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Monday, 23 April , 2007 / ermes

Where do you live?


If you don’t know enough about Second Life, you must read this article:

fist-second-life.jpgGet a first life in the second one
As more people spend time in online environments, businesses are now beginning to tackle the virtual world

Carol Lewis – The Times: April 19, 2007

The obvious response to anyone who spends very long in the virtual world is to tell them to get a life but if they are visiting Second Life they may already have a more interesting one than you suppose.

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world inhabited by more than five million users. The currency is Linden dollars, named after Second Life’s creators Linden Laboratories and users’ virtual beings are called avatars. It is, quite literally, another world.

It’s not just for geeks though: corporations are increasingly looking at how they can benefit from merging real and virtual worlds. And one of the key areas in which Second Life is creating excitment is recruitment.

Yell, the Yellow Pages company, is among those exploring the potential of Second Life. It has posted T-shirted career advisers in the virtual world. The career adviser avatars chat to residents and answer questions about working at Yell. There are also four yellow telepone-style boxes strategically placed around Second Life where users can access the company’s careers website. Isobel Hung, head of national resourcing at Yell UK, says: “We are not trying to increase the number of applicants for jobs. We’re seizing the opportunity to reach people we wouldn’t normally be able to and raise awareness about Yell. The kind of people who are using Second Life may have just the right blend of creativity and innovation that we’re looking for in our future talent.”

It’s not just the candidates who are cutting-edge. David Coombs, regional head of digital at the recruitment marketing company TMP World-wide, says: “Companies that want to be seen as cutting edge and want to be associated with the technology are getting involved in Second Life recruitment initiatives.”

TMP has built an island in Second Life where it will host recruitment fairs and events it is organising its first fair for six large US IT and telecommunications companies. The invitation-only event will include opportunities to tour replica offices, talk to employees, download information and attend presentations, initial interviews and assessment centres. “You can literally show a candidate the company they might work for right down to where the toilets and watercoolers are. They can meet and talk to employees. It is a really engaging, powerful tool,” he says.

The management consultancy Bain & Company agrees. It recently invited MBA students from US business schools who had applied for internships to a recruitment event with senior Bain staff in Second Life. The company has built a virtual recruitment centre complete with networking areas, auditorium and information stands where visitors can watch videos and slide shows and download information.

Bill Neuenfeldt, head of Bain’s global schools recruiting programme, says: “Feed-back has been great. The next step is to expand the type of events we use this wonderful venue for.” Events could include global staff meetings, seminars and workshops. This is a route that the IT consultancy IBM has already taken aside from recruitment events it holds senior staff meetings and corporate hospitality events in Second Life.

But will we lose the ability to interact face-to-face and is networking really networking without real world drinks and canapés? Neuenfeldt says that personal communication skills will always be important to client-orientated businesses. “It is a wonderful way to enhance the [recruitment] process but I don’t think it will ever replace personal interaction and meetings.” Coombs agrees: “We still need to see [people’s] body language and read their faces.”

So it probably pays not to be too fanciful when designing your avatar.

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  1. ermes / Apr 23 2007 4:20 PM
  2. ermes / Apr 23 2007 4:22 PM

    From The Times
    March 24, 2007

    Is this a real life, is this just fantasy?
    Second Life is the online world where disabled people can reinvent themselves and enjoy a better life. Laura Deeley investigates

    If you’ve read anything about Second Life, the online virtual world with more than four million residents, you’re probably under the impression that its denizens are society’s oddballs. Geeks, Goths, the lonely and a fair few sexual deviants who, unable to make real friends, congregate online pretending to be someone else from the anonymity of their bedrooms.

    Well, it’s true, there is a well-publicised dark side to Second Life. It is probably one of the few places in the world where you will hear of men pretending to be women having virtual sex with women pretending to be unicorns. Second Life has enough sex clubs and brothels to rival Amsterdam’s red-light district. But like any city or country, there is more to Second Life than can be discovered by the casual observer. Unlike in the real world, the residents of Second Life are in full control of their reality. For a few linden dollars (Second Life’s online currency) they can build anything they like. Residents can adjust their physical appearance too; inflate their breasts, lengthen their legs, get body-builder arms or a pert bottom, all without a single nip, tuck, or bicep curl. The result is a world populated mostly by muscular young men and silicone-breasted, wasp-waisted women, accompanied by the odd winged humanoid cat or bald green-skinned dwarf.

    But for many of the residents of Second Life, it isn’t having bigger breasts or the ability to fly that inspires them, it’s the simple things that most of us take for granted: walking, running, even talking, are the stuff of their imaginations.

    Wilde Cunningham is an avatar controlled by a group of nine adults with cerebral palsy (and their nurse) at the day-care programme they attend in Massachusetts. The group members are aged 30 to 70 and comprise four men and five women. Most of them are wheelchair users and rely on their carers for almost all aspects of their daily lives. Yet in Second Life they have built their own houses, have pets, gardens, even a baseball field. They also have many close friends and a large social network. “Second Life gives me the chance to be the person I feel I was born to be,” says John S, 32, one of the group. “Being in Second Life is how I imagine an innocent man who had been locked up wrongly feels when he is finally set free. In Second Life I get to call the shots.” For John S, the virtual world is all about being free from his disability but for Simon Stevens, who also suffers from cerebral palsy, it is equally about making disabled people visible.

