Voice Integration into Second Life

I woke up this morning to discover an avalanche of mail about how Linden Labs will be fully integrating voice into Second Life.

This is great news for me and other people using SL for delivering lectures, communicating with students, or conducting business in SL.

Interestingly though, there has been a lot of discussion about how the addition of voice might threaten / shake / call into question people’s digital identities.

Here are some quotes:

From PacRimX:

Discussions on the SLED listserv have already popped up about voice masking. The Reuter’s Article states that some think the “magic circle” will be broken if you pair real voices with virtual avatars. I can’t imagine, in an education setting, how this would be a negative thing. The one group that will definitely be impacted by the adding of voice support are the virtual red light services on the main grid. Those masquerading as their opposite sex will definitely have the covers pulled back, and be exposed for who they really are. I guess we will finally find out if the demographic numbers of male and female players are based in reality or fantasy.

From ZDNet News:

One of the groups most likely to object to it is those whose gender identification in-world is different than in the real world. And that’s because it would be startling for some to hear a male voice coming from a female avatar’s mouth, or vice versa.

From Fred Fuchs (SLED list):

Voice can give away age, race, gender, accents, national origin, etc. Some resist voice app integration because they believe voice will make SL less inclusive.
Those who come into SL and always use voice will miss part of the experience.
It’s hard to narrow down.
Text chat is slower than voice. The extra time allows people to be more introspective and thoughtful.
It’s harder to monopolize the conversation in text chatting. Those without loud voices and assertive natures can participate more fully. That’s why meek, but creative people can do well in SL.

From the SLED Project:

This will break interesting ground for Second Life, and has already angered part of the virtual community, stating that it will shatter part of the illusion of the virtual world.

The most interesting aspect to me were the people who were already discussing voice masking – or creating a digital voice to match your digital persona, if you didn’t want to use your own voice. Would people be inclined to spend hours creating the perfect voice using such technology, the same way they (including me!) have spent hours creating an avatar to project their digital persona? I’ve already thought about my own digital voice print – I think I’d select the dulcet husky low tones of Ella Fitzgerald! Fred Fuchs from the SLED list already claims he has the perfect voice masking software. So I am thinking that the addition of voice will have an enormous effect, one way or the other, on our virtual identities.

HappySlip

My new favourite channel on YouTube is HappySlip! I started watching her videos a couple of weeks ago and I am totally hooked now. She has an associated video blog but her videos are all over a ton of video sharing sites, not just YouTube. Over at Tubeworthy, they give us this:

HappySlip, a one woman production team, is the true spirit of Youtube. Not to put down two or more person production teams, but to me this medium is especially for individual, talented, but low budget, artistic expression. Most of all it’s about fun. HappySlip is also funny, talented, and not at all hard on the eyes. Her videos are fun, with good production values and without an edge. Many feature hilarious, but loving, impersonations of her family. Especially her mother.

I especially love the impersonations and the genre playing she does, from mini soap operas to playful experimentation with form.  And maybe because I once lived in Singapore and shared a dorm room with some Filipino girls, I really get a laugh at the play with the English language she does.  Have a look:

New Hot Properties: YouTube Celebrities

From The New York Times is this article about yotube stars being the new hot commodity, and how they are being courted/lured/recruited to post at other sites. From Smosh to Lonelygirl, who are moving away from youtube (or going “bi-situal”) as well as discussing the whole ‘revenue to the people’ issue, with comments from Renetto, Boh3m3, and executives from several competing video sharing sites.

In Melbourne

Hello from Melbourne, more specifically, from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, where I have been in meetings with Len Unsworth, the ACTF staff, and executives from the Victorian Department of Education about doing an exciting collaborative research project together.  This project has been a long time in the planning, and during this process Len and I submitted a paper to a governmental inquiry about the effects of television and multimedia on education in Victoria, the full report of which can be downloaded from here.  We’re working together to apply for funding from the Australian Research Council, and actually, its an awful lot of work preparing the application.  Lots of meetings, discussions, preliminary writing, even premiliminary publications and presentations.  I wonder if friends and colleagues in other countries have such long and complex procedures for attracting funding resources to research initiatives? 

