As recently I’d been devoting more time to revising for my final two exams, I’d had less involvement with the MUVEnation project. Once my exams were over, just about signalling the end of my undergraduate degree, it was time to jump back in and continue with the work. Fortunately this coincided with an in-world meeting with the other participants at Reading, to discuss progress. As I would discover, while I’d been away from the project, much progress had been made.
During an earlier ‘real world’ meeting, it was decided that not only should we review existing tools, but we should also be thinking of ideas for tools we could design and build ourselves. Many of these revolved around organising meetings and discussions, so that the conversations could be logged and to give all participants the chance to speak fairly without interruption. To that end, there were two tools being demonstrated here, each of which aimed at solving part, or all, of this problem.
The first tool was something along the lines of a HUD that used a separate chat channel. I believe this would allow a speaker to send messages out on a specific channel, so that all users wearing the HUD would receive them. Global chat would then be left free for other conversations, without disrupting the flow of the speaker. Unfortunately this demo didn’t go as smoothly, perhaps because its creator is relatively new to Second Life. It looked promising though and we look forward to a second demonstration in the near future.
The second tool, well, right from the start, clearly was made by someone who knows Second Life inside out, perhaps indicated by the fact they were giving this demonstration, not in humanoid form, but in canine form. What’s more is their comment about it, how when looking through the existing tools they saw a possible gap, and thought they’d put something together that would do the job. We didn’t know they had made anything until this point, and to think that they just made it because they felt like it, as if it was a simple thing to do, definitely shows me I have a lot lot more to learn about Second Life.
The tool itself was a discussion moderation/organisation system, which not only included a means of giving all participants a fair chance to speak, but also a complete and customisable seating arena. Each can operate separately, or be used together, depending on what is needed. The arena I thought was very novel, consisting of multiple curved rectangular prims of various sizes. First various parameters are specified, to a base prim, such as the number of rows and how much of the circle to build. Once entered, you just stand back and watch as the right number of prims are automatically created and put in the correct position to form the arena. These then act as seats, so all participants are sitting facing a central spot.
The discussion moderation came from a simple box shaped object that was placed on the floor in the centre of the seating arena. A person who wanted to speak would click on the green box to add their name to the list. When it was their turn to speak, their name would be displayed above the box. Once they had finished speaking, they would click the red box to remove themselves from the list. If they were in the queue but did not want to speak, they could also click the red box to remove themselves early. It was pointed out that this required certain social rules to be followed, as the boxes did not prevent anyone from talking and interrupting someone. But it did make it clear who was meant to be speaking, so there would not be confusion with many people trying to talk at once, and would make it clear if someone was speaking out of turn.
These tools, along with any more that are developed, will then form part of the University of Reading’s contribution to the MUVEnation/LLL3D project. I’m looking forward to see what else is developed, and the working demonstration of the HUD tool. For the time being that leaves me continuing to review the existing educational tools, as unfortunately, while I was away, that was not completed as I thought it might be.
I’ve now been working properly on the MUVEnation project for almost a month, on and off. So far, the work has involved a lot of reading and writing, as we work to complete the documentation for the collection of educational tools. There has been less time spent in world than I would like, but it has still been fun, getting in world occasionally to test out some of the tools and take photographs. The next stage of the work should mean more time in world, as we set up an exhibition of the tools in the LLL3D Exhibition building – I just need to make sure I spend enough time working on my final year project and revising for my remaining final year exams.
As the job is focused around virtual worlds, allowing us to work from anywhere, It has sometimes been difficult to work together with the others involved. I do have contact details, both regular and in Second Life, but they aren’t always online, and don’t always reply to email. So I’ve been trying to do as much work as I can, but since being given a second list of tools to complete, it is sometimes frustrating feeling a bit like I am working alone. There has even been a bit of a Digital Identity crisis, with confusion between real names and pseudonyms that further complicated who was actually meant to be working with me.
One of the main issues though, other than sometimes being unsure what work is being done by who, has been the lack of feedback on the completed work. No one has said to any of us if it is what they want, or if they would like us to redo it. Looking at content written by others for other tools, the work I have been doing is definitely of similar quality and style. Many of those are marked off as completed and have not been changed recently. In a real world meeting yesterday, when I brought this up, the consensus was that if I haven’t been told of anything wrong, then there is no problem. The trouble here is that we don’t know if the people in charge have looked at our work yet, so we could still be told to change it.
