Second life and libraries: let’s sort out the first life first

In the past year or so, there has been a lot of hype about Second Life, both in libraries, and in general. First-life companies have been trying to figure out how to commercialise Second Life (somewhat unsuccessfully, it would appear), and some social problems that have involved Second Life (which is not to say that these problems weren’t there anyway, just that Second Life lowers the barriers to them) have emerged.

Because of the library hype surrounding Second Life, I decided I should give it a go (much like I gave LambdaMOO a go once upon a time), and like all 3D environments, I hated it. I found the graphics clunky and slow, the interface difficult to operate, and I never got off the tutorial island. Mostly I hated it, though, because I couldn’t drive my avatar, and I suspect this is because (like 8% of young people, and a significantly greater number of older people) I have reduced stereoacuity, and the 3D model presented on my screen is very little like anything I see in real life.

So, what should Swinburne Library be doing with Second Life? My answer would be “nothing” for a number of reasons, including:

  • As of August 2007 (the latest statistics I found) there were 13,567 active* Second Life Avatars based in Australia, and approximately half of all users operate more than one avatar (meaning we can guess that about 9050 Australians log in regularly). Given a population of 20,434,176 Australians, this means that about 0.000443% of Australians are “active” Second Life users — even assuming that Swinburne, being a technical university, has a disproportionately high number of users, we wouldn’t be serving very many people by setting up in Second Life. Of course, we could increase the number of Second Life users by advertising our services there, but I think we would be better off evaluating and improving the services we know our users engage with outside Second Life than creating new services that rely on a commercial third party product, and which our users may not use anyway.
  • Second Life requires a very high-speed internet connection and a good graphics card to be at all usable. This may put it outside the reach of many of our users — there are 17.4 broadband connections per 100 people in Australia. Even assuming that there are multiple people sharing most of these connections, and that Swinburne community members have a higher rate of broadband connections than the general population, for many of our community the only way to access to Second Life would be on campus where the video cards are not up to specification.
  • If the library’s business is information, then 3D environments are not the place for us; studies have shown that users of 3D information environments perform worse in finding and management tasks than users of 2D environments.

Before I get howled down as a complete luddite, I do believe there is scope for Second Life to be used in educational environments; design schools (like the one at Swinburne) could make (and are making) excellent use of the 3D properties in teaching interior design (and I have heard of at least one example of a student fashion show in Second Life). Also, like LambdaMoo, there is scope for sociological study in Second Life, which may be interesting to Swinburne’s Institute for Social Research. Until there is evidence that research like this is happening at Swinburne, though (and that the researchers want our help in Second Life), or until large numbers of our student population “lives” there, there is little scope for the library to do anything useful there — interesting, maybe but useful definitely not. Given that we have loads of scope to do interesting and useful things in our first lives, for now, I’m going to stick with that.

*Active according to some Linden Labs (the people responsible for Second Life) definition.

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6 Responses to “Second life and libraries: let’s sort out the first life first”


  1. 1 embilbie Friday, July 4, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Hi Dana – and pause for moment while I pat myself on the head for actually getting your name right (how embarrassed was I after scribing for the Subject Guides meeting the other week – about 10% accuracy on remembering peoples’ names – god – SO sorry)…

    Hmmm.. the above is a prime example not only of my writing style but also the way my brain works…. painful, huh… NOW to business:

    I’m a regular user of SecondLife; for recreation, networking and entertainment purposes (it’s my “turn off brain and relax” weekends-only activity of choice right now, in the cold nasty depths of a Melbourne winter). I’m enjoying the live music performances one can catch in there right now. [can you hear the ‘madly scrambling for credibility’ tone in my voice…]

    I agree with your observations and comments, particularly regarding the CURRENT functionality of SecondLife as an educative/research environment. It’s almost … too distractingly visual, and leaves little head-space for actually gathering and imparting information.

    It is however a FABULOUS place to “learn through play” – to use a K-12 educational term – as an adult.
    from my experience SL is developing into a great environment to display one’s talents in digital design, scripting, animation, multimedia production etc… and for someone who started in SL with absolutely NO knowledge or understanding of these things simply the fact that I can talk about them in an informed way indicates that my learning curve here has been pretty good.

    And by GOD it’s a web sociologist/anthropologist’s dream, in terms of research material.

    I think SL needs to run for a good few years more, allowing it to develop and mature as any “real life” community does, before it’s true potential as an alternative educational/professional interactive environment can be exploited.

    Just my 2c worth – and (as you might have guessed), my way of knocking over Task #4 of the 23 Things program… 🙂

    Thank you

    Em

  2. 2 danamckay Monday, July 7, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Hi Em, thanks for your comment. I think you’re the first person I’ve ever met who I know is using Second Life on a regular basis. I’d be interested in hearing more about your experiences and your learning curve, if you would care to comment.

  3. 3 embilbie Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Certainly! I’d love to talk about it. Ask me questions etc if you want me to focus on anything specific as we go…

    Here’s a big blurt to start with:

    I joined in October 2006. I think I’d heard it being discussed amongst some colleagues at Melbourne University as they were preparing to do the ’23 Things’ program.

    Let’s be honest here – mine was not a professional interest – I approached it from the perspective of someone who, in the 90s, developed possibly an unhealthy obsession with those so-called ‘immersive’ PC games such as Ubisoft’s Myst series. Gaming developed into a real hobby interest in digital art, animation and related areas.

    I’m also a fan of speculative fiction; sci-fi and sub-genres such as cyberpunk etc, where decades of lively imaginative writing produced the very first ideas of a virtual reality.

    So looking into SL was a natural progression of my interests and experiences, and from the outset I knew it would only EVER be an ‘outside work hours’ activity.

    I’d had very little experience with web 2.0 social networking, nor had I ever done any internet gaming. So those aspects of Second Life were entirely new to me.

    I loved it – love it – as a networking space, a way of meeting and interacting with people from all parts of the globe. And other things:

    Because the tools, and skills, required for building and scripting digital objects in Second Life are available to all, for free, when you install the software, it was an easy step for me to go from having a ‘hobby interest’ in other people’s digital creations and start making my own.
    This particular learning curve is admittedly taking a little longer to develop as all the rest of SL – such attending live concerts given by DJs, solo artists and other musicians; going to poetry readings and gallery openings, and simply PLAYING and EXPLORING is so damned distracting…

    I’ll see if I can upload some images of my time in SL onto my blog soon, if you’re interested in seeing some of these things?

    Em

  4. 4 Em Friday, July 25, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Actually I haven’t had much time in SL for a while now so I don’t have much to show of my direct personal experience… bu in the meantime, take a look at this:

    http://npirl.blogspot.com/

    It’s a collaborative blog, mostly about SecondLife, and contains a lot of images and discussions about the things in SL that I find most intriguing…


  1. 1 If Second Life is the answer, what was the question? « Libodyssey Trackback on Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 2:40 pm
  2. 2 Voyage: A road to nowhere « Dana’s user experience blog Trackback on Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 4:55 pm

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