Friday, 19 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Just a quickie to wish you all Season's Greetings, and to assure you that Slambling is not actually dead, but merely hibernating.

Bestest Regards

Al Kronos

Sunday, 7 December 2008

US Holocaust Museum & Kristallnacht

Well, it's been quite a few weeks since I last put virtual quill to pixel-based parchment. There's a pile of reasons why this is the case, but I think they can all be condensed together into a single catch-all: I've got other things to do with my time. Tracking down new enterprise sims has become the SL equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, and frankly I don't feel like doing it at the moment. Mr Kingdon, in various recent interviews, seems to be in some sort of denial about the business appeal of Second Life. I am not privy to The Numbers, but my experience has left me with the view that Second Life is signally failing to appeal to organisations other than universities and colleges. Welcome news, no doubt, to many of the residents of Second Life, who couldn't give a fig about this, as long as it doesn't interrupt the often bizarre ups and downs of their virtual lives.

Sure, there are several newcomers to Second Life that I have visited - but I've not felt "inspired" (yet) to write about them, including: Air France-KLM, virtual Birmingham and virtual Czech Republic. So why am I writing now? And what am I writing about? A week or so back, I got a message from Drew Stein of Involve, the company behind the rather fine 7Days' Magic Bakery sim, inviting me to view their latest work on behalf of the US Holocaust Museum. After a few attempts I finally met up with Drew and David Klevan, Education Manager for Technology and Distance Learning Initiatives at the Museum, for a tour. The site opens officially on Tuesday, 9th December.

As it has already been described in great detail by Virtual Worlds News I don't intend to offer you much wordage - and would point you towards the extensive set of images at the foot of this post. However, if you want my impressions - here they are:

The first thing to note is this is not actually a full sim, nor is it a virtualised version of the US Holocaust Museum itself. Rather it is an exhibit commemorating the Kristallnacht, the 70th anniversary of which has just passed - an event which many now see as defining the start of the Holocaust. The exhibit, which covers roughly a quarter of a sim, starts in a 1930s news room. The idea - the conceit if you like - is that you are a journo, freshly arrived in Germany (one assumes), a day or two after the events of Kristallnacht. Your mission is to investigate what happened, and file a report. Once you've got the basics, a click will open a wall, and you find yourself on a deserted German street, books and documents are strewn about, and anti-semitic graffiti are daubed on many of the buildings. As you move through the streets you trigger audio commentaries, the first-hand experiences of survivors of that dreadful night. You can also enter a number of buildings - the police station, a consulate, a wrecked house, a ransacked schoolroom and finally, a burnt-out synagogue. Again, the audio gives you the personal reminiscences, while ingeniously designed displays provide you with views of related documents. There are various information notecards throughout the exhibit, giving you yet more details.

From the synagogue you proceed to a second newsroom, where you can opt to file a short report - and find out more about the people to whom you've been listening while exploring the exhibit. There's also a video room, displaying a range of short films.

So what did I make of it? Does it all work? Hmmm... it's hard to say. I think, perhaps, the central conceit of the "investigative journo" may be more suited to an exhibit aimed at kids and teenagers; not surprising, since that is the origin of the piece, in fact. The narratives, the personal testaments, were very moving and interesting, and the build itself has been done with sensitivity and skill. However, I am not sure that it all works - at least, not for me. Scripted items, like the smashing of shop windows or the burning of the synagogue, are impressive as pieces of code - but cannot really capture the fear or horror of the event. Also, while they show what can be done in SL, they are not strictly necessary. Indeed, given that you, the journo, are supposed to be investigating after the event, these occasional flashbacks are also anachronistic.

The exhibit should certainly be seen, and you may find the effects work for you. I know the museum has planned a lecture/meeting in January - and I hope they provide many more. The holocaust, and the many genocides the world has witnessed since then, should not be forgotten. One of Second Life's greatest strengths is the way it allows people from around the globe to meet and share the same experience. So, for example, it should no longer be necessary to travel to New York to attend a lecture or meeting at the Holocaust Museum.

As promised earlier - here are my pictures. It's an extensive set...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Tuning in to AM Radio (again)

I am aware of at least 4 blog posts that I have been meaning to write. I am also aware that they are unlikely to get written in the next few days. So "sorry" to places like virtual Birmingham and Czech Republic, and a couple of interesting health sims I've recently toured in Second Life - I will put some ill-formed words together about you in the very near future. But right now, it is late at night, I am off for a few days' away from computers and all-things-virtual tomorrow, and I wanted to put up a mindless post that needed no research or, indeed, much in the way of wordage - just pictures.

I have raved about AM Radio's builds before - and the cognoscenti of Second Life should already be familiar with his many marvellous creations. However, for those of you who don't know his work, or who don't stay close enough to these things (and that includes me), it is worth noting that Mr Radio's latest creations are available for inspection. Spread across 3 sims (Welsh Lakes is a good starting point) you will find many things to marvel at. The multiple, inter-connected Klein bottles have given way to... well... go and find out. And The Refuge and Expansion seems to have expanded too, with the addition of a fine flying machine. Here's the piccies - take a look - and then go visit. If you've not seen AM's work before, I hope you like - I'd be amazed if you don't...

Friday, 17 October 2008

Figment Island

Occasionally I stumble upon sims that have been happily (or quietly) going about their business for ages. I found tonight's sim to be a difficult one to judge. Part of the difficulty is that this is not a European or American sim, and so may not have generated much hoopla in the Western blogs. In fact, a little light Googling reveals that the sim is a good 18 months old! Odd that it has been knocking around for so long, yet I have not stumbled upon any actual reviews of the place. So where am I talking about? I guess the title of this post rather gives the game away: Figment Island.

The island belongs, not unreasonably, to a company called Figment - who are based in Singapore. They describe themselves as"Asia's first full-integrated virtual world marketing communications agency" - and while I get the gist, this still sounds like it was dreamt up during a particularly fruitful workshop on buzzword generation. Just to add another dollop of snottiness, I would also question their effectiveness in virtual world marketing communications if I can find so few mentions of their existence. But that is perhaps below the belt. As we shall see, what they have on their island is actually rather good - at least, I think so.

So what's on the island then? It is easiest viewed as being split into 3 zones - in order of preference: the art gallery; the company area and the other bit.

My favourite - and I daresay it will be yours, too - is GetsmART. This is a virtual world art gallery by Ngee Ann Secondary School. I am not sure about the validity of a Secondary School on the adult grid - maybe that's down to a definition of "Secondary" - but this place is great. The accompanying notecard tells me: "Students and teachers’ art works are featured here.In this gallery, students are taken through 'thinking processes' using thinking routines that are adopted from Artful Thinking - a model developed by Project Zero, Harvard University. Through this, we hope students’ thinking dispositions are developed and deepened." You can pick up a HUD that will help you with your thinking processes - but the gallery, tho' small, was fun to walk through. I particularly enjoyed the... what?... "3D charcoal sketch"(?) at the end. The experience is not really designed with the solo visitor in mind, but rather it should be a small group activity, mentored or mediated (albeit with a light touch). Once through the gallery, you are led to a relaxing seating area, where you can discuss the works (or so I deduced). Most of my pictures are of this GetsmART area.

Floating above the sim is the second of the 3 zones. This is Figment's space, and is best(?) described as a giant snowflake lying on top of an immense floating tree. Well, it is Second Life, after all. The various arms of the snowflake offer different facilities - such as meeting areas, or orientation. The content is crisp, well textured and has a nice, open aspect to it.

The third zone is perhaps the least successful - and may be incomplete. This is leased to Ascendas, a "leading provider of business space solutions", to promote Neuros & Immunos, a biomedical research building. The accompanying notecard explains: "Strategically located within Biopolis at one-north - Asia's home for biomedical sciences, the seven-storey Neuros & Immunos offer fully-infrastructured laboratory space and a conducive research environment that makes it the choice location for a quality biomedical R&D centre." There is a faithful reproduction of the facade of the building, but no actual way in. The point? Ummm... I'm not at all clear on that one. I suppose it does offer potential overseas clients a 3D panoramic view - but is that really enough?

Well that's the sim so far... not a huge amount to show for a company that has been doing virtual worlds stuff for well over a year now, unless there's a slew of successful sims that I know nothing about (quite likely!). If this is the case, don't hide them away! Let's get to see them! In the meantime you can see my pictures:

Thursday, 16 October 2008

AvaStar - And Finally...(?)

I hope my tales of the travails of the AvaStar haven't left you snoring, because I have just one more update for you. Well actually, it's two updates - or rather, insights.

The first comes from blogger and Second Life entrepreneur, Ari Blackthorne, who left the following (slightly re-jigged by me) as a comment on my earlier post. I thought it rated promotion from the minor league of comments to the full blog itself!

The Avastar's first problems began when they moved away from a 'real' published eZine that looked and felt like a real tabloid off to the blog format. I paid big bucks for full-page ads in the eZine. Something to the tune of $200 worth of L$ a month.

When asked to renew my ads on their blog, I refused. I didn't like the blog format. I wanted my advertisements in-world and they wouldn't show the new demographics. There are too many other good blogs to advertise on. When they went blog, I suspect advertising dropped dramatically. No money income - drop the writers (who WERE paid back when it was an eZone if I remember correctly.)

No writers = no content = no readership = no demographics to show advertisers = no advertising = KAPUT. It's that simple.

The second insight comes from a former writer for the AvaStar, who would prefer to remain anonymous.

It seems that shortly after the changeover from PDF to blog, at one of their regular staff meetings, the writers were simply told that henceforth they would no longer be paid for their work. Of course, they could (and presumably should) continue to write, but for free. At this point all the writers, who had effectively been made redundant by this move, quit working.

No writers = no content.

Meanwhile, as already noted in the earlier post, the reader-generated content failed to materialise either.

Hence the death of the AvaStar - an interesting and, in my view at least, worthwhile experiment that ultimately failed. Do you have a different perspective?

AvaStar - Some More Thoughts

Following my last post, about the demise of the AvaStar I thought I would root a little further. So I took a look at the range of recent articles available at The AvaStar. I was a little surprised to find it was not the vibrant, information-packed newsfest I had been expecting. There was just a trickle of posts and comments - far fewer, as far as I could tell, than would be found on the average Second Life blog (like this one).

Supposedly, the most popular article is "Too many girls are really guys!", posted back in May, 2008. This also boasted the most recent comment - on September, 28th, 2008 - about 3 weeks ago. More worryingly, aside from the article announcing their demise, there have been just 3 articles posted in October. While September was busier, with over 20 articles, this can hardly be called vibrant.

Did their focus shift elsewhere, away from Second Life? The AvaStar did branch into other areas of the Metaverse - but articles on Kaneva, There and Entropia are very few and far between, accounting for maybe 3 or 4 a month, combined. No news about these worlds has been posted in October.

So to sum up... it seems that, while many of us had heard of the AvaStar, and enjoyed reading it, the actual content generation fell away over time. I don't think the move away from PDF helped, since that at least gave you the feel and 'heft' of a real newspaper - you could see the content, because it was all laid out before you. The website, by contrast, served to conceal the drop in content. I have to confess, I was approached to write for the Travel section of the website some time ago, but declined the invitation. While I obviously write this blog for free (I don't event take Google Ads), I would expect a small something for writing in a more 'professional' capacity. Perhaps others took the same view.

I would conclude, then, that at least a major contributory factor in its closure was simply "lack of content."

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Avastar 'Ave 'Ad Enough

Thanks to my chum, Veejay, for alerting me to this through his blog over at Mindblizzard. It seems that The AvaStar, the popular Second Life newspaper (think "Red top" rather than "broadsheet") has decided to wind up its operations. The full announcement is here, but the gist is that they are shutting up shop since - and I quote - "The AvaStar has now completed its virtual mission."

I confess I was not an avid reader - but I did like to check it out from time to time and found it had a good range of articles, while also informing me of events and new sims. While I will not be donning sackcloth and ashes, I am sorry to see this popular paper disappearing. I think Second Life will be poorer as a result. As well as the paper, largely written by the Second Life residents, there was a well-made sim. I assume that, too, is being closed.

But let's come back to that quote.... "completed its virtual mission." Unfortunately, this "mission" is not particularly well articulated anywhere - and therefore it is hard to say whether the success criteria have been achieved. While I am touched at organisations not wishing to hurt my (or maybe Linden's) feelings, by declaring they have completed their mission, or achieved their objectives, I can't help but feel that this is often, frankly, bullpoop. Since they do not publish their success... no, let's make that "exit criteria"... it is hard to assess.

Some have asked: "Is this closure due to credit crunch/economic downturn?" I doubt it, personally. I think it is more likely that, the parent company, had a plan - probably with a timeline of less than 2 years - to explore the (.... no... make that "a") possible future of journalism. It was never part of their plan to keep The AvaStar running indefinitely. Indeed, they may well have expected it to collapse after only a few months. It is to their credit, then, that they kept it running for as long as 2 years.

I have to say that, as a Second Life resident, this departure feels like (another) kick in the teeth. This kick was compounded when researching this piece, by stumbling upon an article in The AvaStar, describing the closure of the Geek Squad sim. By way of closing this piece, I will give you a link to that article. Geek Squad did not close because of the reasons given above, and I think this article (and ones like it) should give you good reason to regret the passing of The AvaStar.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Galonge and the effect of web2.0

Not a big post, this one... In fact, it's really just an excuse to show you some of my travel snaps. The subject is the strange, mythical sim of Galonge. However, before I wheel out my snaps, I think some context is in order - hence the title of this post.

As regular readers are surely aware, I use Flickr for storing the many snaps I take on my virtual travels. A day or so ago, I got a new follower, hidenori glushenko, and so I checked out his profile in order that I could add him in return, and check out his pictures. In the course of this, I found the Galonge group on Flickr - and saw a familiar name: Ravenelle Zugzwang, real life wife of everybody's favourite Linden, Torley. Following my 2.0 route, I got a link to this post on Ravenelle's blog - and stared, in awe, at the photo of 2 huge, elongated giraffe-like creatures, reminding me strongly of Dali's painting of the Temptation of St Anthony, which features elephants with grossly out-sized giraffe legs. I got the SLURL from Flickr and hurried along as soon as I could.

, like the Flickr group, is Japanese in origin. It is described as: "a mysterious unknown civilization in Second Life. (like ancient Egypt or Roma or any old civilization)" - which is fair enough, though the architecture reminded me more of native American Hopi design. I have no idea what the funding model might be for this sim - or the rationale for its existence... and I don't really care. There's a few shops, but nothing that would make tier. There's also some unusual freebies... like your very own Sun god! I just thought that, as it was a really nice sim that caught my eye, I would tell you about it.

Oh.. and finally - here's the snaps!
My thought on this is: While the 2.0 chase was more convoluted than it needed to be, how would I have fared in a 1.0 web?