Skills day 2008: events in the virtual world

Second Life event postcardAndrew Powell – Eduserv

Andy asked: Does Second Life have a role to play in supporting real life events or a place to have events in their own right?

The whole presentation is taking place inside SL – it is in and of SL – but what we see will apply to other virtual worlds.

Will talk in three parts:
Introduction to SL
SL for events – my experiences
Discussions

SL participants were asked to brainstorm about what does and doesn’t work within SL. In the meantime, the RL audience get an introduction to SL.

SL is a 3D virtual world – a multi-user Virtual Environment (MUVE). It is a commercial offering (run by Linden Labs) and largely proprietory as not many open standards in this area but LL does have a commitment to using open source. World is populated by avatars, also known as residents in SL context. To join to go to the website, choose a name and password and download the client software onto your computer. Quite stringent technical requirements so need the hardware you would need for a heavy computer game if it is to run smoothly. Worth bearing in mind in educational context. Free to sign up but have to pay to own land though subscription rates are low. if you want to own a whole island (eg if you are a uni) then could cost several hundred dollars a month.

You can build things – Andy demos this in his building on Eduserv island by knocking together a quick stool. Very Ikea. He then drops the stool on the head of one of the workshop participants. Does he have public liability insurance?

If you don’t want to build your own stools you can buy them using Linden dollars. It is a low value currency – everything costs pence rather than pounds in the main so there is a vibrant in-world economy. Looks and feels like a gaming environment but not a game in any real sense – it’s a virtual environment with no real ‘point’. People bring the purpose with them as they come into the world.

Every avatar has a name which it is chosen at registration and can’t be changed though you can have alts. Nobody has their own name in SL so you have to remember two names per person. Andy’s is easy to remember, he told us, as Art Fosset is an anagram of ‘Fat Tosser’.

Changing your appearance is very easy in-life and you can easily become a green blob. Wings and tails (furries) are very popular.

Communication – voice is a recent addition and before bulk of communication happened through chat. Listenable within 20m. Can have a private conversation with IM. Voice is also public. The further away you are the quieter it will be and so on.

However, it does destroy the immersive qualities so not that popular for a lot of users (eg those men pretending to be a woman).

Accessibility: font size quite small and not very controllable. There are options for fielding chats out to websites but there are some accessibility issues. No record if using speech.

Some people do not feel comfortable with SL. As many as 90% might feel alienated. Don’t assume that it will necessarily appeal to a young audience. Average age is something like 33. SL is just one of a variety of worlds such as OpenSIM, Twinity etc.

Andy asks virtual audience what the best things are about having a meeting in SL:
“can leave if it’s rubbish”
“not wasting time or fuel travelling”
“novelty”
“interactive”
“can attend in my pyjamas”

Bad things?
“screaming kids at home”
“identity mix-up”
“technical issues”
“RW interruptions”
“no free coffee or lunch”

Example of first attempt at running an event in SL. Can’t get more than about 40 people together in one place but can replicate what you’re doing in other places in SL. Can get an active discussion going on. But hard to focus on speaking to RL audience while also keeping an eye on the SL audience. You need someone to have the job of being the bridge between virtual and real and relay some of the info to the speaker.
[SL delegates agree via chat that this would be good]

At one meeting I wrote a script that if you’re in a chair have to put up hand to speak and then get automatically put in a queue. Nobody said a word. They didn’t understand the system and got intimidated. But I had an off button, and the whole meeting burst into life as soon as I switched it off.

At JISC Online Conference had a small meeting in-world. broke the group into to and asked them to leave the room and go in two different directions – a RL way of doing it. But they went off in completely different directions and I had to fly around the island to find them. But there are SL ways of doing this – could have given them landmarks and teleported them.

Gives example of a regular educational meeting held by a US group where educators go for a chat-based discussion. UK educators in SL also meet but less frequently. is it a good use of time? I’m drawn in two directions on it.

Examples of different ways of presenting eg having slides set up around a large tree and sheep flying around.

Discussion

Andy gets the SL delegates to stand up and they have to walk to a place in the room according to whether they agree, disagree or unsure.

Assertion: allowing people to use their own names would make meetings easier.

Result: mixed

Assertion: the use of text chat is too slow and chaotic to have effective meetings in-world

Result: delegates walk around at random but tendency towards disagreeing

Assertion: the addition of voice has made things much better

Result: agree

Question: do you feel tired in SL when you’re walking round a tree to give a presentation?

Andy: no. would have to be very immersed in Sl to feel that level of immersion.

Question: when you go in how do you know where you’re going?

Andy: There is a search but be warned that there is a lot of stuff going on and not all of it is necessarily desirable and certainly not educational.
[comment from SL: some of the undesirable is very educational]
‘Griefing’ can be a problem eg someone puts a box on your head and you have to log out and that’s a bit annoying
[comment from SL: someone get a box!]

Question: are people more likely to put their hand up in SL than RL?

Andy: I think people are more outgoing in the SL world than in the RL.

Paul: been in SL since beta testing and feel more disengaged of late and it feels to be on a plateau at the moment. With the boundaries between realities very blurred at the moment, how do we manage cyber-crime and is there a stage where we’ll see legal cases for eg virtual theft

Andy: numbers do seem to have plateau’d but I treat the whole numbers thing in SL with caution as so many bots (software-controlled avatars) in world now that it skews the numbers. The cyber-crime thing – my experience is that it is really not an issue but maybe I’ve just been lucky. At the moment, Linden Lab are like the police and you go to them if you’ve got issues. In the future ‘the community’ will have to come together to do something about it.

Andy then thanks the delegates in-world as it has been very valuable for the audience in the RL to see them interact.

3 thoughts on “Skills day 2008: events in the virtual world

  1. John Kirriemuir

    These events are often, at the least entertaining and at the most useful in terms of hoovering up new knowledge and relevant contacts. The backchat at such events can be valuable; often intense, though.

  2. John Kirriemuir

    One other thing: you can follow the presentation in RW, read articles, see videos of it.

    But until you’ve actually “attended” an event in SL – or another Virtual World – and wandered around, explored, chatted to people et al, it’s difficult to comprehend.

    Take an hour or so. Have a go.

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