Can we do evil while curating and practicing social media optimization?

Not everyone is an avid explorer of new media. Not only that a majority of internet users won’t give Second Life a try, they even won’t use Twitter. The fast moving streams of information or the immersive experiences in virtual environments are new experiences and it’s not always easy to convince people and communities that these new phenomena have value.

What helps a lot is curation: offering selections of sources, of information and providing context. As a journalist and blogger I use Storify, others will use Curated.by, Keepstream, Storyful or other services. Not only Storify helps me to make selections and add context, I can also embed the stories on blogs and sites so that people can read and comment in a familiar environment. I guess that embedding immersive environments will also help these more immersive media to gain more traction.

I’ve been experimenting with curation on my financial blog (Dutch language) for a few months and I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Xavier Damman, the co-founder of Storify.

Echoing what is an increasingly common refrain, Damman told me that everybody is a reporter now. Which means it’s the responsibility of journalists (and bloggers of course) to find the best content and turn it into a story, adding context and making sense of it all. He also talked about a related concept: social media optimization (SMO), which is all about sharing and connecting. But SMO of course is also related to search engine optimization (SEO) – which reminds me of certain evil aspects of all this ‘optimizing’.

More about all of this on my PBS MediaShift blog.

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The practicalities of digital storytelling unveiled

For months I was having questions about the practicalities of digital storytelling. How much time does it take? Which tools should one use? What are the alternatives? InKenzo has a great post about all this on Nonprofit Commons, Digital Storytelling Methods: Time & Resources Needed?

Digital Storytelling can be about machinima, but also about using the Flip-camera, Flickr photo collections or animation. On TechSoup.org there is more about the TechSoup Digital Storytelling Event 2011 with free webinars and tweetchats.

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Blue Mars restructures, goes mobile

Virtual worlds and restructuring… it’s becoming a long story. The latest episode: Blue Mars. The company behind the virtual world platform Blue Mars, Avatar Reality, is restructuring “in order to concentrate on bringing Blue Mars to portable touch screen devices like the iPhone and iPad.”

The company says they have a functioning alpha in house and they aim to release the first builds of Blue Mars on iOS next month. CEO Jim Sink leaves the company:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to keep the current team together while building Blue Mars Mobile. Like many of my friends here, today is my last day at Avatar Reality. It has been a true pleasure working on Blue Mars with so many talented and dedicated creative professionals. Just as rewarding was seeing the growth and creative output of the Blue Mars community. Thank you all for your sharing your creativity with our community. It was fun.

See you on Mars,
Jim

“The first versions of Blue Mars Mobile will be an extension to the PC client but over time, the mobile version will absorb many of the features found in the PC version. With our focus now clearly on mobile, updates to the PC version of the software will likely be restricted to bug fixes for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, we will no longer charge our current City Developers for the monthly city hosting service. The servers will remain online, city updates and uploads will continue, and shop and residence rentals will still function but technical support for the user client will no longer be offered.”

It is unclear how many people leave the company. No mention is being made of a new CEO. My first impression: the strategy of having a heavy PC client did not succeed. I did not visit the Blue Mars environments very often, but the times I went there I had the impression it did not gain traction. The few people in-world often were developer-types or Second Life residents exploring another world. The graphics are impressive, but for those who like open ended user generated virtual worlds Blue Mars lacked the buzz of Second Life and OpenSim.

“The focus for the first version of Blue Mars Mobile is avatar style and rankings. The initial versions will allow people to share their Blue Mars avatars through a native iOS application. In the next few months, an app store for clothing, Facebook Connect integration, avatar snapshots, account registration, and character customization will be added. The items you have created or own will already work with the mobile version as will the Blue Mars item creation tools.”

Mobile and Facebook Connect, it all seems rather logical, because these are growth areas. However, for the moment the announcement sounds like an admission of defeat.

The last press release on the Avatar Reality site (March 23, 2010) announced that an additional $4.2 million was raised from venture capitalists including Henk Rogers and Kolohala Ventures. “To date, more than $13 million has been invested in Avatar Reality”, so it was said.

Avatar Reality was founded in 2006 by interactive entertainment visionaries Henk Rogers – best known for introducing Tetris to the world – and Kazuyuki Hashimoto, former CTO of Squaresoft and vice president at Electronic Arts. In March 2010 the company had more than 30 employees in Honolulu and San Francisco.

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Can Avatar Kinect make virtual environments go mainstream?

