Four reasons why I’m excited about SL again

I’m feeling excited about SL again. It’s a novel experience after the last two or so years of feeling like I’m frequently shaking my head or burying my face in my hands so often.

It really started when Rod Humble started to make his presence felt. One could not help but feel that here is a man who – even if he claims he doesn’t understand Second Life – actually groks the potential of the platform on many levels. Since January, we’ve seen substantial progress on numerous fronts. True, it hasn’t always been quite what we wanted, or perhaps as far as we’ve wanted – but the positive results are undeniable in a number of areas. There may still be an almighty pile of things still sitting in the To Do box at the Lab, but no-one can hand-on-heart deny considerable effort has been put into trying to directly address matters of usability on a number of fronts, and to examine issues around user engagement and retention.

SLCC saw a round of talks and panels of Linden Lab staff that did much to reinforce the feeling that the Lab is back on the right track. What particularly excites me, are three things that have, I think, the potential to radically transform SL, and one that looks like it’s going to get some overdue focus. Namely:

  • Mesh
  • Gaming mechanics
  • Non-player characters (NPCs)
  • Prims

If we’re honest, the first iteration of mesh is already here; the capability is rolling-out across the Main grid, the code to support it within the Viewer is now at Beta and is available in at least one third-party Viewer with others set to follow, and mesh creations are slowly beginning to appear.

Mesh: opportunities

True, what we’re getting in the first release may not be what everyone wants, and there has been much angst on the technical side about the capability to produce SL-efficient mesh objects. It’s also fair to stay that it may not initially be as well-suited to some areas of content creation as it is to others. However, Linden Lab are aware of many of the issues (real and perceived) and are working towards trying to resolve those that they can over time. As Charlar Linden himself said at SLCC 2011, there will at some point be at least one “non-trivially sized” set of improvements to mesh to follow-up the initial roll-out.

But the fact is, doubts and angst aside, mesh can be transformative within Second Life on many levels beyond “traditional” content creation, for example:

  • It potentially offers new and previously unseen opportunities for creative collaboration as sim owners, groups and even businesses work with 3D artists to generate totally new and unique experiences within Second Life
  • It potentially takes the opportunities for practical prototyping to new levels, and well beyond anything that can be achieved with prims, something that might open the doors to other forms of collaborative efforts in both education and business
  • It can clearly bring an entirely new dimension to art within SL, be it static, mobile or through the lens of a camera; offering new ways for artists to express themselves visually both in-world and elsewhere.
Using gaming mechanics

Gaming mechanics also opens the door to many new possibilities, depending upon how they are implemented. At SLCC 2011, Gez and Esbee Linden gave a demonstration of the kind of thing LL staff have being playing with in order to better understand the mechanics of creation and the capabilities and limitations of SL, and how game-like mechanics might be used to enhance the SL experience. Even in a “rough” form, the results shine a light on a lot of potential, as Gez himself commented at the convention:

Second Life itself is not a game.  However, you can make some great games inside of Second Life, and you can use game mechanics, and game tutorials, and game systems to help people become more engaged and comfortable in Second Life.”

It’s amazing to think of the opportunities that the considered implementation of game-like tools, mechanics and controls could bring to Second Life. Just consider role-play quests (as a single example) wherein there’s no need to don a HUD or faff with notecards – everything can be done immersively on-screen, via simple prompts or icons and using intuitive controls such as point-and-click and / or point-and-drag.

NPCs: New opportunities

Non-player characters (NPCs) offer a similar means for new an immersive interaction within a virtual world that potentially goes beyond the use of bots / scripted agents, as they could run without being attached to logged-in accounts. Little wonder, then that UK-based Daden Ltd., has been working on just such a capability for OpenSim, as Maria Korolov reported in Hypergrid Business this week.

NPCs can be applied to a wide range of uses within SL. Here’s just two:

  • Within training simulations, where they can add depth of experience for trainees and perhaps be programmed to react a number of different ways as a result of interactions with trainees, making training simulations a lot more dynamic
  • Within role-play environments, where they could be used to provide help and guidance to players, or present threats that need to be dealt with and so on, adding to the immersive experience in ways that again go beyond the use of account-based bots. And that’s just scratching the surface of opportunity.

Combined with the use of gaming mechanics, NPCs stand to give Second Life a new dimension in terms of the way people can engage with various offerings within SL, as well as providing those seeking to provide immersive experiences with a raft of new tools and opportunities.

NPC coding and Mesh…new opportunities for pets?

Even in more mundane settings, NPC capabilities could be used to create, say, the “next generation” of pets beyond the likes of Stitch on the left here; able to both interact and react to avatars and their environment beyond the current limitations seen in pets at present.

