Tateru Nino's weekly take on mixed reality...
I scored an opportunity to visit AOL Pointe during the Beta test phase, and gave myself a bit of a tour. I was expecting a big business branding-exercise that would leave me with a bit of a foul taste in my mouth, and in that respect I was a bit disappointed-- within a few minutes I was entertained and engaged. There's no mistaking that it's AOL, but this doesn't seem to be basic push-marketing or marketing at all, in the conventional sense. Could this be someone "getting it"?
Also, this week we'll be talking about the Lotusphere 2007 conference, French politics, Swedish embassies, the annual WEF meeting in Switzerland, missing NASA footage, and a Chinese photojournalist's exhibition of Japanese photography. More on all of these after the fold.
Mixed Reality ... Marketing?
AOL's AOL Pointe island looks and feels more like a theme park (in a good way) than a sterile, self-serving branding exercise. It all seems to be well-constructed and entertaining, heavy on outlets for themed media, relaxation and general fun. It's as if someone had thought "What's missing, and what are businesses doing wrong? How can we figure out what people want and give it to them?" One of the first things that struck me was the suggestion book-- it can be woefully difficult or impossible to figure out how to get feedback to the businesses behind some of the existing builds.
There's a large number of theaters and screens for on-demand media. It's all themed, with selections of music videos in one place, extreme sports clips in another and so on. A central theater space has videos on a fixed schedule, 24x7. It will be interesting to see what sort of content goes on there.
Aside from the video outlets, there's a variety of entertainments for individuals and groups (although there's a great club space that caught my eye and that I really would like to go back to with friends) which seems to fill a niche where Second Life has sorely been lacking. Some of the activities are just fun, while some offer the possibility of winning Linden Dollars. Would you rather camp on a dance-mat/camping chair for your Linden Dollars, or go crazy in the skate park, picking up L$ for your mad skillz?
AOL's logo and branding is certainly present but not central, and for the most part I had a whale of a time playing around. It's the sort of place I'd wished businesses made in Second Life, and now there is one. I didn't feel overwhelmed by branding, or products, or bored knotless in a stale and unimaginative environment. Quite the contrary, I'm looking forward to having the time to go back.
If AOL is serious about this venture, it could be a seriously advantageous investment. If they take the feedback on board and adapt to the Second Life community, they could end up practically learning more about the applicability of online worlds to business in a year than a hundred other bandwagon-jumpers might in five, if ever.
AOL doesn't have a grand history of being first in technology and service spheres, being more of a follower than a leader. I'm guessing they're eyeballing virtual worlds, and looking to learn faster than anyone else. It's interesting to see how this approach diverges from that of IBM.
Disclosure: AOL is an indirect employer of mine through Second Life Insider (owned by AOL's Weblogs Inc), but If I thought their stuff stunk, I'd say so.
Mixed Reality Conferences
Speaking of IBM, their Lotusphere 2007 conference took place this week, both in Orlando and in Second Life. According to the event's publicist, the event attracted 1,200 unique avatars to the online convention site in IBM's miniature continent, boosting the event's attendance by approximately 20%. It allowed people who were otherwise unable to attend the event physically to participate to ask questions of the Lotus experts in attendance and generally partake in the flavor and social networking of this annual conference.
Joe Kingsbury from IBM notes that Second Life enabled certain kinds of interaction that were not otherwise possible. When a misunderstanding occurred among Second Life attendees watching the the streamed keynote speech, Lotus staff on hand were able to step into the discussion, clarify the issue, and give correct information. While this is a good thing, I can also hear the slavering sounds of some companies who prefer their messages to be tightly controlled end-to-end, looking for ways of heading off negative impressions of their products - I can imagine that we'll be seeing more of that sort of thing soon enough.
Kingsbury believes that it won't be too long before "avatars in Second Life will be able to leverage social software, such as Lotus Connections" to increase the quality and efficiacy of their interactions.
Social networking software tools. Are they really a panacea? Seems to me a lot of those initiatives have fallen mighty flat in recent years, or have largely amounted to "gang colors" showing association, rather than providing any long-term useful tools that justify the costs.
