March 13, 2007
"Second Life: First World "

Rocky Mountain Internet Users Group Minutes of the 13 March 2007 meeting, "Second Life: First World"


Microstaff (www.microstaff.com) provides refreshments

Copy Diva (www.copydiva.com) provides the audio-visual equipment

NCAR (www.ncar.ucar.edu) provides the facility

ONEWARE (www.ONEWARE.com) sponsors these minutes.


About 35 people attended tonight's meeting. Josh Zapin facilitated and Jeremy Kohler recorded the minutes.

Upcoming Meetings in 2007

The next RMIUG meeting will be on May 8, about Ruby on Rails. It's a little techy, and interesting.


Josh welcomes suggestions for topics for future meetings, please email Josh with your ideas.

There is a Bar Camp movement, which provides a wide open learning environment, where you can make your own conferences. There is one here in Boulder on March 30-31. Just google "barcampboulder." We need a location and a couple of meeting rooms. Bar camps have been happening all over the world for a couple of years now.

Consider attending a Second Life meet-up workshop. Bring your laptop and experience Second Life.

The Denver cold fusion users group will be talking about Adobe Cold Fusion 8 to be released in April. Contact Gene Lewis at www.denvercfug.org for info.


Second Life is a virtual 3-D world built and maintained entirely by its 4 million residents, with over a million users in the last 60 days. It's pretty new. A libertarian dream, it's completely controlled by the marketplace. And it has evolved in ways the creators probably never imagined. The business world has gotten involved, along with technology CEOs, millionaires, and people looking to do business.

- Dell Computers opened up its on Island in November offering residents the ability to purchase PCs for their Second Life and "first-life" selves

- Sam Palmisano, IBM's Chief Executive Officer, held a town hall meeting in Beijing and Second Life (he has his own avatar) to announce a $100 Million investment in real- and virtual-world initiatives.

- Starwood Hotel tested a new loft-style hotel in Second Life and got lots of feedback from visitors

- Anshe Chung, one of Second Life's virtual land real estate brokers (her real name is Ailin Graef), has become a millionare (that's in REAL US dollars).


ERIC HACKATHORN (eric.j.hackathorn@noaa.gov) started with his first computer before he learned to ride a bicycle. His father was kind enough to allocate him 100 KB of the family's 10 MB hard drive: one of the first commercially available of its kind. Since that time, he has dabbled in all things computer. After graduating from high school, he started working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration_(NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado. At the same time, he attended the University of Colorado, majoring in electrical and computer engineering. He continues his work at NOAA today as an IT specialist. Recently Eric has taken a back seat to his much handsomer counterpart, Hackshaven Harford. Hackshaven is Eric's avatar (a virtual representation of himself) and exists only in the virtual world known as Second Life. Together they have been busy designing a public 3-D space to highlight the research NOAA performs.

NOAA/ESRL's Virtual Education Demonstration: www.esrl.noaa.gov/outreach/sl
Second Life: www.secondlife.com


I'm the Chief Architect of NOAA's island in Second Life.

My Second Life name is hackshaven (which is meant as "hack's haven"). That's my father's hunting lodge. I'm here to describe NOAA's adventure in Second Life:


A virtual world or "metaverse" is an extension of the traditional 2-D web. Businesses set up an "island" where you can walk into a store and buy stuff for your avatar or get a discount on real mail-order. Dell, Toyota, and other big names are using this world as a next level in marketing because it gives you a much deeper experience than a website.

A company called Linden Lab created Second Life, now the most well-known metaverse. Everything about Second Life is growing exponentially. People buy "land" in the environment to create their own presences, and it's growing by 20 percent per month, with 4.6 million served. It is 100 percent user-generated content. Unlike other virtual worlds, you maintain ownership of your island or land area.

Linden Lab will soon be putting up a rack of servers every week, and they are going to need outside help very soon.

Let's watch a little movie now [showing movie]: Here is someone (an
avatar) building up themselves and their island. Buildings, roads, clothing, etc. It takes 30 minutes to an hour investment just to get oriented in Second Life, so there is a little bit of an entrance barrier.

