Yesterday I formally shut-down my other website Betterverse.org. Betterverse has been a labor of love for the past three years, so I'm of mixed emotions about wrapping it up.
On the one hand, it's been wonderful having an outlet for spotlighting all the amazing work that nonprofits, charities, companies and governments have been doing using virtual world technology. It seamlessly integrated into other work I was doing in virtual worlds for Global Kids, TechSoup and others. And it was for the most part enjoyable and easy.
But over the past year, it started to feel like more of a slog just uncovering new stories and new angles on older topics. I think partly it was because the shiny new-ness of the technology was starting to fade. But also I think I my own interests have been drifting in other directions.
In the past couple of months, I felt like I was doing it just to keep doing it, which is a terrible motivation for doing anything.
I am happy to announce that the documentary "When Strangers Click" has been nominated for an Emmy in the category "New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming"! Directed by Robert Kenner, director of "Food Inc," the film explores how people are connecting with each other on the Internet, whether it be on a dating site, a message board or a virtual world.
I am proud of my involvement as a consultant on this documentary, helping wrangle some of the love stories that were considered for use in the film and advising the director about how to think about virtual worlds. I hope it wins, which it totally deserves.
[Link to the list of nominees for the 33rd annual Emmy awards.]
"Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they learned about the contest."
-- Opening sentence of Ready Player One
I finally got around to reading Ready Player One, by Earnest Cline, after friends told me I had to read it. A near future scifi adventure, Ready Player One imagines a world that has become so polluted, poverty-stricken and corrupt that the only escape is in the virtual world.
"Oasis" is the name of a global immersive online universe that is a combination of an open ended virtual world like Second Life and a massively multiplayer online game like World of Warcraft. People lead their entire lives inside of Oasis, going to school, socializing with their friends, and holding jobs there.
The story revolves around the search for an "Easter Egg" in the game of unimaginable value. One young man who lives in a trailer park dreams of finding the Egg, but he competes against millions of other players who seek it.
I updated my Work Portfolio to make it easier for people to see my most recent professional accomplishments in one place. Like this blog (and my life!), it covers a wide range of projects and disciplines, from virtual worlds to public speaking. And there's of course a lot I didn't include, since I've had such a wide ranging (and sometimes strange) career path. But my goal is to capture in a quick snapshot the most relevant, recent highlights of my work.
Rod Humble is the recently hired CEO of Linden Lab, the makers of the virtual world Second Life. Rod is most well known for his gaming background at EA and Sony Online, working on the wildly popular "Sims" lie and Everquest respectively. So expectations are high for what he might do for Second Life as a platform.
But a quick look at his profile on SecondLife.com reveals what an interesting guy he is in general. In Second Life you can indicate your interests and then see who else shares those interests, at least as tags. Here's some of Rod Humble's:
Miniature, board and computer wargames
Russian History 1918-1953
and Cellular Automata
I mean, who wouldn't want to have dinner with that guy? So geeky cool.
And his Second Life bio states simply "I am a n00b." Which is his way of saying, I'm new to this virtual worlds thing, so be gentle. Scroll down for his real world bio, and it similarly states, "I am also a n00b in real life :)". LOL.
On Saturday night, my buddy Hamlet and I checked out the Bootie Mashup Party at DNA Lounge in San Francisco, the grand-daddy of all mashup events in the country. This was an especially appropriate night for Hamlet and I to be there since they were simulcasting their party into Second Life, at the hip Club Republik (teleport link).
Hamlet and I arrived at around 9:45 to a mostly empty club. We met with Miss Keela, who was in the control deck, managing the Second Life simulcast and the projection of Second Life onto large screens in the DNA Lounge. Later another engineer from Linden Lab joined us in the booth to help with something technical. So that was a lot of Second Life geeks in one dance club.
Coming into day four of my Singapore adventure. Definitely getting a feel for the place: and I have to say, it's a really good feeling.
Work has started in earnest on the project I am here to lead, a couple of virtual world education workshops for an international client. Singapore is kind of an ideal environment for doing a cutting edge tech project, since they have such advanced technical infrastructure and a very educated and tech friendly local population. The facilities where I am running the Second Life demos are some of the best equipped I have ever worked with. And the people are incredibly accomodating and efficient. I wish all my work projects could have this kind of support.
Meanwhile, I am continuing to enjoy exploring the city, going out dancing with folks from the lindy hop scene, and eating at fantastic restaurants and food stalls everywhere. The local dancers have been super friendly, taking me out for meals, driving me places, and showing me around. This is one of the nicest swing scenes I've ever encountered.
Tonight we're doing a full run through of the main activity I'm leading here. Then I'm off for the main dance the "Swing Fling," followed by a "shim sham" flash mob in celebration of Frankie Manning's birthday today. Should be a lot of fun!
I'm simply blown away by "A Journey Into the Metaverse," a "mixed reality" video created by French filmmaker Tutsy Navarantha . He combines lush machinima footage shot in the virtual world of Second Life with equally surreal real life footage of India to create something completely new, unique and personal.
I have been thinking about the concept of the "avatar," a Hindu term roughly translating as a god manifesting in human form. Navarantha explores the connections between his virtual self and his real life self, who controls who, and what is the line between real and virtuality. The way that he blends the two realities and draws the viewer into his personal worlds is so brilliant.
It reminds me of the rich conversation we had with Philip Rosedale and Amos Mac in April at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts about the "customizable body" and multiple identities. I left that discussion realizing that these different tools of expression can lead us toward a much truer understanding and public manifestation of ourselves. Put another way, in a post-physical world we can become our avatars.
I'm also in the middle of reading Infinite Reality by Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson. These two researchers share their findings on how human psychology is effected by virtual representations of the self as much as physical ones. I.e. taller avatars make you more confident, uglier ones make you feel shame. The brain simply doesn't differentiate between realities, you experience them all as happening to you.
Like Navarantha, I am fascinated by what is happening to our psyches, our identities, our spirits, as our lives are lived and experienced in these intersecting but distinct realities. I'm not even convinced if these changes are good or bad, but they are happening in real time.
I love events that juxtapose seemingly disparate topics like transgender photography and virtual worlds. It became a wonderfully free-form and honest mash-up of ideas and experiences that the 80-some people there really engaged with. I think it helped that Rosedale and Mac are such winning personalities with unique and fresh perspectives on technology and identity. And that their interlocutors Tom Boellstoerff and Michelle Tea were so skillful at teasing out the most interesting ideas and opinions from those two.
It was also a nice use of the mixed-reality, as the event was beamed into the Metanomics virtual talk show space and then projected onto a big screen. So the avatars could see the humans and the humans could see the avatars!
I won't attempt to summarize what Philip and Amos talked about, since it was a rather free-ranging discussion. Hopefully someone else will make available video or notes from their talks. Check out Amy Higgin's neat Storify of the event, that mashes up different images and tweets during the talks.
My main takeaway relates to how technology affords humans expanded means of expression, personal development, identity exploration, and connections with others. And it let's a shy, short middle-aged dude become the dancing bot he always dreamed of.