Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Virtual Africa opening in Second Life

My dear friend Alanagh Recreant's Virtual Africa project is finally opening tomorrow. Join us at the opening! I'm attaching the official invite below.

Please come and join us on Thursday 24 April for an exiting programme on the first annual Africa Day in Second Life, hosted by Uthango with support of Orange from their island. ‘Virtual Africa’ and the adjacent ‘Robben Island’ with its African Rain (club) will be launched on the same day!

The popular DJ Doubledown will conclude the day at 16:30 SLT with a party for our guests at the new, spectacular African Rain, a club for Virtual Africa, designed partly pro-bono by Eshi Otawara.

this is the SL Africa club slurl:

Virtual Africa is an initiative of Uthango Social Investments, a registered NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa. You are welcome to check CIPRO the offical SA Registrar of Companies for our details or contact us via our company’s Co-Founder and Director in-world, Alanagh Recreant.

Virtual Africa is currently in development and will become a unique Orientation Gateway that may add value to the SL experience for old and new residents in the metaverse. Uthango drives the project together with a small team of volunteers and (soon) professional developers, and welcomes you to collaborate and discuss possibilities. We were delighted to hear Philip Rosedale, CEO of LL, speaking about the importance of these gateways and look forward to bring you a special african immersive environment.

Together with Virtual Africa, we plan the Bottom-of-the-Pyramic Innovation Centre that will showcase ingenuity in Africa and for Africa - specifically in relation to the strategies of companies and social entrepreneurs to make the world a better place. This is one of our main reasons for being in SL - to connect with creative, lateral-thinking people that could solve complex problems - like the ones we face daily in our first world. In this context, we are also busy with the pototype of the Uthango African Roundtable aimed at educational institutions that would like to spend time researching the views of people in Africa. Hopefully, we will soon be able to bring in the voices of african residents as well, as SL is currently a bit skew in its global diversity

You are welcome to join our group: Second Life Africa to keep track of our developments, or the following blog:

Uthango has been extremely fortunate to be in the media the past few months, which has hightened the SL profile in Africa and globally: Here are a few links:





Your financial support is appreciated, but more than this, we really treasure the interest in our work and your own social network. Please feel free to tell others about our projects and visit our website:

We can only be here with integrity if we find specific ways to harness the power of virtual worlds for Africa and our 18 461 real life clients that are NOT here today… Please assist us in doing so! We need all the help we can get…

Thank you very much!
See you soon!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We apologize for the momentary interruption of service

This blog will not update until 18.4.2008.

To be honest.. Did my blog drive traffic to Linden Lab and help popularize Second Life? No - I only started it a few months ago. Would I have posted something in the next few days? Probably not - still searching for the topic for my next post. Do new trademark rules directly impact me? Not really - I added the legalese and I doubt they will come after me. Will the protest make Linden Lab think? No. So why am I doing it? Because the issue is important; because Linden Lab's community mishandling is reaching new heights; and because I was always partial to symbolic gestures :) More explanation in my blog post On the nature of protests.

Come protest with us next Sunday! *shakes pitchfork*

Friday, April 11, 2008

A zebra and its stripes

Marty the Zebra: "I'm ten years old. My life is half over and I don't even know if I'm black with white stripes or white with black stripes!"

I've followed Clever Zebra with interest since they launched, but after some four months, I believe they have the same problem as Marty. Their value proposition is "SL entry made simple" and they promise to achieve it with a pack of business oriented builds and utilities - from an amphitheater to a slide show presenter. Their offering is RL company friendly - a stated up-front price of $4,950 and $395 per month enables companies simple cost calculation and moves them from perilous and possibly expensive project territory into the safe product zone. They will definitely get some customers and expand their presence. However, after some 6 months, I think they will have to reconsider the nature of their stripes.

Clever Zebra's basic fallacy is in their value proposition. Is the price and complexity of creating a Second Life presence really the major hurdle the real world companies must overcome? I believe not. The major problems are the unwillingness to invest human resources in SL; the complexity and immaturity of Second Life as a business platform; and the biggest one of all, the difficulty of forging lasting and valuable relationships with Second Life community.

How does Clever Zebra help companies overcome these difficulties? Their corporate product page is quite devoid of information; it's hard to discern exactly what services the list price includes. If it's consulting, there can't be much of it - let's say 30 hours at $100. Is 30 hours enough to get company personnel to grasp the UI complexity and get to know Second Life so well that they can begin to use it productively? I sincerely doubt it.

The kind of company that goes for "as low as $$" deals is not the kind of company that is willing to heavily invest resources in getting to know Second Life and extracting value from it (and is also most probably not a company that could use Second Life to "save thousands of dollars on travel"). Only a few real companies are - Cisco Systems, IBM, and Dell, to name a few. All of them understand that they are in virtual worlds for the long haul; there is simply no ROI to be made in short term. Does Clever Zebra tell that to their potential customers? I hope they do.

So what does the future hold for Clever Zebra? They will definitely sell a few packs in the upcoming months. But, to keep customers from leaving Second Life in disgust after 6-12 months, exclaiming "Second Life is totally unsuitable for business", they will have to start accurately representing both the challenges and the maturity of Second Life. They will have to admit that they are not providing a "solution" for real companies wishing to enter Second Life - they are only making the first step of many much simpler.

