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Departure from Second Life: one story

For the duration of the four-plus years I’ve been involved with Second Life, I’ve known Wolfie Rankin. He’s been one of the driving forces behind the ABC Island community since its launch back in 2007, and has also been outspoken on a range of issues, including his perspective on furries. For me, he’s been an enduring Australian presence in Second Life, so I was more than a little surprised when I discovered this week that he’s decided to cease his involvement. I commissioned Wolfie to write a piece about his decision, which is shown below. Obviously it’s his opinion only and each person’s reasons for departing or entering Second Life are different, but I still thought it was well worth sharing.

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For the past five years I’ve used Second Life. Being fairly shy it helped me to come out of my shell, to find new friends, and discover that I could do more than I thought I could.

And during the time that I was recovering from cancer treatments it was a real boon, it lifted my spirits and made me feel wanted and needed.

Others who had a serious illness or were stuck in rural locations found they too could meet like-minded people, and found sanctuary within this virtual world.

Despite all the slagging off about Second Life which came from both the public and the media, those who used Second Life, and made the necessary connections to make it worthwhile, found it to be a wonderful experience.

One of the things worth trying is what they call Machinima. If you have wished that you could be an animator, but had no drawing skills to speak of, then this is brilliant. Just build a set in world, bring in some characters, direct them, film them, then edit the results with something like Sony Vegas, add music and effects, then upload to Youtube. The quality of what you can create here is astounding. and I would highly recommend trying it, even just for a bit of fun.

Five years ago, I was asked by several people to give Second Life a go, which I was reluctant to do as I never considered myself to be a gamer, and from what I knew of Second Life at the time, it was some sort of game -therefore I wasn’t interested.

Then I saw a report on Channel Seven about Second Life and thought that perhaps it had some merit after all, so being the curious type, I logged in.

The first time you log in, it can be a pain. It’s possible to end up lagging away on an island full of grey people, which is incredibly frustrating, and I feel we lost of lot of potential users who got caught in that situation and logged out thinking that was what Second Life was.

I checked into Second Life with a couple of friends who wanted to create an island just for us, this would cost serious money, I tried to stop my friend from going this far, but the next thing we knew, we had an island of our own. It’s a cheap proposal for a corporation, but a bit rich for individuals.

This gave us a private place of our own where we could meet and chat about our day with others. We could log in from anywhere in the world and somehow get the feeling that we weren’t all that far away at all. Those who put down Second Life by saying that we should only meet friends in the real world are so lucky to have their entire ensemble of friends, family and co-workers within walking distance of each other, and yet they still cling solidly to their mobiles. Most people have friends and family who are very far away, and if not for the phone or computer, we’d be back to pens, paper and envelopes. My friends were a mixture of American, English, Canadian and Australian – there was no way that we could meet for coffee at the local café on a daily or weekly basis.

I had a pub in Second Life, which I thought was lovely and airy, something like a Queenslander. I made it as comfy as possible, and we used it for events and get-togethers, but mostly it was just my home. Ahh yes, the disputes. I would log into Second Life and appear at my pub, on this island, to find that objects I had placed, had been moved to odd places, as though a three year old had got into crayons and tossed them everywhere. That, or that an item was returned because it was taking up too many prims (the constant talk of prim usage is annoying). The land itself could be altered too, which led to other irritations such as finding the nice flat land that I once had, was now the slope of a hill, and everything I had placed, including my home, was now buried… or the land was now a sunken valley, and all my trees and flowers were floating in the air.

This tended to be the result of selfish actions on the part of another island manager.

If I write a blog post, it remains there, it’s fixed, I own it and nobody can move it or alter the wording, I prefer things this way.

I left the private island and spent most of my time on ABC Island, Abi and the island staff were very reasonable, and there were few arguments, and certainly most of them were easy enough to resolve. ABC felt like a better home for me than Eragon. The problem here was that I really tried to get things going, but it was always difficult.

