Commentary

What is your avatar today?

SecondLife – a massive player online virtual environment created solely by the users.

Second Life has been receiving a lot of press and attention within the past year for various reasons - I’ve heard opinions on both ends of the spectrum from destroying the world to making it better. I have two positive ideas about SL: communication and creativity.

Communication
It’s a great tool for communicating across large distances in the world. In SL you can join with a group of people, see their faces/avatar, talk business or just play, create anything you can imagine. Although using SL as a conference tool could be considered pop culture at the moment, it is a step up from conferences tools such as Breeze by Macromedia, if for no other reason than the fact that it is more immersive. The avatars are sitting in the same virtual environment chatting.

Another aspect of communication for study is computer-mediated communication. Think about this: One person sitting at a computer in Virginia and another person sitting at a computer in California, both are logged into SL and communicating to one another with their avatars. These avatars have their own gestures, expressions, and personalities. And these personalities may or may not be the person sitting at the computer.

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Creativity
The most interesting aspect of SL is the unlimited boundaries to build what ever you wish. If you’ve got an idea to create a slingshot that shoots cows across a field, it can be made. If you want to make a space station sitting on the edge of a beach, go for it. The creativity is limitless.

4 comments about "What is your avatar today?".
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  1. Mickey Marks, March 19, 2007 at 11:01 a.m.

    question: ... if you have two people doing what has been described here on SL, specifically - "One person sitting at a computer in Virginia and another person sitting at a computer in California, both are logged into SL and communicating to one another with their avatars" ... why can't these people just have a regular video conference wherein they would actually see each other (not an avatar) and be able to communicate through realtime voice (not typing)? ...

  2. Michael Durwin, March 19, 2007 at 2:07 p.m.

    As the original poster mentioned, SL is an extremely immersive interface. Even with broadband connections video can be sketchy. This is from my experience dealing with co-workers out of state and out of country. On the other hand we all logged in to SL and it was as if we were all in the same room. While SL is limited to text and gesture interaction, they are currently working on adding voice. You can currently run video on screens, send personal IM, play HUD (heads up display) games as well as true interactive first-person games. Not to mention that you can do real-time ecommerce. You can go to Sears on IBM island and buy the iPod of you choice.

  3. Tom Cunniff from Combe Incorporated, March 19, 2007 at 4:58 p.m.

    Mickey asks a logical, practical question. But, there's more to business than logic and practicality.

    Personally, I've never been on a regular business conference that was satisfying. To me, it always feels stiff and uncomfortable -- in fact, I find the video content more distracting than useful.

    On the other hand, SL conversations have a sense of whimsy that helps communication. The shared environment and odd avatars give you something to talk about. In this sense, it is oddly more social than a more "real" experience.

    In brief, I find videoconferencing to be a shared experience that no one enjoys. But SL is a shared experience that at least some people find to be fun, creative and stimulating.

    Which experience is better for business?

  4. Ben Liebmann, March 19, 2007 at 6:28 p.m.

    Very interesting angle re: the potential for SL.

    Great to see a view of SL that is more strategic (advanced communications and creativity) than purely commercial.

    One of Australia's current affairs programs ran an interesting piece on Second Life last night. Interviews included Philip Rosedale (Linden), Clay Shirky (NYU) and a range of Second Life users.

    Video highlights and interviews available at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/

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