Friday, October 26, 2007

Lecture spotlight: John Lester on Second Life

John Lester, known as Pathfinder Linden in the Second Life virtual community, has worked with Second Life’s creators Linden Lab since 2005. In 1993 he pioneered the use of the web to create online communities for supporting patients dealing with neurological disorders, as Information Technology Director in the Neurology Service at Massachusetts General Hospital. He visited Hyper Island in Karlskrona to talk about how Second Life can be used as a platform for education and general learning, focusing on strategies for success. Digital Media student Erik Jonsson reports on his visit:

Lester was grabbed in passing to give us a lecture about the Second Life network. It’s an online social role playing world where users are given avatars, designed and named by themselves. What makes this online world different from others and thus motivates a lecture to the Hyper Island Digital Media class is the freedom of creation the platform offers.

The concept of the online world is built on a grid where users with their avatars can walk around and create their own reality as far as visual content and sound goes. Scripts can be applied to their homemade environment as well with semi-advanced building tools supplied to make constructions like buildings and vehicles possible. This is more or less what you expect from any system like this online. What makes it really interesting to us students currently involved in a module about business ideas is the economy.

Second Life comes with an monetary economy of its own where you exchange your US dollars into the world’s own currency. Thus making it possible for anyone taking part in the network to realize their own ideas, may it be selling or buying, renting or lending user created content. As there are literally no rules of engagement in this world and content in a users property is moderated only by the owner of the land visitors set foot on possibilities to some seems unlimited.

If you can make your online idea appealing enough to visitors, whether it might be a programmed game, a concert hall or just a tranquil garden, it’s still yours to profit from. Theoretical examples Lester brought up on this is to mention just a few; education, live music, co-developing and online meetings. Practical use of these might be e-learning classes for students spread around the world, an architect realizing a blueprint into a 3dbuilding together with a colleague or whats come to be the most popular Second Life event yet, Artists making live appearances.

As stated this network offers a multitude of services either free or payed for with real money. Issues that seems to bother us students overhearing this lecture where the more or less obvious downsides to a system like this. For starters a world built on user created content can’t be pre-stored locally on users computers. Its streamed live from servers which puts a pretty heavy quality threshold on the graphics. As far as we are concerned it might have been an application from 2002 and not present. Knowing that fancy uptodate graphics might not be the primary need for Second Life:s user base this could be overlooked.

What disturbs us more was that people tend to pick a to most people offensive looking avatar as their physical representation in the world. Offensive in this case meaning a big pink robot wearing a tuxedo or a dwarf in a bikini. Knowing that this is just extreme examples these characters still make out the bulk population of the world. A direct reaction to this is that it might be hard to take someone seriously given the factor of the looks added to the already harsh filter on humanity online-mode is to us.

Which brings me to the third issue of the expanding world of possibilities second life is. The ever ongoing digitalization of our social life. To most people text chat or as of late voice chat to replace regular telephony suffices as far as digital communication goes. Being in this very module, oriented around online marketing and services generating economical revenue, these are of course not great obstacles to overcome for a young creative constantly on the lookout for new areas and platforms to spawn ideas into. It’s just that the lecture about Second Life, the possibilities, the looks and the inhabitants left us a bit reluctant and puzzled.

All in all the environment felt perhaps too unmoderated for our Scandinavian (with some exempts) culture. Perhaps too colorful to take serious or to withstand the test of time. Which might be illustrated in a current example with the exodus from previous social networks with more user created content to the syndicated environment of Facebook. After a brief inquiry in the class following John Lester's lecture just a handful had ever tried Second Life and not many saw it as a lasting medium for planting business ideas to grow.

Erik Jonsson

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