Second Life is like an empty restaurant

I wrote a post a while back about how dull I thought it was that Adaptive Path were researching Second Life (along with many, far too many, media academics). I still don’t ‘get’ Second Life’s appeal, but maybe that’s from experimenting with virtual worlds long ago and not finding much difference 12 years on.

However, Chris Anderson just wrote about why he gave up on Second Life and points to an article by Frank Rose that he commissioned for Wired. It’s called How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life and pretty much confirms the anecdotal evidence that once you have, in the words of the article, “put in several hours flailing around learning how to function in Second Life, there isn’t much to do.”

The hook and hype of Second Life is that it is new, to most people. But once you’ve experienced the tedium of a virtual world that’s mostly empty it’s like an empty restaurant at 9pm on a Friday – you don’t bother going in.

Long ago, my first job as an intern was on the Virtual Nightclub. It was clear even then (1993 I think) that you go to a nightclub to listen to music (which you could do in the VNC), but mainly to meet, try and seduce or merely gaze at other people. The Virtual Nightclub had a smattering of people, but they were static and didn’t do anything or speak to you. Needless to say, it wasn’t a brilliant success especially as the time it took to produce it mean that all the music and styles were out of date when it was released.

Second Life strikes me as a similar phenomenon – I know there are ‘real’ people in there and some people seem to have sex chats with each other, but as the Wired article points out, you never really see a crowd (which is a limitation of the software engine). (Granted the sexual activity in Second Life, er, scores where the Virtual Nightclub didn’t.)

I’ve often talked about this ‘new tech’ problem with interactive artworks and installations too. When the newness of the technology – rather than a smart or creative idea – is the drawcard it dates and becomes boring very quickly. Germany’s ZKM has a whole collection of pieces like this – awful blocky avatar heads reading newsfeeds about politics in a robot voice, for example. I can’t help feeling that Second Life is heading for the same fate.

At the very least, chucking ad dollars into it without really knowing what or why you are doing seems to be the usual approach of advertising folks desperate to be on the bleeding edge. To me it Second Life feels like a feeble ‘dad’ version of a multi-user virtual space for people who don’t ‘get’ MMORPGs.

The 12 Kinds of Ads in the World

Lynx Ad.

I don’t really blog about advertising or marketing, though it seems to be one the most popular blogging subjects. I usually read Iain’s Crackunit for witty insights into the digital arena too.

But Seth Stevenson’s There Are 12 Kinds of Ads in the World is a great analysis of TV advertising genres along with some classic spots (mainly courtesy of the world’s video archive, YouTube). You’ll end up playing spot-the-format from now on.

It reminded me a great deal of George Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations, which still remains a classic foundation of many a plotline, which is as good a place as any to start if you’re thinking of writing fiction, by the way.

Via Social Design Notes

Etched in Time

In almost all of the course on interactivity that I have taught, someone comes up with the idea of making a screen-based Etch-A-Sketch toy. They’re almost always rubbish because it lacks the physicality of the Etch-A-Sketch and the charm of that.

Etched In Time by George Vlosich III

All of which is a thinly veiled excuse to talk about George Vlosich III’s Etched In Time artworks that really take Etch-A-Sketch drawings to a new level. I find it impossibly hard to even draw a curve with an Etch-A-Sketch, let alone shading. Check out him in action on YouTube or his Etched In Time website

(Via Creative Generalist and PowRightBetweenTheEyes

The Playmakers

I’ve just been introduced to a wonderful book.

Timeless Toys

It’s called Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them, by Tim Walsh and documents the history and development of classic toys.

The original, self-published, book was called The Playmakers: Amazing Origins of Timeless Toys and Tim has a website and blog of the same name. I’m still waiting to receive my copy, but there are several excerpts on the Playmakers site that document the history the Super Ball, The Slinky, Jenga, Pez and Play-Doh (did you know it was wall cleaner?).

All the stories are inspiring examples of people thinking totally outside of the box and putting everything they had into an idea that they were sure would work, even if they had huge fears about it. Most of them are incredibly simple too and plenty were the result of accidents or of playing with materials. There seems to be a real sense of inventing things and then seeing what they might be useful for, rather than the other way around. It’s quite a Google approach to working and a real antidote to all the marketing/functional specification driven projects that are so often part of our daily jobs.

For extra, slightly nerdy thrills, there are also some fascinating patent diagrams Tim managed to dig up. The G.I. Joe one is particularly weird.

Thanks to my PhD supervisor, Ross Gibson, for the heads up.

Facebook and Identity Theft

There has been quite a lot in the news about privacy concerns with Facebook as well as it being used for investigations. Living in a country that was home to the Nazis and the Stasi got me thinking…

I’m on Facebook as you might imagine and, if you are reading this, probably already know. I joined a group called “Wisdom of the Crowdys” today that Mike Coulter set up. It has turned out to be the only interesting Facebook group I’m a member of and the conversation turned to privacy issues and identity theft. But I think the news stories about it being used for investigations are the opposite to the issues of identity theft and they often get lumped together.

Investigations using all your online information might be successful because of the trail you leave, a trail that can only become larger thanks to Facebook. That’s potentially a massive privacy issue in terms of civil liberties, especially if you believe some of the background to Facebook. I’m hoping the Stasi-effect comes into play and there is simply too much information out there to manage – it became their undoing in the end. (For a good read on this, check out Stasiland by Anna Funder).

Identity theft, as I understand it happening, involves two parts to be really successful – one is obviously gaining access to someone else’s accounts and life essentials. The other is the target person either not finding out or finding it hard to prove they are the real person.

I think the main danger is your date of birth and address being left out there in the open all in one place. Those two give access to a surprisingly large number of things from which identity theft could happen, but that stuff is pretty easy to find anyway. Let’s say, also, that your mum was added to your friends and your parents were divorced and she reverted to her maiden name – that’s another common security question. With those and a few account numbers (from, say, stealing someone’s e-mail or snail mail) you’ve got what you need to at least take over a few utility and telco bills. That’s the first step to then proving to a bank that they are, well, you.

But the flipside is this: If you have a fairly prevalent online presence – across many sources and blogs, etc. leaving more of a trace helps you prove you are who you say you are. A combination of Google’s image cache, plus all those other Web 2.0 accounts you have mean there is a lot more identity to have to steal for it to be complete. It makes a piece of paper or plastic with a photo or address on it look pretty quaint.

It might not stop you getting cleaned out, but it might help you prove it to the bank afterwards.

What do you think?

Interview with Nik Roope from Hulger & Poke

Interview with Nik Roope

My first Core77 Broadcast with Nik Roope about Hulger has just gone online.

It should become one of a series of podcasts for Core77 and I’m really pleased because it’s one of my regular reads. Core77 started out (and still bills itself) as the “industrial design supersite”, though their remit has become somewhat wider, which I think is great personally.

So I thought I’d start with Hulger because it is product design, but with a very different philosophy to most gadgets.

I’ve known Nik for around 15 years. We were both members of Antirom and also used to do an interactive performance together with Joe Stephenson. Over the years we have had some really interesting conversations about emerging technologies and cultures and I’ve watched Hulger go from an amusing idea to being on its way towards being a design icon.

The interview also brings this philosophy to bear on his main job as one of the co-founders and creative directors of digital agency, Poke and it’s interesting to hear about how those two sides influence each other.

You can listen to the broadcast on the Core77 site and there is also a version on iTunes.

Let me know what you think and also who you would like to hear interviewed in the future.

StumbleUpon is the Antirom of the Web

Antirom - Misfits Toy

Or – In Praise of Randomness

Whilst thinking about writing a post in praise of randomness in interaction design, I realised that StumbleUpon is, in many ways, the Antirom CD-ROM of the Web. In many, many ways StumbleUpon is much better, but here is the parallel with the original Antirom CD-ROM:

(Read On for more… this is going be a longer post than usual)

Continue reading “StumbleUpon is the Antirom of the Web”

Director Lives Again for Retro Games

Like all of us at Antirom, Macromedia’s Director was a revolution because it allowed a bunch of non-coders to make interactive ‘stuff’. The upshot of this was that we came at interactivity with a totally different perspective to that of trained programmers. Sometimes that made for painfully bad code, but it did make for some interesting experiments and that cross-disciplinary, playful approach has stuck with me ever since.

Macromedia and then Adobe pretty much buried Director with Flash. It’s been under-supported for years, although there are rumours of Director 11 being worked on. These days it’s listed under the ‘more products’ section of Adobe’s wesbite.

Flash, before the most recent version, used to be excruciatingly slow for anything involved shifting lots pixels around, but then it did grow out of the world of the vector (and it wasn’t too fast at that either). But the last version solved most of that and it’s fair to say that it’s easily overshadowed Director in terms of handling video and real-time effects.

I’m glad, in a way, because it means that it’s probably not worth continuing to update my Director skills much, which is one less thing to fill my head with. On the other hand, Director was and still is a great too for rapid prototyping interfaces and ideas and is still a lot faster and better at some things (a steadily reducing list). It’s also great for creating quick versions of retro game ideas. Remember games before 3D?

Cave Days

Then I saw that Yacco posted about Cave Days, an old-school side scrolling platform game by Insolita Studios from Brazil. It’s well put together, catches that old-school pixel look really well and, sure enough, it’s been built in Director. It’s nice to know that there is life in the old dog yet and it goes to show that a good game doesn’t rely on the technology.

You can download a demo and try it for yourself.

Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design Opens

A year or so ago I heard about plans to set up the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) and I’m really happy to see that they are now ready to launch their pilot year for 2008. Many of the people involved are ex-Ivrea and I notice that Live|Work’s Lavrans Løvlie and Frog Design’s Fabio Sergio are amongst the invited faculty, so there should be some great talent around the students.

The real trick is to build a structure that allows for the very best teaching and learning experiences. But as many of them have a background in service design they should be able to apply those skills to their own institution (but it’s always hard to be your own client).

Apart from the obvious interaction design connection, I’m interested in the way they might have set up the courses and their process there. Given many of my writings on education I have often wondered “what would I do if I were to start an institution from scratch?”.

It’s not a trivial task and most probably pretty scary to be doing. It was nice to stumble across this comment at the bottom of the CIID page:

This is an experiment – we’re diving in head-first and hope you will too. There’s a chance it might not happen, but we’re willing to take the risk and we’re looking for those daring enough to join us.

Something you would never see on any dull established university’s pages, yet the truth is all of them are hanging onto dear life in a whirlpool of change. The founders of CIID are at least happy about it and willing to be transparent.

I wish them the very best of luck.

p.s. They’re only looking for 15-20 students (the luxury!) in this pilot stage, so if you are interested head to the admissions page. Applications close at the end of August this year.