Category Archives: second_life

the sea change is coming…

Eons ago, when the institute was just starting out, Ben and I attended a web design conference in Amsterdam where we had the good fortune to chat with Steven Pemberton about the future of the book. Pemberton’s prediction, that “the book is doomed,” was based on the assumption that screen technologies would develop as printer technologies had. When the clunky dot-matrix gave way to the high-quality laser printer, desk top publishing was born and an entire industry changed form almost overnight.
“The book, Pemberton contends, will experience a similar sea-change the moment screen technology improves enough to compete with the printed page.”
This seemed like a logical conclusion. It seemed like the screen technology innovations we were waiting for had to do with resolution and legibility. Over the last two years if:book has reported on digital ink and other innovations that seemed promising. But the fact that we were looking out for a screen technology that could “compete with the printed page,” made it difficult for us to see that the real contender was not page-like at all.
It’s interesting that we made the same assumptions about the structure of the ebook itself. Early ebook systems tried to compete with the book by duplicating conventions like the Table of Contents navigational strategy, and discreet “pages,” that have to be “turned” with the click of a mouse. (And, I’m sorry to report, most contemporary ebooks continue to cling to print book structure). We now understand that networked technologies can interface with book content to create entirely new and revolutionary delivery systems. The experiments the institute has conducted: “Gam3r Th30ry” and the “Iraq Quagmire Project” prove beyond question that the book is evolving and adapting to networked culture.
What kind of screen technology will support this new kind of book? It appears that touch-screen hardware paired with zooming interface software will be the tipping point Pemberton was anticipating. There are many examples of this emerging technology. In particular, I like Jeff Han’s experimental work (his TED presentation is below): Jeff demonstrates an “interface free” touch screen that responds to gesture and lets users navigate through a simulated 3D environment. This technology might allow very small surfaces (like the touchpads on hand-held devices) to act as portals into limitless deep space.

And that brings me around to the real reason the touchscreen zooming interface is the key to the next generation of “books.” It allows users to move into 3D networked space easily and fluently and it gets us beyond the linearity that is the hallmark and the limitation of the paper book. To come into its own, the networked book is going to require three-dimensional visualizations for both content and navigation. Here’s an example of how it might work, imagine the institute’s Iraq Study Group Report in 3D. Main authors would have nodes or “homesites” close to the book with threads connecting them to sections they authored. Co-authors/commentors might have thinner threads that extend out to their, more remotely located, sites. The 3D depiction would allow readers to see “threads” that extend out from each author to everything they have created in digital space. In other words, their entire network would be made visible. Readers could know an author’s body of work in a new way and they could begin to see how collaborative works have been understood and shaped by each contributor. It would be ultimate transparency. It would be absolutely fascinating to see a 3D visualization of other works and deeds by the Iraq Study Groups’ authors, and to “see” the interwoven network spun by Washington’s policy authors. Readers could zoom out to get a sense of each author’s connections. Imagine being able to follow various threads into territories you never would have found via other, more conventional routes. This makes me really curious about what the institute will do in Second Life. I wonder if you can make avatars that act as the nodes for all their threads? Perhaps they could go about like spiders, connecting strands to everything they touch? Hmmm.
But anyway, in my humble opinion the sea change is coming. It’s going to be three-pronged: screen technology, networked content, and 3D visualization. And it’s going to be very, very cool.

open-sourcing Second Life

Yesterday, Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life, announced the release of the source code for their client application (the thing you fire-up on your machine to enter Second Life). This highly anticipated move raises all sorts of questions and possibilities about the way we use 3-D digital environments in our day to day life. From the announcement:

“Open sourcing is the most important decision we’ve made in seven years of Second Life development. While it is clearly a bold step for us to proactively decide to open source our code, it is entirely in keeping with the community-creation approach of Second Life,” said Cory Ondrejka, CTO of Linden Lab. ” Second Life has the most creative and talented group of users ever assembled and it is time to allow them to contribute to the Viewer’s development. We will still continue Viewer development ourselves, but now the community can add its contributions, insights, and experiences as well. We don’t know exactly which projects will emerge – but this is part of the vibrancy that makes Second Life so compelling”

2006 was undoubtedly a breakthrough year for Second Life, with high profile institutions like IBM and Harvard taking a leading role in developing new business models and forms of classroom interaction. It looks like Linden Labs got the message too, and is working hard to court new developers to create a more robust framework for future community and business interests. From the blog:

Releasing the source now is our next invitation to the world to help build this global space for communication, business, and entertainment. We are eager to work with the community and businesses to further our vision of our space.

