Books, music and education in Second Life

More metaversal antics from the world of books  – GalleyCat reports on publishers getting to grips with Second Life. Random House are going for the local library feel by starting a book discussion group for readers – with plans to get authors all av’d up and rolled out for digital meet-and-greets at some point down the line.

Transworld, however, seem to know the value of a good flame war. They’re screening a looped video of Richard ‘God Delusion’ Dawkins in-world talking about his latest controversial opus, and

“[o]utside the auditorium, Transworld have built two message walls, one for supporters of Dawkins’ thesis and one for the dissenters.”

That’ll be an interesting location to check out for the duration of the screenings, I’m thinking. Nothing like a faith fight to set the blood pressures soaring.


Meanwhile, The Guardian has been chatting to Philip Rosedale (aka Philip Linden) about Second Life, the runaway universe he has created. They try to draw him out on some hot topics, but he stays pretty cool under fire:

“TG: You are running a real economy but it is essentially a dictatorship, one headed by you, Philip Linden – as you are known in SL – the dictator.

PR: Yes, but it is a subtle question. If a country establishes a record of repossessing land for no real reason, then that colours the extent to which it’s a dictatorship. We haven’t done that. Could we shut the servers down if we get pissed off with somebody? Yes, we could do that but we haven’t and I think it is very unlikely that we will because it would so risk everything we have built.”

And on the porn issue?

TG: I understand that porn is the biggest part of the economy.

PR: I don’t think it’s the biggest, but it’s hard to tell. Some of the transactions are person to person and some are transactions from vending machines. Sometimes the transactions have some text that allows us to tell what it is but people are so inventive that we don’t always know.”

As if being based on porn did any harm to the original internet! For a guy who’s currently under fire from the press (and constantly under fire from his user base) he deals with PR pretty smoothly. But the sooner the open-source iterations of the software get going, the safer a position he’ll be in – talking a good game is fine, but pretending to be deaf has never helped any business. SL has some serious operational problems, and its regular population are getting very annoyed by being continually fobbed off with filigree while the bugs go unsquashed.


That’s not stopping people developing it as a platform for more than hyper-real kinky antics and combat sims, though. TerraNova has an interview with Rebecca Nesson, who is using SL as a platform environment for distance learning classes that have previously been run on websites and via email:

“I think that the Second Life had quite a lot of advantages for people. One of the main things is that Second Life really allowed us to create a sense of class community — something that develops fairly naturally in a face-to-face class. So students appeared at class and had that chance to meet each other, something that rarely, if ever, happens in distance education classes [using] previous technologies. And that helped keep students engaged in the class.”

Think about that for a second, and bear in mind the flood of overseas students that come to the UK (or the US) to be educated. That’s not a cheap proposition for, say, a Chinese or Korean family, even a well-off one. A virtual platform like SL could become a much cheaper way of getting the same education – why fly half-way round the globe when you can just log on to your PC for four or five hours a day? The world is getting flatter – and I don’t mean geographically.


And, as I keep saying, this will effect authors eventually. The effects of the internet and the Long Tail are already causing fundamental changes to the lives of independent musicians, for example:

“Along the way, [Jonathan] discovered a fact that many small-scale recording artists are coming to terms with these days: his fans do not want merely to buy his music. They want to be his friend. And that means they want to interact with him all day long online. They pore over his blog entries, commenting with sympathy and support every time he recounts the difficulty of writing a song. They send e-mail messages, dozens a day, ranging from simple mash notes of the “you rock!” variety to starkly emotional letters, including one by a man who described singing one of Coulton’s love songs to his 6-month-old infant during her heart surgery. Coulton responds to every letter, though as the e-mail volume has grown to as many as 100 messages a day, his replies have grown more and more terse, to the point where he’s now feeling guilty about being rude.”

I know a lot of writers resist the temptations of blogging for exactly that reason, and it’s a logical approach. Whether or not that invisibility will hinder their career (because nothing gets Google juice like blogging regularly) or help it (will an air of mystery have a cachet of cool in a transparent world?) remains to be seen.

But see it we will – and Second Life (or something like it) will be the next step on from this, as Jason Stoddard suggests. New formats for a new era, perhaps?

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