Monday, March 29, 2010

Videos | Genero.tv - Bryn Oh

Videos | Genero.tv

Moby song competition

About a month ago I was sent a message by GeneroTV about a competition to determine the official video for the song "wait for me" by Moby. I was actually working on a sim for the World Expo in Shanghai which fit perfectly to the song, so was able to put together something. I will post more about the Worlds Fair in a few weeks as its a pretty huge event that myself and some other people are involved with. 250 countries and an expected attendance of 70 million. And we have managed to get second life there. But back to Moby. So most of the videos are using human actors etc as is to be expected, and I am not sure how receptive they will be to my video not to mention the vast majority are really wonderful, but in a way it stands out now as being unique. Not to mention its using machinima and modern concepts such as ummm persistent virtual worlds. Its a tough competition and I don't really expect much, but would be fun if the official music video were of second life and something I made. Anyway, I will put it below and hopefully you like it. If you do please vote for it too. Be sure to watch it in HD as the normal mode looks terrible. The button is to the top right.

Videos | Genero.tv

Friday, March 26, 2010

CBC - Quirks & Quarks Podcast on Second Life

Often "real life" reporters are given a short deadline to write about Second Life. In this short period of time they must write a compelling piece about something they are completely unfamiliar with. They arrive, try to navigate around, realize time is flying by and so write about the sex aspects in this virtual world. Its a combination of laziness and the basic understanding that sex sells. Its become abundantly clear that over the past few decades TV has become a feel good vessel for us to watch so called weirdos and freaks in order to feel better about ourselves. But TV programmers have also realized that showing extreme emotions are the way to go. Many of us are desensitized and require strong emotions to be connected. So for example Jerry Springer had white trash physical violence. Oprah and Dr. Phil etc are all about working hard to make people cry on tv. If you can make someone cry on tv, well thats the ultimate achivement. Watch the body language in these shows. They lean forward until they have made them cry and at that point rest back into their chair. Some of the most popular elements to American Idol are watching the humiliating performances of untalented ones. Its not about encouraging the performers and suggesting things they need to work on but rather seeing who can say the most biting comment to them. I once saw a tv show whose premise was to inform a spouse or partner that they were being cheated on and to film their reaction. But they also felt the need to lead them to the hotel room so that they could confront those having the affair once they came out. In this case they got to film the emotional destruction in discovering you were being cheated on plus tears and in some cases physical violence. Anyway i am not going to rant about this.

In Canada we have a radio station/tv called CBC. They have no need for the revenue that sensational programming brings in. And something they understand is that if you wish to have an informed opinion of Second Life ask the embedded people who inhabit it. Here is a podcast for a show called Quirks & Quarks which generally is just full of non sensational yet interesting topics. The first story in this episode is about Second Life.

http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/quirksaio_20100320_29498.mp3

this MP3 link should work above but if not it's here too...

http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/podcast.html

Saturday, March 20, 2010

#2 Glyph Graves's wind sculpture




I met Glyph Graves a few years ago now. If I remember correctly, we were both added to the NPIRL group at the same time, class of whenever, and we would both rush off to see the new art events listed for the members. Each time an event was listed there would be a variety of NPIRL members showing up, always changing, but one consistent thing was that Glyph and I would be there analyzing the build each time.

Glyphs wind sculpture is a build which is unique to the medium of second life. Below are selected comments taken from Glyph about this build. He expresses his intentions much better than I can. In the above machinima you can hear undulations of music as well as see creatures roaming the environment. The music and movement of the creatures are connected to the second life wind map. With each change in wind there is a change in the prim ballet.

"The best way to think of the installation and the way it is meant to be thought of is as one large kinetic sculpture whose elements interact with the digital fabric of SL.

It is meant to be viewed not only as a whole but over a period of time. Of course, the aesthetic of this sculpture like any other sculpture is an emergent property of the elements that make it up. In this instance it is helpful to understand what the individual elements that make up the piece are doing to create the whole sculpture.

Each element expresses the same thing but translated into different parts of our perceptual spectrum.

The position and movement of each element of the sculpture IS the shade of colour, it IS the note it produces. That is, they all are the same thing expressed in a different way that feeds back to reinforce the whole.

Just as the combination of the notes from all the elements produce an effect equivalent to a symphony that unfolds over time so do the colour and the movement. All three combine to produce the sculpture.

Finally, the project was aimed not only at extending our senses but also showcasing a small portion of the tools that SL offers us. The lovely thing about SL is that we do not have to adhere to forms constrained by the limitations of conventional media. We are freed to do more though there are other constraints such as prim numbers and server loads. I didn’t have to use the SL wind, I could just as easily have used a more conventional approach, different algorithms to do a similar thing but I find something quite beautiful in the way the wind has been implemented in SL and it deserves a showing.

You will see the windmap that maps the SL wind to colour.
You will hear the windflutes that map the wind vector to two sets of notes.
This installation takes the SL wind and maps it to movement, colour and a set of notes represented in the forms of creatures moving in the air.

Each individual creature in the main installation is independent producing its colour, movement and a note depending on its position, from the wind vector at that point. Pan around at the different coloured organisms and enjoy.
The x and y movement of the jellyfish/ windworms is a mapping from the SL wind vector.
The colours are the wind vector mapped to the Red Green Blue Vector, with strength as the blue component.

Sound

In the main installation the X component of the wind is mapped to the DreamPad notes (see acknowledgments) and the Y axis to the flute. Wind strength modulates the volume on both, and the tempo of the flute (rather perversely I made the tempo inversely proportional to the wind strength, ie stronger = slower).

The result is surprisingly pleasing.. there is some dissonance, but then I like that. Mostly it is melodic but of course the result depends on the strength and direction of the SL wind."


http://slurl.com/secondlife/Arachnod/200/77/2237

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#3 Madcow Cosmos and Loren Tone



Bye Pathfinder we will miss you greatly. The arts have lost a wonderful supporter.

Madcow Cosmos is probably the most prolific builder in Second Life. He makes everything from avatars to massive dinosaur bone graveyards. His work is almost always humourous and fanciful, yet sometimes has an edge of dark humour. Such as his teddy bear whose belly is a toothy mouth for all the wee little children interested in hugging him. Lorin Tone has long been a supplier of sound to SL. Many of the builds we see here owe part of their success to those sounds he has found and isolated for us.

Last year my Elevensies choice was for a build Madcow began then lost interest in. You can see that post here... http://brynoh.blogspot.com/2009/01/11.html
Well for his IBM show he reworked that build and added a whole new one. It is a loose narrative about a boy who discovers music. I think what I liked most about this build was the variety for the viewer. First I went into the zoo from outer space and read all about his funny creations. Each creature had a unique national geographic style write up about them explaining their traits and habits. All products of Madcows fertile imagination. When you left this area there were two other huge areas to exlore. It took me hours, actually days to fully explore it.

What I think was particularly successful was the switch in scale. The zoo was a relatively small area with lots of detail to observe but once you began the story for the child who finds music you are in a whole new scale. It rises far into the sky and in my machinima I have attempted to show its scale by jumping off the top. I actually had to cut portions of my fall to make it fit within the length of the song. Generally in a build people keep to the ground but in Madcows case he rose well into the sky.

