Thursday, 31 January 2008

Tax Advice and Moped Rides

I've not yet availed myself of this but I thought I should pass on the following:

Starting tonight, H&R Block will bring back free tax advice to Second Life. It's a great opportunity to visit with an H&R Block tax professional and get answers to any of your burning tax questions.

Office hours are Tuesday and Thursday 6 to 7 pm PST.

If you feel like hanging out and exploring, the H&R Block island just got a makeover. Check it out, pick up a free outfit or even take a spin on an H&R Block Moped. Additional info here:
Oddly perhaps, H&R Block is one the long-standing sites in Second Life I have never got around to writing about. As I recall, in those heady days of youth, when it was easy to spot new sims in Second Life, I was pipped to it by a host of other bloggers - so there was no point in me adding my tuppenceworth*. Now, of course, it's all different, and finding somewhere that's gone virtually unnoticed for months counts as an achievement (in my book). I quite like it that way!

* Any true Brit will be horrified by this definition of "tuppence" - and will probably also get little from the free tax advice on offer, which I assume is only of use among the colonials of the Americas.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Archidemo and NikkeiBP

I've been gazing, clueless, at my screen for some time now, wondering what to say about this. As I start to write, I still have no real idea how this will end up, but here goes...

A couple of days ago I got an email from Hidenori Watanave, Associate professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University and CEO of Photon. In the mail he wrote:

We have developed "Archidemo" Project in Second Life. "Archidemo" is experimental demonstration and research for the possibility of the architecture and environmental design in Metaverse.

In "Archidemo", the field crossing collaboration was achieved. Trial of inworld (virtual space) photograph exhibition by photographer and metaverse-architect's collaborations, installation of media art, scientific visualization, trial of Realization of world of S-F novel, chatbot space, and so on.
There was also a link to the Archidemo blog. Intrigued, I went to have a look at the blog and found a couple of movies and a SLURL to the NikkeiBP sim, where the Archidemo is housed. Google informs me that NikkeiBP is (or may be) Nikkei Business Publications, a book and magazine publisher, based in Tokyo and specialising in the business and technology fields. Quite what the company has to do with a series of art installations in Second Life is a mystery that currently remains unfathomed.

I went to have a look at the sim and - as you may gather from my strange collection of photos - found it a somewhat baffling experience. There are several installations here, most of which involve high-definition real world photographs mashed with Second Life objects and scripts, to create a dizzying and often disorientating visual experience. Giant photos and image cubes slip and slide around inside giant spaces, at times sliding through one another, at others times shimmying around the space. It is not long before you lose all sense of direction and orientation. In another installation you are teleported to a skybox in which a collection of cassette tapes and vinyl records move ceaselessly - and on which you can hitch a ride. Elsewhere there is a column of perpetually rising, rotating red squares. I can't claim to have any insight into the purpose of the build - but it is fascinating, and if you fancy a bit of brain befuddling, why not pop along for a look. It appears to be in a state of continual development, and there are some areas closed to visitors. But there is more than enough there to give you a virtual nosebleed!

Here's a few stills - but you may get a better flavour from the videos. Though really, the only way to get a handle on the place is to go and look for yourself:

Liverpool Phil

As you may be aware, European City of Culture, 2008 is the city of Liverpool, and I posted an entry about one of the sims celebrating this, Mathew Street, a few months ago. For almost everyone familiar with the name, Liverpool is synonymous with at least two things: football and The Beatles. For many it conjures up a host of stereotypes -most of which would incur the wrath of Liverpudlians if reprinted here. But I'm sure it would be a minority who would associate it with Orchestral Music.

The "Phil" in the title of this post refers to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, which is both an orchestra and a great concert hall. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) is one of the oldest concert-giving organisations in the world, and the second oldest in Britain. The origins of its concert series date back to the formation of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society in 1840. It had to wait until 1957 to pick up the "Royal". In September 2006, Vasily Petrenko became Principal Conductor of the RLPO. Then aged 30, he is the youngest person to hold this post in the orchestra's long history.

The original Hall opened in August, 1849. But this building, once described as 'the best in Europe' by Sir Thomas Beecham, was destroyed by fire in 1933. The present building opened in 1939, and evidently survived the intense German bombing of the city during WWII. Aesthetically, it is built and decorated in an Art Deco style. Now the hall has a digital counterpart in Second Life. In fact, it has even held its first mixed reality event, with a concert back in September, 2007, that was simultaneously streamed inworld. The hall spans 2 sims. The seam of the 2 sims lies straight down the centre of the hall, so that people on the left side are on one sim, while those on the right are on the other. Apart from the hall, with its foyer, concert space and bar, there is nothing else on the sim - which still looks rather "rough-hewn" and unfinished. However, the business end of the build is in working order - and presumably awaiting its next concert. I am somewhat disappointed that there does not appear to have been any further events here in the last 4 months. Here are my images:

If you feel so inclined you might want to compare them with the photos on the Phil's website. You will see how true to the original it is. Alternatively, you can watch a short "making of..." movie here.

Finally, I'm off to the Phil in the not-too-distant to see the Kodo Drummers. Quite looking forward to that!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Insead Revisited

Earlier this month I clocked up the first year of this blog, and since then I have been pondering what to do and where to go next. I am getting more than a little bored with grinding through commercial sites, yet I seem to have little enthusiasm for inworld events and meetings. I am largely happy to leave all of the deep thinking stuff to folks who like to think deeply. It takes me long enough to write these posts - so the prospect of writing a learned thesis for every post frankly appals me. So where next? Well, one thought I have entertained is to revisit some of the places I have blogged in the past, to see how they have changed. While this thought was bouncing around inside my head I received a comment on an old post - from April last year - informing me that the site was now finished and open to visitors.

