Friday, 29 February 2008

A Tale of Orders and Invoices

Taking a break from my more usual blogging activities, I wanted to get down my experiences of corporate virtual land purchase so that I could find out from you where I went wrong, and how I can make things better next time. If, by some chance, I did not go wrong, then let this stand as a salutary lesson for us all – and poke in the direction of Linden Lab to sort out their B2B procedures.

My story starts with a successful business case, which led to the allocation of a small(!) sum for an initial presence in Second Life and the creation of an internal project code against which this money could be allocated. Hurrah!

So what to do? The first thing is for the company to order the island, right? How does that work? This sounds like a job for our global purchasing system. I went into this huge web-based system, created a shopping basket and added "1 virtual island + 6 months' tier", along with as much information as I could.

Wrong move. The order recipient must be set up as a supplier before creating the basket. Our Purchasing Team cancelled the basket, even though it had been through the full approval process, and waited while I started again.

There then followed an exchange of mails with the folks at Linden Lab that led to them being approved as a supplier. Oh Joy... I was able to re-create the order and get it approved. Success! A bit glitchy – but we got there.

So that's one thread of the tale - the raising of the corporate PO. While this was going on, there was also another thread in play - raising the order with Linden Lab.
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I had already discovered that corporate users (and others, no doubt) do not have to wade through the nonsense that is the Second Life website land purchase. Instead I was able to use the "Special Estate Purchase" option of the second life grid website. This "special" option exists "if you require an invoice (payments by wire transfer, check or credit card). This form is specifically for business entities requiring a formal invoice/receipt or PO# type process; all orders placed through this form require 6 or 12 months payment for maintenance in advance." Sounds like a corporate user to me. [ Little tip: despite what it says on the SL website, you don’t need a premium account for this. ]

Now I must confess that the term "wire transfer" worried me. It produces in my mind images of the Wild West, with telegraph operators desperately tapping out messages warning of impending disasters - natural or man-made. In terms of modern Business-to-Business (B2B) commerce it seems to be particularly archaic terminology - and so it proved in practice too. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I used the excellent, easy-to-use special orders website to specify the type, name and location of the island, and also supplied any extra information required (I can't recall the detail now) that enabled Linden Lab to set up my company as a valid customer, with 30 days' payment terms. Marvellous, at the end of this thread I had an invoice number for a new island and my company was set up as a customer. It was all coming together...

Or was it? There were a couple of worrying signs. First, I did not see a mechanism for recording my company's PO# in the order I raised with Linden Lab, so any invoice I then printed off would also be devoid of this information. In effect, I couldn't force the connection between the invoice and the PO - not something to delight auditors.

The second worrying sign was the difficulty in pinning down Linden Lab's bank account information. My company (in common with every other one I have ever known) expects a purchase to work something like this:
1. Supplier is approved
2. PO is created
3. PO is sent - nowadays electronically - to Supplier
4. Supplier supplies the goods (assuming company is a valid customer)
5. Supplier sends invoice to company, referencing PO
6. Company accounts payable validates the invoice against PO
7. Company accounts payable authorises bank to make inter-bank transfer to pay it

We had done 1 and 2... We'd kludged 3... Linden Lab did 4 and 5 (but missing the PO#)... we did 6. So we weren't far off.

Now, how to pay? The Special Estate Purchase surprisingly, given its use for corporate customers, only supports the concept of an individual, identified by email address, paying by credit card. This is not of much use to a company, where an Accounts Department wants to pay by inter-bank transfer.

What about this "wire transfer" then - the only other remote payment option that appeared to be open? The problem here is that to pay by wire transfer, one first needs to login in the Second Life website. Actually, this is 2 problems: first, access to the Second Life website is barred by our networks people (it is classed as a games site) and second, our Accounts Department, consisting of several hundred people, does not have an avatar and hence does not have an account in Second Life. And it seems a ridiculous farce to have to create one. Even if they could login, they would then have to go through some excessive rigmarole - involving the unplanned expenditure of a further 25 US$ - to actually make the payment. This is just... not... going... to... happen.

So there we were: stymied. We had the PO; we had the island; we had the invoice; we had the money. We just had no way of working with Linden's processes, which seem incredibly unfriendly to business. With only days now left before our 30 days' grace ran out, and no prospect of finding a method whereby my Accounts Depart could actually pay Linden Lab, I had no option but to pay the invoice myself and claim it back. And trust me... you don't want to have to claim back that amount of money, for the purchase of something you can't even touch or put away in a safe. That saga is still in progress.

And… ladies and gentlemen... that's the whole sorry tale. Given that this trauma will repeat itself every 6 months, as tier falls due, I am more than a little curious to know what I did wrong and what I should do next time.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Went Down to The Crossroads

This post completes a trio devoted to guitar and guitar music sites in Second Life. My thanks go to Aleksandra, who left a comment on the Gibson post, suggesting I should take a look at this sim: The Crossroads. As name of the sim sort of suggests, it is home to the Second Life Blues Museum. OK, there may be others, but I have to say, this one is excellent.

The sim itself is modelled as some kind of backwoods, "squeal like a pig, boy" America: next to a fly-blown, garbage-strewn trailer park a pair of bodies lie under blankets, awaiting the arrival of the body bags; there are odd bloody marks on the roadway - which you hope indicate where some poor woodland creature - rather than a human bean - failed to make it across the street. And amid this chaos sits the Blues Museum and the House of Tunes. I did not get a chance to explore the House, but I can wholeheartedly recommend the Museum. A well laid-out history of the blues, augmented by more peripheral topics (such as the mythology of The Crossroads), is delivered to you through vast numbers of notecards. Click a topic or musician and you get a detailed notecard in return. The attention to detail is impeccable - and clearly a great deal of effort - and I suspect more than a little love - has been expended in building this impressive resource. The whole sim in fact uses some great, deeply detailed textures.