Microsoft announces Avatar Kinect. Notice how it seems to be possible to give the avatars facial expressions. Of course, I don’t think this will be a user generated world, boasting its very own economy etc. Maybe it will fail miserably, like Google’s Lively did. But then again, maybe it’ll take off, combining motion based gestures, facial and voice recognition and taking the dream of avatar mediated interaction into another direction…

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Rehearsing the day that we’ll program matter

So I’ve been monitoring that State of the World 2011 conversation on The WELL (with Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowski), learning about design fiction (see also critical design) and watching an awesome video about Claytronics (programmable matter). Sterling, on his blog Beyond the Beyond: “Check out this bonkers Discovery Channel treatment of some Carnegie Mellon nano-visionary weirdness.”

The video made me think that what we currently do in Second Life and OpenSim is sometimes a kind of design fiction, making people used to programming virtual matter, preparing them for the day when we actually program ‘physical’ matter. When could it become feasible, when will it have an impact on the economy? I’ve no idea, but I asked on Quora (skipping for now the question whether we’ll be happy in such a world, and how long it will last before doomsday becomes reality).

Singularity

On an even more general level: if programmable matter would become mainstream, would that be an event which we could call ‘technological singularity‘, would it be part of that? Talking of which I recently stumbled upon a fascinating conversation between Robin Hanson (George Mason University) and the economist Robert Russell, contemplating a situation in which worldwide output would double every two weeks instead of every 15 years (the current situation). What would it mean for the return on capital, on labor? What about the environment, security and so many other crucial aspects? You’ll find the long audio discussion on the Library of Economics and Liberty.

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Talking about virtual worlds outside virtual worlds: The WELL

In our first blog about other venues where people discuss virtual worlds, we talked about Quora. While Quora is very new, The WELL is almost ancient:

The WELL is a cherished and acclaimed destination for conversation and discussion. It is widely known as the primordial ooze where the online community movement was born — where Howard Rheingold first coined the term “virtual community.” Since long before the public Internet was unleashed, it has quietly captivated some accomplished and imaginative people. Over the last two and a half decades, it’s been described as “the world’s most influential online community” in a Wired Magazine cover story, and ” the Park Place of email addresses” by John Perry Barlow. It’s won Dvorak and Webby Awards, inspired songs and novels, and almost invisibly influences modern culture.

In 2010, this social site celebrates its 25th birthday online. A wide variety of topics are being discussed in ‘conferences’. The ‘Virtual Communities’ conference has among its topics ‘Second Life: The World-Building MMOG’, but I don’t think there is a topic ‘blue mars’ or ‘opensim’ (search did not yield results).

The conversations are very instructive and friendly. Just like for the Quora discussions people are supposed to use their real names. There are moderators, ‘conference hosts’. However, there are also major differences between the two services.

Those differences boil down to this: The Well wants to be a walled garden. As they explain themselves: “Membership is not for everyone, partly because we are non-anonymous here.” One cannot vote a question or an answer up or down. There are no ‘follow’ buttons next to the names of the participants. In fact, you own your own words, meaning that you are responsible for them but also that others cannot simply copy paste them outside The WELL. Before quoting or even mentioning that another person is a member, one should ask that other person whether she agrees.

Another major aspect of the “walled garden”: membership is not free.

There are about 3.000 members now, and to be honest, I don’t think the community, owned by Salon.com, can boast tremendous growth figures.

In fact, The WELL is rather fascinating. Because of its history but also because of this non-viral approach of a members only gathering. Whether it will be able to survive, faced with competition such as Quora, is another matter. Quora uses real identities, but provides connections with Twitter and Facebook, is free, and for now manages to maintain good quality using a voting system. The WELL however is a bunch of micro-communities (around the conferences) where more intimate relationships can develop.

Sterling and Lebkowsky

conference page the well
To be fair, The WELL is not completely a walled garden. Non-members can for instance join the ‘Inkwell: Authors and Artists’ conference. Author Bruce Sterling and internet&cyberculture expert Jon Lebkowsky discuss this week State of the World 2011.

The organizers even run a wild experiment: a Facebook event page for feedback (great discussion there) and the ever cunning Lebkwoski announced on that page a Twitter hashtag (#sotw2011)!

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Eternal shame! World of Warcraft mage beats Second Life geeks!