The site in question is Insead, an international business school that offers MBA courses and the like to aspiring business folk. Seemingly it has taken 8 months to get to the now-completed sim - though actually I suspect it was finished much longer ago, or there has been some sort of hiatus during the construction. Whatever the facts of the matter, I think it is a great place to visit. The architecture, which seemed interesting and unusual enough first time around, has been tweaked and adjusted to squeeze the most out of it. In fact, it reminded me of some of Scope Cleaver's more intriguing constructions - high praise indeed. As well as the buildings, the furniture is fun, funky and imaginative. Perhaps others may not like it, but it certainly appeals to my sense of aesthetics.

I did not get much time to have a thorough exploration of the island, but I did see that there is a lot to do here. From the "laboratory" a number of teleports will whisk you off to various test areas on the sim (or more accurately, above the sim). One I encountered, for example, invited me to choose and buy a pair of trainers, then try them out. This was supported by a number of forms, but I confess that I just rushed through this, and didn't stop to read and inwardly digest. But maybe you will! Here's some updated pictures:

As to where next for this blog... that will remain moot. For now, I reckon it will (continue to) be a combo of new builds, revisits and general ramblings. If I come up with a better idea - you will be the first to know. :-)

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Cementing Relationships in Denmark

In recent posts I have been toddling around a few Northern European commercial sims - and tonight is no exception. This time we are in Denmark, at the FLSmidth Cement sim, a company specialising in the provision of equipment, systems and services for the cement and minerals industries.

FLSmidth has been in existence for 125 years, and currently employs some 9,000 people (or is it 7,000? The website gives both figures). Perhaps to tie in with this anniversary - or perhaps to demonstrate their open and innovative mindset - they have employed Danish IT company, Intoint, to build this island in Second Life. Once again, I am rather late to the party, since this island was actually built in the Summer of 2007 - but better late than never, eh? Intoint describe this build thus:

FLSmidth wants to explore the possibilities in 3D virtual worlds - and Second Life is the obvious choice. The solution is placed on a dedicated Second Life island ("FLSmidth Cement"). On the island it is possible to see movies, pictures and explore an animated cement factory. Furthermore it is possible to get a ride in one of the ECO cars, sponsored by FLSmidth.
And this is indeed a decent summary. The main feature of the island is the animated cement factory, which seeks to demonstrate the key processes of such a beast to an ignoramus like me. I was impressed with the idea, and indeed much of the execution. However, it was not easy to make out where the actual raw materials were in the process. Lots of moving parts, but not much moving through it. The ECO car was fun to drive - which coming from me, is high praise indeed. I am dreadful when it comes to driving virtual cars - but this one seemed responsive, rather than skittish, and had the added benefit of easy-to-use gears. Aside from this there is a cargo ship and a (high altitude) meeting and presentation area, where an assortment of videos can be viewed.

If you feel so inclined, you can help yourself to a free T-shirt and hard hat. While I think the island is probably underutilised, and does not appear to be tied in with any wider marketing campaign, I still rather liked it. Oh... it will probably class as a ghost sim - but then, the population of Second Life is not likely to be falling over itself to visit a cement company. I hope, though, that the company is taking the opportunity to assess how virtual worlds may be useful to them in the future, building on (and taking lessons from) the work done here.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Belgian Recruitment

Tonight, in a stroke of complete coincidence, I am back again among the industrious folk of Benelux. This time, though, it is Belgium that has caught my eye. I daresay tonight's sim has been around for a while - but it is in a part of the grid that I've not frequented in quite some time. Apologies then, if you already know all about Vacature References - which has been in Second Life since August 2007.

The name is derived from the 2 websites: and, which are the Flemish and French websites respectively for the same recruitment company. They appear to specialise in professional recruitment, and have an impressive list of clients - including Logica CMG, the subject of my last past.

The sim is nicely modelled, with a relatively simple structure. At the North end of island is a large complex of offices and the auditorium. The offices provide information spaces for the company's clients - and can also serve as small meeting or interview rooms. To the East and West you will find lounge areas, with bars and dancing. You can also grab some free clothing, either casual T-shirts or formal black suits. Although it is not a sim that is going set the pulse racing, I think it does its job admirably. The architecture is well thought-out, the design elegant and the implementation well executed.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Logica CMG Revisited

Back in April last year I wrote a piece on European IT giant, Logica CMG and their (then) new - and eponymous - presence in Second Life. At the time, this was planned to be a largely private sim, providing meeting and networking facilities for Logica staff, and it was modelled as a sort of laid-back beachfront, with a lot of water, a few low-key constructions and a chunk of beach. Maybe this reveals how my memory works, but today I was squinting over the map when I noticed Logica CMG again - and I could see immediately that the sim was totally different from the incarnation I witnessed 8 months ago. So I poked the teleport button and went to have a look.

The island is indeed radically different. For one thing, it now seems to be aimed at the outside world, rather than the internal, company world. It is still, despite the company's international credentials, a Dutch build. For example, one of the buildings is only too happy to give me information on the company's many locations - provided I stick within The Netherlands. There's an auditorium, informal meeting and dancing areas, and a number of information zones. There is also a plethora of mini-skyscrapers, emblazoned in the company's non-too-fetching yellow and grey livery, that seem to serve no particular function at the moment. It is a very.... "busy"... place. There's a lot crammed in here, and the cramming is made somewhat claustrophobic by the presence of glass walls and corridors - a lot of glass walls and corridors. Quite what benefit these provide I do not know. The overall impression I have is of a giant hamster cage - though mercifully without the giant hamster.