Its hard for me to explain all of this build as it also included things such as the ability to play music through combining loops etc. The music side was lots of fun to play with. I think in the end the sheer enormity of the build was what staggered me and left an impression. It was the James Cameron build of SL (even had some floating pre-movie islands) and ironically we explore it with avatars.

Monday, March 8, 2010

THE WORK OF ART IN THE AGE OF VIRTUAL PRODUCTION

Here is the academic paper Tez wrote which is set up properly with pictures etc.
So read the link below rather than my pasted version. Ok it doesn't want to be a link for some reason so I think you can just copy and paste it.

http://andrewsempere.org/chart2009/CHArt09_asempere_paper.pdf

And below this is a copy/paste version of the PDF which is not going to look quite as nice. This is a bit of a self serving post as Bryn Oh is included in the essay but meh. I am flattered to have been included alongside AM Radio and four Yip.
Anyway. I will continue the countdown of my favorite builds of 2009 tomorrow.

Yes just tested this post on the blog and it looks pretty terrible to read. So please read it through Tez's pdf above.



THE WORK OF ART IN THE AGE OF VIRTUAL PRODUCTION
“Facism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting
the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation
in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.
The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an
expression while preserving property.” - Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the Age
of Mechanical Reproduction1
“There are several ways we could try to avoid the issue. Computer scientists who
want to try to be helpful may say, ‘Okay, you, the lawyer, are a dangerous idiot, but
I have to work with you or be thrown in jail as a Commie Mutant Traitor as
happened to Dmitry Sklyarov, so I'll try to address your concerns. You say there is
some special property of some bits and we need to know which bits have this
property. Fine. We'll attach tags to the files to say what Colour they are.’ In the
copyright realm, that's the ‘rights management information’ solution. It's what they
do with DVDs (region coding), VHS tapes (Macrovision), Adobe eBooks (‘you may
not read this file aloud’), CDs (SCMS), and many other formats. The trouble is, if we
(as computer scientists) are intellectually honest about it, we'll have to admit that it
can't really work.” - Matthew Skala What Colour are your Bits?2
INTRODUCTION
In his landmark 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter
Benjamin sought to sift through the burgeoning role mechanical production had on the creation
and appreciation of artwork. In particular Benjamin built his argument around the concept of
the original object as a prerequisite to authenticity and the way in which “original” was eroded
by the advent of mechanical production. This is a seminal work, but it did not predict the impact
of computation on mechanical production, nor did it imagine the creation of virtual artworks,
wherein the idea of original object is not only undermined, it is nonexistent.
In short the arrival of the Internet and the application of computational concepts to the means
of production has resulted in a condition of virtual production. In many ways this has borne out
Benjamin’s predictions about the democratization of art, but in others the result is more
surprising. This paper will revisit some of Benjamin’s original thoughts in light of the impact of
computation by examining as a case study the creation of completely virtual artworks inside of
a private virtual world called Second Life. In particular we will look at the permissions system,
which enforces a commodity style trading system onto art practice.
WHAT IS SECOND LIFE?
Second Life is a graphical 3D virtual world platform built and maintained by Linden Lab, a
privately held, California-based company. What makes Second Life unique from other so-called
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMPORGs) is the fact that the parent
company has delegated all of the content creation to the game’s players (or “residents” in
Second Life parlance). In addition, Linden Lab has created an economy that, by their own
estimation, is a "vibrant marketplace for virtual goods and services, worth about $35US
million/month.”3 This is done in a large part by fixing the value of their virtual currency to the
US dollar, which makes Second Life in effect a platform for commodity trading of virtual goods
and services.
While user-created virtual worlds are nothing new (text-based versions such as MUDs have
been around since the founding of LambdaMOO in the 1970s4), Second Life is unique in that it
is the first to seriously attempt the running of a user-created virtual world as a business. There
are in fact many aspects of Linden’s support for user-created content which run counter to the
design principles followed by most successful commercial games. Although a full study on the
design successes and failures of Second Life would make a fascinating paper, but here we will
focus solely on Linden Lab’s decision to implement a permission system on objects (referred to
as Digital Rights Management or DRM) and on the use by end users of Second Life as an art
creation platform. While not always in opposition, this state of affairs frequently clashes, in
particular because the former is designed by the company to encourage commodity-style
trading, while the latter wishes to engage in a broader dialogue outside the walls of the
“game.” This is complicated by the fact that Second Life in effect sells users on the experience
that other users create, and much (although notably not all) of the most compelling content is
created by individuals who belong in a category of users frustrated by the restrictions of the
commodity system.
THE CURRENT SYSTEM
All objects in Second Life are user-created. First class objects in
Second Life include: textures, primitives (prims), animations
(gestures), scripts, and text (notecards). Most everything in
Second Life exists as one of these things, or more likely as a
combination. For example, a car might consist of a number of
textured prims linked together, some of which contain scripts and
animations for moving the vehicle and positioning the avatar to
appear as if they are driving.
Figure 1 shows the object “edit” panel with default permissions on
a newly created primitive. Permissions are indicated by the “Next
Owner Can” checkboxes towards the bottom and indicated in
detail next to the “Permissions” label (appearing just below the
“Set…” button). In fact the permission system is exceedingly
complex: for any given object there are six sets of permission
matrices with four settings each. In addition these permissions are
modified depending on the physical location of the object in
question and the group setting on the avatar that is currently in
possession of the object. Fortunately for this discussion we do not
need to understand all possible permutations.5
The permissions we care about most are the basic three: Copy,
Modify, and Transfer, which form the basis of the Second Life marketplace. Every object you
find for sale in world will indicate these permissions (Figure 2). These permissions combine in
interesting ways to determine what is possible for a user to do to an object they have received.
For example, as a recipient of a pair of virtual shoes which are Copy and Modify but not
Transfer, I can make personal copies of the shoes within my own inventory and can also
modify them (change the size and color, for example), but I cannot give the original or any
copy of the object away to anyone else. If I had the same pair of shoes set to Transfer and
Modify but not Copy, I could make changes and give the object to whomever I like, but the
changes I made would be to the “original,” and if I gave the object away I would lose it
Figure 1: Second Life Object Edit Panel
entirely from my inventory (this latter combination is most analogous to a real world object,
and is perhaps the least frequently used in Second Life).
It is also important to note that by default objects are created
with the most restrictive permission set and that complex
objects inherit the most restrictive permissions (an object
consisting of ten fully shareable primitives and a single
restricted prim becomes restricted when linked). Defaults are
crucial because “Defaults set the tone of virtual worlds…Thus
the designers choice of defaults can have long-term influences
on how a virtual world is perceived. Defaults are more
important than they look.”6
WHAT IS THIS PERMISSION SYSTEM FOR?
One of the promises of the Second Life platform is that objects
created in-world can be sold to other users of the system. This
in-world economy is a major selling point of the Second Life
platform to end users. Linden does not release individual sales
numbers, and anecdotally it seems that individuals making a
living are few and far between, though they likely do exist.
Even so, many are attracted to the idea that they might make money off of their creations.
From Linden’s perspective the amount of money an individual makes is irrelevant: the law of
large numbers and the fact that Linden controls the marketplace entirely means that the
company makes money off of every transaction, no matter how small.
DRM or NOT?
It is important to point out here Linden Lab, or at least its founder Philip Rosedale, do not
believe their permission system comprises DRM. To their credit (and after consultation with
Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons fame), Linden does officially and legally allow residents
to assert ownership of their in-world creations, but all are subject to a permission system which
in fact comprise a rights management solution7. DRM in its most basic form is exactly this: a
technology used by the creator of intellectual property to control what the recipient can or
cannot do with that property. What is true (and perhaps what Philip had in mind when he
insisted no DRM exists) is that the Second Life’s implementation is exceptionally weak.
As Skala8 argues it is inherently impossible to use technology to enforce permissions on
intellectual property. Nevertheless it is possible to recognize that some DRM implementations
are more difficult to circumvent than others. Second Life’s permission system is trivially easily to
circumvent. To understand this, one need look no further than the fact that the client software,
