What did I/We learn this year at Wimbledon 08 in Second Life

Wimbledon is like a very very long plane journey. We all tune into the event and our various roles and focus completely on them. Having added the extra extreme sport of standing in Second Life at the same place for 15 hours a day for 14 days (except middle sunday), and having spent many of those hours talking to people in world and in real life about what we do I thought I would share a perspective on it.

  1. I can explain why I have been saying “People stopped asking why? and started asking if?”” Our real life clients and visitors were fascinated this year more than the previous two year. In 2006 it was “ha thats funny”, in 2007 it was “why are you doing this?” in 2008 it has been “Oh! I didnt realize there was so much to it, so can I do x?”
  2. We had less visitors in Second Life this year, but the ones that came stayed longer and asked more detailed questions about the various modes of working. We also still had more visitors than the physical hospitality tours. Business opportunities arose too in virtual discussions. The depth of conversation and the quality of interaction proved to be way more important that the volume. This is a change that many marketeers would not yet understand, but clearly need too. I realized that in many ways I had turned into a Social Media Strategy Consultant. We segued from the official RL wimbledon tour showing the website and how it was reaching out to social media sites allowing people to take feeds and widgets wherever they happened to be. Metaverses are on that continuum. The 3d wiki, mixed with social network, mixed with being a fan, mixed with behind the scenes blogging all merge in a virtual world event.
  3. Identity versus expression through avatars came up alot. Many people see my predator AV and assume I am hiding. “I wear a mask but I dont hide behind it”. It was very useful to have Judge Hocho there too in SL and in RL. Judge’s choice is a more real world expression of his physical form. Though interestingly he refuses to have photos of himself in RL. Those two ends of the spectrum allowed for me to explain that visual representation is not the same as knowing who someone actually is. Persona’s are difficult and many people are not confronted by that balance. Proving who someone is from a trust and security perspective is not based on what their username is or their avatar appearence.
  4. Shared web browsing worked really well. The embedded web browser, albeit read only worked very well. It is a pity it did not do flash as much of the widget content was flash based as it the realtime scoring feed for the pub-sub elements. However, showing people the wimbledon.org site either in world or on a RL tour worked very well. Demonstrating in the RL room the SL version of the website at the build allowed me to show how I would say the same things to people in world as Andy and Elizabeth would have just said to the visiting customers on our tech tour. The power of the familiar worked. Also in world we drove a few extra people to the site, more traffic. The official numbers will be published soon.
  5. The complexity of shared web browsing becomes more apparent when actually trying to do it. I spent a good few conversations in RL and SL showing people why shared web browsing is complicated. It is not obvious to many people until they see this or do it. The web is a single user experience. There may be 8.5 million people hitting the same site, but your view is your view. Content gets personalized, you login etc. The LL implementation has an embedded client render a URL provided to it. After that it is your client creating the session. If the pages are not personalized in any way then thing will remain in synch. We will all see the same page. If you were able to just click and navigate following links etc, soon the web would start to personalize to you. Each view may start to diverge, cookie trails of browsing, preferences etc. Also being able to see any page on the web would mean peoples browser may be taken places they dont want to be. NSFW sites etc. Judge built the monitor for browsing so that it had a menu of defined Wimbledon pages. So people got to know they had shared control. We then had the odd occasion when two people asked for different pages at the same time. They would then feel the shared problem of losing the page they wanted to see. The facebook page also highlights this. Its asking the user to logon. If the SL user used the break out object judge provided they would be able to view the URL in their personal embedded browser not on a prim. They could then logon to facebook. The prim object would then show them they were logged on and show their page. This woudl cause concern as they would ask if everyone could see thier details. The answer in this case is no. Each user’s embedded browser forms its own session with the website, just like any browser. So very quickly content gets out of synch. The alternative though, a server based proxy to show the same content to all would mean that people details once logged on would then be shared. All these problems are solvable, but we need some new metaphors in web browsing to make it obvious what is happening. The same as when https started to be shown as a padlock on the browser. We will need standard iconography for shared pages, individual pages but similar view, divergent pages etc.
  6. Why have we not modelled all the players? Another common question. There are several answers. The whole Wimbledon SL build is still done effectively for free. A lot of volunteer effort. Building hundreds of player AV’s is complex and time consuming. Down the line when the virtual worlds can represent things even more accurately we would be able to completely reconstruct the match in intricate detail. We know where the ball is, where the player is, what stroke has been played. All this information is mashed together with video in a DVD we (IBM – the atlanta sports events team) provide to the players and coaches after a match. So we know we can take crowd noise to indicate an exciting rally and index video based on that. To take a virtual event to the next level it needs this detail. However we then run into player image rights. Even the top video games do not feature all the player models in tennis. Wimbledon does not feature as a brand in any of the tennis gams either. The blur of copyright, players image rights, broadcast rights and sheer politeness (do you like you AV) gets complicated. Who knows where we could be for things like the 2012 olympics with a virtual presentation of the event live? For now though we keep it simple. Though if we do it again I still want to have more data and more atmosphere.
  7. Any event or build needs people. The single biggest draw had to be being able to talk to people at the RL event, behind the scenes. Everyone was always amazed and interested. Are you really there? Wow that must be great! It is of course great, but never for the reasons people assume. For me it is the amazing sense of doing something so well known and immediate. Having the whole of IBM behind us helping and people interested in our work. Pride does not pay the mortgage, being away from home and family for so long is awful, but its worth it. I could have done SL Wimbledon from anywhere, but the truth of being there came through the build and the avatar. Nothing beats Real Life, and reporting on that in a virtual world at a human level is the important thing to remember

Maybe see you all next year. Thankyou for all the support and conversations. Hi to Sean Krams our most regular visitor, always good to see you there Sean. It meant a great deal to Judge and I.

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