Saturday, 31 May 2008

The Oracle of Culturegion

if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, is it a duck?

That is the question posed at a new art installation, which opened yesterday on the German art sim: Culturegion. The installation, called 'Oracle', is the work of nonnatus korhonen / andrew burrell, an Australian "hybrid media artist". The accompanying notecard informs me: "He is no techno-utopian but nevertheless is excited to see a hastening collapse in the divide between techno speculation and reality. He understands the privilege of the artist to be the use of a subjective voice and here he is using this voice to investigate a certain interplay of art, philosophy, technology and the life-sciences." So there you have it. You can find out more about this and other art work on his website.


The Oracle of old would offer up inscrutably worded solutions to problems posed. And so it is with this Oracle. Create a notecard containing your question - no more than 20 words - and place it in the urn provided. Then let the Oracle work its magic. At the far end it will spit out the answer.

I suspect that I only got part of my answer, as I was too busy watching the process. But my question is taken from Firesign Theatre's "I think We're All Bozos On This Bus". In the World of the Future our anti-hero, Clem, gets to put a question to The President, now no longer flesh & blood, but an artificial intelligence. His aim appears to be to crash the AI and talk directly to Doctor Memory, effectively the operating system running The President. If you don't know it, track it down... if you do, then this will all be familiar to you! Anyway, the question he posed was:

Why does the Porridge Bird lay its egg in the air?

This was enough to break The President... and it looks like it did a fairly weird job on The Oracle too. This is the reply fragment I did recover:

Aleister Kronos: I say to you : have statistically future why lay its egg in dimensions future statistically included. statistically and body . . . . . . a
Aleister Kronos: I say to you : (which into the number Universe the cognitively

Hmmmm... I have no idea what is going behind the scenes on this, but it is a diverting build and nicely crafted. Why not give it a go? And take time out to explore the sim too. There's always something worth perusing here.

Sapland

German ERP software giant, SAP, have had a low-key presence in the virtual world of Second Life for quite some time, thanks to the sterling efforts of Craig Cmehil (well I've only ever seen it written like that, so that's what it must be!). I spotted the island of Sapland a long time back, and had always assumed it was owned by SAP - being their next logical step in terms of growth in Second Life. When I last checked, many months ago, the island was not accessible to the average rambler, but at some time in the long intervening period it appears to have opened. I happened upon it by chance, when I was actually looking for somewhere else.

My initial surmise about the sim turns out to be wrong. The island actually belongs to Dutch IT consulting and systems integration company, Uphantis. However, I was not badly wrong, since Uphantis make much, if not most, of their income from SAP consultancy, development and integration work. According to their website "Uphantis provides services and products that smoothen the integration of business processes within medium-sized to large companies." The name is Greek for ‘weaver', with the implication that they "weave and integrate the various technologies that still exist next to each other within organisations, designing a completely new and innovative IT landscape that offers a new functionality and new possibilities for business success."

Evidently they are not without a sense of humour - as this YouTube vid reveals:


And so to the sim.

The sim is rather less zippy than their YouTube contribution, being a fairly run of the mill company sim. It has the inevitable lighthouse... I have to confess, even I have succumbed to this and built one on our corporate island. I don't know why... Anyway, back to Sapland. Aside from the lighthouse (oh, btw, light cones should really be phantom, you fellows), which appears as an afterthought in any case, the main feature of the island is an office building. There are plenty of links back to the company site. and along the two main walls you can find a list of their job vacancies, again with links to relevant pages on their website. I declined the freebie - I have enough company T-shirts already. At the far end of the building are 2 presentation or lecture theatres. At least one of these is set up to tell you all about SAP. Upstairs there's offices, and on the top floor, a boardroom. And that's basically it. It's a handy site if you are looking for a job, and I can see that the company could derive some benefit from holding the occasional meeting here. But although competently put together, it lacks warmth, humour or - in a nutshell - a sense of engagement. Judge for yourselves:


Are You Going to ExitReality?

Naming a product must be hellishly difficult, mustn't it? So many factors to take into account. Consider, for example, those infamous automobiles where the name sounded fine in one language but meant things like "tiny male member" or "fecal matter" in others. I occasionally wonder whether Young Mr Rosedale and the Gang down at Linden Lab ever wake up sweating when they recall the naming of 'Second Life'. It must have seemed so simple and innocent at the time, little realising the millstone they were placing around their collective neck.

There must be scarcely any resident of Second Life who has not, at some time or another - and probably much more frequently than that - been confronted with the same sad litany of witticisms by non-believers, revolving around the name of the virtual world. The witticism usually hinges on the word "Second", contrasting it with "First" (or, for the less witty, "Real") Life. Thus, with depressing frequency, you encounter such rib-ticklers as: "You should get yourself a First Life" and "I'm too busy having a Real Life". Meanwhile Linden Lab, bless 'em, have staunchly refused to kowtow to this perpetual torrent of piss-taking, and have instead had the sheer brass neck to create a branding centre that actually celebrates this misbegotten name.

Now here's a little tale that may be enlightening. As a Brit, I am theoretically ruled by Queen Elizabeth II, of the royal House of Windsor. But the House has not always been so named. It started out as the distinctly Germanic House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. However, with the outbreak of World War 1, anything German (not surprisingly) became somewhat suspect. Even so it took until 1917 (for my American readers WW1 began in 1914, not 1917 - when the USA joined in) before the royals twigged that maybe their household name sounded a tad foreign. So in July 1917 George V officially declared that "all descendents in the male line of Queen Victoria, who are subjects of these realms, other than female descendents who marry or who have married, shall bear the name Windsor." And the British royals have been Windsors ever since. The Queen's hubby is Greek, but his Mum was Princess Alice of Battenberg. In order to sound neither Greek nor German, but perhaps exotically English, he adopted the name Mountbatten.

So the British royal family, in effect, rebranded themselves, and largely removed the stigma of their old names.

While I don't expect the agile, business-savvy brains at Linden Lab to follow this example, it is something they might wish to consider if they want to be the powerhouse for web 3D. OpenSim does not have this baggage to contend with, although those Tribal Net folks really ought to re-think their brand position too.