Mixed Reality Imagery
I must say that Dalian Hansen is perhaps one of the twenty most interesting people in Second Life that I wish I had more time for. His eye and artistry have been key for the photography and layouts in Second Life Business Magazine, and he once he spent a whole day directing a real world photo shoot to get a shot of some green jello (alas, it has this annoying tendency to melt under hot lighting, just as you've got everything right). Dalian has an exhibition on in Second Life at the moment.
Hansen is a RL resident of China, he's had more than his fair share of Internet difficulties, ranging from ideological ones to earthquakes, and yet managed to find ways to use Second Life as an outlet for his artistry, and persevere as Creative Director of Second Life Business Magazine, giving it a unique and professional visual style, until its recent switch to more of a blog format.
[email protected] are hosting his Hansen's latest photographic exhibition under his RL name, Song Li. The exhibition is intriguingly titled Japan in Pink; Japan in Gray. Japan In Pink concentrates on images from the annual sakura (Cherry Blossom Tree) blooms around the country.
Japan In Gray is a personal assortment of black-and-white prints.
Between them, they highlight the dichotomies of influence in modern Japan. They also reveal a little something about Hansen. The choice of subject, angle and selection says a lot about the creative spirit and the soul of the artist. Hansen pours himself into his creative works, and it shows. The exhibit is open until February, and worth visiting, even if you don't find Hansen as intriguing and huggable as I do.
Mixed Reality Politics
Isn't it interesting that mayors and congressmen, governors and judges, political and social activists can come to Second Life, have their day in the sun newswise, but when Front National, and the French Presidential candidate get involved in Second Life, the mainstream media produce more column inches about them in a week, than all the others combined?
Segolene Royal's presidential campaign has come into Second Life on the heels of Front National, and while I'm not aware of Royal having actually appeared, the space that has been built as her Second Life campaign office is busy most hours of the day, frequented by French residents of all political denominations. Perhaps the French care more about their politics and politicians than Americans do about their own.
Meanwhile, the Sweden Institute announced plans to open an embassy in Second Life. Yes, this would usually be the jurisdiction of the department of foreign affairs, but this is not to be a diplomatic or ambassadorial effort, but more a bureau for tourism and research.
Stefan Geens said in a comment on VERN, "I do think a metaverse is coming, and we'd like to start getting our expertise sooner rather than later. SL citizens will be our de facto focus groups, so we can start figuring out what works and what doesn't."
Mixed Reality Memes
This week Davos, Switzerland has been the place to be if you wanted to salivate about Second Life in public, or wanted to look hip about Metaverses in general. With the theme for this year's WEF meeting being "The Shifting Power Equation", Adam Reuters has been run off his feet interviewing anyone and everyone who could be represented by an avatar and given an interview.
Interviews ranged from Arianna Huffington, author and founder of the Huffington Post (whose excellent contributor Eureka Dejavu can be found in world), to Swedish entrepreneur Niklas Zennstrom, co-founder of Skype, Kazaa and Altnet.
Really, though, Adam Reuter's interviews though an eclectic mixed bag, are worth the attention this week, especially if you're interested in hearing Second Life interviews with (for example) musician Peter Gabriel, or Linden Lab chairman Mitch Kapor. If, on the other hand you are interested in the notes from this year's WEF sessions, you can find them online here.
Mixed Reality Messups
While the first Lunar landing, and the attendant images and footage beamed back represented one of mankind's most notable achievements to-date, mislaying the pristine footage of the event and giving rise to generations of conspiracy theories comes a close second.
Wired Magazine's David Kushner, appearing in Second Life as Renshuk Smagulov, gave a presentation to an enthralled audience on how the imagery was captured, recorded and ultimately lost, in what must be one of mankind's greatest screw-ups (unless you perhaps count direct-mail, infomercials and software patents - or is that just me?). Links to the footage and a recreation of the Lunar landing site are still in place, so check them out, even if you missed the event.
Got a mixed reality tip for Tateru? E-mail her at [email protected].