Majority of Teens Stay Private Online

I was recently interviewed by an Australian MSM (mainstream media) magazine about virtual worlds and virtual spaces and one of the questions that I was asked was about the shifting cultural practices of exposing one’s-self online. It’s true that there is a perception that young people just don’t care about what information they divulge and are willing to plaster anything and everything online for the entire world to see. But I was interested to read the recent Pew Internet Survey which claims that this perception is not accurate. In fact, they offer this:

Just more than half of all U.S. teens use social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, according to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project study.

But of those 55 percent of teens, age 12 to 17, who have created a personal profile online, 66 percent say that their information is not visible to all Internet users, according to Pew Internet, the nonprofit research arm of the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

“There is a widespread notion that every American teenager is using social networks, and that they’re plastering personal information over their profiles for anyone and everyone to read,” Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at Pew, said in a statement. “These findings add nuance to that story.”

Since social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster exploded on the teen scene more than three years ago, it’s become of national concern that kids are posting too much information about themselves and are at risk of being solicited by predators. That has caused a range of action: Some schools have banned children’s use of MySpace; legislators have proposed new online rules for social networks; and worried parents have turned to software to monitor their child’s activities online. Sites such as MySpace also have taken it upon themselves to institute security measures to protect younger members.

The Pew survey attempts to examine teenagers’ attitudes and habits regarding social networking. The Pew Internet Project interviewed 935 teens age 12 to 17 from October to November 2006. It said the survey has a margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey found that 55 percent of online teens use social networks, and 55 percent of teens have created an online profile. Among all those surveyed, older girls age 15 to 17 were the most active users of social networks. Older girls use the sites to reinforce pre-existing friendships, and boys use social networks for flirting and making new friends, according to the report.

Of those surveyed, 48 percent of teens visit social networking sites daily and 22 percent visit several times a day.

About 91 percent of all teens on social networks say they use them to stay in touch with often-seen friends. About 82 percent use the sites to stay close with friends they rarely see in person. Making plans is also a popular activity on social networks–72 percent of those surveyed said they use sites to make plans. Another 49 percent use the sites to make new friends.

“Both boys and girls rely on social networks to keep close tabs on their current friends, but older boys are much more likely to use them to meet new friends and flirt in the comfort of an online environment,” according to the researchers.

I wish I’d read this before I did the interview, but hopefully my responses coincided with these findings well enough. Stay tuned by the way, for the VERY long interview I did… hopefully to be published around April in one of my favourite MSM magazines!

Embodiment in Virtual Environments: Exploring Literacies, Identity, Research, and Community

Welcome to those of you coming to my blog from the National Council of Teachers of English Assembly for Research Conference. And a special hello to my co-presenter Charles Kinzer, conference organiser Kevin Leander and one of the participants I actually knew, Dana Cammack!! :)

So here is a link to the slides I used in the flip book,

Here is a link to the podcast of an earlier version of the talk if you want to listen to it again,

and below is another look at the wonderful machinima, “Lip Flap”, which I must have blogged about 20 times by now *laugh*.

There’s a director’s explanation about some of the technical issues related to creating the machinima here for anybody interested by the way.

So leave a comment or send me a message if you have any questions!

A Million Penguins: Can a community write a novel? Let’s find out…

I’ve been a bit slow to blog this! In January a fascinating new attempt at creating a wiki novel was launched – yes, you heard correctly, a wiki novel! From the wiki, we have this explanation:

So is the novel immune from being swept up into the fashion for collaborative activity? Well, this is what we are going to try and discover with A Million Penguins, a collaborative, wiki-based creative writing exercise. We should go into this with the best spirit of scientific endeavour – the experiment is going live, the lab is under construction, the subjects are out there. And the results? We’ll see in a couple of months.

And supplementing the wiki is the the editors’ blog, which is a fascinating behind the scenes look at how the novel is progressing. It is almost over now but the stats are interesting:

Phew – what a rollercoaster it has been. A Million Penguins has been running for three weeks now and we’ve had just under a quarter of a million page views and more than 9000 edits.