As far as I can tell, the build is not quite finished. There were a few rough edges, default textures and the like, that are no doubt being ironed out. While I admire the zeal with which they have applied themselves to squeezing so much into a single sim, to me it feels confusing and overdone. I think the old maxim that "sometimes less is more" is something worth pondering. To be blunt, I think the first incarnation worked better - at least, it worked better for me. And here are a few snaps to ponder:

Friday, 18 January 2008


Brazil, as you may be aware, was the first country to get a Second Life Grid Global Provider, in the form of Kaizen Games. There was an expectation that this locally-supported service would see Brazillians flocking into Second Life, but I'm not sure it has really done so. Nevertheless, many of the busiest residential sims in Second Life are Brazillian, and it is perhaps surprising that there does not appear to be an equivalent level of commercial interest.

Tonight I stumbled across one such Brazillian commercial sim: Itau. It belongs to Banco Itau, a privately-owned bank with its headquarters in São Paulo. It is the second largest private bank in the country, accounting for around 11% of retail banking services. However, the sim does not appear to be pitching itself as a major promotional tool for the bank. I really need one of my Portuguese-speaking chums to translate it for me, but at least part of seems to be concerned with environmental and ecological matters. Thus far, the build extends across half the island and comprises 3 buildings - an arrival zone, an auditorium and a "conviviality suite", where you will finding rolling displays, presenting a variety of eco-stats. A pathway winds through hilly woodland, linking the buildings. For freebie-chasers it looks like you might be able to grab a T-shirt or 2 - though I wasn't able to prise one out.

I don't really have much more to add - but you might want to go and figure it out for yourself. Oh, I've just been back for another look, and there is a quiz in which you can participate, on the subject of "sustainability."

Lega Volley Femminile

Shortly after hitting a Slough of Despond yesterday, fearing that I'd never find a commercial sim I could enjoy, rescue came in the unlikely form of Italian Ladies' Volleyball. The Legavolley Femminile, or Lega Pallavolo Serie A Femminile, to give its full(?) name, have an island that is still under development - but is already showing great promise.

The island comprises a number of buildings, linked by pathways. The buildings, which are quite subtly modelled on a volleyball, serve different functions. At the moment the sim is somewhat short on links or information, which I assume is yet to be integrated into the build, and so the function of some of the buildings remains a mystery. However, one serves as an auditorium, while another contains a volleyball court. What I think sets this sim apart from the average commercial sim is the cleverness of the design and the care taken in its implementation. It is hard to explain - and perhaps only makes sense to me - but there is an intriguing blend of simplicity and complexity: from a distancemany items appear simple enough, but under more scrutiny, reveal details that were not initially apparent. If you like: "the more you look, the more you see." The textures are well chosen too, to optimise the sense of 3D. Here's a few pictures to give you a flavour of the place:

There's a short machinima you might enjoy here, though it focuses on the team colours, and shows nothing of the build.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

TUV Nord

I recall posting something quite a long time ago about the German city of Hamburg - or rather its Chamber of Commerce. Now, over 6 months later, I find myself back in the neighbourhood. But where once there was a single sim, now there seems to be a small, but distinct, archipelago of Hamburg sims, covering education, city promotion and a few companies and organisations that seem to be based in the city. One these is Atlantis Media, which I may write about at some future point. Another is TUV Nord, an altogether more difficult outfit to write about. I've been struggling to get to grips with exactly who and what they are.

I will tell you what I have been able to gather. According to wikipedia: "TÜVs (short for Technischer Überwachungs-Verein) are German organizations that work to validate the safety of products of all kinds to protect humans and the environment against hazards. As an independent consultant, they examine monitoring-needy plants, motor vehicles, energy installations, devices and products (e.g consumer goods).. The many subsidiaries of the TÜVs can also appear as project developers for energy and traffic concepts, problem solutions in the area of environmental protection and as certification bodies... No German-registered road vehicle may be operated on public roads without a certificate from the TÜVs."

So TÜVs act as both validators and project consultants - sounds odd to me. As for the TÜV Nord Group, it employs over 8,000 people, making it "one of Germany's largest technical service providers."

Their sim appears to be still under construction, but well on the road to completion. It is split into a number of topic areas, some of which are available in German and English, others in German only. For example, there is a small meeting area styled as a garage, on the walls of which you will find information on the group's key competencies. You can select either English or German. Perhaps the most striking feature of the sim is the giant visualisation of a hydogen fuel cell. You can step through this usingthe language of your choice, and very nicely done it is too. Another zone is structured as a course through the woods, with various challenges along the way. But these are not (yet) available in English, so I have no idea what I'm being challenged to do. Finally, there's a larger meetinng area, but this appears to be under construction still. Here's a few snaps:

I have to confess, I am not 100% sure about the Hamburg link here... but I'm fairly certain the builders are associated with one or other of the Hamburg sims. Despite the rather nicely done visualisation, and the ablity to toggle languages, I came away unenthused. Perhaps I've just seen too many sims now... and need to take a break.

Flight of the Conchords and Mr Hitler

I just couldn't resist posting these YouTube vids...

First, thanks to Xantherus for spotting this movie of Flight of the Conchords at the recent CES, providing a lucid explanation of convergent mobile technologies:

Then thanks to Gwyn for this hilarious (and possibly accurate) re-working of the last days in the bunker:

And in case you have never seen the original, go out and get Downfall - a brilliant movie.

Microsoft Japan

It seems like ages since I posted an entry about a Japanese commercial sim in Second Life, so this seems a good point to address that. Last night was something of a mixed bag, rambling-wise. Most places were shut, and those that were open were not much to get excited about - for example: Daz, the 3D software company, has a gaggle of sims, but nothing I felt enthused enough to write about. I was about to give up when my eye spotted the unmistakable Windows logo plastered across a sim, and thought I'd give it a go.