Second Life client hardware requires a "gaming" computer, at least a 1.6 GHz pentium and a screaming video card. It can take a little while to load, and crowded or badly-built places can be very slow. There are tricks to learn about building lean to minimize the size of your graphics, just like with 2D web pages.

The client is cross platform, and has recently been open sourced. So soon there will be other ways to connect, such as via browsers, cell phones, etc. They open-sourced their client at the top of their game, which is unusual--it's a protection strategy against people who are trying to capitalize and kill.

Accounts are free. 30,000 people online at a time typically. Estimating more than 50,000 simultaneous users within six months.

When visiting Second Life, your first task is to create your avatar, a character for yourself. You can adjust your appearance in quite a few ways such as height, weight, etc. There's a great deal of fascination in looking however you want, changing your gender around, weird clothes, whatever. Part of the economics of Second Life is that you can give stuff away for free like a nice custom jacket for your avatar.

You can walk around and fly, look in all directions.

SLURL (www.slurl.com) is a specially formatted URL that teleports a visitor to your area.


Let's visit NOAA's virtual island. It has 16 virtual acres, which is equivalent to one computer node. Here on NOAA's island, it's Disney World meets science education. It runs simulations (tsunami, sea level rise, glaciers melting, hurricane hunter flights). NOAA pays for the land (just like you might pay for ISP disk space and access). NOAA got an educational
discount: paid only $1000 and $150 per month for maintenance. Not very expensive compared to what companies often pay for a web presence. We dropped another $15,000 for all the outside development by Aimee Weber Studios.

You have lots of neighbors on adjacent land masses. Some people have private islands, others are sharing land masses. An island gives you more control over your content and visitors. People are buying land and developing it. Planning communities, homeowners associations, etc. People can buy and sell virtual real estate to make money.

When someone visits your land or island, you can go look at them. You interact with your visitors. Chatting is done mostly through text bubbles. Soon Second Life will include audio as dynamic talk channels, stereo spatial sound too. This is much more powerful than telephones and there is a potential for teleconferencing here.

You can right-click on anyone to see their info. You can buy a translator to talk to foreigners live. The level of interaction you have with people from all over the world is truly amazing. You can have a conversation with a guy from Brazil who only speaks Portuguese, and for fun make it rain on him. You can make "friends" and then keep track of when they are logged in or out.

You can include video--called machinima--if, for example, you want to have an introductory video play for your visitors.

Currently you use an installed client (local) program to access Second Life. It extends experiences to people that would not otherwise have access to them. For example, in Second Life you can ride a weather balloon, fly into a hurricane on an Orion P3 hurricane hunter aircraft. This is where people can learn about what we do at NOAA. Swim around a hydrothermal vent, visit a glacier. You can create it all yourself or get stuff for your space from someone else (who might give it away or sell it to you). The client includes a simplified CAD development tool that allows you to create shapes, apply textures, etc.

Second Life is unusual in that the client is very dumb.

Making objects is free. The land is what costs. You can't yet import objects from other programs, but that is being worked on. You just put building blocks together and apply textures. We spent $15,000 hiring people to build our airplanes and buildings and everything else.

We use the glacier to promote discussion on global warming--but this is a much more immersive and memorable experience than you'd have by reading about glaciers in a book.

While we still have a six-foot sphere with science on it (see http://sos.noaa.gov/), we also have a virtual sphere on our island and we're sending it all over the world.

Toyota has an island dealership with a race track. You can go there and build your dream car, then go drive it around. If you decide to buy the virtual version of the car, you also get a discount on the real thing.

I got a book called "Designing Disney" to help me see how to design a virtual world. A lot of companies don't realize that you don't want your virtual space to look like and work like the real world.

Users can make their own weather, and this affects the local ecosystem. Our next project is to recreate Hawaii and overlay it with real current weather conditions. Built into Second Life is a programming language similar to javascript that allows you to do things like http calls to grab data, like from the National Weather Service, and then run a script to apply it to your land map. The script is called LSL and it runs on the server. Google LSL wiki and you'll see all about it.

