Recently I posted about one of several sites in the virtual world of Second Life commemorating those who died in the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. It brought home to me how an immersive 3D environment can be used as a powerful visualisation tool, providing focus for contemplation.
Shortly after writing this piece I was contacted by Second Life resident, Evian Argus (in Real Life Robert Egan of Meme Science), to tell me about another memorial. Timed to open in November to coincide with the 25th anniversary of its original dedication, Meme Science are building a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial, commonly known as The Wall, in Second Life. The Wall lists all 58, 253 US service personnel killed or missing in the Vietnam war.
There have been several examples of the twin towers being rebuilt in the virtual world of Second Life, but with the anniversary of that awful day with us once again, I would like to bring to your attention a site that I feel deserves a special mention: the World Trade Center sim. As I write this, it is still being finalised, ready for an official opening to coincide with the time the first plane hit. What singles this site out is that it does not attempt to undo what has happened. Rather, it commemorates those from many. many nations who died in that dreadful and tragic atrocity. Continue reading →
It looks like MindArk, the company behind Entropia Universe (whose virtual currency is pegged and freely tradeable at 10 to the U.S. dollar), is getting in on the Washington lobbying act. Congress has been looking at issues of taxation related to virtual worlds since at least last October, and the Joint Economic Committee is long overdue with a promised report. (Or did I miss this?) This week, it seems, they’ll hear from Marco Behrmann, MindArk’s CIO, who is in Washington to speak to the IRS as well, according to this post on the RCE Universe forums. [Via RCEUniverse’s Nate Randall.] I’ll be interested to see where this all ends up, of course, but the most sensible take I’ve heard on this issue comes from Bryan Camp of Texas Tech University, who noted last year that, for the most part, the legal issues are settled, it’s just a matter of figuring out (or deciding) where virtual worlds fall within them. There’s probably slightly more to it than that, but not much. For my money, a more interesting issue is the related one of whether these environments can be ruled to be public places (like some shopping malls) and the implications of such a ruling for governing them. <shameless plug>You can read more about that kind of thing in our book when it’s published at the end of October.</shameless plug>
A couple of events to briefly note today, including a new presence in the virtual world of Second Life, the U.S. State Department. Also, 3D printers are getting cheaper, but even the “home” versions remain prohibitive. Plus some microelectronics that could prove awfully cool someday. Continue reading →
David Liu, chief executive of Beijing-based Cyber Recreation Development Corp., compared the upcoming Chinese virtual world with a three-dimensional eBay, where users can shop online through a more visually appealing interface.
(CRDC is backed by the Beijing government and is responsible for the project.) Continue reading →
Two stories out of Sweden in today’s D-Briefs, plus a charity in Africa, a party for a book of watercolors and one for Second Lifers in Europe, and eight job openings — all happening in or around virtual worlds.
â€¢ SL.UK07, Europe’s annual meetup for Second Lifers, now has a date: it’ll take place 23 June, starting midday (that’s noon if you’re American) till “rather late,” at a place called the T-Bar, located in the Tea Building, Shoreditch High Street, London E1. RSVP to Nick [at] riversrunred.com. Machinima or video submissions can be sent to Eddie Escher in SL, music submissions to Neil [at] riversrunred.com, and art gallery submissions / video projections to Rosie [at] riversrunred.com, all of which must be received by 16 June. Places are limited, RSVP early.
Two SL videos, an interview with Little Big Planet, and the first presidential campaign to have an official SL presence. I suspect headline-writing is going to be the hardest thing about these D-Briefs I’ve started doing. By the way, does anyone have a “briefs” icon I can use for these? Feel free to send it along. Continue reading →
This year’s iCommons Summit, the annual gathering of 300 leading thinkers working toward a free Internet for all, will be held in parallel in the virtual world of Second Life, according to the summit’s Web site. The summit, which takes place this year in Dubrovnik, “will be run in parallel in Second Life,” according to the site. In addition, “all iSummit keynote addresses will be streamed into Second Life, and video and artwork from the Summitâ€™s Artists in residence programme and some parallel sessions will also be available on the USC Center on Public Diplomacyâ€™s »Annenberg Island« in Second Life,” where the summit will be hosted. (The USC site also has an announcement regarding the event.) Held this year on 15-17 June, the summit is a three-day meeting of “300 of the worldâ€™s leading intellectuals, authors, lawyers, artists and technologists on the cutting edge of Internet policy” who meet to talk about “the importance of a free Internet for free culture, new rules to keep the internet free, how to build free culture communities and the lessons we can learn from pirates.” I’d say this is valuable stuff to make available through Second Life. Last year’s summit, held in Rio, was apparently quite the hot event. What will be more interesting is when the organizers bring the two realities together, so that the virtual event isn’t held in parallel with the real-world event but is simply another part of a single whole. This’ll do for now, of course. Anyone planning to attend, in either reality?