It's time to decide: black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

On the nature of protests

Crisis endures * what's in a title? * IYan's first protest * high school sucks * lessons learned * a call to action and fun

The Second Life blogosphere is still in turmoil after the TM/R fiasco (we really need a cool name for this), only slightly dampened by the quality of service of Second Life of late. The promised clarification on the part of Linden Lab arrived - two days late and none-too-clarifying. Besides the nearing SL bloggers' strike, we now have a petition to Linden Lab, urging them to adopt a more lenient trademark policy. The petition is titled "Petition to Linden Lab on the Policy of Trademark Enforcement" - quite a mouthful. Unfortunately, my suggestion of "Please stop being foolish" did not pass muster.

About that policy? (source)

Given past community performance by LL, it's a safe bet that nothing will change and some kind of in-world protests will ensue - and that makes me very happy. Not because I think that the massed avatars will force Linden Lab to see the light, but because I love protests.

Save our blogs!

I was part of the "experimental generation" when growing up. Every year, they would change the school system a bit. First, there was the "Hey, let's abolish the general purpose high schools!" idea which forced me to enroll in something called the "high school for nature sciences". Then they canceled high school graduation exam, fiddled with the number of semesters, decided that general purpose high schools were not such a bad idea after all, and, in the end, decided to bring back the graduation exam.

"OK, now everybody do a flip!"

Needless to say, everybody was kinda fed up with constant irritation, even given the cheerful and cooperating demeanor of high school kids. The graduation exam was the straw that broke the camel's back - when forced with a distinct possibility of having to study extra hard for a month, two generations of high schoolers rebelled. We left the schools and marched in the streets, wowing not to return until the exam was canceled.

The strike lasted for two weeks. On the first couple of days, we closed the traffic in the city center, drunk more than high schoolers should, and had a great time. After that, the novelty wore off and the police were more vigilant, so we did without public displays and just skipped school - the more cautious of us returning to school for an hour every day for supplemental classes in math, as the yearly math test was approaching. In two weeks' time, some kind of compromise was reached, the exam lightened a bit, and we came back to school. In the end, a year and a half later, I still had to pass the graduation exam - just under a different name.

Although I did not realize it then, the lessons of the strike stayed with me. Can you bring considerable change to the environment? No. But you can have great fun trying to bring change about. There is nothing more powerful than joining a band of Davids, waving their puny fists at Goliath. And, as you know - every so often, David actually wins.

"Oh, Goliath?"

See you at the protest!

Bonus: IYan in protesting gear

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The importance of making Lindens

A newbie is born * IYan buys his first Lindens * the entrepreneurial quandary * "It's the media!" * remaining questions * closing scare

Newbies. We were all there once - wearing default avatars with sliders painstakingly adjusted so that we were happy with the way we looked (ignorance of prim hair is bliss), bumping into people, wearing optional torches and having absolutely no clue. After the first difficult hours of UI navigation, the endless Second Life vistas spread open before us and we were free to do practically anything we liked. With such endless choice, it is an eternal mystery to me that the most common question I hear from newbies is "Where can I earn money?"

I can has Lindens?

The financial side of Second Life (or, indeed, all life) is, of course, important. Upon registration, I connected my SL and PayPal accounts and received a 100 L$ bonus for doing so. I treasured my first money in Second Life and was extremely careful when purchasing stuff. However, all good things must end and the era of free money soon came to a close. With my PayPal account already linked, I did a quick calculation and discovered that I could get a kingly sum in Lindens for the price of two cups of coffee in the real world. I made my first Linden dollar purchase and never looked back.
Small coffee equals big bucks (source)

But back to the entrepreneurial newbies. I admit to having little patience with such questions and refer them to Manpower island or Search. iAlja usually goes a bit deeper - she asks them what would they do and what do they need the money for. The most often answer to both these questions is "I don't know".

What is going on here? Do they love work so much that a real job is not enough for them and they need a virtual one? Is it a regional bias? Perhaps newbies from other countries are less enterprising and more laid back. Do they think that nothing in Second Life is free? Even after pointing them to Search for "freebie", most are undeterred in their Linden quest.

The most obvious possible cause for this behavior is the media coverage of Second Life. Local media, late to the party as usual, still has to descend the hype curve into "virtual worlds are awful" stage. Their portrayal of Second Life is not exactly as a land of milk and honey, but they do stress the money earning potential of virtual worlds.

But even if we attribute this attitude to the media misrepresentation, two mysteries remain. The most bent-on-making-money newbie shudders with revulsion at the suggestion of paying real money for Linden dollars. How do they think the SL economy works - one way? With nothing coming in and everything going out? The other mystery is the question of skills. Second Life is still life, and as in life, zero skills gets you zero money. You don't walk into a hospital an exclaim "OK, I want to earn money, let me operate!" - why do they think this approach will work in Second Life?

Remember.. (source)

I've almost given up on understanding it and lately just accept it as a given. As it is a newbie-only issue, I'm inclined to think that this question is posed by the members of the 90% brigade - the ones to try Second Life for a while and never come back. But does that mean that 90% of population is unable to think outside of the money-making box? Now that is a scary thought..