Monday, November 13, 2006

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NOT THE FIRST TIME

“Is the Second Life community offended by corporations coming into their world?” Lately that’s been the question I’m most often posed, both by mainstream media outlets and corporate clients, and given SL’s growth and the subsequent swarm of commercial interest, it’s not a surprising thing to ask. Throughout this year, my answer has always been, roughly, “No, because those who don’t care for their presence will simply ignore them.” (More recently, I’ve expanded that answer to add, “And the community is way more interested in their own homegrown activities, while so far, corporate-backed sites are scarcely given any attention at all.”)

Both observations still strike me as roughly true, though there’s another clause worth adding, and it’s important enough to emphasize:

To the extent they have any opinion, the SL community is deeply offended by companies who enter the world at this late a date and claim,
in disregard of all that was made and done long before they were ever there, to be “first” at bringing anything of value to Second Life.

There have already been several warning shots, in recent months, as with grumbling provoked after an analyst associated with advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather offered a deeply misguided list of Second Life “firsts” (note the commentary, and the chastened strikethroughs) and a PR firm which claimed, with little evidence, to be the first company launched in SL. The community’s low-level annoyance boiled over into outrage last week, in the wake of two press reports, both published, as it turns out, by the UK Guardian.

In one, Guardian reporter Jemima Kiss notes the coming of Channel 4's radio division to Second Life, and quotes its director, Nathalie Schwarz, cheerily proclaiming, "Being the first radio station to launch in Second Life enables us to bring our range of programmes to new audiences who are interested in interactive content." (Link here, reg. req.)  In another, Guardian Berlin correspondent Jess Smee reports that German publishing giant Axel Springer will launch Second Life's “first tabloid”. Neither Guardian reporter evinces much awareness of the world, so it’s understandable (if inexcusable) that they’d let such statements stand on their own-- even though each claim is plainly false. Radio stations and other audio programming have existed in Second Life since 2004, while the Second Life Herald tabloid has been scandalizing the community for roughly the same time.

To complicate matters further, Jess Smee refers several times to a “Mr. Springer” and not the corporation with the same name, at one point even putting words in the man's mouth: “Mr. Springer says the newspaper will tailor its unprecedented venture according to feedback from avatars". Which is strange, since Mr. Axel Springer is, strictly speaking, dead.  (Yielding the ontologically brain-melting suggestion that alter egos in a world which doesn’t physically exist will somehow communicate with an individual who hasn’t physically existed for over 20 years.)

From both flawed reports, unsurprisingly, community wrath followed— examples here, here, and with scathing Victorian wit from Miss Ordinal Malaprop, here. Over the weekend, SL real estate developer Anshe Chung entered the fray by issuing a press release announcing that real world corporations making such “first” claims would thenceforth be banished from her continent.  (Long evolved past her origins as an avatar-based "land baron", Anshe now co-owns a real world company of her own, it's worth noting, with projected 2006 revenues of $2.5 million.)

With all that anger swirling, I got in touch with Channel 4’s Nathalie Schwarz and Axel Springer’s Rowan Barnett, to get their clarifications directly. My e-mail correspondence with them after the break.

“We were attracted to Second Life as our ambition is to breathe fresh life into the radio industry and use digital technologies to engage with listeners in a new way,” Ms. Schwarz began, explaining what drew her network to the metaverse. “Channel 4 Radio will bring its range of innovative and exciting programming to the Second Life community.”

“There's actually a large number of SL-based radio programs, live DJs, and podcasters, including a station run by Linden Lab itself,” I e-mailed her. “Are you familiar with these broadcasters, and will they be involved in your programming?”

Schwarz didn’t answer that question directly, but instead replied with: “Channel 4 Radio will be broadcasting and creating content from within Second Life. We want to take an active part in the community, this is a real presence for us. This is not a campaign or single broadcast, we view Second Life as a new country, this enables us to create a sustainable presence and we would want to work with DJs and podcasters in Second Life, and respect the role that they play.”

“In the UK Guardian story,” I asked her, “you're quoted as saying [Channel 4 is] ‘the first radio station to launch in Second Life’…  Many members of the SL community have objected to your assertion of being ‘first’, because it discounts this pre-existing culture of SL-based radio as if it wasn't even there.  What would you say to them?”

Schwarz's reply: “We do not discount the pre-existing culture of SL-based radio and respect it. What marks us out as different, is that we're combining real life broadcasting with virtual world news and culture. Second Life is in a rapid period of change, one that is starting to see more traditional media channels combining with virtual worlds. This is a very exciting time, and we want to work with you and help it grow and flourish.”

