Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Alts and identity

There's a lot of discussion on the SL Educators list at the moment about the use of Alts (multiple avatars) and their role in allowing people to form multiple online identities.

On Liquid Learning, Steve Warburton has an interesting post on the subject, Loving your avatar: identity, immersion and empathy. In it he plots a path of avatar identity and empathy (using a graph of time against investment), suggesting that there are two key break points which prevent some people from getting fully engaged with a MUVE such as Second Life.

Well worth reading.

For the record, and just in case you notice them around, I now have several work-related alts, though I must admit that I only tend to use them rarely. They are:

Lieme Sideways
Cliperty Clip
Kinda Telling
Oscar Mummfuzz
Man Anatra

Labrat Ninetails

Alrightme Ansome

The first 5 have been created for an experiment I hope to run looking at the impact of bots on search engine ranking.

Labrat is intended to be an in-world AI bot driven by libsecondlife and an external PandoraBot, though I haven't done the necessary coding work yet.

Alrightme Ansome was created purely to try out the NMC orientation experience.

PHP = Philip as Hitler Parody


(Note: this is not how I see the world... but it is very funny).

Friday, 25 January 2008

Thinking about learning 'impact' of Second Life

We held an invite-only meeting on Eduserv Island on Wednesday discussing issues around the impact of SL on teaching and learning and, in particular, whether it makes sense to think about how such impact might be measured.

About 18 avatars attended.

The background to this discussion lies in the series of Second Life snapshots that Silversprite Helsinki (John Kirriemuir) is doing for the Eduserv Foundation, looking at the current use of SL within UK education thru 4 snapshots (2 of which have been completed). We've asked him to try to have a greater focus on 'impact' in the next 2 snapshots - i.e. to try and get beyond simply saying who is doing what and to think about whether what they are doing is having a beneficial effect on learning (or at least whether they are thinking about such issues and, if so, how thry are doing so).

This is far easier said than done of course. Before thinking about looking at 'impact', one first has to determine what one means by that word, whether it makes sense to try and measure it and if so how (quantitatively or qualitatively) and what metrics might be used. Given that this is a contentious issue in the real-world, it is not surprising that the same is true in SL, perhaps more so. As Austin Thatcher said early on in the discussion, "Can anyone *prove* a lecture is a worthwhile activity?" :-)

In beginning to think about this area Silversprite sent out a short set of questions to the people previously identified thru the first two snapshot reports, asking them for their views. This resulted in a significant amount of good material, which we have so far kept under lock and key - not because we particularly want to, but because Silversprite promised some level of privacy to the respondents in order that they could speak freely about their own institutions. Having looked at the material with Silversprite, we don't feel that there is anything of a significantly confidential nature, so we have agreed to go back to all the respondents to try and encourage them to allow us to publish their material in some form. I'm hopeful that they will agree to this.

Watch this space!

So, to this particular meeting...

We don't want to make a habit of invite only in-world meetings but in this case we felt it was justified, partly as a way of saying thank you to the people who put such a lot of effort into their initial replies, and partly to keep the size of the group manageable.

We started by asking people at the meeting to give a brief position statement. I'm not sure how well this worked to be honest - in a chat meeting it is quite tedious to wait for people to type in their contributions in a sequential manner, even if the material is pre-prepared (which in most cases it was) - and once it does appear one suddenly has a big chunk of text to read. (I know I say this every time we hold an in-world meeting but it remains true I think - we are still learning how best to do it).

Whatever the effect of the initial statements on the dynamic of the meeting, I am reasonably convinced that having them as part of the session will be useful when we come to analyse the chat logs (which are also available as plain text).

Following the position statements we went into free discussion mode. Chat was much better suited to this part of the meeting, provided you don't mind a slightly chaotic form of discussion! And there was a lot of discussion. With only one or two prods from Silversprite and myself we had no trouble filling another 40 minutes or so with a solid stream of discussion.

