Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Interview with Tim Guest

Journalist and writer Tim Guest has been documenting the rise of new virtual communities for magazines like The Guardian and Daily Telegraph as well as in his own latest book “Second Lives”. Last week he came to Stockholm to hold a lecture for the students at Hyper Island and we sat down for an interview with him.

What concept is hardest to get across to people with no experience with communities?
- Probably just how enchanting these virtual words can be. It is like cinema – it is easy to understand that you play still images really fast and you get a sense of movement – but it is much harder to understand how magic that can be.

As a kid the car racing video games that had real advertizing felt much better than the others, would you say that commercialization of the new virtual worlds only validates them in the same way?
- In the eyes of people who have no experience of them, yes. It condones the space. Some people are of course complaining about it. When [pioneering design agency] Rivers Run Red moved in to Second Life and bought an island there were a few people that went to that virtual island with signs to demonstrate against it. I am not so worried about this commercialization as there is no scarcity in Second Life – a company’s presence does not exclude others to be there as well. Also it is much cheaper to build something in Second Life than in the real world. Almost anybody can have their own building but not many could do that in the real world, so that is a leveling effect.

What is the difference between Second Life and Myspace?
- Well, there are two ways to answer that question. One: When you go to someone’s profile on Myspace or Facebook it is like going into someone’s living room when they are not there. On places like Second Life you have a direct connection which is very different.
- The other way of answering is of course that there is no difference at all. Even now we see virtual worlds that are implementing Facebook-like features. Vside is one example of that. As time goes by these two things will blur together.

What else do you see in the future?
- There will be a fundamental shift as to how we perceive virtual worlds. Right now they are supposed to be different from the real world – Second Life even says so in its name. But what we will see is how these two worlds will merge. One example: Maybe you will have your sunglasses react to your surroundings. You can look at a hotel and you’ll get ratings for that hotel shown in your glasses.

Like The Terminator!
- Yeah, why not? That technology is not that far away. Or you’ll just hold out your phone and get the information there.
- Whenever there is a new paradigm it is really hard to predict what will happen. It is like a new music genre, until you hear it it is hard to understand how it will sound.
- At the Hyper Island party I met someone who showed me this Pacemaker thing [Tim brings out a flyer for the Pacemaker DJ tool]. Obviously it is more than just a new kind of mp3 player - there is an idea about sharing and a community that makes the product just a part of the whole package. I’m just guessing but what we will see is probably where the network and the physical come together. This Pacemaker thing is already on its way towards that.

Sebastian Suarez-Golborne

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