I would spend a week writing Rockit, my virtual quiz show, only to get about eight people showing up. We tried getting Pool into ABC Island… Lilli did an awesome job with the architecture, Abi gave us a hand, and we were all set to go. but when the ball was out of our court – as in Pool doing their bit, or the ABC doing theirs, everything stalled, whether it was legal issues or disinterest, I have no idea. This was fairly standard.

The idea for ABC to get into Second Life was a bold one, and one that we supported as a group, but the problem often seemed that ABC had forgotten us, there was a lot that we could have done with that island, but the volunteers could only do so much.

ABC has TV and Radio and web-based material. Having Second Life is a logical step if you’re going to experiment with as much of the digital world as possible, but I don’t think that it was handled as it should have been.

ABC had CSIRO people coming in for a few weeks, when ABC Island was new, to talk about science, something that went down exceedingly well. I was asked many times by a lot of people, if we’d ever have the science discussions again, it seemed to have been most peoples favourite ABC Island event – it was mine too. I tried to lure various science people into Second Life to do this, but none were interested.

There were things that we would have liked to have done, but we were blocked because we were not ABC staff – I suppose that’s understandable. The volunteers all felt like there needed to be someone from ABC who was there a fair bit, someone who not only worked with ABC but also someone who really enjoyed and understood Second Life, that would have helped so much.

If ABC is serious about getting experts from segments of New Media, they should send talent scouts into places like Second Life and say “You look like you know what you’re doing, would you like to work for us?”

Second Life has a vast potential, but often sadly that’s all it has. Perhaps it’s too new, perhaps something like this should have turned up twenty years into the future, when most people would look at you like a moron if you thought the internet was full of axe murderers.

I tried very hard getting people to come into Second Life. I mentioned it on mailing lists, forums and Twitter but nobody cared. “That sounds like crap”, they’d say, “Why would we want to do that, when we can just email each other?”. “I use Skype to talk to my friends”, “I use Facebook” and the oh so original, “Get a real life” which I’d heard nearly a million times. Sure there were technical reasons too – some had old machines that couldn’t handle Second Life, others had poor internet access. Fair enough.

Second Life has great potential, but people will never see that potential if they don’t at least try it. Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?

It’s funny how users of one social media will happily use one or two things and mock another. People don’t bother to research the software themselves, just rely on sketchy rumours, and if those rumours are bad, well tough.

I signed up and researched them myself to see how viable they were, and to be honest, there’s only a few that seemed not up to scratch, as far as I’m concerned, Myspace being a great example, Here’s something which is trendy to mock, but to put it bluntly, it’s a cow of a thing to use.

I loved Second Life, I really did, but not enough of you dared to try it yourself. I was there, I would have been delighted to have helped, and did help people on numerous occasions. I wanted others to see a potential and see how far they could take it… some did very well indeed…

Anyway, after five years of trying to bring people in for a look and waiting in vain, of dealing with arguments about prims and lag, of being whined at, and banging my head against a brick wall as projects simply stall because nobody seems to care – I know there are those who continue use Second Life and love it, and to be honest, I’ve had a lot of good times in there myself – but it just got to a point where I didn’t feel like I was happy there anymore, so I just walked away.

Wolfie Rankin.

Popularity: 2% [?]

  • Skylar Smythe

    I know how you feel. I owned venues and was passionate about using Second Life as a platform to not only launch my own published writing career but to network and bring writers from all over the world together to collaborate and aid in each others successes.

    What I found is that infidelity or sexuality is the key currency in Second Life. When I was single… drawing a crowd was no issue (go figure). As someone who is preparing to get engaged and faithful to my boyfriend… well the marketing becomes decidedly harder.

    Formulating great “rich content” events that get ignored is heart breaking and you do burn out after awhile. I now keep my sex/romantic life and my literary life predominately offline where it is more rewarding and go into Second Life to visit with friends and be an audience member to a very select number of events each week.

    It is a shame. Perhaps they ought to market it as “best place to cheat on your spouse” and that might bring some fresh crowds in. Just sayin’….