Here on NOAA's island we are projecting live data onto a US weather map. We'd like to do the whole globe someday. Imagine combining technologies like Google Earth--Google Earth is not a shared experience, but it could be. There's a real potential for tying the real world into Second Life to create a more immersive experience.

You can do a virtual tour of the solar system, go for a walk on Mars.


How do you know if you're reaching your audience? In the 2-D web, there's Google Analytics to analyze all your site traffic. And that's pretty important information. But in 3D worlds like Second Life, there is no analog
(yet) to Google analytics. So instead we created a little virtual feedback form for people to fill out voluntarily. Quite strikingly, 40 percent of visitors are filling out our questionnaire--this is huge compared to traditional websites that typically get 1 percent. It's because this medium is so much more interactive that we get this level of feedback. We also created a neat sensor grid to record all visits, even when they don't submit feedback.

The average age of our visitor is upper 30's, which is higher than you'd think.

35 percent of visitors didn't know about NOAA before visiting our island, so we are now reaching customers we otherwise wouldn't reach.

Traditional media is not what gets people to visit our island. It's mostly friends and web searches. Social networks are really driving the visitors to our site.

You can track where people went on your island. Did they go for a hurricane ride? Did they go and look in a store, buy a virtual product?

This shows where all the avatars were standing. Here can see that even though everyone can fly, most people take the stairs. No one spends any time sitting in our lobby. Now here's someone standing on the dock but not getting in the water--maybe we need signage to tell him to check out the undersea environment. You can also use this technology to design a virtual store and see what people do, letting you work out the kinks before building the real thing.

Traffic and metrics are important, and more people will be building sensor grids like ours.

We'll be able to create customized avatar experiences, like rearranging your products for individuals (kind of the way Amazon.com does it).

I think conferences will be important too.

Some new clients are being created, like DTV: a camera that an avatar holds and beams video out to the web. So you can make a webcast of a virtual place.

Museums are setting up virtual tours now.

There are still security issues. You can allow visitors to make objects that expire, and people can put graffiti on your stuff if you're not careful.

Can you get in trouble in Second Life? There is limited damage that people can do to you. People can do sort of denial of service attacks against you and prevent you from doing your job. There are phishing scams going around, but it's pretty minor. You can't really get mugged.

Copybot: a devious thing that lets you copy intellectual property
(objects) and steal them. Linden had to respond to address this and similar threats. But this is the price of doing business on the web. Music has the same problem. Some of the secret lies in finding a business model that work within this environment.

You can sell your objects, or invite visitors to create objects on your island for you. Permissions can be set to allow visitors access to objects of yours that they buy.

You get a certain number of free shapes depending on the size of your land area.

And yes, you can buy and sell the land.

You can also move your island for a fee, which can be useful if you want to organize collaborations.

You have an inventory pocket and can go drop gifts on visitors (or sell them). We use gifts for viral marketing. Objects can teleport people into your space.

Currency to buy stuff: Lindens = game currency. 260 Lindens to the dollar right now, tracked by the Lindex. It's a real currency, even with people playing the Linden market. This is a wake-up call. There are legal implications. Is it money earned in a foreign country? Do you pay taxes on it?

People are investing in companies that are creating virtual worlds.

It sucks. Instead you can go to www.slexchange.com and www.slboutique.com and use a 2D search to find stuff. The 3D search is really bad right now because there is not yet any equivalent of a web crawler.

There is a limit to how many avatars can occupy a space at one time. There is a built-in physics engine (at version 1) and it needs work.

We created a tour guide that shows text and speaks as you tour. You can upload 10-second chunks to play on the fly, also listen to live radio and video streams coming into the virtual world.

There is adult content in Second Life, and there is an adult world for 18 and up. There is also a teen grid where adults aren't allowed so I can't advertise to them directly. But we can give out stuff to kids and let them do viral marketing to attract visitors. It's not foolproof, just like controls on the web aren't foolproof.

There is a Boulder meet-up group for Second Life. Visit secondlife.meetup.com/9/ to join.



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