Friday, 17 August 2007

Improved chatlogs

Kisa Naumova has made a neat new tool available that takes a raw chat log and gives it a make-over.

The tool grabs the icon from each participant's SL profile and combines them with colored, indented speech boxes to make a much more pleasant and readable record of an event.

By way of example, here's the modified chatlog for the recent UK Educators meeting about problem based learning.

Very cool.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Eduserv-funded SL projects

I've put a set of posters about the 4 SL projects that we funded this year in the landing area on Eduserv Island.

The posters are also available in Slideshare. They have been developed in preparation for our stand at ALT-C in September.

The projects are:

Thinkerer Challenge

NMC have announced the Thinkerer Challenge, a monthly award for in-world projects that benefit people outside SL in some way. Submissions will be assessed against the following criteria:
  • Creative synergy. The product or service results from an innovative combination of ideas from the real world and capabilities offered by Second Life.
  • Collaboration. The product or service results from the collaboration of two or more people who have made distinct and recognizable contributions.
  • Outfacing. The item (or a significant aspect of it) is accessible and of value to some people outside of Second Life.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The psychology of voice

I've had one or two chances to experiment with voice recently - for example, at the last two Sloodle meetings (one of which is pictured here) and during a couple of quick sessions in the SL Hacienda.

In general I'd say that there are still a lot of teething troubles, partly to do with the infrastructure and partly to do with us end-users not having our kit set up correctly! As a result, using voice at the moment tends to end up being something of a disappointment. More often than not people switch back to chat after a few minutes of not being able to hear properly - or one ends up with a nasty kind of dual conversation, some in voice, some in chat.

I'm sure it'll get better... and on at least one occasion the sound quality of voice has been very, very good - so this is not intended to be critical of how things are developing. Just stating the obvious really.

But what I want to do in this post is to take a step back from the current practicalities and think about what voice does to the SL experience in more general terms. Of course, I can only write from a personal perspective - YMMV and I'd be interested in people's thoughts on what I say below.

What I want to suggest is that, for me at least, the use of voice vs. chat is fairly heavily wrapped up in the psychology of the SL experience.

In psychological terms something odd happens when one goes into SL. There is a sense in which one becomes one's avatar. Yes, I know that sounds odd but that's what I think is happening. I guess that is part of the reason why people find it so easy to blog as their avatar, send emails as their avatar, and so on.

For me, this is one of the key features of the SL experience.

In passing, it occurs to me that maybe it's the case that those people that don't 'get' SL are those who don't feel comfortable getting caught up in this act of 'becoming their avatar'?

Now, this 'becoming the avatar' is easy to do in chat mode - because chat is very much disembodied from the physical person. In SL it is very easy to become something that one isn't in RL - and chat doesn't prevent that happening because chat carries very little of the visual or aural clues that indicate who the RL person is.

For example, you'd have to know me pretty well to tell that you were really interacting with Andy Powell purely from my style of 'chat' - and even if you did know me that well I reckon I could still hide my identity from you if I really wanted to by changing the way I chatted.

Voice takes that away. Voice makes it much harder to become something that one isn't - to become someone else in-world. I'm not particularly referring to the extreme cases here. A RL man becoming a SL woman for example - though I don't hold anything against those that want to do that kind of thing.

I mean something very mundane. I mean that I can't become Art Fossett so easily if I am speaking with Andy Powell's voice.

Similarly, I can't believe so readily in the SL avatars that I'm interacting with if I'm very obviously listening to a person that I know in the real world.

In previous posts I've noted that some people's reaction to SL is along the lines of "given that we are all just looking at the chat log, why don't we go and simply use IRC instead?" and I've tried, not particularly convincingly, to refute that view by saying that there is something that sets a SL chat session apart from an IRC chat session - that there is some point to having chat sessions in-world.

Unfortunately, for me so far, the addition of voice destroys much of what makes SL so attractive - or at least, that is my initial impression. When I'm in a voice conversation with someone in-world, my first instinct is to think "why aren't I just on the phone to this person - I know exactly who they are" - the SL aspect becomes irrelevant. Worse in fact - it gets in the way.

I really hope this feeling goes away because, now that it's here, I don't see voice disappearing again and I don't see how we're going to avoid a situation in which it becomes the default mode for many/most in-world meetings.

So, for now, I'm waiting to see what happens to the technology and, more importantly, how my own attitude to it changes over time. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I get used to it!

Second Life economy

There's a brief entry on the Official Linden Blog about the SL economy - how it works and so on. Worth a quick read.

All of which is really just a pathetic excuse to display my 'art dollar' :-).

Tuesday, 14 August 2007


It seems to me that creativity is the key to what makes Second Life the place it is so I think that the NMC were spot on in choosing it as the subject for their week-long in-world symposium. If you don't believe me I urge you to go to any sandbox in SL, sit around for a while and watch what people are creating.

