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My first sixteen hours in Second Life

December 6th, 2007 · 2 Comments

Beads of sweat had begun to appear on Business Futurist Craig Rispin’s forehead. It was a combination of factors – stage lights; a heavy purple jacket; and enthusiasm. It was late 2006 and Rispin was holding court at the Last Thursday Club marketing event. A keynote slide on Second Life (SL) appeared on the screen behind him. Were these marketers even aware that SL existed? He feigned surprise when he was greeted by a sea of shaking heads. Of course they didn’t know. Here was yet another opportunity for connection and innovation and it was passing marketers by. Rispin hit his remote. A movie lifted from the internet began playing on the screen.

A woman’s voice introduced the crowd to Second Life, a world where anything is possible. A world that is built by its community; complete with its own real-world tradable currency, the Linden. 3D images of human-looking characters communicating in giant cities danced across the screen. It looked like a typical street scene in a busy city, until on of the characters leapt into the air and began to fly. Internet based; real money changing hands, human-like characters that can fly. “People spend real money in this thing?”, quizzed an audience member.” The speaker nodded his head. “There is a lot of money is in this thing, and major brands are moving in.” Behind Rispin, the video’s poster frame made the pitch: Second Life – Your World, Your Imagination.

It seemed bizarre to me. Was this really a vision of the future that excited people? Sitting at our computers connecting in a high-tech, low touch environment? In a nation with fast growing rates of obesity and depression, was remaining virtually motionless and physically isolated for long periods of time really what we needed?

Rispin impressed me and his speech on future trends was engaging, but I couldn’t match his enthusiasm when it came to virtual worlds. “I’ve got enough in my first life, thanks” summed it up nicely, and a quick search of the expression “First Life” on Google indicated these sentiments were shared by others. Check out getafirstlife.com for a one page parody.
My first life carried on without a 3D virtual world interruption for almost a year.

A few weeks ago, entrepreneur and event convenor, Vicki Prout began enthusing about the potential of  SL and virtual worlds via email. She was promoting an upcoming workshop she was convening on that very topic. Vicki doesn’t do things by halves, so she had decided to import Californian Second Life guru Dell Wolfensparger to run the program.

Since Craig has spoken back in 2006, millions more people had registered and tried out SL. Not everyone stayed, but some had, and there were thousands of active users doing business and having fun in this virtual world. As a communication futurist, it was time I went and explored.

Dell Wilberg and Teami Zeami stood in Venice having a conversation. They weren’t real in an analogue sense, but in a digital sense they existed. They were conversing. Dell Wilberg wore a cowboy hat and talked about the architecture around them. Teami Zeami, bald and handsome, listened intently.

Dell Wolfensparger and Tim Longhurst sat in a corporate training room on George St, Sydney. They were real in an analogue sense, but at this moment, they existed more digitally than in any other way. Dell wore a cowboy hat and tapped at a keyboard. Tim was bald, handsome and reading, preparing to tap back.

The training room was filled with a mix of communication and education professionals. In SL, we were each represented by avatars. I adjusted my settings to have my avatar look as much like me as possible, but most of the others didn’t bother modifying their avatars at this early stage. Our avatars were exploring Venizia, a ‘sim’ based on the real world Venice that was designed by Wolfensparger.

Prior to entering the training room, it is fair to say that I was apprehensive about a game that appeared to have relatively poor graphics (I’m from the Xbox Generation) and that I guessed was designed to suck the money out of thousands of sedentary fools.

NOTE: This post is to be continued. It’s in draft form, but I have to go and do real world work… I thought I’d post it incomplete because I’d rather get this out there and finish it soon… In the next installment – how I spent my 16 hours in Second Life…

Footnote regarding Craig Rispin: Soon after seeing him speak at Last Thursday Club, I met Craig at Australia’s futurist convention, Ausforesight, in November 2006. Our conversation quickly moved to the topic of how he was now able to take his ideas all over the world through speaking. He’s been a great friend and collegue this year and he has been a great adviser to me regarding my consulting business. Even though I’d describe him as a turbo capitalist and he’d probably describe me as a serial activist, we get along like a house on fire.