As always with these kinds of meetings, sifting out the various threads from the twisting mass of sometimes overlapping postings is non-trivial. Silversprite is going to do some work on this. Rosie Luna made the point early on that we need to consider MUVEs generally, rather than Second Life specifically. I very much agree with this, though to be honest I'm not sure we made much explicit attempt to do so (sorry Rosie). That said, looking back at the chat-log now, I don't think there is too much that is not generally applicable. Remembering to think about the wider lessons for MUVEs generally is a good rule of thumb for everything we do in SL. Perhaps I need a new tee shirt - "I'm only in SL to learn how to MUVE" or something.

One thing that emerged in the initial responses to Silversprite and again in the discussion (and, to be honest, something I hadn't come across before) is the use of Action Learning, an iterative, group-centric approach to improving learning performance. This is an area I'd like to understand rather better than I do currently.

Overall, there were definitely some interesting points to emerge, as has been noted by other bloggers here, here and probably elsewhere. We'll publish our thoughts in due course. We had a wide range of viewpoints in the room and I think it would be foolish of me to claim that we reached any firm consensus. As Rosie Luna noted, "Assessing the impact of using SL/MUVEs is difficult. A lot of the earlier adopters are dedicated teachers, who would do a good job if asked to teach in a barn". That said, there is much to think about and I think/hope we've at least moved the discussion forward a little.

Trademark claims and land use bots

Two unrelated posts on New World Notes recently caught my eye...

Firstly, the suggestion that building an in-world prototype of a real-world object might form a much better way of asserting 'prior art' (or whatever the correct terminology is) for the purpose of trademark, patent or copyright claims, especially if that object can be sold commercially in-world, than simply writing the idea down on paper (Is Rapid Trademarking Second Life's Killer App for Corporations?). Note: whether or not this is a killer app, I don't think it will be a step in the right direction for SL generally.

Secondly, the apparently prolific use of bots to increase avatar traffic measurements on an area of virtual land and thus improve in-world search engine result rankings (Still Un-Alive: A Landowner Defends Her Use of Bots). It seems to me that this is no different, in principle, to the use of link farms on the Web to try and improve Google rank. The answer isn't to stop using traffic as a measure, but to try and spot the use of bots and weight their influence accordingly.

How do you spot a bot? I have no idea off the top of my head, but I don't doubt that some workable set of heuristics could be developed. I'm very tempted, just as an experiment you understand, to see how easy it is to use bots in this way on Eduserv Island. Our traffic could do with a bit of boosting! ;-)

Monday, 21 January 2008

SaLamander on the menu at the NMC Teachers Buzz

Today saw another well attended Teachers Buzz at NMC, this time with Wainbrave Bernal talking about the SaLamander project, bringing together a pipeline of three tools to allow educators to tag and catalog the best resources and learning materials in Second Life.

Let me start by saying that I can't get excited by this kind of thing. I've spent too long working on UK projects that have tried to manually catalog the best of the Web while at the same time watching Google and del.icio.us come along and steal the ground from under us. In this case, I suppose, the situation is somewhat different, in the sense that it is harder to see space for such a good full text indexing approach - but I'm still not convinced that asking people to manually catalog Second Life is a workable solution. Tagging is fine, but is arguably already well catered for by Sloog.

I hope to be proved wrong.

So what are SaLamander doing? In short, a HUD tool allows any resident to tag places of educational interest in Second Life using the existing Sloog engine as the back-end. So far, so good. SaLamander resources in Sloog are scraped regularly into the SaLamander wiki where the resulting record can be enhanced using an educationally-oriented metadata template. I think the project has money to pay people to do this enhancement - but presumably they will be happy to have volunteer effort as well (and that is all that will be available in the long term). Finally, descriptions of the best SL resources will be pushed into Merlot where they can sit alongside other resource descriptions.

Here's an example (unfinished) record in the Wiki.

