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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Sunday, September 10th, 2006

Second Life (FOO and beyond)

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I saw Second Life being demoed at Supernova last year, although I stood and watched a bunch of avatars dancing to Chumbawumba, I didn’t immediately pay much attention. Oh yes, that’s me, on the cutting edge right there… no, back a bit…

I have this really annoying practical streak. Whenever I see something new, I think to myself, “Yes, but what can I do with it?” and if I can’t immediately answer that question, I tend to move on. A few months ago, I started to hear stories of what people were doing with Second Life, and my ears pricked right up. Mixed reality events. In-game stores created by real-world businesses. In-game stores created by in-game people. Commerce. Oh yes. Now you’re floating my boat. (Oh dear… am I really that much of a capitalist?)

So I signed up for an account (I’m TiddlesMcNubbin Goodnight) and logged in to find out what all the fuss was about. What I actually found out was that my iBook really couldn’t handle the client. I’d press the arrow key three times, then have to wait whilst the client caught up - totally sub-optimal user experience, that. But now I have a spiffy new MacBook and I’m away. In just the last week, I’ve learnt how to move around, I’ve left the Help Island and gone to the mainland, bought my first plot of land, and been given a terminal velocity-triggered parachute, a house and a four poster bed, and been treated to a fight between two Daleks.

Two Daleks having a fight

(Really, no user experience is complete without Daleks.)

And you know, that’s just the start of it. American Apparel have a store there, apparently a replica of a store they have in Tokyo, where you can go and buy t-shirts. Creative Commons have an auditorium where they hold events. Nissan have a presence (not quite sure what to call the big tower-y thing they have, and not sure if it’s official or not). Developers from the Amazon community are building things in-game like virtual bookstores in which you can actually buy books from Amazon. And I’ve heard that a chain of hotels, W I think, are creating a replica of one of their hotels there so you can go check out the rooms.

The possibilities really are endless and the above is just a tiny selection. It doesn’t really matter what you do or how you do it, you can do something in Second Life. You can stream audio and video into an in-game theatre, as BBC Radio 1 did from their One Big Weekend gig in Dundee. Actually, there’s a ton of music events in Second Life, as this Wired article shows, with a Duran Duran gig coming up. You can give away goodies - the BBC gave away headphones with their logo on. You can create and sell, for Linden Dollars, any object you like, from clothing to houses to jetskis.

So, whilst I was at FooCamp, I went to a couple of talks about Second Life. The first from Matt Biddulph about bringing web apps into the game, and the second from Philip Rosedale of Linden Lab, who talked about what is happening with the game and how its community is developing and behaving. Both were fascinating.

Matt’s talk was pretty techy, and I missed the beginning so I didn’t really fully grok it until I read Tom’s summary, but in short, it’s about taking stuff from the web, such as a Flickr photo stream, and bringing it into Second Life - in the case of the Flickr stream it is projected up on a big screen that anyone can go and look at.

Think for a second… you can take anything that’s out there and bring it in-game. And then people can see it in-game and follow the link out to the web. Does this make anyone else as excited as it makes me? Think of all the really cool shit that you can’t afford to do in real life, but which you can do in Second Life!

Philip was talking about what people do in-game. One of the things that interested me was that there is an in-game building industry, with skilled builders creating objects and selling them, either in-game for Linden Dollars, or on eBay for US Dollars. Bear in mind that both currencies are ‘real’, no matter how you define ‘money’. I’ll spare you the detailed argument right now, but if you doubt me go and read Play Money by Julian Dibbell and that should convince you.

So there’s a bunch of cool - and sometimes physically impossible - things you can do in Second Life and an ecosystem of skilled artisans in-game who can help you realise your ideas.

Of course, it’s never that easy. Like blogging, if you’re a business and you wanna get into Second Life, then you have to be really careful what you do and how you do it. Talking to Jeff Barr from Amazon, he told me about how people will turn up and protest - with placards and everything - when a business turns up in Second Life without been a part of the community before, or without giving something back to the community they are ‘invading’. People don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want the creep of commercialism to take over their play environments as well as their work and home environments.

