Thursday, 13 December 2007

Another day, another 3600 seconds

I occasionally get invited to give a version of my presentation entitled "Second Life in 3600 Seconds" to various audiences in the UK - a misnomer if ever there was one, since I can quite easily talk about Second Life for two hours or more without even pausing for breath or repeating myself!

Yesterday I went over to the Institute of Learning and Research Technology (ILRT) at the University of Bristol to give the presentation during their staff development week. Usually when I give this talk I'm in places where I'm not sure what the network will be like, so I tend to use mainly PowerPoint, dropping into Second Life every so often just to demonstrate things.

On this occasion however I wanted to do more than simply show pictures of Second Life. I wanted to give people a proper feel for what virtual worlds are like to use and, perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate some of the practical issues with using it for virtual meetings. To do that properly I decided firstly, to do the whole presentation from within Second Life and secondly, that I needed other residents to be around while I did it.

To that end, I decided to announce my talk the day before to the UK Second Life Educators group in Facebook, saying that I was happy for people to attend the talk in-world if they wanted to. Given only a day's notice, I wasn't expecting many people to show up - in the end there were 5 or 6 I guess.

So, what was the set up?

In the real-life venue I had two laptops. The first running the Second Life client and being projected onto the display screen in the room so that the RL audience could see everything that was happening in-world. The second fitted with a Web-cam and streaming an image of me into Second Life via Veodia.

In-world, I used the Virtual Congress Centre on Eduserv Island as the venue. About half my slides were uploaded onto the in-world display screen - the other half were turned into tee-shirts with slogans that I could wear at appropriate points during the talk. (As a record of the session I've recombined these two parts back into a composite Slideshare presentation).

I turned up at the venue about 30 minutes before I was due to speak and set everything up, including starting the Veodia stream. Things seemed to be OK. However, after about 1o minutes the video stream lost sound :-(. I don't know why. Those of you who have read my earlier report on streaming the UKOLN Blogs and Social Networks event will know that this is not an unfamiliar situation for me :-(

Struggling to get the stream started again and with the RL audience of about 35 people filtering into the room I switched tack and moved over to using in-world voice as the way of delivering the talk in-world. This wasn't a major problem - the combination of voice and in-world slides being perfectly acceptable as a in-world presentation experience IMHO - and SL's voice technology seemed to work pretty well.

The talk itself went OK I think, though perhaps it would be better not to take my word for it! A particular highlight for me was when I built a virtual chair - I tend to use chair-building as my stock demonstration of how the in-world building tools work. A member of the RL audience asked me about the in-world physics engine. I raised the chair into the air to show that by default, objects are not acted on by the force of gravity. Then I checked the 'Physical' option and let go. It dropped smack onto Silversprite Helsinki's head :-). Silversprite had conveniently chosen to walk onto the stage at the front of the room just at the right moment, much to the merriment of the RL audience (Silversprite being an ex-member of staff of ILRT!).

So... how did the session go overall? Did everything go smoothly? No, of course not! Managing my avatar's movement and camera position, my in-world tee-shirts and slides, the RL audience, the voice channel and the SL audience was a complete handful for me on my own and I'll need more practice to get it 100% right. It certainly wasn't a disaster... but there's plenty of scope for improvement.

A few things are worth noting in particular.

Firstly, because I was using my SL client as the way of showing the in-world tee-shirts and slides to the RL audience, the main focus of my attention around what was happening in SL was on where my avatar's camera was pointing. This meant that both I and the RL audience missed much of the avatar activity in the SL venue. For the same reason I also tended to lose track of what my avatar was doing - as opposed to what the camera was doing. So, for example, I suspect that for at least some of the time I was standing with my avatar's back to the SL audience. How rude!

Because my camera was focusing on the SL presentation screen, I didn't realise that I was doing this.

Secondly, although the RL audience could see the SL chat displayed on the screen in the RL venue (several of them commented that this was very useful for them) I was unable to take in what was happening in the chat log. The reality is that I needed someone else in the RL venue to monitor what was going on in-world and to relay it on to me at appropriate points. That would have allowed me to pick up what was happening in SL and to engage the two audiences rather better than I was able to do on my own.

Interestingly, I think the RL audience were very aware of the SL audience, in the sense that they could see everything that was being said, but the SL audience probably felt very cut off from what was going on in the room. Ideally, I should have facilitated the coming together of the two audiences better, but I wasn't able to because of having to focus too much on what I was saying.