In some ways I like the idea of using a Wiki to create metadata records - it's something that we talked about in the Dublin Core community for example. But much of the added value in the Wiki template could have been implemented as tags in Sloog where it would have been much more readily available for re-use. Such an approach would have also have encouraged use of the same tags across a much broader range of resources (e.g. users of del.icio.us could have followed the same approach for Web resources).

While I can see benefits of using the Wiki to maintain enriched records, I think the benefits of keeping everything as tags in Sloog outweigh them - not least in terms of simplicity. The costs of creating and maintaining a bunch of wiki pages will be too high in the long term I suspect - particularly keep track of resources as they are moved around the SL map. As I've pointed out before, cataloging a bunch of 'locations' is dangerous from a persistence point of view because you don't know what you are going to find there in the future.

I may be wrong - perhaps there is a huge community of taggers and catalogers out there just waiting to get started - but I doubt it. It's also possible that I'm under-playing the value of having a coherent record that can be surfaced in Merlot.

My other concern has to do with what is being cataloged. There is a slight danger that this kind of activity promotes Second Life as a space of artifacts, whereas the reality (for me) is that it is a space of social and collaborative opportunity. Building is important - but as a part of the learning experience. There is less learning value in simply consuming the fruits of someone else's creative activities. That's not to suggest that there aren't things worth cataloging in Second Life. Of course there are. Just that we need to be careful about the messages we give.

Sorry... I don't like to be negative and I hope that I'm wrong. I wish the project well and on balance it is probably an attempt worth trying but I'm not holding my breath.

Special issue of ALT-J

A special issue of ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology

Immersive virtual worlds (IVWs), such as Second Life, Active Worlds, Croquet and Forterra and massive multi-player games (MMPGs), such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft represent a paradigm shift in learning technology, and an important challenge to the world of education. The aim of this special issue of ALT-J is to develop and publish a timely collection of papers representing current research, developments and ideas in educational applications of IVWs and MMPGs. Of particular interest are papers that go beyond descriptions of objects and activities to build links between practice and pedagogy, and offer conceptual, methodological and analytical rigour.

Full details of how to submit can be found at: http://www.alt.ac.uk/callforpapers_altj_ivw.html

For queries and guidance relating to the call please contact:
Robert Ward <r.d.ward at hud.ac.uk> or Maggi Savin-Baden <m.savinbaden at coventry.ac.uk>

Important dates:
  • Until 22 February 2008: Submission of abstracts and formal/informal response from Special Issue Editors.
  • Submission of full papers: 31st March 2008.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Houston, we have a problem

My second life is briefly on hold (well, hopefully it'll be brief)... I dunno quite what happened but one minute I was at SloodleMoot chatting to someone, then next my whole laptop had frozen into non-existence. I power-cycled and tried again, only to get the same thing about 10 minutes later.

Now whenever I try to run the Second Life client the whole laptop freezes as soon as it writes to the graphics card (immediately after the pre-caching phase). Same thing using the OnRez viewer.

I'm getting nowhere. I've installed the latest video and sound drivers from the manufacturer (I'm using an HP Compaq nx8220 with an ATI Radeon x600 video card if you are interested). I've uninstalled and re-installed the SL client. I've tried the Omega ATI drivers. I've cleaned up my registry. I've even de-fragged my hard disk!

Nothing doing. Ziltch.

Arghhh. Frustrating or what!?

Friday, 18 January 2008

Second Life and UK data protection

I asked a while back whether the fact that Linden Lab is now charging VAT in the UK means that it is also required to comply with other UK legislation, such as the Data Protection Act (DPA).

A story from the BBC today indicates that Facebook is now being investigated by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), looking at privacy issues around the way the service continues to hold personal information about people after they have unsubscribed.
Although Facebook and many other social networks are based outside of the UK, Mr Evans [Senior Data Protection Practice Manager at the ICO] believes that UK law could still apply.