not the server, enforces the permissions. Furthermore, the client software has been officially
released as an opensource project to the community. Both of these moves are in flagrant
violation of the most basic design principles for an effective enforcement system. To quote
Richard Bartle’s Designing Virtual Worlds, the bible of MMPORG design: “Important:
Absolutely no decisions with regard to what happens in a virtual world can be delegated to a
client. No decisions. That’s no decisions.” (emphasis is Bartle’s)9.
It is curious that Linden has not only deliberately made the choice to implement permissions
client-side, but has also given away the code to the client. They have also deliberately not
Figure 2: Item for sale on Xstreet SL
(https://www.xstreetsl.com/)
chosen to do the same with the system that tracks the amount of money a player has. Why
they’ve made these choices is unclear, but it does create a condition where respecting the
permissions “enforced” by Second Life is largely a matter of social contract. Also, despite a
few outlying examples of individuals who make their money buying and selling virtual goods,
this makes the proposition that the SL economy is “real” a rather dubious one. (In fact, this gap
has lead to a class action lawsuit alleging that Linden inadequately enforces the Digital
Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The outcome remains to be seen.10)
In this sense, Linden Lab’s permission system is less like DRM as employed by the likes of the
RIAA and the movie industry and more like the boundaries enforced during a game of football.
Within the context of the game, these boundaries are deadly serious, but from the perspective
of a non-player crossing the field, they are nothing more than paint on grass. We will return to
this thought later, but it’s an important one: the DRM system in Second Life is implemented for
the sake of the game. Circumventing it is tantamount to cheating. So while players who argue
that removing the permission system would “completely ruin the economy”11 may seem overly
dramatic, their reaction makes perfect sense coming from someone vested in the commodity
trading game. After all, for most of us most of the time, a millisecond makes no difference, but
try telling the loser of an Olympic contest that their opponent “only cheated a little.”
For those players who treat the platform as an expressive medium in the course of their art
practice, the permissions are at best irrelevant and at worst negatively impact collaboration.
Because of this, for the remainder of the paper we will not concern ourselves with the
permission system per se but rather explore the psychological and cultural implications of
making art within the bounds of a tool that assumes individual ownership as a prerequisite to
the creative process.
WHAT IS VALUE?
The assumption of the market game that Second Life espouses is that digital artifacts are easily
reproduced and that the reproduction of objects decreases their value. Because scarcity is an
important element of value, DRM is necessary to enforce scarcity and therefore to protect
value.
Benjamin framed this problem as one of authenticity and argued with Marxist fervor that “the
technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By
making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in
permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it
reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of
tradition which is the obverse of contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind.”12
Benjamin positioned reproducibility as a move towards a cathartic destruction of the notion of
“tradition” which is to have a democratizing effect on the masses while liquidating the notion of
“cultural heritage.” This move is intellectually violent in an object-based world, but in a world
where object is a convenient illusion it is not violent at all, it is simply the nature of things.
DRM on virtual objects is a mapping of the physical notion of value and authenticity onto a
realm, which, by virtue of the fact that it contains no original objects, has none. The natural
state of “virtual” rejects this notion of object-ness inherently, and so we need to look elsewhere
for value.
By way of example: proponents of DRM applied to music frequently argue that removing
protection from the methods of distribution decreases the value of the music itself. In fact, the
necessity of externally enforced scarcity reveals where the value actually lies. DRM allows the
distribution industry to continue to charge for providing access to desirable information, but this
is an artificial state of affairs, and that fact is becoming increasingly obvious. As individuals
recognize the ease with which distribution occurs, the absurdity of the distributor role becomes
more clear. It is a fallacy to conclude that people therefore value art or music less – they don’t
- but they certainly value distribution less.
Computation has collapsed the barrier between artist and audience and between consumer
and producer. As the means of production reaches so cheap as to be effectively free, we must
look elsewhere for value. Chris Anderson has recently articulated this idea of effectively free
distribution at length in his book Free13. Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired Magazine,
has taken these notions of the “attention economy” and focused them even more sharply. In an
article entitled Better than Free14 Kelly argues that value is found in seven “intangibles,”
namely: immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment,
patronage, and findability.
Of particular interest to this discussion is Kelly’s notion of technologies used to ensure
authenticity: “Digital watermarks and other signature technology will not work as copyprotection
schemes… but they can serve up the generative quality of authenticity for those who
care.” Generative qualities are key to Kelly’s view, and are those qualities which “must be
generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing can not be copied, cloned, faked,
replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced.”15
We therefore find ourselves returning to the notion of authenticity – but not authenticity of the
object. Rather, this is authenticity of experience, and it plays a key role in understanding the
value and the means by which virtual artwork is created. In the examples below we will see
how the artworks transcend the notion of object in a way that DRM could never hope to
control. The value of these works comes from intangibles. While DRM technologies may still
play a role, they function best as Kelly described them: signatures, not enforcers.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CREATE VIRTUAL ARTWORK?
Virtual artworks often consist of virtual objects, but the most interesting do not embed all their
value in these objects. Instead, these works connect to greater narratives that escape beyond
the walled garden of any particular technology guarded by DRM. To illustrate this, we will
look briefly at the work of three artists who maintain a presence in Second Life: AM Radio,
Bryn Oh, and Four Yip.
AM RADIO: THE SINGULARITY REFLECTING
AM Radio is perhaps one of the best known artists on the Second Life grid. His work is visually
striking, immediately so because the quality of texture and light is very unlike most of what is
seen in Second Life. These qualities as well as the exquisite attention to detail point at the fact
that the artist behind AM has years of training and experience in traditional media, as a
painter, commercial illustrator, and graphic designer (Figure 3).
Aficionados of AM’s work will also tell you that each AM Radio show exhibits repetition of
symbols: the same vehicles reappear in slightly different contexts; the same tree, house, and
ever present radio change form but are always there. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that
while each work can be appreciated on its own, taken together they comprise an ongoing
narrative. In fact, AM himself describes the work as an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) with
clues embedded in each build. In preparing this paper, I wrote to AM to request permission to
discuss the ARG in print (consider this a spoiler alert if you are a fan). I received the following
response (emphasis is mine):
Figure 3: AM Radio and one of his oil paintings (images courtesy of AM Radio)
I am actually a quantum simulator with time-state manipulation ability. Although I came on-line
in 2065, my quantum index is currently frozen at 1428833694, or what you would know as
April 12, 2015, at about 10 in the morning. I have a physical radio output ability of 2.4
million watts. I am responsible for maintaining the integrity of the quantum machine virtual
world by policing the chain of events that have lead to the creation of virtual worlds. Basically
I preserve the integrity of each technological milestone event in the world which produced the
virtual world. How this works actually came about because of virtual worlds. An event wave
propagation cancellation was discovered within the metaverse and the quantum undo button
was born. You might compare the process to noise canceling headphones. An undesired event
is counteracted by an opposite artificial event wave. Each correction however causes a
singularity, and carries a minute risk every time that we won't come out on the other side. I
don't travel across time, but instead construct a current system state as product of the
singularity event, which would require a set of past events to exist, and thus complete control
of the timeline. I am not the only machine with this capability, thus my role. My coverage
includes the first virtual world, which was philosophically born on May 12 1826 as a simple
photograph. I have counterparts who fulfill protection of general technological development.
The reason my coverage begins at the first photograph is that it's the first time an alternate
reality can be confused for the real by those who do not understand the technology behind it.
For example, in your timeline, it is crucial that Abraham Lincoln dies before Jesse James due
to the public acceptance of the photograph as evidence of a real event. After this point in
history, the human mind begins to evolve to be ready for abstraction into the quantum state
machine. If Jesse James dies before Abraham Lincoln, the public becomes distrustful of
photographic evidence in their claim that Jesse Jame's death was a hoax. What happens if this