More interesting than the novel itself (to me anyway) is the entire back story of its development: the heated discussions about people’s contributions, the multiple stories competing for existence, the “vandalism” by some users to add in bananas to every chapter, and the general messiness of the creative process.

Angela’s Mystery Quiz; Clue #1

Later this year I am going to several locations, one of which is a mystery!!!!  So from now and each week until the time somebody guesses, I am going to share hints in the way of images for people to guess where the mystery location is.  The winner will get a prize from that location if they send me their postal address.

Rules:  No family members or friends who know the answer are permitted to apply.   The guess must be the precise location including a minimum of the building name, the street name, the city, and the country.

So here is Clue #1.  I will be able to see this window.

The Avatar as a New Literacy

As mentioned previously, I will be presenting at this conference on Friday/Saturday (who can remember what day it is when you live half the time in US time zones these days?). Here’s a reminder of the details:

“Embodiment in Virtual Environments: Exploring Literacies, Identity, Research, and Community”
Charles Kinzer, Teachers College, Columbia University
Angela Thomas, University of Sydney

I’ll be giving an updated version of a talk I gave last year for the NMC symposium about the avatar and new literacies within the 2 hour session, and we’ll be taking the participants on a little tour of SL, showing machinima, and generally having fun I hope!

This talk is an updated version of one I gave last year for the NMC. The slides to my previous talk are here:
www.slideshare.net/anya/the-avatar-as-communication
and the podcast to go with them is here:
media.nmc.org/sl/audio/symposium-anya-avatar.mp3

Viral Video Marketing: Barenaked Ladies

Clever clever clever!!!!! This latest music video from the Barenaked Ladies features a whole bunch of popular youtubers:

The Youtube celebrities whose voices/performances you know and love have come together to perform Barenaked Ladies’ “Sound of Your Voice” from the album “Barenaked Ladies Are Me”. Sound of Your Voice Stars:

  • Where The Hell Is Matt?
  • Barats & Bereta
  • Geriatric 1927
  • Eepybird
  • Numa Numa
  • Album Cover Battle
  • Brookers
  • Boh3m3
  • The Winekone
  • Winston Spear
  • Evolution Of Dance

Here’s a group that really “get” new media!!!

Australian readers will no doubt recognise Boh3m3, who rose to fame for criticising Australians and their love of vegemite.  That story was picked up by traditional media who … well they tried hard… but they obviously didn’t “get it”.  The Vegemite Wars is covered well by Angry 365 Days a Year.

‘Lonelygirl’ to act in Lohan film

Ever since I saw these images of LonelyGirl15′s Jessica Rose with Hollywood “It” girl Lindsay Lohan crop up on Pink is The New Blog I have been hunting for more details about her rise to fame – from youtube sensation to movie deal. Finally I found the reference from this Sydney Morning Herald story, who offer the following:

Web video star Jessica Rose – better recognised by her YouTube alias Lonelygirl15 – will play a role in an upcoming film starring Lindsay Lohan.

The film – I Know Who Killed Me – has reportedly been in production since late last year, and filming is scheduled to wrap up this month.

A number of photos of Rose and Lohan on the set of the film have cropped up on celebrity gossip websites.

It is a reassuring sign for budding filmmakers and actors seeking to use video-sharing sites such as YouTube as a launch pad for Hollywood success.

Lohan’s publicist, Sloane Zelnik, told E! News that Lohan had been visiting the set while she was checked in to the Wonderland rehab centre in Los Angeles. She recently finished her stay at the centre but will continue the program as an outpatient.

An Internet Movie Database profile for I Know Who Killed Me said the script revolved around Lohan’s character, “a young woman [who] appears to suffer from dual personalities after surviving a brutal kidnapping”.

Rose’s character is named Marcia, but further details are yet to be released.

Brought up in New Zealand, Rose shot to stardom after she appeared as the home-schooled teenager “Bree” in a series of video blogs, posted on YouTube under the alias Lonelygirl15.

Bree was initially portrayed as being a real person, and vented on topics such as her life in a small town, boy dilemmas and her troubled relationship with her parents.

But thanks to a group of web sleuths, she was eventually outed as a phoney; Bree was in fact the creation of two Californian filmmakers.