"They are established in the UK for UK legislation to cover their activities."
For the record, I don't have concerns that Linden Lab are abusing personal information. Just interested as to how far a US company is obliged to comply with legislation in the UK.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Sloodle at ISTE

For my second outing last night (who says I need to get out more!) I attended a Sloodle presentation by Buddy Spocket and Giannina Rossini, hosted by ISTE on their in-world island.

This was a well attended and useful session, covering a number of features that the Sloodle team have developed including a neat demo of the in-world Moodle blogging facility and chatroom integration.

The Sloodle project certainly seems to be generating a lot of interest. It's worth noting that SloodleMoot kicks off at midnight on Friday (18th Jan) UK time for those of you that are interested in finding out more.

NMC Virtual Reality Room demo

I popped over to NMC yesterday to see their demo of Stephane Zugzwang’s Virtual Reality Room which is now being made available free for educational use. The turnout was very impressive - 70 or so while I was there and another 40 in a second session apparently.

Suffice to say that I got there too late - the place was heaving. Trying to teleport direct to the sim failed miserably but I managed to sneak in by teleporting to a neighboring sim, and then flying over.

Once there, I couldn't work out how to get inside the room :-(, so I just used my camera control to take this one shot. Unfortunately I couldn't hear anything. Not to worry... CBD's write-up and audio is sufficient.

I went back later and had another look when it was less busy. Impressive stuff. Not dissimilar to the urban bubbles that are available on Second Nature but free for people to experiment with themselves.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Friday, 11 January 2008

Uptown top banking

I wanted to say something about LL's moves against the SL banking community (no, that's not rhyming slang) but I don't really have long enough for a considered post. Not that I care much about the banking community per se - I've never used an in-world bank and have never seen much point in doing so. This is particularly true of those offering impressive sounding interest rates, largely on the rule of thumb that if something looks too good to be true then it probably is.

But as I said when LL outlawed in-world gambling, what these moves represent is a significant change of direction for LL - away from a largely hands-off, anything goes approach, towards a more regulated world. Not surprising I suppose. Host an online service in the US, even on the west coast, and outside forces are going to be brought to bear on it before long - especially once the mainstream media gets interested in it. Actually, this is probably true of most countries - I shouldn't pick on the US. LL should probably be congratulated for holding out as long as they have.

But it does leave one wandering what the next step will be...

Open source terrain

The open source approach to SL object creation currently being adopted by Clever Zebra attracted a lot of blog attention last week. Quite rightly... it's a novel approach and it'll be interesting to see how things pan out.

Today, I note that they are adopting a similar approach to terrain files. Interesting...

As an aside, I now think that one of the things I got wrong when I constructed Eduserv Island was the terrain. Eduserv Island is made up of a lot of hard edges (it is shaped into the letter E - the Eduserv logo). Because of this I adopted the aproach of constructing most of the land mass out of large grass cubes, leaving much of the terrain underneath 20m under water. This has an impact on how some objects float and/or fly I think. The advantage is that there is lots of underground space to play with (though as far as I know, no-one has yet discovered my subterranean building work!).


Via a tweet from Peregrine Juneau I found SCREENBURN_, latest offering from Robbie Dingo (who is always worth watching). SCREENBURN_ is a short story being told thru the medium of machinima podcasts.

WeGame, machinima and sheep

Torley Linden has written a useful review of WeGame - effectively a YouTube for gamers but with a free, lightweight, downloadable tool for creating machinima. Looks pretty neat so I thought I'd try it out.

As Torley says, it's very easy to register, install and configure the software and get going. 10 minutes and you'll have uploaded your first machinima. Looks useful for quickly recording events and the like, where you want more than just an image. Quality looks pretty good also - though the embedded version below doesn't look to have coped with my widescreen format (the version on the WeGame site is OK)..

Here's my first attempt showing firstly, the Machinima Commons stuff that I've added to Eduserv Island and secondly, some jet powered sheep (which I originally built so that Second Friends could throw them at each other, but which since seem to have gained a more animated life of their own).