A video of Larry Johnson's keynote, Why creativity matters, is now available. In some ways it's quite a laid-back, measured presentation - delivered with a gentle style that is very easy to listen to. Worth the 30 minutes or so that it tales to watch. Johnson highlights 3 key aspects of SL as:
  • a social platform (the growth of which has happened in parallel with the growth of social platforms on the Web),
  • a user-built embodiment of self-expression and dynamism,
  • an inherently expressive environment.
He leaves us with the exhortation that we need to make our spaces in SL places where creativity flourishes. I certainly agree with that.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Where's my avatar's OpenID?

I blogged here about OpenID and group membership and hinted that Second Life needs to support OpenIDs. Wouldn't it be neat if Second Life functioned as an OpenID provider, offering every avatar an OpenID URL such as

or somesuch? This would be particularly useful for those of us that blog using our avatar names.

As far as I can tell, it would be relatively easy for Linden Lab to support. Now, I just need to work out how to suggest it to them?

Friday, 10 August 2007

Orb - an in-world student magazine - feedback required

I just noticed this posting to the SLED list which seems worth repeating here - partly as a way to get some volunteers and partly to highlight what appears to be an interesting UK SL activity.

My name is Jennifer Young, and I'm a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. I've been using SL to create an online student magazine which is hosted inside a virtual literary festival. The magazine, Orb, is staffed by UH students. The publishing remit is to publish the best creative writing by UK university students.

The magazine will launch on October 23 with a streaming performance by UK performance poet Patience Agbabi.

We are in the final stages of design, and we're looking for users to provide feedback. Would you be willing to spend a few minutes walking around our site and giving us some feedback? There are post boxes on the site, or you can email me at The SL address is:

Just to make you aware, the pieces of creative writing that are up are still in draft mode and are acting as place holders. Before the magazine launch in October, the authors will record audio and provide visuals to accompany their work. At the moment it's just text with the student editors' voiceovers.

Thank you for your assistance -

Best wishes,

(in SL: jmy Writer)

UK Second Life Educators Facebook group

Despite my general mistrust of Facebook groups I've taken the liberty of creating a UK Second Life Educators group.

Please feel free join if you are in the UK and interested in the use of SL in education.

Hacienda revisited

The proposed UK Educators voice trial in the SL Hacienda yesterday failed miserably because of very long login times to SL which, AFAIK, stopped a lot of people getting in-world in time. Either that or no-one was interested!


Anyway, we've agreed to do the same thing next week - same day, same time. See the Facebook event page for details.

As it happens, I accidentally went into the SL Hacienda again last night and bumped into the owner and a couple of her mates. They didn't seem to like me very much, taking the piss out of my jesus sandals and general appearance somewhat remorselessly.

I took it in good spirit, though it felt slightly over the top, coming from people I didn't know - one of whom was both fat and blue! Luckily I had my fat and green avatar to hand (the one I use in my SL in 3600 seconds presentation). They seemed to cheer up when I changed into that.

I explained that we wanted to use their venue for a meeting. They seemed a little bemused, but generally agreeable and I left on good terms - I'm now a proud member of the 'Hacienda Crew' SL group.

All's well that ends well as they say.

Teachers TV experiment on Eduserv Island

Via a Gavin Dudeney posting to the SLED list I discovered that the Guardian have got together with Teachers TV to offer a selection of video podcasts aimed at teachers. The expectation, as far as I can tell, is that people subscribe to these using iTunes but I noted that they also offer an RSS feed of available videos. Not only that, but each video is available in Quicktime format... perfect for viewing within Second Life.

The RSS feed contains about 50 entries. As a feed, I assume it is going to change on a regular basis. So making the videos available in-world needs to be more flexible than simply hardwiring a list of 50 media URLs into a scripted 'video screen' prim.

One of the 'usability' challenges of SL is how to do this kind of thing, given that one can't simply present an HTML view of the list on an in-world prim. One possibility is to grab the RSS feed, pull it in-world, and chat it to the end-user, letting them chat back an instruction to play the required video - '/1 play 47' kind of thing. Another option would be to present an in-world dialogue box - but very difficult, if not impossible, to do with a list of 50 videos.

I chose a different method for my experiment. Why not take the end-user out to a Web page, show them an HTML view of the RSS feed, let them select one of the videos in their Web browser - then bring them back in-world to watch the video?

That's what I've done... and it seems to work pretty well. A single 'play' script in the in-world video screen, and a small set of external Perl scripts to parse and display the RSS feed, save the chosen video and tidy up when you the video is finished with combine to offer a functional but simple approach to video selection.

You can try it for yourselves on Eduserv Island. Click on the screen to get started. Have fun!