    Stevens, 32, lives in Coventry, where he heads Enable Enterprises, a disability consultancy firm. His avatar, Simon Walsh, is in a wheelchair. “I don’t know how to be nondisabled and I’ve never wanted to be nondisabled,” he says. “It’s important that people know; it’s part of who I am, plus I’m a disability consultant in Second Life, too, so I’ve got to look the part.”

    Stevens sees Second Life as an opportunity to expand his client base as well as a medium for socialising and forming a community. He will admit that becoming Simon Walsh has had a marked effect on his personal and private life. “As Walsh, I’m smoother, sexier; no beer gut,” he jokes. “In real life I’m very active but speech can be a problem; I wear a helmet because my balance isn’t great; I wear bibs and nappies and I need assistance with most everyday things so, as Walsh, social and romantic relationships are much easier.”

    Stevens believe that the internet represents a huge change to the way disability will be dealt with. “This is the future for people with disabilities and the charities that support them,” he enthuses. “Anyone who is disabled should join now: get online, enjoy, explore.”

    Nanci Schenkein has done just that. Formerly an events planner from New Jersey, Schenkein was forced to give up her job when, ten years ago, she was told she had multiple sclerosis, which limits her mobility. “I heard about Second Life when it was first opened to the public in 2003. Being a bit of a techie I thought it would be fun to go in and build things.” The first thing she built was a recreation of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. To celebrate, she held a party. Midway through it, it dawned on her that everyone present was more interested in the party than what she had built. “I realised there was a big gap in the market; nobody was doing parties in Second Life, so I got started. Before long people were asking me to do weddings, birthdays and business openings. I never intended to go back to work as an events planner, but I guess it’s what I’m good at.”

    Schenkein (avatar: Baccara Rhodes) and her in-world business partner Mash run a Second Life event planning service, Spellbound Events. They also own the virtual equivalent of Selfridges, a huge department store where residents can buy everything from kitchens and cushions to a pet moose.“Second Life provides me with a modest income and a community,” says Schenkein. “People outside don’t seem to understand the connection we have here but it’s so strong. I have friends in Second Life who’ve stayed up with me 24 hours a day when I’ve had to have steroid treatments for the MS — that’s friendship.”

    John Lester, the academic programme manager at Linden Lab, the company that owns and runs Second Life, agrees. Lester was the brains behind Brigadoon, a private island built to accommodate a group of people with Asperger’s syndrome, a less severe form of autism, who were already members of a chat site that Lester had developed for people with neurological disorders. People with Asperger’s are often characterised by social isolation and awkwardness, eccentric behaviour and obsessions. Nonverbal communication, such as reading body language and facial expressions, is also difficult.

    “The group wanted to socialise and meet people but found it frightening and communicating difficult,” Lester tells me. So he created Brigadoon to provide a place where they could practise socialising in a more realistic setting. The island was a great success. Second Life allows members to chat in realtime so its residents were able to communicate instantly but without the complication of reading nonverbal signals. “It built up everyone’s confidence,” says Lester. “After a while they felt comfortable enough in their social abilities to leave the island and explore the rest of Second Life.”

    One such ex-Brigadooner is Torley Wong, who works for Linden Lab as a community developer of communications. Wong, whose Second Life residence is a watermelon house — “when I was a kid I wanted to live in a watermelon” — says his life has changed dramatically since signing up. “Before Second Life I was introverted. I didn’t communicate well.” In Second Life, Wong finds he can communicate through the things he builds and the way he looks, rather than through text. He has a number of different avatars, including a woman called Torley Linden (see panel left) and a dog, which he says represent the different sides of his personality.

    With its potential to free you from a body that does not work or a mind that finds it difficult to communicate, Wong says Second Life is the ideal place for people with disabilities. “I’m much happier here. I’m more extroverted and I never want for company,” he smiles, from the comfort of his magical watermelon home.

    But are disabled Second Lifers more at risk from online dangers, such as abuse, grooming and scams? Robin Christopherson, of AbilityNet (abilitynet.org.uk), a charity helping disabled adults and children to use computers, believes that as long as disabled users take the same precautions as the nondisabled they will be safe. “Disabled users make up a large proportion of online activity so, proportionally, they are at greater risk, but those risks are the same as for other users,” he says.

    The only exception are those people with cognitive or learning disabilities. “Second Life has its own currency and users with cognitive impairments may be more likely to get taken in by scams asking them to part with real money.” However, Christopherson believes that the benefits outweigh the risks. “It’s socially levelling and gives disabled users the chance to escape their disability for a while and the prejudice that can come with it. That’s a positive thing.”

    Another concern is that by losing themselves in fantasy, disabled and socially awkward users may not be facing up to their problems. But as John Lester reminds me when I ask if online relationships can ever be a substitute for the real thing: “Behind every avatar a real individual exists; they are achieving real goals and making real friends. It’s all real.”

    The relationships built here are long-lasting and often provide support for people when they need it most. Lester believes that this group of people, which society labels misfits, has evolved into a new type of person, comprised of electrons rather than atoms, but with a depth of feeling and concern for one another that we can hope only to replicate in real life.

    After meeting and being welcomed in by so many Second Lifers, it is hard to disagree.

  3. Jean Masot / May 21 2007 3:11 PM

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