As for the trailer park, this seems to be a rental opportunity. So if you want an idiosyncratic home, propped up on bricks, somewhere in the boondocks - then this is the place for you. Don't knock it until you've seen it. And by good timing or good fortune - here's my pictureshow:

Virtual Healthcare and Hospitals

I dunno... you wait months for a virtual health service, then 2 come along at once. In the space of only a couple of days we witnessed press announcements from both IBM and Cisco/Millions of Us, launching healthcare-related sims in Second Life.

I will deal with the IBM one first - since I am clearly not ill enough to gain access to the site in question: IBM Healthcare Island. The island, which debuted at HIMMS'08 healthcare conference, is described in the press release as "a unique, three-dimensional representation of the challenges facing today’s healthcare industry and the role information technology will play in transforming global healthcare-delivery to meet patient needs." It is split into a number of locations, ranging from the patient's home, to clinics, laboratories, hospital and the ER. The main aim is to show the use of Personal Health Records (PHRs), the interactions with Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems and the development of an Electronic Health Record (EHR). I am slashing the description to the bone here - read the extensive press release for more.

Perhaps ironically, given the currently closed status of the island, Dan Pelino, General Manager, IBM Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry says: "The island allows each healthcare stakeholder to envision how the total system can be affected by intercession at each juncture of the healthcare delivery process.” As a 'patient' I'd like to think I count as a 'healthcare stakeholder'. Oh well, in the meantime I will continue to take aspirin and plenty of liquids, while giving some consideration to...

PalomarWest Hospital. Where IBM appear to be using the 3D world to walk us through medical processes and information flows, MOU are using it as a visualisation tool, modelling a hospital that is not due to open in the atomic world until 2011. They have developed the visualisation on behalf of Palomar Pomerado Health and Cisco Systems who, between them, are developing a "hospital of the future" in which state-of-the-art ICT networks and systems will help deliver premium levels of patient care. You can read the press release to glean the features they seek to demonstrate in the virtual world, including "telepresence", robotics and 3D imaging.

The sim itself looks very impressive - though I could not quite get a handle on the scale. Nor could I get a reliable fix on the level of detail. Arriving in the car park, you are presented with the medical centre in all its proposed finery. As this is about visualisation, it should not have surprised me to find that so much of the centre was effectively shut. In large areas I could admire the outside, but not wander around the inside. In fact, I found my route heavily constrained. I could get into the ground floor lobby, and after picking up a RFID tag I should have been able to access treatment facilities. However, it told me these were in use (though I seemed to be the only person on the sim) so I can't comment on these. I may try another time. Incidentally, I was a bit surprised to be told that I needed to have my gall bladder removed - I certainly did not have that in mind when I came to the sim!

There's a couple of movies that talk you through some of the concepts of the hospital, while also promoting the joys of Cisco wifi access. Maybe it was my inability to actually obtain treatment, but I saw none of the features listed in the press release. Perhaps they are still being worked on, since I did notice a basic cube prim on the stairs leading up from the lobby. Oh... it would be nice if the wheelchairs worked too. Overall I liked the sim, and can see that it is a big step ahead of 2D presentations when trying to imagine how the place will look and operate. However, I'm not sure that the press release bears much resemblance. I suppose I'd better go back and get that gall bladder whipped out.

Here's some views of the outside:


The lobby and the basic, cube prim:


A Cisco wifi access point - and and infomercial:


You can find out more about the proposed Palomar Medical Center West here.
You can download a .WMV format video for the virtual hospital here.

Oh...and finally - I couldn't help but notice, in checking through press releases, that Cisco has just established the rather wonderfully entitled Academy of Digital Signage. I dunno... it tickled me, anyway.

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UPDATE: I am given to understand that the IBM Healthcare island should be opening to the general public in a few weeks. So just wrap up warm and avoid chills until then.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Patrick Hufschmid Guitars

Following my recent post, it seems like Gibson Guitars have taken my(?) advice, and closed access to Gibson Island until it is in a better state of readiness. So having piqued your interest, it seems you will now need to wait a few months before you can go and pay your respects and perhaps blag a virtual copy of one of their iconic guitars. [ Actually, I have no idea if they plan such freebies, so be prepared to settle for a t-shirt. ]

But in the brief gap between posting about the island and it getting closed, I got the opportunity to meet another guitar maker, a guy who has been building fine guitars in both RL and SL. Born in the Netherlands but now based in Switzerland, Patrick Hufschmid (or PatrickHufschmid Beaumont in SL) has been producing his beautiful, hand-crafted guitars for around 11 years. In fact, even the pickups are custom-built to his own specification. More recently he has built an extensive range of both electric and acoustic virtual guitars for Second Life musos. They come with a range of animations, loops and special effects, "our goal is to create the most realistic and practical guitars in SecondLife."

If you like the virtual guitars and fancy a custom-built atomic guitar, then a 6-string will set you back around 3,350 USD (same for a 4-string bass) - and take about 3 months to build.

Here is a (newly revised) SLURL to his shop in Second Life. The shop is not a great architectural achievement, it's just a shop. On the ground floor you will find the full range of virtual guitars, while upstairs you can find out more about the real life guitars. My friend Xantherus might like to note that there is a virtual guitar that bears some likeness to a Flying V, though obviously it isn't actually one. So if you're disappointed that you can't get your hands on a Gibson, why not step up to the bespoke world of Patrick Hufschmid?

Here's a few snaps of the store - and of me twanging the MasterCoustic Dreadnought Spruce, which comes with a stack of animations and effects:

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Gibson Guitars

If you have any knowledge of any form of popular music of the last 100 years, whether it be Jazz, Blues, Country, Rock, Pop or any of a zillion genres and sub-genres, then you surely must know the name Gibson, makers of some of the best loved electric guitars in the world. This is relevant because, while taking a look at the Second Life grid near the site of my last post I espied a Gibson Island. I zoomed in my map view. "Hot damn, that looks like the business end of a Les Paul" thinks I, and in a "we are not worthy" moment, I found myself teleported to the surface of the sim. But first, some background...