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Category: Communication and connection

Question: Is online media dumbing down journalism?

October 18th, 2007 · 5 Comments

Answer: Depends who you ask.

Last night, a group of media types filled a lecture theatre at UTS to examine this question. Speakers included Liz Jackson and Peter McEvoy from ABC, Dylan Welch from SMH Online and Catherine Lumby from the University of Sydney.

Having digested what they all had to say, let me summarise the 100 minutes worth of talking with a few points:

According to Welch, Journalism may be so broadly defined as to include the guy who runs down the street and tells you there’s a fire
According to McEvoy, a YouTube video of someone ‘coming out’ in an edited piece to camera is so powerful that it stands as evidence that online media isn’t necessarily dumbing down anything.
According to Jackson investigative journalism has been under threat since the move to 24 hour news cycles (think CNN) and online media represents more pressure on that aspect of journalism.

As an online journalist at a company that still prints newspapers, Dylan Welch seemed best positioned to talk about newpapers vs news websites, at least for Fairfax. He talked about the weekday audience for SMH online doubling the paper’s audience (ie. 500 000 online readers vs. 250 000 newspapers sold), but only achieving 5-10% of the newspaper’s ad revenue.

The ability to accurately measure exactly what articles are being read was also a focus of Welch’s presentation.

What has happened to newspapers could be summed up as follows: once upon a time newspapers were sold as three course meals, and no one really knew what was being eaten – the entré, the main or the dessert (or all three?). Now we can measure readers, it turns out most people are just interested in the dessert. So does that mean you just focus on desserts and stop making nutritious mains? Or does it mean you have to work harder to make the mains more appetising?

It seemed to me the room last night was full of people that just love to eat vegetables. They know how good vegetables are for them and they’ve acquired a taste. Now they’re nervous – if people are only eating dessert, what does that mean for the health of democracy? or ‘public discourse’? And more importantly, if we’re the only ones eating vegetables, who’s going to be paying for them?

Should I feel bad that I’ve ‘dumbed down’ an intellectual debate to the point where it is about vegetables vs. sweets? Because I don’t.

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Category: Communication and connection

Search engines vs. social networks

October 2nd, 2007 · No Comments

How we consume media is important to Mike Walsh because the vast majority of the clients he lists are Australian media companies. In his most recent post, he links the growth of social networking sites to the future of Electronic Program Guides, but he’s at his best when he sums up the impact social networking sites are having on our experiences:

If Google solved the problem of finding things you were looking for, networks will help us discover the things we didn’t know we wanted.

What you know will depend on who you know.

Read more at Network Narcotics.

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Category: Communication and connection

JasJam – Fairfax’s digital tool of choice

September 21st, 2007 · No Comments

Word is that many journalists at Fairfax Media (publishes of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald have now received i-mate Jasjam training.

You can use the Jasjam to edit documents, record movies and take photos. Lots of products do that these days, but that’s Fairfax’s choice…

Check out cnet’s Jasjam review for more details.

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Category: Media Mayhem

Future of Media – this Thursday

May 27th, 2007 · No Comments

Join me for breakfast on Thursday – I will be speaking on one of my favourite topics – “The Future of Media” at the City Business Swap in Sydney. It’s a 7.30am start, so needless to say coffee is included!

The Future of Media
The ways Australians are entertained and informed are changing rapidly. In this session, Tim Longhurst will highlight emerging trends in the new media landscape and identify the consequences for business. You will see the video credited with shifting Rupert Murdoch’s attitude to the future of media and explore the websites early-adopters are already using for their information and entertainment.

About Tim Longhurst
Tim is a communication strategist and culture jammer. As a communication strategist he has helped global brands develop and implement online communication programs. As a culture jammer he has used new media technologies to transform the business practices of several large corporations from the outside. He blogs at timlonghurst.com


City Business Swap meets every Thursday at All Seasons Premier Menzies Hotel,
14 Carrington Street Sydney (above Wynyard Station)

More details and registration at the City Business Swap website.

I’ve been told the City Business Swap is a particularly energetic group – I think it will be a fun breakfast – I hope you can make it!

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Category: Tim's Projects