Note that once you have selected a video, you are in control of the screen until you either click on the screen to end the video or you leave the area. Other people can't jump in and choose another video while you are watching. This is a bit like holding onto the TV remote to stop your kids changing channels half-way thru your favorite programme! :-)

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Urban bubbles

Wow... this is very cool. Digital Urban, a.k.a Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith, a Senior Research Fellow at CASA and team leader of the Virtual London modelling group, has created
six 'Urban Bubbles' on Second Nature Island, each with a staircase leading to a viewing platform. These panoramic spheres provide a quick way to visualise local locations, data points can be subsequently mapped inside the scenes to access any relevant information.
The bubbles are located in a sandbox area above Second Nature. See the Digital Urban blog entry for more information. The picture above shows me standing inside one of the bubbles. These are well worth seeing.

The work also includes visualisations of city datasets
with a key and information point which when clicked display additional background information on the data provided. While early days it does lend itself to a simple representation of data sets within the collaborative environment which is Second Life.

SL Hacienda and voice

I just met up briefly with Ade Snook at the Second Life Hacienda, resulting from him tweeting that he was alone on the dancefloor - ahhh. The Hacienda was a Manchester club that I never went to in RL (partly because of being a southerner!) but Ade said that it was a reasonably faithful replica of the original.

While we were there we tried out the SL voice feature. Cool. It took a while to get the settings right (e.g. correctly setting the relative volumes for audio, video and voice) but once done it seemed to work very well.

The way that the sound changes as you move relative to other speakers is particularly nice.

I suggested to Ade afterwards that we should organise a voice trial for any UK Educators that are interested - or anyone else for that matter. I was originally thinking about testing voice on Eduserv Island, but the Hacienda would be more fun. How about 4.00pm (UK time) on Thursday 9th August?

Monday, 6 August 2007

Adventures of Yoshikawa

I've just been reading the Adventures of Yoshikawa, a blog by Sheila Yoshikawa from the CILR who is currently housed in one of the offices on Eduserv Island.

I particularly like the Bridget Jonesesque start to each entry - wish I'd thought of doing it.

Friday, 3 August 2007

The nonesense of SL?

I don't strongly disagree with anything Scott Wilson says about the relative value of properly understanding the social Web vs. Second Life but I'm not totally sure I see it as an either/or situation, which is what seems to be implied by phrases such as:
a serious understanding of social software, feeds, and learning 2.0 technology is harder to achieve than grokking SL, but I think its important to do this before looking into SL
Don't we need to investigate and understand both in parallel? My personal take on it is that our understanding of what, for want of a better term, I'll call Web 2.0 social tools is aided by, rather than hindered by, an understanding of SL.

Centre for Information Literacy Research office opening on Eduserv Island

I attended, and briefly spoke at, the opening of the Centre for Information Literacy Research office on Eduserv Island earlier today - an event organised by Sheila Webber (Director of CILR). This is a newly formed centre within the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield. We have offered them an office on the island, which ties in quite nicely with our other information literacy interests.

They define information literacy as:
the adoption of appropriate information behaviour to obtain, through whatever channel or medium, information well fitted to information needs, together with critical awareness of the importance of wise and ethical use of information in society
I'm very happy that they are using our space. We have 7 other empty offices currently if anyone is interested - which it would be good to fill with people / organisations / activities that mesh with our charitable objectives and interests.

As I said during my talk:
Information Literacy touches almost all areas of our digital lives, including our second lives. So I'm really keen to see what comes of the CILR activities here and I hope we can find ways of working with Sheila and colleagues more in the future.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

SLCC 2007 Schedule

The schedule for the education track at SLCC 2007 has been announced. Come on UK SLEDers... we're not well represented :-(

If I wasn't going to be on leave, I'd consider going to SLCC. Any conference that can run a sex panel back-to-back with a community panel has got to be OK hasn't it? ;-)

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Wanted: rotation expert

The last thing I have to do on the prim front is to make its arms make a typing movement whenever it is chatting. Should be pretty easy.
Good grief... how wrong was I? So far, I've managed to get one of Pandora Bot's arms to move up and down, but it is not exactly a smooth motion and it doesn't look much like typing. I know what I need to do - I need to get the forearm to rotate around the elbow. But doing that simple task is proving to be pretty complicated. Dunno if it is just me being thick but I cannot get my head around how to rotate an object correctly using LSL.

Any pointers to a good tutorial or examples would be very welcome.

Richard Bartle interview

Via Andy Pulman, I came across this interview in the Guardian with Richard Bartle, the creator of MUD.

A fascinating read, though I was somewhat disappointed by the very text-centric response to the interviewer's question about the future of the 3D Web. Sure, 3D doesn't do much for the presentation of textual material... but so what? The Web is about much more than that. What about non-textual media? What about collaboration?