The sim turned out to belong to Microsoft Japan. It is still under construction, though probably not a long way from completion. I am not all that clear what their aim is for the sim. It is all very straightforward - or appears to be. There's an auditorium, a partners area and a woodland calling itself the Communication Area. Windows Vista - its name, its logo and its UI - seems to be everywhere. Indeed, I helped myself to a free cappuccino that has the logo embossed in the froth! There are a few buildings still being constructed - and a large palace thing, replete with red carpets and chandeliers, whose purpose can only be guessed at. For travel around the sim you can opt for monorail or small boat. Given a few bugs with the former, I would suggest you stick with the latter. Here's some snaps:

I said I wasn't clear about the aim of the sim - perhaps an odd statement. In part I am used to high tech companies in SL having a quite sophisticated grasp on the use of virtual worlds. This sim feels much more basic - and slightly bereft of ideas. The big palace for example - why? and why so big? Just to fill a corner of the sim? A lot of the textures - particularly the use of the logo - are well executed, if a little repetitive. Perhaps this is just the company trying out different looks to see what they like best. In other parts of the sim, however, there has been some careless overlaying of prims, which leads to jiggly texturing as 2 set of textures battle it out for the same few pixels!

Even so.., despite all this... I found it more interesting than Daz, though.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Rixos Hotels and Villas

Turkey seems to be one of the up-and-coming countries in Second Life at the moment. Nic Mitham at Kzero pointed me at this newpaper article that gives a little more insight into this. I mention all of this because the subject of today's post is - I believe - my first Turkish company.

Rixos, founded in Turkey in 2000, runs a chain of hotels and villa complexes that spans some fairly diverse locations, including Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Austria, Dubai and...umm... Second Life. In fact they've had a Second Life hotel since September, 2007 - as discussed at Kzero in this article. More recently they have added the adjacent Rixos Villas island. The company is taking an interesting, "immersive" approach to Second Life, in that the hotel and villas are not just acting as 3D billboards. The villas are available for rent, as are the hotel rooms. Indeed, Rixos are taking a commercial approach to the entire venture. In the hotel complex, for example, there is a wedding area, that I assume is available for hire; there is a row of shops for rent and even a game of pool in the hotel bar is going to set you back 50L$.

On my trip I did not see any sign of activity and as far as I could make out, only one or two of the villas were rented out. Maybe I hit the place at a bad time, or maybe it just isn't getting (or retaining) the traffic it might expect. Vestel seems to have established an active Turkish community in Second Life, by providing a "virtual home from home" for Turks - a place where people can meet and communicate in their own language. Given that it is a player in the tourism industry, Rixos is presumably aiming at a more international market. However, I think in doing so they may be missing an opportunity to attract and retain a Turkish community.

Anyway, here's my pictures:

As you can see, the place is nicely built and I think well thought-out, though I don't know about the practicality of the "golf course", as I saw nothing to indicate you could actually play it.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Italia Vera 3D

In the Summer of last year you might have noticed a flurry of Italian sims arriving in Second Life. In fact, SLNN carried this article back in July, in which it highlighted the work of Italian builders Italia Vera 3D. At the time, they were planning to develop an ambitious 24 sim presence in Second Life, modelling it on a map of Italy. The original plan, according to SLNN, was to have the whole thing finished by November.

While that target has come and gone, development appears to have continued. I was peering aimlessly in the North East corner of the Second Life map when I espied a large group of Italian sims - some connected to form larger land masses, others standing alone or in pairs, to form an extended archipelago. A couple of these sims showed signs of occupation, so I hit the teleport button and went to have a look.

I settled on the Romagna Veneto sim as my starting point. There was not a whole lot happening at ground level, but at much higher altitude I found an Italian town under construction. This town happens to be a recreation Marostica. At the heart of the town of Marostica is the Chess Square, the Lower Castle and The Doglione. Each September of every even numbered year, a human chess game is played in full medieval costume on the Chess Square, in a festival that lasts for 3 days. These signature features of the town are being reproduced here.

Nearby - and higher up - I also came across work on virtual Milan. A highly-detailed rendering of Milan Cathedral seems to be the main work in progress, though building is also proceeding on Castello Sforzesco and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It strikes me that there is an enormous amount of work still to do, but I took some pictures to give you some idea on progress to date:

Given the huge amount of care being put into this, not to mention the huge amount of money, I have to wonder about the approach being taken. It strikes me that the recreation of RL buildings in SL, while it can initially seem like a good idea, can become an obsession. While it is great to build somewhere around which SL Italians may wish to form communities, I am struggling to see where the return on investment is coming from. This is a large, complex build - and one which cannot be easily throttled back if finances are constrained. It is either a "faithful reconstruction" or it isn't - and the latter is not an option.

On the plus side, if and/or when it is ever completed it will be an amazing series of showpieces.

Company Sim - Architects' Zone

As you may be aware, for the last couple of weeks I have been beavering away - when I can - on the new company sim. Broadly speaking, one of the aims of this sim is to provide common meeting areas for our various teams, spread as they are across geographies, lines of business and, indeed, just about any other distribution factor you care to name.

For example, I am a member of the UK Enterprise Architecture (EA) team. However, the members of this team are, at the same time, members of the company technical community, the global architecture practice and, at a more granular level, their various business units. This "membership matrix" is a real challenge when trying to sustain a cohesive sense of EA community - and this is where Second Life can help us. Sure, it is not a universal panacea - but it can provide a single virtual location for the community - which is otherwise spread out across the country, and in some cases, across the globe.

So I have been working on the EA Community area - the Architects' Zone - in the last day so. I had planned to post these to Flickr - but this is playing up at the moment, so I thought I'd post to Slambling instead. As you will see from the images below, while the sim remains private, there's nothing commercially sensitive to be gleaned. However, I would be interested in any feedback. This is just the basic Architects' Zone - I have yet to furnish it with content - but then that I may leave to others to do!

I'm not much of a one for walls, while the roof only exists because I like the look of it. It is phantom, in any case, since I can't see any good reason to stop people - quite literally - dropping in!

