Postcards from Second Life

south beach strip club in Second Life, originally uploaded by amywilson.

Amy Wilson’s (Freelunch’s) Postcards from Second Life is now available, and there will be a free signing of the book in Second Life on Saturday, June 2nd, 6pm PST at the Pooley Auditorium ( The book, a set of watercolors documenting the travels of the artist inside a virtual world, is currently available at ( for $15 US.

I was sent a link to Amy Wilson’s artworks a couple of weeks ago but have been so busy I haven’t had a chance to blog about it. I find Amy’s work more fascinating the longer I look at it. I love the fact that visual artists are interpreting and expressing their impressions of Second Life through their medium of choice. There are so many people blogging about SL because writing is their mode of choice, and we’re all uploading a ton of photographs to flickr as amateur photographers to capture special and/or memorable moments. But I haven’t seen many people using art as their medium of expression (though I did recently read Sharon’s post about how she has begun drawing avatars in her visual journal).

I think this reinterpration of Amy’s is also very clever because it makes a considered critique of various aspects of SL – covering issues of identity, reality, relationships and business inside the virtual space.  These are issues that we are all quite familiar with, but to see them articulated in a new form holds them up for renewed inspection.

I’m Heading Off for June to Speak, Research, Speak, Plan more Research etc etc…

The major speaking event I have is the featured session at the NMC Summer Conference. I was specifically invited to speak about a “bit of everything” related to my research, so here’s the slides that accompany the talk. I hope I can arrange an audio stream to support the slides for the near future.

And here is the line-up for our panel session at the ECAR conference:


Coca-Cola in Second Life

Coca-Cola launched in Second Life with a bang – a competition asking for the creation of a “virtual thirst” vending machine, to dispense the essence of Coca-Cola: refreshment, joy, unity, experience.  Nice branding exercise.  Here’s a sample entry:

I used to have a dismissive attitude towards big corporations coming in to Second Life – until I saw Showtime’s “L Word” community flourishing so well.  The idea of CKin2U’s fragrance being promoted in SL I considered laughable, until I was walking through a department store and actually stopped to smell the real thing out of sheer curiosity (the female fragrance is actually very nice too).   And I did buy Julian Dibbell’s book through Second Life rather than (because I met him in person there!).  It’s quite fascinating to analyse which brands are doing well and why.  I don’t think Coca-Cola will be raking in money from having a virtual presence but like many big brands in SL I guess they think it makes them look hip and edgy and is a good PR venture.

Youth Online – almost there!


Yay! Here is my final book cover!!!

And here is one of the endorsements:


How lovely of Len Unsworth to write such kind words.

Christy Dena on Multi-Platform Art versus Commodity Intertexts

I was fortunate enough to listen to Christy Dena today presenting a truly stimulating lecture on Multi-Platform Art versus Commodity Intertexts.  Her point of departure was a quote from Henry Jenkins about transmedia storytelling, which she interrogated by tracing the history of cross-media art forms, from pre-internet media such as Twin Peaks to new forms of 3D animation storytelling/art inside Second Life.  She discussed the relationship and tensions between what is transmedia art and what is marketing, and invoked her own theorisation of the features that genuinely characterise transmedia storytelling.  She raised some really provocative questions about perceptions of what is art, and how some forms are revalued as aesthetic only when somebody renames them as such.  I am guessing Christy will be publishing some of her work so I don’t want to pre-empt that and discuss her theories before she is ready, but you can read more on her blog.  It has certainly helped crystallise some of my own thinking.

Linden Lab Press Release: SL graphics to become more realistic

Linden Lab Shines New Light on Second Life With Acquisition Of Technology From Windward Mark Interactive

Windward Mark Interactive Developers Will Join Linden Labs Growing Boston Presence, WindLight® and NimbleTM Technologies To Be Open Sourced

SAN FRANCISCO & BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Linden Lab®, creator of 3D virtual world Second Life®, today announced the acquisition of graphics technology from Windward Mark Interactive. Linden Lab will acquire WindLight®, an advanced atmospheric rendering technology; NimbleTM, a realistic 3D cloud simulator; and associated intellectual property and interests. Following this acquisition, Linden Lab will open source Windward Marks leading graphics technology and integrate it into the Second Life Viewer software, bringing striking visual realism to Second Life.

The five founders of Windward Mark Interactive will also join Linden Labs new office in the heart of Bostons tech and academic research communities.

Founded in 2003, Windward Mark Interactive develops video games and advanced graphics technology that brings realistic visuals to real-time simulators. The companys WindLight® technology uses patent-pending algorithms that imitate the ways in which light is affected by real-world atmospheric factors like dust and moisture, enabling the nuances of sunlight, clouds, water and weather to be accurately simulated in real-time. Windward Mark Interactives other real-time visualization product, NimbleTM, uses advanced physics models to realistically simulate clouds.

