How to make a fool of yourself at a press conference

You arrive more than legally late due to practical problems and just want to sneak in quietly and find a seat somewhere in the back without anyone noticing. Yet, once you arrive, you end up basking wildly in the air, unable to control your movements, for several seconds. Finally on ground, you miss your chosen chair and almost sit down in someones lap.

Yes, I was in Second Life (SL), and it was all because the software was so slow to respond to my instructions after I'd spent ages downloading the latest updates (which crashed once or twice, hence my late arrival in the first place. And I'm far from blaming SL as such, my internet connection is volatile and just suffered a major internet blackout the day before).

But since this was the first Norwegian press conference in Second Life, for the launch of Kamimo, the virtual campus of Molde University College, and partners University of Kalmar and Central University of Missouri, there was a story even in the failure of some journalists to handle this environment (some didn't even take the trouble of creating their own avatars, just followed the launch safe behind the computer screens of more SL savy folks, while I was out there making a fool of myself).

I certainly let myself down here, big time. Particularly since I've navigated SL well enough for interviews, seminars and launches on previous occasions. Next time I'll make sure to check for SL updates before the day starts, or at least two hours before the event.

My avatar, lost in dark thoughts

Politicians Not Welcome

It's tough being a politician in Second Life. Despite the allure of a fabulous new and PR-friendly marketing platform, it's not quite the controlled environment they are used to, where policemen and security guards swiftly can be called in to deal with 'undesired elements'. Hell, it's unlike any other environment most politicians are used to, and many have found that 'interacting with digitial users' didn't take on quite the form they had bargained for:

At the start of this week, The Guardian reported how 'Italians seeking respite in cyberspace from the surreal world of Italian politics were fighting plans by a minister to build a campaign headquarters in there.' A more unpleasant surprise awaited US Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards at the start of last week, when his Second Life HQ was vandalized by Republican Second Lifers and haunted by a feces spewing obscenity. Then of course there's was Le Pen's brand new HQ in the virtual world that was bombarded with flying pigs a while back (still, it must have compared quite favourably to Le Pen's frequent experiences of being bombarded with rotten eggs in real life).

John Edwards' Second Life HQ vandalized

"This is the modern-day equivalent of hippies freaking out the squares. You see countless news stories about this, over and over again: the gray humourless drones of political parties or corporations rushing to establish a presence in Second Life because it's the thing to do, only to find themselves staring directly into the collective of the Internet's soul," wrote John Brownlee in Wired's Table of Malcontents, but one of his readers put it more bluntly in the comments:

"The way I look at it is that political idiots entered a realm that they do not and care not to understand. This would be like jumping in to World of Warcraft and expecting people to care about your political agenda... we just don't care."

Of course, politicians are neither the only ones, nor the first, who have met with 'violet' protests in this virtual world. CNET takes a closer look at Second Life 'grassroot activism' here.

The weird and wonderful world of Second Life journalism

Guess this won't come as a big surprise to anyone, but reporting in or from a virtual world like Second Life brings new challenges and opportunities, both for 'real life' media organisations with bureaus there, like Reuters and CNET, and for the news outlets that only serve the virtual community. For one, whether or not to quote Second or Real life identities in the reporting is a bit of an issue, but only for 'real life' media organisations it seems:

For wholly virtual reporters like Pixeleen Mistral, the question of real-world identities isn't even addressed -- perhaps not surprising for a journalist who herself is only known by a handle. "My reporting is about the world inside Second Life, and I confirm with the sources in world," she explained in an e-mail. "It introduces more confusion to drag the real-life person into the scene. It might depend on the story, but if you want to cover transgendered furries [avatars that look like the plush animal costumes of theme parks], getting a real-life name and contact might be hard."

For more on the joys and ethical dilemmas of virtual journalism, and an introduction to some Second Life media hubs, check out this enlightening article from Editor&Publisher.

Update 18/02: A few days after the article in Editor&Publisher appeared, interviewed Adam Adamreuters1_3
Reuters, Reuter's dedicated Second Life correspondent, who provided even more insights into reporting from the virtual world. In some respects it's not that different from a regular beat he said, his experiences certainly higlighted the value for reporters of getting out and about and talking to sources rather than getting stuck in an office, real or virtual. However, 'though still a beat in the old sense - even if you do fly between appointments - virtual world reporting has brought a new set of challenges. "We had to make a few changes to our editorial practises because we're talking to people who are in essence anonymous - at least in terms of their real life identities." Read the full interview here.