This is something that has definitely caught our eye here at the Institute, and while we may not be currently ready to dive into the source code ourselves, we are firmly behind Bob’s resolution to find out what can be done in a three-dimensional environment.

documentary licensed through creative commons to play in second life

Route 66: An American Bad Dream is an independent documentary film starring three Germans road tripping across the legendary US highway. What makes this film notable is that they released the film under the Creative commons license. Also, it had its premiere in the virtual world of Second Life on Aug 10th. The success of that showing prompted them to host an additional viewing this Thursday August 31 at 4PM SL in Kula 4, which will be presented by its creator Gonzo Oxberger. In the Open Source spirit of this project, they are making the video and audio project files available to anyone with a serious interest in remixing the film.

future of flickr

xmen_sl.jpgWired News reported last week, that some users of Flickr were upset at the enforcing of, until now a rarely mentioned, Flickr policy of making non-photographic images unavailable to the public if the account does not mostly contain photographs. Although Flickr is mostly known as a photo sharing site, people often post various digitized images into Flickr including our collaborator, Alex Itin. Currently, users of Second Life are receiving particular attention with Flickr’s posting policies.
The article quotes Stewart Butterfield saying, “the rationale is that when people do a global search on Flickr, they want to find photos.”
I can appreciate that Flickr wants to maintain a clear brand identity. They have created one of the most successful open photo sharing websites to date and, they don’t want to dilute their brand. However, isn’t this just a tagging issue? It is ironic that Flickr, one of the pioneering Web 2.0 apps, whose success strongly relies on the power of folksonomy, misses this point. Flickr was one of the primary ways the general public figured out how tagging works, and their users should be able to figure out how to selection what kinds of images they want.
How much of a stretch would it be for Flickr to become an image sharing website, including tags for photographs, scanned analog images, and born digital images?
FInally, Second Life had a recent event with a tie-in to a virtual X-Men movie premiere, whose images made their way into Flickr. When asked to comment about it, Butterfield goes on to say, “Flickr wasn’t designed for Universal or Sony to promote their movie. Flickr is very explicitly for personal, noncommercial use” rather than “using a photo as a proxy for an ad.”
Again, I appreciate their sentiment. However, is there a feasible way to enforce this kind of policy? Is it ok to for me to post a picture of my trip to Seattle, wearing an Izod shirt, holding a Starbucks cups, in front of the Space Needle? Isn’t this a proxy for an ad? As we have noted before, architecture, such as Disneyland, the Chrylser Building and Space Needle are all copyrighted. Our clothes are plastered with icons and slogans. Food and drinks are covered with logos. We are a culture of brands and increasing everything in our lives is branded. It should come to no surprise that the media we, as a culture, produce reflects these brands, corporate identities, and commercial bodies.
The decreases in cost of digital production tools have vastly increased amateur media production. Flickr provides a great service to users of the web to support the sharing of all the media people are creating. However, Flickr created something bigger than they originally intended. Rather than limiting themselves to photo sharing, there is much more potential in creating a space for the sharing of and community building around all digital images.