I e-mailed Nathalie Schwarz several follow-ups— Which SL-based radio broadcasts has she actually heard?, What efforts would she make to engage this existing community of broadcasters?, and so on— but only got back an “Out of the office” message in reply.

My correspondence with Rowan Barnett of Axel Springer (Regis Braathens in Second Life) began by asking how the company decided to enter Second Life.

“Bild.T-Online AG, which is a subsidiary of Axel Springer AG, is one of Germany's top news and entertainment websites as well as being the online edition of BILD newspaper, Europe's largest tabloid newspaper,” he e-mailed back. “We are constantly looking at new and innovative business models and trends, and monitoring international markets. And once we came across Second Life and started living inside, we were immediately fascinated… We want to experiment and branch out into new areas of online journalism. By launching in Second Life we are entering a new, exciting territory and one with a very promising future.”

“What do you hope [the Axel Springer tabloid] delivers to the SL community?”

“With our editorial and advertising expertise we hope to produce an excellent product for the Second Life residents whilst also opening up possible new sources of revenue,” Barnett answered. “We feel strongly that Second Life can greatly benefit from having a professionally produced tabloid newspaper, which will provide news, entertainment, service and orientation for the residents. It will also be strongly user-generated, the residents being the eyes and ears of the paper.”

“How familiar are you with existing SL-based publications?  Mention a few that you've read, in preparation for your tabloid.”

“We have of course studied the SL media market extensively, and have looked closely at around ten publications, from newspapers to magazines and blogs,” Barnett replied. “There is of course food for thought for us there, although we want to bring something completely new to Second Life. Our concept will be extremely original and different from what is currently on offer.”

“In the UK Guardian story about Axel Springer's upcoming publication, it's described as Second Life's ‘first tabloid’.  Why is it described that way there?”

“There are tabloid-style publications in Second Life,” Barnett acknowledges. “But we want to produce something different. A newspaper that has all the positive aspects of a tabloid, being emotional, direct, informative and entertaining. We will focus on what makes this world-- the people. From stars to newbies we want not only to cover the glamour but the personal stories and insights. It will be strongly service oriented, giving information, tips and recommendations to our readers. We want to show people what is going in this vast and diverse world, guide them through it and of course entertain them on their way.”

Whether their replies ameliorate the controversy or simply exacerbates it isn’t for me to say. In either case, this wouldn’t be the first time corporations have alienated a community by well-meaning miscommunication or less charitably, a disturbing level of arrogance.  Judging by past history, it won’t be the last.  But generally speaking, it's fair to say late arrivals who claim to be first at anything are usually the last to know who they've offended-- or why.

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Robbie D

I just wanted to leave a comment, here at the top, to be able to say with authority, that I was the first...

SignpostMarv Martin

I am the first to comment on this post. I shall blatantly ignore any claims to the contrary.

SignpostMarv Martin

They didn't answer the questions you asked, and they had damn well better make a retraction.

They are not the first. They will never be the first.

An analysis (enhanced for your amusement):

Hamlet

In the UK Guardian story about Axel Springer's upcoming publication, it's described as Second Life's ‘first tabloid’. Why is it described that way there?

Regis Braathens

There are tabloid-style publications in Second Life,But we want to produce something different. A newspaper that has all the positive aspects of a tabloid (wtf ?), being emotional, direct, informative and entertaining. We will focus on what makes this world-- the people. From stars to newbies we want not only to cover the glamour but the personal stories and insights (things like nonsense about people stealing textures, other content and partners no doubt). It will be strongly service oriented, giving information, tips and recommendations to our readers. We want to show people what is going on in this vast and diverse world, guide them through it and of course entertain them on their way. (I thought that's what New World Notes, the Herald, Plywood, Dwell on It the comic, Pierce Portocarrero (he was robbed!) and World of SL were for ?- hell, even this recent post on Prok's blog is quite the entertaining read)

Which means they either are a tabloid and need to retract their claim to being the first tabloid in Second Life, or they are not a tabloid and need to retract their claims of being a tabloid altogether.

Shep Korvin

It's perhaps also worth nothing that 4radio isn't even a proper real-world "radio" station! Their material is only available as an on-line stream (http://www.channel4radio.com/) ... and while it's true that they've put in a bid for airtime on a real-world broadcasting multiplex here in the UK, last I heard they weren't likely to get one until 2008(!)

So, they are neither "first", nor are they any more legitimate a "radio" station than any other net-streaming audio source out there.

Torley

Why is so much importance placed on being first? Oh yeah, I get it, because few people know who was the SECOND man on the moon. :p

Seriously, being a time traveler of sorts, I don't really relate to such chest-thumping, but enjoy a lot of things both superlative and not.