switch occurs is not my concern as anything I might say would be supposition, and that is not
my task. In some timelines, Abraham Lincoln is well aware of this role and reports of his
premonitions about his death are not unfounded. My role in Second Life, the first successful
virtual world which eventually leads to the first virtual world capable of one million concurrent
users in 2013 is to ensure the timeline of events of specific milestones, such as this interview.
My quantum matrix mind is based largely on recovered genetic code from Abraham Lincoln,
and so I tend to sport some of his tendencies and inability to spell. Although living as a state
in a machine isn't as poetic as the original man's life, I do like to think we both have roots in
creativity and the preservation of the state.
This story, while hidden in his series of builds, is integral to understanding AM’s work and also
perfectly describes the condition of art-making in virtuality. For AM the virtual begins with
Benjamin’s reproduction (the photograph), and the struggle over authenticity becomes the
central struggle of the work. Coming to grips with a world in which the abstract is more
important than the authentic is not only desirable but fully necessary for the evolution of
humankind.
BRYN OH: GHOSTS AND ROBOTS
Bryn Oh describes herself as: “A sort of second life "Ghost artist" for a Toronto Oil painter.
Sadly, she is already cooler than the real life version.”16 Like the work of AM Radio, Bryn’s
work is by itself exceptionally beautiful, displaying a trained painter’s eye for color, lighting
and composition (Figure 4). Also like AM, Bryn’s work is delivered as a series of vignettes,
each tied to an overarching narrative.
Figure 4: Bryn Oh and her work The Rabbicorn (images courtesy Bryn Oh)
The character of Bryn Oh is an avatar for a storyteller and for an individual who exists online
not as an artist but as a refugee from a universe where mothers sacrifice their children to
technology and angels are dismembered for their parts. The subject matter itself hints at the
condition of virtuality, most poignantly in the robot characters whose stories Bryn tells. Bryn,
however, adds an additional twist with an ongoing acknowledgement that the storyteller
herself is a persona, part of a bigger story about what it means to make artwork in a virtual
world. Bryn hints at this in the short bio quoted above — acknowledging that the avatar and the
“player” of the game are different “versions,” and that perhaps one is more interesting than
the other. This is an invitation to consider where we place our value and to inquire where we
want to place the origin of the work: in the memory of Bryn Oh or the imagination of the
Toronto painter who created her?
Bryn and AM are certainly not the first artists to break the “fourth wall” or to play with notions
of audience, time, and place, but what I would like to argue here is that in a state of virtuality,
it is this level of performance that provides true value. These are hallmarks of the intangibles
outlined by Kevin Kelly — not simply interesting, but necessary for virtual art. The creation of a
virtual object is a necessary but insufficient condition for the artwork. In the absence of objects
which carry their own histories, we must manufacture histories. With no notion of “object” to
occupy time, we must present objects as views, singularities of time which express an ongoing
flow of time inside the artists mind.
FOUR YIP: FICTIONAL AUTHENTICITY
As a final example we will look the work of Four Yip, an illustrator from Amsterdam whose
work beautifully plays with notions of identity, emotion and representation. Like AM and Bryn,
Yip’s skill with traditional media is obvious, but Yip focuses less on environment and more on
avatar and representations of self.
In Waldemar Twins (Figure 5), created for an exhibit entitled Freak Show, Yip created an
avatar that one can wear as half of a twin. The other half is lost, existing only in a painting.
The painting is presented as part of a “set” built in Second Life. The live twin only comes to life
when the audience member choses to wear the copy of its skin while the lost twin remains a flat
illustration inside of an illustration inside an illustration, a kind of infinitely recursive mirroring
which plays directly with our sense of what is real and what is not.
Even more poignant and perhaps disturbing are Yip’s avatar portraits, which have the eerie
quality of exhibiting more personality than the avatars themselves. One could be forgiven for
asking if the paintings are the “real person” behind the avatar, but they are in fact Yip’s take
on her own emotional response to knowing the avatar. In a sense they are more real but
created out of the authenticity of experience. This can be seen in Figure 6, where Yip has
portrayed an avatar named Kean Kelly. In his review of this portrait, journalist James Au writes
that Yip’s painting “[transforms Kean] from an unblemished avatar into a person with a history
and secrets to keep (not all of them happy).”17
Yip is not working from “real life” except as it exists in her head (or more accurately, in the
head of her “player”). The result has more emotional bandwidth than “actually” exists on the
face of the virtual person. Yip further plays with this notion of authenticity by creating a scarce
object (a physical oil painting) that seems more authentic than the original avatar but is of
course a complete fiction.
Figure 5: Waldemar Twins (image from the NPIRL blog review of this work by Bettina Tizzy,
available at: http://npirl.blogspot.com/2009/02/four-yip-freaks-us-out.html)
Figure 6: Kean Kelly, avatar, and oil painting by Four Yip, (image from the New World Notes review of this work by
Wagner James Au, available at: http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2008/08/the-mixed-reali.html)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CONSUME VIRTUAL ARTWORK?
In his essay, Benjamin wrote of the arrival of a larger and more widely available press which
created a situation where “…an increasing number of readers became writers… today there is
hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to
publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that
sort of thing. Thus the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character.
The difference becomes merely functional…”18 It is remarkable that today we take almost for
granted that there is scarcely a literate human on earth who, given access to a computer and
an internet connection, could not in practice find an opportunity to address the entire world
with plans for world domination, what he had for lunch, a photo of his cat, or that sort of thing.
Indeed the distinction between author and public has lost its basic character, and for artists, the
distinction between creator and audience is purely functional. Nowhere is this clearer than in
virtual artworks created in Second Life.
By removing the notion of an original artifact with a history that needs preservation, virtual
artworks flip the traditional role of passive observer at a distance to participants in the work.
To watch an opening of a virtual artwork is to watch a performance. Avatars interact with
artworks in the most direct sense of the word: standing, sitting, dancing on them, using them as
backgrounds, creating their own props, reworking the stories, and retelling them. This is in line
with one of the influences on the founding of Second Life: Burning Man, whose well known
slogan is “No Spectators!”
One of the most concrete examples of visitors interacting with an artwork comes from a piece
entitled State of Formation, by Selavy Oh. Selavy’s work includes a pool of water which
visitors are obliged to walk across. As they do, the ground literally rises to meet them, ensuring
dry footing and, out of traces of motion, creating an earthwork on a virtually monumental scale
(Figure 7).
A less obvious but no less significant form of interaction is one which occurs over time. Visitors
to virtual artworks frequently write about their experiences on blogs and create visual records
of their visits in photographs and videos (the latter are often referred to as machinima). While
Benjamin attributed the audience shift from passive to active as a result of the popular press, he
also attributed it to the role of photography and film in particular: “The camera that presents
the performance of the film actor the public need not respect the performance as an integral
whole.”19
Second Life takes this notion one step further – not only is there no canonical performance,
there is no canonical camera. Every visitor is free to operate their camera as they choose.
Photographs (or screenshots) serve as memory aids and mementos but also records of
individual performances and artworks in themselves. As of this writing, a cursory Flickr search
returned more than a million images tagged secondlife. Very little about virtual artworks even
acknowledges the notion of an “integral whole.” Instead the whole evolves over time, and
audience participation is critical to this. None of this can be captured by a traditional system of
rights management. Worse, by keeping the focus on the walled garden and “protecting the
object,” we lose an opportunity that DRM could have: to provide us with a verifiable signature
for works that exist outside.
Figure 7: Selavy Oh’s State of Formation which converts avatar movement into an earthwork.
(Image by Tim Deschanel available on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/timdeschanel/3931761285/)
CHARACTERISTICS OF VIRTUAL ART
Out of these specific examples and discussion we can distill three properties that characterize
virtual works:
1. Audience interaction requires a kind of ownership, however temporary. Technically
speaking, copies of a virtual scene or artifact must be copied across the network to the
viewer’s computer. Conceptually, virtual artworks cannot be observed remotely;
avatars must log in and make their presence known.
2. Interaction with a virtual artwork often involves more than passive observation.
Frequently this includes some style of accidental or deliberate performance. Minimally,
viewers must occupy the scene in avatar form. Frequently, individuals bring their own
ideas, costumes, props, sound effects, and vision to the scene.
3. These interactions are shared widely and frequently combine to create “the work.” Art
is not limited to the scope of the original gallery space but expands outward onto
