The tables turned: Drax as the interviewee

We’re used to Draxtor Despres being the interviewer, engaging with guests from all backgrounds and interests through the Drax Files Radio Hour and coaxing those spotlighted in his World Makers series to talk about their virtual and physical lives.

Bernard Drax, aka Draxtor Despres, offering his thoughts on Second Life, VR and the future
Bernard Drax, aka Draxtor Despres, offering his thoughts on Second Life, VR and the future

However, while attending the SVVR Conference in April to moderate the Creating the VR Metaverse panel, Drax found the tables turned on him when interviewed by Kent Bye, who runs the Voices of VR Podcast series. These are short, punchy podcasts lasting around fifteen minutes on average, with Kent doing just enough questioning to steer the conversation and to provide interesting and often thought-provoking feedback from his guests.

His interview with Drax appeared on July 8th; Drax poked me and a number of others about it when it appeared, and it is a jolly good listen.

From covering his work in SL with his documentaries and podcast series, Drax goes on to talk about his own initial involvement in Second Life. This actually surprised me somewhat; not so much because of how he became involved in SL, but because in listening to the interview, I realised that despite our own long-distance chats about Second Life, the World Makers video series, and so on, he and I had never really talked about our personal experiences in getting involved in the platform.

With the introductions over and done with, the conversation moves on to matters of identity, with Drax expressing his fears about people’s freedom to identify themselves as they wish – as is the case with Second Life – should the likes of Facebook move into the virtual world space. It’s a view he’s expressed before through the likes of some of the Drax Files Radio Hour podcasts. I admit that I don’t entirely see things the way he does.

If nothing else, Facebook can quite easily datamine users, track their activities, etc., without necessarily forcing them to only use their wallet IDs within any virtual environment Facebook / Occlus VR might create. They can get whatever they need through the sign-up process, howsoever users go on to identify themselves within the environment.

Darx as we see him in Second Life
Drax as we see him in Second Life

To me, the bigger issue lies not in how operators of virtual environments might try to enforce issues of identity from the outset within their environments.

Rather it lies in reconciling what amounts to two opposing views held by the potential users of such virtual spaces: those who see freedom of self-identification as a strength and virtue within a platform, and those who see such freedom of self-identification as inherently “creepy” and suggestive that such spaces are “untrustworthy”, decreasing their willingness to become involved in them.

As I pointed-out in discussing the mainstream market and the Lab’s “next generation” platform, finding a middle ground where both of these viewpoints are comfortably addressed may not be easy. As such, when it comes to matters of identity, it may come down to the expectations of those using a virtual world / environment far more than those provisioning it.

The subject of identity also encompasses ruminations on our relationships with our avatars, and here I fully understand Drax’s comment on his relationship with his own alts: while they serve a purpose, they’re not “him”. I empathise entirely, as I feel much the same about my own alt; so much so, that I wrote she’s not me on that very subject. While it doesn’t enter into the interview, there is an interesting additional question about how we identify with our primary avatars.

We often point to the financial investment we make in our avatar as a reason for not settling in other virtual worlds; But, for those who do have a very close identification with their avatar in a particular world, might that focus be as much of a reason for not settling elsewhere as any financial expenditure on that avatar?

In the latter half of the interview, Drax turns slightly prophetic – remembering that the interview was recorded well before news of the Lab’s “next generation” platform entered the public domain. He points to the fact that in many respects the Lab have the track record to be perfectly placed to lead the train in any resurgence of virtual worlds because they have the technical experience, and they are used to dealing with a large and diverse population and providing the kind of environment and capabilities that people find attractive. So attractive I’ll go on to say, that we all prefer to stick with it even amidst all the grumbling directed at the company for perceived ills and mistakes. Raising these points leads Drax to wonder what the Lab might have up its sleeve – a question duly answered at the end of June.

Despite Drax commenting on his celebrity status, this is actually a great vox populi interview, in that he is very representative of all of us who use SL, his own standing as a “known” figure in-world notwithstanding. his answers to the questions Kent pitches are well-rounded, informative and well-considered. His enthusiasm for the medium, and for exploring it is infectious; even his rapid-fire departure to go grab another SVVR attendee for an interview of his own cannot fail to raise a smile on the listener’s lips.