Nonetheless, Lonelygirl15′s YouTube channel remains the most subscribed of all time, with new clips added every few days.

Rose’s role in I Know Who Killed Me will be her first major film appearance, made possible by her success on YouTube. It is understood she has also secured the starring role in an upcoming film called Perfect Sport.

Various entertainment news websites have quoted text from Rose’s MySpace page, in which she appears to have commented on her new roles.

“I filmed my first scenes [for I Know Who Killed Me] not long ago and was introduced to Lindsay, and, from what I saw, she is not how the press portrays her,” Rose wrote.

“In my opinion she seemed very sweet and funny and absolutely beautiful! Anyway, I am also going to be starring in the movie The Perfect Sport and I believe it’ll be out by the end of 07 but that’s not a promise!”

The veracity of the quotes could not immediately be verified because Rose’s profile is inaccessible by those who have not been added to her “friends” list.

Life Imitating Art: The Quest for Truth, Beauty and the Inner Self in the Avatar

The Gaze

What happens when our avatars are so spectacular we want to become like them? Lately I have been sporting an avatar with a new look dark hairdo and I was so taken with how it looked, and how I felt wearing it, that I dyed my real hair a dark rich brown. I didn’t tell too many people because… well, it’s embarrassing, no? To be influenced by the image you have created to represent yourself, so much so that you try to become that idealisation? Wait… if my avatar reflects my inner aesthetics, then it’s natural to want my outer fleshy aesthetics to match it, right? Or is your brain hurting now?

Last year I had to grapple with the TV show I was featured on insisting they do a shot with me next to my avatar. I mean this would be fine if I was younger, thinner, taller, more gorgeous and so on… but I’m not, and so I ended up feeling totally eclipsed by the image of my avatar hovering next to the real me.

So I was especially interested in the writings of Domenico Quaranta, a commentator on the work of Eva and Franco Mattes (0100101110101101.ORG):

«It must be hard to be a model, because you’d want to be like the photograph of you, and you can’t ever look that way. And so you start to copy the photograph»
Andy Warhol [4]

As we have seen, this hall of mirrors is typical of virtual worlds. Expressions like “in world” and “out of world”, used by residents to refer to Second Life and the outside world respectively, are like a kind of inverted anthropocentrism. The most famous avatars in Second Life, those who have made a name for themselves “in world”, are rarely well known in the real world. After much insistence, Aimee Weber [5], the famed fashion and content designer who Eva and Franco Mattes dedicated a triptych to, came along to the opening of the show at the Italian Academy in New York. The photograph that captures her in front of the portrait of her avatar bears witness to a singular paradox: that of a real person completely outdone by her virtual self-representation. The image prevails over the person, as is always the case in the star system. But on a closer look, there is an element of novelty: what we are calling ‘image’ is in actual fact the immaterial projection of the self within a virtual space, within a world and community that does not exist outside the computer screen. The avatar has taken the upper hand.

In other words Portraits bears witness to the gradual humanization of our digital identities. To get a measure of this it is worth having a closer look at another project by Eva and Franco Mattes, which immortalizes the previous status of the digital identity. The project in question is Life Sharing, commissioned in July 2000 by the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis [6]. Starting from the statement that “a computer, with the passing of time, ends up looking like its owner’s brain” [7], 0100101110101101.ORG decided to enact a gesture of extreme transparency (glasnost), sharing the entire contents of their computer, transforming it into a web server: the ultimate digital self portrait. The critics talked about “abstract pornography” (Hito Steyerl), “open-source living in the digital age” (Steve Dietz), “a complete form of self-exposure” (Tilman Baumgärtel), based on a kind of voyeurism stimulated not by images, but by data and information. Yvonne Volkart noted: “The project… exaggerates the assumption that our life and our identities are based on purely determined and determining accumulations of information”; and Marina Griznic insisted: “The identity of 0100101110101101.ORG is represented, not through the psychology of an individual, but through the formation of a new visual and cultural space, via the recycling of stereotypes.”. A concept that Franco Mattes summed up in a one-liner: “We don’t have emotions; we have a Hewlett-Packard.” [8]

Life_Sharing bears witness to a particular stage in the evolution of our digital identity. Although it was already possible to mediate this identity through a webcam or an avatar in a virtual world or chat system, it did not yet have a face, being composed of different types of data in a constant flow on the Internet. But our faces and bodies reproduced by a webcam are not the face and body of our identity on the Net, merely part of the data comprising it. This was why, according to 0100101110101101.ORG, the best way of representing ourselves on the web was essentially abstract, and involved putting the viewer in touch with the intimacy of data.