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Selling land bought at auction

A few months back I bought some land via auction. I didn't really want the land, but I was interested in how the SL land auction system worked. Very smoothly as it turns out - so smoothly that I ended up buying something that I didn't really want :-)

For now, I've let one of my other avatars sell shoes from it...

I'd be happy to sell the land again except I can't work out how! It is still shown on the map as being auction land, and there's no 'sell' button on the 'About land...' dialog box?? If anyone knows how to fix this, please get in touch. Thanks.

RSS feed for Torley's Tips of the Week

An RSS feed for Torley's Tip of the Week videos (linking to the lo-fi (in-world) version of each video) is available from


just in case anyone finds this useful. I had to create the feed by hand (well kinda by hand - I used the RSS-xpress tool at UKOLN to do it). Does a feed for these videos already exist somewhere?

I needed the feed because I have a generic(ish) tool for selecting and playing an in-world video from an RSS feed of available videos - it's what I use for the Teachers TV demo on Eduserv Island.

It'd be good if the RSS feed could be generated automatically in some way from the content of the Wiki (or vice versa I guess) but I'm not sure that is easily do-able?

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Virtual Ed case...

A hearty welcome back to Shale Bing and thanks for reminding all of us that the path of true SLove doesn't always run smooth - for educational institutions at least - in such a witty style.


Tuesday, 8 January 2008

First buzz of the year

The first NMC buzz session of the year took place last night. It was set on NMC's new(ish) orientation sim but timed for midnight (UK time) which probably put off most UK participants.

After a welcome and introduction from NMC's CDB Barkley (aka Alan Levine) we were left to explore on our todds, re-gathering for a group discussion in the Waterside Cafe area after about 30 minutes (see pic).

There's a decent summary of the meeting on the NMC Campus Observer so I won't repeat it here.

Following the meeting I asked CDB whether the NMC orientation experience is open for use by non-US institutions - e.g. would it be acceptable for UK universities to use it as their default?. His answer:
Yes and yes. The NMC Orientation is not restricted to who can use it, and UK unis are more than welcome. The registration form that uses it is: http://sl.nmc.org/join/.

We've worked with at least 2 other institutions that set up their own regAPI but we provided coordinates so their new avatars land at NMC Orientation, and we can do that for others.
I think this is something that we should strongly consider in the UK. We all know that orientation is a critical point in the life of an avatar. It seems to me that the network effect of collaborating on an educational orientation area outweighs the potential advantages of each UK university building a bespoke solution. And surely none of us really want to inflict the standard orientation experience on our students and staff? NMC's is vastly better IMHO!

Avatar aging

SignpostMarv Martin suggests Hair Plug, an open standard for dynamic prim hair, noting that if it existed the following hair-related scenarios would be possible:
  • a Hair Plug wig could grow over time, and need to be trimmed
  • require regular maintenance, especially for more complex styles:
    • Watch your avatar let it's hair down to retie a pony tail
    • See loose strands of hair start to form, then use a brush & some hair spray to get rid of the strand
    • Shampoo greasy hair
  • Hair that goes gray as your avatar gets older
Neat idea.

But why not go further... how about an llSetAppearance() function in LSL that would allow a scripted object to gradually fatten your avatar over time unless it gets enough walking exercise :-)

