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December 13, 2006

SLDevU, London event

I went along to a SLDevU event in London earlier today.  The event was run by Linden Lab and was targeted primarily, I think, at advertising and PR agencies.  Much of the content of the day focused on how such agencies, and the organisations they represent, can make use of Second Life (SL).

I guess the key messages from the day were along the lines of:

  • think in new in world ways - don't simply try to replicate what is done in real life (RL)
  • exploit the technology and functionality of SL, but not the community of residents
  • offer something constructive to the SL community - don't see SL just as a new one-way delivery medium

The day started with a general overview by Glenn Fisher (Director of Marketing Programs at Linden Lab) of what SL is about - including a live tour of some SL venues.  This talk was perhaps a little superfluous since almost everyone in the room (well over 100 people I would guess) claimed to be a resident.

The opening presentation was followed by a demonstration of how to create content.  Unfortunately, it was marred by technical glitches - and the moment when the presenter's SL Mac client crashed probably caused him to wish that this particular bit of reality was slightly more virtual!  In questions later on in the day, these kinds of technical problems were picked up on to a certain extent, with inevitable questions about whether Linden Lab have got the basics right - like client and server resilience, searching, teleporting, etc. - particularly in the face of the huge growth in their user base.

As well as emphasising that SL is not a game, the introductory session highlighted three features of SL that they claim set it apart from other, similar systems:

  • community - the avatar forming the basis for real social interaction.  (As an aside, some research work was noted that showed that people tend to give their avatars more or less exactly the same amount of personal space in SL as they give themselves in RL).
  • user-created content - all content in SL is user-created
  • marketplace - transactions between residents driving a thriving economy

From my experience it does strike me that these are the defining features of SL.  Within a day of getting an SL account I had created a tee-shirt which I was theoretically able to sell and/or give away to friends. (I say theoretically only because I haven't actually managed to sell any of my Library 2.0 and Learning 2.0 tee-shirts yet). Within a week I had created the Eduserv MeetingPod and had a functional Eduserv office area. Within two weeks I had built ArtsPlace SL from the ground up and populated it with the OpenStudio exhibition, with a slow trickle of visitors (and an even slower trickle of L$ donations).

There were complaints that building stuff in SL is too hard, but I tend to disagree. The combination of simple building tools and the LSL scripting language is incredibly powerful, or so it seems to me. However, there are very real limitations with how external Web content can be embedded into the SL environment.  Based on my conversations with people, it strikes me that if you like SL, you really like it (I won't use the addicted word here!) and if you don't, then you tend towards really hating it.  It's almost a religious issue I guess. One of the presenters at the meeting today said that for those people who get over the initial orientation hurdle, SL grabs both hearts and minds, and I think there is something in that. 

Finally, a very interesting presentation by Justin from Rivers Run Red covered some of the higher profile brands that are visible in SL, including the BBC One Big Weekend event, Adidas, Mrs Jones, Duran Duran and others.

There was a lot of discussion in the question and answer session about how open SL is (or isn't), and the level of trust that the SL community is putting into Linden Labs in terms of long-term commitment. It was noted that the plan to make the client open source is now public knowledge. But that seems to me to miss the point - it's the SL servers that are important.

A comparison between SL and the early days of the Web was used several times during the day... and I can see that there are some similarities (certainly in terms of excitement).  However, at no stage in the history of the Web was it completely hosted on servers owned by one company.  The whole point of the Web was (and is) that it is completely open - anyone can build and run a Web server.  That is currently not the case with SL.  Yes, people own the IPR in any content they build in SL.  Yes, there are examples where that IPR has been realised into real money in RL.  But by and large you can't yet export the objects that you build in SL to the outside world - for importing into other 3-D systems for example.  And you certainly can't run your own 'sim'.

Having said that, some very positive noises were made at the end of the session about Linden Lab's long term desire to see SL made more open, with other players being able to offer both support and technology within the SL infrastructure.  That seems very positive news to me.  People talk about SL being the new 3-D Web, but that will only happen when I am able to run my own SL server in a  way that integrates my 'sim' in an open network of 'sims' offered by other people.  Until that day, we are all completely at the mercy of Linden Labs' business model and success.

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OK. My colleague Richard Wallis was in London yesterday. My former colleague Andy Powell was in London yesterday. They were sat next to one another in real life, but don't mention one another in their trip reports. So what happened? [Read More]

Comments

I neither love nor hate SL. I have to admit that I don't see the point (although I recognise that there is an active community, so obviously some people do).

I just find it hard to see the appeal - what is the point of Second Life? What does it add? If I want to interact with people remotely, why would I want to do this via an avatar? (if I'm going to use graphics, I'd prefer to use (high quality) Videoconferencing type interaction)

So unlike marmite (which I hate), I don't see this as a love/hate proposition, but a love/indifference proposition...

These are good questions... and I don't pretend to have any answers :-(

But they would be useful questions to think about and understand because an environment about which some people get very excited (which they do) while others either feel complete indifference (or even hatred) is not an environment that is going to be a useful resource for anything other than a (minority?) sub-set of the community.

I love marmite BTW. Perhaps there's a correlation between like/dislike of marmite and SL? :-)

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