The SLENZ Update – No 111, July 08, 2009

New spirit of NZ tertiary ‘cooperation,

collaboration’ across  virtual  worlds

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ADA Symposium Poster

With New Zealand tertiary institutions – polytechnics and universities – sometimes at loggerheads with each other  its good to see a  spirit of cooperation and collaboration in their working with  and within virtual worlds.

This was brought home to me 10 days ago when The 6th Aotearoa Digital Arts Symposium, Critical-Digital-Matter, supported  by  the Victoria University School of Design, of  Wellington,  New Zealand, and by Creative New Zealand, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, None Gallery, De Balie Centre for Culture and Politics, Amsterdam, Leonardo Education Forum, and Otago Polytechnic, chose  Mike Baker’s (SL: Rollo Kohime) Wellington Railway Station build on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Second Life  island of Koru, as  one of the venue’s for a keynote international debate.

This was as part of the three-day symposium’s examination of  the critical intersections between digital materials and art practice in a bid to determine the relationship of the digital to matter. Other issues explored, included:  How do we forge connections beyond art practices? And, what is the role of critical discourse in contemporary art practice?

The symposium featured a keynote presentation by internationally-renowned sound and intermedia artist Phil Dadson, and a remote conversation with London-based media theorist Matthew Fuller via De Balie, the centre for Culture and Politics in Amsterdam.

The “Keynote Conversation” was distributed through real life and Second Life as a live broadcast between London, Amsterdam and Wellington with projections screened at ‘Debalie’ in the centre of Amsterdam, on a screen at Goldsmiths College in London and Victoria University in Wellington. Interestingly, Victoria University leases space in the real life Wellington Railway Station, looking down upon the concourse space in which Baker have been carrying out his dance work for the past two years.

The initiators of this event were Eric Kluitenberg (Amsterdam) , Su Ballard (Wellington) and Matthew Fuller (London) with additional guests.

The other conference sessions included materiality in digital art; developing critical discourse in a small digital arts community; and forging connections beyond art. A wide range of artists and researchers from Wellington and around New Zealand presented their current projects.

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Conversation across the world.

The new spirit of collaboration between tertiary institutions in the virtual world field in New Zealand was noted by the  joint leader of the SLENZ Project, Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) at a recent regular SLENZ team meeting on Koru.

But it is also expressed in the cooperation and collaboration taking place  in what is scheduled to become the new New Zealand national virtual world grid, ONGENS, a development virtual world project which was initially launched by Otago and Canterbury Universities.

Although still virtually just out of OpenSim embryo  the ONGENS  virtual grid’s collaborators already include  Auckland University (12 sims), Weltec, NMIT and SLENZ among others.

The ADA symposium followed another successful Second Life  presentation by Mike Baker to the PSI#15 conference, in Zagreb, Croatia, from Koru’s Wellington Railway Station  (Baker as Rollo pictured below) which is becoming known in academic and dance circles around the world for his  “In the Company of Strangers – Negotiating the parameters of Departure in Urban Spaces; a study of Indeterminacy and the Roaming Body.”

The title of his Zagreb presentation with participants both in Second  Life and real life was: “Misperformance: Misfiring, Misfitting, Misreading.” The title appeared rather fitting given the trauma of a previous presentation at Stanford where Second Life crashed during the key part of his address. Fortunately he was able to finish in Skype.

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The SLENZ Update – No 44, February 4, 2009

Strangers: off to the world

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UK-born Mike Baker (SL: Rollo Kohime),  a senior lecturer in the Degree in Arts and Media programme in the School of Arts and Media at Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Nelson, NZ-Aotearoa, has had papers on his Masters project accepted for three national and international conferences in February and June.

The papers will be delivered at intercreateSCANZ Symposium, at New Plymouth, in Taranaki, New Zealand, PSI15 Performance Studies International Conference, in Zagreb, Croatia, and the SDHS Society of Dance History Scholars: Topographies: Sites, Bodies, Technologies, at Stanford University, USA. He has  also been named to an international panel to deliver/discuss the paper of Isabel de Cavadas Valverde: Envisioning virtual cartographies for corporeal interaction: dance and performance convergent applications of Second Life 3D Metaverse social environment, at the SDHS Conference at Stanford.

Baker (pictured above with wife Fiona), who has danced and worked with: BodyCartography Project, (USA/NZ) Wilhemeena Gordon, (NZ) Nancy Stark-Smith, State-of-Flux Dance Co, (Melbourne, Australia) Martin Keogh (USA) jzamal Xanitha (USA) and Catherine Chappell – Touch Compass Dance Trust (NZ), is completing a Masters in Art and Design (majoring in dance and video) with AUT University,  Auckland.

His performance-based Masters project, “Company of Strangers – Negotiating Meetings, Exchanges and Conversations in Urban Spaces”, critically explores both in the real world and Second Life the forces of indeterminacy which he maintains are responsible for the dynamics which create the personna of the ‘stranger’ in encounters between people in urban spaces. He uses interventionist dance strategies to prompt and then interrogate the formation, nature and parameters of encounters in designated public places. The experimental movement frameworks employed are informed by the discipline of Contact Improvisation Dance. The working process is documented using a range of video narrative and internet blogs.