Related Links

Second Life happiness

JupiShinn is a friend who enjoys video art and new media. He recently invited me to participate in a music video he was working on, but schedules didn’t match-up. Which is a shame, as the finished piece is really good, and I would have been honoured to have been a part of it.

But just don’t take my word for it – catch the video yourself – and if you like it, leave a comment on JupiShinn’s YouTube version or over on the version he has on his flickr stream.

Loki’s The Lost Virtual World

Lokli Eliot pinged me earlier in January about a video he was putting together called The Lost Virtual World, which is an examination of Second Life, VR, the media’s falling in-and-out of love with both, and something of a historical look at Second Life’s (and Linden’s Lab’s) development. The formal announcement of the video’s realse came via Loki’s blog and episode 3 of The Drax Files Radio Hour.

Carefully complied from a range of videos and interviews, Loki’s piece, at 37 minutes in length is a goldmine of information, skillfully crafted to present a very clear message, encompassed, to a degree, in the opening titles.

From Alice in Wonderland, by way of the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas,  the video flows gracefully into interviews featuring noted faces behind the development of SL, and touching upon some of the highs and low of the platform, the controversies which have courted it (witness Philip Rosedale’s public declaration on the subject of land “ownership” in Second Life – wonder if the company still rues the day he uttered those words?). At the same time it casts a wider net over the past, present and future of VR as whole and offers succinct précis of the media’s love affair with both.

The beauty of this piece is that while there is a carefully structured narrative throughout, it is also presented largely free from any bias an audio track might otherwise supply; even the on-screen text restricts itself to factual comments, rather than attempting to steer the viewer’s thoughts. This allows each clip to speak for itself while also building on the central theme. This in turn deepens aspects of the video’s impact, particularly in the clips featuring events and faces from SL’s past. Recalling those events from SL’s history and seeing faces now long departed from this virtual realm evokes very personal memories, which further help the video resonate more personally than might otherwise be the case.

And because of this, I’m going to stop here and not analyse things further, as I don’t want my own thoughts intruding into yours as you watch the film. Instead I’ll say only this: get yourself a drink, settle comfortably in your chair, and enjoy.

(And a very nice use of elements of the TRON soundtracks as well!)

Return of the Silent Peacock

MPC-5c
I was sharing a personal moment with Jack D when the ‘phone rang. It was the Governor’s aide. Another 15 people had gone missing from Room 326 at the Silent Peacock Hotel & the Governor wanted me down there. Funny how I’m always wanted when things can’t be handled through the proper channels. But then, that’s the nature of my work. Bullit’s the name. Traci Bullit, and PI work is my game; you want it found, I’ll find it – for L$100 a day plus expenses. Grabbing my hat and coat and pausing only long enough to pick-up Mr. Redemption on the way out, I headed downtown.
By the time
The Silent Peacock Hotel. I thought the place had been condemned and pulled down after the last time 15 people disappeared from Room 326. But when I got downtown, there it was, like a corpse raised from the dead, the same broken sign above the front doors winking at me through that same hard rain that marked the last time I’d been here. Turning my collar against the downpour, I crossed the street, the strangest feeling of deja-vu haunting my steps…
Room 326
Room 326 hadn’t changed either. The same fading wallpaper and same tired carpet. The same smell of stale cigarettes and that cheap cologne popular with so many male members of the city’s constabulary. I flipped open the file a local gumshoe had left behind and started reading the notes. Fifteen people missing. All of them from this room, and all of them with the door to the corridor outside firmly locked, and no sign of forced entry or struggles. File in hand, I headed back downstairs.
It
It was still raining when I stepped outside, so I rolled the file up and tucked it into an inside coat pocket, where it would be safe, right alongside Mr. Redemption, who was cosied in his holster under my right arm. The case had many familiar hallmarks as the last time mystery had roomed at the Silent Peacock. But my gut was telling me that things wouldn’t be a simple open-and-shut retread. Somewhere out in this rain-sodden city were answers, and I was going to find them. And somehow, I knew I wasn’t going  to be the only one doing so…

Yes, Madpea are back with another of their grid-wide hunts and this time, for the first time ever, they are re-running a hunt they’ve already featured in-world: that of Room 326, which ran back at the start of the year, and is making a return by popular demand, this time sponsored by NY Healthscape.

