Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Presence over Presentation"

Repost | 08/10/2010

Reading through the comments in reaction to Botgirl Questi's What Makes Second Life and Virtual Worlds so Stupid and Pointless (a title that is meant to be ironic) I note a comment about the librarians in SL and am glad to see someone getting what those wonderful professionals are doing. With very little support from their economically whacked institutions, these virtual world volunteers are putting together educational programs and events on their own time and dime. And the phrase that struck me in that comment was "presence over presentation."

My own initial experience of SL, which in November will be four years ago [and now working its way to eight years], was a feeling of being underwhelmed. I was invited to attend a discussion of education in SL at the Berkman Center, which is a simulation of the Harvard University institution bearing the same name. (I've told this story before, so if you've read it, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph.) Science fiction writer, David Brinn, in attendance as an avatar, commented that he couldn't believe SL was just a chatroom with bad 3D graphics. He was shouted down by a number of people in attendance. While he had expressed a sentiment that was floating in my mind, he was DAVID BRINN and he was being shouted down! It wasn't until a few months later, when a virtual colleague from the Washington Office of ALA met with me and showed me how to build things that I understood the vehemence that censured a world-renowned writer.

Discussion of the new CVL

A group of librarians listen (at right) -- yes, Voice has been introduced -- to the announcement of the formation of the Virtual Community Library group, volunteers laying out their own money to pay tier for several islands to continue virtual librarianship in Second Life. In the photo below, a conference table can be clicked on to add chairs as people gather round for a discussion.

And that's the point of Botgirl's article. Until you've let yourself become immersed in a virtual world and explored the presence of people and their creations, you are still stuck in the shallows of presentation. How does one get out of the shallows? An approach that some librarians I know have taken is to create an alternate avatar and go native. Whether building, joining a role playing group, creating and selling clothing, or some other activity, we stepped outside the professional mask we wore when working in SL and dove deeper. The rewards were connections with real people and the reality of virtual goods, the actual value of what is created in virtual worlds and the tools that get the job done. Yes, some of those tools are not what Linden Lab provided, but what came out of work from residents.

The text floating in front of the ALA logo-emblazoned kiosk (at left)  is generated via a script in the kiosk from data gathered from a Google Calendar dedicated to events for ALA Island.

For instance, several years ago, my "work" avatar, Oberon Octagon, met a wonderfully gifted scripter who is a project manager on business applications in first life in Juneau, Alaska. Among her many clever creations, she created gadgets in second life that connect with Google applications. (Her business has since merged with another talented scripter and is called MechanizedLIFE.) I set up Cog Kiosks throughout ALA Island that read information off Google Calendars to let visitors know about upcoming events. One only needs to update the Google Calendar to affect how the kiosks report, and that allows any number of people to post their events to a central calendar rather than go about editing each kiosk. More than one calendar can be merged together as well. Another terrific device she created is a Cog HUD that is worn by an avatar and accesses Google Calendars.

Personally, I find the graphics in Second Life to be beautiful. I don't want photo-realistic avatars or scenery. The beauty of the worlds within SL or any virtual worlds is in the eyes of the beholder. They are embued with the emotional presence of their creators. When you have walked the sims and talked to the creators who make it all possible, you see them in all their glorious patience and craftsmanship.

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