The Second Life portion of Baker’s dance project is based on the NMIT/SLENZ island of Koru. His blog is at: http://hoststranger.blogspot.com

Better SL viewer ahead?

On the face of it the churn rate of “newbies” entering Second Life is probably unacceptable in business terms but 15 percent of those trying out Second Life for the first time, deciding to “settle” in world, to my mind, is nothing to get discouraged about.

Given similar problems to those Second Life has had over the years many five-year-old – old hat? – businesses would be pleased with the on-going, steady retention rate. philip_rosedale

Linden Labs’ executives, Philip Rosedale and Mark Kingdon appear far from discouraged even though they would like to “triple that number,” according to an exclusive report by Ian Lamont, in The Industry Standard. (Story and transcripts http://www.thestandard.com/news/2009/01/30/exclusive-linden-lab-executives-plot-second-life-growth-interface-concerns-persist?page=0%2C0&source=nlt_daily)

Both Rosedale (pictured right) and Kingdon (pictured left) said in the Lamont interview that on-going, significant work to make the user interface less complex would have a huge impact on the retention rate of the virtual world.kingdon2

Singling out search, the user interface and new user orientation as needing major improvements, to up the on-going user retention rate, Rosedale told Lamont, “We need to collapse the orientation experience on learning the interface down to a 30-minute timeframe. We’re not there yet.”

Going on to describe the current interface as “overwhelming,” Rosedale said, “The basic UI of the software also needs to change. “It has too many pixels,” he said referring to the buttons, numbers, and other data presented to users on the screen. “They’re all kind of demanding your attention — your [Linden] dollar balance, your inventory window, all the buttons on the bottom bar, chat and text that are visible in the window, that’s asking something of you, blue pop-ups that are coming up.”

Rosedale said that Second Life had moved beyond an emerging application for technology-savvy users. “There is a lot more diversity in use, demographics and behavior in Second Life today than there was, say, at the end of 2003,” he said.

Kingdon added. “There is a very compelling set of activities that virtual worlds are incredibly powerful for. They erase geographies, they allow for a type of interaction that you can’t get in the real world and they bring with them really interesting economic and business opportunities for users.”

Kingdon detailed localisation projects for countries in Europe, Asia, and South America, and cited in-world training and remote meetings as compelling activities for companies. Both he and Rosedale portrayed Second Life as a competitor to enterprise video conferencing, which they believe is unable to match Second Life’s ability to make people feel comfortable interacting with other remote users.

VW education/meetings do work

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On Mark Kingdon’s case (above) for the benefits of holding real world meetings in virtual worlds Metaverse developer Caleb Booker has provided a compelling argument for the use of virtual worlds like Second Life for real world education environments and meeting spaces.( http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/01/27/roi-in-virtual-worlds-1-why-webcams-fail/)

I have to agree with Wagner Au  in New World Notes (http://nwn.blogs.com/) that up until now, “the notion that the professional world should prefer meeting in the metaverse over speakerphones or web cams or other technologies seemed roughly crazy.”

He based this on the assumption that  in-world meetings put on by companies like IBM and Microsoft “were mostly limited to the early adopters already familiar with Second Life.”

However, Au goes on to say, that Booker lays out his reasoning lucidly for why the professional world should change its view through comparing being “close” to  people in an avatar sense to getting the “close-talker” feeling of  being trapped counting the other speaker’s nostril hairs, as in the Lyndon Baines Johnson picture above or a la webcam, and not being able to look away.

Suffice to say, Caleb argues cogently that Virtual space experiences work better than a webcam experience because one can maintain some “personal space”;  whatever learning mode one is in, chances are one will do fine;  and the experience fills one’s field of vision far more readily.

Read Caleb’s article: its one of the best expositions on just why education as opposed to other forms of elearning WILL work in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

Kermit for the third time..

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My final word on the saga of  the believability of Kermit. Intellagirl Tully (real life Sarah Robbins) is recognised as one of the foremost researchers/educators operating in Virtual Worlds. She probably has thought more about academic identity in a non-academic world than most other people. I’m indebted to a SLED list poster for pointing me to her “enjoyable and insightful” piece for the SLCC Education Workshop in 2006 titled, ” ‘Image Slippage’: Navigating the Dichotomies of an Academic Identity in a Non-Academic Virtual World.” You can read it at: http://secondlife.intellagirl.com/SLCC-Robbins.doc

Is the writing on the SL wall?

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The on-going debate inside the walls of Linden Lab and among Second Life educators and others on the benefits or not of merging the carefully policed, but poorly-patronised Teen Grid with the well-patronised adult grid, has been brought into sharper focus by MySpace’s decision to remove the profiles of about 90,000 US-registered sex offenders.

The question is not whether Second Life can survive the addition of a teenage group of possible hell-raisers (grin) but whether it can survive the imposition of more stringent controls such as proof of age, identity, location and possible background checks being placed on the general population of Second Life, things which may be required by some US regulators to ensure the safety of the teens.