With fifteen people missing, it’s time for you to turn sleuth and follow the clues in this point-and-click grid-wide mystery and find out what really happened in Room 326. Fifteen envelopes must be found and collected if you are to reach the final gameplay area where – as the immortal line goes – “all will be revealed” and you will be rewarded with 15 high-quality prizes.

The hunt is open now, and runs through until August 31st. So, if you fancy you can beat “Traci Bullit” in solving the clues, get yourself over to Mad City, and pick-up a game HUD from the entrance to the hotel (L$150) and make your way to Room 326 so that the game may truly be a-foot! Full instructions on using the HUD are available on the Madpea blog.

If hunts aren’t your thing, Mad City offers the in-world shopper with streets to roam and shops to browse, while beyond it lay the streets of New York and the home regions operated by NY Healthscape, all of which offer places to discover and things to do.

Related Links

Taking a peek at the latest new user experience

In June Rod Humble indicated that the Lab would be evaluating a “new” new user experience in an A/B test against the current Destination Islands. During a conversation I was able to have with him a little more recently*, I asked whether the new experience would include anything of the “personal touch” – getting new users more easily get to the things which interest them. He replied:

We definitely want to make it easy for Second Life users (especially new ones) to connect with the things in-world that match their interests. What we’re testing at the moment is more geared at getting new users familiar with basic controls, so it comes even before the point where they’re ready to connect with relevant content.

Given this, I’ve been curious as to what form the “new” new user experience might take – and today I had my answer.

The sign-up process itself remains unchanged, so far as I can tell. as does the first-time installation of the viewer, which I looked at back in March 2012 – although this does differ significantly to the installation process established users may be familiar with.

As I reported in 2012, when installing from the sign-up process, the viewer includes a series of panels which give various hints as to what SL is and how to get a start in it, such as the use of text and voice chat – although admittedly, the fact that these panels still feature viewer 2.x did raise a couple of eyebrows. Nothing like staying up-to-date, eh?

One of the explanatory text panels displayed during the viewer installation process
One of the explanatory text panels displayed during the viewer installation process. note the viewer 2.0 UI, complete with sidebar!

Once logged-in to Second Life, things are now noticeably different. New users are initially delivered to one of several versions of “Social Island”, arriving on a beach. The landscaping here is somewhat more pleasing to the eye than the older Destination Islands, However – and bearing in mind, I have no idea just how “preview” or “work-in-progress” this approach is – it tends to start to unravel from here. Just what do you do? Where do you go? What the heck is going on? There is currently no indication at all.

Well, actually, there are clues. They’re just not terribly obvious clues.

"Where am I? What am I supposed to do?" A plaintive question from a newcomer on the beach at Social Island
“Where am I? What am I supposed to do?” A plaintive question from a newcomer on the beach at Social Island

Up in the navigation bar, alongside the region name is the parcel description “Find the path”. The clue refers to one of two paths off of the beach. The first refers to on which leads up from the eastern end of the beach, under a stone arch, and the other goes through a tunnel to the island’s interior. Taking either results in the parcel description changing to “cross the bridges”. And indeed, there are wooden bridges to cross; although if you went through the tunnel, you’ll need to master climbing the rock face first (up a set of pretty obvious “steps”.

“Social Island” is perhaps well-named. There was a lot of chatting going-on when I arrived. Admittedly it was of the “Help!” variety of conversation – which included comments like, “What am I supposed to be doing?”, “Can anyone tell me what this is?”,  and, “Does anyone else here use IMVU? Why isn’t this like it?” (yes, honestly, that is exactly what was being asked) – but at least people were communicating and socialising. Sort-of.