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Orange Create Programme

Just a quickie... European telecomms giant, Orange - who have a rather spiffy Second Life presence courtesy of those fine folks at Metaversatility - are rather keen on all this social networking and online community gubbins. They've already hosted a number of events and activities and I thought you might be interested in the one coming up: The Create Programme. This is:

'an initiative that aims at encouraging creative expression on Orange Island. The idea is quite simple: Orange offers to support artistic and/or innovative projects by granting land and tools to residents who show promising material in order to help them achieve their project.'
Sounds good to me! To quote the rest of the notecard:

So how is this done?
Typically, someone who wants to create, experiment, or demonstrate something in Second Life can submit a project to the Orange community via our blog, following the steps detailed in the application form. On the same blog, we will present the projects we receive and will then submit them to a vote by our community members. Then, we will select two among the most popular projects and will offer their creator(s) the opportunity to build them on our new sim Orange 3. They will receive a space of 2,000 sq. meters, along with support from our online team to organise buzz and events, and some useful tools to set up their project. For additional info, feel free to IM Fandango Milena or Fab Outlander, and stay tuned on

Some dates to remember
January 14th - 10:00AM SLT: Opening party (and a sneak peak of Orange 3)!
February 1st: Deadline for submitting projects
Feb 1st to 10th: community vote takes place and ends on Sunday 10th at 12:00 SLT.
February 22nd: Official announcement of the results

And a piccy of the invitation- click it to see it full size:

Now isn't that so much better than the recent spate of competitions in SL? You know the ones: you come up with the idea, we pay you a pittance, we take over the IPR and make a mint.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Dell Crystal Monitor

The annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held this week in Las Vegas, with well over 2,500 electronics companies showing their latest offerings and generally getting the Good, the Bad and the Geeky in a state of premature... umm... 'adulation' for the electronic wonders that will come in 2008.

Now supposing you were a marketing bod for such a company. It is just possible that the following conversation might take place somewhere deep in the dark, labyrinthine recesses of your marketing department:

You: "By Jove, Jenkins... wouldn't it be a frightfully good wheeze to use that Second Life thingummy to promote our fine wares?"
Jenkins: "Why, indeed, Sir. A most splendid notion."
I have taken the liberty of assuming you are, of course, living in a steampunk universe here - but no matter, the point is made. I have not exactly gone out my way to search Second Life for traces of such wares being promoted at CES and in SL, but I am aware of one - Dell's Crystal Monitor. This is 22 inches of widescreen bliss, and a damnably elegant beast it looks to be.

Dell have had a multi-sim presence in Second Life for ages, and have taken the opportunity to use this presence as a place to launch the Crystal Monitor, cunningly co-ordinated with CES. The launch event, which was held on 7th January, occured at a time I had no real chance of attending - curse those time zones. However, according to the press releases it was to include streaming from their webcam at CES into Second Life, as well as inworld music and other hoopla.

The build consists of the Crystal Pavillion, a rather over-the-top blue glass pyramid - a bit like the entrance to The Louvre, but on steroids. Inside there's a dance floor and some tables and chairs - along with several examples of the aforementioned Crystal Monitor. You can also obtain a freebie, which you rez for yourself. A nice touch with this is you can set the texture for the screen. Anyway, here's some piccies for you:

This is the only item I know of that had coverage in both CES and Second Life - but I'm sure there must be more. So where are they? I would like to explore some more!

Google Goes SLoogle

Picking up on a recent posting at Kzero I thought I should grab the opportunity to pop along to the Google island in Second Life. According to Nic, at Kzero, the island was built as part of Google's bi-annual Zeitgeist event.

The Google Zeitgeist is described as follows: 'Pulling together interesting search trends and patterns requires both computing power and human power too. Search statistics are automatically generated based on the billions of searches conducted on Google. With some help from humans, and a pigeon or two when they have time, these statistics and trends make their way from the depths of Google's hard drives to become the Google Zeitgeist findings.'

You can find the findings for 2007 here - and I would draw your attention to #8 in the Top Ten Fastest Rising searches globally.

The island layout is apparently based on the real world Google campus, and was built by the Vesuvius Group, who are clearly too busy with metaverse projects to keep on top of their website design! Since the island was a one-off for Googliers to use during the Zeitgeist activities, it is destined to be demolished. Indeed, according to Nic, the island has already been sold and is due for demolition imminently - so you'd better get your skates on if you want to have a look around.

I will let the pictures do the talking in terms of content:

The one thing I found strange about this build is: Why furnish it with all manner of models and links to existing Google products when the sole users of the island are Google employees - who should know all of this already? Indeed , time has been spent constructing working models of some of these - such as Sketchup and Checkout.

Perhaps the answer is a simple and prosaic: "because they could."

Another question I've seen posed is: Why use Second Life? After all, rumours abound about Google and virtual worlds. Again, the answer may be simple: "Second Life offers a mature, affordable virtual world environment with excellent user created content capabilities." Whatever the actual reason, I'm pleased they decided to use SL for this. Who knows? Perhaps reports of this island's imminent demise are exaggerated. If not, why not scoot on down there, grab yourself a Segway and go for a trundle.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Spending Those Book Tokens

Christmas is now a receding memory, with the decorations safely stowed away for another year, the last remnants of the cakes, puds and assorted confections consigned to the bin (maybe?) and the pile of empty bottles reduced to a manageable and less embarrassing scale following late-night trips to the public tip. You've burnt a hole in that new sweater (that you loathed anyway), broken your plastic Guitar Hero III axe and put on eBay the bizarre assortment of spice racks, wine racks, pan racks and racks for holding other racks. All is now back how it was.

Or is it?

If you rummage around down the back of the sofa, or behind the TV, you just might find that book token from Auntie Daisy and Uncle Dan. You know the one, it fell out of the envelope when you opened their Christmas card, but somehow you forgot to pick it up and put it "in a safe place." So there it is, a prize wrested from the dark, unknown places and looking forward to a trip into town for a bibliophilic binge. Ah... but what to binge on? Perhaps I could help you there.

Since this blog is geared towards Second Life, I've been having a good ol' peruse of "How to Get a Second Life" by madddyyy schnook ("with" Andrew Sullivan). "madddyyy"? Unless you are the child of musicians, movie actors and/or possibly Californians, you should have recognised immediately that this is not a regular Real Life name. Mr Schnook is Mr Sullivan's Second Life avatar, and over the last couple of years has built an enviable reputation as the creator of the highly successful SL Guides. Indeed, they have proved so successful that Mr Sullivan has been able to give up his RL job, and Mr Schnook has become a full-time entrepreneur in SL. Presumably some bright spark, seeing the flurry of SL books that emerged in 2007, persuaded madddyyy to pull all his knowledge together and write this tome.

And a fine tome it is. It contains all the information you need to get you from total newbie to budding entrepreneur, with chapters covering all of the important stuff:

  • Appearance
  • Socialising
  • Making money
  • Owning land
  • Making stuff - from basic shapes to scripted objects
Then pulling all of these together to get you started on the road to virtual fortune, with chapters on:
  • Making stuff for sale
  • Creating a shop
  • Marketing and promoting your wares
It is a tome very much geared to the new resident, but it is well sprinkled with some great hints and tips that might even surprise the more seasoned veteran. Having read the book, I can understand the success of the guides that preceded it. The book is well-written, with clear, concise descriptions and information. It is effortless to read, and you may be surprised at how much ground you can cover in relatively short order. Of course, it is not The Definitive Guide to All-Things Second Life, and there is a great deal that is of limited depth here; for example, the process of object building and scripting is enough to get you started, but stops far short of the skilled artisan level (though to be fair, this topic does receive 6 chapters!). However, it is a great start, a great read and I would recommend it highly, though I think the green and purple cover is a bit naff, but there you go.

Oh... and I notice that Amazon is knocking a third off, which is nice.

Incidentally, I really should apologise. I had meant to provide this review before Christmas, but with one thing and another, I failed to get around to it.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008


I've been a bit lazy about posting for a number of days, but finally my conscience (or is it my addiction?) has got the better of me and so I thought I would bring you the Italian commercial sim: Almaviva - or more correctly, AlmavivA. I had originally hoped that this would be another Slambling scoop - an event as rare a rocking-horse poop these days. But once again it seems that I am about 6 months too late to claim anything in the scooping department, or indeed the rocking-horse pooping department for that matter.

AlmavivA describes itself as "the Italian Innovation Company" - in effect an IT services company combining Business Process Outsourcing and Customer Relationship Management solutions. In fact, the AlmavivA Group is made up of 20 companies with around 15,000 staff and "collaborators" (that's the word used on the website), mainly in Italy - but also with offices Tunisia, Brazil, Romania and Sardinia. The group’s turnover in 2006 was a very respectable 707 million euros. They opened their island in Second Life way back in July, 2007. You can find here an interview with AlmavivA's Marketing and Business Development Manager, Valeria Sandei. I have taken the liberty of lifting a few quotes I think capture the essence of the interview:

  • AlmavivA were up for the 'challenge of trying out new communication and marketing strategies, a new way of “interacting virtually".'
  • 'compared to other image strengthening operations, Second Life is a relatively low-cost option...'
  • before stressing: 'our presence in the virtual universe is in any case fully consistent with the image of a company that has always focused on innovation.'
The Second Life island is pleasant enough - if unexceptional. This can be explained by the fact that it was self-built by their Service Line System Integration unit. And actually it's pretty good for a first attempt. If I had built it, I'd certainly be rather pleased with myself. Based on a semi-tropical theme, most of the island is given over to pleasant landscaping, with only the occasional building. The principal building is a large, blue-glass office block, where you will find a bunch of information about the company. There is also a sizeable open-air auditorium with an active video screen. Judging from the menu at the side, there is a good choice of (rather worthy?) business videos you can watch. For those wishing to socialise and engage, there is a beach side bar and an amusements room, while for the more intrepid there is a boat trip (though I am not sure if this can be used without a member of staff present). I did not have long to explore, but I did not find a treasure trove of freebies. Here are a few snaps:

This sim is not going to set new standards in corporate builds, but it is straightforward, has all the basics one would need and has served as a valuable training tool for the internal build team. I am not aware of it receiving much press (Google seemed unable to locate much in the way of news or blogs about it), which would suggest that perhaps it could have been promoted better. I am not sure it works terribly well as a public island promoting the brand -after all, it is "just another corp sim." However, I can see that it would work well as a client venue, or indeed as a meeting place for staff from the 20 companies, otherwise spread throughout Italy and, indeed, in place rather further afield.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Hangars Liquides

It seems like ages since I actually wrote a normal post, featuring a new (or new to me) sim in Second Life. I've been somewhat preoccupied with other topics. Tonight though, following a suggestion from my chum and top sim-spotter, Lem Skall, I found time to visit a potentially interesting sim that goes by the slightly enigmatic name of Hangars Liquides.

The sim is under construction, although at quite an advanced stage, and there is little, if anything, to tell you who or what owns the place. However, as usual Google came up trumps. Hangars Liquides is a French electronica record label that has been around since 1998 - so is rapidly approaching its first decade. For a fuller picture, I think the somewhat mind-boggling wikipedia entry is worth quoting pretty much in full:

Initially Hangars Liquides was Speedcore-oriented but was quickly categorized as experimental music within the hardcore techno scene. HL quickly gained a very good reputation and has been played around the world in many different music scenes: industrial, noise, techno, acousmatic, hardcore, electronica, ambient and post rock.

Releasing artists such as I:gor and Neurocore from Poland, Senical (aka DJ choose) from Denmark, Bombardier from the USA, Noize Creator from Germany, Venetian Snares from Canada, Atomhead (aka Undacova) from Belgium, and French artists such as Al Zheimer, XKV8, Helius Zhamiq, Fist of Fury, Attila, EPC, La Peste and more, the label became a reference in itself: a lot of electronic music tracks from other labels have been described as having a "Hangars Liquides sound" or "Hangars Liquides style".

Since 2000, the label has released many different genres from acousmatic music to power electronics and flashcore. Flashcore identifies a style that some of those experimental artists share and a manifesto explains the aim of HL's vision of experimental music.
Phew! And I thought some of the stuff I like to listen to is a tad obscure.

Given their cutting edge, experimental approach to music it was perhaps inevitable that they would arrive in that mecca of experimental art: Second Life. With HL described using terms like "noise", "industrial" and "flashcore" (whatever that may be) you should not be expecting a sim simply swimming with pastoral delights. And you will not be disappointed. We are much more in a cyberpunk/Akira/BladeRunner world of inner city glitz and meltdown. At ground level there's grungey walkways, dingy corner shops and burning garbage; while higher up, in the tall towers, you find the bright lights of the well-to-do. I found setting the environment to midnight (or thereabouts) gave the most atmospheric images - as shown here:

It's a nice sim, even in its current state - worth an explore, and I think worth a more extended explore once it is actually finished. Oh.. and why Hangars Liquides? I have absolutely no idea.

How Clever is Clever Zebra?

Things have been rather quiet for a while over at Not quite as sepulchral as 3pointD, to be sure, but nevertheless it is a site that has faded from its early days as a young, snotty, opinionated upstart in virtual world news and views. Latterly it has become little more than a vehicle for advertising the Metaversed/Metanomics inworld meetings. I’ve been curious about this, wondering why Nick Wilson, the original voice and founder of Metaversed, had all-but disengaged from the site. It seems the answer is that he has been busy behind the scenes. There is a metamorphosis underway in the world of Metaversed, with the emergence of a whole new site – and more importantly, a whole new concept: Clever Zebra.

I know… I know… from nothing 24 hours ago, this is becoming the “phrase du jour” – but I thought you might like to know a bit more about it.

Broadly, Clever Zebra is a new company that will offer companies and others a new approach to establishing a presence in Second Life. At its crudest, the approach looks like an uber-version of the freebies already available to newbies and the financially-challenged in SL. Clever Zebra’s first product, Zebra Corporate, will be available later in January. This “will include the buildings, productivity tools, furniture and landscaping necessary to form a corporate build that can be adapted to each organization’s individual purpose.”

And it won’t cost you a penny. “By providing companies with enterprise class virtual world solutions for free under an open source license… All Zebra Corporate pieces will have full permissions to copy, modify and transfer under the terms of the GNU General Public License version 3. This license allows the redistribution and resale of all or part of the system but stipulates that redistributed copies, whether modified or not, must also carry the same open license.”

Clever Zebra intends to make its money from the services that can be offered alongside, such as customisations, training, support and consultancy.

Won’t this mean a cookie-cutter approach? Well, yes and no. While Zebra Corporate provides a general toolset, it also offers plenty of scope for customisation, branding, layout changes and so forth. And it is worth considering whether “cookie cutter” is such a bad thing. It offers a quick, easy entry point to Second Life for companies that might otherwise have considered the environment too strange – and expensive – to consider. First and foremost, a place has to work as a social environment – looks are secondary.

What about the big building companies? It is unlikely that CZ will have a big impact on the existing virtual world development companies. Large corporates and media groups will still prefer to go the totally bespoke route offered by these specialists. Smaller build companies may well feel the squeeze – but from the conversations I have had over the last 6 months or so, most of these companies are suffering already. I don’t know if this is feasible – but some form of alliance with CZ might actually benefit such companies.

What about artisan builders and craftsfolk? A few people have already voiced concern about the possible threat to existing SL artisans. I don’t see Clever Zebra posing any greater threat than they experience already. In fact, it is part of the company’s ambitions to bring in artisans to broaden the range of objects available under the CZ banner. “By creating a set of standards for Zebra Corporate, including measurements, content, and quality grades, we can invite the creative community to build to those standards and submit variations of the corporate theme for inclusion in the Clever Zebra collection.”

Artisans should benefit from commissions, promotion and direct engagement with enterprise clients. CZ will also offer to help with profiles, contracts and freelance work – in effect acting as an agency.

In the hyperbole coming out of the site all of this is described as a “paradigm shift”. I’m not sure I would go that far – but I do think this is an interesting, new approach for bringing companies into Second Life. The low cost may well attract a large number of new companies to try their hand.

And perhaps here’s the rub…

The business model, in large measure, relies on selling people’s time – time for customising, time for training and support, time for consultancy. Unlike virtual products, which can be sold over and over without any further intervention, people’s time is not a scalable commodity.

Fundamentally, CZ needs to sell time, and that means having bodies, and that has all manner of ramifications. People are expensive. People need to be trained, managed and paid. How do you scale up quickly if there is high demand? In fact, how do you tune resourcing according to peaks and troughs in the market? Sounds like contracting to me.

But it goes a bit further than that: How do you ensure consistent quality? How do you ensure the CZ brand values are preserved? This starts to resemble the Virgin business model. It requires investment in the contractors – and governance mechanisms that allow CZ to monitor quality and conformance.

A final thought is around winning business. The costs associated with bid management, sales and marketing can be high – and the time these activities devour is time that cannot be readily clawed back from charge out. I know this has killed other small companies in SL.

The calculation of running costs, incorporating these and many other factors, looks to be highly complex and full of assumptions. Coupling this with an industry-standard per capita charge-out rate leads me to believe that making a profit will be a real challenge with this model.

I wish CZ good luck with this venture, but I think they need to work through some of these issues if they are to survive (but then, I’m not an open source zealot).

PS: I am glad to see that the "meta" prefix is noticeable by its absence. Here's to a meta-free '08!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Colgate - The Results

If you've been following the Colgate Saga on this blog, you will recall that Joni West, president of This Second Marketing, was going to get back to me with the results of the Colgate Smile promotion at the end of the holidays. And sure enough, right on cue, here is her update:

In spite of the first few blogs ripping into Colgate for entering Second Life with the Colgate Smile Center and not mentioning the focus of the ACTUAL promotion, we have gotten AMAZING results!!! Since you said you would be so kind as to re-address this once the real promotion was done, I hoping you will blog on this…it is pretty impressive!

We more than DOUBLED out previous one-on-one brand outreach record*! We hand delivered the Colgate Smile package which includes the virtual Colgate Smile, a list of 10 places in SL that will make you smile, and other freebies, to more than 30,000 UNIQUE Second Life residents! Now THAT is good virtual marketing! We also helped countless newbies to learn how to “wear” things (like the Colgate Smile) and how to teleport to places (on the smile list). I believe Colgate has added value by promoting in-world in this way. It is NOT about the “build,” it is about the interaction and the free useful items! People who didn’t get the Colgate Smile package can go the Colgate Smile Center and get it from a vending machine…that is what the Smile Center is there for... Below [...] I have pasted an edited snippet that was captured by one of our buzz agents. The responses from residents when offered the Colgate Smile package was OVERWHELMINGLY positive! People really got a kick out of having a nice Colgate Smile for their avatars since most of them only had the default facial expression.

[9:38] Hi, Jess, have a Colgate smile and welcome to Second Life....
[9:38] accepted your inventory offer.
accepted your inventory offer.
[9:50] You: Hi Everybody! If you would like a Colgate smile just IM me. Also, there is a list of 10 Second Life sites to make you smile....Enjoy!
accepted your inventory offer.
[9:50] You: Enjoy, Phobe
: ty
accepted your inventory offer.
[9:51] P
accepted your inventory offer.
[9:53] You: Here Ringo, enjoy a Colgate smile
l: lol
accepted your inventory offer.
accepted your inventory offer.
[9:55] You: Baby, the folder i gave you has some clothes, along with the Colgate smile....
: hey Post. New to this... what is the colgate smile inworld?
: OK. So do I 'wear' the smile?
: How do I use it?
[9:59] You: do you see the folder?
[9:59] You: in your inentory?
[9:59] You: "Colgate Smile"
: so do I use the colgate smile?
[10:00] just clik 'wear' and it should fit nicely
: ok, done...I think.
accepted your inventory offer.
accepted your inventory offer.
accepted your inventory offer.
accepted your inventory offer.

accepted your inventory offer.
accepted your inventory offer.
accepted your inventory offer

*Previous one-on-one brand-related outreach was done by This Second Marketing LLC for IMAX to promote Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix this past summer.

I removed the various avatar names above, and clipped some of the text purely for the sake of brevity. Joni also sent through the following photos:

By my reckoning, 500 inworld hours reaching 30,000 avatars makes for an average of 60 "conversations" an hour or one a minute. As I can see from the above chronology, it is certainly possible to exceed this, if you hit the right places. I couldn't do it, mind you.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Looking Back on 2007

I started this blog almost exactly 12 months ago, so I thought it would be a good point to pause and look back over the last year and see if any shapes have emerged.

While the commercial world started to sit up and take notice of Second Life back in 2006, it was not until 2007 that it really hit its stride. The first half of the year saw an explosion of new commercial sites, coupled with an increasing sophistication in the way Second Life was used.

A few themes stick out during this time:

  • inworld recruitment
  • techie communities
  • virtual conferences
  • cities going virtual
  • evolution of island archipelagos

A number of recruitment companies established themselves, hosting job fairs targeted at attracting skilled professionals in areas such as IT, finance and marketing. European business units from my own company participated in such fairs, and found them to be an effective method for shortlisting candidates.

Large technology companies, such as Intel and Microsoft, established thriving developer communities. The benefits worked both ways: for the company they had a ready focus group to work with, while for the developers it gave them an opportunity to establish networks, share ideas and keep their costs down. I think this is a trend we will see more and more in the year to come, and leads nicely into virtual conferences.

Although these have probably been around as long as virtual worlds, the extension of real-life conferences into Second Life was a common occurrence in 2007. In this way it was thus possible to attend at least some conference talks without incurring vast travel costs, loss of productive time and conference expenses. The impact of this should not be underestimated. I recall talking with a SAP developer who was unable to attend the various SAP conventions as he could not get the time from work, and his employer was not prepared to pay his expenses. This left him feeling isolated and largely out of touch with the rest of the SAP community. He was looking forward to participating in the inworld SAP community, and attending virtual developer conferences.

Cities – particularly those in Germany and Benelux – started to put in an appearance in Second Life in 2007. Whether sponsored by the local tourist board, the Chamber of Commerce, or enterprising locals, such city sims seem to fulfil a need. Much as we might like to ignore frontiers and live the international high life, for many of us there is still no place like home: a place where people speak your language, share the same cultural heritage and laugh at your jokes! These city sims go some way to doing this, while also offering a more traditional 3D billboard for the city, its features and its opportunities. Building on this theme, I also noticed a tendency for related sims to cluster and form entire archipelagos. Most often, this was related to a common language or culture – so for example, there are French, Italian and German archipelagos.

I reckon that’s enough to be going on with for now. Too many words in one post (and no pictures!) gives me nose-bleeds. A view of the second half of the year will need to wait for another day.