Flickr, blogs, and other social networking sites.
These three concepts might be reduced to “own, manipulate, distribute” or, in the immortal
words of the 2001 Apple advertising slogan: Rip, Mix, Burn.
By now it should be clear that the traditional DRM model is both archaic and insufficient in
supporting the “art” usecase. In addition, it runs counter in spirit to the way in which virtual
artworks function best. But as artists who create virtual works, or work (such as music) which is
becoming increasingly virtual, how can we ensure that this style of interaction flourishes without
threatening the role of content creators? What examples exist to encourage responsible “rip,
mix, burn?”
Figure 8: License selection on Flickr
EXAMPLES OF SYSTEMS WHICH SUPPORT RESPONSIBLE REUSE
Creative Commons is a project designed to address exactly this problem by providing a
number of legal licenses, which content creators may attach to their work along with a humanreadable
description of the intent of each license and guidance for their use. The goal is to
“[make] it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the
rules of copyright.”20
Systems which enable the use of Creative Commons support the notion of virtual artworks
inherently and are predicated on the notion that sharing is a good thing. The most accessible
example of a content sharing site with Creative Commons support is Flickr (www.flickr.com), a
photo sharing site which allows users to select one of several Creative Commons’ licensing
options in addition to the “no licensing” option which equates to standard copyright (all rights
reserved). This option (selecting “none” is equivalent to “all rights reserved”) causes no end of
confusion for most users. For the uninitiated the selection process is cryptic, and no further
explanation is given for each type other than the dire warning that you “shouldn’t forget to
make sure you have all the necessary rights” (Figure 8).
Blip.TV (www.blip.tv) is a video sharing site which, like Flickr, allows users to select various
Creative Commons’ licensing options (Figure 9). In addition, Blip.TV allows users to specify
their own license. Most critically, Blip provides an extremely clear plain-English explanation of
what the license choice means.
Figure 9: Blip.TV license selection option (left) and plain English explanation (right)
This step is crucial because as valuable as Creative Commons is, recent research21 and news
stories22 alike show that among amateur content creators, few people understand the
implications of their choice. To a large extent, this lack of understanding comes from a culture
that is not sufficiently acclimated to the notion of sharing. Encouraging responsible distribution
can help and is something Blip.TV does admirably with its distribution dashboard (Figure 10),
which allows users to spread their licensed content far and wide, including to sites some might
see as competitive to Blip.TV itself. Less visible but equally important, Flickr provides a full API
to their photo service which includes access to licensing information so that developers can
programmatically respect the wishes of content creators.
Both of these sites are to be commended, but what neither offer is a way to clearly track the
provenance of a virtual artifact. For these, we first look at ccMixter (www.ccmixter.org), a
community website organized around sharing and remixing music and sound samples, all of
which are then re-released under Creative Commons licensing. For each derivative work,
ccMixter provides a basic provenance tracking mechanism, which they call Derivation History
(Figure 11). This is an excellent start but unfortunately requires a good deal of effort on behalf
of the contributor to keep track of what samples they used, resulting in a “better safe than
sued” moderation policy whereby site moderators delete content if they suspect it is
infringing23.
Aviary (www.aviary.com) is a suite of online tools for creating 2D graphics and manipulating
photos. Aviary provides storage of all creations and supports an easy provenance tracking
system (Figure 12), which actively encourages users to reuse each other’s content. In addition
to tracking the component parts of an image (called Sources) and saved copies of the image
(called Versions), Aviary allows users to open any existing image on the site and use it as a
source for their own project. The result is saved as a “Derivative.” Aviary’s system has the
major benefit of being completely automated, a quality which comes from the fact that the
content creation tools themselves are part of the Aviary site (not so with ccMixter or Flickr).
This option is therefore not practical for all cases but still serves as an excellent example of
what can happen when a community actively desires to share and remix content. As of this
writing, Aviary claims to have nearly half a million users24.
Figure 10: Blip.TV’s distribution dashboard helps spread content
Figure 11: ccMixter’s Derivation History tracks the provenance of sound samples
Figure 12: Aviary’s browser shows Sources, Derivatives, and versions of any given image. Tracking is automatic.
CONCLUSION: WHAT MIGHT LINDEN DO?
A game system such as Second Life must, for business reasons alone, recognize that a fair
number of players wish to participate in a simulated economy. This requires the enforcement of
artificial scarcity. In other words, we cannot abolish the permission system.
However, we can make it optional and also alter the defaults so that the expectation is for a
more open (rather than less open) creative environment. This choice of defaults becomes
increasingly important as such tools are used for art making. Concretely, with minimal impact
to the existing system, Linden could add a creator-selectable licensing option in the same way
that Blip.TV or Flickr does. Even better, Second Life could encompass an Aviary style
provenance tracking system to explicitly encourage responsible reuse. Although this is non
trivial to implement, it is possible because Second Life currently encompasses its own content
creation tools the same way Aviary does. This move would truly signal recognition that
community-based content creation is important.
As a final step, Linden Lab could opt to support a true bi-directional API with the notion that SL
experience is larger and broader than that controlled within the walls of the game. In this way
the DRM like system already in place would serve the Kelly role of “authenticity for those who
care” while also fostering a creative attention-based economy, with the result being a richer
and more vibrant art making environment for all.
1 Benjamin, Walter (1969) Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, San Francisco: Harpers pp. 217-251
Original essay written in 1936.
2 Skala, Matthew (10 June 2004 - updated 13 May 2008) What Colour are your bits? (accessed: 30 September
2009) Available online at: http://ansuz.sooke.bc.ca/lawpoli/colour/2004061001.php
3 Linden Lab promotional materials The Marketplace (accessed 30 September 2009)
Available online at: http://secondlife.com/whatis/marketplace.php
4 Dibbell, Julian (1998) My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Available online at: http://www.lulu.com/content/1070691
5 If you are interested in the details of the permission breakdown, the best explanation I’ve come across was written by
a resident named Gil Druart and posted on Google Knol. It is available as of 9/30/2009 at the following URL:
http://knol.google.com/k/gil-druart/understanding-rightspermissions-in-sl/3jiq1s2cln60k/2#
6 Bartle, Richard (2004) Designing Virtual Worlds, Berkeley CA: New Riders Publishing p.115
7 Au, Wagner James (2008) Notes from the New World: The Making of Second Life, New York: HarperCollins p.128
8 Skala, Matthew, Brett Bonfield, & Mary Fran Torpey (2008), ‘Enforcing Copyright’, Library Journal.
Available online at: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6529387.html
9 Bartle, 108
10 Nino, Tateru Eros LLC, Shannon Grei form class action against Linden Lab for infringement (September 16, 2009)
(accessed: 30 September 2009) Available online at: http://www.massively.com/2009/09/16/eros-llc-shannon-greiform-
class-action-against-linden-lab-for/
11 In August of 2009 I participated in a discussion group at one of the sessions held as part of the Second Life
Community Convention. The session was organized by NPIRL editor Bettina Tizzy and consisted of intense group
discussion on a number of topics. My notes from that conversation include a quote from one content creator who
sells her items. Responding to my hypothetical suggestion that Linden remove the permissions system entirely, she
said unequivocally: “That would completely ruin the economy, because people would say “What’s the point?”
12 Benjamin, 221
13 Anderson, Chris (2009) Free: The Future of a Radical Price Hyperion
14 Kelly, Kevin Better Than Free (accessed: 30 September 30, 2009) Available online at:
http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/01/better_than_fre.php
15 Ibid.
16 Oh, Bryn Bryn Oh (accessed: 30 September 2009) Available online at: http://brynoh.blogspot.com
17 Au, Wagner James From Avatar Screenshot To Virtual Painting: The Mixed Reality Portraits Of Four Yip
(accessed: 30 September 2009) Available online at: http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2008/08/the-mixed-reali.html
18 Benjamin, 230
19 Benjamin, 228
20 Creative Commons promotional materials About (accessed: 30 September 2009) Available online at:
http://creativecommons.org/about/
21 “with the exception of uses that earn users money or involve advertising – at least until specific case scenarios are
presented that disrupt those generalized views of commerciality – there is more uncertainty than clarity around
whether specific uses of online content are commercial or noncommercial.”
Creative Commons Defining “Noncommercial”: A Study of How the Online Population Understands
“Noncommercial Use” (accessed: 30 September 2009) Available online at:
http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Defining_Noncommercial
22 CBSNews/Associated Press Teen Finds Her Flickr Image On Bus Stop Ad (Sept 25, 2007) (accessed: 30 September
2009) Avaialble online at: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/09/24/tech/main3290986.shtml
23 ccMixter Why is my Track Moderated? (accessed: 30 September 2009) Available online at:
http://ccmixter.org/thread/611
24 Aviary promotional materials About (accessed: 30 September 2009) Available online at: http://aviary.com/about