Oh my! Is our Second Life community, and especially the geeky part of it, losing it’s innovative edge? New World Notes posted a few days ago about how the Kinect is being used to move around and play in World of Warcraft. Watch this video:

Interesting to note: in 2008 already former Linden Lab Chairman Mitch Kapor was involved in the development of 3D web cameras enabling people to control their avatars by moving their body. Wagner James Au said in his post that an earlier version of the project “evolved into the Kinect”. Reading around, I learned on ArchVirtual that the co-developer of Hands-Free, Philippe Bossut, still works for… Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life).

All of which makes it even stranger that as yet we don’t have any video footage or stories about the Kinect in a Second Life context.

Is this because Second Life is not a gaming world? In the comments on New World Notes it seems people are interested in building in-world using Kinect hacks, but then again, sophisticated builders are a minority in Second Life.

So I set out to ask people in-world about Kinect. The AW Groupies is a very active tech chatgroup, but it seemed they were far more interested in discussing issues about “making meshes portable across platforms” (if you don’t understand a word of this, do not panic, go here)

Demoralized, I went to OpenSim, where I bumped into John “Pathfinder” Lester. Yes, also Pathfinder thinks the Kinect could be a game-changer, but no, he had no information about people in OpenSim or Second Life actually trying that out. “Give it some time”, he said.

Now, in case you have any doubts of the importance of what’s happening around the Kinect, Robert Scoble shared this video on Quora (notice the interesting remark about deviceless augmented reality!):

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What will our technology mean for 7 billion people?

End this year there will be 7 billion of us. In 2045… possibly 9 billion. Do we lack space? No, we don’t. What we lack is harmony.

In this video National Geographic Magazine incites us to meditate the increase in world population, the increasing number of mega-cities (cities with more than 10 million inhabitants) and the unequal use of energy and of basic resources.

Which makes me wonder: how will the fancy technologies we discuss here facilitate living in such a world? Virtual environments, tele-presence, augmented reality, real-time interaction, social media will help us collaborate, reach out and exchange insights. It will not be a world dominated by a few media outlets broadcasting to many, but of many groups having their conversations internally and I hope, externally.

National Geographic Magazine made this video to promote their series about world population issues.

Via The Daily What

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Talking about virtual worlds outside virtual worlds: Quora

One of the impressive things about virtual worlds are the communities which create not only those worlds, but also a social media ecosystem around the actual virtual environments. This is a first post in a series about those “other places” where we meet. Instead of starting out with the usual suspects such as Plurk or Twitter, I start with a relatively new venue, Quora.

virtual worlds page on quora

Quora is an “online knowledge market“, made available to the public on June 21, 2010. At first I was not too interested, but a post by Mark Suster on Business Insider SAI made me give it a try. Suster’s post really helps to “get it”.

Before asking a question or launching a topic, it’s a good idea to search for it: chances are that someone already asked that very same question. It’s a bit tricky to find the search box: in fact, you’ve to start typing in the “add question” box and that generates a list of relevant topics.

Doing this for Virtual Worlds results in some interesting questions and answers. There is the inevitable “What is the future of virtual worlds like Second Life, IMVU?” James Corbett, co-founder of Daynuv answered:

The future of ‘Second Life’, or rather the vision of its founders, lies more with it’s opensource successor Opensimulator than the proprietary Lined Lab platform. Opensim has made huge strides forward in 2010 and with support for the new version of the Hypergrid protocol is poised to become the Apache of the federated 3D web.

It’s important to understand that a major stumbling block in the growth of 3D virtual worlds has heretofore been the limitation of 2D peripherals designed for 3D GUIs – keyboard & mouse. The Nintendo Wii-mote pointed the way ahead but now the Microsoft Kinect has primed a major leap forward which will turn 2011 into a breakout year for virtual worlds. (…)

An as yet unanswered question asked “how can we trigger avatar gestures in Opensim / Second Life using #OpenKinect hacks?”

Another question is about guilds in World of Warcraft and whether there are larger political units there. I learned from Chris Hollander, senior Microsoft consultant, that there are caps introduced in Cataclysm and that there is considerable debate about how to reorganize guilds.

In the Second Life topic on Quora you’ll find discussions about property prices, the profitability of Second Life, whether Second Life should adapt a redistributive and socialist tax policy etc.

My first impression: Quora is still young and it takes some time to actually “get it”, but the quality of the discussions is good and the design seems to be very clever. The whole idea of Q&A forums is not new of course, but it’s one of the most effective ways to incite people to engage themselves in online communities.

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