  • Jann

    Wolfie, on your invitation I tried some time ago but just found second life too difficult to get into. Making an avatar was a disaster and I couldn’t find a way to start making one from scratch again. I also had difficulty figuring out exactly what I was supposed to be doing so gave it away.
    I wonder how many others from our mutual lists tried and simply gave up.

  • Chryblnd

    I loathe this attitude. This has NOT been my experience of SL at all. In the two years I have been there, I have not been party to any kind of infidelity, my friends have turned out to be genuine and loyal and certainly ethical. I also have a rich and fulfilling creative second life. I am not saying my experiences invalidate yours, which have obviously left some bitterness. But I think it’s important to clearly state, to those who may read this article and it’s correspondence, that your experience and mine are markedly different.

    I’m also saddened to see your SL experience has been an unhappy one, Wolfie. Good luck in your wider travels.

  • http://dolphinviewer.eregion.de Lance Corrimal

    this needs to be forwarded to linden lab’s public relations department.

    oh wait, they don’t have one.

  • Lance Corrimal

    You know how they say “whom the shoe fits…”?

    I found that “Everybody picks what suits them.” has equal validity… So who’s to blame if all that you found in SL was “cheating on your spouse”?

  • Lance Corrimal

    You know how they say “whom the shoe fits…”?

    I found that “Everybody picks what suits them.” has equal validity… So who’s to blame if all that you found in SL was “cheating on your spouse”?

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    That’s ok Jann, The point is that you tried and that makes me feel happy enough. I know a lot of people need someone standing with them, to show them how to use the computer. I did have friends helping me years back when I got my first computers, I wonder how far I would have got without them? It’s far too easy for people to take the word of friends and declare that something is unworthy, but signing up is generally free and easy. I generally sign up for everything… if it doesn’t work then I just forget about it and move on, but when it does go right, it can be a total joy.

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    If anyone has any questions, then I’ll be pleased to answer them.

  • Peter R

    Wolfie, Its going to be a shame to see you leave SL. But we all move along at some stage. Your input and creativity applied to the ABC Island will be missed and hard to match. Your organisational skills surpass that of the builders and that was your best seat in the house. Please don’t axe your avatart as your always welcome to visit when the mood takes you. Might even have some land you can mess about on. I understand that its not a easy call , but you can still FB or twitter and we will find you.
    You have always been about for a good laugh and chat give or take our RL encumbrances.

    Thank you for the friendship mate.
    From one of the other ABC P’s

  • An ABC Admin

    Jann If you try again IM me ( Gumby Roffo). If the times match I am more than happy to assist you through the steep learning curve. I think even Skylar would help (waves). ABC Island is rated G so no naughty rubbish there. Just friends to help.

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    Lance, in all honesty I found little wrong with SL in itself, Of course it’s not perfect, and yes there have been great stuffups. But don’t forget that the internet as a whole, is our ages new thing. I’m not sure if you are anywhere near my age, but when Television was new, it was an absolute pain… the picture would roll, it’d be snowy, getting some stations to work was a gamble. You may have wanted to see a particular program this evening, but whether you actually could was anyone’s guess. TVs were highly unreliable, so much so that TV repair vans were often seen cruising the streets. and you had to pay a TV licence for what is now free. We expect everything to be perfect these days, and it isn’t.

  • Dave

    Thanks, Wolfie,

    Your insights and frustrations about SL match my own. I don’t go in nearly as much as I used to. Now i mostly go inwolrd just to sail and do other solitary things–nowadays SL can seem as lonely as RL. Ive experienced being bullied in SL and because of the anonymity thing, that can be as frightening as RL. Some of my in world friends have experienced the same thing. And I agree with you about some of the Facebook and Twitter “pundits” who tend to bluntly criticize what they can’t grasp or otherwise threatened by. Somehow these people lack the ability to think out of the box of their own clique by whom they want to be accepted. This is kind of a paradox because many get in to virtual worlds for that very reason. I can only hope they are the extreme.

    I’m stcking with it though, because whether SL survives beyond this winter or not, I can’t help believing that virtual environments will be part of the mainstream of social media for education and corporate training My company develops initiatives along this line,so I can only hope that virtual worlds survive beyond this early phase. I liken it all to the Internet in 1992,back in the days of Mosaic, when the mainstream world,myself included, could not fathom it. Now look where it’s brought us!

    I like what you said about that 20-year in the future. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait that long.

    Thanks, again, wolfie, hopefully your departure from SL just turns into be something of a sabbatical . We need avi-people like you to grow the faith!

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    I am certain that virtual environments will be a part of our future, the delivery will change though.

    We need to unhook ourselves from the desk, the keyboard, monitor and mouse all need to go, internet access should happen anywhere, and probably without others realising that you’re accessing it.

    Eventually we’ll get something like fake holographic avatars which we’ll see in our loungerooms, or anywhere, via a pair of glasses which will bring in all our communications…

    Just like Back to the future II, or we’ll have real holographic images to talk to and interact with, and in the future people will be paid to be these amazing beings, it will be just a normal job, like editing news websites is now.

    Perhaps you’re right, it may be just a decade away as technology advances, but will the public take the technology seriously once it’s up and running?

    I do hope that whoever comes up with the plan, realises that not everybody wants to be Human, when we’re in these worlds, right Sony?

    I have not been thrilled by corporations getting into SL and then dumping it, feeling that it wasn’t worth the effort. Of course if your company is about shoes or cars, it’s not going to happen.

    But any company involved with media, should find Secondlife a doddle, and it’s for this reason I didn’t want ABC to fail. A media company failing at media is *not a good image*.

    Likewise, anything involving music, film or computer technology should do a reasonable job in world.

  • http://twitter.com/janakyomoon JaNa KYoMooN

    excellent article

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    ABC is rated M, But we still tried to keep it clean.

  • http://isadorafiddlesticks.blogspot.com/ Isadora Fiddlesticks

    indeed, lance…life in SL is a mixed bag, and you choose how to react on what happens to you. in my almost 3 years of being in SL, i’ve been conned, had my heart broken, betrayed and lost friends because of various reasons, and you just grin and move on, having learned the lessons you need to learn from those experiences.

    Not really too different from RL really…just more colorful, and yeah, you can fly…:P

  • Joachim Liveoak

    Hi Lowell, Wolfie. I (my Av) was Joachim Liveoak, the main organiser of the CSIRO involvement & I recall Wolfie’s laconic ”G’day mate” greetings fondly. My experience went along the same lines though with a few uniquely CSIRO twists. I would love to chat about the experience further or add to Wolfie’s impressions for Lowell’s readers. The scientist presentations were a real highlight for me too and I would certainly have followed up & continued them but for the same attitudes at CSIRO that Wolfie describes ar ABC. It all comes from the interaction of corporate cultures with more experimental subcultures but that is a story for another time. Reply to this post if you would like to pursue this further.

    Best

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    G’Day Mate (That was a recording of Gumbys voice, who wrote here earlier), I would be very interested in what you have to say, in fact it could be the subject of a separate story… Let Lowell contact you about that. :)

  • Lowell Cremorne

    Hi Joachim – as Wolfie mentioned, I’d be interested in fleshing out your thoughts further, either on this thread or offline via our contact form?

  • Joachim Liveoak

    My reply button for both you & Wolfie below seems to be broken. I’ll type up a bit of the story of the CSIRO island (yes we had one but never made it public like ABC) & our collaboration with Wolfie & his collegues. I agree with Wolfie’s post further down that there is a lot more future in virtual worlds than most of the public yet realise and SL – while it may not be perfect – was a better first step than most of the game based worlds.

    Lowell can you access the email in this post? Having trouble finding a separate ‘contact’ form.

  • Lowell Cremorne

    Hi Joachim – contact form here: /contact or you can use the email info AT metaversejournal.com ;)

  • Joachim Liveoak

    Unlike Wolfie I was an IT pro on the communications staff of CSIRO but the experience was not dissimilar. I had been interested in virtual worlds and simulations in general for many years. I had tried some of the popular game worlds live Everquest, Eve, WoW, read some of the theory (such as Edward Castranova) and dipped into Terra Nova fairly regularly. It was quite apparent that there was something profoundly different and better about a persistent, shared virtual world than one you boot up at need for you & a few friends & then put away again.