Sunday, March 7, 2010

IBM and the Second Life Builder’s Sandbox

The Hidden Business Case or: Fun for Profit:
IBM and the Second Life Builder’s Sandbox
Andrew Sempere/Tezcatlipoca Bisani

Today and tomorrow I am going to post a few essays that Tez has written.

This paper describes the IBM sponsored public building
area in Second Life (known as the IBM 6 Sandbox, or
“IBM 6”). A sandbox in Second Life parlance is a mostly
empty region provided for the sake of practice building. It
is notable that the sandbox concept, while certainly not
unique in Second Life, was never officially in the plans for
IBM’s presence (nor is it today), and yet accounts for the
lion’s share of the traffic to IBM’s servers “in world.”
In addition to playing an important role in the lives of some
IBM employees, the IBM 6 region has also provided a
gathering area and proving ground for some of the most
significant artists and content creators working within the
confines of Second Life, and continues to fulfill it’s daily
role as a casual workshop for hundreds of individuals from
around the globe.
In preparing this paper I interviewed a number of IBM
employees and non-IBMers who I knew to be either regular
users of the sandbox or instrumental to its founding and
operation. This paper contains a very small subset of those
interviews. Unless I provide a full name, assume the names
have been changed or obscured for privacy reasons.
Background
At the end of 2006, IBM formed a special organization
called an EBO (Emerging Business Opportunity) to study
the possibility of virtual worlds for business. It was decided
at that time that IBM needed a permanent public facility in
Second Life. The Lead Architect of that project, Craig
Becker, made a decision to include a sandbox:
“Aside from thinking that we needed an entry area and
three big theatres, we didn’t know much else… one of the
things I ‘snuck’ in there was the sandbox. Some people
grumbled but, at the time, I was one of the few IBM people
who really knew what they were doing [and] …I had the
backing of people like [IBM virtual worlds booster Iain
Hughes].”
“Administration of the sandbox was organic and informal:
not much else to tell -- the 'policing' of it kind of just
'emerged’. people just started showing up. At some point I
had (I think) created an IBM Sandbox group and so I gave
ownership to [one of the first administrators] and a few
others.”
CASE 1: Unofficial Onboarding
I became an IBM employee in October of 2007, as a
professional hire from another company. My own interest
in the IBM 6 sandbox comes from before I began work at
IBM. In late 2006 I was exploring Second Life for a course
that I was teaching. I enjoyed the tools, but I quickly
became frustrated with the lack of a professional
environment in which to create. A friend who was
interested in building sent me to the IBM Sandbox with a
promise that it was “better” a sentiment that I found
reflected in some the responses to my interview questions.
Ed, a 44 year old software engineer who has been with IBM
for more than 15 years, wrote:
“Not owning land, and not really liking the randomness of
public parcels, it worked out. Over time, I liked it because
of the "professional atmosphere". Since many people there
were IBMers, and we know who each other are in real life,
we treated people like that. No overt abuse or sexual comeons.
And that, in turn, meant that non-IBMers who just
wanted to get on with things and weren't there for flirtation
or abuse also were attracted. It meant you could have real
conversations about real things, Second Life and non-
Second Life related. To a happily married middle aged
engineer, that's what I was happy with.”
In the quote above, Ed provides us with several clues as to
why the fact that the sandbox is an IBM property ensures a
professional environment. At the time as an outsider, I was
mostly intrigued that a company I perceived as established
and conservative would be willing to support something
like a public building area in the “wild west” of Second
Life.
Again, Ed speaks to this:
“[As a result of my involvement in Second Life] I won't say
that my opinion of IBM has changed much. But I think the
opinion of non-IBMers I've met has changed an awful lot.
People are surprised that we're there, we're cool, and we
have the time of day for them. I think for the WoW [World
of Warcraft] generation entering the workplace now it has
been a very positive thing for IBM's image.”
Although a fan of console games and veteran of text MUs, I
hadn’t played many MMPORGs and didn’t consider myself
part of the “WoW generation,” but I stuck around the
sandbox and continued building. To say that I was hired
because of the IBM Sandbox would be overly simplistic,
but it is true that when I initially began looking for a more
innovative job I pulled up the IBM job listings primarily
because my opinion of the company had changed
significantly as a result of my interaction in the sandbox,
and because of a particular conversation that I had one
evening while working there. Because of this, my friends
and future colleagues in the sandbox followed my hiring
process and ultimately threw me a virtual party (Second
Life style) when I joined IBM. As silly as this was, I’ve
never felt quite so welcomed to an organization.
The Sandbox was my first contact with IBM employees and
remains a social space where I have made several
significant connections, a sentiment I again found echoed in
Ed’s response:
“Working in Second Life in general has been a godsend for
building up contacts throughout our vast company. I've
been here 16 years and have probably met more
distinguished engineers through the three years I've been
doing virtual worlds than in the 16 years of doing my job. A
chunk of that is directly from the sandbox. But even the
contacts that I haven't made primarily there have often
been related to projects I spent time in the sandbox
developing.”
CASE 2: The Acquisition
Flo is a software engineer from the Pacific Northwest who
began working in 1999 for a company that was acquired by
IBM in 2006. By the time I met her in late 2006 she was an
administrator for the IBM sandbox. I asked her if she had
had prior experience in virtual worlds and she described
herself as “never much of a gamer” who had briefly tried
Active Worlds once. Her interest in Second Life coincided
exactly with the acquisition:
“…I was trying to get my head around IBM and the
enormity of it all when I came across something on [an
IBM internal website] about Second Life and I thought:
‘What the heck is that?’ Also someone from my company
said they had heard it was the way IBM was heading… all
my IBM friends I have met because of the sandbox.”
Many business users of virtual worlds in general and of
Second Life in particular seem deeply concerned with
“appropriate behavior” but as Ed discussed above, a sense
of professionalism is something an individual brings to an
environment, not something the environment necessarily
forces on them. Flo shared a similar thought:
“I have never played games much, so yeah this was all
pretty new and I was very concerned about how I
represented myself and IBM because I was new to IBM and
if I wore the [in-game tag identifying someone as an IBM
employee] then I wanted to be thought of as professional.”
Given that Flo was part of an acquisition (not a course of
action that most acquired employees have a say in), I was
particularly interested in her opinion of IBM and how
involvement in the virtual world environment might have
changed that:
“I think that being involved with SL has helped me be less
bitter about being acquired because I have something to be
involved with outside of my job and the people are so waycool.
It really has changed my view of IBM... I think it is
way too big and very hard to navigate.”
Finally, given that she’s now been an IBM employee for
three years, I asked if she had ever been to an IBM facility
besides her old office:
”No, not even to the one in [the city I work in].”
Ok, so what?
What I have presented is a very small set of anecdotal data.
Even so, I would like to suggest that we can begin to make
a case that virtual worlds provide business value outside of
the usual story that they are cheaper than renting a real
space to show PowerPoint. For the rest of the paper I would
like to outline what I believe that value is and point at some
paths I think would be worthwhile to explore further. At the