So what is successful? Well it’s early days for me in Second Life, so I’m still figuring that out. Like my friend and fellow social software consultant, Stephanie Booth says, it takes a while to learn what’s happening in-world and how it all works:

What makes Second Life exciting is also what makes it really difficult to get into: it’s complex. I’m spending a lot of time learning stuff which isn’t really that interesting in itself for me (I have no ambition to become a digital hairstylist) but which is needed for what’s coming next. Feeling comfortable with your inventory, moving the camera about, doing things with objects… there are all basic skills and I’m not comfortable with them yet. But if you want a world where people can be digital artists, build businesses, organise live music performances or conferences, you need that level of complexity to allow users to be creative.

But I think the rules for businesses in Second Life are going to be similar to those for blogging:

- be a part of the community, and empower them to do stuff with your stuff
- be respectful, truthful, honest, genuine
- don’t sell at people
- give people something valuable in return for their attention
- do cool shit

And the capacity for doing cool shit in Second Life is huge.

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8 Responses to “Second Life (FOO and beyond)”

  1. Linda Zimmer Says:

    Suw, your rules for business in Second Life are a great start, but I would add at least one more:

    don’t call Second Life a “game.”

    It is a virutal world, and its residents work hard, play hard and openly express their dislike of the term “game.” With some very serious things being built on the Second Life platform, like depression support groups, disaster training and education, it truly isn’t a game - even though there is lots of fun to be had.

    We’re exploring the benefits “real life” businesses and brands can get from virtual worlds like Second Life, and I invite you - and anyone serious about exploring business applications - to join us at our Buisness Communicators of Second Life meetings. Our next one is Sept 19th and we will be touring The Infinite Mind (radio show) Second Life in-world studios with a presentation by the producers of both the show and the Second Life in-world facility.

    Get more information at our blog: http://freshtakes.typepad.com/sl_communicators.

  2. Suw Says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for your comment. I had absolutely no idea, being a newbie, that the word ‘game’ was so loaded in SL. Why is that so? Is it seen as having negative connotations of frivolity? Or is to distinguish what happens in SL from things like World of Warcraft? I think there are people in WoW who certainly work as hard at attaining their goals as people in SL, so is it a value judgement on ‘worthiness’ instead?

    Are there maybe parallels to the misuse of the word ‘diary’ to describe blogs? I.e. some blogs are diaries, but a blog is not a diary by default. Maybe some people are game-playing in SL (I would be surprised if anyone claimed that people were not RPG-ing in a very loose way within SL), but SL is not a ‘game’ by default.

    I’m certainly interesting in joining you in-world, but I will be at OSCON on 19th Sept, so will take a look at your blog and try to learn more. Absolutely fascinated to find out more about what businesses and brands are doing inside Second Life!

  3. Pathfinder Linden Says:

    Hi Suw. Glad that you’re excited about the possibilities of Second Life! Please look me up next time you’re inworld. My focus at Linden Lab is on the use of Second Life for real life education and academic purposes.

    The term “game” implies predefinied goals for “winning.” You win at WoW by levelling up. You win at PacMan by eating all the dots. However, Second Life has no predefinied goals. There’s no way to “win” at it, any more than there’s a way to “win” at Real Life. You create your own goals and follow your own dreams. :)

  4. Prokofy Neva Says:

    I think this is a pretty good take on Second Life, there are all kinds of views, it’s getting bigger, and that’s a good thing. It keeps changing.

    To be honest, I don’t like it when some person or company or entity comes along and tells me they are going to “empower” me. That suggests they have power, and I don’t. They are wrong. They don’t have power over me, and I don’t need their empowerment. I’m fine, thank you.

    A real attitude shift is needed here, and it’s not just some pat notion of collectivism and interactivity, it’s more about being nimble and responsible to both individuals and groups of all kinds.

    The “cool shit” stuff is also beginning to pale. Large companies come and put on huge fandangos, often making gigantic, expensive, showcase builds, but they might as well be inside my Disney Viewmaster — click, view, discard. After the show is over, they are like empty fairgrounds in October — deserted, with empty popcorn cartons blowing around.

    I’d much rather have things that are smaller, scrappier, and more interactive and with more staying power. I congratulate Telus and Regina Spektor, for example, for avoiding isolated private islands and going on the mainland, into the rough so to speak, where they can interact with people more, use local builders who fit into the surroundings, and have some staying power with things to do and things to pick up and use. Thus the concept of “give value for attention” is a good one.

