Friday, 19 December 2008
Sunday, 7 December 2008
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
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
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
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?
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
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 bild.de, 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
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.
Galonge, 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?
Thursday, 9 October 2008
I was first alerted to this sim by an article in that veritable treasure trove of virtual tittle-tattle, Virtual Worlds News. There have been precious few atomic world companies coming into Second Life recently, so I was intrigued to read: "The French retail company Boulanger announced today [October 7th] the opening of a store in Second Life with development and planning help from IBM Research and Global Business Services. The goal is to complement Boulanger's physical stores and website with an additional distribution channel and additional services. Initially the build allows users to view and interact with Boulanger objects in a familiar context, click to be taken to the purchase page on a website, watch service and repair videos, or talk directly to a maintenance aide." Wow...! An IBM build! Given IBM's continuing large presence in Second Life, and its cutting edge use of this and other virtual worlds, the prospect was mouth-watering.
But first - a little about Boulanger. Actually, for once Wikipedia has let me down, but I will plough on. Boulanger is a general electrical retailer in France, selling anything from kitchen white goods to mp3 players and consumer electronics. The British equivalent would be someone like Currys. Joining the dots, this would suggest that their outlets are largely out-of-town, in large retail parks. What is clear is that the Second Life build has a particular purpose - to promote their recently opened store at Englos, an arrondisment of Lille, in the North of France. It ties in with - and indeed provides links to - a dedicated website.
I was not able to leg it down to the Boulanger3D sim immediately, and I chose to avoid the details of the Mindblizzard post, so I could arrive fresh and without preconceptions (albeit, with some expectations). I finally pottered along to the sim today and... well... where do I start?
IBM described their aims for this build as: "[to] develop a community aspect through the 3D universe and propose new services (configuration of kitchen, cooking lessons, guides, etc.) -- while integrating the three complementary distribution channels." On arrival, there is a large guest book, where you can post comments - so that suggests some interaction between the island and the visitor. Oddly, the guest book is at the arrival point, when you are least likely to have anything to say - but let's skip over that.
The sim itself is, quite frankly, a confused mess. One strand or theme is to model the island a little like the real Englos site - with its approach road, car park and, of course, the store itself. However, only yards from this is a gigantic luxury yacht, replete with helipad and helicopter - not something normally encountered in the suburbs of Lille. I don't know why it is there, and seems grossly at odds with the "augmented reality" being attempted in the virtualisation of the Englos store.
Another strand or theme is in response to the requirement to give people something to do that is "fun." In the car park you will find numerous vehicles that you are supposed to be able to drive. The sup'ed-up Beetle with the "Try Me" sign signally failed to allow me to drive it! Though I did get a decent razz on one of the motorbikes. Along the coast from the yacht are some windsurf boards that I assume are also available for your use. More fun, perhaps, is the helicopter - which you are free to fly. It is nicely done, but I did not check its provenance. Was it made specially? Or a rebranding of an existing Second Life vehicle?
But returning to the "augmented reality" view for a moment - I expected the virtual store to bear some internal resemblance to the real thing. After all, there's a decent 2D representation on the website. But no... the virtual store seemed somewhat perfunctory inside, with little detail, and little to attract the eye or retain the attention. It seemed unfinished to me.
The "kitchen design" was a disappointment too. A nice looking kitchen/diner, to be sure - but the only thing you could do was change the colour of the units. Even my LSL skills could probably stretch to that - and it fell somewhat short of the "configuration of kitchen" that most punters would expect.
There is a presentation auditorium. Now this is something that is normally done well in Second Life - there are endless examples. Yet somehow this one manages to fail. The seating for attendees is fine - it is the area for the presenters that feels wrong, somehow managing to be cramped, awkward and claustrophobic in what is otherwise an open space! Now that takes some doing.
There are a number of other buildings, but nothing of any note - and I include the "cooking demonstration area" in that observation. Instructions inviting me to click on images of computer games to get more information failed to link to any information in any form - not even notecards or URLs. I could go on, but that is more than enough.
So... there you have it. After the bordering-on-genius of the 7Days Magic Bakery, I found this sim profoundly disappointing - and largely failing to come close to its hype. It seems to me to have been launched before it was good and ready, and before anyone had really given it a thorough critique internally. I have some photos - but don't trust me - you should go along and form your own opinion:
First, I want to make it clear that I was not, in fact, at the Terry Pratchett Q&A today in Second Life. As a semi-professional misanthrope, I tend to avoid large crowds in Second Life - they are laggy, confusing and more disorienting than I prefer - and on this occasion, it seems the sim was already heading towards full a good hour before the kick-off. If I was made of sterner stuff, I might have camped out ages in advance, but for one thing I had a bunch of real life chores to do, and for another, Mrs K would have taken a dim view of such behaviour.
Mr Pratchett was inworld to talk about his new book, Nation, and take questions from the avatar crowd. I assumed the transcript would appear eventually, but perhaps such is the power of 2.0 applications that I quickly learned on Twitter that the transcript was already up, and posted on Flickr!
I will leave you to read the full piece for yourselves - but I wanted to lift just a few of the quotes that tickled my funny bone and put them on Slambling:
- ... I’m not really into all of this YourTube into MyFace kind of stuff!
- I like the idea of Second Life, because it is a totally human activity. Monkeys wouldn’t be able to join.
- I actually have a small potato in my coat pocket. In time of hunger a potato is more likely to be more useful than prayer.
- I’m also a sucker for the kind of books with titles such as “Picky – The History of 500 Years of Snot in Britain”
PS: Upset at the lack of piccies? Then try this Flickr group.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
If you've not picked this up from 101 other virtual worlds twitterers, bloggers or forums, please note that Virtual Worlds Forum 2008, due to be held at The Bridge in London tomorrow and Tuesday has had to be postponed.
This follows a fatal shooting at the nearby SEOne Club. According to the Press Association: "The 24-year-old received a gunshot wound at around 5.30am [Sunday] at the SEOne club, in Weston Street, near London Bridge. He was taken to hospital but later died... St Thomas Street, Weston Street and Stainer Street will all be closed for at least 24 hours and possibly longer."
The Bridge, the venue for the event, falls within this area.
According to the conference organisers the police have closed off the venue for three days and it is far too short notice to find an alternative venue. They are therefore going to reschedule the event - though it is too early to say when this will be.
What it means for attendees is
- The event will not take place as planned on Monday and Tuesday.
- For those people who are in London, the Four Day members pass to the Hospital is still available. Please go to 24 Endell St, London, WC2H 9HQ to collect your pass – there’s quite a few people in town, so lots of people to hang out with.
- The South by South West party on Monday night is still going ahead.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Do you remember the Electric Sheep Company? Since you are one the small band of blogonauts who have washed up on the shores of Slambling, it is quite likely that you do. But if not, let me fill you in. In their own words: "The Electric Sheep Company creates Web-enabled social and virtual world experiences through strategy, design, production, and technology. Since 2005, ESC has worked with the world’s largest brands, media companies, and agencies to design and implement great consumer virtual experiences." And for Second Life that has meant that ESC has been responsible for some of the more interesting commercial builds. However, those days seem long ago as ESC, along with many other virtual world "experience designers", have branched out and moved on. I will leave you to discover for yourself what industry insiders may be saying about ESC, their Second Life experiences and their current prospects - you might find it an interesting exercise. As for me, I'm going to tell you about my experiences in WebFlock.
WebFlock, a Flash-based product announced earlier this year, is described by ESC as “an application for private-labeled, Web-based virtual experiences. It provides a visually immersive environment for social interaction, media consumption and game play." The first of these branded virtual experiences has been rolled out for the Showtime show, The L Word. Showtime is a subsidiary of CBS, who also have a substantial stake in ESC - and it was ESC who built The L Word's substantial and generally well-received presence in Second Life. It is perhaps not surprising then, that the show has become the first customer for an alternative virtual experience, based on WebFlock. I thought I would pop along to see what it was like.
It is simplicity itself to get into WebFlock, chat and move about – and it is this simplicity that, in my view, makes it so disappointing. But more of this anon. Getting into The L Word environment is easy. Having navigated to the webpage, you are invited to select an avatar from a choice of six, give her a name and, well, that’s it – no customisation, not even a change of clothing. I say “her” because there are no gender options here. Am I also supposed to assume that all these avatars are gay? It seems a reasonable inference – and even if this is incorrect, if I infer it, then plenty of other people will too. And that may not sit comfortably with some would-be visitors, who may opt to pass this one by. I don’t believe it is compulsory to be a lesbian to enjoy watching the show.
The first time I attempted to load the environment it took an age. In fact, I ended up terminating my browser session and trying again. The retry, I have to say, was then very quick to load. And what did I find? I found my avatar standing in someone’s open plan breakfast room. The graphics were generally good quality. Moving my avatar, I could walk forwards, I could walk backwards and I could walk from side to side. That might seem OK, but as there are no transitions when switching from one direction to the other, the effect looks basic and amateurish in comparison with the movement available in other Flash-based environments, such as Google’s Lively. Another aspect of movement that I had expected was “camera controls.” Widely used in Second Life, controls that let you pan and tilt your view are also common in less powerful environments – again, I would cite Lively as an example here, but it is one of many. In WebFlock you are left with a single view, like static CCTV, over which you have no control. Sure, this makes the system easy to use – but that is because fundamentally there are so few functions that you can use. It was simple, but I simply did not get any sense of immersion.
What about chat? One of WebFlock’s main objectives is “social interaction” – and it certainly offers text-based chat. My friends had repeated problems with stability of the “chat” function, re-logging several times to reset it. I had no issues with it. You can also “emote” – selecting from a small menu of animated effects that you can give to your friends. These were nicely done, but not terribly expressive. The avatars themselves seem to remain aloof from the fun – having no animation effects other than “walking” and “standing still”. There is no Instant Messaging – or non-public communication.
I tried to get out of the room, which had rapidly started to get claustrophobic and which would fill to bursting point very quickly if more than perhaps 10 people wanted to use it. But there is no way out. What you see is what you get. You see that door behind you? In effect, it is just painted on.
What about the rest of the WebFlock experience? It describes itself, as you may recall, as designed for “media consumption and game play.” There is a TV screen in the room on which you can view episodes of the show, though without a zoom facility you will need a very large monitor to get the most from the experience. And clicking on various objects presented me with opportunities to buy DVDs. So that’s a tick in the box for “media consumption.”
I don’t know how much “game play” has been put into this particular environment, but it does have one really irritating feature. Periodically, like every 2 or 3 minutes, it asks you for your opinion about some aspect of the show, offering multiple choice answers. While it would be possible to use such a feature to obtain useful marketing data, these questions seem more like the puerile enquiries to be found in teen magazines aimed at the post-Barbie set. And the question will not go away, consuming a fair slice of your “screen real estate” until you answer it.
And that’s it. In summary, I found the experience far too lightweight to rate as a virtual environment. I didn’t feel immersed in the experience - it was more like chatting while looking at a picture of some women standing in a kitchen. While I understand why companies leave Second Life, I find it hard to understand why The L Word would bail out of Second Life to go with this instead. Future implementations of WebFlock may end up offering far more than this. I can only hope so, because if this is all there is, then it is a dull future indeed.
Thursday, 2 October 2008
While many of my colleagues (and probably yours) remain dismissive of virtual worlds and the prospects for web3D (at least in my lifetime, which given current health constraints may not be as long as I might fancy), they get positively moist when they ponder the imponderables of web3.0. Much of this web3.0 mullarkey remains a mystery to me. In fact, it's taken me long enough to get some kind of handle on web2.0. But that hasn't stopped me staring into the middle distance and letting my mind free-wheel on the topic.
While a fair chunk of the web3.0 vision thang revolves around "ubiquity" and "distribution", a significant slice is taken up with the notion of the semantic web. In techie terms, the ambition is a web in which computers can perform their own analysis, do stuff and find stuff out. Because computers are still basically stupid, even the really really clever ones, they need lots of help if they are to do all of this. According to wikipedia: "The semantic web is a vision of information that is understandable by computers, so that they can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, sharing and combining information on the web."
In truth, of course, the label of "web X.0" is simply a convenience, an attempt to convey a Big Picture view. In reality, there are no web generations, but rather the evolution of the web is a continuum in which it is not always possible - and certainly never actually necessary - to make such generational distinctions.
In this Big Picture view of the web, we could probably characterise web 1.0 as the Era of the Individual: you make your own way through the web, sharing information only by digital word-of-mouth, and responsible for discovering everything you need. Web 2.0 I would characterise as the Era of Sharing: you are all-but-permanently digitally connected with friends,acquaintances and groups with common interests, sharing with them your travels through the web in realtime, and benefitting from the wider range of experiences and knowledge available within the various groups to which you belong, giving you a more productive and more social web experience. In techie terms, we have the introduction of scores of social tools to help people share stuff, and the development of mashups to pull together diverse information sources to form common, shareable views.
At the moment I don't really know how to characterise web 3.0. Howzabout Era of the Bot? A web in which much of the drudgery involved in finding what you want is taken away by our shiny, digital, computer pals; a web with which you can have an intelligent interaction. It sounds ambitious - and I am curious as to how this will combine with the "Social Web" of web 2.0. web3.0 will also offer intelligent applications, with natural language processing... hmmm... "natural language processing" eh?
In my idle moments, I've been wondering about this semantic lark, and the underlying reasons for it. And concluding that web 2.0 already has a semantic web element and that - like Soylent Green - the semantic web element "is people."
The highly-connected, social mesh that we inhabit now is full of 'em, sharing their ideas and opinions, filling gaps in our knowledge, offering services, advice and support (and all the while, using 'natural language processing'). While noting that "folks is folks" and you don't always get a reliable, consistent service - it is also true to say that people are pretty adaptable and good at interpreting, interpolating and extrapolating stuff, something their machine counterparts will be struggling to achieve for years to come yet.
And for me this social mesh reaches its online apogee in the social, immersive, shared experience found in virtual worlds.
Hmmm... so in conclusion: where semantic web3.0 can be characterised by HAL, perhaps semantic web2.0 can be characterised by AL.
Sunday, 28 September 2008
After it took top prize at TechCrunch50, earlier this month, an enterprising soul in the enterprise for which I work took it upon himself to get us into Yammer. Unless you've been living under a stone - or more likely, don't give a flying one about corporate stuff - you will be aware that Yammer is being touted by some as "Twitter for the enterprise." And the hype? Oh my... the hype! Even this post you are reading now is contributing to a level of hype that makes Twitter look like some shy, shrinking violet.
Yammer's website explains the proposition: "Yammer is a tool for making companies and organizations more productive through the exchange of short frequent answers to one simple question: 'What are you working on?'...Anyone in a company can start their Yammer network and begin inviting colleagues. The privacy of each network is ensured by limiting access to those with a valid company email address."
While I have been a Twitterer for 18months or so, I've only been using Yammer for about a fortnight. Nevertheless, I've now got enough thoughts about it rattling around in my head that I wish to extract and deposit in words. The thoughts fall into 2 streams, answering the following questions:
Is Yammer really a "twitter for the enterprise"?
In a word: No. Superficially, it looks similar. You have
140 a bunch of characters to record each micro-post. You can elect to follow people. You can reply to other people's posts. So far - so twittersome. But to use Yammer, you need a company email address. How is that an issue? Well, in Twitter I can set up an information "push" channel, using any old email address I care to create, and I can then use this channel to give you news, views and general info in an impersonal way. For your part, you elect to tune in or not. Yammer ties a user to a company email address and a Yammer profile - in effect, it is personal. So creating an impersonal "push channel", such as a "HR News" feed, would be cumbersome, and may even breach company email rules and policies. Thus a facility that is easily exploited in Twitter, and that would be of benefit in a corporate environment, is seemingly unavailable.
A major concern for any enterprise solution is security. I confess I've not looked at the detail of the "paid for" service from Yammer, which offers the ability to manage the security of one's network. However, it is clear that this remains a hosted service, and therefore the more security-minded are likely to conclude that it is not safe enough for company confidential communication. And if it's not safe enough for this level of communication, it is then of questionable value within the enterprise.
A final point for consideration is scale. I work for an enterprise with around 60,000 employees, worldwide (in fact, Wikipedia tells me it has risen to over 86,000 in 2008). An enterprise solution needs the ability to reach everyone within the enterprise - but an individual grunt in the field, like me, does not want to be deluged by the idle ponderings of all of these folk, all of the time. Yet the filter offered by the "follow" facility strikes me as inadequate within this enterprise context. At work, I am actually part of many different networks: some overlapping, some not. I have personal networks, profession-based networks and managerial networks. In short, the corporate world is a complicated place in which each of us has his/her own network needs. A simple "follow" does not come close to addressing this. Yammer is better suited to the Small-to-Medium end of the Enterprise world, where one's networks are fewer and smaller.
So to reiterate my answer to my first question: No.
What would I want in such a tool for the enterprise?
I am a dedicated (some might say, obsessive) Twitterer and I do believe that a Twitter-like tool, restricted to just the company, would be very useful. However, it would need a few tweaks (or major surgery!):
First, it would need to support push channels. Whether it is your Networks Department telling you of planned outages, the arrival of the Sandwich Lady at your office or the CEO telling you where to find the company's annual results - there are many push channels that are of value within the enterprise. Of course, such channels are useless unless you know about them - so a search or browse facility would be a "must have" too.
Second, it would need to support groups - the return of the SIG (if it ever went away). I like Chatterous - a tool still in beta release - as it offers me the opportunity to exchange messages within cliques or groups. I would like to see something similar for corporate use. Given I work in a projects-based organisation, working with teams scattered around the globe, having project group chat/micro-blogging would be very useful. I can see that too many groups would be cumbersome and could rapidly become ineffective - but I'd be willing to test that theory!
Finally: security. I would want to know that I can bring the solution within my firewalls and keep all traces and logs on our own servers.
I am not claiming this ramble makes much sense and it should not be taken as representing the position of my company on Yammer, Twitter or anything else, really. I'm just sayin'...
This afternoon, having watched the Singapore Grand Prix on TV, I was all set for an explore of Burning Life. However, when I arrived I was underwhelmed with the degree of lag, and so decided to potter elsewhere. Through a process of mindless random clicking I finally landed up at the twin sims of Portugal Center A and B - and as this seemed an appropriate Slambling site, I decided to give it a whirl.
Why appropriate? Well the site, which still seems to be under development in places, belongs to an atomic world company: Wheels Logistica. Basically, they offer logistics services - ranging from distribution network planning, through warehousing, to goods transportation... in Portugal, reasonably enough.
The 2 sims appear to be aimed at different purposes - and though adjacent, do not share a common theme. Center A seems to be geared towards entertainment and engagement with the public, consisting, as it does, of a surprisingly convoluted race track. There's a couple of trucks near the start line, and a right-click tells me that I can "drive" them. Now, I like to think of myself as a reasonably competent driver in the atomic world, but virtual driving has alway been somewhat more challenging. In this case, though, I couldn't even get the truck started! Perhaps you can figure it out, and get me sorted!
The other sim, Center B, seems less complete, but would appear to be pitched more directly at the business user of Second Life. There's a small (and almost deserted) warehouse and a large, glass office building, in front of which are some displays that seem to be talking about what the company can do to reduce your fuel costs.
I haven't really got anything else to say about the site. It's competent; the trucks look good; the racing track should be fun to negotiate - and that's about it. It is not "pushing the envelope" like this site. As usual, I have a few snaps for you:
Saturday, 27 September 2008
I visited Temasek in response to an invitation from Veritas Raymaker, one of the people responsible for the sim, flattered that he not only read this blog, but had actually found it useful. I didn't know what to expect - and it's taken me 3 trips to get all the information I wanted.
The name of the sim means 'Sea Town' in Javanese and was the old name for Singapore - or at least a predecessor of it. As a notecard told me when I arrived: "Temasek is designed to be a place where you can learn more about the culture, history and ecology of Singapore....Although it cannot model the geography of Singapore down to the last detail, Temasek has been designed with great care to provide you with an authentic experience of some of the highlights of the cultural experience. Please do try to visit the Peranakan shophouses, the fishing village - Kampung Laut, and the mudflats."
It also saves me all the faff and hassle of googling for more background by telling me: "Singapore is an island-nation in Southeast Asia. It covers a territorial area of about 700 square kilometres. This is equivalent to 270 square miles; by way of comparison, it is about eight times larger than Manhattan Island in New York. Singapore lies one degree North of the Equator, and as a result it has a tropical rainforest climate... Present-day Singapore has an estimated population of about 4.6 million Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents. The national language of Singapore is Malay, and there are four official languages: Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil and English."
The sim is divided into a number of distinct areas, each of which will provide you with notecards explaining aspects of Singapore history, geography or society. One corner of the sim is taken up with 'Fort Temasek', which gives you a chance to find out about the abortive defence of Singapore against the invading Japanese in 1942 - or just fire off some big guns ftw. You can cruise the Temasek River (itself modelled on the shape of the real Singapore River), or take a guided tour. You may also enjoy other, less Singaporean diversions, such as playing a giant chess game, or taking a hang-glider for a spin over the sim.
I'm not sure of the backing for the sim, but as there are both shops and a residential area, it looks like the aim is to "make tier" from rental. On my first visit the skies were largely clear, but more latterly a ruddy big Concorde has appeared. In my view, while impressive enough in its Singapore Airlines livery, it is far too close to the ground and gives the place a rather claustrophobic feel. The island is a 'no-fly' zone, but a teleport could sort out any issues with placing the plane higher.
Here's some holiday snaps from my trip to give you the gist:
I've not written much recently, mainly due to the difficulty of finding anything new and interesting to write about. There seem to be no new corporate sites in Second Life, and many that have been here a while are closing up shop. It therefore comes as a pleasant surprise to visit not only a new corporate sim, but one that rewards the traveller handsomely in terms of build quality and entertainment value. The sim in question is 7Days Magic Bakery.
Sound quaint, huh? A sim for your local neighbourhood bakery? Ummm... not quite.
7 Days is a brand within the the Baking and Confectionery division of Greek food conglomerate, Vivartia, formed as a result of a merger in 2006 with Chipita. In total Vivartia employs around 13,500 people, and markets its bakery goods throughout Eastern Europe. On a darker note, in December 2007, Vivartia was found guilty of colluding with other milk producers to fix milk prices in Greece, and its earnings for the year were reduced by nearly 22million Euros as a result. Nevertheless, the company had a turnover of around 1.5billion Euros, with the Bakery Division bringing in some 412million Euro. So as you can see, 7 Days is far from being a little local bakery! If you want to see something of their product range then try here.
OK... so what about this sim? It opened just over a week ago and if I had been slightly quicker off the mark I could have posted a rib-tickling pun about taking 7 Days to write this post - but I wasn't, so I can't.
I have to say that I think the build quality and approach knock just about every other corporate build into a cocked hat. In large part this is due to the decision by involve3d, the builders, to execute most of the build work outside of Second Life, using Maya. The resulting structures and textures were then uploaded for final placement in the sim. The result is a spectacularly successful marriage of forms and detailed textures - which is my pretentious way of saying: it looks great!
Yeah.. yeah... but what does it look like?
You arrive at a landing that is faintly reminiscent of the Crystal Palace - lots of baroque ironwork - and your first action is to proceed thru the door in front of you into a windowless vestibule, where you will trigger the first of many audio commentaries (for the deaf, there are notecards too). A slightly peeved and aggrieved robot will tell you something about the sim - his amusing ramblings giving time for the sim itself to rez behind the scenes. When all is set, you can open a door and proceed into the sim proper. They've aimed for a "Dreamworks/Pixar-like" cartoony look and feel, and they've achieved it. Not only visually amazing, the music and audio fit the theme too.
Your main objective is the Bakery itself, but you should take the time to meander up the hill on which this Wonka-some construction sits, and take in some of the sights and sounds. In the bakery, you can control a machine to make your own personalised baked item - sweet or savoury. As their press release notes, you can concoct such oddities as the Chocolate Symphony Cosmic Satisfaction Croissant or Oregano Grated Cheese Electric Burst Pita Bakes. Whatever you end up with - and there are many, many variations - you really must eat it to get the full benefit. (A slightly cumbersome arrangement - you have to "Buy" for zero L$, then "Wear" the item)
During your wanderings you will encounter, and should pick up, the Vendomaton. I think I was a little too full of sugar-rush to fully absorb how this beastie functions. But in essence, everything you've made can be added to your vendomaton, and that means you can rez it at home and share your baking bounty with your pals; and vice versa.
But why? Why build the sim? I think the answer, in part, lies in the quality. I don't see this place setting new records for concurrent visitors, or establishing itself as the Place To Be Seen in SL. It might - but that would be a side benefit. Is it there just to promote the company? Well, yes, of course... but it is more subtle than that. Simply promoting within Second Life is largely a waste of effort, as many companies have discovered. But using Second Life as a stage in which to create ads - both movies and stills - that can be pumped into the real world. Now that is something different - hence the need for high quality, essentially non-SL constructions. I look forward to seeing how this story unfolds - and to the opening of their orientation sim, which also promises something new.
There's a lot more I could say about this place - but really the only thing I would say is: add it to your 'Must See' list. No.. don't do that. Just go there. But a word of warning... I found the triggered audio really impacted performance on my machine - and SL crawled along abysmally at times. This probably improves with cacheing... I went back with a friend, and found performance was much better. But don't let that stop you!
As regular readers will attest, you can judge how impressed I am with a sim by the number of pictures I take of it. I think I might have set a new record for myself:
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
I'm sure you can think of better puns than that lame title, through which I am alluding to the fact that Shell, the global oil company, may no longer have a place in Second Life.
What's that? You didn't even know they'd had a place to begin with? Well in truth neither did I. But a couple of days ago a chum passed me a link to here, a page in the Innovation area of Shell's website. This page tells us that GameChanger, an innovation incubator within Shell, had been developing a learning and collaboration area in Second Life. In fact, not only that - it had even won first prize in 2008's TEC Intraverse awards, in June. The website mentions 2 sim by name: "Learning Island, designed for virtual meetings and learning; and Ideation island, a project management space."
Shell's press release gives more background of their work, introducing us to Unfrozenmind, a "strategic innovation think tank", with whom they put together this presence. It quotes Phil Rosedale as saying: " ...Shell and Unfrozenmind have developed a wonderful example of how the businesses of the future will use 3D environments such as Second Life to drive collaboration."
Now all of that sounds simply peachy.... there's just one fly in the ointment. When I came to look for these islands today, they had effectively disappeared. Certainly, Ideation no longer appears on the Second Life map - while Learning is now part of the New Media Consortium cluster, and appears to bear no relation to Shell whatsoever.
It is only 3 months ago that there was all this hullabaloo, with lots of fancy words and mutual back-slapping and starry-eyed admiration. And now... there's not even somewhere for the virtual tumbleweed to blow through. Anyone care to explain what's going on? My most generous guess is that Shell have now taken all of this into OpenSim, behind their firewalls. What do you think?
Sunday, 14 September 2008
...now, there's something about AM Radio's work that reminds me of the sense of isolation to be found in the paintings of Edward Hopper. Having finally caught up on AM's build The Refuge and Expansion, I was doing some mental filing and, thanks to the power of association, I recalled reading that someone had built a virtual 3D replica of one of Hopper's most famous paintings: Nighthawks. A bit of Googling brought up the sim location: Primtings.
A trip to the Primtings sim proved both enjoyable and frustrating. Basically, the sim (at ground level at least) is dominated by... what?... hmmm... some sort of giant, black ziggurat. Inside, there's a cool modernist minimalist ambiance - lots of black and pale grey, with subtly subdued lighting. The ziggurat houses (what I take to be) a growing 3D Gallery. Almost all of the works here are 3D representations of famous 19th and 20th Century works of art - featuring artists as diverse as Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, Paul Klee and MC Escher.... oh, and Edward Hopper.
Whether this is art is a debateable point - but it is certainly an interesting exercise in craft, and an interesting place to wander around. I said earlier that it was also frustrating. My frustration came from lag and delays, that saw me ejected to the far edge of the sim whenever I tried to take a seat in the Nighthawks diner and that made initial movement through the building difficult. Hopefully this is a temporary glitch and not something inbuilt.
Finally, for those who decide to explore higher up, you will find a sim-sized version of Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian. Here are my travel snaps:
This is the first of two related posts, and concerns a trip to a trio of Welsh sims: Welsh Lakes, Welsh Springs and Welsh Cove. Most seasoned travellers have probably already been through here - but it was my first visit.
My first port of call was Welsh Lakes, home to a huge floating sculpture consisting of a series of interconnected Klein bottles - a bizarre mathematical oddity that seemingly points up its own fundament. The sculpture is the work of Miki Gymnast, and appears to be floating over recently ploughed farmland. The skyline is one of those seemingly endless prairie scenes beloved of AM Radio: a few farmhouses, dwarfed by a towering, sickly green sky. The bottles are cleverly constructed, but I have to confess, left me a bit cold as they felt more an exercise in mathematics than design. I know this is unfair - but that's what I took from the construction.
A floating pink block, reminding me of an eraser from childhood, provides a link to the 2 other Welsh sims, which prove to be The Refuge and Expansion - a classic tour-de-force by the aforementioned AM Radio. Again, we have the rather bleak greeenish sky and distant farmhouses, but this time we have a cluster of Mr Radio's builds to entertain us. The point of arrival is a country crossroads, somewhere in the boondocks, way beyond the Back of Beyond. There's an old Texaco gas station (I believe that is the term they use over there) with a hotrod sat outside it. Is the owner now inside, paying his bill? No - the place is deserted. Why not sit a while, and wait to see who turns up?
In fields opposite the gas station you will find a rusting locomotive (sound familiar? I did say it had a cluster of AM's builds). Back along the road aways you will find a neat and proper little house. Go in, why don't you... You will find Mr Radio's trademark hat. Where can he be? And why are there so many chairs piled randomly by the window? Maybe there's a clue upstairs.
Hmmmm... the plot thickens. There's an amateur science laboratory - a microscope, a telescope and a few specimens. But it's hard to reach because of the veritable mountain of chairs and books piled throughout the room! I tbrought to my mind the scene in The Prestige, when the magician wanders around the back of Tesla's laboratory and finds a mound of hats and cats (watch the movie to find out why).
And that's about it... as with all AM Radio builds you marvel at the detail, and at the ambiance he creates. Beautifully constructed items, set in a lonely, alienating landscape.
I have a stack of pictures - please flick thru them - and go and view them fullsize at Flickr:
Saturday, 13 September 2008
No really.... despite appearances, this is a real place - now building a virtual presence in Second Life. When I first noticed the Bumrungrad Hospital sim on the map, I assumed it to be some sort of crudely comical take on med school. Kind of like Animal House for medical students? But as it turns out - there really is a Bumrungrad Hospital.
It's website tells me: "Bumrungrad International is an internationally accredited, multi-specialty hospital located in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. Founded in 1980, today it is the largest private hospital in Southeast Asia with 554 beds and over 30 specialty centers. Bumrungrad offers state-of-the-art diagnostic, therapeutic and intensive care facilities in a one-stop medical center. Bumrungrad serves over a million patients annually. Over 400,000 are internationals. " So that's me put firmly in my place! You live and learn, eh?
The sim is at a very early stage of development. It looks like a solo effort (and I know how long that can take!) and may take quite some time yet before it can be said to be fit to visit. As you might expect, a representation of the hospital seems to be the centrepiece of the build. How much of this is actually going to be of use is anyone's guess. It seems like a lot of effort to build structures (floors, rooms) that no-one is likely to visit - but then, I do recognise the need to show people a digital representation of the atomic building. I recognise it - but I don't always agree with it. But it is too early in the build here to get a sense of what is intended - so I will cut this short.
Here's a couple of snaps that may give you the idea (lots of plywood on show):
Sunday, 7 September 2008
I dunno... my posts are like Mancunian buses: you wait ages for one, then three come along at once.
While ferreting around the sims near Sick and Dante's Inferno, I noticed a couple with a distinctive and familiar shape:
Mean anything to you? Perhaps this might ring a bell. These sims, constructed by RiversRunRed, once housed Vodafone's presence in Second Life. I wrote about the site in February last year.
But now? Well I can't access them, but as I hope you can see, they are now labelled Innovation Centre. A little digging reveals a Second Life group of that name, created by UK company Second Places. So what gives? A search for Vodafone sims now draws a blank - but instead we appear to have a couple of sims that may have been ceded from one British company to another. I dunno... you tell me what's going on?
Of course, the biggest "news" in all of this is the apparent disappearance of yet another corporate presence from Second Life. Something that Linden Lab may wish to ponder on further.
My thanks for the tip about this sim go to Garth Goode - another bald, bearded and bespectacled traveller in Second Life, and his blog: SLWTF. I was thinking of constructing a mildly humorous title for this post, playing with the name of the sim. But finally I thought the name of the sim was bizarre and obscure enough on its own: Sick.
This is a fantastic place. I have no idea what the aim of the sim is - and I don't really care. It is one the most impressive and immersive sims I've visited in some time. In terms of its look and ambience, the place owes a massive debt to Bladerunner - Ridley Scott's dystopic masterpiece based on Philip K. Dick's 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep'. While in terms of comparable Second Life locations, the one that sprang most readily to mind was Kowloon, a site I wrote about here.
When you arrive you will find yourself in a neon-lit urban canyon. It is nighttime (don't mess with the settings!), and the rain is pouring down. In the distance are great towers of light rise up into the leaden skies, but at ground-level things are in a state of dismal decay. I spent only a short time here, and have yet to sample all the 'delights' that Garth uncovered. However, I will be going back very soon!
The sim is the work of Japanese owner, mk curtiz. If your knowledge of Japanese is better than mine, you might be able to get the whole story from the sim's rather cool website. I was able to discern that it is set in the year 2054 - and that it seems at least part of the function of the site is to provide a rich shoot-em-up gaming environment. At least, that's what these videos seem to suggest.
Whatever the purpose of the sim (well - a pair actually - Sick2 is next door), you've got no excuse for not getting your virtual ass down there for a lookaround. If you want some encouragement, here's a few measly pictures:
Back in July ,2007, I posted an entry about an educational sim that had brought Dante's Inferno into Second Life. Not long after, it disappeared and I thought: "ho hum, well that's that then." However, while off exploring today I noticed it is back. Now, it may have been back for ages, but as this is a welcome return, I thought it worth blogging about. Rather than forming part of the large NMC cluster of sims, it is now proudly on it own as the Dante's Inferno sim.
It is very much like the earlier incarnation - but rather than describe it myself, I will be lazy and quote one of the many, many notecards at you, instead:
This exhibit is meant to engage all of your senses... On each level, there are activities where guests are asked to contribute content...When I last saw it, students had already been contributing their own ideas as to the denizens of the various levels. However, at the moment this amusing and potentially thought-provoking aspect of the sim is missing. I didn't see any Lindsay Lohans or Adolf Hitlers! The notecard quoted above is right though. There is a lot to learn here, and many activities that should keep the Infernally Minded busy for a while. Here's a small selection of images to give you a taste:
Please explore all the circles of Hell. You will find notecards, activities, displays and as the course develops student generated content too. If you reach the centre you will also find details about the "Build Lucifer" contest we are running, with a L$10,000 prize. You are welcome to just walk down each level, the fall here will not hurt, but you may also catch the flying gondola ride down a level at a time if you wish.
On each level you will find rocks which offer you a chance to chat to Virgil and Dante. The conversations that result may seem to ramble, but the points they raise ask you about features of the circle that you are on, and give you hints about further learning you may wish to explore. Alternatively, they can be used just for fun!
Gloria Naylor used the concept of the Inferno to frame her modern African-American novel, Linden Hills.
The novel, and the Inferno, celebrate the results of life choices. Linden Hills focuses on the choices of modern blacks in their quest to reach "equality" and urges that "equality" is in the heart and not the pocketbook. Likewise, Dante's tour illustrates that life is a series of choices about virtue.
Unlike Dante and Virgil, once you reach the centre of Hell, you can step through the wall to enter student displays about Linden Hills. This will help you understand the book, and help you and the students understand the links between the structure of the two novels.
Dante's Inferno and The Linden Hills Classroom are property of Literature Alive! in Second Life Credits: Eloise Pastuer, Design and Content Creation, Desideria Stockton, Academic Content Designer, Daliah Carter, Assistant.
PS: I left the reference to The Gluttonous as a warning to self!