    For CSIRO it began 4-5 years ago when the organisation was in a state of change, as it usually is, but this time there had been a big drive to improve & expand communications in general to allow the organisation to shape a more coordinated message to the world. A colleague (who later led the team) & I happened upon SL & could see its considerable potential – or at least the considerable potential of having a shared persistent virtual world of its kind.

    For those who are not up on it, SL is really the only virtual world that is just a platform and “the point” is democratised content provision by users. That is, the point is what ever you want it to be. I was not put off by the worlds with a game as their reason for being but having seen gaming ‘dumbed down’ from a creative pens & dice process by a subculture to mass consumption of (admittedly graphically gorgeous) game content totally created by pros for their non-contributing users; I though Great! at last computers are giving creativity back to whoever wants to let THEIR imagination go for a run instead of consuming someone elses.

    The potential for virtual worlds as a communications medium was obvious as well but ONLY if users (including organisations) could create and control their own content. This was why a trickle at first, then a flood of corporations flocked to make SL trendy & experimented with it for a time. I was not as put off as Wolfie by this since I could see that as long as – like the web – as long as the big players supported the platform, the open nature of the medium would guarantee that there would always be a playground there for enthusiasts like us as well. Unfortunately the main reason most corporate involvement tapered off over time probably had more to do with the total SL audience not growing to advertising-significant levels than any flaw in the platform. Personally I agree with Wolfie that there is still a big future there for open VR but more on that later.

    Time went buy and we continued to experiment on CSIRO’s behalf with SL. My colleague was promoted to manage the web channel & he approved the cost of an SL island for us to experiment with on building an SL presence. I met Abi & started building bridges to ABC. Not being a media organisation as such, CSIRO management were leary of opening up our island or allotting much resource to it as CSIRO always wants as much money to go to the actual science as possible & they tend to be cautious about jumping on new trends – at least when their own science is not the thing driving them. I realised that collaborating with ABC island on bringing a virtual stage to our scientists & their message would be another matter.

    With some help from the media communications team we began recruiting some of our fascinating scientists to appear in the virtual world. Some turned us down flat, some reluctantly agreed but a couple – like James Bradfield-Moody who also appears on TV spots such as New Inventors – jumped at the novel opportunity. We promoted the talk series through all the channels we could reach and recruited a media company in-world to help us do professional grade recordings of the talks. I cobbled together scripted pointers, helped scientists with their talk slides & built avatars for those who needed it. Some like Peter Clifton (C0-Author of CSIRO Diet) looked as much as possible like their real world selves while others went more fanciful.As the day approached we could sense that we had a bit of a buzz on our hands.

    The talks went off with hardly a hitch & pretty good crowds. We got some knock on media mentions & the uploaded recordings were popular for a while but something was wrong closer to home. Both ABC & CSIRO thought it had been OK but they had other priorities. We talked about follow ups but the main comms person who had driven it at ABC had been given broader responsibilities & was putting more time into experimenting with other New Media (such as Twitter that you now see woven into so much ABC programming). CSIRO comms was now run by new execs who were ‘more sensible’ & who did not want to invest much more in experimental New Media. I was an admirer of what the volunteers had achieved at ABC island and proposed either forming our own community or collaborating even closer with ABCs… but the enthusiasm wasn’t there. No-one actually banned it but more prosaic priorities took the time & resources. People moved to different teams in both organisations & somehow the collaboration we had built softened & went in different directions. The transitory nature of corporate culture moved the effort back to more meat and potatoes tasks. In the end both I and my Media team colleague sensed the ‘new’ direction & moved on to other opportunities as well.

    My own involvement gradually waned as my new company had no place at all for it. I didn’t know Wolfie well enough to stay in touch either so it has been fascinating to see the events anew through his eyes. The technology has continued to improve though with more immersive displays to give users the ability to walk right into virtual worlds & leave their keyboards, mice & static screens behind (not cheap enough for SL-like masses yet though. Input for virtuality improves as well with the first mass market movement sensors appearing that don’t need wired gloves, suits, wii controllers etc. I agree with Wolfie that Virtual Worlds will rise again. It may not be SL. It probaly wont be any of the game worlds either – though there will always be game worlds IN the VR. What set SL apart and made (makes?) it a media phenomenon and a viable communications channel was a few features it shares with the Web.

    * Open access so that anyone can come, participate, contribute and experience without great cost. Private, secure corporate/
    * Persistence of the world/system so anyone can access it any time across the internet
    * User generated content that empowers private imagination along with organisational message crafting, preferably with reasonably simple authoring tools

    I believe that Wolfie is right and that we will have virtual worlds to interact with in or lounge rooms before long. There may be headsets & HUDs as holographic animation is still a long way off but it will be far less inhibited than the keyboard & screen ones now. All it takes is a really good open platform that allows all comers to create their own space & appearance etc. Once the platform is right game designers will put their worlds in a corner of “the metaverse” rather than in their own closed off server clusters. Telephony will be like a hybrid of SL & Skype. The web will be like screens, documents etc in-world. Now THAT would REALLY be Web 2.0!

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    I’m really sorry that I missed you in world, as we could have set something up easily and kept it running for those who were interested, I was utterly desperate to keep the science going as there was a demand for it.

    I have to clarify, I wasn’t upset with corporations moving in at all, but when they failed and moved on, it seemed to me that Second Life got the blame. But Second Life is a type of media, much like radio. If you gave a studio to a car company, a bank etc, then it will become a bit of a white elephant, but give it to ABC, Nine, Sony, Universal or anyone like that and I’m sure they’ll make some kind of use out of it. :)

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    I’m really sorry that I missed you in world, as we could have set something up easily and kept it running for those who were interested, I was utterly desperate to keep the science going as there was a demand for it.

    I have to clarify, I wasn’t upset with corporations moving in at all, but when they failed and moved on, it seemed to me that Second Life got the blame. But Second Life is a type of media, much like radio. If you gave a studio to a car company, a bank etc, then it will become a bit of a white elephant, but give it to ABC, Nine, Sony, Universal or anyone like that and I’m sure they’ll make some kind of use out of it. :)

  • Joachim Liveoak

    Absolutely. My point though was that although SL got the blame of having been judged wanting, I do not think from my insider point of view that it was anything about SL as a platform but just that no amount of effort in world could reach more than the active population of SL. From a global corporations point of view that was just not a big enough audience. When & if we get VR worlds comparable to SL (in terms of my three points) which generate a big enough audience then the corps will flock back again. It is about reach – not platform. Unfortunately this will mean they will invest in some really idiotic stuff as long as that stuff has a large following.

  • Joachim Liveoak

    Yes. A real pity we didn’t manage to keep it going. It is kind of an object lesson in disfunctional human organisations that cannot maintain something that would be good for both & use only sunk costs to generate a whole lot of value & good will.

  • http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/ Prokofy

    Well, each to his own, Second Life isn’t for everybody, people who struggle with trying to think up things to do and who need to have more entertainment or direction will not likely be happy unless they get in some sort of RP community.

    I’m not getting the part where you couldn’t control your land. If you were paying for that land, you should have controlled it. The main owner should have sectioned off a parcel and given you your own group, so that others couldn’t terraform or set prims. As for moving around your owned content, that is only possible if you had it on “share with group” which is generally not advised. If you were just staying on this land rent-free, well, I guess you can’t complain, but even so, it seems like needless aggravation. Just by setting a group and having roles in it, or making different groups, you can avoid that disruption.

    And why the islands? They are expensive and become a burden. Why not a $25 a month tier with a 4096 plus 512 of your own on the mainland? It is dirt cheap and you can find land now for $1-3/meter that has nice views. Then you can fully control it and the cost is like a few lattes and a meal out, and doesn’t feel so expensive, then you don’t become resentful. If you rent, you could even find something for $12-15/month on the mainland.