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The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Examiner (USA) – Small Worlds lets \’tweens take control. \”Most kids today have no concept of a world without the Internet. They\’re used to using electronic means to find information, communicate with each other and share things like pictures and videos. The success of social sites like Myspace and Facebook is based on the users\’ ability to share experiences with each other; a natural outgrowth of sites like these are online communities like Second Life which are largely supported by user-generated content.\”

2. FOX Business (USA) – Fundraising Conference Takes on a \’Second Life\’. \”Grizzard Communications Group recently held a conference, Winning Strategies in Challenging Times, focusing on effective and efficient ways of communicating to donors during difficult economic times. The conference was held February 24th – 26th and featured a live panel discussion presented in the online virtual world of Second Life. Major George Hood, National Community Relations Secretary of The Salvation Army, along with other IT communications associates from Alexandria, VA and Reston, PA participated in a panel discussion as animated \”Avatars.\”

3. IGN (USA) – GDC 09: Breaking Down World of Warcraft. \”Blizzard\’s Jeffrey Kaplan was at the Game Developer Conference 2009 to talk about directed gameplay. Over the course of the crowded, hour-long session he kept the attendees laughing with a number of World of Warcraft inside jokes as he discussed the ins and outs of what he sees as proper quest design and how to forge the best possible relationship with the player. Kaplan, who previously handled design on World of Warcraft and is now working on Blizzard\’s unannounced MMO project, kicked things off by explaining that directed gameplay should guide a player to a fun experience.\”

4. TechCrunch (USA) – Sparkle: The iPhone Gets Its First Virtual World (And It’s Completely 3D). \”The number of apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch is nearing the 30,000 mark but hardly any application takes advantage of the network effects that lie within the Apple ecosystem. Most developers simply ignore the fact that all iPhones and iPod Touches are interconnected globally and roll out stand-alone applications. This is one of the major reasons why the vast majority of fun apps lack stickiness and are easily forgotten after a few quick bursts. But a Tokyo-based start-up called Genkii is building a unique app that has the potential to not only let a few iPhone users connect with each other, but thousands of them – at the same time or asynchronously. Sparkle is poised to become the first virtual world for the iPhone. What’s more, it’s being developed completely from scratch, exclusively as an MMO for the iPhone/iPod Touch.\”

5. Washington Post (USA) – Industry Moves: Second Life CFO Departs For The Real World. \”Linden Lab CFO John Zdanowski has resigned, headed off to \”find the next business adventure,\” according to the company blog. Known as \”Zee Linden\” in-world (his avatar is pictured here), Zdanowski said it was time to move on given that Linden had successfully grown from a cool tech startup, to a profitable company with a \”very healthy cash balance.\” He joined in 2006, right before everyone from Reuters and Showtime, to the U.S. Army became obsessed with Second Life, and he\’s one of the few members of the company\’s initial executive team that lasted this long: founder and CEO Phillip Rosedale stepped down in early 2008, and co-founder and CTO Cory Ondrejka (now at EMI) left in 2007.\”

6. Information Week (USA) – How One Small Town Is Using Twitter And Other Social Media. \”ollowing my post earlier this week about why local governments aren\’t making use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, I found myself in Second Life with the city engineer of the town of LaSalle, Ill, talking about how the government of her little town uses Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Skype and Second Life to better serve their citizens and stay in touch with other small-town officials across the United States and Canada.\”

7. Internet Business Law Seminars – Trademark Protection in Second Life: USPTO Grants Protection to an Avatar. \”The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) approved a trademark registration filed by a person seeking to protect her avatar image, which represents the content services provided by the avatar’s creator in the Second Life virtual world. Commentators have noted that this decision is groundbreaking as it opens doors for further real life trademark protection for images used in virtual worlds.
Alyssa LaRoche runs a virtual content and services business in Second Life, a three-dimensional virtual world which opened to the public in 2003. As part of the promotion of her business, LaRoche created an avatar image of herself – her alter ego,– which represents her business. The image is called “Aimee Weber” and features a young woman with pigtails and glasses, wearing high black boots, striped tights, green tutu, a see-through green shirt, and brilliant blue wings.\”