The Gibson Guitar Corporation has a history dating back to 1902 - further, if you want to include Orville Gibson's mandolin design of 1898. That great rock icon, the Les Paul, first saw the light of day in 1952, followed by other famous and much loved models like the Flying V and the SG. Over the years the company has diversified to cover a broad range of instruments, and also owns Epiphone, who produce cut price versions of the big sellers. ( I must confess an interest here , as I am the owner of a left-handed Epiphone SG - though it rarely gets out for any exercise these days).

The Gibson Island sim describes itself as: "Gibson Guitar Corp's official world on Second Life. Its a fun place for musicians and music fans, with lots to see and do, free concerts by SL and even RL musicians who endorse Gibson's family of products." It is in part of the grid that has many new sims, and many more in the early stages of construction. This sim is no different. The main feature is a combination of terraforming and object creation that forms the shape of the Les Paul guitar body, complete with strings, controls and pickups. However, it looks like a first cut at the moment - a "build it and see what it looks like" experiment that may be developed into a more fully-fledged version in due course. One side of island has more practical public spaces - an acoustic stage, a diner/dance hall and an electric stage. However, it is immediately obvious when you arrive that the island is quite a way off being ready. There are various odd bits of things dotted about the sim, seemingly is varying stages of test.

As I've commented before, opening the doors too early is not necessarily a good idea, since you end up with non-reports like this one. I can't really make any fair comment on the sim because it is so incomplete - but that's because I am of a generous disposition. A meaner "me" might treat any open sim as public and hence fair game, and review it accordingly. It is better to get the sim to a state you are happy to consider complete before letting in the hordes.

Here's a photoset so you can see what's there at the moment:

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

IEEE - A Work in Progress

I dunno about you, but as a fairly seasoned Second Lifer I have got used to an oddly high incidence of odd coincidences in SL - "Synchronicity" was Jung's rather elegant term for it. So, in a spirit of community and collaboration, I offer you "SLynchronity" - thus far without the trademark - for your free use and enjoyment, to describe this effect. In my last post I gave you a view of the current state of play with my company's island in Second Life. I touched on a couple points - one: I had not blogged about an island for a while, and two: I expected the company island to go through a couple of reconstructions before we felt it was complete. After posting that entry I decided to rectify point one, and set about finding a sim that looked promising. I quickly found IEEE and, as you will see, had a SLynchronous moment relating to point two.

But first, a little about IEEE - or "Eye-triple-E". The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers sounds like it would not be out of place in the steampunk world of Caledon, the name reeking as it does of hot engine oil and Tesla discharges. In fact, the institute rightly describes itself as "the world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology." Its vision is that "IEEE will be essential to the global technical community and to technical professionals everywhere, and be universally recognized for the contributions of technology and of technical professionals in improving global conditions." It is perhaps the world's pre-eminent standards body for all standards pertaining to technology today. Since my RL self works in Information Technology I was rather pleased to find them in Second Life... and even more pleased to find the sim (soon to be 2 sims) open to visitors.

Shortly after I arrived, while I was snapping some photos for this post, I was joined by Buildit Nikolaidis (Kyle Nikolich in RL), the builder of the island. We had a long conversation, during the course of which it became apparent that we shared a lot in common. Buildit is the sole builder for the island, at least for the present, and (coincidentally) many of his experiences matched my own. I was not surprised to learn that the island was not officially open. In fact, given his workload, he is not expecting to have a public launch until, say, June this year. The main reason for this is that he is about to embark on a major reconstruction of the island. In fact, this will be the fourth - and hopefully last - reconstruction (see point two above). As I say, I was struck by the synchronicity of this, given that I had been writing about this topic scarcely 30 minutes earlier! Perhaps the main difference is that Buildit is, thus far, keeping the sim open - so hopefully you can always pop in for a chat yourself.

Since the sim is due for reconstruction I won't say too much about the current build, other than to mention that I did find the hidden room! IEEE are using the site for internal meetings from time to time, and have dedicated various buildings for different teams or groups within the organisation. More will come with the second sim, now delivered, but as yet not built. It will be interesting to see how this build unfolds, as IEEE have eschewed the use of an established build company in favour of a self-build approach. Buildit certainly has the skills to pull it off.

Finally, here's my small portfolio of snaps:

Company Island - A Work In Progress

This week I have not been quite as active in blogging interesting (or, indeed, not-so-interesting) sites in Second Life as I would normally be. Partly, this is due to a number of RL commitments that have reduced the time I've spent in Second Life, and partly it is due to my continuing work on the company island.

You may recall that we actually acquired the island at the end of December. Since then, when the opportunity has arisen - and the creative juices have been bubbling - I've been doing a "first fix" to get the island into a state where it is of practical use within the company. I don't expect most of the buildings to survive through future reconstructions. Looking at the experiences of a number of friends I am expecting maybe a couple of such reconstructions before we are all happy with the final result. I'm therefore keen to capture the island in its current state - and besides, I've not had much opportunity to go elsewhere recently.

The slideshow below features a number of buildings and a few open spaces... oh... and a giant TV. OK, I think I must've got the idea for the TV from Prados Azules, though I readily admit that mine is very simple and basic compared to theirs. I can't pinpoint any specific influences for the other buildings - but perhaps you can see them more clearly than me. The chairs in the "boardroom" will one day be a tolerable recreation of the real world ones, found at our training facility outside Paris - though, to be fair, they aren't bad now.

So, in the absence of a more usual post, here's my pictures of the company island - a work in progress:

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Architecture Islands to link up with EOLUS

I just received this and thought you might be interested:

From Common Interests to Common Borders

Eolus One, arcspace and Architecture Islands are announcing that they will be moving to a new location on the Second Life grid, and will now be sharing common borders as a contiguous group of islands. The move is part of a concerted effort to unite some of the brightest minds as well as the most ambitious projects in Second Life.