Personally I’m not a proponent of the Nanny State and think this would be a step too far. I have enjoyed, for better or worse, the “anything goes, frontier” feel of Second Life – even the griefers – for the past four years and hope to continue to be surprised and astounded by the activities/art/works of my fellow residents for years to come, no matter what their real life backgrounds.

Proof of age is currently not mandatory within Second Life and is required only for specific “adult” areas – I’ve only come across one proof-of-age-barred area over many hours of exploration – but given the general in-world penchant for privacy I don’t think the introduction of mandatory proof-of-age on the general grid would be a good thing.

[Interestingly the Linden Lab ban on casinos and sexual age-play among adults has, as predicted, reportedly only served to drive these activities underground.]

The thoughts on this issue were sparked by comments made by Connecticut Attorney-General Richard Blumenthal (pictured above at an unrelated occasion, but appropriate-looking “friend”) who initiated the release of the MySpace figures which were almost double the number that News Corporation-owned MySpace officials originally announced last year. (http://preview.tinyurl.com/c62qqs)

Blumenthal said the “shocking revelation” backed up his campaign to ensure that social networking sites should be barred as “playgrounds for predators”. “

Almost 100,000 convicted sex offenders mixing with children on MySpace is absolutely appalling and totally unacceptable,” he said. “For every one of them, there may be hundreds of others using false names and ages.”

Blumenthal said the new data unmasked what he called MySpace’s “monstrously inadequate counter-measures” and noted he would continue “to fight for reforms and safeguards at MySpace and other social networking sites to protect children, including age and identification verification.

“I urge MySpace and the social networking industry to end their resistance to age and identify verification,” he said.

One wonders how long it will be before he and his fellow travelers look at virtual worlds, now that social networking and virtual worlds are coming together.

The SLENZ Update – No 29, November 28, 2008

REGISTER NOW FOR SLENZ

OPEN WORKSHOP

December 15, from 9am to 5pm (New Zealand Time): New Zealand’s leading virtual world learning research group, Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ), has invited interested educators to attend a free, one-day workshop in real life on Wellington Institute of Technology’s Wellington campus and in Second Life on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s island of Koru (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/156/122/27). Registration essential on first-come, first-served basis as numbers limited. For registration email: Susan.Jenkins@weltec.ac.nz

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An underground experience

Rollo Kohime’s ‘In the

company of strangers’

You wont want to miss  Rollo Kohime’s (RL: Mike Baker, Nelson, New Zealand)  live performance in Real Life and Second Life at the Railway Station (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/86/72/21)   on Friday, November 28, at 8.40pm (all times are New rollo-mike-fionaZealand time), Saturday, November 29, 12.40pm, Wednesday, December 3, 12.00 midday, Friday December 5, 8pm, and a closing performance, Saturday, December 6m at 12.40pm. Rollo will be dancing in Real Life/narrating/playing his  Real Life videos/Second Life Station with Real Life  videos and some Real Life audience participation. He said, “Its going to be busy but if you can make any of those times Id love to see you in the Station! Bring friends! I want a crowd!”

If you want to know more Rollo/Mike’s blog (http://hoststranger.blogspot.com/) makes fascinating reading before or after taking part in the Railway Station experience. His profile is at http://www.blogger.com/profile/04422973770773339028

Rollo/Mike’s performance-based project “explores the dynamic of ‘the stranger’ in meetings between people in urban spaces” and the interaction between the real and what is perceived as virtual and unreal.

As Rollo has said himself of the experience: “Virtual space and time I believe, is a facet of real space and time. I want(ed) the two descriptions of Real Life and Second Life – as one blended reality – to extend our perceptions of space and time in a public venue and to receive responses related to this aspect.”

From my point of view the  underground experience is well worthwhile, especially if you interact with the “real” world on the other side of the Station from your “real” Second Life world at a scheduled performance.

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EVENT – Now on

November 28 – 29, 2008: Australian Virtual Worlds Workshop (AVWW) -Arguably Australasia’s most important virtual world meeting for 2008. Swinburne University, Melbourne.  Opening speaker Gerry White (Principal Research Fellow of ACER and Former CEO of Education.au), Guest speakers include Larry Johnson (CEO of New Media Consortium), Bruce Joy (CEO of Vast Park), Chris Collins (Director of Enterprise Business Systems of Linden Lab) and Keren Flavell (Executive Producer of SLCN.TV). The event builds on the successful ‘Discover Your Second Life’ workshop hosted at Monash last December with panels chaired by Australian Film TV and Radio School (AFTRS) and IBM and guest speakers from leading Australian universities and TAFE colleges. ‘Discover Your Second Life’ was a mixed reality event with people attending in both the real and virtual environments, AVWW continues this theme with live audio streaming of the event is available through http://75.126.100.42:8060. However you need to have Winamp installed. Once installed please click ‘File’ and then ‘Play URL’. Enter ‘http://75.126.100.42:8060’ and you should be listening live audio of the workshop shoutcasted from Melbourne. Register now at http://avww08.eventbrite.com/