I do consider it sacred to be aware and respectful of Second Life culture, inasmuch the same way as you wouldn't go into the jungle and demolish the aborigine settlements and replace them with parking lots and a gawky skyscraper. Good lord I hope not, 'cuz I'm all about building cultural bridges! (Here I am sipping on grass jelly while having gummi worms as a side dish for my spring rolls with A1 steak sauce!)

Will be nice to see an automotive company prototype a vehicle design within Second Life, perhaps calling on some of the greatest (whee superlative) builders' native knowledge and mad skillz, and coming out with a production-line car as a result of that.

Just saying. *chews on grass jelly bits* =^_^=

SignpostMarv Martin

Something just occured to me.

In terms of being the first real-world radio stations entering into Second Life, would BBC Radio One have a more stable claim ?

I mean they do own 4 sims (paid for by the license payers of the UK) in SL.

I was too busy to get in at the time, did they actually have the audio streaming in or was it video ?

Steve Read

I would have been first, but probably my sim was being slow.

It is surely degrading to occupy space and time in "Second Life" I propose that we "vote" - don't we always in changing its name to "First Life" or even "Zeroth"

Mambo Milosz

Yes, Radio One were indeed first - or at least they have a far strong claim to being firster than 4Radio :)

They did stream audio and they also gave away free radios, something else 4Radio were planning to be first at, I believe.

SignpostMarv Martin

Ah. Now you bring up their radios.

BBC Radio One's radios were absolutely useless.

All they were was llLoadURL() objects, not radios.

See Koz of BlogHUD fame for why the BBC don't have audio streams that can be broadcast into Second Life (e.g. why they have two audio formats that aren't MP3 or Ogg Vorbis)

Channel 4 are in serious need of making an official retraction.

Mambo Milosz

Ah, well I didn't mean to imply that the Radio 1 "radios" were any good, only that they *did* actually exist in SL last year :)

I am not actually expecting the Channel Four radios, should they appear, to set new standards in SL hardware - although I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

Now to see whether the virtual Dell is as good as the Pear...

SignpostMarv Martin

*Wonders how that little white box Bose makes would compare to the little white box any other Resident could make.

Chris Lassonde

Great article Hamlet. What I'm most curious about is this move towards anger based responses towards spurious claims of first. This isn't anywhere near the first medium where spurious claims are made nor will it be the last.

Having just gone through election coverage, I'm all too aware of the illegitimate claims individuals and groups can make. And yet the generally accepted response is to not engage that party in anger but to either ignore or calmly correct. I’m curious, in your reporting, did you come across an underlying reason for this different style of response? More importantly, is anger based responses working in this medium whereas it has traditionally not worked in other mediums?

Hamlet Au

Hard to say, but I'd have to guess that power imbalance and tone drives a large part of the anger. Some random dude shows up and excitedly proclaims he created X, he's likely to get politely corrected. Some giant corporation shows up, spouting jargon that suggests they only see this as an economic opportunity, *and* suggests they're first to create it-- bound to get a much different reaction.

SignpostMarv Martin

Citizens of a nation react differently to corporate invasion than they do to ass-hattery.

Rona Blackhawk

They're actually recruiting reporters in-world now, apparently through groups, soliciting email addys and personal resumes from potential applicants. Asked why his mystery client would make such a request by banging out a bushel of individual IMs instead of through a simple group notice, recruiter Monty Go replied that "they're old-fashioned.”

Initially secretive about who exactly he was working for, Mr. Go eventually revealed that it was the friendly folks at Axel Springer, and said “they need people like you to teach them” how to function in SL. It apparently never occurred to him to check my profile, which would have revealed my status as a newcomer.

Don’t get me wrong; trading in the RL job for one in SL definitely sounds appealing. Working as an in-world corporate whore, though? Perhaps more lucrative but certainly no more appealing than jumping on a pole—figurative or otherwise—in a virtual porn palace. But, hey … that’s just me, you know?

SignpostMarv Martin

Rona Blackhawk

Initially secretive about who exactly he was working for, Mr. Go eventually revealed that it was the friendly folks at Axel Springer, and said “they need people like you to teach them” how to function in SL

And here's me thinking that's what [F1] Help, the Volunteer System, Welcome Areas, and NCI classes were for.

It seems Gwyneth's idea for sponsored Mentors is needed not for corporations to gain traffic, publicity and of course, money- but is in fact needed to teach them to suck eggs RTFM tie their shoe laces learn how to use Second Life in the first place so they can come in and provide their low-quality services to our citizenry.

They need personal trainers.....

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