While each group will retain its own identity and function, the new archipelego will now collectively represent a wider range of the complete life cycle of the real estate industry, including education, development, architecture, construction, facilities management and investment management.

arcspace Island is founded by KK Jewel (Kirsten Kiser in real life), publisher of arcspace.com, an architecture and design magazine that features today's most creative projects, as well as the most influential of the past. KK made the move to Second Life in early 2007 to build the arcspace Community as a platform for interacting with readers from across the globe, for collaboration, for building, and for exploring new tools and techniques.

arcspace provides customizable cubes to readers and members of the arcspace group and, in addition to supporting and building a sense of community for its readership, arcspace holds exhibitions, discussions and competitions. (http://www.arcspace.com)

Eolus Islands, founded by Eolus McMillan (Oliver Goh in real life). On July 6th 2007, some of the worlds top technology innovators unveiled a think tank, called EOLUS One. These unique, multi-cultural, geographically dispersed individuals put Eolus One in a position to come up with new ways of working in the competitive, dynamic, intercultural global business environment. EOLUS One brings together service providers and innovators from many disciplines and industries as one community to create new solutions that take full advantage of the 3D virtual environment to research and develop innovative real to virtual integrations to create virtual operation centers and dynamic 3D visualization tools for the Real Estate Industry. (http://www.eolusone.com)

Architecture Islands founded by Keystone Bouchard (Jon Brouchoud in real life), and was intended to serve as an incubator for architects, designers and students who wanted to explore the potential for Second Life to be used for both professional and academic applications. The islands hosts meetings of the 'Architecture in SL' group, and provided space for the first two Wikitecture experiments, intended to explore the potential for Second Life to be used as a platform for architectural collaboration. (http://www.archsl.wordpress.com)

Sunday, 17 February 2008

metaLIFE's metaHUD

Second Life is full of HUDs*. There are HUDs for improving communications, for looking cool, for managing your environment, for overriding default behaviours... in fact, for just about anything in Second Life. It is entirely possible to have so many HUDs active on your screen that you cannot actually see the 3D world whose use the HUDs are intended to support. The MetaHUD has been a popular beast for some time, but the latest version has just been launched, and it promises even more handy features than its predecessor.

Here is the press release:

Vilnius, Lithuania, EU ( February, 16, 2008) - metaLIFE ( http://meta-life.net ) is proud to announce the launch of a new generation social networking plaform for Second Life. We have been going towards this goal step by step over the course of the past year.

For the past 2 years we have studied the needs of the everyday Second Life user, also we did an extensive search for possible sollutions to many of the needs. What we found was that there are many existing work-arounds to many issues/problems, but a single interconnected system which could provide solutions to many of the needs did not yet emerge. As a result of our findings we decided to develop a platform capable of scaling, providing solutions to most of basic needs of the everyday Second Life user.

metaLIFE social networking platform utilizes existing concepts while taking an absolutely new technological approach. Also metaLIFE operates in an emerging and growing virtual world - Second Life. Using tools provided by Linden Lab for creating software within Second Life platform, we have develped an in world Social networking platform,with our flagship tool „metaHUD5 - Community“ , which provides it‘s users with a single and convenient platform to :

- Connect with people
- meet people and keep up with them
- stay informed, by checking your friend list recent activities

- Share my Second Life
- share Second Life expereinces with other people ( LifeLoging )
- stay informed - see what my friends are sharing
- post favorite Second Life locations
- Sell your own virtual items

- Enhancing Second Life
- search for Places posted by others( discuss, comment, rate them )
- shop for items listed for sale on metaLIFE ( rate, comment them as well )
- keep track and visit „hot now“ places

metaLIFE‘s goal for releasing this tool was to create a place where virtual world residents could interact and connect with each other, get realtime relevant information, or to put it more simply - a platform where residents could share their Second Life.


* HUD = Heads Up Display

Saturday, 16 February 2008

IBM's Power Up - The Game

Thanks to Virtual World News for this one...

Apparently IBM have opened a new virtual world, Power Up - an educational world aimed at teenagers, in which they will learn about environmental and energy issues affecting our own planet by exploring and working on the virtual plant of Helios in a bid to save it from ecological disaster.

I got the following blurb from a user forum:

"The game is part of IBM’s TryScience initiative and will be launched at Engineer’s Week 2008 opening on February 16 in Washington, D.C. The game, which can be played alone or together, features a planet in near ecological ruin where three exciting missions for solar, wind and water power must be solved before sandstorms, floods or SmogGobs thwart the rescue...

IBM devised the 3D virtual game to engage kids and educators in engineering, energy, and diversity awareness. Online video gaming is on the rise, with kids spending greater amounts of time online in fantasy play. PowerUp aims to use kids’ interest in fantasy virtual worlds to encourage them to learn about engineering principles by riding over rugged mountains in buggies to build solar towers or searching through grim junk yards to repair wind turbines. They will also learn about energy conservation by the choices they make in completing their missions. The game also features non-player characters that represent a diverse cross section of the population, to be role models to encourage every young person to consider a career in engineering and they act as guides for the game."
However, before you get too over-enthused, I thought I'd better include the reviews from the same forum:
"Just played it. It's god awful."

"So what, no group of five teenagers with 'special' element rings, that when they combine them some pansy with their undies on the outside apperar and make alot of dense accusations about pollution? Maybe ibm should stick to something they know how to do, i very much doubt any games they make will be immersive and of reasonable quality."
Perhaps a little harsh... and in the latter case, barely comprehensible.

The same source informs me that it is built using the Torque engine, which seems to popular with the Big Bluers.

I tried to open the Power Up webpage without success, and assuming you have the same experience as me, I thought I should post IBM's video about the project:

Friday, 15 February 2008

Avatarc

Phew! In my last post I basically arrived a few months too early for the island in question, whereas this time I have arrived a few months too late. I'm just back from my first visit - the first of many, I suspect - to the Avatarc sim. The name, as far as I can make out, is a melding of "avatar" and "architecture" and is closely bound with a website of the same name.

According to the website: "AVATARC is a team made of highly qualified professionals who have the expertise to develop projects inside the virtual world with architects, programmers, videoproducers, and communications and marketing experts. In the real world, Avatarc exists in Milan, Rome, and Siena; in the SecondLife virtual world it is located on Avatarc Island! A laboratory, born with the objective of applying creative research methods to the language of the virtual worlds, Avatarc utilizes interaction and communication design studies to three-dimensional planning. Avatarc constantly seeks to apply new technologies; because of its experimental character, the team develops original communication solutions that can transfer cutting-edge experiences in communication, production and cultural markets."