Friday, 4 January 2008

Conceptualizing and Prototyping Museum Exhibits in Second Life

An interesting museum-oriented session was held earlier today (noon, SL time) at Dr Dobb's Island Amphitheatre. It was very well attended. The session started with an overview of the work currently going on at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA, which is:
using Second Life to reinvent the exhibit design process. Rather than relying on in-house designers to conceptualize and create exhibits, The Tech has launched a collaborative online platform to support a diverse community of designers, artists, scientists, and interested folk conceptualizing and prototyping exhibits. Projects are proposed and teams formed on the web (http://thetechvirtual.org) and then prototyped in Second Life (The Tech, built by Involve, Inc.). The Tech is offering exhibit design tutorials, design reviews by museum professionals, and the chance to see your virtual ideas become real exhibits. The Tech intends to design all future exhibitions in this way, working with outside individuals to bring their unique creative vision and expertise to the museum to create unusual, extraordinary exhibitions. The Tech launched this project in Dec 2007, and is piloting with an exhibition (to be mounted in RL in June 2008) on technology in art, film, and music. Ten virtual exhibit prototypes will be selected for development in the RL exhibition, and their creators will be invited to San Jose for an awards ceremony and exhibition opening in June 2008.
Brief presentations were given by Nina Simon (manager of The Tech Virtual Museum Exhibit Workshop for The Tech - SL: Avi Marquez) and Ron Blechner (Chief Technology Officer at Involve, Inc - SL: Hiro Pendragon), followed by an open question and answer session.

The most interesting part of the discussion (for me at least) arose from a question about how The Tech plan to quality control the factual information that surrounds virtual artifacts ( a question which on the face of it doesn't seem very interesting, since it would appear that the SL problems in this area are no different to quality controlling any factual information presented in a museum setting).

Time didn't really allow this thread to develop to it's full potential. I think it could have gone a lot further. The discussion touched on issues around Wikipedia-like 'wisdom of the crowds' approaches vs. 'in-house, curator-centric' approaches to developing and maintaining factual information.

Perhaps more interestingly, the discussion moved on to considering how museums ensure the 'integrity' of their virtual exhibits. By 'integrity' I mean how closely exhibits mirror real-world artifacts, how well the in-world physics engine works on the virtual exhibit, and so on. There are clearly issues here (as has been noted before in this blog) about the scaling issues around artifacts vs. avatars - it is difficult to stick to 1:1 scale when most avatars are well over 2m tall! Similarly, there are issues with how well the in-world physics engine replicates the real world and limitations imposed by prim-counts.

But as one contributor stated, the integrity of the virtual artifact only has to be fit for purpose - which may be less than perfect. Hiro Pendragon (AFAIR) suggested that it is the collaborative experience around the artifact that is important in terms of any learning that takes place - not simply the artifact itself. This makes a lot of sense to me. The artifact has to be good enough to act as a 'conceptual representation' (to use Klaatu Quintus' term), to inspire the people that engage with it, to motivate discussion, learning and understanding... but the artifact doesn't necessarily have to be an exact replica of a real-world object or system.

I think that there is a lot more millage to be had from this discussion - something that we could perhaps usefully return to in one of the in-world educator's fora?

Anyway... overall, it was a good session and well worth attending. For anyone interested in submitting exhibit ideas to The Tech, see the Web site (above) and join the in-world group - 'Tech Exhibit Designers'. Good luck!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

MC in-world object

I've added a simple in-world rotating Machinima Commons sign to the welcome area on Eduserv Island. The sign hands out a notecard indicating that the land is ok to film on. Feel free to use - buy a copy of the object for L$0 and tweak the 'Give notecard' script to hand out the correct notecard.

Feel the buzz...

NMC are starting off 2008 with an impressive array of in-world events including several Teachers Buzz sessions. One of these (at Jan 7 4:00pm PST) will focus on their new orientation experience which I blogged about before Christmas.

Good stuff...

Second Life prevails

You've probably all mostly seen this already, but just in case...

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Animoto -> Second Life

Animoto, a Web based application that takes a bunch of your photos and turns them into a video, now allows you to download your videos as MP4 files, meaning that in theory that you can stream them in-world. See the 'Animoto Downloads' section of the FAQ for details.

I say 'in theory' because although the downloaded files play fine in Quicktime locally, I haven't yet worked out how to convince my Dreamhost streaming server to correctly serve them over RTSP :-(. I'm not sure if that is because they are not correctly hinted or something else?? Has anyone else got this to work?