Anyway, moaning aside, I’ve been having fun with Second Life, trying out a lot of the tools the project has collected, including tools designed for group use, in which I am unable to do a complete test as usually I am doing this alone. Other than just using these tools, the fun part is often obtaiing them, sometimes involves travelling to different locations. Today that meant visiting a place called The Magicians, Abracadabra (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Abracadabra/213/178/31), a snowy place unlike anywhere I’d yet been in SL. Here I came across a cat that would just walk around one of the buildings. It was cute by itself, but then I discovered perhaps a rather unfortunate mistake, it allowed you to sit on the cat. Then, whenever it moved, you went with it, riding the poor thing around. It seems completely unfazed by this, but it certainly was an amusing site to behold, although rather than posting a picture of what may be a case of Second Life Animal Cruelty, instead you get one showing it rolling around on the floor, as cats do. The programmer definitely put some thought into it to make it more real!
Also at the meeting I was introduced to the third student who will be working over the summer on the project, bringing a different, but very useful skill set. While myself and the second student have more knowledge and understanding of Second Life, the third student brings some advanced 3D modelling skills. This will allow us to have detailed 3D models designed outside of SL, and then imported, producing much more detailed in-world objects than trying to make them in-world out of prims. While they will need to learn a bit about SL, with their technical ability, this shouldn’t take long. The aim is then to combine our knowledge of educational tools and 3D modelling to create our own tools or objects that could be used for education. These may improve on existing tools that we feel aren’t quite as good as they should be, or fill a gap that we feel hasn’t been filled by any current tool. This will be where the work goes in-world much more, with progress so far including a 3D model of a Spitfire aircraft having been imported into OpenSim, and hopefully soon Second Life!
Over the past year, while helping with the MUVEnation and LLL3D projects, I have come to see Second Life as more than just a ‘game’, as some people still see it. The aforementioned projects look at it’s use in education, but it’s practical uses spread wider than that. This week alone saw Amazon, a world leading e-commerce company, hold a job fair in Second Life, using the virtual world to meet candidates for real life positions located all around the world. This may not be a new concept, but it is the first event of its type that I’ve heard of since starting work in Second Life, and also the first I chose to attend.
The event ran from 06:00 to 00:00 PST, which worked out at starting 13:00 GMT, as it was geared more towards those living in the United States and Canada. There were some positions in the UK, but few compared to those in America. Due to this, when I first went to Amazon Developers 2 Island, where the fair was held, it was very quiet, there were only a handful of people there. I took this opportunity to explore, reading the information boards that were located around the island. The information ranged from things about the job fair, how you could submit your CV in Second Life, and also details of specific positions they were looking to fill. There were also stands offering free gifts, including a rather cool looking flying vehicle!
After this initial exploration, I left the island, and returned later, about 17:00 GMT (10:00 PST). When I did, the island had become a hive of activity, with at least 50 people now there, both candidates and Amazon employees (identified by their group ID displayed with their name). One of the things I noticed quickly were the number of generic avatars present. These are the ones given to those first signing up to Second Life, before they change their appearance. Looking further, at their profiles, it was clear that many of these people had signed up to Second Life within just a few days of the job fair, presumably with sole purpose of being able to attend. It leads me to wonder, how many of these will continue to use Second Life?
Among this hive of activity, people were talking to the Amazon representatives to find out information about the various jobs, and also conducting interviews with potential candidates. Just watching the chat, it was clear that a lot of people wanted to talk to the Amazon staff, especially around the reception, and were being told to wait while the staff would finish the conversations they were in the middle of. The interviews were conducted in smaller buildings away from the main one, so that less people would disturb the interview process.
While I was not there to look for a job with Amazon myself, I can see how this type of event is practical. It allowed people from all over the world to meet key representatives from Amazon, without the need for anyone to travel. I would also imagine that the information was more beneficial, coming from those with experience in the roles advertised, instead of more generic information often found at real world job fairs, with staff that don’t actually do the jobs. I’ll certainly now be on the look out for other job fairs in Second Life, as hopefully more employers will see it as a great way to find talent. If UK based companies lock on to this idea, maybe I’d be in with a chance of finding a job that suits me when the time comes