Ummm... if I am hacking through the hyperbole correctly, this seems to be saying "Avatarc is an [8-person] innovative Italian virtual world design and build company." Damn... I now need to add return trips to the website to my "to do" list, as well as return trips to the island.

You will gather that I rather like the island. My problem now is where to begin. Perhaps with the tour. In one corner of the island you will find a trio of tall spike-like platforms, faintly reminiscent of golf tees. The platforms provide all you need to get started - including a map of the sim, an outline of the main exhibitions, and the "cloud shuttle". This does exactly what it says: it's a cloud that acts as a shuttle between locations on the sim. If you opt to stay on it, you will get the full tour, which takes several minutes (a long time in SL !).

The sim is dominated by 3 great floating spheres, currently labelled: Visual Art Section; Meeting Ball and Competition 07 Movie Theater. Each sphere provides a sizeable auditorium and display space. Along 3 sides of the sim you will see a number of coloured hemispheres, each containing a slideshow. These (I think) provide the main permanent exhibitions on the island: Friends for Water; Surreal Architecture and The Making of An Island. The fourth side of the island seems to be taken up with resident builds and a beach, for that all-important socialising. Elsewhere you will find all manner of items, including a rather fine giant chess set.

The last feature of the island is the Visionaria 2007 film festival. You will find this at ground level, and comprises a number of booths (some now shut) each screening a different short movie. The festival was held back in October, hence my comment about arriving too late. As far as I can tell, movie-goers would move from booth to booth and at the end make their votes. Further discussion would then take place in the Competition 07 Movie Theater sphere.

Here's my portfolio of snaps:

And here's a movie from the company:

Connect3 is too connected

A slightly strange one this... the Connect3 sim. I stumbled upon while looking for anything promising in this part of the grid. Nearby, I had found the wonderfully named - but rather dull and residential - Fookers sim. I wasn't sure whether Connect3 was the third in a series of Connect sims, or perhaps the precursor to the yet-to-be-created gaming sim, Connect4. I opted for the traditional method for determining such knotty conundrums, and hit the "teleport" button.

I found myself on an almost new sim, belonging to C0nnect3 Systems. Their website tells me that the company "is the leading provider of software solutions and professional services that enable retailers from all industry segments to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their cross-channel and cross-media Advertising, Merchandising and Promotion (AMP) processes." It also tells me they are based in Cerrito, California, and that they have been in business over 14 years. Their clients include Best Buy and Circuit City. Oh... and they have tried their hand at blogging - but appear to have given up about 9 months ago, after posting just a couple of entries.

There isn't very much to say about the sim. There is a little bit of paving that is in need of alignment, as it overlaps in many places resulting in a "migraine attack" effect. At the moment there is a single building, presumably destined to be the main company reception and office, but aside from some client logos, it is yet to be personalised and furnished. Finally, it also has some streaming video of some Best Buy... errr... best buys, which may account for the atrocious lag I experienced on the sim. Click the pic for a bigger pic:

Given the otherwise rudimentary state of the sim, I assume this office is a prefab - and rather nice it is too.

If this sim is so incomplete, why am I bothering to post about it? In order to highlight the fact that this sim really is not yet in a fit state to be viewed by bumbling ramblers like me, and should be locked down until it is. If Connect3 are doing this build on their own - and why not? - then they might want to think about bringing in some expertise to help them with basic land and access management. Revealing your work in progress too early could actually work against you, and risks damage to your brand. Get all the basics worked out, including your security and governance, and make sure you don't open access until you are confident the site is in good shape. Regular readers may recall that I am a fan of the largely unannounced "soft launch" - which allows you to iron out wrinkles in the build before going for a full-on public launch. But this sim, in my view, is nowhere near ready for that yet.

Assuming this is the first and last time I see the sim before it is ready for such a launch, I will take this opportunity to wish Connect3 good luck with the build - and I look forward to seeing it again when it is ready!

Extropia Core Expands

Despite being a frequent absentee, I remain an avid fan of Sophrosyne's Salon at Extropia Core, and the eclectic gathering who converge there every Saturday for a talk or presentation from some luminary or another, followed by (or often interspersed with) a general chinwag. It's a fun event. The Extropia Core sim seems to change radically between each visit - but has now compounded this rate of change by adding another sim: Extropia.

Although the sim newly minted, the Extropia builders - Vidal Tripsa and Galatea Gynoid - have been beavering away to make it habitable. Parcels are available for rent here, however, before you rush into it, you might want to bear the following in mind: "We will REQUIRE two references from current citizens for all applications. The Board reserves the right to veto any application. To be added to the waiting list, IM Sophrosyne Stenvaag with the names of your references and the parcel size you would like." So that's a bit more stringent that Anshe Chung then.

I don't know what the sim will finally look like - maybe it will look like it does now. But since the group has opened it to wanderers and itinerant ramblers, I thought you might like to see it:

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Gruppo Banca Carige

Banks in Second Life seem to be emerging as one of my themes of the month. As two Dutch bank prepare to depart from Second Life, here's an Italian bank on its way in.

While having a look around the growing Italian area of Second Life (which looks quite weird on the map view incidentally) I saw a name I didn't recognise. Most of the sims in this part of the grid are named after Italian cities and/or regions - but Carige was not familiar to me, so I went along for a look. It turns out to belong to Italian bank Gruppo Banca Carige. Based in Genoa, and with over 900 branches throughout Italy, the group employs over 5000, and serves 1.7million customers. I don't know when the Second Life branch was opened. In fact, I will stick my neck out here, and say that this branch is not yet complete and not really open to the public.

OK, actually this seems like a safe bet to me. Although the majority of the building work is complete, there are parts, particularly in the Leisure Area, where there is still a reasonable amount of work to do - for example, dropping the putting green onto the island surface (it currently hovers around a metre above it). There are a few such "floating" objects that need to be tethered.

