Lessons from second life

The last few weeks have brought a quite intense immersion in second life. What started with just checking what the tools were like has ended up being a quite a movement.

Quite a few of us have found that the linden labs platform with a mixture of 3d model creation tools and a very rich scripted language is letting us explore many of the ideas that may have been held up or on the backburner. It would appear that the open nature of second life, the ability to protect intellectual capital, to build and expand on other team members work is causing many more innovative ideas to surface.

Some of these will start to appear here on eightbar.

Due to our immersion in second life we were invited to attend an opening event at a campus island created by NMC. This was an interesting event in that many of the people were very new for Second life, but you could tell the more experienced dwellers by the costumes and looks. The community aspect that we all helped one another along and shared ideas was very liberating. The nearest analogy is a wiki, but in 3d and with all the contributors being there and seeing one another.

NMC event

I also have ended up putting some skin in the game by buying a private island (server) for us to share some of our ideas and the mere fact this existed has encouraged our own community to form around it.

Whilst it was very empty.

An empty island

We soon had a board room.

board room

But all work and no play makes jack a dull boy so we have all been out in the metaverse experiencing the richness of the user created world, such as live concerts.


Its certainly brought a great team together who have a common interest, and are finding ways to express all sorts of creative and technical ability.

Second Life – Outside in

A few of us have been exploring second life. I have a humble plot of land in the ‘metaverse’.

Being more techie than arty I have been exploring how to make the XMLRPC elements work, and seeing what potential there is in the scripting language that lives behind all these weird and wonderful objects.

The plan was to make a glowing orb respond to events outside second life. There seemed to be very few examples and lots of comments about things that did not work. However…… the orb on a stick in the right hand side of the picture is controlled by a form on a web page and some PHP.
So its state can be controlled by anyone accessing the page, rather than being actually in second life.

Light off

Light on

There is also some floating text (not shown) that hovers over the orb, the contents of this also comes from the standard HTML form.

The orb also emails a task ID I have elsewhere to tell me what the current message and state of the light is.

I believe that Linden Labs are looking at better ways for the objects to talk out of the ‘metaverse’ but for now it seems to work pretty well once you know the ID of the object you need to talk to.

IBM Blog Map

I’ve been playing with doing a Google Maps mashup on IBM’s internal blog system, showing where all the bloggers are posting from. It actually turned out to be pretty simple. We have an LDAP directory (called Bluepages) which stores information about all employees, including their work location. Another system stores information about each work location, such as longitude and latitude of the sites. That means I can get a grid reference for every user’s base location and plot them on the map. It’s not perfect, some people don’t actually work at their base location, but it gives a good approximation.

Blog Mashup

Clicking on the map pins lists all the bloggers who have recently posted at that location. I’ve got a few ideas of how to improve it and eventually I’d like to publish a live version of it outside the firewall. I don’t think there’s anything confidential in it, as I’m not going to show any blog content, but there may be some privacy issues around people’s IDs. I think it’d be nice to show IBMers activity throughout the day though.

Well it got my attention – Second Life

Massively Multiplayer Online(MMO) used to be about dragons, character leveling up, the odd spell. Second life has changed the model an introduced some new patterns that are there to be explored.

MMO’s got a mention in IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook as one of the strands of conversation about the changes ahead for the world.

Games have always been a part of my life, I have grown up wth them. However I also do ‘serious’ computing. Now, though, it is impossible to ignore the elements in Second Life that provide real collaborative computing in an immersive commercial environment.

In this environment people make money, selling things to other people. Shops and malls are forming in the virtual world, people are providing services, writing code, designing objects all to exchange for the Linden $. The unusual aspect is that the L$ trades both ways with the real world. So you make money in game, you make money in real life. A real economy?

People are making money, but they are also being extremely creative and innovative. Its not a single big product or killer app that makes the money, its volume sales of interesting objects and function.

The environment also considers those who wish only to contribute and open source thinking is rife in the virtual world. As a creator of an object in this world (which is in effect code) you are able to place it in world, sell it, offer it to the anyone, give it to people but not allow them to alter it, make it a perishable item. In normal terms it has an extremely rich access control mechanism.