letters from second life

Last week, Bob mentioned that Larry Lessig, law profressor and intellectual property scholar, was being interviewed in Second Life, the virtual world created by Linden Lab. Having heard a lot of Second Life before, I was pleased to have a reason and opportunity to create an account and explore it. Basically I quickly learned that it’s Metaverse, as described in Neil Stephenson’s Snowcrash, in operation today, and I’m now a part of it too.
I already covered the actual interview. Here are a few observations from my introduction to SL.
Second Life is a humbling place, especially for beginners. Everything ,even the simplest things, must be relearned. It took me 5 minutes to learn how to sit down, another 5 minutes to read something, and on and on. Traveling to the site of Lessig event was an even more daunting task. I was given the location of this event, a name and coordinates, without any idea of what to do with them. Second Life is a vast space, and it wasn’t clear to me how to get from one point to another. I had no idea how to travel in SL, and had to ask around someone.
I presume it is evident that I’m very new to SL, by my constant trampling over people and inanimate objects. So, I continue walking into trees and rocks until I come across someone whose title contains “Mentor,” and figure that this is a good person to ask for help. Not knowing how to strike up a private conversation, I start talking out loud, not even sure if anyone is even going to pay attention.
(I will come to learn that you travel from place to place via teleportation.)
“Hi Harold.”
I am relieved to discover that people are basically nice in SL, maybe even nicer than in New York. This fellow avatar is happy to chat and answer questions. Second List has a feature called “Friends” which operates like Buddies in Instant Messaging. However, I’m not sure what the social protocol for making friends is, so I make no assumptions. As I was typing “can we be friends?” I sigh with the realization that I am, in fact, back in fourth grade.
second_life_clothes.jpgPeople around me have much more sophisticated outfits than I do. So, I try out the free clothing features. I darken my pants to a deep blue and my shoes black. Then, my default shirt gets turned into a loose white t-shirt. Somehow I end up a bit like a GAP model crossed with Max Headroom. After making my first “friend,” another complete stranger comes up to me and just starts giving me clothes. Apparently, my clothes still need a little work. I try on the cowboy boots and faded jeans. Happy that I’ve moved beyond the standard issue clothes, I thank my benefactor and begin to make my way to the event.
The builders of Second Life force people to rely on other people within the virtual world. However, assistance in the real world certainly helps too. Entering Second Life, the feeling of displacement is quite clear, as if I arrived to a new city in the real world with a single address, where I don’t know anyone or how to navigate the city. The virtual world often mimics the real world, but my surprise each time I learn this fact is still ongoing. It definitely helps to know people, both in where to go that’s interesting and how to do things.
After teleporting to the event, I found myself around people who had common interests, which was great and similar to attending a lecture in the real world. At different times, I struck up a conversation with an avatar who is a publisher on the West Coast and then talked to an academic who runs a media center. In both cases, I was talking to the person literally “next” to me.
When I first heard about the interview, I learned at there was limited spacing. Which seemed strange to me, as it was taking place in a viritual space. When I arrived at the event place, I saw the ampitheater with video screens, that would show a live web stream of Lessig. The limited seating made more sense, seeing the seat of the theater. I also believe that the SL servers also have a finite capacity for the number of people to be located within a small area, because movement was jerky around concentrated groups of people. I guess I’ll have to wait for the Second Life Woodstock.
The space was crowded with people walking around, chatting, and getting up their free digital copy of Lessig’s book, “Free Culture.” (I’ve included a picture of me reading Free Culture in Second Life. You can actually read the text.) second_life_reading.jpg The interview is about to begin, as an avatar with large red wings walks by me. I say out loud, “I know she was going to sit in front of me.” Adding, “Just kidding,” in case I might be offending someone, who knows who this person could be. Fortunately, she found a seat outside my sight line without incident, and the introductory remarks began.
There was a strange duality where I had to both learn what was being said, but also how to navigate the environment of a lecture as well. The interview proceeds within the social norms of a lecture. People are mostly quiet, clap and for the moderator runs the question and answer session. Afterwards, I line up to get Lessig to “sign” my virtual book at the virtual booksigning, as in my virtual public event. I finally stumble my way through the line, all the while asking many question on what I’m supposed to do. With my signed book in hand, I look at the sky, which is quite dark. I log out and return to the real world.

lessig in second life

Wednesday evening, I attended an interview with Larry Lessig, which took place in the virtual world of Second Life. New World Notes announced the event and is posting coverage and transcripts of the interview. As it was my first experience in SL, I will post more on the experience of attending an interview/ lecture in a virtual space. For now, I am going to comment upon two quotes that Lessig covered as it relates to our work at the institute.

Lawrence Lessig: Because as life moves online we should have the SAME FREEDOMS (at least) that we had in real life. There’s no doubt that in real life you could act out a movie or a different ending to a movie. There’s no doubt that would have been “free” of copyright in real life. But as we move online things that were before were free now are regulated.

Yesterday, Bob made the point that our memories increasingly exist outside of ourselves. At the institute, we have discussed the mediated life, and a substantial part of that mediation occurs as we continue to digitize more parts of our lives, from photo albums to diaries. Things we once created in the physical world now reside on the network, which means that it is being published. Photo albums documenting our trips to Disneyland or the Space Needle (whose facade is trademarked and protected) that one rested within the home, are uploaded to flickr, potentially accessible to anyone browsing the Internet, a regulated space. This regulation has enormous influence on the creative outlets of everyone, not just professionals. Without trying to sound overly naive, my concern is not just that speech and discourse of all people are being compromised. As companies become more litigious towards copyright infringement (especially when their arguments are weak), the safe guards of the courts and legislation are not protecting its constituents.

Lawrence Lessig: Copyright is about creating incentives. Incentives are prospective. No matter what even the US Congress does, it will not give Elvis any more incentive to create in 1954. So whatever the length of copyright should be prospectively, we know it can make no sense of incentives to extend the term for work that is already created.

The increasing accessibility of digital technology allows people to become creators and distributors of content. Lessig notes that with each year, the increasing evidence from cases such as the Google Book Search controversy show the inadequacy of current copyright legislation. Further, he insightfully suggests to learn from the creations that young people produce such as anime music videos. Their completely different approach to intellectual property informs the cultural shift that is running counter to the legal status quo. Lessig suggest that these creative works have the potential to inform policy makers that these attitudes are moving toward the original intentions of copyright law. Then, policy makers hopefully may begin to question why these works are currently considered illegal.
The courts’ failure to clearly define an interpretation of fair use puts at risk the discourse that a functioning democracy requires. The stringent attitudes towards using copyrighted material goes against the spirit of the original intentions of the law. Although, it may not be a role of the government and the courts to actively encourage creativity. It is sad that bipartisan government actions and courts rulings actively discourage innovation and creativity.