But actually, all of the above is just a rambling preamble to this:

Yesterday, after reading this post at Virtual Worlds News ("all the virtual worlds news that is fit to print"), I signed up for a new, browser-based virtual world service called ExitReality. I ask you! 'Exit Reality'!!

I'm sorry... but to me this makes Linden's selection of 'Second Life' seem like a work of marketing genius. Perhaps it's just me... but the first impression that crossed my mind was 'assisted suicide'. I recall a lot of fuss some years ago about a pressure group called Exit, and while researching this post I encountered the Final Exit website. Even without this connotation, why would I wish to be 'exiting reality'? And why would I be using a website to do so, rather than chemicals??

What are the people behind ExitReality trying to tell me about their product? Apparently they are trying to tell me it "is an exciting new social media platform that aims to improve your online experience with an enhanced 3D, multi-user, immersive messaging environment. Photo albums that become virtual galleries where you can walk through, admire and even comment on the photos that decorate the wall. Video clips that transform into 3D flat-screen TVs that you can enjoy watching with friends... hey, even fight over the remote. Immersive Messaging where you are able to see and interact with all your friends while chatting with them at millions of locations online." And it "works with leading global social media sites Facebook, Myspace, Friendster, Hi5, Orkut and Bebo and is launching soon." Sounds great - but sorry chaps, your product name sucks - and as with Second Life before it, if it has any success it will be mercilessly teased.

I like the idea though! Oh.. and when I tried it, it seemed happiest on Firefox 2.

PS: Linden Lab might want to consider adding their new CEO on this page.

Friday, 30 May 2008

C1

I don't know how this one passed me by. Perhaps because it is Italian, and I'm slow to pick up on Italian builds. Or perhaps it just was not well advertised - at least outside of Italy. In much the same way as I recently featured a Japanese sim advertising a Spanish product, tonight I have an Italian sim advertising a French product. The sim in question is 'C1' and the product being advertised is a car: the Citroen C1. But not just any C1, this is the C1 Deejay, a specially pimped and prettified version perhaps only produced for the Italian market. You can see a 'hilarious' ad for it here. I profess a degree of bafflement about the semiotics of the ad, as I can't see why a middle-aged bloke should suddenly become the embodiment of the vehicle - with far-from-sidesplitting results. Maybe you have to be Italian.

From information on the website, it seems the sim has been here for around a year, and has played host to a few events. However, the traffic stats are very low (61), so I am not too sure what to make of that. The centrepiece of the island is a giant C1 Deejay. which occupies most of the sim and seems to be largely constructed from megaprims and photo-textures.


The front looks a bit rough... as if it's driven into something - maybe that lighthouse, for example. Not surprisingly, inside the C1 is a well-equipped dance floor:


The vehicle itself straddles 2 tropical islands that spell out 'C1'. I was reminded, when I saw it, of Metaversatility's 'Club Scion' in there.com. However, aside from the enormous size of the vehicles, the 2 builds seem to have little else in common.

The 2 islands on the sim have relatively little to attract the attention. Some seating and a couple of beach houses, and that's about it. I can't say I was particularly thrilled... but I suppose, on reflection, it is the biggest car I've seen in Second Life, so that must count for something.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Virtual Jobs Fair for Luxembourg

Interested in working in Luxembourg? A high standard of living, a pleasant climate and conveniently located in the heart of (old!) Europe? It sounds appealing, you have to admit. If you agree, then you'd better get your curriculum vitae up to snuff and your virtual suit pressed and ready, because tomorrow sees the latest virtual jobs fair for Luxembourg to be held in Second Life.

I actually mentioned this a couple of months ago, when looking at the Grand Ducale sim and its siblings. This morning, though, my Google mail decided to suggest I visit the Working Worlds website - scarily efficient those Google ads - so I went along and found the following:

Join us for the first virtual Job Fair for the Benelux and meet recruiters from prestigious companies. Start your new career in the Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg on Secondlife!

On May 29 the first virtual Job fair for the Benelux will take place on the Working-Worlds Islands.

You will be able, without moving from your seat, to have a first chat with potential employers, some of which are major actors on the Benelux job market. These companies are actively seeking international executives and qualified professionals. So have a go and let them convince YOU!
So there you go... jobs not only in Luxembourg, but the entire Benelux area. Good Luck!

A Lot of Tips for Second Life Learning

What is it about lists? There's a particular type of person who just loves lists - and it's a type that defies most existing classifications, cutting across most stereotypes. From geeks to go-getting executives, nerdy hobbyists to presidential candidates, the Lure of The List is irresistible. The blogosphere seems particularly prone to this, with posts with names like: '5 thingies that do something or another' ; 'My top 10 rants about any old stuff' or '10 tips for self-regarding bloggers and navel-gazers'. Occasionally, however, you do find a list that actually carries some useful information.

I recently received an email about one such list, and after giving it a quick once-over, I thought I'd bring it to your attention. I admit that the title of the list is somewhat inauspicious. In place of the classic '5' or '10' we get a whole '50'! But if you are already delivering education and training in Second Life, or are planning on doing so, then I would suggest you take a squint at:


The post provides a handy one-stop-shop, bringing together links to a wide range of educational websites, blogs, examples, ideas, articles, resources and tools. If this is an area in which you are involved, or simply interested, then you might find some useful stuff here.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Princeton WWS - Ephemeral

The second of today's Princeton posts relates to the Princeton WWS sim. While I assume that the 'WWS' of the title relates to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the sim at present houses another art installation. This one is entitled 'Ephemeral', which may be an indicator that the installation is temporary, pending the construction of a virtual WWS.

It has been constructed by Poid Mahovlich, and as far as I can tell it has seen little use since it was employed as the venue for an exclusive film showing back in February. The film, Passage to Zhong Fu, is a piece of machinima directed, produced and edited by Verdi Millionsofus as part of the 48 Hour Film Project. It stars Poid Mahovlich and duckyfresh Wantanabe, both of whom also contributed to the making of the props and landscape. Music is by the prolific Dizzy Banjo.

It seems that the ephemeral 'Ephemeral' is still here - and is best experienced in midnight mode. It seems to consist of a number of odd, enigmatic scenes... an old British telephone box surrounded by phone books, a smoking crater, a beaver lodge next to a magical sword, an otherworldly celtic burial chamber, and a diving point from which you dive into a piranha-infested pool (and those boys bite!). That's a far from complete list, but hopefully gives you a flavour of the place. I can't actually see where one might actually screen a movie - but perhaps you can find a hidden (haunted?) cinema somwhere! As usual I have a bunch of snaps for you to peruse. I know these ones are rather dark - but that's what happens when there's no lights on:

Princeton West - The Quiet

Princeton has shown itself on a number of occasions to be at the cutting edge of artistic work in the virtual world of Second Life, and its latest installations serve to cement that reputation still further. Many of you may already be familiar with this first one, since it has already garnered plenty of column inches in blogs and elsewhere. It is the latest work by A.M.Radio, the creator of the fabulous Wheatfield - or more accurately, The Far Away.

For the new piece, The Quiet, he has had access to an entire sim, yet the construction itself is deceptively simple. A small wooden shack - little more than a tiny vestibule and a bedroom - sits alone, in a bleak winter landscape. Outside there's a frozen pond, with a number of Radio's trademark(?) fiddles embedded in the surface. Next to it is a small rowing boat filled with kindling, nestled in which is a picture frame displaying an enigmatic and oddly eclectic mix of items. The shack itself is impeccably done. Complex textures abound. Is that an old, washed out photograph, blown up and replayed as a wall texture? And what's with those handbells? Try clicking the bell on the bedside table. Or take a seat and be bathed in soft, honeyed light streaming through the old window. And what's that strange piece of electrical jiggery-pokery on the floor? And how come, when you touch it, you receive a link to a photomap of the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois?

Yep... A.M.Radio loves to be enigmatic, and this is no exception! Here's my snaps - but as with all his builds, this is best experienced first hand.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Feyenoord

I think this one has been around for quite some time, so apologies if this is all Old News to you. In fact, my chum VeeJay mentioned it back in November last year on his Mindblizzard blog. At that time the site was not open, so he could only go on information released by the build company. Since then I've tried a couple of times to get in, without joy. Today, however, while randomly scanning the map, I happened upon the sim again - and found it open. It has been open, as far as I know, since at least February - judging by this post from Nic, at Kzero.

And the sim? It belongs to Dutch football club, Feyenoord.

The club, based in Rotterdam, was founded 100 years ago, although it went through a couple of changes of name before settling on Feyenoord in 1912, taking its name from the city district where it was founded. It also settled on its final team colours, of red and white shirts and black shorts. Despite being one of the 'big boys' of Dutch football - along with Ajax and PSV - it has just finished a disappointing 6th in the league, though this was offset by winning the Dutch Cup. It is due to start work on a new 100,000-seater stadium, but this will not be ready until 2016. Until then, fans will have to make do with their 50,000-seater.

Rivals Ajax opened a sim last year, as I reported at the time. Although according to VeeJay, that site was apparently created by supporters, not the club. The Feyenoord sim, on the other hand, is official. It has been built by the Dutch virtual world branding, business development and construction company, SLionhead, who have also created a launch page at the club's website, from where fans can create new Second Life accounts.

The sim itself falls into 4 component parts. First is the arrival hub, at the end of a walkway projecting out into the sea. From here you can walk up to the first building: the club shop (clearly they have a view of their priorities!). In the shop you can acquire a club strip, club scarfs and even club animations (though I am not sure of the relevance of a rock'n'roll guitar hero animation here). What is slightly surprising is that all of these items appear to require parting with the princely sum of 1 Linden Dollar. This is as close to 'free' as it is possible to get, without actually being free. So why not give away the items? I mention this because of the use of the registration API on the club website, and implication that newbies will quickly arrive here. And those newbies are going to arrive penniless, more often than not. So does it really make sense to charge them for club "freebies"? I can't see the point.

After the shop we arrive at the main building. It has a bar and dancefloor downstairs, and meeting rooms and an extensive history of the club upstairs. I don't know if this building exists in RL, but I found it terribly dour. Oh... I admire their use of textures, and the depth of field achieved - but the place is very grey and moody, bordering on the gloomy.

The last component is a slice of stadium, with a goal and a larger-than-lifesize photo of the team. Advertising hoardings separate the various tiers of the stadium, offering punters the opportunity to have their name (or their company's) emblazoned here. Beyond that, I am not clear about the point of the goal. Is it there to allow you to practice penalties? Or have a knockabout with your mates? There didn't seem to be anything to tell you. The same applied to the team photo. Was the idea so that you, too, could be part of the team photo? That'd be a nice idea - but it is simply not set up to make that option viable.

So all in all, a slightly odd site. The actual build is solid, with some great textures. But overall, I felt it just missed. As ever, I have a few snaps for you to ponder:

Everything is a Tribute to Mozart

If you fancy a bit of relaxation after the rigours of a day doing... umm... whatever it is you do in Second Life, then you might like to pop along to the latest piece by virtual sculptor,Eshi Otawara and musician, Dizzy Banjo, entitled "Everything is a Tribute to Mozart". You can find it on the Tivona sim. Eshi and Dizzy have collaborated before on mixed media installations in Second Life, and seem to thrive on each other's ideas.

The sculpture is built around Mozart's 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik'. Notes glow underwater, in a circular pool, before surging into the sky, while Dizzy's ambient electronica matches the refinement and stateliness of the sculpture.

If you've not done so yet, make the time and take the trip. I don't think you are likely to regret it.

Preferred Family Healthcare

If you are a frequent visitor (perhaps you prefer "resident") to the virtual world of Second Life, you are probably aware that it plays host to some large island groups - large enough to form their own mini-continents. One such group is the cluster of library, education and not-for-profit sims that I usually (and inaccurately) think of as the Info Island Cluster. I have watched this grow over the last couple of years from a small core of sims, to a large, rambling continent that, while often badly laggy, has much of interest. As it has expanded it has also spawned its own archipelago of islands, many of which may end up absorbed into the land mass as it grows. This post is about one of these islands: Preferred Family HC.

This island belongs to Preferred Family Healthcare. Established in 1979, it is a provider of mental health and substance use disorder prevention and treatment, throughout Missouri and San Antonio, Texas. The island's notecard informs me:

PFH has established a presence in Second Life to explore the value of early intervention oriented activity in substance use disorders (SUDs) and other addictions.

Substance Use Disorder (also known by many other names including alcoholism, drug addiction and substance abuse) is a primary, chronic, progressive and fatal illness. Although it catches hold rapidly in some cases, it can often take years, even decades to develop to the point where traditional interventions come into play. By the time most individuals with this problem actually seek or are directed to helpful resources, they have often developed significant additional problems that need immediate attention and often interfere with recovery.

Medical complications (e.g. liver damage, malnourishment, obesity, diabetes, or the results of accidental injuries) are often present, as are problems with work, family relationships, finances, and the legal system. The road to recovery gets longer the longer you wait to make a change.

But societal stigma often acts as a strong deterrent to seeking help. Because of the way our cultures have come to look at SUD, there is often a great deal of shame and guilt associated with this condition, even in the early stages. The very act of seeking help can open one up to the negative opinions of others.

At PFH, we hope that the relative anonymity of Second Life might open the door to many who would not wish to entertain the notion they could have a problem, to give these individuals, and their families and friends, information leading to self-assessment, to offer some simple "do it yourself" type solutions to try without formal intervention, and to direct those who need it to more intensive forms of assistance.
The notecard alse seems to suggest that PFH actually started out with smaller presence in Second Life, on one of the Commonwealth Island sims, part of the Info Island Cluster.

The principal feature of this island is the office and meeting building - a reasonably attractive modern structure, that provides a number of meeting rooms of varying sizes, and virtual office space for officers of the organisation. While this seems largely complete, I couldn't help but notice that there is a desk suspended in mid-air around the back of the building. Elsewhere, there's a small house by the seaside, and a couple of boats. It looks like these may become dance zones in due course. While I wish them success with the venture, I don't know whether people will really wish to use it in the way they suggest. But then, I recall talking to someone about university Rhetoric courses being run in Second Life, where the relative anonymity and detachment offered by the environment actually increased student involvement in the course. So maybe it will be used. For now, it looks like it is nearing completion, rather than ready for business - a view borne out by the traffic stats, which are very low at the moment.

Anyway, here's my snaps:

Friday, 23 May 2008

Weltbild

I had an odd time, scouring sims tonight. I alighted on a number that looked vaguely promising, but proved to be in development or were otherwise of limited fascination. The one I finally settled on is, at least, complete:

The weltbild sim belongs to German online media retailer, weltbild.de. While there are many such companies, the one factoid that seems unique to weltbild is, according to wikipedia, "it is owned by the dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church of Germany." Further, it claims to be Germany's largest media and mail-order company, with a market share of 10%. However, it is far from sentimental. Its aggressive pricing is causing consternation among small publishers and booksellers, who are finding it hard to compete with this behemoth. Nor does it let its Catholic ownership overly influence its product selection, being happy to sell 'The DaVinci Code' as well as books on sex, drugs and - as seems evident - rock'n'roll.

The sim is pleasant enough and does the job, though it may not cause hearts to flutter, or stirrings in the trouser department. Built by Bokowsky + Laymann, the sim probably does exactly what was asked of it. The main feature is a large, crystalline building, partially encircling a small plaza. The building is divided into 3 main sections, devoted to film (DVD), music and books, respectively - the main planks of the company's business. You can watch movie trailers, listen to music, or read book extracts. A selection of popular titles are shown - with links to the relevant page of the website if you'd like to purchase. Aside from that the sim has an auditorium, an ornamental pond (for no clear reason - but it's quite nice) and some beach-type stuff. Oh... and there's a giant game of Tetris.

It's not unique or compelling as a sim - but as I said above, it delivers what it was asked to deliver. While I am somewhat skeptical about the prospects for atomic companies promoting their wares in Second Life, I do, for example, recognise the value of the Long Tail and see that virtual worlds may be a good way to leverage it. As for the style of this sim, it may not be arty or clever, but I can see this straightforward approach selling product in web3D. [ Gawd, sounds like I've spent too long watching Sir Alan Sugar on The Apprentice. ]

Oh... I would point out that I rather like the main building. It is unusual, well-constructed and eye-catching - to my eye at least. Here's a few snaps to ponder:


Monday, 19 May 2008

IslamOnline dot Net

Have you ever wondered what happens on The Hajj, when Mecca becomes a mecca for muslims from around the world? I've seen plenty of pictures of the crowds going round and round that huge black cube, the Kaaba, but otherwise I've little idea about the rest of it. In fact, to be honest, I'm not entirely clear why they go walkabout around the Kaaba - although I do recollect it has a chunk of meteorite built into it. Well if you can no longer suppress your curiosity - or if you'd like to find out more - then help is now at hand in the form of the 'IslamOnline dot Net' sim.

The sim, along with its sibling 'IslamOnline dot Net2' have been constructed on behalf of (drumroll, please...) IslamOnline.net, in order to promote a greater understanding of Islam, its culture and history. The wider mission of IslamOnline.net is "To create a unique, global Islamic web portal that provides services to Muslims and non-Muslims in several languages. To become a reference for everything that deals with Islam, its sciences, civilization and nation. To have credibility in content, distinction in design, and a sharp and balanced vision of humanity and current events."

The main "virtual Hajj" sim provides you with plenty of information - in the form of notecards - about the rites, routes and traditions, in a range of languages. While it compresses the whole route into a single sim, which inevitably means there are compromises, on the plus side, you are not likely to get trampled in the crowds, given the finite limits on the number of visitors to a sim. The overall build quality looks a little rough around the edges by today's standards, and I can't tell whether the sim is actually supposed to be finished. Everything appears to be there, but I think it needs more polishing. My doubt is also heightened by the fact that the second sim is definitely still under construction.

This sim houses an auditorium, a large building whose purpose I haven't fathomed (looks like offices and meeting areas from the outside) and - no doubt controversially - the Palestine Holocaust Memorial Museum. The purpose of this is described as "to prevent the crime of silence. By telling the stories of the victimized Palestinian children, we are saying 'no to any form of Holocaust." At the moment this is under construction and is awaiting further development, however you see it towards the end of the pictureset below, including the full text explaining the background to the museum.

Gartner's Latest View on Virtual Worlds

Last week Steve Prentice of Gartner came up with his latest view of businesses in Virtual Worlds. Steve, you are probably aware, is the chap behind some rip-snorting headlines. Last year, for Gartner Emerging Trends Symposium/ITxpo 2007, Steve came out with the view that "by the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a 'second life', but not necessarily in Second Life." That one caused much debate, and not a little ridicule.

For Gartner Emerging Trends Symposium/ITxpo 2008, held last week in Barcelona, Steve's headline-grabbing headline was: "90 Per Cent of Corporate Virtual World Projects Fail Within 18 Months." Quite where this statistic come from, I really don't know. However, I can't say I have an issue with it. In fact, if you go on to read the rest of the announcement, you might conclude (as I did) that the outlook is far from bleak for virtual worlds. There is a fair amount of what I would describe as 'TBO' - The Bleedin' Obvious. A case in point is the sub-heading for the piece: "Success requires clear objectives, focus on users and realistic expectations." However, no matter how self-evident this is, Gartner rightly point out that too many have failed to follow it.

The piece then goes on to list a number of ways in which Virtual Worlds can deliver dividends for businesses. I cannot see that any of these would come as a surprise to a Virtual Worlder, but for those with no experience - or have given no thought to the subject - then these might prove interesting:

  • Rich real-time collaboration environment, far better than web-based tools
  • The cost to experiment is miniscule - a small outlay, with maybe big gains
  • Reduce the cost of travel by hosting virtual meetings
  • Know who your market is, and address their needs
  • Immersive scenario-based learning - particularly for hazardous occupations
  • Persistent virtual workplaces
It concludes with the advice to organisations "to experiment with virtual world projects on a small, internal scale initially and pace their development to enhance the chances of success and minimise costs." I am quite pleased with this concluding observation, since this is the approach we defined for ourselves 9 months ago.

So there you have it. Read the headline - and it's all Doom & Gloom. However, delve into the article and you will find this is a very positive piece about the corporate / organisational use of environments like Second Life.

Oh... they also slipped in another prediction, that by 2012 an estimated 70% of organisations will be running private virtual worlds, the 3D intranet. So you might now want to get hold of OpenSim, Multiverse, Wonderland, Qwaq or whatever else floats your boat.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

WnG Island

Here's another sim that is probably not going to set the pulse racing, but in the manner of philatelists, train spotters and lepidopterists everywhere, I am nevertheless adding it to my collection.

It belongs to Swiss "web and new media agency", WnG. Based in Lausanne, the company has now branched into the virtual world, viewing it as a natural extension of their website. Visitors can get up-to-date company news and register for a newsletter, as well as obtaining links to their portfolio of customer websites. While it is still early days, the company also wants to offer its customers the opportunity to have their virtual presence, built and hosted on the WnG island. You can find a more detailed description of their proposal, in French, here.

At the moment, there is only WnG's building on the island. It is hard to get much of an impression of the place, since there is so little to get much of an impression of. The building is fine, with displays linking to both their own and their clients' web pages - but it so far fails to excite. It is perhaps too early to talk in terms of community and interactivity - but if they expect the island to function solely as an extension of their website, then I think they are misinterpreting the value and use of virtual worlds. That said, I assume the build is home-grown and the capital outlay is small, so right now it is a case of "nothing ventured, nothing gained". I took a few pictures - but as you can see, there's not much to show right now:

Spanish Horror Hits Japan: REC

"While covering the night shift at a small-town fire department, an ambitious young television reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman follow the crew on a call to rescue an elderly woman(Matt Frew) trapped in her apartment. Upon their arrival at the scene, the calm midnight air is pierced by the sound of horrific screams, and the television report takes an unexpectedly dark turn." That is the basic premise of the Spanish horror flick, 'REC' - if you want something a bit more visual here's a YouTube flick. The movie has a Blair Witch-y handicam look.

The REC sim, recommended to me by my chum (and ace photographer) Lem, is actually a Japanese construction, presumably built to help promote the film's release in Japan. At one point in your wanderings thru the sim, you will pick up a link to the Japanese promotional website. I don't know how the film has fared - or indeed if it has been released. If I am interpreting the website correctly, it looks like it may not actually open in RL cinemas in Japan until the 14th of June.

As for the sim itself, you never really get to see it. Instead, on arrival you will find yourself in a dimly lit, blood-stained room. Help yourself to the movie camera, wear it (it is a HUD) and follow the arrows. This will place you inside the lobby of the apartment block - also dimly lit and dripping with unpleasantnesses. From here, find your way around. The HUD gives you a scene-by-scene view of your progress (unless you opt for mouselook mode), as you explore the stairwell and various rooms, clicking on the sparkly points of light. I suspect there was more to the sim than the areas I saw - but I was impressed with both the look&feel, and the clever use of the hud. Being easily suggestible, I would have been happier operating my avatar by remote control, with me hiding behind the sofa. I took a few snaps to - of course - to give you a flavour:

The sim is well worth a visit, to sample the ambiance - though whether anything truly horrific happens I don't know. As a wuss with a dodgy ticker, it was enough to give me The Willies though.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Secondference in Gijon, Spain

My Spanish colleagues, Claudio and Gemma, maintain a blog - Virtual World Works - largely aimed at highlighting their work in Virtual Worlds on behalf of our parent company. They also kindly link to the posts I make here at Slambling - so you run a distinct risk of falling into an infinite loop if you follow the links.

Checking out their blog, I see that they are attending /secondference, the first meeting of Second Life’s users and professionals in Spain, which is being held tomorrow, 19th May. I mention this, because I've not seen anything about this elsewhere, and thought you might like to know about it. If you are a cheapskate like me, then one of the more appealing aspects of this conference is the price tag - it's free! What is more, you can save those carbon miles and attend it from the comfort of your PC (Mac or other weapon of choice), as it is being held in both the atomic and virtual towns of Gijón.

According the '/secondference' website: "It is the first meeting of Second Life's users and professionals in Spain, which also includes the participation of Linden Lab. Companies and users will speak about Second Life as a business, educational and entertaining platform. Everett Linden, director of community initiatives and social networks from Linden Lab, will travel to Spain and participate in the event, which will be attended by major industry and user groups. /Secondference will be broadcast in Second Life, and (only by reservation), you will be able to participate in the event in real or virtual Gijon. The event is free, but registration is required."

Date ----: Saturday May 17th in the afternoon (sorry - I don't know what time!)
Venue --: Hotel Asturias, Gijón or Second Gijon in Second Life

Leaving it late, maybe: but you can register here.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

3 Italia

Telecoms companies are well represented in Second Life. Perhaps this is inevitable, since they all like to portray their brand as associated with a combination of fun, technology and innovation - something that it is reinforced by having a presence in Second Life. One I'd not noticed before, though I daresay it's been here for ages, is the Italian division of mobile internet company, 3.

3 (or more properly: Hutchison 3G, at least in the UK) is a global brand, owned by Hutchison Whampoa, and describes itself as "the mobile media company". The name 3G comes from third generation wireless services, a high-speed cellular phone network that supports streamed video and other forms "rich content" internet media. As of December 2007, 3 Italia was the large supplier of 3G internet services in Italy, with around 8 million registered customers. It also operates HSDPA wireless broadband and Digital Mobile TV services. Hutchison Whampoa is based in Hong Kong, and has interests in a wide range of industries. I'm not clear whether they have, or simply plan to divest themselves of their holdings in 3 Italia.

As for the sim itself, it is modeled as a semi-tropical island, shaped like a number '3'. While there are numerous links to websites, and hefty promotion of the Nokia N95, I found the place to be rather lacklustre. There is only one building on the island, comprising a number of blue glass plates, loosely "stitched" together. Elsewhere you will find a bar, dance area and pool. Tucked away in the South of the island is a sort of amphitheatre. I have provided a few snaps so you can judge for yourself, but I felt the sim lacked coherence, purpose or, frankly, much of interest. If I had to make a call, I'd suggest that it was actually a "first fit" build - a rapid development to get a toehold, show to the company what is possible - it is easier to impress when there has been no other experience to compare it against - and form the foundation for a more considered build. I hope so, because its current content leaves a fair amount to be desired.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Union Fenosa

Out and about tonight, I came across a 4-sim island called Union Fenosa (1 - 4). While it is not the most exciting find in the world, it does have one intriguing aspect - which I shall come onto anon. First though, let's find out a little about the owners...

Union Fenosa is a Spanish utilities company, headquartered in Madrid but now with a presence in 13 countries, supplying gas and electricity to some 8.7 million customers. It employs around 12,000 staff. They are currently executing their BIGGER Plan, targeting a net profit of 1.2billion Euros and a share price of 4 Euros by 2011 - in effect, doubling the current figures.

The Second Life island is not the normal corporate showcase. Indeed, on arrival it is hard to find any indication of the company or its business. In fact, you are most likely to pitch up in the Virtual Forest, which is the dominant motif here. Actually there are 3 forests - evergreen, deciduous and tropical. Rivers separate the forests, and at their confluence there is an island with a small wooden structure that houses the company office. A YouTube video provides the context - it seems that, in return for your participation in a short questionnaire about energy efficiency, the company donated a Euro towards offsetting climate change, and planted a tree in this virtual forest. The tree would have your name on it. And that nicely explains the fact that all of the trees, and there are many, have floating text identifying on whose behalf they have been created.

There's a decent machinima here, or you can make do with my piccies:

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Gyeonggido

By way of an update on the Korea International Boat Show, the Gyeonggido sims are now open. I've been for a look, and came back with the following photoset:

Friday, 9 May 2008

VWCE2008M

OK, come on, 'fess up... what am I missing? I was minding my own business, out for a late night stroll among the islands of SL, and stumbled upon VWCE2008M. Now, if you know my modus operandi, you will see immediately why I went for a squint at this sim. If not, let me explain: one of the small and distinctly dodgy tools I use in deciding to check out a site is whether the name seems to consist of initials. If it does, it is likely to be non-residential and generally of relevance to this blog. So.....

I can tell you that the name is shorthand for VW 2008 Conference and Expo, that the sim is Japanese, and that IBM (Japan?) have a pavillion here (with a couple of freebies). At which point I hit a metaphorical (if not virtual) brick wall. Oh... apart from: there's a whole ruck of "VWCE08" groups in Second Life. A little light googling has not turned up what I expected to find, namely: a Virtual Worlds conference, hosted in Japan, with sponsorship by IBM and Sun, amongst others. Meanwhile, the sim itself is in a fairly early stage of development, which would suggest that the conference is a few months away - but it lacks any links to websites, or other obvious clues.

There's a couple of rudimentary stands so far - including one for "Lamity", which I understand to be a Japanese cellphone-based game world.

Here's a piccy or two... if you know more, then do tell:


Oh... and of course, I have to wonder why I was able to simply blunder in here in the first place.

UPDATE May 10th: See comments. My thanks to Ak Yip, who has nailed this one for me.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Korea International Boat Show

A slightly odd one this... it relates to a sim I can see, but not get into. But my little story starts with an email from my Korean friends at Acid Crebiz (do a search in this blog if that name means nothing to you). It seems they've been busy, as they sent me a press announcement regarding the launch of the Korea International Boat Show, 2008 and the Korea Match Cup in Second Life.

I have to admit, it has taken me some effort to unpick the meaning, as the announcement had the look of a document that has been parsed by Babelfish. But this much I can tell you:

  1. The Korea International Boat Show will be held in the atomic world in mid-June at Jeonggok Marina in Hwaseong City, Gyeonggi Province. It will be one of the largest marine festivals of its kind in Asia and will provide a focus for the rapidly emerging consumer base in Korea, as well as nearby China and Japan.
  2. In April Gyeonggi Province opened a sim in Second Life - Gyeonggido - to promote the boat show and to help develop the local marine leisure industry.
  3. Second Life residents can visit facilities such as a floating dock, as well as indoor and outdoor exhibition halls, an auditorium and an event zone featuring various boats and yachts that are at their disposal. They can then try their hand at yacht racing, remote controlled speedboat racing and scuba diving.
  4. After the show and Cup are over, the island will become a themed resort allowing residents to experience marine leisure sports, such as yachting, scuba diving and so on - and promote the region.
Furthermore, there is an inaugural event in Second Life - and it starts tomorrow, 9th May. That is the reason for the post. The details are:

Event--: Virtual Regatta
Date---: Friday, May 9 at 11PM (SLT) to Thursday, May 15th at 1 AM (SLT).
Venue-: Gyeonggido sim
First place winner will receive L$10000; second and third place will receive L$5000 and L$3000 respectively, while 4th to 10th places will each receive L$1000.

A small note of caution: Despite the statement that the sims have been open to the public since April, I was unable to gain access today (May 8th). So I hope you have better luck. If for some reason you cannot get in, then you may have to make do with a look at the YouTube promo instead.

+++

UPDATE May 9th: According to the response I've had from Acid Crebiz, the sim should now be accessible. I'm not in a position to test it myself - but I would suggest you give it a go.

Further Update on May 9th: Hmmm... I still can't get in to the pair of sims.

Final(?) Update - May 10th: The sims are now open - go here or here for my photoset.

Ontario Public Service Careers

Gosh, it's a very long time since I posted anything about the public sector in Second Life. And almost certainly the first time for the Canadian public sector. So without further ado, I give you Ontaria Public Service Careers, on the OPS Careers sim. OK, now while the Canadian public sector is (I think) a first for Slambling, it is most definitely NOT the first time I've looked at virtual recruitment. In fact, regulars are likely to be aware that I've covered many recruitment sims in the last year or so.

For reasons which in large measure escape me, virtual worlds are proving popular as potential recruiting grounds. I am not convinced, personally. Sure, the 'received wisdom' is that Second Life is great for recruitment - but that doesn't make it so. Despite having written optimistically in the past about using SL in this way, I now think differently. I was happy to go with the 'received wisdom' because it suited my hopes and aspirations to do so. However, I'm struggling to see how this is ever going to be anything more than a gimmick. By all means give it a go, and prove me wrong. I know my own company's efforts at inworld recruitment did actually lead to at least one person taking up a position. However, I do not believe that Second Life was pivotal to recruiting for that position. I would say that it can, however, provide a canvas for promoting your organisation and the roles that may be available.

But what about this site?

Broadly this seems to be the route being taken by Ontario Public Service (OPS). There is information relating to jobs in a number of areas, such as healthcare, science and business. Each area has its own building, with viewing rooms, some form of interactive activity and interview rooms. All the buildings also have kiosks with links to the OPS careers website. At the centre of the sim is an 'airport, which provides your arrival telehub. Basically, the site employs the device that you have just flown in and are now standing in the arrival hall, wondering where to go. Teleports will transfer you to your preferred location - or you can make your own way.

Nowee.org built the OPS website and according to information on their own website: "The Ontario Public Service(OPS) simulator in Second Life, built by our partner Architecture and Associates for the SL Agency provides the SL visitors with various activities meant to inform towards a panel of jobs offered by the OPS."

In terms of the build, I suppose I'm jaded after travelling for so long. The build quality is fine, but unexceptional. The tie-in with the website is good, and there are some nice touches, but it didn't have any 'wow factor' for me. One problem I did notice (at least at the time of writing) is that the general public seem to have 'object create' rights across the sim. As far as I could see, there were just a few plywood boxes lying around, but this could lead to bigger problems if not addressed.

Here's a few snaps for your perusal:

Monday, 5 May 2008

SEAT Auto Emoción

I almost forgot about this one, but a piece of tumbleweed blowing through my otherwise vacant mind dislodged a memory that I had forgotten about. Around a week or so ago I got an email from Barrabas Zabaleta of virtual worlds builders, Mosi Mosi (who produced the entertainingly fun Prados Azules sim). The mail contained an offer of a pre-launch walkabout of a new sim. I had meant to take up the offer, got sidetracked and ended up forgetting about it... until today. Why today? Well today was when the sim actually opened, and this (or the tumbleweed) triggered my memory. I was a little surprised when I checked the map, though. The sim was empty. Had I got the dates muddled up? Had I missed it? Was I too early? The answers are (in order): 'No'; 'Dunno' and 'Dunno'.

But before further ponderings on this, it would be a good idea to tell you about SEAT. The company name is an acronym for Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo; in English, Spanish Saloon Car Company. Founded in 1950, it used to make re-badged Fiat cars for the Spanish domestic market. It has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen since 1990, producing a popular range of cars for both the domestic and international marketplace. As for the 'auto emoción' strapline, I can't find a really good reference for this, but I take it to mean that the SEAT design philosophy is to produce exciting vehicles that are enjoyable, even thrilling, to drive. Perhaps The Guardian had it right in 2006, when reviewing the Leon:

"SEAT is not the world's most popular brand, but it is trying. Its recent products have been supported by splashy advertising campaigns, pressing home the slogan "auto emocion", which, it would appear, is to be said where possible in a smoky, post-coital whisper. By this means the company hopes to persuade us that it is an A-grade manufacturer of pulse-quickening automobiles, rather than a low-maintenance corporate outcrop of the VW group and a budget car builder from Spain - Spain being about as famous for car production as Italy is for golfing holidays."

The car got a good review, by the way... but now let's move on to the sim.

The first thing that struck me was just how much Mosi Mosi have been able to fit into the sim, yet without it feeling cramped. I honestly had to check the Map a couple of times, to reassure myself that it was just the one sim! There's a lot to see and do, as you might expect. One nice idea is a series of computer screens showing some "html-on-a-prim" webpages you should explore. By way of an example, in the attached photoset, I've included Torley's YouTube page. If you are new to SL, there's a number of orientation displays and there's also a HUD you can pick up, giving you information on cool sites to visit in SL.

The cars are displayed in an elegant showroom, all sweeping curves and open space. Here you can pick up a range of freebies, ranging from drivers' helmets to scuba diving gear. While the latter seems bizarre - as if shoe-horned into the sim - there does seem to be some logic, since you are able to use your newly-gained equipment at the Beach Club. Here, you can also indulge in dancing and generally carousing. The biggest freebie is a car - but you have to win this by completing a series of challenges, at the end of which you receive your license and vehicle. Being totally rubbish at driving in SL, I did not give it a go. Finally there's a sandbox - which is nice to see.

Here's my photos (judging by the number, I think you can assume I liked the sim) :

How this sim will fare with those who are professional marketing folk, I do not know. However, I liked the sim. It had handy hints for newcomers, lots of freebies, a sandbox (not that common these days) and some interesting, interactive challenges. It is also well constructed, coherent and adheres well to SEAT's branding.

My only note of concern is about the promotion of the sim. I had expected some indications of a launch party, and perhaps a series of events to get the sim off to a good start. Promotion through SEAT's existing websites too - if it's there, I've not spotted it. So it appears to be something of a soft launch. If so, then all well and good. But for the company to extract more from the site, it will need a bigger, louder launch at some point - and a schedule of events and competitions might be an idea, too. To be honest, in promotional terms, I'm not sure how much good these actually do - but they're better than comatose sims.

Pioneer Pioneering in Second Life

Japanese home electronics company, Pioneer, was the destination for today's promenade. I recall that VeeJay covered this site a while back, but I didn't get around to visiting it at the time, forgot about it, and only (re-)discovered it by accident, while browsing the map for somewhere interesting to go. Actually, I am not sure that this sim gets into the "interesting" category - as we shall see...

The Pioneer Corporation has been producing home entertainment products since 1938, and is perhaps best known for its speakers and hi-fi systems. In recent times it has embraced digital technologies, such as Blu Ray DVD and HD TVs. The island in Second Life is primarily aimed at promoting lines that are unique to the Japanese marketplace, such as the 'Kuro' home cinema system - or 'systems', as there are 4 such systems in the range. You will also find a stand for their Pure Malt speakers(!) - whose cabinets are made from 50-year old whiskey barrels. These have been sold in Japan for years, but have been available internationally for about a year now.

The principal feature is a roadway that twists and turns around the island, and that is intended to pull the site together and provide it with some sort of coherence. You can rez a car if you want to drive round the island (and/or race your mates) - but I don't feel the roadway helped much.

You arrive at a reception building, where you can take a short tour of the Pioneer museum - in effect, a less-than-thrilling tour through the history of the company. After this, you can make your way outside to avail yourself of the charms of the 'Pioneer Resort Island'. The largest building is the 2-floor, cylindrical tower promoting their audio-visual treats, in the form of the Kuro range and Pure Malt speakers, mentioned earlier. You can rez a tour balloon, but this is neither comprehensive in locations visited, nor informative in any language. If you choose to walk, there are some show-houses, where you can see the Kuro home cinema in situ. Apart from that. there's a couple of camping areas - one in the Blu Ray dance arena, and one on the beach itself. Freebies are available in the form of T-shirts and Kuro home cinema packs.

Here's a selection of pictures for you to peruse:

Is this site any good? To be diplomatic, I think it is rather 'disappointing'. It has limited content, the interactivity is dull and lifeless, and the whole place feels rather disjointed. It is very much like most company promotional sims - and like most such sims, is unlikely to show any return on the investment. Incidentally, I gather from the comments on the Mindblizzard post, that the site was not even promoted in Japan.

So to conclude: despite the title of this post, this is far from being a pioneering build.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Seoul Sungnyemun

This evening, while furkling among the islands to the West of Caledon, I got an Instant Message from an old acquaintance with whom I'd not spoken for many, many months: Noneget Barnes, head of Korean build company, Acid Crebiz. We had a bit of a chat about the apparently parlous state of Second Life in Korea, and the fact that Cyworld are now demonstrating a 3D element for their hugely popular social network. He then offered me a teleport to Seoul 2, part of a cluster of 4 Seoul sims where the company appears to be building a virtual chunk of the city.

Sitting at the intersection of these 4 sims is a virtual replica of the Sungnyemun (or Namdaemun) - the historic city gate situated in the heart of Seoul. This is particularly poignant as the original gate, a construction of stone surmounted by a delicate and complex wooden structure, was severely damaged by fire on 10th February, this year. It has a history dating back to the 1300's, though it has been through a number of traumas and reconstructions in that time. It was made Korea's "National Treasure Number 1" in 1962, and it is a sad loss - or at least, setback - for Seoul and Korea. According to wikipedia: "A 69-year-old man identified as Chae Jong-gi was arrested on suspicion of arson and then later confessed to the crime. A police captain reported that Chae sprayed paint thinner on the floor of the structure and then set fire to it. Police say that Chae was upset about not being paid in full for land he had sold to developers. The same man had been charged with setting a fire at Changgyeong Palace in Seoul in 2006."

I admire the execution of the build - which you will find bears an uncanny resemblance to the real building (pre-inferno). And I particularly admire this as a response to the fire. It demonstrates more than amply, how powerful Second Life can be as a visualisation tool, and how strongly it can work on and with the emotions. This is a dignified and rather wonderful construction, that serves as a sort of virtual placemarker and reminder, while the real building is reconstructed.

Here's a few snaps to give you the flavour, but it is best experienced first hand: