Sunday, 30 September 2007

China and Virtual Worlds - UOneNet

Quote from the ever-reliable Virtual World News:

Beijing-based virtual worlds developer UOneNet* plans to launch a new virtual world called “uWorld" in 1Q 2008, according to uWorld is a 3D virtual community that allows users to live, interact, and conduct business together. Users of uWorld will be able to purchase virtual real estate, start businesses, create social circles, and make and sell virtual items. Alpha testing for uWorld will begin in December 2007, says the article. The founder of UOneNet, Eric Ye, was a former software architect at IBM and has a masters degree in engineering from the University of Southern California (USC). The company has been focusing on building a reliable backend, including its own proprietary technology called UniG, which is being used to build uWorld, the article says. UOneNet plans to design the virtual world to appeal to Chinese users by adding more in-game tutorials and content creation tools. Currently, UOneNet is operating with a mixture of angel and venture funding and has 60 employees total, according to

* The UOneNet webpage has an "English" button - but this seems to do sweet FA. On the other hand, the uWorld website has a fair amount of English content.

Koldinghus - And Some Scandinavian Minimalism

After posting the entry about free Swedish lessons I thought I'd check out the area around the Swedish Institute, and came across the Kolding Danmark sim. As it was open, it seemed churlish not to drop in for a look.

The Koldinghus is "the last of the ancient royal castles on the peninsula of Jutland... [it has] had many functions ranging from fortress, royal residency, ruin, museum and the location of numerous wartime negotiations." It is now a museum, but you can find out more of its history here. It is built overlooking the town of Kolding. It is not abundantly clear whether this sim is built on behalf of the town (as the name implies), the castle (as the build to date implies), or both (as I suspect may be the case).

It is clear that the build is still in its early stages. The bulk of the castle is in place, but is yet to be furnished. Hence my remark about "Scandinavian minimalism" in the title of this piece. Outside there are large pieces of construction that can best be described as "work in progress," comprising large swathes of default "plywood." The build is clearly some way from completion so it would be wrong of me to comment. But that doesn't normally stop me! I have one observation, concerning the textures used on the castle. Basically, at the moment they seem over-stretched, resulting in a blurry effect. As it is not claiming to be ready, I will assume that this is temporary, to show the general effect. However, I hope before they open that they make the time to improve this texture. Aside from that, there is nothing else to say about the build at this time. Here are a few snaps for you:

The last picture shows you some of the work in progress.

Learn Yerself Swedish

On return from a jaunt into the Real World (for a change) I found an email waiting for me that I thought might interest you.

Is your level of attainment in Swedish about that of The Chef in The Muppets? Would you like to go beyond and maybe actually learn the language properly? Well courtesy of Sweden's virtual embassy in Second Life, you now have the opportunity.

Starting Tuesday, October 2nd, you can get free(!!!) Swedish lessons at the embassy, using voice chat technology and live video. No previous knowledge is required - which is a relief for anyone whose Swedish stretches no further than "bork bork bork." Lessons kick off at a cold-showering 7:00AM SLT (that 3:00PM UK or 4:00PM CET) in the Second House of Sweden auditorium, Swedish Institute sim

If you want to find out more follow this link.

Oh... and while I'm on a Swedish theme, you might be interested to know that IT firm Sogeti has added another (private) island to Second Life. In keeping with the theme it belongs to Sogeti Sweden.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Rene Caovilla

I'm not what you'd call a big footwear fan. Oh, I wear shoes, but I view them as a necessary evil - and hate the process of actually buying the damned things. So this posting may come as a bit of a surprise - since the star of the piece is Italian shoe and accessory designer, Rene Caovilla. Out on my rambles this evening I spotted the intriguingly-named: Caovilla Venice. To be fair, it was the "Venice" that attracted my attention - not the "Caovilla", which until now was not a word I was familiar with.

The island, as you will have surmised, belongs to Rene Caovilla. As well as fashion accessories, the Caovilla family has many business interests. For example, "he is the major shareholder of the Gazzettino daily newspaper and a member of the Voting Syndicate of the Banca Antonveneta, besides owning a large real-estate portfolio which includes the Fattoria di Mugnano...the next major step is the opening of the first own-brand boutique in Milan; a luxury salon in the heart of the town, at Via Bagutta 28, furnished with works of art, wall tapestries and architectural features from 18th century Venice." The company itself is now based just outside Venice.

The island brings together a number of Venice's most famous architectural masterpieces, including the Rialto bridge, the campanile in Piazza San Marco and the Doge's Palace. The showroom for Rene Caovilla sits in the middle of the island. There are a number of water taxis and gondola, but sadly they are not scripted, and so they sit there looking pretty - but are otherwise pretty useless. In fact, the same can be said for much of the island - it looks pretty, but it does not engage with you. As a 3D advertisement, it may be OK - I actually like the showroom building - but the island lacks spirit. It also seems to be missing the spirit of Venice itself. In place of the narrow, claustrophobic alleys and canals, with startlingly beautiful views at the least expected moments, this island has large open areas of green lawns, and enough sky to make even a mild agoraphobic nervous - most un-Venetian. There is also no concept of community here. As I said, it appears to be treating the space as a large 3D billboard. If this is their intention I think they will be disappointed in the traffic it will generate.

But enough of such carping - here's what it looks like:

The showroom - by day and by night:

Let me know what you think. Am I being too harsh? Have I missed something?

UPDATE 09-10-07: See comments, where the builder, Lupo Ellison, explains that the island is actually still under construction, and that plans are afoot to make it more typically Venetian. I plan to go back in a month or two, to see how it has evolved.

Friday, 28 September 2007

European Virtual Avatar Tax

In common with many European Second Lifers I received a bit of a shock last night when I received an email that purported to come from Linden Lab, claiming that henceforth any transactions* I have with them will be subject to VAT. For non-Europeans, this is not Virtual Avatar Tax, but Value Added Tax. The rate of this tax varies from country to country. In the UK it is 17.5%, while in Denmark I understand it is an eye-watering 25%. Naturally assuming some kind of scam I did my research, and found that, yes it really was from Linden.

I am not a premium account holder with my own land, so it may have only the most peripheral effect on me. But for those who run their own virtual businesses, or at least those not "VAT registered" (most people), it may seriously affect their competitiveness, since they will be paying Linden significantly more than their rivals for the raw materials of their trade - eg: land and accounts; costs they will need to pass on to their customers.

The sudden nature of the announcement, without prior warning and in an email posted when much of Europe would be asleep, was ill-considered and thoughtless. However, checking EU law it is clear that they should have been applying this tax since the beginning of Second Life, since it became a requirement in 2003. I trust there will be no effort to collect unpaid taxes.

If you try to weasel out of this by claiming to be from a non-EU country and are subsequently found out, then you will be barred (and possible tarred & feathered too). On the plus side, Linden $ exchanges between avatars are not subject to tax.

So I wonder what new wheezes will emerge to circumvent this? Using the Brazillian Kaizen Games registration site, perhaps? Or maybe an enterprising American soul will take a cut to act as a broker, registering accounts and buying land on behalf of tax-impoverished Europeans? I'm sure the free-spirited entrepreneurs of Second Life will dream up many innovative solutions to this curious conundrum.

* There was no mention of the LindeX - does anyone know what the score is with this??

UPDATE - 30/09/07:
Check out Prokofy's comment and my response. You might also be interested in seeing more of the directive - follow this link .

It contains the unambiguous: "
radio and television broadcasting services and electronically supplied services provided from third countries to persons established in the Community or from the Community to recipients established in third countries should be taxed at the place of the recipient of the services."

Becker GPS

While the Great and the Good (no doubt with a leavening of the So-So) of Second Life scurry from meta-event to meta-event, to hang out and hang on to every word of the latest guru with New Insights into Virtual Worlds, I continue to potter along largely unperturbed and undisturbed. Yesterday I shared some ill-structured thoughts with you about the evolution of island archipelagos in Second Life - using the Plus supermarket chain by way of illustration.

Today I would like to introduce you to another new island in the German Archipelago: Becker GPS Lounge. It should come as no surprise that this is owned by Becker GPS, who specialise in Sat Nav and other in-car systems. Becker started life as a family company in the late forties in Karlsbad, in the Black Forest. It has grown over the past 50 years to become a leading supplier of car audio and guidance systems to major European manufacturers. They also offer a neat-looking portable media player.

According to their website: "30 Becker Traffic Assist Pro 7929 systems will be given away in the 'Becker GPS Lounge'... Becker has become the first mobile navigation system manufacturer to create its own island in the Second Life virtual world. " They have been giving away 1 a day since September 1st, so hurry on down - you have almost no time left to blag one! The opening of the island was timed to coincide with the IFA Berlin 2007 consumer electronics trade fair.

The island adopts an all-too-familiar tropical theme. There is a walkthrough tunnel with ads for Becker products, culminating in a short movie, a dance area, a meeting area and a seemingly pointless hub, surmounted by a huge, rotating Becker logo. In fact, looking at the map you will see that the island itself is in the shape of the logo. There is also a pathway along which you will find presentations on the history of the company. A transport "ball" can be summoned to carry you between the three main locations on the island: the history path, the hub and the main meeting area. A deep inlet acts as a harbour, where a number of 3rd party vendors sell their wares.

At the arrival point you will find the "win a 7929" stand, and a scoreboard listing the winners to date. Apparently each day's winner has been announced at a live, inworld event at 21:00CET each night.

The island seems to be intended as a simple promotional site, while the live announcement of winners hints at a longer term aim to host events. It is not particularly exceptional, being a fairly straightforward company build in Second Life. I just thought I'd mention it.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Map Thoughts plus Plus

The Second Life map is now getting quite bewildering. When I was a (virtual) lad, this time last year, I could actually find my way around the island archipelagos without too much difficulty. It may have been time-consuming, but it wasn't impossible. However, since then the population of Second Life has grown more than ten-fold, and the island count has grown five-fold. This huge increase in the number of islands has made it much more challenging to find islands of interest to me - in effect I'm looking for a needle in a much larger haystack.

One thing I have noticed is the development of island clusters. There have been multi-sim land masses for a considerable time (well, "considerable" in SL terms), and these have continued to grow, while new land masses have formed. Examples include New Media Consortium, Caledon and IBM. Newer land masses include Virtual Tokyo and Scilands. There have also been looser groupings of individual islands, but 12 months ago these tended to be sited close to the main build companies in SL, such as Millionsofus and Electric Sheep Company.

This year I have noticed the development of archipelagos of loosely associated islands. The first to come to my attention was the Developer Archipelago, that included Amazon Web Services, AMD Developers and IBM Rational Codestation. The one I want to touch on here is what I shall call the German Archilpego. Far out in the virtual ocean there is a loose collection of islands whose only common attribute is that they are owned by German companies. They were not all constructed by the same builder, nor are they organised together in any official or unofficial manner. However, as I thought about this, I realised how much sense it made. Proximity is not important for travelling in Second Life, due to the teleport system that will whisk you from one location to another, from one side of the grid to the other. However, proximity does play a part in community cohesion. If you are used to using the Map feature in Second Life, it becomes almost second nature to check out the islands near you when considering moving on. If those islands you can see also tie in with your culture or language you are probably more likely to give them a go. You may also be more likely to return in the future.

And that, I think, is the key. Companies need footfall, as it is one of the metrics they can use to justify their presence in Second Life. By forming loose archipelagos they maintain their independence and sim control, while there is nevertheless an increased probability of driving footfall, and at the same time encouraging return visits and the possible formation of virtual communities. Hence the German Archipelago (and yes... I'm sure this is not the only one).