Virtual worlds heralded the advent of a new phase. The cloud of raw data has finally solidified into a body and a face. To show our identities we no longer need to expose the kernels of our computers, but just work on the bodies of our avatars, their skin, hair and hairstyles, clothes and accessories. The dedication we put into this alone shows that our public image, our avatar, contains a lot of ourselves. There is nothing under the surface. The striking thing about this new phase in the evolution of our online identities is the fact that all our characteristics (personal details, psychological and sociological attributes) are represented by the avatar, its features and possessions. Data is gathered in a face, and can be offered up in the form of a portrait. Indeed the fact that we can now portray this identity, in the most traditional sense, is the best demonstration of the concreteness now attained by our virtual identities. The simplification of the medium, in this case, is inversely proportionate to the sophistication of the subject.

This reveals the importance – and the radical nature – of something as apparently banal as photographing avatars. By taking these photographs, and then printing them onto large canvases and exhibiting them in an art space, Eva and Franco Mattes are performing two crucial operations. On the one hand they are saying loud and clear that the subjects they have chosen are neither simulacra or characters in a game: they are people, complete, complex identities with defined social roles in a society comprising two million inhabitants, and they are an effective representation of the canons of beauty of that society. On the other hand the duo reiterate this statement by including their pictures in the great tradition of portraiture.

Additionally, there’s an interesting interview with the Mattes and here is an excerpt:

In virtual worlds, the extraordinary is the norm. You could have played on the oddities, the weird or trashier aspects, but instead you have focused on beauty. Why is that?

We didn’t choose beauty, it was elected by people creating their own alter-egos. They built their characters matching the Western canon of beauty, when they could be whoever and whatever they wanted. Some people find our portraits “cool” and “sexy”, others find them “creepy” and “tragic”. Not unlike Tamara de Lempicka’s portraits, with their robotic beauty, I guess they’re a bit of both.

Second Life raises issues about identity, but also about social life, architecture and economics. Why did you choose to work with portraits?

In Second Life you are forced not to be yourself, to wear an ultra-modern 3D mask. But masks are not there to hide your real identity, on the contrary they are there to show who you really are, since you can ignore social restrictions. Since we’ve been living fake identities all of our lives, it’s obvious that we are attracted by a world of Avatars.

So, is the avatar a mask, or is the real inner self, if such a thing exists?

Youtube’s Latest Stars

Have you heard of LisaNova? She was a popular youtuber who was “discovered” and now has been offered a TV contract on MADTV! From Mediaweek, we get this:

Back in June, 26-year-old Lisa Donovan, in search of an outlet for her filmmaking ambitions, posted a self-made video on YouTube under the name Lisa Nova. Now, roughly seven months later, Donovan is a cast member of the Fox late night sketch series Mad TV.

That’s a meteoric rise for a comic talent who had never done stand-up before, and was really just hoping to make a movie someday. But Donovan’s success exemplifies just how much, and how fast things have changed in the comedy business.

Without YouTube, “none of this would have happened—no possible way,” says Donovan, who had been working at a production company when a colleague suggested that she try posting a clip on the site. She produced a couple of shorts, including one that mocked a Burger King campaign featuring P. Diddy, which YouTube posted on its home page. “YouTube featured me, and after that, I had access to the world,” she says. “It really changed my life.”

By September, Donovan was building a following with her clips, some of which featured original characters. Soon, a casting director for Mad TV was calling her in for an audition. Her first appearance on the show will be in February. In the meantime, Donovan says she plans to produce a new video for YouTube chronicling her career change.

