The SL gender balance – female decline continues

The gender balance in Second Life continues to skew in favour of the masculine according to the updated demographic statistics provided by Linden Lab. Although the proportional drop in female residents is very small there\’s certainly a trend line downwards since June 2006.

So why? One reason may be that the evolving nature of SL means that the user experience is altering more and more toward a male world-view – if sixty percent of any experience is one gender then the balance of activities is going to skew that way as well. Also, the predominance of the males in regard to broadband internet use was always going to bite in the longer term. The big shame for SL is if the comparative decline in female membership continues – a world where males are significantly iin the majority is not the natural balance of things – SL or RL.

Aussie icons keep on appearing

Seen late last week in the sandbox area of ABC Island was this inspired creation:

In a discussion this week with a person interested in SL, they asked what the Australian \’look\’ was like in SL. The things are probably a good example of our look you think?

SL Voice-enabled beta is live

As per the official Linden Lab post, a beta version of the SL viewer with voice capability is now avilable. You need to have a SL account created before 19th February this year and there\’s some technical caveats, but the voice implementation is well on the way.

One of the more amusing initial responses from user Canne Thewphaingarm: \”I predict that many of the escort services in SL may find themselves short on employees soon…\”

Aussie population update – coming up on 5000

Meta Linden has provided an update on SL metrics. Australia is steady on 1.48% of the overall SL population:

1. As at 31st January there were 2,615,199 unique residents.
2. Ten percent of that is 261,519.
3. 1.48% of THAT is 3870.

So there\’s certainly been growth and the March figures should be interesting as they\’ll reflect the surge in registrations via the BigPond presence. Our estimate at present is that there\’s around 5000 active Australian users now.

Interview: Gary Hazlitt (Gary Hayes) Part 2

We continue our interview with Gary Hazlitt. Part 1 is here.

Lowell: Could you talk a little about Australia’s presence in Second Life?

Gary: I think it is a very interesting time for web 3.0 and especially Australia which is one of the most remote communities in the physical world. I think there is both a strong camaraderie and inventiveness in the psyche of Australians and it bodes very well for their place in the global, virtual, metaversal grid. I created the first major Australian presence in SL with the AFTRS Island Esperance, and then a private island that I share with 3 other Aussies. It has always been a goal to try to create a larger community of connected islands. Originally the BigPond islands were close to ABC and the two above and other educational institutions were going to come into the mix. That will still happen – it is important to have virtual proximity with such a small population and market. A cluster of Australian islands is important as a foundation and seed to learn from each other and build an Australian community and have brand fights at this experimental stage.

Lowell: What are your aims with your company?

Gary: One thing that excites me most about SL (and this is with my LAMP hat on too I suppose) is to bring producers and corporates into the metaverse and develop a range of cutting edge services that cross-over between virtual and real world forms – in real-time so it is truly reality based. I think the potential for emergent and engaging virtuality cross forms is vast. But we also know that it is vital that the Second Life presence for any company adds that little bit extra to attract visitors which is different from anything that currently exists and give them an experience that they will enjoy. There’s nothing worse than spending time and effort to build a world online and then find no-one visits. So we are a company that spends time in-world to understand its sensibility and not a production agency that has just added Second Life to its roster. I liken SL to a foreign country and you need to be able to speak the language.

To be more corporate about our aims, the focus of The Project Factory is to bring established and trusted brands into this innovative world in a way which captures people\’s attention and keeps them coming back. Companies in Australia are looking for ways to attract new customers, build loyalty with existing customers and build communities that bring them onto the world stage. With Second Life, we are able to produce brand experiences that attract international audiences and present an innovative message to customers. There are also companies that are keen to use 3D worlds like Second Life for employee training, internal communications, even basic meeting rooms. We are seeing an increase in interest in this sort of development from major companies. The Project Factory is uniquely positioned in the Australian marketplace as it is able to offer local development expertise, as well as relying on our technical and production network in the UK and South Africa. The Project Factory’s key areas of expertise are games builds, interactive storylines, in-world AI robots and events as part of its service to ensure that our visitors have the different experiences and challenges each time they visit.

Lowell: Can you talk about any future projects you have in the pipeline?

Gary: We are currently very busy with planning many new projects with three or four coming in each week. They range from highly corporate at one end to entertainment and game-like at the other. Of course we will be making sure all the projects we have initiated so far can grow and there will be announcements on that very soon.

Lowell: What are some of your favourite places in SL?

Gary: You can of course check my profile to see what are my favourite places – but these are usually a few months out of date. I have also done a sticky post on my JustVirtual blog called top twenty places in SL (admittedly based on a Channel 4 UK list). Oher areas that I go back to a lot:

Really immersive role playing areas:
City of Lost Angels
Midian City

Nice places to hang and dance
Lost Gardens of Apollo

Good recent brand entries
L Word Island
AOL Pointe

Place to play games
Pot Healer Adventure
Games island – footcake, danger zone

and of course recent Australian entrants
ABC Island
The Pond

Lowell: What developments in the SL architecture do you think will occur in coming months?

Gary: Well, regardless of all the anti-hype press and technical moaning I still think LL are still way ahead of many other companies in this space as they have an existing and loyal, persistent community which many others don’t. They still need to move very quickly to a distributed or peer-to-peer server model and begin to scale. I know they are working hard on reducing load on San Francisco and Texas, particularly as most traffic is from outside the US. I\’m really looking forward to local Oz servers soon. All of this is being discussed on SL forums. I actually think the open source client will have far less impact than LL moving to a peer-to-peer model, so everyone has small parts of the grid and it becomes much more bit torrent. This actually makes most sense when typical SL users are permanently logged in, I can imagine half a million users all with a half a millionth of the grid becoming the norm combined with a series of distributed main servers that trickle out global updates.

Lowell: What improvements in SL would make your virtual work-life easier?

Gary: Most builders and developers feel limited by the in-world tools. I actually think they make the process much more rapid than it would be if everything was done in Maya or 3DSMax and imported – and I love the collaborative way of working which you don’t get in non-networked, more industry standard tools. But I think a combination of the two is important, particularly to use existing models to start from. When Warda and I were working out the best way to do the Opera House sails out of the scripted in-world building tools (thanks Cadroe Murphy), it would have helped to import many of the existing models – but no import available. From a dynamic perspective it is still tricky to get images from outside ticking into world. Important for events, RSS or up-to-date advertising, so a built in element to the client that uses LibSL to automate sound and image importing. I could go on with a list as long as your virtual arm but those two will do for now.

Lowell: Where can people find out more about your work?

Gary: The Project Factory have a great website and my main media blog has some interesting perspectives on the future.

Marketers not hitting the mark in SL

At SLOz we get asked regularly about businesses getting involved in SL and we commonly respond along the lines of \’any company that doesn\’t understand the SL community and drops in a standard business model is going to get burned\’. It\’s not rocket science – if you impose yourself in a new market without understanding same market, then there\’s going to be resistance.

As reported by Digital Media Wire, German firm Komjuniti have surveyed SL users and surprise, surprise, there\’s resentment building against companies just inserting themselves into SL without any real research or understanding of SL dynamics.

Interview: Gary Hazlitt (Gary Hayes) Part 1

With the launch of the ABC and Telstra presences in Second Life, Gary Hazlitt (Gary Hayes) has become a well know figure for Australian SL users. He\’s managed both projects and built the majority of the content as well. SLOz caught up with Gary to get some insight on the builds done and the ones coming up.

Lowell: Can you describe a little about your background in RL?

Gary: Sure. From an SL perspective I am the Head of MUVE Development at the Project Factory and also the Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production since 2005. Prior to that I have always had positions at the bleeding edge of new service delivery including Senior Development and Producer at BBC New Media for eight years and Interactive Producer in LA during 2004. All the positions have given me a strong grounding in every digital tool there has been, so I won’t list them, and I have found having a range of ‘natural’ skills very useful in SL so my other ‘passion’ areas such as music composer/producer, sound design, professional photography and travel writer have been useful in metaverse development.

Lowell: When did you first get involved with SL and had you been involved with other virtual worlds prior?

Gary: I may be showing my age but I was one of the first to have a personal homepage on the web back in 1994 which had lots of experimental VRML elements and I also linked/joined this to pseudo-3D virtual worlds like Cybertown. In 1995, I joined the BBC as a new media producer as part of a team of 12 at the BBC Multimedia Centre, I did lots of cool projects and worked partly on one called ‘The Mirror’ – six themed VRML virtual worlds that had avatars wandering around talking about BBC videos amongst other things on large screens. A clunky time for virtual worlds but the potential was obvious even then for new cross-over formats. As well as producing many to-air services such as interactive and broadband TV, I worked on several BBC R&D projects (in departments such as Imagineering) looking at artificial life, TV-cross over games and artificial intelligence, many based in shared virtual social networks. I have closely followed the sims revolution, been in and out and back in various MMORPGs and indeed joined SL back in 04 when I was living in Santa Barbara. SL was a quiet place back then and was pretty limited community wise. I rejoined early last year just ahead of the swarm. The Laboratory for Advanced Media Production which I direct also has many projects that utitlise Second Life including Emergence, Inworld and City Games all detailed on the site.

Lowell: Can you give your thoughts about the Telstra and ABC builds – what were the biggest challenges and rewards?

Gary: I can’t talk directly about the thinking behind the Telstra project as you may expect, so will talk about my general approach to 3D immersive social network design and give more detail on the ABC project. The challenge with any build is to make sure the client has prioritised the experience for the user. To not talk about stuff that will be pushed at them (web 1.0) but about what the users should feel and be able to do. It is all about ‘doing’, and doing can take many forms – the most important being ‘creating our own stories’ by socialising in these spaces. So the spaces and specific builds must have character and allow play. Much of the philosophy of my approach for more corporate properties or brands entering into SL for the first time can be found in quite a few posts on my personalizemedia.com blog. A recent post talks about the L Word and AOL and 13 tips for new entrants.

In terms of what my role was on these projects, for ABC I am credited with direction and build. For the Pond project (as it states on the official press release), I produced and developed it. In fact, I built most of what you see in the Pond – having done an audit the other day I worked out I created 21 000 prims of the 22 800 on the islands, but if you had time you could find that out yourself! I did everything (including terraforming and layout) apart from the Opera House and Bridge because of time and also as they were add ons and partly to decorate the race track – which will be the real draw there, eventually. Both of the recent Oz projects are widely reported as being R&D so the investment and expectation are relatively low. The key for both companies is to get as much learning as possible from these islands, and use that to build on for the good of everyone in Australia.

Back to approach. I always begin by saying SL and any 3D MUVE is a social network so what can we bring that will be attractive to users (new and old) and that will develop a community and a sense of belonging. Once you have tha,t any advertising, product or media that you want them to watch will be part of the producer/audience agreement – much the same as ads are on TV – \”you give me a good time, I will be happy with your ads\”. It is great to see both spaces slowly becoming a ‘home’ type destination for users, but there is a long way to go yet. The old ‘build it and they will come’ needs a good dose of ‘and be around when they do, with lots of events and friendly chat’, so it has been interesting to see how each company has handled its ‘potential’ community.

I advise on the approaches but it does require a people resource to follow through and that is not easy for some companies – but this is not a website you create and leave, so new entrants need to think carefully about on-going community management. I think SLOz has reported a good deal on this issue too. Another issue that is often overlooked, and a challenge for incumbant media companies, is the rights issue. You often hear people say “this and this club are way more popular than here” and the real reason for that is that the clubs and various other big social areas are streaming internet radio or linking to full length ‘illegal’ movies in-world without any recourse to the rights holders. In some cases they are charging inworld for the privilege. Well known media companies cannot do this and have to negotiate rights out of respect for the creators of movies and music but also to not be sued by them. The creators are unlikely to sue the owner of Club X for example as they know it is not worth their while. But moving on.

To make the spaces feel like ‘home’ you need to build depth and an inherent organic, naturalistic feel to the place, which is the thing I get most satisfaction from – creating a space you can explore and always find something new. So it is great to see couples and groups wandering (flying) around areas that don’t necessarily have ‘stuff to see’ but have an atmosphere. It creates a loyalty to the brand that put it there. Also it is about creating personality, environments that have character. I am always surprised at many other corporate builds that are of cities, or whole town centres – they are great to visit once or twice, but you don’t really feel like you could hangout there or call home, I find them rather cold. With ABC particularly, the small team agreed on general ‘naturalistic’ principles and then layered on the other themes such as the alien thing, hidden clubs, odd Australiana structures, part outback, part sci-fi and so on. It was exciting watching this come together. With the ABC project we also wanted to leave breathing space for the community, so we made sure it wasn’t overbuilt – and that comes back to other brands who cover the land with concrete jungles. Many spaces require specific look and feel and function, big dance clubs, meeting areas with screens and so on – these are important too for the education and social aspect, but I have been lucky in both ABC and BigPond to be able to go beyond that in may ways. The real reward for me is watching users ‘be’ in these spaces, learning from what was intended to how they are being used. For instance, the Billabong Bar I knew would be a draw and I worked hard to make that ‘organic’ and it now has as much traffic (albeit early low numbers) as the bridge and opera house combined. To get numbers as high as some of the main dance or established sims (Lost Gardens of Apollo springs to mind) does require an iterative response to how the areas are being used. I hope this will happen.

    Part 2 – Australians in SL, recommended spots in SL for new users and future projects.