A newcomer to the Archipelago is Plus, whose island opened this week. Plus, is a supermarket chain, with extensive online shopping facilities. It is celebrating its 35th year of trading, and as part of this, has launched a presence in Second Life.

The island is modelled on the blue and orange company logo, making it unmistakable on the Map view. Around a central plaza, on which is emblazoned the company name, you will find a number of cabins. Some provide assorted goods - not free, but very cheap; others give you an overview of the company, and links to the Well Being parts of their website. Wandering around the island are little numbers (see below), which also feature on the website. Quite what they mean I don't know.

The whole place is designed to be like a 3D cartoon, and I think it carries it off admirably. Just watching the numbers wandering about, sitting playing games or simply sleeping was fun - I like the light touch here. The one negative I would make is the doors - they are just too narrow. They are not actually difficult to negotiate, but they are a bit tricky - and for a complete newcomer to Second Life could be a real headache.

There's also a closed room containing presents - but some judicious use of camera controls got this snap:

Other islands in the German Archipelago include: TUI and VOKS DAM, both of which I have featured in this blog in the past.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Princeton - On The Beach

I appear to make a habit of saying "this will be a short post" - and then banging on for ages. But not this time. Brevity is my watchword tonight! So here goes...

Earlier in the Summer I brought you a peek inside Princeton's new site in Second Life. I can now tell you the main site is officially open... though there are bits and pieces still to be finished. It now spans 7 sims, including this one: Alexander Beach.

The Alexander Beach island features a strange, complex, faintly fishy-shaped building, the latest bespoke creation of Scope Cleaver. It is intended for use by students, who can try their hand at building in the sandboxes supplied. There are also a couple of art installations, one whose name escapes me, and the one shown below: Liquid Light.

I confess I missed the launch party itself - I am notorious for this, I'm afraid. So my apologies to Persis, who kindly supplied me with an invitation.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Al Goes North of the Border

While cruising around the ever-growing number of university islands clusted around the New Media Consortium, I spotted two new UK universities: Sunderland and Edinburgh. The former seemed, from the map, to be very new, with little or no work done on it as yet. However, the University of Edinbugh not only looked to be more advanced, but also consisted of not 1 but 6 sims - a hefty investment. What is more, it was open to casual visitors, so I popped in for a look.

The build is very much in its infancy, as you can see from the pictures below. The most advanced building I found was the Informatics hall, but the School of Management is well on its way, too. There is also preliminary work on some famous Edinburgh landmarks such as the Scott Monument and the Nelson Monument.

Unlike many university builds in Second Life, which have been the work of a single department or faculty, the scale and breadth of this build encompasses many departments. The purpose of the build is difficult to ascertain due to its incomplete state and the variety of departments it is planned to feature. Certainly one aspect will be promotional, to provide information about the university and the city. However, given the size of the site, I would assume they are also planning to host educational events, perhaps even hosting regular seminars and lecture here.

I was talking recently to a friend who is struggling to hack through the politics and apathy at his own university. Having built an interesting site, with plenty of scope for informal meetings and networking, and sandboxes for those who'd like to try their hand at building, he's having real difficulties getting both staff and students to take an interest. I would therefore like to understand what has happened in Edinburgh's case. A 6-sim site is rather over-the-top for a "Field of Dreams": "build it and they will come."

So have staff and students bought into it? And if so, how was this achieved? If you know, then it would be great to hear from you.

UPDATE 24-9-07: Please check out the comments - two detailed replies from Edinburgh. Thanks for the enlightenment!

Friday, 21 September 2007

China and Virtual Worlds

If you are like me, then you probably have interests in virtual worlds beyond Second Life. So you might be interested to read this article, posted at the excellent Virtual Worlds News blog.

The gist is:
The China Recreation District (CRD), a joint government-private partnership based in Beijing, is to build a country-wide infrastructure to support the deployment of virtual worlds. As I have posted elsewhere in this blog, China is going through a massive ramp-up in its use of virtual worlds - and not just the familiar Entropia and HiPiHi worlds. There is apparently an aim to invite external virtual worlds to join the infrastructure. Anyone visiting Virtual Worlds'07 in San Jose will be able to find out more, as Chi Tai Robert Lai, Chief Scientist with the CRD, will be presenting at the forum.

The CRD describes itself as: "The home of the leading edge of television and digital entertainment in China... Formed in 2001 as Panorama Media and through consolidation offive companies and renamed CRD Co. Ltd, in 2006, CRD is one of the leading independent television and digital content companies in China."

I am sure this will raise a few questions, such as:

  • What about Chinese government insularity, open access and the Great Firewall? Inviting in overseas companies may compromise their view of security - or it may actually make it easier to police.
  • The creation of infrastructure seems a long way from the company's core competencies, although the extension of interactive media to include virtual worlds is a logical step. Why do they feel qualified and able to undertake such an enterprise? Or have I misinterpreted their intention?
  • Who are they aiming at? The "social" virtual worlders or the "gamer" virtual worlders. Given China's strong bias towards the latter, is there a planned place for the social virtual worlds?
I look forward to reading more as this story unfolds. I would expect virtual world companies to be trampling over each other in the rush to get onboard and tap in to this huge and lucrative market. Incidentally, there is no mention of this on the company website.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Art Center

A bit of a lazy post tonight, mainly because it's rather late and I really should be in bed, rather than bashing out some words. However, in lieu of words, I have a host of pictures that I hope go some way to explaining why I love this site. Art Center is to be found on the Avignon sim, and is the creation of 2 New York artists - Annie Ok and Derek Lerner - in Second Life Xantherus Halberd and Rhizome Szydlowska

They have constructed a gallery across a number of levels, each given over to the work of a different artist, or group of artists. Both Annie and Derek have their own floors for showcasing their own work. Annie is famous(infamous?) for her amazing "travelogue" of Second Life under the guise of Destroy Television*, a tiny snippet of which can be viewed here. Other floors are used to showcase the work of other Real Life New York artists. The gallery spaces are sparsely minimalist, so as not to distract from the art works on display.

Now I've posted recently about the Cannery SLart expo, and under the (slightly disingenuous?) strapline of "I know what I like" concluded that most of the so-called artwork at the Cannery was little more than mediocre poster art. Like I say, not an objective judgement - just my own view. The works on display in the Art Center are, to my mind at least, the real McCoy. I don't claim to like them all, but I do recognise what I think of as "art" when I see it.

That said, I have to confess the current exhibition of photos left me rather cold.... or indeed, reaching for my trusty SLR. I didn't engage with them at all, thinking they lacked wit, warmth or insight. But maybe that's just me - you should go along and decide for yourselves.

Outside is a sculpture garden with some nice pieces by Annie and Derek. As this is a shared sim, they have blocked out "visual interference" from neighbouring plots by erecting high walls around the garden. However, from the outside these are transparent, and are also "phantom", which means that they do not act as physical a barrier, and do not mar their neighbours' view.

* I'd give you a link - but I'm getting mysql errors when I try to load the page. Now fixed

The floor guide:

The Sculpture Garden:

Inside the galleries:

Representative samples of the artwork:

UPDATE 21-09-07:
Fixed a typo or 2 and added a SLURL. Also, if you want more information on the amazing Destroy Television 10-day excursion across Second Life then have a read of Ugotrade's megapost!

The link is now fixed to Destroy Television.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Zero Linden's Plans For Second Life

Basically, for those interested in the scaling of Second Life, you really ought to read this - a chat log with Zero Linden captured by the blog: Dizzy Banjo - Soundtracking Virtual Worlds. This builds out upon the planned opening up of the server code, with the whole kit and caboodle going open source.

Quick headlines:

  • Linden are not just talking about the sim limits we have now - they are talking truly epic scale: "to evolve the SL architecture into something that is internet wide."
  • Transition to "SL2.0" (gah!) is being designed to be as seamless as possible.
  • Now for the numbers: 60Million regions; 2Billion avatar accounts; maybe 50M to 100M on-line... though admittedly hypothetical
  • And "on-line might mean something more lightweight in the future"
There is also some discussion of the richness or "thickness" of the functionality and capability on offer. If I read it right, provided your server follows and implements all the protocols correclyt, you could boost it to super-performance (demanding equally suped-up PCs), but Linden don't plan to follow this route themselves.

This is the first time I've seen the numbers they are toying with. I knew they were ambitious, but this is quite breath-taking!

Sadly, the discussion does not deal with issues of identity management and storage. But I daresay that is to come.

Virtual Vietnam War Memorial Due November

This originally appeared at 3pointd:

Recently I posted about one of several sites in the virtual world of Second Life commemorating those who died in the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. It brought home to me how an immersive 3D environment can be used as a powerful visualisation tool, providing focus for contemplation.

Shortly after writing this piece I was contacted by Second Life resident, Evian Argus (in Real Life Robert Egan of Meme Science), to tell me about another memorial. Timed to open in November to coincide with the 25th anniversary of its original dedication, Meme Science are building a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial, commonly known as The Wall, in Second Life. The Wall lists all 58, 253 US service personnel killed or missing in the Vietnam war.

Discussions about the project first started with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund around May, 2007, with contracts being finalised towards the end of August. The island will open to the public in early November, with a formal unveiling on the actual anniversary, the 13th of November. The plan is locate the island adjacent to the existing Capitol Hill islands, reflecting their location in the real world. The island will feature all 3 components of the memorial: The Wall; the Three Soldiers statue and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. Information and name search facilities are planned, along with the option to leave virtual items (supplied by Meme) at The Wall.

The purpose is to provide a contemplative space for remembering the U.S. servicemen and women who died in Vietnam. It will be tied into a website that will offer name search facilities, research resources and more. The full list of features remains to be finalised. Evian was at pains to point out that the aim of the island is not political, it is simply to honour those who had given their lives and provide an education resource for those wishing to find out more, with tours, seminars and other events.

To quote their press release:

We feel privileged to be selected as the firm that will build a replica of the Vietnam Veteran’s War Memorial Wall in the Second Life metaverse.” said Robert Egan, president of Meme Science. “It will be a welcome challenge to virtually recreate the complex architectural design structure originally devised by Maya Ying Li. Our goal is to try to capture some of the experience and heart felt emotions that can only be felt by visiting the real life Memorial Wall in Washington DC, while at the same time bringing attention and honor to those Vietnam Veterans that died giving service to our country on this the 25th anniversary of the Wall’s dedication.

At the moment there is nothing to see, so I cannot comment on the construction, but it will be interesting to see if it manages to match the power of the sites constructed to remember the dead of 911. That is certainly the intention.

Images courtesy of Meme Science.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Nissan X-Trail

Japanese motor company Nissan have had a presence in Second Life for quite some time, but while exploring the area near Mitsukoshi (see previous post), I found a relatively new site: Nissan X-Trail. You have to be a member of their group (which I'm not) to access all the features of the site but at least I was able to grab a quick view:

There is a corresponding website (in Japanese, naturally), but aside from news and a SLURL this does not have much content. From a bit of searching it seems that the site opened sometime in mid-August, 2007. It is styled as a snowboarding track, with the car itself featured on a plinth at the bottom of the downhill section. I'm not sure, but it is possible you may be able to rez a vehicle to negotiate a frozen track that goes around the sim. Clearly the aim is tie the brand to cool, sexy "extreme sports - an extension in Second Life of the X-Trail Jam and similar sponsored events held last year and this. Indeed, an ad from last year's event in the Tokyo Dome can be seen in the picture on the left.

Not much more to say about it really. I will leave the analysis to Nic, over at Kzero!