8. San Francisco Examiner (USA) – The 3-minute Interview: Mark Kingdon. \”The CEO of San Francisco-based Linden Lab, maker of the virtual Internet world Second Life that’s imagined and created by users, explains why his company launched the $10,000 Linden Prize to honor the site’s most innovative user. The winner is slated to be announced by April 30. Why give this award? There’s an incredible amount of innovation inside of Second Life. There are many examples … where resident or community groups created something really wonderful that had a real-world connection and impact.\”

9. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – UK Government\’s \”Indulgence\” In Second Life Shows Problems Of Perception. \”Earlier this week I saw an report by Sky News Online taking the UK\’s Department for Work and Pensions to task for \”wasting\” £20,000 to build a site in Second LIfe and £12,000 a year to maintain it in this time of economic downturn. One complaint is that the virtual world activity wasn\’t advertised on the DWP\’s website. That makes perfect sense as it sounds like the effort is a test case for an area for companies and government institutions to show off technological innovation. And, as Nortel\’s Nic Sauriol pointed out, if that\’s the most they waste on a pilot program, it\’s pretty well done. \”

10. The Irish Times (Ireland) – Social networking \’a business opportunity\’. \”Companies that block access to Facebook, Twitter and networking sites like LinkedIn do so to the detriment of their businesses, warned Web 2.0 evangelists at an event in Derry this week. A conference for business start-ups, Awakening Creative Entrepreneurship , highlighted how social networking was a business opportunity and not a threat. “These are disruptive technologies that change everything. It scares some companies, but if they don’t embrace it they will wither and die,” said Ian Hughes, formerly of IBM, where he held the role of “metaverse evangelist”.

Interview – DeeAnna Nagel and Kate Anthony, Online Therapy Institute

DeeAnna Nagel and Kate Anthony are psychotherapists and founders of the Online Therapy Institute. The pair have only recently expanded their work to Second Life, but they have extensive experience in working with people therapeutically online. The pair now have a presence on Jokaydia in Second Life. I caught up with them to talk online counselling / therapy.

Lowell: Can you give a brief outline of your professional experience /qualifications pre-Second Life / online therapy?

\"deanna_inworld\" DeeAnna: I have a Master of Education in Rehabilitation Counseling and a Bachelor of Science in Mental Health and Human Services. I have worked in the mental health field for nearly 20 years. About 10 years ago I discovered the power of the Internet and began providing online chat and email through a couple of e-clinics. Over the years I have always maintained a part-time practice online and have integrated technology in work settings working with interns, employees and clinical supervisees. I have been training therapists since 2001 about the ethical issues pertaining to technology and mental health. Now 100% of my work life is devoted to either providing online therapy or teaching others about online therapy.

Kate Anthony: I have a Master of Science in Therapeutic Counselling and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and am halfway through a PhD on the topic of Technology and Mental Health. At around the same time as I discovered how powerful relationships over the Internet can be and based my MSc thesis on that. From that, I co-authored the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Guidelines for Online work (including Supervision) through its 3 editions. I have trained mental health professionals to work online since 2002, have published widely including textbooks, and was recently made a Fellow of BACP for my work and DA and I are both past-Presidents of the International Society for Mental Health Online (ISMHO).

Lowell Cremorne: What was the event that led to you realising the potential of virtual worlds for counselling interventions

DeeAnna Nagel: There was no single event for me; just a realisation that virtual world settings offer another level of sensory experience that could enhance the therapeutic process.

\"kate_inworld\"Kate Anthony: I realised this in 2001 after speaking at a conference about Telephone Helplines. The Keynote speaker was head of BTExact Technologies, and he referred to the future of virtual worlds, and avatars specifically, being part of the future of health care. Most of the audience was laughing at the concept -– I wasn’t. I went on to work with him and his team to explore the concept and write a white paper on the topic (Anthony, K. and Lawson, M (2002). The Use of Innovative Avatar and Virtual Environment Technology for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Available online at www.kateanthony.co.uk/research).

Lowell Cremorne: Your Online Therapy Institute offers consultancy including advice on marketing counselling services online, but it seems you’ve carefully differentiated your SL consultancy to avatar familarisation etc. Would you agree that virtual worlds as an actual intervention mechanism are not evolved enough yet?

DeeAnna Nagel: The potential for therapeutic intervention in virtual world settings is already available – but not necessarily cost-effective for the private practitioner. Second Life is not encrypted and while we could offer therapy using secure methods such as a Sky Box, we have chosen not to. Proprietary software is being developed by companies and institutions for use in SL and other virtual worlds, and at some point private practitioners will be able to provide secure and encrypted services. Until that happens, we can, as you say, utilise our SL office as a way to meet people who want to provide an avatar representation and for other educational and consultancy opportunities.

Lowell Cremorne: What do you think needs to occur for people to be able to trust in-world therapy?

DeeAnna Nagel: Security including encryption is paramount. In addition, virtual world platforms need to be less cumbersome and be able to run on different platforms without the constant risk of technological breakdowns.

Lowell Cremorne: A common component of media coverage of virtual worlds is addiction – for the small percentage of people who may have a definable addiction, can the cause also play a role in the treatment? What I’m getting at here is whether in-world therapy for those addicted to virtual world interaction is a sensible treatment option or a damaging option.

DeeAnna Nagel: This should be taken on a case-by-case basis- I do offer online text-based therapy via chat and email to people who identify with Internet addiction. I think working with addicts inworld allows the client to experience a healthy relationship online and offers a way to model use of technology in appropriate ways. Technology is such a part of our social and vocational fabric now that people need to be able to integrate back to using technology but in healthy ways with appropriate boundaries. The work becomes about establishing and maintaining healthy relationships just as we have done with face-to-face clients for years.

\"kate_deanna_inworld\"

Lowell Cremorne: Rapport-building is key for successful therapy – how best is that done online?

DeeAnna Nagel: Consideration should be given to the disinhibition effect. Online, people are less inhibited and likely to disclose information due to the person’s sense of anonymity. When working therapeutically, on the surface, this can be a plus in establishing rather quick rapport, but therapists also have a responsibility to prepare clients about disclosing personal information too quickly and then helping the client modulate the emotional intensity throughout the process.

Kate Anthony: The concept of “presence” is also important here – where is the client and where are you during the process? Most of my trainees agree post-training that the therapeutic work takes place somewhere between the two pieces of hardware (including mobile hardware) in Cyberspace. The mutual journey – and the rapport that goes with it – seems to take place in a nebulous arena, but actually the understanding by both client and counsellor as to how it exists for them facilitates the rapport.

Lowell Cremorne: How much real-world identification do you believe needs to occur prior to therapy commencing?

Kate Anthony: I think it essential for the client to be able to verify identity of the therapist, but this could be done via a third party – such as a professional organisation. Opinion varies widely from a client-identification point of view. Purists prefer to work with whatever the client is offering, subject to some legal identity checks in some places such as the client possibly being under age. The argument there is that the psyche that the client presents, via avatar or text, is a valid psyche to work with. Other practitioners prefer to make several checks as to how the client exists offline (we feel the phrase “real-world” is outdated, incidentally, so prefer to refer to online and offline). Personally, I feel that with a robust intake form and assessment procedure, further identification may simply get in the way of the therapeutic work which often depends on uniquely online societal norms (such as disinhibition and the perceived anonymity).

\"kate_deanna\"

Kate Anthony (L) and DeeAnna Nagel (R)

Lowell Cremorne: Is confirming real world gender / age / cultural identity important for good therapeutic outcomes online?

DeeAnna Nagel: Yes- as with face-to-face, the person’s identification is important to determine if the work between therapist and client is a good fit. Cultural differences should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Kate Anthony: Yes, particularly with regard to age and informed consent.

Lowell Cremorne: What issues / mental health states would you feel uncomfortable dealing with online?

DeeAnna Nagel: For the most part, I am comfortable working with people online that have issues I am comfortable working with face-to-face. As long as I feel competent about the clinical issues and have the proper training, most mental health interventions can occur online. For me, it is difficult to work with someone who is obviously intoxicated or obviously decompensating and showing signs of delusional and irrational behavior- but this is whether the client is face-to-face or online. Certainly, when working via distance, the client’s geographical resources should be determined should crisis intervention become necessary.

Kate Anthony: And that exact point is how I train upcoming online mental health professionals– that with the Internet it is simple to explore a clients alternative crisis interventions based on their geographical location. Other concerns are working with people who are in a relationship that involves domestic violence. Safety issues for the victim come into play if he or she is using a computer that the perpetrator has access to and may be monitoring with a keystroke program.

Lowell Cremorne: Whether it be in a virtual world or via more traditional online methods, do you find you’re less likely to run into personal boundary issues, or is it just as much a challenge?

DeeAnna Nagel: For me, the boundaries are not blurred. I have always maintained boundaries in person and online but with the advent of social networking, I am consulting with more and more professionals who are struggling with this issue. What to do if a client friends their therapist on Facebook for instance and many times the dilemmas are ethical in nature- with regard to either confidentiality or dual relationships.

Lowell Cremorne: Are you aware of any formalised professional associations for online therapists to communicate and if not, how do you see the momentum developing so that this occurs?

Kate Anthony: There is the International Society for Mental Health Online (ISMHO) as mentioned, and more recently ACTO-UK (Association for Counsellors and Therapists Online – UK) – an organisation for UK based online therapists. The latter is holding it’s first conference (online and offline simultaneously) in April. Our fear is that many small organisations will crop up here and there with narrow ideas – what the Online Therapy Institute strives for is a global agreement as to how each of these associations can work together to disseminate knowledge and stimulate growth of the field to the greater good of online work, whether in virtual worlds or via other modalities.

DeeAnna Nagel: To that end we have developed the Ethical Framework for the use of Technology in Mental Health that offers Best Practice standards regardless of the practitioner’s geographic location.

Lowell Cremorne: What are your plans over the coming year for your Second Life work? Have you considered other worlds?

DeeAnna Nagel: We explore other worlds as they appear, and not always necessarily in an obvious way. For example, the Online Therapy Institute has a strong interest in the prevention and treatment of Cyberbullying, and a virtual world such as Club Penguin, for example, could be instrumental in that aim. Plans for the coming year is to explore those platforms that meet the Institute\’s requirements for safe and secure client-therapist interaction, and continue to develop training for conducting therapy in virtual worlds.

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

1. Earth Week is coming up in Second Life (18th to 26th April). All the details are here, and there\’s a quick promo machinima:

2. Australian kid\’s offering eKidna World is running a competition offering a year\’s free membership and a family pass to Australia zoo. Each entrant is required to provide their details and the details of a friend that eKidna can contact. Entries close 31st March.

3. The 1st Annual Second Life Resident Choice Awards kickoff on the 31st March – more details here

4. Linden Lab have lost their CFO, John Zdanowski, who\’s officially announced his departure. Ignoring personalities, it\’s far from surprising there\’d be some churn in senior management positions with a newish CEO on board.

Weekend Whimsy

1. STAR WARS – SECOND LIFE – Promo Teaser Trailer

2. Daliwolf and Beth\’s Second Life Wedding

3. \”The Far Away\” in Second Life

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

1. Habbo Australia have surveyed 4012 teenagers (12-18 year olds) on their concerns, with 81% citing the environment as a major issue, with an unsurprising emphasis on bushfires.

Habbo will be closing down for Earth Hour on March 28th at 8.30pm AEDT. What say you Linden Lab, Blizzard and others?

\"habbo_earthhour\"

2. The Alphaville Herald has some stunning pictures of Metaplace builds – it shows the potential power of a well-implemented 2D platform.

3. There\’s been quite a lot of focus on this week\’s announcement of Sparkle, which allows in-world text chat in Second Life and in OpenSim grids on the iPhone or iPod Touch. Here\’s a brief demo:

More on Sparkle once we have a closer look in the next few days.

A very large list of Second Life blogs

Over at Second Effects, Second Life resident and business owner ArminasX Saiman has compiled (via Technorati rankings) an enormous list of Second Life sites.

