Introduction to Second Life - Isn't One Life Enough?
A Personal Journey into Another World
Second Life (SL) is a three-dimensional web platform, run by Linden Labs, that blends graphics, online commerce, gaming elements and social networking into a single platform. The site allows users to create their own alter ego or ‘avatar’ in an online virtual world and frequently makes headlines in the media.
I have always resisted the temptation to try Second Life for the same reason I avoid gaming. It takes up valuable time and I already spend too long hunched over a PC at work and at home doing stuff like writing HubPages.
The standard argument against SL goes something like this: “I’m busy enough with my first life, I don’t need a second one in the virtual world!”
So Why Did I Recently Enter Second Life?
Well I’m a training specialist and the training and education world appear to be taking SL increasingly seriously so I decided I must try it. I admit that, a week after entering SL, I am already slightly hooked. Every day that passes, my view of the possibilities of SL and other virtual worlds increases.
That's not to say that SL has its fair share of frustrations and idiosyncrasies. Typical problems are the world 'freezes' for short periods, particularly if there are more than 20 avatars in the area, avatars at first appear gray and your session sometimes crashes and you have to log in again.
In spite of this, I believe that online virtual world technologies, like SL, have tremendous promise. I am coming around to believing that SL (or its successors) will revolutionise the way we use the web in the next 5 to 10 years.
Before I tell you a little more about SL, you may be wondering if I’m about to suggest we at HubPages all ‘up sticks’ and head for SL, leaving our Hubs behind to gather dust in the old World. Well just to reassure you, the fact I’m still here writing Hubs should tell you this is not the case. However, I believe that sites like HubPages may well end up with a presence in SL (or other virtual worlds) in the future.
The key message I've got so far from Second Life is that ideally we shouldn’t put a virtual world before the real world.
However, I believe we can use Second life to learn and so make this life better and we can save an incredible amount of energy in the process!
So What is Second Life All About?
IBM is investing millions of dollars in the 3D Internet virtual world and other spaces, including some 25 islands in Second Life. IBM is not alone. An increasing number of corporate heavy hitters like Sun, Dell, British Petroleum and Intel are transferring their training programs to Second Life. News organisations like Reuters also have a presence in Second Life.
Hundreds of colleges and universities, including Harvard, are already teaching classes in Second Life. Scores of universities have entire campuses in the virtual world. Clearly, many of the world’s largest organizations believe that Second Life is going to be a big part of their futures.
Second Life is more than just a training and education medium and can be an integral part of an organisation’s culture. Companies such as IBM allow employees from around the globe to meet and network within company space in SL.
SL also has its own currency, the Linden dollar, which can be exchanged for first world dollars, enabling first world companies to invest in SL and entrepreneurs in SL to bring their earnings back into the real world. There are already people who are US dollar millionaires based on earnings in Linden dollars.
Currently, however, SL salaries are a small fraction of real world salaries making trading in SL a little like doing business in a third-world country. SL is somewhat like the pioneering days of North America before independence. This lack of regulation brings risks as well as benefits.
How Do You Move Around and Communicate?
Avatars can walk around or drive a vehicle but the preferred means of transport is either flying or teleporting instantly from location to location. This makes meetings very easy (and cheap). Incidentally, SL is very green because the only energy expended is electricity used to power servers, network hardware and user’s computers.
Communication is either by voice or typed ‘chat’. Voice is 3D so you can locate the speaker spatially and the relative volume indicates how near or far away they are. Once you know how you can also create objects and move them around.
I’ve had some embarrassing moments already unleashing aggressive Darleks into a learning space called a sandbox and worse, activating a whole solar system that went wrong when I accidentally deleted the Sun, releasing the planets to fly off in all directions (but more on that another time).
Self Portrait of Rik in Second Life
So How Did I Find It?
It’s fairly easy to sign up and the basic membership is free. You need to check your computer is of sufficient specification; in particular you need a reasonably good graphics card. You also need a broadband connection. The SL client is downloaded to your machine.
Navigating around is pretty confusing when you first enter SL but there are lots of (unpaid) helpers around to offer advice (via onscreen chat) when you arrive at Orientation Island. You can soon start making money (which I did) via something called camping or money trees. I made over $100L before I realized you don’t really need money at all when you are starting out as there is so much free stuff available. Unless you want to wear this years fashions, then a box of freebie clothes is fine. Or you can be a 'furry' creature and dispense with clothes altogether!
As I teleported between money trees I began to find that they were often based in learning centers where there were loads of free stuff available in special stores. I then discovered a so called junkyard the size of Macy's in New York, packed full of boxes of free ‘stuff’.
One problem with SL is that because it has only been going for about 3 years, it is still a relatively immature platform and a large proportion of the active inhabitants are, I suspect, geeks. You observe around you lots of 'beautiful people' chatting endlessly about 'prims' and scripting. (It would be cool if the online profile of each advatar including a real world photo!)
Ohio University Campus in Second Life
What kind of stuff can you pick up for free? I hear you ask.
Human bodies male and female, clothes (some from well know designer labels in the real world), hairstyles, cars, furniture, planes, houses and a pair of Darleks (from Dr Who, a UK Sci Fi show) who fight one another (the looser explodes) leaving debris all around. Oh and I forgot, the Solar System. You probably think I’ve lost it a bit but this is all true, honest.
The landscapes are fabulous. You can visit places like Lothlorien from Lord of the Rings, amazing Japanese gardens and incredible buildings. But the most amazing thing for me, as an education specialist, are the immense possibilities for LEARNING.
There are many locations where people are busy building incredible structures and sharing ideas. I’ve already observed some amazing learning sessions where the teacher acts as a facilitator. But there is also loads of self-paced learning material available (free). For example, video screens you can zoom in on (you have control of an invisible camera which determines what appears on your screen), large books that you can flick through or graphics screens you can page through. There are also museums and galleries you can visit full of art, science exhibits and other learning material.
Me, Rik Airborne on a Pyramid I Created
Second Life Links
- Second Life Education and Learning Opportunities
Check out my new Second Life Hub which features the learning possibilities of Virtual Worlds.
- Second Life
The Official Site
Where you'll find Weird, old technology and a generous dash of Glamour RETROTECH – Where old fashioned girls, planes, trains, stocking tops, phones and computers merge RETROTECH where everything (including the girls) are bigger, better and sexier
- Wikipedia entry for Second Life
- Reuters in Second Life
- Another Hubber, Stacie's Perspective on SL and Education
- HubPages Forum Topic under 'Education' on Second Life
I set up a forum thread too
Second Life Summary
That's enough to be going on with. Here is a brief summary of my impressions so far:
- Second Life is not just a game (although gamers do use it)
- It is full of learning, education and training opportunities (See my SL Education Hub)
- It provides radical social networking
- It is stimulating and fun
- It is also very ascetically pleasing – architecture is incredible and gardens stunning
- Second Life is part of the real-world economy
- SL is very 'green' (ie almost zero carbon footprint)
- SL basic membership is free
- It is largely inhabited by techie people
- It is not particularly user friendly for non-techies
- It is slightly unstable, slows down when traffic is high, has a few bugs and is prone to occasional crashes
- It is not optimised for either training, social networking or gaming
What do other Hubbers think?
- Is SL just for geeks?
- Will it last or is it just a passing fad?
- Will it be superceeded by other Virtual World platforms?
Why not leave a comment and let the rest of us know what you think. I'll probably write more on Second Life in the near future. Check out U-Tube if you want to explore SL further. There are loads of informative videos if you search on 'Second Life'.
Better still, go there in person and be younger and better looking and it won't cost you a penny!