The "presentation by in-world tee-shirts " experiment failed rather miserably. For some reason, tee-shirts seem to rez far more slowly than textures on in-world objects (possibly because they weren't in my client cache I guess)? So each time I changed shirt, I had to wait a while for the slogan to appear. More than once I simply gave up waiting and said what the slogan was going to be. This was a bit of a shame.

Finally, I know that some people in the SL audience felt annoyed that I had ignored them during the question and answer session at the end. I completely apologise for this but there was a lot going on and as I indicated earlier, keeping track of it all was beyond my capability in the heat of the moment. As happened in the symposium back in May, it was actually the RL audience that flagged up the fact that questions were coming in from the SL audience that I wasn't seeing. This was great... but if I'm honest, even when the RL audience took the role of relaying to me what was happening in-world, I wasn't able to comprehend it properly for some reason, and therefore didn't react to it as well as I should have done. Oh well... live and learn.

As one person in the RL audience said at the end, "We could see how difficult it was for you (i.e. me) to keep track of both audiences on your own, but for us it was very useful to be able to listen to the conversation in the room and see the in-world chat in Second Life".

Final thought... which is largely irrelevant because the video stream failed to work for some reason... but if the stream had worked, I would have streamed an image of me (probably my face) as I talked. When I first turned up at the RL venue I was unsure whether to stream myself or the RL audience. I asked the locals and they were concerned that I hadn't asked people in advance whether they minded being streamed. As a result, I chose to point the Web-cam at myself. With hindsight, I suspect that streaming an image of the RL audience would have helped pull the two audiences together. Streaming an image of my face would have made little or no difference to the impact of my talk - but for the virtual delegates, being able to see the RL audience would have been quite nice I think.

Anyway... enough already. Overall I think it was a useful session. I certainly hope it was. Every time I try using SL to run an event I learn more about what works and what doesn't and I hope that by writing these postings some of that gets passed on to others. If you were in either audience and are reading this, please feel free to share your comments - good or bad.

[Images by Silversprite Helsinki]


heyjude said...

Hello Art, yes it was a great effort on your part, and thanks to an invite from a colleague in the UK I was able to join your group 'in world' at least for part of your talk. From our experiences here in Australia you do need to have two people to manage all these things! and you were managing a great deal which is a real credit. I really appreciate that you made this session available in SL, and hope there are more opportunities for us downunder to benefit from your expertise. Cheers, and thanks a lot. Judy (Heyjude Jenns in SL)

andymee said...

Hi Art. I found out about your presentation via Facebook and joined in Second Life (as Edward Kwon and inviting heyjude along the way). Your presentation came off very well in world both in terms of content and delivery. I would have liked to see the Real Life room as, although I was aware of staff at Bristol, I didn't realise there were 30+ of them (mental note to think more about chat before posting it in world). You did a great job.

Art Fossett said...

@andymee thanks. you are absolutely right... one of the things i forgot to do (and I really should know better!) was to properly spell out to both audiences right at the start what the technical set up was and how many people were in each audience. sorry about that...

Peter Miller said...

Missed this one (not in Facebook :p and busy IRL anyway) but Art deserves massive credit for exploring the boundaries of the plausible. Personally, I think you need three people, one to run the meeting, one to do the technical stuff and one to firefight/fetch/carry. I've noticed that Lit Alive! tends to operate with three though the roles may differ a little from those I defined. Two of those are, I suspect, working for 'love', not money, a rather counter-cultural but interesting aspect of SL.

Silversprite said...

Think Andy/"Tart Fossil" is being a bit hard on himself. The event went, at least from what I saw and heard, very smoothly - and for a significant amount of time (90 minutes rather than 3,600 seconds).

It was kinda weird for me, as it was my first experience of listening to voice (impressed by the quality of it). Also, I was very aware (especially when they laughed) of the presence of ex-work colleagues in a sort of disembodied way. They were in Bristol, and I was on a rock in the Outer Hebrides, so it was kind of strange to get a "remote reaction" in some kind of communication form to events and input during the event. While typing wistfully about food memories in Bristol, am sure I could almost smell/taste it.

Overall, I thought this went smoother than most "Real World Only" 90 minute events I've been to in the last year. Interesting and fun (as both an observer and participant/agitator too!).