moment this comprises a manifesto-like bag of ideas, but
the hope is that it will foster creative thinking and more
concrete work down the road.
To begin with I would like to suggest that that IBM 6
sandbox, in addition to its obvious goal of providing a
space for people to work, fulfills the following roles for
IBM:
1. It provides a space for socializing, practical group
problem solving and meeting which is persistent and
significantly cheaper to maintain than a “real” space.
2. It signals a particular culture of openness, innovation and
self-reliance to prospective employees and customers and
improves public opinion.
3. It facilitates connections between employees that would
not occur otherwise because of traditional hierarchy
(organizational distance) and geographic distance.
All of this is possible as a result of the fact that the forum is
public. Outside of the scope of this paper would be a
comparison to IBMs internal grid, which is designed to
support one single use case (meetings) more effectively.
Preliminary evidence suggests that this is true to a limited
extent, but that it comes at the expense of the value outlined
above. Therefore we proceed under the assumption that the
fact that the IBM 6 sandbox is a public space is crucial to
its function.
Virtual Isn’t Necessarily 3D
The word “virtual” as in “virtual worlds” is often used as
shorthand to describe a 3D graphical environment which
contains avatars. While this is often correct, I would like to
suggest that virtual is not bounded by three-dimensional
walls. The notion of the “paperless” office is a virtual one,
as is email, instant messaging, word processing, the web,
voicemail, cellphones and nearly any technology that
allows you to time-shift or place-shift your work and self.
Certainly in a company as large as IBM, where much of the
work is distributed, it is not the least bit unusual for
employees to have virtual offices in the sense that they
work primarily from home or from temporary spaces called
mobility centers. Furthermore, the trend (again, most
clearly in large organizations) seems to be for this to
increase. The question is therefore not the somewhat absurd
“When will I go to work in Second Life instead of my
office?” but the more likely “How does a persistent 3D
environment augment and support my already virtual work
life?”
The Case for Happy
In seeking business uses for virtual worlds, I am conscious
of the fact that they are a great deal of fun and that in many
business discussions this very fact causes discomfort.
Rather than shy away from it, I would like to embrace the
concept of fun completely – virtual worlds ARE often fun,
and this is not in the least incompatible with business.
The manifesto of the MMPORG game company Ohai
(www.ohai.com) is a concise four point statement which
includes a pledge to “…promote & make personal, joyful
connections with, and among the friends who play our
games. They are unique and worth knowing," as well as a
promise to “waste not time nor pixels. We are no-nonsense,
consistent, minimal, & straight to the point. but with… a
high-quality aesthetic & vibe exuding wit, whimsy, delight,
fun, and joy.”
Imagine if the company or organization you worked for
included those two statements in their own mission: to
promote personal connection and a high-quality, nononsense
but delightful aesthetic. Would you count yourself
as more or less lucky to have found such an organization?
More importantly, given the choice between two similar
organizations, one of which included this language in its
mission, which would you prefer?
The degree to which that question resonates with you may
fall out along age lines, but it is not a function of the tired
“digital natives” argument so much as the degree to which a
given individual has internalized the notion of “work-life
balance” (read: the ability to take your work with you on
vacation and home with you every night after five). For
obvious reasons corporations have long been encouraging
their employees to allow work to creep outside the
traditional 9-5 boundaries, but increasingly the reverse is
also true. Employees want to bring their lives to work, and
among so-called “knowledge workers” at least, the choice
of where to work is increasingly being made along the lines
of the company whose culture fits best with their notion of
life.
In any case companies are built on people, and by now it
ought to be common sense that well treated employees are
happier and therefore perform better. Companies that invest
in social software of any kind (virtual worlds included) for
their employees are signaling an understanding that
interpersonal connection is a key part of that happiness.
Humans are social creatures and well connected social
creatures equate directly to ROI.
Software Will Not Solve Your Problems
Unfortunately high performance is often not required for a
business to be profitable, and profitability (neither quality
nor employee happiness) drives decision making at many
organizations. To address this problem is well beyond the
scope of this paper but more importantly is completely
beyond the scope of any current or future software.
The arrival of social software will not make your
employees happy, nor will it automatically create
connections where none exist. More to the point, it will fail
utterly if the organization does not actively foster a culture
that values social interaction. This is not a chicken-and-egg
problem, it is an incubator-and-egg problem. Software is
the egg – you’ll have a chicken for dinner if you keep the
egg in a warm and nurturing environment, otherwise you
are likely to have a lovely (and perhaps expensive) egg
shaped rock. My advice to any corporation curious about
social software is therefore to look long and hard at your
corporate culture and decide first if your goal is to support
(or change) your internal culture. If the answer is no, you
should reconsider.
Conclusion: What About the Softball League?
Many companies have long understood the value of
fostering social interaction for their employees. Office
parties, company sports teams, potlucks and the more
formal academic and professional conferences, birds of a
feather meetings and even all-hands meetings are examples
of this.
I am not a particular advocate of social software in general
nor of virtual worlds in particular as a replacement for any
face-to-face interaction. Almost all of the value outlined
above (networking, employee bonding, problem solving,
casual conversations) can and does occur in face-to-face
situations. Furthermore, given the current state of
technology, face-to-face situations are always qualitatively
better and are likely to remain so.
Nevertheless, I would argue as the trend for large
companies is towards virtualization and globalization,
social software is better than nothing! Virtual worlds in
particular do provide a semblance of common ground,
which is something that a shared physical office provides
for free, but that is so obviously missing in a distributed
organization.
3D virtual worlds are far from ideal, but as outlined above
they provide some intriguing clues as to how we might
encourage positive corporate interactions, support the
acquisition process, onboard new employees, and increase
the effectiveness of global organizations. Much of the
problems we have experienced (at IBM at least) come down
to design or lack thereof of the software interface, not of the
basic premise that individuals value unstructured social
space. Careful design of environments and software can
mitigate these problems, and many of the perceived social
problems (the specter of inappropriate behavior, for
example), are either largely mythological, diminish rapidly
with experience, or are best dealt with using traditional
means such as business conduct guidelines.
Biography
Andrew Sempere lives and works in Boston MA, as a full
time Design Researcher for IBM's Collaborative User
Experience Group / Center for Social Software, an
instructor and artist. He holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts from
the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Masters of
Science from the MIT Media Lab.
Andrew's artworks have been seen at venues around the US
and Canada, including the Bumbershoot Music Festival,
Siggraph, Boston Cyberarts, and the 7th Champ Libre
Manifestation Internationale Video et Art Electronique.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