The guys can also scale, more people subscribe…. they add another server/world/island.

All of what is in the environment is created by the users (most of whom subscribe). Where else do you get thousands of customers to self build your product?

A few of us are in second life, taking a look around, seeing what is happening and actually experiencing it rather than just reading about it, enjoying as well as researching. The facts an figures are more eloquently explained in this Google tech talk. It may not or may not be the coming of web 3.0, but some of the potential that is being created and exploited here cannot be ignored.

Interesting new blog on consumer electronics

Some of our readers might be interested in a new consumer electronics blog that has recently popped into existence. This is interesting for me in that as we often don’t get thought of as part of the consumer environment. However many of the things we do, be it the social computing, cool devices etc here in Hursley and around the company are actually aimed at people. My previous post reminding the world that “you cant but a next gen games console without buying IBM” also highlight this.

For anyone working in a company its great for your network of family and friends to see what you do. Consumer devices therefore help a great deal, as does general media sponsorship. My 90 year old grandmother knows that I work at Wimbledon during the championships and when the IBM logo appears on the TV she has a pride moment. (Technically I am usually on the website, and not a great deal to do with the TV graphics but it is all part of the same company).

However as techies it is also nice to know what we have under the covers that maybe everyone else (as in general public) does not know. Where CICS is used, where MQ is used, a little buzz of ‘I know how this works’ when I access a banking service.

Mashplication instead of mashup

Roo and I just did a beyond the buzzwords talk to some of the people in Hursley.
The aim was to just fill in some of the gaps where buzzwords spring up.

Mashup is a great word but misses some of the techie elements, but seems to fit in the music world better.

We should call mashups that are application or API based ‘mashplications’ to avoid clashing or mashing with musical mashups like the Beastles.

I know we have ‘situational applications’ and ‘application wikis’ but we need/use buzzwords to add to the web 2.0 alure.

I googled for mashplication and got 0 hits, not something that happens very often.

We have a Mashplication creator on the go here in Emerging Technology both in Hursley and in the wider organization, it was presented at the o’reilly e tech conference.

Think Friday – The Wetware Grid

Fridays in IBM is Think Friday, we all tend to get a bit of space to consider whats going on in the world, deal with new things and absorb the idea that we can create innovation that matters.

I am an aspiring futuroligist/futurist, so here goes some thoughts from my Think Friday.

The BBC News at 10, and the earlier Radio 1 News went all mashup/web 2.0 crazy the other day. The reason was Gawker Stalker. This is a googlemap application (not so much a mashup really) that takes sightings of celebs sent into gawker by the general population. There are obviously ethical concerns and that was the spin on the story.

What is interesting to me though is that ‘open source thinking’ in this. It is about using people as the sensors for the system, not cctv, not GPS tracking attached to a celebrity. It is quite lo-tech, but enables a hi-tech surveillance. People offer their information for the benefit of a wider group, then using the ‘web service’ provided by google, what once would have been a complicated GIS system is unleashed on a web browser.

This has lots of attributes that illustrate the power of the network and the ability for people to be an integral part of it. It has an emergent organization feel too it aswell, and it is massively distributed. The people who spot the celebs are actually adding their brain power in visualization and pattern recognition to a wide network of sensors that relies on ‘luck’ and being luckier because of the scale of the human network.

Odd to consider it in those terms given the news item was clearly showing that the consumers of this service were a bit geeky and star struck.

Amazon Mechanical Turk is a prime example of using human wetware as part of a grid style application. It relies on that open source thinking model where people are willing to share their information. In this case though, amazon are trying to make it a commodity.

Is this really services 2.0, using the mass network we have, the pervasive device and expanding bandwidth to patch people into the parts of a service that computers just cant cope with. Is my brain the new transistor? What are the implications of our integration into a services orientated architecture?

