Thursday, December 6, 2007

Estonia opens a virtual embassy in Second Life

VIRTUAL ESTONIA - More cosmopolitan and technologically advanced than many Westerners realize, Estonia wants Second Life residents and would-be residents to know that she has arrived with the opening of its virtual embassy.

The address:

The government decided to establish a presence in Second Life, believing this world is as progressive as its own. Distant Signals, the Estonia’s liaison and SL Embassador was asked by Martin Kokk, the Estonian Vice Chancellor of the Ministry, to find a way to promote Estonia in the virtual world. Distant, who is in real life the head of the Hill & Knowlton consultancy in Estonia, determined that a virtual embassy would be a perfect choice.

I guess the foreign ministry has no problem experimenting and setting up projects like this,” Signals explained. They decided to employ Scope Cleaver, SL architect, to do the build.
The Estonian government had specific goals. The main purposes of the Embassy are as follows:
… to learn to operate in virtual worlds, to understand them, gain experience; to promote Estonia among small groups of professional individuals...". For example to host discussions and lectures with people who not be able to travel to Estonia and to promote Estonia in general.
The build tells the tale: inside are photos of the country and its people.

The pictures are from a brochure ‘All things Estonian,’” Signals said. “These pictures indicate different aspects of being Estonian; the brochure will also be available as a free book here.
An exhibit of art work done by Estonians is also on display. The exhibit, which is travelling to real Estonian embassies, is currently in Sweden. The building also hosts a small conference area with table and chairs specially designed by Cleaver using a motif he saw on many pieces of Estonian textiles that he viewed. This theme is echoed in the pattern on the rug on the first floor.

The top floor houses a technology theme. A sculpture by Seifert Surface issues objects and notecards with stories about technology written by Estonian volunteers. One of the most important objects in the build—a voting box—is also here. Made by Cleaver and employing the decorative motif he chose, it represents the e-voting that the country has embraced.
The build is not just intended as a public relations piece.

One of the important ideas is that they will have content here. So, in January there will already be some lectures and discussions that are carried out by the ministry itself. The ambassador to Great Britain will have a session here; it may get quite academic at times,” Signals said.

The build is another triumph for Cleaver, following quickly on the opening of his Alexander Beach build. Though the building appears massive and angular from a distance, a look that Cleaver says makes it “more masculine than Alexander Beach,” the build has several intimate spaces for discussion and relaxation.

Angular, glass blocks with complex metal skeletons line the building in an aggressive and sharply forward angled tilt. “I wanted an interesting space that’s very modern and contemporary reflecting a wired Estonia and forward looking dynamic,” Cleaver said.
Cleaver added terraced gardens to the building. “I wanted a suspended garden with some of the plants in Estonia to warm up the building".

The idea of Scope very well fits into Estonian type of thinking… Try to stress the nature and actually we have a lot of forest,” Signals said.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Amsterdam in Second Life sold for US$50,000

The Amsterdam sims, a popular Second Life destination with canals, houseboats, and a sexually explicit red light district, sold on eBay for US$50,000 on Monday, one of the largest sales of a Second Life business by a private developer.

The detailed re-creation of the European city was put up for auction starting at US$20,000, but the property with acquired outright with a single bid at the higher price by eBay user nedstede2769. The identity of Amsterdam’s new owner, who is based in the real-world Netherlands and has no eBay feedback rating, is unknown.

Amsterdam was created by Stroker Serpentine (real life name: Kevin Alderman of Tampa, FL) from high-resolution photographs of the city. The adult content-filled area was among the most popular Second Life sites. According to the eBay listing, rental space for merchants in Amsterdam has a wait-list several months long.

Neither Serpentine nor Amsterdam’s new owner were available for comment.

Serpentine plans to focus his efforts on building a new, larger, adults-only business within Second Life, according to a report in InformationWeek. Serpentine, who got started selling sunglasses back when Second Life had only two thousand users, has since branched out into numerous online ventures under the real-life umbrella Eros LLC. He also maintains an adult toy and furniture business.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Calvin Klein Launches Scents in Second Life

The nose knows nothing in virtual worlds, but that hasn’t stopped Calvin Klein from launching a virtual version of their new ck IN2U fragrances for men and women in Second Life, according to a press release. The virtual launch accompanies the real-world launch of the same scents today, March 21. Since avatars can’t smell, the virtual perfume bottles will enable SL users to spray each other with bubbles that “initiate dialogue,” as the release puts it — probably requesting the sprayee to engage in a Calvin Klein animation. There will also be “graffiti bottles” available from the Calvin Klein build, put together by Justin Bovington’s Rivers Run Red on their Avalon island in Second Life, where Calvin Klein is holding a L$1 million photography contest to accompany the launch. Finally, if you’re in the UK you’ll be able to click through to a Web site and order a free sample.