Finally, there is the humble prim. Even if you’re not enamoured with any of the above, there is no need to worry, as it seems new life is to be breathed into the prim – and possibly the tools we have to manipulate it.

Not only is the new 64m upper size limit coming into effect with the release of mesh, but it seems that prims are to become central to a “directed experience” in the future aimed encouraging people coming into SL to engage in the process of content creation and the collaborative opportunities offered by in-world building. From the way Durian described it, this “direct experience” will be one of a number that the Lab is considering as ways of further user engagement with Second Life, and having a focus on prims and in-world creation is perfectly aligned with Rodvik’s view that Second Life is a shared creative space.

That prims should get additional attention is only right and proper – they may not be perfect, but they offer a lot of opportunities for those without deep-seated artistic and technical skills (i.e. me), to get a lot of fun and enjoyment out of SL. In this respect, it was very pleasing to see members of the LL product team engaging so much with the tools themselves in an effort to better understand them and – perhaps – start looking at ways and means to improve them down the road.

So, yes, I’m feeling pretty positive about Second Life and the future. The road ahead may be a little bumpy, and not everything is going to happen at once, or – again – necessarily as some of us might like it to happen; but the promise is there – and the Lindens themselves seem as determined as the rest of us to make it real.

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SLCC: Destination Guide – highlights

Speaker

  • Brett Atwood (Brett Linden), Managing Editor, Linden Lab
  • Contact e-mail: editor@lindenlab.com

Focus

The Destination Guide – what it is, how it works, how to be a part of it. Note this is not intended to be a full transcripts Brett’s presentation.

  • The Editorial Team at Linden Lab comprises Brett (four years at the Lab), Gabrielle Linden (relative newcomer) and the inimitable and beloved Torley Linden
    • The team collaborates in helping and supporting Linden Lab initiatives and the community in getting news and information out about venues, events, etc.
    • Specifically focused on the Destination Guide, but also do support for messaging and the secondlife.com website,  producing the Lab’s own promotional videos and touches on the blog and social networking
    • Showcase (click to enlarge)

      Highlighted the various promotional opportunities for users, not all of which are the remit of the Editorial Team, but which include the Destination Guide, Events Calendar, Classifieds, SL Groups, my.secondlife.com, the SL YouTube channel, blogs, forum and social networks

    • Reviewed the origins of the Destination Guide in terms of the old Showcase feature (right), which itself arose from the 2006 machinima of the making of Suzanne Vega’s guitar (see below)
      • Video seen as a demonstration of the power of SL, which LL should be doing more to promote
      • Showcase performed two functions: providing a means for users to find things to do & places to visit, and also offered LL the means to showcase SL activities simply and quickly to the web at large
      • The showcase feed and data is still available for viewing at http://secondlife.com/app/showcase, while the new Search is also available directly on the web at Search.secondlife.com

  • One of the aims of the Editorial Team is to have new destinations highlighted in the Guide daily, including looking at real-world current affairs (used the example of the Middle East situation as an example, when related destinations in-world were refreshed and highlighted)
  • Destination Guide comprises one master feed of data, which can be broken down and used – third-party use included – to provide multiple channels of delivery:
    • Secondlife.com
    • Viewer 2 log-in screen
    • Inside the SL Viewer, both Basic and Advanced modes
    • TPVs
    • Maps.secondlife.com links
    • Widgets and RSS feeds
  • A significant portion of the Destination Guide audience comes directly from the web – seen as potential new users, and thought is given to how LL can inspire / tell a story in order to get people to sign-up (something that has been a focus of mine in the recent past)
  • LL aware of the mixed viewers from users on the inclusion of the Facebook “like” button on web pages Destination Guide. LL do not view the button as being about Facebook integration; rather it is seen as a means for peer-to-peer promotion outside of SL of venues as people opt to “like” entries
  • Alongside Facebook, indicated that the Guide could be integrated with new Profiles at my.secondlife.com “but that’s something we want to hear from you about”
  • As a part of the channel delivery concept for the Destination Guide, it is now available via the Viewer 2 Search, where it can be presented in multiple ways
One feed – multiple channels
  •  A “hot” icon (flames) indicating how popular a location is in terms of avatar presence has been added to destination listings
    • No flame = not many visiting; deep red flame  = very popular
    • Coded so that very busy sims are not over-prioritised in the listing to help throttle the number of visitors
  • Destination Guide central to the Basic Viewer mode to encourage people to explore & recognise the experiences available in SL, and where it uses a “newcomer friendly” channel
  • Destination Guide seen as a means of supporting high-impact events (such as SLCC), through the creation of limited-time categories within the Guide that contain relevant information (locations, etc.)
  • Create Ad Widget

    For those with entries in the Destination Guide there is a Create Ad Widget – this allows the code and image for the entry to be displayed and edited or taken for embedding to a website or blog elsewhere

  • The Destination Guide within the Viewer 2 log-in screen is “version 1” and will be subject to revision, with feeds a mix of editorially-managed and automated
    • The What’s Hot section operates so that id a sim exceeds 40 avatars, the entry “goes away”
    • The idea is to connect people quickly through the log-in process
    • LL want feedback from users on this approach
  • Venues, etc., can get on to the Destination Guide in a number of ways:
    • Via user recommendation using the on-line Destination Guide form
    • E-mailing the Team at editor@lindenlab.com
    • Being involved in the official blogs
    • The team also actively monitor user’s blogs, social media (Twitter, Facebook, my.secondlife.com, etc.), YouTube, etc., in order to identify what is catching attention
  • There are pros and problems to getting noticed and addressed (below)
Destination guide – getting noticed pros and problems – remember, Destination Guide is not a classified ads page!
  •  The Team monitor Destination Guide both on the web and its in-Viewer use to see which categories are popular month-by-month
  • The Destination Guide is a non-paid, editorially-moderated tool and should not be confused with classified ads
  • In addition to the Destination Guide, the Editorial Team are engaged on promoting SL machinima via the SL YouTube channel and into locations such as the website log-in page, as machinima recognised as a valuable tool for SL promotion in turn (something else I wrote about some time back)

Further information

 

SpotON3D to host content creator’s workshop – in SL

This weekend will see SpotON3D, who have been the source of much controversy around patent issues of late are holding a 3-day exposition this weekend at their sim in Second Life.

The aim of the weekend is to enable people to: “Learn more about our products and services, on how to expand your business to SpotON3D, the SpotON3D Developer Program and much more!”

Schedule of Events

The weekend’s programme is as follows (all times SLT):

FRIDAY – August 19th, 2011

  • 11:00: CCEXPO INTRODUCTION with Tessa Harrington
  • 12:00: SpotON3D’s GEEKSPEAK: Ask the SpotON3D TechTeam Your Questions
  • 13:00: Developer Discussion Group with Philippe Pascal
  • 14:00: Concurrency: Should the number of users be your sole reason for expanding?
  • 15:00: Scotty Bevill of Bevill Edge®
  • 16:00: Music
  • 17:00: SpotON3D ‘s Patent Pending Plug-in: Is it a threat or a benefit?

SATURDAY – August 20th, 2011

  • 11:00: CCEXPO INTRODUCTION by Tessa Harrington:
  • 12:00: Reserved
  • 13:00: Amleth McCallen performing
  • 14:00: Vardasilver Spearsong about RP
  • 15:00: SpotON3D Office Hours
  • 16:00: Sunny Salamander, SpotON3D Chief Developer, Business Tools : HOTSWAP
  • 17:00: AgileBill Firehawk/ AgileBill Krebs – http://www.agiledimensions.com

SUNDAY – August 21th, 2011

  • 11:00: CCEXPO INTRODUCTION by Tessa Harrington
  • 12:00: SpotON3D Chief Developer – Business Tools :: BoostCLOUD Severs
  • 13:00: Lesley Scope aka Light Sequent :: Cybergogy for a 3D Educational
  • 14:00: Maxmillion Kleene performing
  • 15:00: Phoenix DaVinci – What I like to create: HotSwap Scenes?
  • 16:00: GridWrap – Hosted by Tessa Harrington & Wildfire/Raine Morgwain, Guest Sandy Adams.
  • 17:00: Wildfire Morgwain – Virtual Entertainment- The Next Great Cinematic Frontier?

Patent Discussions

Most interestingly, SpotON3D have decided to open part of the event to discussions around their move to patent the wrapper they’ve developed to present the Viewer thro popular web browsers. This is scheduled for Friday at 17:00 SLT.

In all, SpotON3D has filed five patents for technology linked to their Virtual World offering, although it is the wrapper patent that has so far gained the widest coverage, and it is this that appears to be the focus of the discussion planned for Friday.

The company have already attempted to hold one discussion around their actions, but this didn’t go very well, as Maria Korolov reported at the time. Whether this attempt is any more or less successful is open to question; but at least it is leaning a little more towards “neutral ground”. The last meeting was boycotted for a number of reasons – one being it was held on SpotON3D’s own grid. Given this meeting is still going to be held on SpotON3D’s own region (SLurl) in SL, it remains to be seen as to whether it is regarded as “neutral” enough. The other aspect of the discussion is, of course, just how open the SpotON3D folks are prepared to be in relation to their patents; on the strength of their last meeting, some observers might be prone to say, “not very”.

For more information on the expo, see:

(With thanks to Maria Korolov)