However, to be fair, the bulk of the island is in good shape. It is dominated by a large, modern office building, resembling a set of billowing sails. It is still a tad spartan inside, but it is evident that work is in progress. Beyond the office building, in one corner of the island, sits an outdoor auditorium. At the moment the seating is simply floating in mid air, a feature I like! However, more sober heads may decide that this minimalist and distinctly NPIRL* approach to auditoria is going too far. I shall look forward to checking this on a subsequent return visit.

The previously mentioned Leisure Area seems to take up around a third of the island, with a (short!) golf course, tennis court, gym and pool. In a nod towards the city of Genoa, there seems to be a recreation of the city's lighthouse. But we've not finished yet - no sirree. There are several more buildings - all largely complete: a recruitment office; an overseas relations office and meeting spaces for both domestic and business clients. Oh... and finally, there's a dance area. Phew! And all of these set around an ornamental lake. It is a neat piece of juggling to fit in all of these features without it looking strained and crowded. Here's the photos from my trip (there's a lot of them, so I've reverted to PictoBrowser):

Will this see a change in the perceptions of SL by RL banks? Nah... can't see it myself. But I hope Banca Carige enjoy their virtual adventure.

Metaplace News

Got this mail earlier from the Metaplace Team - and thought I should share it:

Hello everyone!

We’d like to invite you for a public test of a puzzle game that we’ve created called Wheelwright! This test is not to focus test the game itself (it is not in a complete or polished state) but to test our platform technology. We will be testing our platform’s ability to create and maintain a large number of singleplayer game instances. Additionally, we will be testing chat between instances and persistence.

The link to visit will be:
http://www.metaplace.com

We hope to see a large number of participants help us with this stress test. Please join us on Friday, February 15 at 5pm PST for a brief chat before playing the game, then followed up by a short wrap-up chat. See you there!

The Metaplace Team

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Gamesload

My last post was about one of the sims in the diffuse but nevertheless distinct "Danish archipelago" in Second Life. For this one, we travel a little further South - at least, in RL terms - to take a mad dash around the German Gamesload sim.

Gamesload is an online games distribution / download platform, "powered by T-Online." A toehold in Second Life seems like a logical extension of the company's brand. Their website tells us the sim is "the prime address for entertaining games in Second Life these days. And that's because any game is definitely possible on Gamesload Island. And that goes for gamblers as well as for game developers. On Gamesload Island, you can game play unlimited or even develop your own game at the Gamesload Tower. The Tower is also the place where any other Avatar will be happy to give your latest game a try.Turn your ideas into imaginative games and present them to the community at the Gamesload Tower... The Gamesload jury will select the most beautiful ideas to be turned into games. Afterwards, prims and building space at the Gamesload Tower will be allocated. Have fun joining us and let the games begin!"

This page gives you details on how to enter your game idea for consideration. Unlike other forms of competition in Second Life, I don't see this being done as a way for the company to grab your best ideas and make a mint, while paying you peanuts. I think it really is just a vehicle for getting people engaged with the community the company seeks to foster.

In my mad dash I had little time to do much. There is a (rather slow) automated guide that will take you around the sim, but the main feature is the aforementioned tower. This already has some games pre-installed, while there's also a number of games-related freebies available to you. The sim has been constructed by Torrid Luna and co, at Primforge. I know... I know... I usually have much more to say than this, but I was pushed for time so really did not cover the island thoroughly enough. The games were good tho - give 'em a whirl.

In the meantime, here's some snaps...





Oh... and a final note... my congratulations to Torrid Luna, who tied the virtual knot last Sunday!

PowerMatch

A fairly brief one this. Being of a certain age, I still extract untold merriment from the title of that old, not-so-classic movie: Danish Dentist on the Job. You can follow the link to unearth the full story of this complex tale of human emotions - but frankly I wouldn't bother. But sad to say, the title always pops into my head when the subjects of "Denmark" and "employment" crop up in the same context. Mercifully, this is a rare event - but it did happen yesterday, when I found the PowerMatch sim.

It was not a familiar name - and indeed even Google struggled to land the right links. But a bit of persistence brought me to the Power Match website. Even so, the information is a tad sparse, other than (I think) confirming what I already knew, namely: Power Match is a Danish virtual recruitment consultancy. It is owned/run by Heidi Ballinger, who describes herself in the Second Life wiki as working "fulltime with Second Life. The half of the time I work for a Danish University who do scientific work in Virtual Worlds, and the other half I use on my company 'Power-Match'." I missed their most recent jobs fair by a week or so, though my prospects as a non-Danish speaker probably weren't that great.

The sim has a smallish arrival area, near sea level. However, the main action takes place in a large sphere, high above you (well over 600metres). A teleport will whisk you there in a painless fashion. There you will find a number of recruitment booths, for companies as diverse as Saxo Bank, IBM and FLSmidth Cement. There's also a "VIP lounge" and, more usefully, a pod listing a large number of Danish sims in SL. Oh, and an auditorium.

I don't know how well the job fairs have fared, but the sim is still here, there are some prestigious companies involved, and they've been holding events for a number of months. So I'm guessing business could be a lot worse. Anyway, I only have a few photos - so to save the overhead of retrieving from Flickr, here they are:


Sunday, 10 February 2008

IBM, your point is?

Don't you just love those IBM ads? There's been some pretty good ones over the years, always with that nice "big blue" branding and a clear case to make.

So what are we to make of this one? I know it's been knocking around for a while, riling the virtual world community each time someone mentions it, but anyway....

Tateru Nino, at Massively, suggests that the ad may have intended to say: "you need IBM's expertise to take advantage of virtual worlds." After all, that tends to be the general thrust of most IBM's ads: "You need IBM's expertise to take advantage of [insert topic here]." However, Tateru's unscientific and informal poll suggests that most viewers interpreted the meaning as: "Virtual worlds are for losers and failures." That is my reaction, too.

However, I don't think they are saying either of these thing here. As a virtual worlder, it is easy to be over-sensitive. To me, the ad is just one way of saying "because something is fun and cool, that alone does not make it a good business proposition." In that regard, it is using virtual worlds (let's face it, folks, an easy target) as a visually humorous vehicle for conveying the message.

It is worthwhile looking at other ads in the IBM "Stop Talking, Start Doing" campaign. It gives the virtual world ad some context, plus they are quite amusing. Some others in the series include:





In fact, the campaign is putting out a very traditional message about a potentially exciting bundle of products and services. It is "don't listen to people who just bang on about innovation, get with the people who can deliver it."

If I have a quibble it is with the line: "the point of innovation is to make actual money." I would disagree - the point of innovation is to create the intellectual knowledge and understanding, the tools, frameworks and techniques, which others can then take forward to make actual money.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Dutch banks depart Second Life - some thoughts...

Sometimes I get the impression that Linden Lab places rather a lot of emphasis on the "Lab" part of the name. Like a vast scientific experiment, they have created this fascinating virtual world, given it some vital nutrients (in the form of LSL, the L$ and the like) and then sat back to observe what happens. Generations have come and gone under their watchful - but largely uninvolved - eye. Aside from some essential maintenance to weed out what they (often rightly) perceive as dangerous and damaging fauna, Second Life is left to get on with it... whatever "it" may be.

"And quite right, too!" is a reaction I can understand. However, as both a private citizen of Second Life and a rather stop-start corporate evangelist, my feelings on the matter are somewhat mixed. My private citizen self says "Yeah... leave it to the residents and watch how it plays out. All sorts of stuff happens - some good, some bad - so just seize the moment, enjoy it while you can, 'cos it may not be here forever - but let's hope it will." In my more frivolous moments I might even be tempted to add a: "party on, drude"

My corporate evangelist self has a different take on it (and is unapologetic about the buzzword frenzy to follow). Second Life provides a great environment for immersive collaboration and innovation. It collapses geography, instantly co-locating colleagues from around the physical world in a common, shared 3D space where they can network and share ideas around a single virtual view. It is also an environment that challenges marketing people in unexpected ways. It reveals that virtual spaces, while capable of sharing many of the same visual cues as the physical world, are profoundly different in ways that I, a mere mortal, find hard to nail down and that drive some fascinating challenges when trying to define marketing campaigns in this seemingly familiar, but actually rather alien, channel.

Returning to my laboratory metaphor, it seems to me that LL don't really care whether corporates thrive or die in SL. Indeed, it would be unscientific of them to get so involved with the subjects of their observation. Yet this is a naive (some might argue, arrogant) view of the role of corporate (and other non-resident) users of Second Life. Unlike most laboratory situations, the Observed pay handsomely for the right to be observed.Yet they get little in return. A small example is the unwieldy sales process, about which I might write on another occasion.

What has prompted me to write now is news, reported at Mindblizzard, that Dutch banks ING and ABN Amro are pulling the plug on Second Life. To grossly paraphrase Lady Bracknell, in The Importance of Being Earnest: "To lose one bank from SL, Mr. Rosedale, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness."

Both banks took an "innovative" and "creative" approach to Second Life. They didn't just set out their stall and hope people would wander by. They actively sought to build genuine communities here, offering something distinct and unique at a time when most corporates were treating Second Life as a 3D billboard. I am therefore deeply concerned about their departure, and deeply concerned about the long-term viability of Second Life as "the Virtual World of choice" for the future. I still firmly believe that web3D will be an important part of the digital experience for all of us in years to come. But this turn of events is worrying me, a fan of Second Life. I have to wonder whether Linden Lab are simply too detached from both the world they created and the physical world in which they are running a business.

[Apologies if this is a bit rambling - but it's late, and I wanted to get this posted. I'm not a journalist, just an enthusiast - but I hope I got my point across.]

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Not the warmest welcome at KZgunea

On my travels I have noticed a number of Basque sims in Second Life, but so far all the ones I have tried have resolutely refused to grant me access. However, today I noticed a little quartet comprising 3 brand new sims, and one that the map suggested was quite well advanced: KZgunea. On the basis that "nothing ventured, nothing gained" I attempted a teleport and was pleasantly surprised to find that this was successful.

A rummage (and translation) of the KZgunea reveals the following: The Basque Government has initiated the so-called Plan Euskadi in the Information Society whose aim is to boost information technology in all social levels: basic education, citizenship, business, culture and government. The KZgunea Project, launched in 2001, is the creation of a network of free public courses for the training and use of new information technologies, particularly targeting those with least access to new technologies such as the elderly and unemployed, with the aim of closing the "digital divide."

(Apologies for some shaky English there - but most of that was a Google translation.)

It is therefore not unreasonable to see the project setting up in Second Life. The site does look somewhat incomplete, comprising a bar and a number of closed buildings. An attempt to sneak inside one of the closed buildings revealed a classroom, but I could get little more information before I was summarily ejected and automatically teleported home! Nevertheless, this glimpse served to confirm my expectations - with a number of virtual schoolrooms being readied for use with KZgunea Project clients. A number of (presumably) familiar basque landmarks are dotted around the island. However, aside from the famous Guernica oak tree - Gernikako Arbola - I can't claim to have recognised them. Presumably to help fund the island, there are several small information kiosks that link you to commercial websites. Most, if not all, of these are for Spanish IT companies - so I would guess they are also sponsors of the project as a whole.

Raymond Weil's Nabucco

I am not really one for ostentatious amounts of bling (as I believe young people used to say, once upon a time) or, for that matter, the restrained elegance of inconspicuous excess. For example, for me, a watch is a thing you wear on your wrist to help you know the time - not a bizarre, chronofetishistic piece of over-priced jewellery. Perhaps that's why I had not visited the Raymond Weil Nabucco sim before - or even registered its existence though it has been open since September, 2007. However, last night my peregrinations took me into the general area, so I popped in for a look.

Raymond Weil (of Geneve, y'know) was founded in 1976 by watchsmith... umm... Raymond Weil in... errm... Geneva. All quite logical really. Although Herr Weil has now retired, the company has continued to make "mid-range luxury" hand-made watches. To promote their new Nabucco collection the company has launched its site in Second Life, described in their press release thus: "It is a place of sharing between the brand and the Second Life residents, where RAYMOND WEIL is there to listen and to gather comments and information. But the principal idea is for the visitors to have the opportunity to live the story of the brand’s new hero 'Nabucco'. An experience in 4 acts..."