Swedes flock to Second Life

Riding on the hype from a potential launch of a Swedish Embassy in Second Life, the first Swedish paper has bought a piece of property in the virtual world. Last Friday, the Swedish daily Sydsvenskan launched its own island in Second Life: a nice little place where Swedes from the Southern part of the country, which the newspaper covers, can meet and hang out (via Media Culpa).

Interesting. I can't say I'm too convinced by the soundness of this idea, not dissimilar to MTV's recent 'virtual' efforts to revive a rather tired media brand: create a place to hang out in Second Life, a place some would argue may be just a wee bit overhyped.

Le Pen's new virtual HQ bombarded with exploding pigs

It was only a matter of time ...with the corporate world flocking to virtual worlds to evangelise about its products, and big media following close on the heels, the politicos were bound to arrive at some point. "Violent clashes have erupted" after Le Pen's National Front set up shop in Second Life, The Guardian reports today. Of course, this is not the first time Second Life citizens stage violent protests, as the story of virtual property magnate Anshe Chung illustrates.

So is Second Life the next big arena marketers and politicians need to conquer in order to stay on top of their game? The actual number of visitors and residents have been subject to some debate, and it's not an easy world to manoeuvre in, it takes a lot of time to adjust - time being a very limited commodity for some of us. It is, however, a great place for lectures, seminars and global education, just don't expect the virtual world to be a freehaven for all sorts of political persuasions - after all, Second Life citizens don't differ much from their real life counterparts.

Second Life learning

Imagine a world where you could get your Harvard education via your computer in Timbuktu, or vote and propose new amendments in the virtual city hall, without ever having to leave your armchair. Those were the key sentiments I took away from this talk (picture below) on how virtual worlds may impact on real life. I was particularly taken by these lines: " involving the citizens in cyberdemocracy they learn more about the system, building both consent and legitimacy for decisions they have taken a more active role in. The gains made in efficiency from adopting information technology are secondary to this benefit."


Off to Second Life

Virtual worlds are not normally something I'd have the time or inclination to play around with, but tonight I'm attending a seminar about The New Virtual Frontier in Second Life. The place has received a lot of media coverage recently, especially after Reuters set up shop there, and some of it has caused angry rebuttals from long-time Second Life residents, so I'll be a bit careful with how I phrase this: Swedish think tank Eudoxa claims to hold the first public policy institute seminar in the virtual world Second Life tonight at 7pm Central Europe time. That sounds like a bit of an adventure to me, and since I love adventures and am always curious about the new and untested, I couldn't pass up on this opportunity, even though I have two of my favourite people staying with me this weekend (which probably means I'm turning into a bit of a geek):

Okay, landed on the wrong side of the island where the lecture is held due to a bug of some sort, so one of the main organisers told me. Managed to walk to conference hall, but this life/avatar is all new to me so can't even walk straight and have absolutely no clue as to how to make my avatar sit down, ah... that's how to do it...

At this point I realise that my internet connection is simply not good enough to attend a lecture in Second Life and blog it at the same time. Besides, how do I turn on the sound, that is, not the background music, but the lecture? I did make one previous research trip to the lecture hall to make sure I would find my way there when the lecture was on, but there are many more obstacles for a newbie in this world to deal with than I had anticipated. For one, at times when I stand up, my avatar appears to scratch what would have been its groin, had it been a man, without me touching anything on the keyboard. Rather embarrassing that, perhaps a sign that the software was developed by men...

Still the quality of the software is pretty impressive, and though you do feel a bit like you are entering an alien world where the gravitation is such that you have to relearn how to do even the most basic things, like walking, it sure beats having to get on an airplane to catch an interesting lecture.

I expect I might be back for similar events in the future, but as my friends whisk me away for a rare weekend off work, I doubt very much I'd ever find the time to do more than attend the odd lecture in Second Life (notes on the lecture will follow later).

Update: a few impressions, and picture, from the event here