second Life). They describe this as a first; well, my business partner Loki Clifton and others have been doing that stuff for six months. The big guys may have improved the scalability or reliability, but it is not a first and they know it. Must they lie to us?

Linden Lab hope to turn Second Life into a platform rather than a product. One that respects people’s intellectual property, allows transfer of assets and maintains LL’s control of the virtual currency. The benefit to corporates of Open Sim however, is that the virtual world can be SEPARATED from Second Life, avoiding the morality and security issues that send men in business suits scurrying into mouse holes.

The elephant in the room (nicely sustaining the metaphor here) is that the Open Sim versions allow other people to sell ‘virtual land’, currently LL’s major source of income. Already land is being sold at a fraction of the Second Life price. Undermining your own profitability is one of the less successful business strategies. The road to survival for Second Life probably involves transactional fees of some sort. Dare I say ‘tax’.

The ongoing problem for Linden Lab is the lack of platform stability. It crashes and it lags. Assets created within the virtual world are not stable. The monetary system is not stable. I lost several hundred dollars one week and I still don’t know why. Reporting these errors does not lead to remedial action or even attention.

Unless IBM can dig LL out of its technical hole, (unfortunately it’s a development partnership, not a rescue package) the thing doesn’t scale and business is not interested. IBM will host its own Second Life servers for clients; I wonder how solid they will be. I wonder how expensive they will be.

Although I’ve invested lots of time in Second Life and I believe that 3D virtual worlds will be a powerfully disruptive media in the future, I’m writing it off for the time being.

Just because u can doesn’t mean u should

May 24th, 2008 No comments

lamityJust because you can create a virtual world like Second Life on a mobile phone platform doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Lamity is a new virtual world on a mobile phone platform. It’s built on Google’s Open Source software, Android. Lamity is about to launch in Japan, the world’s most sophisticated mobile phone environment. The company (whose slogan translates into English as ‘the enjoyments between man and man’) say you can put 400 avatars in the one ‘town’ which compares favourably to Second Life. But this is specious, since the small screen and the limited navigational ability of Lamity won’t give you any meaningful sense of togetherness. It’s a very limited 3D environment.

The platform allows your avatar (and others) to view web pages in-world. This is also not a very big deal. If I want to view a web page I want full web navigability. I don’t want two little avatars standing in front of it.

Thirdly, you can view movie previews in-world. Walk your avatar into a cinema and activate the screen. Once again, if I want to see a movie preview I don’t want to have to navigate another interface to get to it. You can watch movies in Second Life too but a movie is a 2D experience. If you’re watching it inside a 3D environment your brain wants one or the other. If the principal narrative is in 2D, that’s where your focus will be. May as well watch that in full screen mode.

I’m not saying virtual worlds can’t work on a mobile platform but I think instead of creating imitations of existing virtual world platforms developers need to design for the small screen. It’s big enough for one or two faces. That would be a good place to start.

Who put that avatar in the bath?

January 24th, 2008 2 comments

Like many who spend time in Second Life I have virtual friends, virtual business partners and at least one virtual lover. These people live in Europe and the US and are walled off from my real life friends and business partners. That wall has a new crack in it.

New World Notes reports on a brilliant piece of development that portends one of the most disruptive impacts in the history of human experience. A science-fiction turned reality that will horrify some and delight others. Me, for instance.

A Georgia Tech Masters student, Tobias Lang has integrated Second Life and real video; well big deal I hear you say. Stick with me.

From New World Notes: “They’ve also taken a headset display and mounted it with a video camera and a tracking sensor. The sensor monitors the wearer’s motion and position, while the display feeds Second Life video into the headset. The result? Life-size SL avatars that seem to be standing in front of the headset wearer.”

We’re not talking about cartoon characters here. These are real people who normally communicate with each other using virtual worlds. Worlds which give them youthful avatars, a range of spectacular clothing and animations that let them fly, levitate, blow smoke out of their ears and dance like Fred Astaire.

Let’s assume this technology can be made to work in real time; bandwidth & processing issues.

It means that by wearing a headset, (you’ll feel like a geek but you’ll get over it) you’ll be able to bring your virtual friends into your home, your office and your car. They’ll be able to talk to you in real time of course; they already do that in Second Life.

Did I mention that the average avatar is built like a supermodel and is anatomically correct?

If as I suspect, a visiting avatar turns out to be more effective at selling you a bank loan than a telephone call or a video conference, a very large amount of business is going to be done in your own lounge room. A virtual salesman will sit on your couch, demonstrate the products and answer your questions.

Girlfriend coming round for dinner? Invite over a virtual string quartet to serenade you in 3D.

Family distributed around the world? If you can handle the time differences you can still have a meal together … *wonders about eating with a headset on*

Not an entirely bad thing; travel by avatar instead of dragging a ton of steel, rubber and gas with you.

I was wrong when I wrote two years ago that Second Life would be as influential as the Internet. Its social impact will surpass the Internet and require the development of a new etiquette to manage the real/virtual divide.