Why Second Life? As Lori Singer, Calvin Klein Fragrances’ VP of Global Marketing, puts it in the release, “ck IN2U speaks the language of a generation connected by technology — the aptly named technosexuals.” Unfortunately, she also goes on to note that Calvin Klein has trademarked that word — not an indication that the company is completely in step with the generation it’s trying to reach.

Singer does point out something very interesting, however: “They are the first generation to be defined more by their means of communication rather than fashion or music.” This is actually a great observation about the cohort I occasionally refer to as “the 3pointD generation.” The technological “revolution” is just that: it’s the strongest force affecting the culture of the developed world at the moment. Whether this also means punters wants their perfume in pixels remains to be seen. Smell you later.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

RatePoint Inc. launches avatar rating system in Second Life

RatePoint, Inc., creator of the universal platform for social ratings, today announced the general availability of a unique technology for use in the Linden Lab® 3D virtual world, Second Life®. RatePoint connects people based on their personal tastes, and presents personalized rating information so that users can make more informed decisions about everything from products, services, websites and now Second Life Residents. This new Second Life technology is an extension of RatePoints free People Powered RatingsSM service and is available at

When it takes off, RatePoint will provide Second Life Residents with the power of both eBay's rating system and Facebooks social networking, said Second Life power user Joe Munkeby. This has tremendous implications from improving the Second Life Residents experience to helping accelerate the growth of Second Life.

RatePoints Second Life extension leverages RatePoints unique rating system to provide personalized ratings for Residents in Second Life. As RatePoint members build a ratings profile, they are connected with other members called dittosSM. A members dittos are leveraged to determine personalized ratings on everything from websites to Second Life Residents.

RatePoint members can also provide comments (GABs) so that they can share a review with the community. RatePoints unique algorithms allow for highly relevant, customized information to be shared with like-minded individuals. This same concept is now applied to the world of Second Life.

RatePoints Second Life Extension has two components. First, Residents can install a private view panel that displays any Second Life Residents five star rating in their immediate vicinity. RatePoint members with this view activated can see the ratings of all residents in the Second Life environment and rate them, regardless if they are members of A Resident can also install an optional rating icon that displays their individual rating to other residents in public view. This rating hovers over their head for all Second Life Residents to see. This can be used to show off a users rating status to all other Second Life Residents even if they are not a member of RatePoint.

In general, the Web 2.0 experience is one of community involvement and user input in design and functionality, said Mike Rowan, co-founder and CTO of RatePoint, Inc. What RatePoint can offer is the ability to provide disintermediation from the aggregate information provided by most rating services. We are committed to continuing to build applications that will help focus community commentary and will grow with the needs of popular online environments like Second Life.

Second Life Residents can download the RatePoint Ratepack, which will then allow for Residents to rate each other and leave comments. Second Life Residents interact in a variety of ways in this environment said Rowan. RatePoint provides an additional layer to their experience whether they are interacting socially or having a business transaction in Second Lifes rapidly growing economy.

Generally, communications within Second Life require physical proximity of residents to hear a conversation; the same is true for this rating technology. Once a Resident approaches other residents, they are able to see their respective ratings, and also rate the resident.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Second Life gets nuked by online terrorists

Second Life player Marshal Cahill decided to take things into his own hands. He was unhappy what the development of Second Life and decided to set off virtual nuclear bombs near two in-game stores from American Apparel and Reebok.

Cahill, the self proclaimed political officer of the newly formed Second Life Liberation Army, wants Linden Labs to give his army an opportunity to control their environment through voting. It's a bit unclear whether he wants this voting authority to be granted to his army only, or all of SL's denizens, but either way, I suppose it was just a matter of time before this sort of "political unrest" made it's way into the online community.

Seems like an awfully long way to go to protect the integrity of a game that has dubious uses in the first place, but I have ceased trying to understand Second Life and it's bizarre ways a while back. Although, one commenter on The Last Boss' article on the subject managed to encompass my feelings on the situation:
I just have no desire to play this "game" unless it turns into some war torn wasteland, like Escape from NY or some such nonsense... That'd be awesome.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Second Life to go open source

While this initial step will open up what is essentially the user's window into Second Life for modification, it will leave Linden Lab in control of the proprietary software code for all Second Life's backend services - the server software that makes the world exist. However, executives say that the company's eventual intention is to release an open source version of that software as well, once it has improved security and other core functions. They say they have been preparing for the open source move for about three years.

The client, or viewer, software now being open sourced is what enables users to control their avatars, or digital in-world personas, as well as communicate with other users, and buy and sell virtual goods and services.

"We think that if we open source Second Life its product quality will move forward at a pace nobody's ever seen," says Rosedale. Almost all of Second Life's in-world content is already created by the company's customers, the world's residents, using software created by Linden Lab. With it, residents build a vast variety of in-world experiences, ranging from sex clubs to skydiving stations and golf games, from a fantastic anime-themed city to virtual recreations of Dublin and Amsterdam. All are populated by the avatars, or virtual representations, of other users. Many users own land where they build homes and businesses.

Linden executives calculate that over 15 percent of Second Life's residents are currently writing code in the so-called "scripting language" which enables users to build sophisticated in-world creations. Today Rosedale says they are writing 7 million lines of new code every week, in order to do things like modifying a doorbell so that it sends an e-mail message when a visitor rings it.

"We feel we may already have a bigger group of people writing code than any shared project in history, including Linux," says Rosedale. While this is often elementary code, it means, he says, that "we have an army of people waiting to work on this." Adds CTO Cory Ondrejka: "Why wouldn't we leverage our community and give them the opportunity to make Second Life what they want it to be?"

Many soldiers in that army are professional programmers at companies like IBM (Charts), Sun (Charts) and Autodesk (Charts) which have employees working on projects in Second Life. In addition, Linden Lab calculates that 65 small new companies have arisen that help build products and services inside Second Life.

Improving the client code is urgent for the company. Says Sibley Verbeck, CEO of Electric Sheep, one of the largest in-world construction companies, with 30 employees: "Linden Lab has done extraordinarily well creating a platform for very motivated early adopters. But they have not made the front-end experience ready for the mass market. It's hard to learn, hard to use, and hard to find content even once you learn how to use it." He's confident, though, that "those barriers will be addressed very rapidly upon the adoption of this open source initiative." He says his own company, among many, has a big incentive to improve Second Life's client code.

Interest in Second Life - which is free for basic use - has grown dramatically with a quickening pace of press coverage in places like Reuters, Business Week, Time, Wired and The New York Times, as well as consumer publications and Web sites worldwide. New registrants were arriving at a rate of 20,000 per month last January but by October the number had soared to 254,000. But many were apparently thwarted by how difficult the service is to use. Only 40,000 of those October registrants were still using Second Life 30 days after they first joined, according to figures recently provided by Rosedale.

Linden Lab claims 2.5 million "residents," meaning people who have registered for Second Life. But the service has only around 250,000 active members who still sign in more than 30 days after registering. Nonetheless, that group of active users is currently growing at about 15 percent per month.

Linden Lab claims its move represents the first time a market-leading company has taken a proprietary product and released it instead as open source. Netscape, by contrast, only released code for its Web browser once Microsoft had overcome its one-time lead in the market. That code, of course, eventually became the base for today's popular Firefox.

CEO Rosedale says that opening up the software is good for Linden Lab: "We believe that if we open-sourced every single line of code we have ever written it would only increase our rate of growth." That's because, he says, Second Life is a business that shows what are called "network effects." In such a market, every incremental user makes the service of greater value to existing users. The more people there are in Second Life the more interesting it becomes.

Under the GNU General Public License that Linden is using, if competitors were to use its open source code to build their own virtual worlds, any improvement they make to the software would have to be shared publicly. That means it would give the most benefit to Second Life, so long as it remained the largest such world.

Rosedale and other executives say they fully expect there eventually to be multiple virtual worlds that use Linden's code, or that at least are interoperable with Second Life, so avatars can pass from one world to another. Says Rosedale: "Say IBM builds its own intranet version with our code that's somewhat different from Second Life. But it's probably not that different. A user may say 'Wow, this virtual thing IBM's built is pretty cool. Now I want to go the mainland.' And we have another customer."

IBM Vice President for Technical Strategy Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a close student of Second Life, heard about the impending move toward open source from a Linden employee. "They have the right thought," he says, "which is that open source things work with the marketplace. But this is a field in its infancy that will be very competitive. Linden Lab might end up with a huge leadership position in a certain class of tools for virtual worlds, but those might not be the right tools for, let's say, a surgeon learning a new procedure in an immersive online environment. Second Life can be wildly successful, but so can others."

Says Linden Lab Board Chairman Mitch Kapor: "The whole philosophy of the company is about empowerment, with the overwhelming majority of everything being built by the residents. So going open source is part of the logical progression of our business. The most open system is also what will foster the most innovation, because people will be free to experiment."