The list is worth a browse purely for the huge variety of sites out there devoted to Second Life. Any rankings system is pretty arbitrary, but major kudos to ArminasX for putting such a comprehensive resource together.

The identity paradox

\"WhoLast week, we spoke about anonymity and privacy, and in so doing we brushed past the concept of identity. The problem of identity has been with us for quite some time, as a species and as a set of societies. Newer technologies, such as the telephone and the Public Internet do not make the problem harder or more intractable, but they sure do make it a lot easier to actually see.

Actually, there are multiple issues of identity. Not the least of which that the word itself encompasses a number of conflicting meanings. In one sense, your identity is who you are without your age, name, gender, appearance, job, nationality, race, or home. What\’s left is the core identity — the person that you are. For the process of identification however, that meaning is pretty useless. Identification focuses on what you are to determine who you are.

Unfortunately, as we\’ve discovered over many generations, that really isn\’t much good either. If it were, there wouldn\’t be so many dead people casting votes in elections.

The usual standard of identification is to assemble a set of non-unique qualities. Your name is likely not unique, nor your address (there may be several people living there) or phone number or job or your date of birth, gender and so on. Put them all together, however, and they seem to do a pretty good job of distinguishing you from anyone else.

Unfortunately, that really only works one-way. This form of identification distinguishes a person from everyone else. It just doesn\’t prove that you\’re that person.

If it did, there\’d be no such thing as an identity thief.

Identity theft goes back hundreds — some say thousands — of years. People have assumed the identity of others for all manner of nefarious purposes. Just because you\’re in possession of identity documents, doesn\’t mean that that is who you are, and that\’s not even beginning to touch on the issue of faked documents.

Photo ID is supposed to help – but it doesn\’t much. Do you really look all that much like the photo on your driver\’s license or passport? Could there be dozens of other people who would resemble that photo just as closely? Probably, yes. Dozens or hundreds. With a little hair dye, maybe thousands would pass muster. Then they turn up for renewal, get their photo taken, and then the photo is of them, not of you.

Fingerprints have been suggested, but it has been shown that these are easily faked, not terribly unique, and frequently quite sloppily matched. Likewise even retina scans are of doubtful utility. They\’re not as unique as they were once thought to be, and useless for roughly 30% of the general population.

How then can we even begin to identify users online, or in virtual environments? Do we even need to?

Well, yes. Users with their computers turned on tend to break laws no more nor less readily than people who don\’t switch them on. In practice, however, it turns out that malefactors are easy to find, if people can be bothered to put any effort into it. Two Second Life copyright infringers were tracked down easily and relatively cheaply despite their having made every effort to conceal or fake their identities in dealings with others. The lack of a definitive atomic identity tied to their online identity proved to be no barrier.

That only leaves us with, for want of a better term, preventative identification. That would be things like, for example, age verification. Let\’s start with the fact that age-verification in the atomic world doesn\’t work, as a rule. Fake IDs abound, and it isn\’t very hard to obtain one. As a result, minors routinely gain access to facilities that would otherwise be barred to them.

Having firmly violated the rules in person, we\’re now going to trust that they can\’t do the same thing online? That\’s just daft. Because at the end of the day, we\’re relying on them presenting documents to us (that may or may not belong to them) to prove that they are who they say they are, and that they are what age they say they are. Credit cards are available to all-ages now in many countries, and other forms of documentation are usually no harder to get than your mother\’s handbag.

Linden Lab\’s plans to move the most extreme Second Life content to an Adults-Only continent, available only to the age-verified potentially suffers from all of these flaws, while simultaneously clustering the content in a single set of locations, where it would be paradoxically easier to locate.

And this wouldn\’t really be a problem, except that in many jurisdictions you are liable for exposing a minor to many things. Even if they lied to you (or to an age-verifier), and had the identity documents to back that up. You might be able to separately sue them for fraud, but frequently the law doesn\’t care if they defrauded you.

And that\’s ultimately the issue people are trying to solve, even though it seems there is no solution in sight.