And I wouldn’t be writing it off as a business ap just yet. Here’s Tobias doing proof of concept:

Check your sources

November 7th, 2007 No comments

lyndon larouche


Lyndon LaRouche
, American political figure and economist who was sentenced to 15 years’ jail for fraud has fallen hook, line and sinker for an April 1st joke on a Second Life blog. No, Rupert Murdoch did NOT pay $30 million for a Second Life blog that posted three articles in six months. This sentence on the blog should have been a clue: “Simon Lameth, owner of Metaverse Media before the purchase, was seen running from the press conference to the Ferarri dealership down the street”. Especially since Simon Lameth wrote the post. Besides, would you believe a guy that can’t spell “Ferrari”?

I’ve decided I’m not subscribing to Mr LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review.

Categories: Politics, Second Life Tags:

Princeton

October 28th, 2007 No comments

princeton

Inside This World is doing a small software job for Princeton in Second Life. They’re our second US University client. Very pleased to be working with such progressive people. They continue their history of architectural adventurousness with a knock-out build by Scope Cleaver. Congratulations to client and builder.

Categories: Education, Second Life Tags:

Virtual CSI

October 28th, 2007 1 comment

csi

Less than 9 months after arriving in Second Life, Skribe Forti has positioned himself as a specialist producer of mixed reality video, with at least three international brand names on the showreel.

This week he produced a promotional video for the CSI Second Life episode. Detective Matt Taylor enters the virtual world to chase (guess who) a real life killer. In conjunction, as can be seen from the video, a be-your-own-detective game has been created in Second Life.

Around 100 islands were created in Second Life to accommodate the expected hoards of newbie detectives that a high profile TV show might generate. In the event, sign-ups were perhaps less than what they hoped for. 74,000 so far. As soon as they stop watching television they’ll be right over.

Electric Sheep Company, who did the Second Life work for CBS made a pretty good fist of the orientation experience given that they’re trying to simultaneously explain Second Life and the CSI game. That’s a big ask. They used the occasion to released a customised Second Life client, On Rez. It’s cut-down in functionality and slightly less intimidating than the real thing.

Orientation in the broad sense is still way too complex – 90% of arrivals fall by the wayside. I have some ideas on how this could be improved. (Tell someone who cares, Bret).

CBS actually invested $7 million in the Electric Sheep Company, a competitor of ours, earlier this year. A CBS VP is quoted in that article: “We believe that all these virtual worlds represent next generation communications platforms”. I think that’s fair comment.

I quoted an education blogger at the Perth Podcamp today. He had just attended a Second Life Education Conference. “There are those rare occurrences where in the moment, you can feel a change, you can feel a complete shift. The past 24 hours I bore witness to that rare moment where you literally witness the shift happening in front of you and know things are never going to be the same from this point forward”. That’s an epiphany common to many educators.

The entertainment industry’s interest in Second Life guarantees the virtual world more high profile media exposure. The tech industry are highly engaged and the education sector is very active and very excited. These three sectors are the main game.

Categories: Second Life, Television Tags:

Working with the Beeb

October 5th, 2007 No comments

bbc world logo

Pleased to announce our project for BBC World in Second Life is now complete and will be open to the public from Saturday October 6th for a limited time. We have had outstanding support from the Singapore agency Avantworks, who threw themselves into the project so hard it hurt. Kudos to principal builder Tracylynne Carpenter, whose playful and stylish build is some of the finest corporate work in the virtual world. Thanks also to my partner Loki Clifton for his insight and dedication.

bbc world second life

Starting tentatively, the client has grown increasingly enthusiastic about its presence here as they’ve seen the quality of the work and watched the reaction of their staff entering the island. Staff from Europe and Asia have all been chaperoned through the bumpy orientation period.

The project involves convincing senior executives from the world’s major advertising institutions to enter the Second Life environment for the first time. Not a trivial undertaking. The objective is to use the medium to develop relationships with these people who have major corporations competing for their attention.

The use of Second Life for trade purposes is very sensible. In many ways the medium is not suited to consumer applications. We will also be encouraging the Beeb to use the facility to take advantage of the collaborative opportunities that exist for staff located in different countries. When people have a need to meet regularly the time invested bringing them into the environment is repaid.

It’s not complicated. The medium gives people room for self-expression. Not too much of that in a tele-conference.

Categories: Media, Second Life Tags:

Second Life Convention

August 30th, 2007 No comments

SLCC logo

SLCC 07 (the Second Life Community Convention) was held in Chicago; it’s my second Second Life convention. I died by Powerpoint twice at the business track. Two people in advertising who should know something about communication inflicted brutally slow talks, reading each slide as they went. They should learn about Pecha Kucha. Look for me in the front row of your next Powerpoint presentation. Know that if I stand up and walk out of the presentation, it’s not because I need to go the bathroom.

Here’s another thing. Do people come up to you and say, ‘you are a brilliant presenter’? Because if they DON’T, you are NOT. This means that when you’re on a panel you need to be CONCISE. You don’t need to RE-PHRASE it.

The normal protocol at question time in conferences is for questioners to line up and ask questions of the panel who remain comfortably seated for the duration. This protocol should be reversed. Those who wish to ask questions should take seats on the panel and the panel members should stand. Standing while answering questions puts pressure on panelists to be concise. And that will reduce the risk of my shooting one of them through the head.

Categories: Convention, Second Life Tags: