Setting the Scene
Second Life has been described as
“A virtual gamespace that people are using creatively and socially; there are people I know who spend their social lives there. And as tech changes, these kinds of spaces will become more elaborate, more capable of live- stream video (audio is already possible), etc.” (Alan Sondheim)
“The biggest digital art installation in the world” (Warren Ellis)
Second Life is a complex network of online 3D spaces (presented as islands of various sizes) comprising 155 000 sq miles of land where millions of avatars (digital figures or representations of you and others) interact and perform; building structures, communicating, exchanging and conflicting. The median age for users of Second Life is 35 for males and 32 for females. Entry into the Second Life World is free but interaction in a material sense can often require money.
There is a large economy within and around Second Life based on its own currency, the Linden Dollar (L$). There currently are 250 Linden Dollars to the US Dollar (it fluctuates in an exchange system like all floated currencies do). Officially the money of Second Life can be used to buy almost anything that is found in the online world. This includes the ‘land’ of Second Life which at the time of writing sells for around 10.6 L$ per sq. m. for an average plot. Land that has special views or locations can sell for more. Land that is considered to have a difficult topography can be cheaper.
HUMlab and Second Life
The digital humanities lab and studio HUMlab exists at the University of Umeå in the north east of Sweden. HUMlab has been involved with 3D virtual world spaces for several years; working with ActiveWorlds, Digital Space Traveler, Adobe Atmosphere, The Sims, and various gaming platforms (this last in such contexts as Machinima film) in research and creative projects. Today HUMlab is evaluating its presence in Second Life.
For the past 12 months post graduate and graduate researchers from HUMlab have been working with Second Life. But now, with both the Church of Sweden and the Swedish government about to open spaces in Second Life, the time has come to consider how HUMlab would look in Second Life (SL).
Some questions need to be asked at this point:
1. What are the affordances of Second Life in relation to HUMlab?
2. Who would occupy and used the space of HUMlab SL?
3. What would be the goals of a space for HUMlab in Second Life?
4. How big/small, multimedial, archival, pedagogical, and integrated with the actual HUMlab is the HUMlab SL to be?
5. How much $L are we willing to spend?
What Could HUMlab use Second Life For?
Second Life does not allow the user to directly import the objects (prims) that make up structures in the world. It is possible to convert prims by writing code for importing into the world. Importing based on coding is being developed by users and will improve over time. SL does allow texture import so a set of photographs could easily be imported from the HUMlab dataset to construct sections in Second Life. Linden Labs writes on the SL forum that
“We’re aware [importing objects) has been a popular feature request for a long time. Some implementations of it are commonly referred to as an “offline sandbox”, and there’ve been suggestions that we should allow import of common formats like DXF. We don’t yet have a system tool of our own to allow object import, but we’ve been researching the possibilities. In the spirit of user-created content ingenuity, some Residents have already come up with their own methods of importing objects.”
Building in SL is not difficult once techniques have been developed a little. Taste however does play a more important role and fine building is an art form. SL is a more realistic platform than other 3D worlds I have been involved with. Gravity is a constant and reality systems like a 24 hour clock, Cartesian space and a solar cycle (that can be turned off for individual avatars) define much of how the world appears and functions. Media streaming is fully enable in world. I have attended feature film shows and live music performances (Susan Vega and U2 have performed in world). Sound streamed into SL can be spatially fixed, when an avatar enters an area they audio stream for that area opens. I have heard some extremely innovative sound collages and art pieces constructed by SL users.
There are two methods to stream video in SL; one is the progressive download (from a server using QuickTime) and the other is the live stream from a digital video camera. Files for downloading can be linked in world and open from clicking on prims. One weakness of SL is the inability to enmesh web documents on stand alone URLs with in world contents. SL is a walled in world, hence the problems with moving content in and out of the world. However as an archive interface there are great potential with SL. It is certain that avatars will be voice communication capable in the near future. This will expand the possibilities for a HUMlab presence in SL.The presence and interactive possibilities of an in world live video stream should not be underestimated. Last week I attended (in SL) the Emerson College and Turbulence.org’s “OurFloatingPoints 4: Participatory Media” Living in Second Life seminar at the Boston Museum of Science and streamed in SL at Emerson Colleges lecture hall in world. During the speakers presentations back channel chat in world clarified and expanded many of the references made in the speaker’s presentations. Plus there was generally networking going on with about 60 avatars gathered in the hall to hear the seminar that was live streamed to a separate webpage as well. Because the streamed video in world failed (a recurrent problem in SL I believe) I had the video stream on the Emerson College website running as well as a window for SL and a third going for Google searches.
Teaching and peer driven content has many precedents in Second Life. Yale University through their ‘Berkman Centre for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School’ was an early adapter of coursework teaching in world. The course Cyber One: Law in the Court of Public Opinion has been taught using the Berkman Island space in SL. The course was offered as a face to face course for Harvard Law School internal students and as “a distance education course to students at the Harvard Extension School” which is described on the Berkman Centre website as being “mediated by participation in a 3D virtual environment called Second Life. Even to many seasoned computer and Internet users, the idea of a 3D virtual environment may sound more like a thing of science fiction or a video game. In fact, it is a cutting edge development in teaching technology.” A video presentation of Cyber One course and the pedagogic ration behind it is streamed here.
Teaching and research networks are another example of what is being done in SL that has relevance to HUMlab. I have been involved with the New Media Consortium (NMC) for about 6 months now. The website states the NMC is “a community of hundreds of leading universities, colleges, museums, and research centres. The NMC stimulates and furthers the exploration and use of new media and technologies for learning and creative expression.” The NMC has a large program of events centre around their campus in SL. They have presentation, teaching, get togethers (called Buzz Sessions) that seem to be steadily growing in popularity. The entry of HUMlab into such a network for learning and research could be a part of the HUMlab presence in SL.
I have developed a preliminary sketch for a HUMlab site in SL. It involves an area of approx 300 sq. meters. A 300 meter tower opening into a large convex is fastened with bubbles for streaming media in surround formats to individual or small numbers of avatars. Larger open screens are situated on the grassy plain that lies at the foot of the tower. This plain is beside a small amphitheatre that can be used for teaching, meetings and other avatar interactions. The largest screen is the one that is in the amphitheatre. I would recommend a difficult terrain for the HUMlab building site, one which can be incorporated into the design of the space. The eventual look of the HUMlab site however depends on what it would be used for. The possible uses can be summarized as:
The possibilities are manyâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦..
Links and References:
Info on SL video possibilities.
“OurFloatingPoints 4: Participatory Media” Living in Second Life seminar
Berkman Center at Yale, Cyber One: Law in the Court of Public Opinion
New Media Consortium (NMC)