Ian Hughes(Consulting IT Specialist/Futurologist)

Fame, and bananas

Following on from my previous post about Blue Fusion, the local newspaper has picked this up. I’m the one on the left holding the inflatable banana…

The event has just finished, incidentally. Yesterday I hosted Search for a Planet, which was a way of exploring planets, physics, and geology. A short video from the ship’s computer explained to the team that they (the crew) had been woken from hibernation to help to find a new planet to land on, since the ship’s database has been destroyed. Information on various physical factors was available – star type, temperature, gravity, atmospheric composition etc. – and the team had to use that information to search for an appropriate planet to make their new home. It was a very cool activity, with a strong visual impact. The science elements were key to solving the puzzle, i.e. understanding the difference between degrees Kelvin and Celsius (most of the students hadn’t come across Kelvin before); working out the correct mix of gases in the atmosphere; knowing how much gravity is OK before you get squashed flat.

The talk yesterday morning was by Dave Conway-Jones, who showed off the Hursley Emerging Technology lab by remote control, and talked about motes and zigbee and various other new, cool technologies. Today we had Ian Hughes talking about Wimbledon, as well as a talk by Peter Robinson from Cambridge University on using computers to analyse emotions through facial expressions.

Today it was back to Three Wise Monkeys for me. Strangely appropriate, given the press coverage. Anyway, I’ve had a great time – roll on next year.

The genetics of dragons, and the wisdom of monkeys

(remix of something I posted to my personal blog – this is Hursley-related, so it is definitely worthy of inclusion here)

I’ve spent the past two days as an activity host at the Blue Fusion event in Hursley. The title of the post will become clearer if you read on…

For those that don’t know, every year IBM participates in the UK’s National Science Week, by inviting teams of students from schools from the surrounding area to come into the lab to take part in science-based activities. The event has run for 11 years so far. Each school can bring a team of 6 students. Throughout the day they are accompanied by an IBMer (a school host), and rotate through a number of different activities (run by activity hosts). They score points according to how well they manage to complete an activity, including points for teamwork. At the end of the day, the top 3 schools win prizes. There are also a number of guest speakers, one at the beginning and one at the end of each day. We try to keep the day varied and interesting.

This is my second year as a helper. Last year I ran an activity called Kids Run e-business – basically a simulation of business process management. It was such an addictive experience that I signed up again this year. On Monday I hosted Dragonetics, which explored the ideas of genetics and inheritance by using a family tree of dragons. The students seemed to really enjoy it, and once I’d got over the initial “oops how does this work and how do I run it?” Monday morning nerves, I had a great time, too. Yesterday the activity I was hosting was testing communication skills using Morse code, semaphore, and reading Braille. Today I should be working on an activity called Search for a Planet, and tomorrow on the Virtual Athlete.

Probably the most interesting part of the day for me is seeing how different groups from different schools – and different mixes of genders in the groups – behave and work together as a team. Last year, I found that the range of behaviours was anything from highly motivated and driven to win, to relatively disinterested. So far, this year’s teams have largely been extremely motivated, although not always particularly well organised. One group had a strong leader; another one seemed to be excluding a couple of the brighter individuals through their enthusiasm for getting stuck in. The levels of teamwork and communication can vary tremendously. Based on my observations, it has seemed as though the all-female teams have been more organised to start off with, although that hasn’t always lasted or translated into success, and mixed and all-male teams have done equally well. Overall, it can be a fascinating study in psychology for those doing the hosting! The added dimension is that during the day, the scores for each activity and each school are displayed in the main hall in Hursley House, so the teams can see how they are doing compared with the others – towards the end of the day, the top few teams can become ultra-competitive, and some of those at the bottom of the table sometimes lose some of their energy.

So, why do I choose to get involved? This is a personal perspective – some other people from around the lab may have other reasons, but I guess that some will be similar.

1. It is time out from ordinary activities. For me, this has meant time to recharge, in some ways – although it is hard work, and a long day, it’s so totally different from what I normally do, it is very refreshing.
2. It is an opportunity to provide giveback to the community.
3. It involves entirely different skills from my day job. Although I do a lot of on-site mentoring / coaching / skills transfer with our customers, working with children demands an different set of capabilities.
4. For me, before I came into IT, I was always going to be a teacher – so this is also a way for me to explore that kind of experience without having to change careers.
5. It really is enormous fun. When I’m helping with Blue Fusion, I can’t wait for tomorrow to come around.