Perhaps the most disheartening thing was – again, my direct experience – trying to help a newcomer, only to have her respond, “I hate this,” before  she vanished, presumably logging-off into the ether, never to return.

The Social Islands appeared geared towards getting people walking around and perhaps talking - although much of the conversation might be pleas for help from genuine newcomers...
The Social Islands appeared geared towards getting people walking around and perhaps talking – although much of the conversation might be pleas for help from genuine newcomers…

The path leads newcomers to a single teleport portal which uses the experience tools teleport capability to deliver them to one of the Learning Islands. Here things are, if anything, slightly more confusing – again with the caveat that it may be a work-in-progress.

Continue reading “Taking a peek at the latest new user experience”

Firefox Helpers for searching Second Life

Earlier, I blogged about a number of Chrome browser extensions users have developed for use with Second Life, and which Daniel Voyager had spotted. As a result of that article, Lance Corrimal pointed-out he had a number of SL-related search helpers for Firefox, which he suggested he could make available on his Dolphin Viewer website.

Well, he did – so true to my word, here’s a look at them.

The helpers are designed to allow a user to use the Firefox search option to use for terms and items using the various Second Life search engines. In all, Lance provides five helpers:

  • JIRA search – locate any JIRA directly from Firefox search (now subject to JIRA access / viewing)
  • Second Life Search – search for anything directly related to Second Life
  • Second Life Marketplace Search – search for an item in the Marketplace
  • Second Life Marketplace Merchant Search – search for a given merchant in the Marketplace
  • Second Life Wiki search – search the SL wiki from Firefox search.

All of the options can be used without you having to be logged-in to Second Life (or the JIRA or the Marketplace or wiki).

Installation

You’ll need to download and install the helpers:

  • Go to the Dolphin viewer website and download the helpers ZIP file (direct download link)
  • Open the ZIP file and drag-and-drop the five .XML files it contain into the Firefox Searchplugins folder. For Windows this is located at either: C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\browser\Searchplugins or C:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\browser\Searchplugins (depending upon whether you’re running 32-bit or 64-bit Windows)
  • Restart Firefox if you are already running it.

Using the Helpers

The helper options when installed in Firefox
The helper options when installed in Firefox

One the helpers have been installed, they will be available directly from the Firefox search option. Simply click on the search engine selector in the search field to display a drop-down list of your installed search engines / options, and select the required SL helper.

When a helper has been selected, its name will base displayed in the search bar, and you can type-in your search term as you would for any other search engine.

The JIRA Search

  • Typing-in a JIRA number (such as “OPEN-173”) will display that JIRA,  assuming it is publicly viewable. If not, you’ll get the “permissions violation” warning if you do not have the requisite JIRA access permissions
  • Typing-in a descriptive text (e.g. “Music stutters”) will display a list of possible JIRA matches, as with the normal JIRA search.

Second Life Search

Typing in any term using this Helper will cause the normal SL search engine to run and will return results using the search engine’s default page display.

Using the SL search option will return results from the main SL search engine - whether or not you're logged-on to the SL website
Using the SL search option will return results from the main SL search engine – whether or not you’re logged-on to the SL website

Marketplace Searches

The two Marketplace searches work in much the same way as the SL Search option, except they invoke the Marketplace search engine. Using the general Marketplace search allows you to display a Marketplace page displaying all products which match the search string, while the Merchant search will display one or more Merchants  matching the search string, allowing you to click on the required name and view the store.

Wiki Search

The wiki search helper will search the English language version of the SL wiki, returning a list of topics which may match the given search text.

An SL wiki search directly from Firefox's search option
An SL wiki search directly from Firefox’s search option

Feedback

Installation is simple, the helpers all do exactly what they same in their names, and work – as mentioned above – regardless of whether you are logged-in to the SL website or not. As such, for any Firefox user who spends time searching SL, they form a most useful suite off add-ons to Firefox (the 2012 changes to the SL public JIRA notwithstanding). Kudos to Lance for developing them and for making them available for general use!

Related Links

With thanks to Lance Corrimal.