I've been privileged in my short but intense career in Second Life to be able to look over the shoulders of some of the smartest businesspeople in the virtual world -- the team working for our sister publication, Dr. Dobb's Journal,. John Jainschigg, their online editor-in-chief, is always doing 12 things at once and moves three times faster than a normal person, but I was finally able to sneak up on him and put him in a cage until he told me what DDJ is up to in SSL.
The small in-world team at DDJ, led by Jainschigg -- known as "John Zhaoying" in Second Life -- leased some server space in SL a couple of months ago. In Second Life jargon, that's called "buying an island," and that's what it looks like in Second Life, a small body of land surrounded by water.
They've turned the place into an area for hosting groups of avatars. Because that's what Second Life is good for -- a place where people can come together, either for business, fellowship, or both. DDJ is using Second Life to bring together its core audience of software developers, and bring them useful information.
The island includes a reproduction of an actual cathedral in France, amphitheater, convention center, nightclub, and beach. The amphitheater is for large gatherings where an individual or panel can address an audience, the nightclub is for entertaining and for meetings of smaller groups The beach is for parties.
Parties are an important part of doing business in Second Life, just like they are at trade shows and conferences. Parties in Second Life are like big, 3D chat rooms with music playing on streaming audio. Your avatar dances, you talk, you cement business relationships with a layer of personal chit-chat.
DDJ held the Life 2.0 trade show and conference in Second Life April 28-May 4. It was just like a real-life trade show and conference, but in Second Life and scaled down. There were about two hours of panels and keynotes every day but Wednesday (whens Second Life goes down part of the day for maintenance). The convention center had long rows of virtual booths filled with vendors -- people selling software and services in-world.
Total attendance was 200 people, not including DDJ employees and colleagues (like me), presenters, and invited vendors. That's a pretty small number by real-world and Internet standards. One day soon, in just a couple of years, Second Life will be able to host gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people, like a real-world conventions and trade show. But for now, the theoretical maximum that a server -- known in Second Life jargon as a "sim" -- can support is 50 people. DDJ achieved the far greater number of attendees by putting multiple sims side-by-side and holding events at the corners.
The conference was simulcast on the Web, with streaming audio, presentation slides, and screen captures taken every 10 seconds of what was going on in-world, as well as a bridge that permitted text chat between Second Life and the Internet.
Programming included keynotes by Linden Lab chairman Mitch Kapor, PC pioneer and inventor of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, along with Linden Lab CEO and founder Philip Rosedale, and software pioneer Grady Booch, who works at IBM as a "dedicated free radical" attempting to anticipate technology that's three to five years out.
The conference was a success, Jainschigg says. It looked pretty successful to me, too -- everything seemed to go bug-free by Second Life standards, which means that there were, in fact, lots of bugs, but the conference either worked around them or shouldered through them. The speakers were interesting and lively, the audience was engaged, asking lots of questions. Second Life went down at one point on Friday for 45 minutes just as the conference was due to start, but almost everybody waited and came back when the virtual world came back up.
"There were no security incidents, which surprised us," Jainschigg said. "I thought there was a better-than-even chance that someone would try to grief."
"Griefing" is gaming jargon for practical joking or outright harassment -- a little of it can sometimes be amusing, a little more is annoying, and a lot of it is tantamount to cyberstalking.
As part of security, Kim Smith, a Bellevue, Wash., based Second Life marketing consultant, helped organize and run the event. During the conference, she was mostly stationed at the area where people teleported in.
Smith, who goes by the name "Rissa Maidstone" in Second Life, is a formidable bouncer. Being a bouncer in Second Life is similar to real life in that the most important part of the job is finding people who might make trouble and extracting them quietly before they even have a chance to start. Smith has an array of offensive and defensive security software -- which, in Second Life, look like real-world weapons. Jainschigg jokes that DDJ staff meetings in Second Life generally end with Smith climbing into the assault helicopter and strafing everyone, or hauling out some other form of assault weaponry.
Rissa's other (visible) function at the conference was to be a greeter. From what I've seen in Second Life, just having a greeter is a huge difference for any site; it's the difference between a cold, impersonal corporate area that's creepy as an office park on Friday night, and a warm place that you'll want to come back to again and again. That's true for corporate sims and for the recreational areas of the site.
DDJ plans future events, and Jainschigg said he'd like to put on a broader program of tutorials, more lessons for beginners and more specialized lessons for advanced users. He'd like to add capacity for bigger crowds.
One of the most interesting things DDJ has done is install sensors throughout the island for tracking traffic. It's a 3D, virtual-world version of Web traffic software -- you can get aggregate statistics on how many people came to your area, the path they took through it, how long they stayed, and where they left. He says the software displays traffic patterns in three dimensions in Second Life, which is something I'd like to see, but, alas, it was down when we talked.
One of the most interesting applications of the traffic-tracking software: Finding out what elements of virtual architecture work, and what don't. Right now, we're still at a stage in Second Life where the architecture mostly mimics real-world architecture. Why do we have stairs in buildings in Second Life, when we can fly and teleport?
But, over the coming years, virtual worlds architecture will evolve to suit the physics and psychology of its natural environment.