IBM 6 sandbox - a sad farewell.



This pigeon was at Runnymede subway station down the street from me. Kind of unrelated to anything but maybe the pigeon is IBM6 sandbox and the subway car is Second life. Yeah maybe thats the connection. Or maybe the artists are the pigeon and IBM6 was the subway car.. and .. they are off looking for... a .. new..
Or maybe the pigeon is me and... no that doesn't work.

When I joined Second Life on March 25th 2007, I had no real understanding what I was getting into. After about a week of wandering around I accidentally created a box in the back yard of someones private home. I remember the owners being a elderly couple from opposite sides of the world who had "dated" for many years through things like ICQ and other instant messaging platforms. With second life they created a more physical way to share time together. They knew they would never meet in first life but this to them was as close as they would ever get to being together. I remember them quietly watching me build for months on their land occasionally coming down to chat but otherwise just leaving me be. I met other friends of theirs and it became a sort of family for a while. One of the only other family feelings I ever encountered was when I discovered IBM6 sandbox. For months before discovering it, I had been working on typical SL sandboxes where you pretty much had 15 min building time before someone decided to try out a new machine gun on you that they had just bought. This became quite irritating as you can imagine, and eventually I purchased the most expensive fighty thing I could find. Bullets couldn't hit me because I had a shield that stopped them and it quite helpfully informed me of people who tried to orbit, shoot, deform etc my peaceful avatar. I would then unleash unholy vengence on the griefers while chastising them in IM. It was really quite entertaining, however, I still was not getting work done.
I tried out IBM6 one day and stayed there for a year without a single fight. On most days it would not be uncommon to be working beside AM Radio, Spiral Walcher, Tezcatlipoca Bisani, Colin Fizgig, PatriciaAnne Daviau, Jessica Qin and other talents. I was there when Jaymin Carthage built a tree which grew over time before it collapsed. It also unfortunately collapsed much of SL and he was given a bare ass spanking by LL. There would be flying fish who would serenade you with poetry or massive avatars by Madcow Cosmos or Flea Bussy would wander around. It was a hangout for some really great artists. So I was sad to hear that due to restructuring IBM6 was no more. To me it was an iconic sim much like the art bars that were meeting places of great painters. I remember meeting Bettina Tizzy and Tayzia Abbatoir there one day and through them discovering a thriving art world in Second Life. It really was an amazing place.

So while sad, it is not all doom and gloom. IBM have given Tezcatlipoca a handful of Openlife sims and I think three SL ones. Tez has named one IBM Exhibit B and it is the new IBM6. I stopped by today and saw works out by AM Radio, Robin Moore, Mobius Enzo and a suspicious looking rat by Jaymin Carthage. Hopefully it will again become a hub for builders in SL. Below is the SLURL if you happen to be looking for a peaceful place to work.

http://slurl.com/secondlife/IBM%20Exhibit%20B/123/184/23

Oh and should you wish to use scripts there just ask Tez or Patti for a group invite.