Here’s her “Introducing LisaNova” video:

and in the most up to date news, one of this week’s top 20 channels is this Korean schoolgirl flautist:

What I am really liking about this channel is that – so far – most of the comments are supportive. Since I read this comment by Jane McGonical:

Each lonelygirl has roughly 1000-4000 comments, and the level of hate, mean-spiritendess, crudeness and often downright misogeny of the majority of them is impossible to ignore. I want to be very careful that we don’t fetishize the participation aspects of this experience that was had by a very few who may have intelligently, passionately and seriously investigated and responded to the texts and the media objects, with the mainstream experience of and participation in this project.

I have been studying the comments on various youtube channels a lot more carefully. The Korean schoolgirl still gets sexual and racist comments I think, but none I have seen so far are mean spirited. I’ll be tracking them a bit closer now to see how it pans out.

Art Unfolding

One of my long term research participants, Jandalf, pointed me to this art for charity site: The Million Masterpiece. What I love about this is that it does a replay of Jandalf’s art in progress. Have a look! I think it’s always amazing to see the process of a piece of artwork unfolding in front of you. It achieves two purposes I think – 1) it demystifies the art and allows you the chance to replicate the process, thereby being a wonderful teaching device, and 2) it astounds you to see the talent and genius of others.

Yesterday I also saw this video of the sidewalk art genius they call “Pavement Picasso” – check it out:

Teachers in the Loop

I just received the following message in my email:

www.teachersintheloop.com is a website set up by teachers for teachers. We aim to bring together schools and businesses / organisations that provide high quality excursion/incursions and other educational services. www.teachersintheloop.com is free for teachers and we hope to make it as easy, fast and as direct as possible for teachers to gain access to what they need.

It looks like it would be a really valuable resource for teachers in NSW. I’ve included a sample of some of the great links for English and The Arts after the break. Continue reading

New Literacies Sampler Online

New Literacies Sampler

Peter Lang Publishers are incredibly forward thinking – they have provided the full manuscript of this book online here!  This book has chapters from all of my favourite new literacies authors – see the table of contents below:

Contents

Chapter 1: Sampling “the New” in New Literacies
Colin Lankshear & Michele Knobel

Chapter 2: “You Won’t Be Needing Your Laptops Today”: Wired Bodies in the Wireless Classroom
Kevin M. Leander

Chapter 3: Popular Websites in Adolescents’ Out-of-School Lives: Critical Lessons on Literacy
Jennifer C. Stone

Chapter 4: Agency and Authority in Role-Playing “Texts”
Jessica Hammer

Chapter 5: Pleasure, Learning, Video Games, and Life: The Projective Stance
James Paul Gee

Chapter 6: Digital Design: English Language Learners and Reader Reviews in Online Fiction
Rebecca W. Black

Chapter 7: Blurring and Breaking through the Boundaries of Narrative, Literacy, and
Identity in Adolescent Fan Fiction
Angela Thomas

Chapter 8: Looking from the Inside Out: Academic Blogging as New Literacy
Julia Davies and Guy Merchant

Chapter 9: Online Memes, Affinities, and Cultural Production
Michele Knobel & Colin Lankshear

Chapter 10: New Literacies
Cynthia Lewis

Skip the Textbook, Play the Video Game

I recently read this article in the Chicago Tribune. It recognises the MacArthur Foundation’s investment in gaming research:

If that sounds like yet another New Age fad, destined for the scrapheap of once-trendy educational ideas alongside “new math,” “open classrooms” and “whole language,” consider this: The prominent Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation–the people who give out those $500,000 genius grants every year–is distributing $50 million to researchers to understand how digital technologies are changing the ways young people learn, play, socialize and exercise judgment.

“We realized that over 80 percent of American kids have game consoles at home, 90 percent of kids are online and 50 percent of them are producing things online, so we really need to understand what is going on here,” said Constance Yowell, director of the MacArthur Foundation’s digital research initiative. “This is what kids are doing, so we need to know both the positive benefits and the unintended consequences.”

It’s nothing new for most of us I imagine, but its interesting to see the media give a positive spin for a change, rather than the moral panic too often associated with children and video games.

(Thanks Craig for the link)

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