On May 19, Romania will hold a referendum on whether to impeach its suspended president, Traian Basescu, who has been charged with violating the country’s constitution. Before that time, members of the Romanian community in the virtual world of Second Life would like to hear from him and other Romanian political leaders in a virtual venue that’s been built out for the purpose. The two-minute video above provides a tour of a nice build that’s apparently designed to host a debate between real Romanian political leaders, should they care to put in an appearance. The »debate hall« looks fairly accomodating, and comes complete with voting mechanisms and a press room that’s apparently wired to provide television feeds. The video cites 20,000 Romanian Second Life users, and says around 800 a day are visiting the in-world location. Of those polled, 95 percent say they’d like to participate in an electoral meeting in SL. Continue reading →
John Swords and I recorded a couple of new Metaverse Sessions while we were down at South by Southwest, one with Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices Online and one with Jamais Cascio of World Changing. Johnny has just posted Ethan’s session (incorrectly labeled #9, even though it’s #10), and there’s some really interesting stuff there. Ethan talks about how Google Maps was used to heighten political awareness in Bahrain, how LiveJournal has become the blogging tool of choice for politically active adults (not kids) in Russia, and the “cyber-utopian dominant narrative” in which everyone gets along in the same online place. We also explore some interesting question of how cultural backgrounds inform the use of technologies, questions that don’t get much discussed (or thought about) in most our metaversal questions. A really cool guest to have for the Sessions, and highly recommended listening.
MySpace recently announced it would hold a mock presidential election on January 1st and 2nd of next year. (Results will be posted on MySpace’s impact channel.) While that’s obviously not very virtual-worldy, I do think it’s worth noting here, because it’s going to focus a huge amount of attention on one of the most compelling sites of digital identity-making on the Web today. Not that MySpace lacks for attention, but most of that attention perceives it as a novelty. It’s only in the last couple of months that sites like MySpace and other lifelogging-related spaces are starting to be taken more seriously, as important bellwethers of the culture. I’m looking forward to seeing what the coverage of this is like in the press. I’d also love to see “global” polls held in the virtual world of Second Life. Anyone want to set that up?
I had lunch yesterday at Virtual Worlds 2007 with a couple of guys from the U.S. Department of State, who told me the State Department is considering launching an official project within the virtual world of Second Life. Specifically, this would be an initiative of State’s Public Diplomacy wing, which is headed up by Karen Hughes. Before we go any further, I should note that your tax dollars were not used to feed 3pointD; my tasty lobster salad was kindly picked up by a venture capitalist who was also at the table.
Though any State Department project would at first be very small and include no persistent State Department presence (I don’t think State has budgeted any money for SL yet), it sounds like the public diplomacy department (essentially State’s outreach and PR arm) is considering Second Life and virtual worlds in general as a potentially powerful new communications channel, and that if early experiments go well, it could mean an expansion of their activities there. This is potentially a great way to make more information available about the State department, and get more people engaged in the workings of government, which can’t be a bad thing. We don’t really hear enough from most government bodies in a way that’s palatable; one wonders how some longtime SL residents might react, however.
[A note before we go on: I’m not talking the week off from blogging because of the Kathy Sierra affair, but I am going to try to mark all my posts today with a message like this, despite the fact that some other people have a blogging boycott on today. I’m not sure a boycott is the right thing for me, but I don’t mind interrupting a few posts for a public service announcement about an insult culture that has run right off the rails. Now back to our story.] Continue reading →
The Virtual Worlds, Real Profits blogs has the news (which I spotted via Raph) about a new player-to-player real-money-trade service called Sparter that has fortuitously launched just after eBay started pulling all game-related RMT from its auctions. The new service is notable for two reasons, and could spell the beginning of the end of the wild-west atmosphere that currently holds around virtual item sales — though conditions will probably get more messy before they get neater. Continue reading →
I am occasionally asked by reporters interested in the Second Life Herald (where I’ve been an editor for two years now) what the appeal of doing journalism in virtual worlds is. In an attempt to locate a pithy soundbite for them, I sometimes say it’s like being a foreign correspondent without having to leave your desk (though this is not, in fact, the whole story; read on). So I was interested to spot this post by Ethan Zuckerman (via the Business Communicators of SL blog), which contains some thoughts on similar topics, inspired by a conversation with Pitchfork’s Chris Dahlen for Dahlen’s latest column. Dahlen wonders whether the Internet is up to the challenge of providing information about places like Africa, since it looks like you can find a lot more detail on the Web about Buffy than about the Somalian Union of Islamic Courts, for instance. Which touches off a thought on Zuckerman’s part: “I find it deeply odd that journalism is expanding into these illusory spaces while itâ€™s shrinking in the real world. I think the answer may be that these new spaces — whether SecondLife, World of Warcraft, the culture of fanfiction or machinima — are far more coverable than many events in the real world.” While both those statements are true, to an extent, I’d argue that there isn’t the causal link between them that Zuckerman sees, or at least that that link is not as strong, and that there are more important factors at work. Continue reading →
My latest guest post for Terra Nova deals with the excellent massively multiplayer online game NationStates, which was created by Australian author Max Barry, loosely based on his book, Jennifer Government (which I read last night; good read). Check out the post (and the game) for more details about how it all works, but the point is that the game incorporates some interesting mechanics of player governance. Of course, the game is all about governance, so that’s not surprising, but the point is that I think there are lessons there that could be applied to 3D online environments as well. Continue reading →
Who knew the American Forces Network (which I believe is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense) had a weekly podcast called Virtual World News? It’s just a few minutes, and it’s really just games-related news, not specific to virtual worlds, but it was a surprising find. On reflection, of course, it’s not surprising at all. It’s not hard to imagine the members of our armed forces in Europe hankering after some good old-fashioned gaming news. This is not a phrase that would normally cross my lips, but: Go DoD!
My father is in Washington today, where there’s a huge march to promote peace and protest the troop build-up in Iraq. If you want to get involved but you can’t make it to DC, there’s a series of events scheduled in the virtual world of Second Life to accompany the real-world schedule, culminating in a March on SL’s Capitol Hill on Monday. The events are being organized by members of SL NetRoots and will be held at RootsCamp on »Progressive Island«. Continue reading →
The Virtual Economy Research Network flags a report from a Swedish newspaper (in Swedish, of course) to the effect that Sweden will establish an official “embassy” in the virtual world of Second Life. “the facility will not deal with passports or visa applications like a normal embassy, but rather acts as a marketing outpost for Sweden designed to reach the digital generation. The idea is being developed at Swedish Institute instead of the Ministry of foreign affairs,” VERN reports. And why not? If it works for CBS, it could well work for Sweden.
Just a quick one to note that Reuters’ Second Life correspondent Adam Pasick has roped some big guns into the virtual world. Starting Wednesday afternoon (24 January), SL time, he’ll be conducting a series of interviews with attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, one of the heaviest of heavyweight gatherings of movers and shakers anywhere in the world. While Davos can be interesting, it’s influence has actually waned in recent years. Perhaps more significant than the messages coming out of the forum, at least as far as the 3pointD world is concerned, is the message that Pasick’s interviews will be sending into it: By lining up eight influential personages to make appearances in Second Life during Davos, Reuters is spreading the word on virtual worlds to hundreds more such figures. That’s the kind of thing that can help lend momentum to 3D online technologies being adopted on a more widespread basis on down the line. For the full schedule of interviews, check the Reuters SL site. The event is being produced by the Electric Sheep Company, sponsors of this blog.
Raph Koster flags a report from Korea’s ETNews (subscription only) that describes a new trade association that’s been formed by Korean gold farmers and real-money trade sites to lobby the Korean government, which has been considering regulation of the sector. This is just the kind of issue we’re often concerned with over at the Second Life Herald, and which Herald founder Urizenus Sklar (aka Peter Ludlow) and I address quite a bit in the book we recently wrote (which should perhaps appear between covers by the end of this year). While it may be quite apparent to most readers of this blog, a lot of the general public has little notion that there’s so much more going on in virtual worlds than simply games. Real-world issues like this and related issues of taxation, law and contractual obligations are only just now beginning to be examined and worked out by the courts in various countries. Call it a first step in the rationalization of the metaverse. In the best case scenario, it should lead to the online portion of our lives becoming more secure and more grounded, and less of the wild-west scenario it’s still often portrayed as.
As readers may recall, Mia Farrow’s appearance in the virtual world of Second Life to discuss the crisis in Darfur, originally slated for last month, had to be rescheduled due to a fire in the office building that houses Lichtenstein Creative Media, which is helping produce the event. The new date is Tuesday, 9 January, at 11am SL time (2pm Eastern). The event will also feature John Heffernan, who serves as Director of the Genocide Prevention Initiative for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, the sponsor of the program; award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv; and Ronan Farrow, who has served as a UNICEF Spokesperson for Youth in Sudan, as a representative of the Genocide Intervention Network, and has written extensively about the situation in Darfur. One interesting aspect of the event is that while it take place in The Infinite Mind sim in Second Life, streaming audio will also be available at Camp Darfur, and at Global Kids, on the Second Life Teen Grid. (Is this the first time an event has been audio simulcast into the Teen Grid?) Visit the Lichtenstein site for more information.
The joint State of Play / Terra Novasymposium at the New York Law School earlier this month was filled with interesting chatter and debate, as previously mentioned. Now you too can get an earful of what some of the smartest thinkers on virtual worlds are chewing over these days, by downloading the audio files that were recorded during the event. Just navigate over to the program page and click on the panels you’re interested in, which will launch iTunes and grab the files. If you don’t have iTunes or have trouble with the files, contact Elizabeth Reilly at ereilly05 AT nyls.edu. Happy listening.
Bill Lichtenstein of Lichtenstein Creative Media sends news that his firm is bringing actress Mia Farrow to the virtual world of Second Life this Friday at 9am SL time (noon Eastern), to discuss the worsening situation in Darfur and Chad. The event is being put on in association with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and produced by in collaboration with Infinite Vision Media. It will also replicate in SL a photography exhibition which projected images of the Darfur crisis onto the walls of the holocaust museum (as pictured above), which is great if you live someplace in which visiting the museum is inconvenient or impossible. If you have a Second Life account, you can teleport directly.
I spent Friday and Saturday at the joint State of Play / Terra Novasymposium at the New York Law School. There was a lot of interesting talk, but probably none more so than the panel on taxation and virtual worlds that was held Saturday morning. Dan Terdiman has an excellent wrap on CNet, though I feel like his take is slightly alarmist. To the tax lawyers at the symposium, taxation of virtual assets seemed only a matter of time. But to the emissary from the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, a gamer himself, the picture looked more grey. Either way, it was clear that the debate was slowly reaching higher levels of policymaking circles, and that it’s only a matter of time (and maybe not that much) before Congress or the IRS starts making rulings that directly affect players of online games and the residents of virtual worlds like Second Life. Continue reading →
As mentioned previously, 3pointD held its first Think Tank event last night in the new »Dirty sim« to discuss issues of sustainability as they relate to the broader metaverse. We had a gratifying turnout of 40+ people, with around half staying more than two hours until the proceedings were done. Thanks to everyone who showed up and contributed ideas, or just showed up to listen. A handful of really nice ideas came out of the meet. You can read a full chat log of the session, posted by SL resident, SignpostMarv Martin, but I’m going to sum up and extend a couple of the ideas that came up below. And look for our next Think Tank coming soon! Continue reading →
One of the first stories from the new Reuters bureau in the virtual world of Second Life flags the fact that the U.S. Congress is in the preliminary stages of looking into virtual economies such as Second Life’s and World of Warcraft‘s, and the public policy issues surrounding them. The story quotes Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, as saying, “Right now weâ€™re at the preliminary stages of looking at the issue and what kind of public policy questions virtual economies raise â€” taxes, barter exchanges, property and wealth.â€ Many SL residents already pay taxes on their virtual earnings, of course, but a Congressional investigation could lead to legislation governing tax and intellectual property issues in virtual worlds. Whether lawmakers will treat such places any differently from other Internet-based commerce sites remains to be seen; it’s not clear that the issues are very different. VW economies, of course, do feature their own currencies, which could make things sticky for Congress and game companies alike. In any case, it will no doubt be a matter of years, not months, before legislation is even contemplated. But it’s heartening to see the issue being taken seriously in Washington. The challenge will be to educate lawmakers in such a way that early steps will not have a chilling effect on activities in the virtual world.
That said, some Congressmen are already educating themselves: â€œI can almost guarantee that there are some members of Congress spending time in Second Life or World of Warcraft,â€ Miller tells Reuters.
