Sunday, 28 September 2008

Some Thoughts on the Yammer Clamour

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'...

Portugal Center: A and B

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:

7 Days Magic Bakery

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

A Shell of its Former Self

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

Primtings, 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:

Welsh Klein Bottles, Refuge and Expansion

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

Bumrungrad Hospital

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:

The Inferno is Back

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...

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.
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:

PS: I left the reference to The Gluttonous as a warning to self!

Friday, 5 September 2008

An Avatar, By Any Other Name...

.. might be a lot happier with Second Life.

Most of us who came into Second Life out of curiosity, and have stayed ever since, are probably happy with our avatars. We instinctively associate our avatar name with ourselves - regardless of where we sit in the 'Spectrum of Involvement' that goes from the fully-immersed digital beings at one end, to the augmented reality users at the other. Incidentally, if these terms mean nothing to you, then I'm afraid you will have to Google them if you want to know more. The subsequent romp across the blogosphere makes for a long and interesting diversion!

For the more prosaic purposes of this post, I want to consider names. It hadn't really occurred to me just how out-of-step Second Life is, compared with other virtual worlds. Everywhere else - as far as I know - you are pretty much free to select your own avatar name. OK, it may need to be unique in the World, which can be a challenge. But in principle, you have carte blanche. For example, I am used to a semi-digital existence thru' my avatar, Aleister Kronos. Therefore, in all the virtual worlds I am signed up to - and there are many - I am happy to use this name, or variants that may be forced by a local naming constraint (like no spaces in the name). Importantly though, I could instead have opted to use the name I was given in the atomic world, Tim Kelly (again, subject to some basic constraints). I'm hardly blowing away any great atomic/digital divide here, since anyone who was remotely interested could have garnered this information in about... ooh... one Google hit.

So where am I going with this? Oh yeah...

Second Life marches to a different tune. It forces you down a path of pseudo-anonymity by compelling you to select a surname from a predefined list, rather than allowing you to elect for anonymity or openness. And what a bunch of surnames you get! If your aim in Second Life is to have a laugh, muck about and generally use it as a purely social environment then the disproportionately high ratio of "wacky, zany" surnames may be just the ticket. It means you don't have to employ too much brainpower of your own in order to appear interesting, when you can get instant charisma, off-the-peg, just by choosing a suitable surname. Maybe most Second Life regulars are happy with this arrangement. Personally, as a resident, I'm perfectly happy with my avatar name.

But it is as a corporate resident that issues arise. I have recently been hosting or assisting with a number of internal presentations for various company folk. The aim of such presentations is to show that you don't need to waste time and money travelling to meetings when they can be done, at least adequately, in a virtual environment. And virtual meetings are far better than the other alternatives: video and teleconferences. Most of the attendees are not out-and-out Second Lifers, but rather casual visitors, looking at the potential for using the environment as a work tool.

Now then - in proper Blah 2.0 fashion I have been eliciting feedback, to understand their experiences and see how I can help to improve them. Oddly, the recurring concern was not the awkwardness of the user interface, or the lag, or indeed any of the technical issues that I had anticipated. Instead, it was the avatar naming constraints. The general view was that the absence of real names lead to confusion and lack of clarity, while the names that were used could not really be characterised as 'professional'. When you have large numbers of colleagues using virtual worlds on an occasional basis, for specific activities or events, they are not likely to know each other's avatar names - leading to confusion and lack of effective communication. While this will change over time, the process is unnecessarily slow, when all you ever wanted was to use your own name in the first place.

There are cumbersome ways around this, usually involving a dumb-ass surname but putting your full name (without spaces!) as your avatar's first name. Don't get me started on the ludicrous costs associated with having a user-defined (in this case, corporate) surname. The point is, it should not be necessary to go to these lengths.

Second Life is coming across as somewhat antediluvian, a primitive throwback to a time when happy-clappy early adopters wanted to look funny and have hilarious names. While I accept that many, more recent residents also share these aims - it is time for Second Life to grow up, grow out and make better provision for those who don't share these aims. I am sure that it is not just business users who have this frustration.

So a note for Linden Lab: if you are still trying to be taken seriously by the business world then changing the naming system would be a small, but non-trivial step in the right direction.

(And God knows... it seems that right now Second Life could do with all the help it can get)

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Neuromancers of Google and their Burning Chrome

A lame title, for cyberpunks everywhere. I don't normally write about this kind of stuff, but as there seems to be seismic rumblings of positively Cyclopean scale in the intertubes, I thought I should make an exception. I refer, of course, to the net-wobbling news that Google have opened a new line of attack on the old World order and launched Chrome, their first web browser.

If you are a techie and into comics (and let's be honest- "techie" goes with "comics" like "Laurel" goes with "Hardy") then you can read the background documentation in cartoon-form here; some thirtymumble pages of it. But why am I telling you this? If you've got this far, you know this already!

Now in truth, the average web user is probably not going to get much to get excited about from Chrome. As one chum pointed out: what new and exciting stuff can you do to a browser? Oh, it has some clever gubbins under the bonnet - and much of this clever gubbins may well go to make for a faster, more stable and more secure web experience. But at the moment it's kind of hard to tell. I will certainly give it a reasonable run... but my first impressions are: "So it's a browser. And...?"

Of course, I am a technical Philistine, who fails to appreciate the subtlety of the Javascript implementation, and who finds the interface a little too bereft of familiar friends. However, I suspect in the coming months I will come to love and cherish this newcomer - in marked contrast to Lively, Google's foray into virtual environments, which leaves me completely cold.