The visitor is invited to "live the story", which basically consists of finding your way through a tunnel, climbing a rock face, finishing a game of chess and finding the way out. There are some nice graphics to make this slightly more interesting than it sounds. When you have finished, you can watch the Nabucco promotional movie/story - an experience that left me almost speechless, but not in a good way. Incidentally, before you ask, the story bears no resemblance to the Verdi opera of the same name, as far as I can tell. The sim is rounded off by an information desk, with links to the website, a RW Club meeting area and a Nabucco collection information area, with close-up photos, technical specifications and all that.

Here's a few snaps for you:

Prados Azules

Prados Azules, Spanish for Blue Meadows, is a sim I stumbled upon in my usual random fashion. Scanning the map, I saw this intriguingly blue sim, so popped in for a look.

There's not much to tell really. The sim reminds me of a kid's TV programme, with blue grass and trees, and a bold, simple green path that meanders across the sim. Overhead there's a giant rainbow, and in the middle of the sim sits a huge, old-fashioned TV and remote control. Behind the TV is a hill - and on the far side of the hill is a bunch of smiley-faced colour cubes. The end.

But what's it all about? To be completely honest, I'm not too sure - but I do know it is used for hosting streamed music events. For example, this Moebius Surfing site tells us about a Second Life club gig (D.R.O.I.D) to be held at Trinity, in Bristol, UK and Prados Azules on 23rd February.

As the blurb says: "D.R.O.I.D will take place simultaneously in the digitised world of Second Life, and as a consequence of this, across the known world. The line-up at the Trinity will be streamed live into Second Life, where avatars will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the night. At the Trinity huge suspended, back-projected screens will show the audience the virtual world of Second Life. There will also interaction in the hall to allow participants to hit the dancefloor in the virtual domain." You can find out more about the concept here. Incidentally, for a lineup that includes Luke Vibert, the entrance fee of just 6 quid seems like an amazing bargain.

Looks like I may need to dust off my white tie'n'tails and polish my tap shoes.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Waiting for Rumsey Maps

Tonight's quite interesting find, ironically perhaps, came about from some random searching of the Second Life map. You have to be something of a map nerd to spend as much time as I do poring over maps - including the Second Life grid map. So it was an unexpected pleasure to hit upon the 4-sim island of Rumsey Maps.

The island is the Second Life presence for the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. This is an online collection comprising some 17,400 maps (and one I plan to delve into in more depth when the opportunity arises). To quote the website: "[The] Collection was started nearly 20 years ago, and focuses primarily on cartography of the Americas from the 18th and 19th centuries, but also has maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. The collection includes atlases, globes, school geographies, books, maritime charts, and a variety of separate maps, including pocket, wall, children's and manuscript. Digitization of the project began in 1997."

Not surprisingly, the island is full of maps. Indeed, the main ground plan of the island consists of one large map, with valleys and hills contoured in 3D. Floating above these are a couple of globes - one terrestrial, one celestial - with phantom surfaces. Inside each is a giant orrery, where you can take a seat for a leisurely view of the globes' inner surfaces.

Elsewhere there is a richly textured modernist building where you can find out more information, and pick up some nice freebies - including orreries and a variety of globes. There's also a small, comfortable seating area and a meeting room. Outside there's a large map where you can place your own map pin, with up to 140 characters of text.

The one big downside of the site - indeed, the only downside in my view - is that the size and number of map textures means that lag was a huge problem for me. OK, I was using Windlight, but even with the settings turned down it was taking an age to display anything. In fact, it only started to make much sense when I'd been there fully 15 minutes. As you will see from the pictures, there seems to be a lot of "map eggs" - but these, in fact, serve to provide some infrastructure, as the 3D terrain is overlaid on top of them.

I can't find any reference to the Second Life island on the Rumsey website, so I do not know if it is officially open yet. But if you like maps - or just want to see somewhere a bit different - I can recommend the trip. Oh... and that map of the UK? The map pin is very(!) roughly where I live.

UPDATE 8th Feb'08: I've been having a bit of a think about those "map eggs" and it has dawned on me that they're actually sculpted prims, but seen in their half-rezzed state. Give them long enough and they will finally snap into chunks of contoured map. Just thought I should clarify that one!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Nokia Italia

Having posted about a couple of "hot off the press" sites, here is one that is rather less new, and that managed to slip past my less-than-perfect radar: Nokia Italia. It's been open since mid-November and has been put together to support Nokia Trends Lab. Rather than finely craft a post of infinite subtlety, with poise and humour, I think I will take freely from the Nokia website.

Visit the island and join interactive games, listen to web radio or participate by creating your own multimedia content. When arriving on the island you will immediately notice the big stage. Here you can visit performances of Nokia Trends Lab artists. In the “My Radio” area you can listen to 10 web radio stations, bringing to you the sounds of Nokia Trends Lab in an atmosphere of a real event. Artists have the opportunity to enter information and add pictures or anything useful to get to know the residents of Second Life. As a visitor you can participate too: take pictures, shoot videos and record sounds! The best multimedia content will be selected and used as an integral part of The Milan Experiment.
Well that's what the website says. I don't know what The Milan Experiment might be, but it sounds a bit scary. My experience of the site is a bit less gung-ho, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that some of these features are yet to come. What I did notice was:
  • Music listening stations
  • Video viewing stations
  • Options to vote for your favourites
  • Open mic spot
  • The "My Radio" area has a number of poses you can adopt, to match the music being played.
The look and feel is a continuation of that found on the website, although the surrounding desert island theme seems a little at odds with it. The Trends Lab seems to have been dropped in, rather than blending with the environment. Still, I like what Nokia are trying to do here, though they need to increase the frequency of events. If the website is correct, there has been only one actual event - and that was at the time of launch. Here are the piccies I took: