MuseWeb: utilising Second Life in support of a global conference

MuseWeb 2020 in Second Life.

MuseWeb is a global organisation offering members a range of professional learning opportunities – plenary sessions, conference sessions, informal networking, debates, how-to sessions, lightning talks, etc., – together with multiple practical activities such as demonstrations, exhibitions, and so on, which can be applicable across a range of professional sectors and disciplines.

The organisation has, since 1997, held an annual conference in North America or Asia, featuring speakers, workshops, demonstrations, social events and more. Theses conferences have produced 1,350 papers and videos which are made available to MuseWeb members on-line, offering “an unparalleled resource” for museum workers, technologists, students and researchers that grows every year. Attendees at the conference / conference sessions include educators, curators, librarians, designers, senior staff (CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, CMOs, directors, etc.) of businesses an organisations, scholars, consultants, IT programmers and analysts, publishers and developers from museums, galleries, libraries, science centres, etc.

This year, the MuseWeb 2020 conference – MW20 – had been scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, California, between March 31st and April 4th, with the core programme of presentations and keynotes taking place between Thursday, April 2nd and Saturday, April 4th 2020.

However, due to the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic, the conference has shifted entirely on-line – and thanks to Linden Lab and Virtual Ability Inc, both of whom are acting as conference partners, the MuseWeb organisers are utilising Second Life for the social aspects of the conference, as well as several sessions.

MuseWeb 2020 Auditorium.

To achieve this, MuseWeb has been provisioned with a 4-region location in-world that is based on one of the seven turnkey region solutions Linden Lab has developed for businesses and conferences. The auditorium can cater for up to 350 avatars – although the core of the conference sessions are being presented on-line through Microsoft Teams – Microsoft being the conference’s global sponsor, with Google Arts and Culture also a notable sponsor – although I have been given to understand some sessions from Thursday through Saturday will also be shown in the in-world auditorium.

Aspects that have, and will, involve Second Life include:

  • In-world tours of Virtual Ability, Health Info Island and a range of SL museums, coordinated and hosted by Virtual Ability Inc.
  • “Linden Lunches” with representatives from the Lab, Virtual Ability, etc.
  • Closing plenary session.

The MuseWeb regions are publicly accessible to Second Life users, although sessions that are not relayed in-world require a log-in through the conference web pages. You can view the full schedule here, and the web pages include membership fees for interested professionals.

Dr Nettrice Gaskins: algorithmic art using Deep Dream, on display at MuseWeb 2020 in Second Life.

An important aspect of the conference’s in-world presence is an exhibition of art by Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, who is also presenting the conference’s keynote address alongside of Cory Doctorow.

Dr. Gaskins has taught multimedia, computational media, visual art, and advanced placement computer science principles, and has earned a BFA in Computer Graphics with Honours and an MFA in Art and Technology, and she received a doctorate in Digital Media from Georgia Tech in 2014. As an artist, she explore the use of technology in art, and the pieces offered for display at the MuseWeb auditorium is a unique exploration in using the Deep Dream neural network AI, a convolutional neural network to find and enhance patterns in images to produce over-processed, dream-like (almost hallucinogenic) finished images that are utterly startling in their complexity and depth.

Dr Nettrice Gaskins: algorithmic art using Deep Dream, on display at MuseWeb 2020 in Second Life.

Just how stunning these images are can be seen on the inner walls of the auditorium, where a total of 12 of her pieces are offered for appreciation – marking the first time Dr. Gaskins has exhibited in Second Life since 2010. Certainly, they make a visit a visit to the MuseWeb island.

More to the point, shifting the conference – apparently at short notice –  to leverage on-line communications and presentation means and o make use of Second Life to help maintain the more social aspects of such an event, potentially demonstrates the benefits of 3D and virtual environments to a global audience. Kudos to Linden Lab and Virtual Ability Inc., – who are also fielding greeters and conference assistance in–world, as well as helping with the facilities – for enabling the conference to have a presence in Second Life.