In total, the software for Second Life comprises five gigabytes of source code, according to Joe Miller, Linden's vice president for platform and technology development. He says that with the members of its community helping it improve the client software, Linden can devote more of its own efforts to essential work at the server level to enable Second Life to grow faster. Near-term, the company expects users will create code to address bugs and other problems, as well as do things like enable Second Life to run on cell phones, or add support for different kinds of multi-media content inside the world.

Linden Lab will review open source contributions to decide which outside features it will incorporate into its own official versions of the client software. Unofficial software will not be given customer support by the company. But it will shortly open a test version of its server "grid," so developers can try out their software before unleashing it in the real Second Life.

By David Kirkpatrick, Fortune senior editor

Manchester recreates city in Second Life

The Manchester Evening News reports that Manchester is set to open a virtual version of itself in Second Life. The aim is promote the Manchester 'brand' and raise awareness of the city in the real world. The move is a collaboration between the Urbis museum, Manchester's Digital Development Agency (DDA) and consultants Clicks and Links.

Dave Carter, head of DDA, said: "Second Life has succeeded in creating a virtual community of more than two million people.

"By creating a Manchester presence, we will be opening doors to this vast community - and having conversations with a huge range of people that will help shape and advance the city's digital development."

I do recognise its potential and this is a good way of benefiting from the opportunity. Second Life citizens (audiences) might be tiny, but they and Second Life carry influence way beyond their size.

The BBC already has a spot in Second Life. Last year, it held a virtual Radio One concert and Jeremy Paxman hosted a special edition of Newsnight from within the game.

Real-life newspapers, the Reuters news agency and even the country of Sweden have been created.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Grand Slam tennis that's out of this world

IBM, which provides the IT services and technology backbone for Tennis Australia's Grand Slam tournament, has built a three dimensional facsimile of the Melbourne Tennis Centre complex inside a virtual world called Second Life.

On Monday they'll be flicking a switch that will pump real time centre court action from the Australian Tennis Open - ball-by-ball, point-by-point - into a parallel, virtual universe.

Over the duration of the two week tournament, data will be fed from games in the real Rod Laver Arena into the unreal one, nano seconds after happens.

The feed will come from game-tracking technologies such as the line-calling system HawkEye, PointTracker which plots shots and ball trajectories and Speed Serve which clocks the players' serves.

Computers then crunch the numbers to recreate the positioning of the ball inside the virtual stadium. And avatars, 3-D characters representing the players, can simulate strokes made by Roger Federer or Alicia Molik - or whoever is playing at the time.

And spectators inside this computerised world will have not only the pick of the seats (including the match umpire's), but they can choose to watch the action from a player's perspective.

Forget stump cam. In Second Life you can get inside the heads of the players on the court and see what they see … after a fashion.

The Australian Open is IBM's second crack at such a project. As an experimental exercise, the company built a more bare bones set-up for the Wimbledon tournament last June.

"This time we've used Second Life physics engine," said Mr Brad Kasell, Asia-Pacific Manager for IBM Software Group's Emerging Technologies. "So we're plotting the ball's trajectory in a much more refined manner so you can see the trace of the ball far more accurately."

IBM has poured many, many hours into this project to showcase what some at the giant US technology company believe could be a new way of doing business. It's no gimmick. Big Blue is serious about this.

Dr Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's Vice President of Technical Strategy and Innovation, likes to call it v-business - virtual business, or business conducted in a virtual space.

"I believe that highly visual interfaces and virtual worlds will become increasingly important for interacting with applications, communicating with people and engaging in commerce," he wrote in a post on his blog at the start of the year.

He draws a parallel between e-business on the nascent internet in 1996 and v-buisness today, which he calls a "key trend" that will take off this year and become more widely accepted.

The tournament shop inside the Second Life complex has been set up to show how the v-business model works. On offer is a variety of virtual souvenirs.

As well, the shop links customers through to Tennis Australia's e-commerce internet site where products like t-shirts can be purchased for real money for use in the real world.

On a tour of the facility conducted by Mr Kasell and three of his IBM colleagues via their Second Life avatar - we saw a complex that was constructed with almost pedantic attention to detail.

"They've gone to a lot of trouble in terms of down to the nitty gritty little signs everywhere, the chairs, the plants, the park benches," said Mr Kasell, referring to his colleagues who had been slaving over their computers for the past month and more to get the complex up and running.

On the tour we saw and participated in a simulated game on centre court. Slowed down to half speed, the balls chugged rather than whizzed past.

To avoid identity ownership issues, IBM has chosen generic characters to represent the players, although it is possible to create avatars that look like their real counterparts.

The bad news is that tickets to the virtual centre court may be harder to come by than ones to the real thing. Mr Kasell says that, at least for the duration of the tournament, IBM is keeping this an invitation-only affair.

By Stephen Hutcheon
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