Amil Husain, Global Youth Coordinator for the United Nations’ Millennium Campaign against poverty, sends along news of an October 14-16 event in the virtual world of Second Life being held as part of the UN’s broader effort to improve living conditions in poor countries around the world. Rockers Sugarcult will be playing a concert that day in California, and will have it replicated within Second Life at SL designer Aimee Weber’s »Midnight City« at 1:00pm SL time (4:00pm Eastern). In addition, SL avatars will stand up against poverty over the next two days — and be counted toward a Guinness Book world record that the organization is shooting for. (For more, listen to Aimee’s appearance on the latest episode of SecondCast.)
Will this help? It’s impossible to quantify the effect of such consciousness-raising exercises. But kiosks are being set up around the virtual world that will hand out the white wristbands that have become an international symbol of the fight against poverty. (Contact Aimee if you want one.) Similar (real-world) wristbands have done much to help the fight against cancer. In any case, it doesn’t seem like it can hurt. Stand up and be counted.
Check out the latest episode of SecondCast to hear us chat to Aimee Weber about the work she’s doing to bring the United Nations’ campaign against poverty into Second Life. We also cover the news, of course, this time in the company of special guest co-host Chance Takashi, high bidder on a Second Life Herald profile to benefit the American Cancer Society. Chance’s appearance in voice settled a bet that had been going on for some time among residents of the Caledon steampunk sims. Read Chance’s profile for more details.
I’m blogging this from the Austin Convention Center in Texas, where the Austin Game Conference is in full swing. The highlight for me so far has been (not surprisingly) the panel I spoke on yesterday with Corey Bridges of Multiverse; Raph Koster, formerly of Sony Online Entertainment and now of his own stealth virtual-world startup, which has just gotten a first round of funding, according to Raph; Cory Ondrejka, chief technology officer at Linden Lab, makers of the virtual world of Second Life; and moderated by Jerry Paffendorf, resident futurist for the Electric Sheep Company (sponsors of this blog). There’s an audio file of the panel that I’m going to post here as soon as I get hold of it, but for now I thought I’d share a few of the thoughts and opiniosn that I managed to remember throughout the thing.
If you can pardon my obviously biased opinion, it seemed to me that we rolled out a bunch of interesting thoughts and questions having to do with the future of virtual worlds (which was the topic of the panel), and, judging from the faces in the audience, managed to blow a few minds in the process. Continue reading →
(left to right:) Reuben Steiger, Wagner James Au, and former Virginia governor Mark Warner, in avatar form
Former Virginia governor and possible Democratic “fallback” candidate for president Mark Warner spoke to a crowd of about 30 avatars in the virtual world of Second Life this afternoon, in a live interview with journalist Wagner James Au of the New World Notes blog (Hamlet Au in SL). The event, which lasted about 45 minutes, marked the first appearance by a national political figure in the virtual world, and went off without a hitch. The governor appeared to respond “live” to Au’s questions in text chat, and used the space as a politician would use a physical space, walking through the crowd as he left the stage rather than simply logging off where he sat. The event was held in a model of the New Globe Theatre built by Reuben Steiger’s Millions of Us virtual-world services company, which produced the event. (Millions of Us is a sponsor of Au’s blog.)
Warner was apparently led to Second Life after one of the staffers at his political action committee, Forward Together (which is concentrating in part on taking advantage of the Internet as a promotional platform), met Au last spring. The result was the first virtual whistlestop on any national political tour, and — quite aside from setting a precedent — gave attendees a good look at what could form the planks of a future Warner campaign. 3pointD will save further commentary for a later post, but for now here’s a transcript of the interview (minus audience comments): Continue reading →
Mark Warner, former Democratic governor of Virginia and likely “fallback” candidate for president should Hillary Clinton not run in 2008, will visit the virtual world of Second Life today for a chat with New World Notes’s Wagner James Au, at 12:30 SLT (3:30pm EST), in an event produced by Reuben Steiger’s Millions of Us (a sponsor of James’s blog). The idea for the visit seems to have come from within Warner’s Forward Together political action committee itself, according to an interesting interview Au has with Nancy Scola (SL resident Nancy Mandelbrot), whose job at Forward Together consists in part of trying “to connect with the technology/geek community.” While there have been local political candidates in SL before, this certainly marks the highest profile politico to visit this (or probably any other) virtual world. It also raises interesting questions of what’s public and what’s private in a place that (on the surface) is primarily governed by a Terms of Service rather than by a Constitution. [And see update below.] Continue reading →