    And…I think it’s important not to get too gunshy about actually selling stuff. It’s ok to sell and advertise stuff. That’s what many people do there, in fact, 3,000 inworld businesses alone which have gotten a start in the last few years claim to make incomes of $20,000 or more (not sure if this is before or after expenses!)

    Long ago, yes, there was picketing of a guy who tried to start a commercial business on an island, but this isn’t the norm. Sometimes you’ll get stuff like griefing, i.e. prim littering with cubes or shooting, but you can get that at any time of installation, not just stores.

    There is a decided minority of anti-business opinion in SL that continues to influence the way the software develops, and that’s troublesome; coupled with an aggressive group that basically says “no business but our business” to block rivals, but there is plenty of room to jump in and compete even with the most entrenched.

    Advertising capacity is very limited, because actual classifieds and ad space is very limited, you can only reach 40-100 avatars on one sim or server per event, and even if you create something for them to do or interact with over time, there’s a limit to how many can hear about it and get there to see it.

    There’s a wierd policy on billboards and signs; they are discouraged as a conscious policy along the roadside or in public areas, where they could be tolerated and actual useful, and therefore in that harsh climate, they crop up everywhere, often on prime waterfront residential real estate, infuriating people who hate the extortionists who then try to get people to buy back their view from a 16 m2 ad space.

    Real-life big business is needed to put a concerted pressure on Linden Lab to develop a fair and equitable signboarding policy that would both protect property values from griefing and spamming and extortion *and* open up the economy to advertising in places where it can be tolerated and useful.

  5. Steve Says:

    I wonder how people would react if the University of Phoenix set up a classroom building in Second Life. Is that something that virtual denizens would find “cool?” However, I can see it now, a uni student wakes up in the morning and gets an e-mail or text message telling them to go to the SL classroom today instead of the physical classroom. I can see PowerPoint presentations in SL now… That’s crazy talk!

  6. Suw Says:

    Pathfinder Linden, I shall definitely look you up the next time I’m inworld. Be good to chat about what people are already doing in business and education.

    Just to play devil’s advocate though, does anyone really win WoW? When you reach level 60 you just keep on going, and the next expansion will add another 10 levels on top and new territory to explore, so it never really comes to a close, and you never really ‘win’. Does that mean it’s not a game? ;-)

    Prokofy Neva, I think the ‘cool shit’ issue that you describe is actually a common one. We saw it when websites first got started, companies would launch some groovy site that would then just and rot… now we saw it with blogs where they would create some pseudo-blog that no one really wants to read and that provides no value to anyone… so it’s no surprise that they do the same thing in SL.

    What’s needed is for the ‘cool shit’ to be genuinely cool shit, stuff that you want, that you use, that adds value to your experience. As you say, something with staying power. But, of course, that’s a lot harder to do than creating a pretty, expensive showcase build that does nothing for anyone and as I’ve seen with blogs, people have difficulty understanding the concept that ‘it will be hard for you to do this well, but easy for you to do it badly’. They take the easy route every time, because their eyes are on the short-term gain, not long-term sustainability.

    I think the reason I’m currently gushy about selling stuff is because I’m reading Play Money by Julian Dibbell, ;-) I’ll get over it.

    I had noticed that sort of polluted bill-board nature of the area where I am at the moment, actually, and on that I agree with you. I think there’s definite room for improvement there.

    Steve, well, I would guess it would depend on what classes the university was offering, and who to. I would imagine that such a venture would be something that people would be happy to have happen, if it’s open to non-university students. And, if you think about it, that would be most advantageous to the university too, as they’d be able to give people an idea of the quality of their teaching. Berkman have done mixed reality events, and I understand that they went down very well.

  7. Solivar Scarborough/Jeffery Sargent Says:

    I straddle the fence on this issue: on the one hand, I endorse the integration of rw enterprises into SL, as part of the climb towards SL as an operating system in which you would not only do your word processing, music recording, painting, 3d modeling, web browsing, etc from inWorld, but could, potentially perform your rw job from within an SL interface - the analogy I like to use would be the guy who monitors waterflow from Hoover Dam - he could be lazing in his hammock on a quiet beach in SL, and be alerted by the color of a passing flock of seagulls that there’s a problem on intake valve 3, which he could adjust by kicking the 3rd beer cooler from the left in his nearby shack…there are already plenty of examples of this with webbased interfaces - there’s a robot in England (I think) that can be operated through a web interface…

    However… I also worry about the quick buck world of rw enterprises that might see SL as a catchy new venue to market through, to be dropped or manhandled when they panic about some temporary fiscal hiccup. Think of the muscle Business can muster, especially when people aren’t reacting the way they want. Add to that, the larger part of the SL population whose dreams consist of bling and a prefab house on a simulation of the Keys, who would swallow the big name products to the detriment of the small business owner who thrives in an environment where they don’t HAVE to compete with the big marketing machines that can pull in armies of graphic designers and programmers. Gasp! How unlikely is that? Look at my beloved San Francisco - formerly a hip offbeat town, where music and counterculture thrived, but since the influx of foreigners (eg:other states) with the dot.com boom, demanding the symbols of affluence from back home (Starbucks on every corner anyone?), they gutted the city of most of the things that made it disctictive.

    Take my rw fiancee Daequix (not her real name, of course)- she’s a hospice nurse in the rw, so she wants to relax in her virtual escape. One thing she’s always loved and hated about games we’ve played has been the the character creator (you get 12 characters to an account in City of Heroes - she had to take a second account because she loved just making characters). She has turned that love into making skins and clothes in SL - nothing major - we have four Second Thoughts shops (just opened one in the victorian/steampunk Port Caledon - Dae’s skins in a burlesque musichall, and my adventure gear in a gentleman’s clothing store with an opium den in the back room), but between us only moved about L$18,000 in the last two weeks (about $60 US). She has learned to use Poser and Photoshop at an amazing speed (I’m a digital artist, so I’m frankly gobsmacked). She tied for second place in the Ivory Tower/Edifice Rex vehicle contest by building a hobby horse - her first real build of any significance. All the way, it’s been an uphill battle, coaxing and reassuring her when she felt intimidated by the pros/semipros inWorld. But the little inches we’ve moved forward could easily be turned around when Madison Avenue throws it’s weight into the world. This delicate flame of creativy we’ve nurtured in her could be stamped out in a heartbeat.

    I know this stuff must come to pass if SL is to survive, but I’d hate to see it rushed into, before the world has built up the proper defenses.

    Cheers!
    Sarge (oddly enough, my actual monicker in RL)

    PS: here’s one for the books: The American Apparel store inWorld. While most of it’s products are actually less interesting than the ones that inWorld deigner Aimee Weber makes for her own line of clothes, I noticed she’d added a small line of merkins. After I stopped laughing, I asked her if they actually sell them in the rw, and she told me they don’t, but if interest in them picked up inWorld… who knows. So a rw enterprise testing products inWorld before they went to manufacting…

  8. hyperw Says:

    From another blog (just for your insight):

    I’ve had an SL account for almost 3 years now and yes, it’s shit. They could only scrape 100k registered users back when it was a paid service and the recent influx of “residents” are mostly free tourist accounts. Given the instability and poor new user experience they provide lately (and the high min sys req) it’s very likely that new users don’t come back. Most of the people I’ve referred over the years hated it.

    BUT the reason I’ve referred person 1 to SL is FOR THE SEX PLAY. You can speak out against pedophiles and I’ll agree with you (I even pulled the aggro of pro-prebuscent-age-play advocates by doing a CNET interview on the subject)… but do not knock the furry community. These are largely some of the sweetest people online who are very committed to REAL role-playing. Check out Tapestries and you’ll see this community was thriving long before SL reared its wannabe platform. People pretending to be exotic creatures and having nookie online are a fun and harmless part of rpg and MUD/MUCK culture and I’m glad they have found a great home in SL.

    I also think you give SL way too much credit. They won’t kill an industry. They’ll just be very surprised when a more stable multi-verse service comes in and provides the utility they could provide if they focused more on stability and security and less on playing world-leader pretend. They take the metaphors of virtual world land, governance, and “nationhood” to ludicrous extremes and in all that delusion lose track of their literal roles as business-class service providers (which they are majorly sucking at).

    I can say all this though because I’m one of those weirdos that has logged in more than twice and, you know, actually figured out what the VALUE was in the world. And sex play is a lot of it. :)