(full press release here)

The Semiotics of Music: A Schema by Jerry Everard

My friend Jerry recently posted this semiotic schema of music on his blog asking for feedback. I think its amazing, and for anybody grappling with multimodal text analysis it is invaluable. I’ll post the schema to save flipping back and forth but note it is Jerry’s work:

Music: A Semiotic Schema

(Ideological base)
i)Form (eg Classical)
ii)Ornament (eg baroque)
iii) Sense (eg romantic)
WORK Type of orchestration/Intertextuality Modality
- fantasy
as expressed by:
-’weight’ etc
eg song/folk dance/tonepoem/sonata/etc
MOVEMENT Interplay of
i)thematic structure
eg: statement, recapitulation,cadence (ending), conjunction
eg slow movementMode
eg -major
-pentatonic etcRange
Textual coherence :
-interplay of theme
-to different key
-to different mode
-tonal ambiguities
(Verbal group)
Contrast options:
-dynamic range(loud/soft)-pauses
(nominal group)
Play of figures
(nominal ‘characters’)
relation to hearer – ‘gaze’
-pointers to key tonality
-line (melodic sequence)
Tonal qualifiers – flat 5ths/7ths etcKey statementCadences (endings)
Lexical content
recognisable figuresrecurrent patterns
Lexical Register:
Modified motifs:
-changed mode
-changed key
-changed rhythm
-position in theme
-posn in movement
-posn in Work
Basic unit of information:pitch+lengthdegree of scale:
high/low (pich)
chord/single note
Position in harmonic seriesdistributioncollocationintervals


I think when Theo van Leeuwen speaks about movement he uses the terms figure, ground and field to distinguish which musical themes are foregrounded (the figure) or backgrounded (the field) at any one time. These are categories of interpretation and relate to how the listener perceives and interprets their position within the soundscape. These relate to the same principles of perspective that we also use when speaking about images. Similarly, he uses the principles of social distance when speaking about the interpersonal meanings of dynamics.

Van Leeuwen also discusses the use of silence as both an ideational and textual resource to mark turning points in the musical conversation.

I am especially interested in the study of multimodal texts and how the semiotic modes are deployed to make narrative meanings, so the idea of which sounds are diegetic (used to construct narrative meaning) and which ones are non-diegetic (don’t signify any narrative meaning) is something I’ve been looking at. I am also interested in the way the narrative is passed around and through the semiotic modes, or how they are multiply textured (and I’ve stolen the term multimodal complexity from Royce to describe this) to signify meaning.

One interesting thing to note is that many musicians emphaise the interpersonal resource above and beyond the other metafunctions because they believe that their music transcends all else but to make that connection with the audience. But there is just so much work to be done in this area and it seems to me that the SFL-ers are just way behind – so work like Jerry’s here is incredibly helpful to bounce off. I went to a seminar earlier in the year where Jim Martin and Theo van Leeuwen were both lamenting the lack of work being done and urging new SFL scholars to take up this challenge. I went to the seminar expecting a lot of answers and guides and discussions of schema such as this one but was quite shocked when they said they just didn’t know much yet about multimodal texts in general.

But now a question for Jerry – do we have anything acting as adverbial group in rank?  Oh also, hmmm there’s some of the interpersonal evaluation resources such as attribution, affect, grading and so on….  there’s a lot to cover here :)

Teaching in Second Life


Terra Nova published an interesting interview with Rebecca Nesson about her experiences teaching in Second Life. There’s a burgeoning interest in SL as an educational platform now though there are still very few Australian educators – I’m not sure why that is. The existing Australian educators have set up a wiki – Australian Second Life Users – which is only just beginning to be established but hopefully will be a useful resource in the future.

Meanwhile, I am preparing my ECAR talk about teaching in SL. It will draw a little from my October article but focus more on my pedagogical approach to teaching in and about Second Life as a political new media space. I am on a panel for this and we had a skype conference call last week in which we agreed not to do death by powerpoint – we will be doing (image only) slideshows, machinima and a lot of discussion.  I’ll post more about it soon!

Second Life Art

I get hundreds of invitations to Second Life art galleries, and when I manage to get some time I do a gallery hopping tour to check them out. I dabble in mixed media and love doing art, and I love viewing art in “real life” museums. But when I am inside Second Life I don’t want to see art that is merely a replica of anything that can be done offline. I look for a couple of key features:

1) art that utilises the affordances of the Second Life platform – such as the use of prims to make 3D sculptures, or installations which use animation or audio;
2) art that allows interaction, so that it only becomes complete when you participate in some way with it

Here is some amazing art I’ve come across recently.

The first one is an increidble light installation, which involves beams of animated light filling the space and moving around the space. By entering one of the central beams and clicking on it, you become a part of the installation, your avatar transforming with each new beam.



This second one is a social comment by Nebulosus Severine on The Cult(ure) of Television, and to appreciate it best you have to enter and sit on an animation which makes your avatar stare mindlessly at the flickering of a TV screen.



This third one I thought was art, but then I heard a rumour that it was one University’s efforts at making myspace-like pods for student accommodation. I couldn’t find an explanation anywhere, but either way, the build is a fascinating concept.



This fourth gallery space was a loft which featured the work of a multimedia artist from Sweden (Nils), an artist that created pieces you had to click or pose with before the art was complete.



The fifth one has changed since this photo was taken (but I prefer this version) and was a huge animated heart, complete with a beating pulse in the audio stream. The heart was juxtaposed with a holodeck type room and the two pieces together were designed to represent the tensions between real and virtual (artist: Nobody Yap).

Nobody Yap's multimodal art installation at NMC, SL

And finally, the most amazing sculptures I have ever seen in an art style I didn’t know much about before, called steampunk. Each sculpture is designed with around 500 prims and requires a lot of camera work and flying around to appreciate the sheer magnitude of it. (More about Madcow Cosmos, the artist, here)


I’ll be doing some more formal and academic work about digital arts soon, but for now, this is just a small snapshot or two of what I find most fascinating.

J K Rowling: “No spoilers please!”

USA Today is reporting that fans of Harry Potter are upset that they have been receiving alleged spoilers for the final novel in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (due to be released July 21st, 2007).

“If Harry dies, we don’t want to know about it until J.K. Rowling decides to tell us,” Leaky Cauldron webmaster Melissa Anelli wrote. “And if you decide to tell us before that, you’ll incur the wrath of a staff of almost 200, most of whom have been waiting almost 10 years for these final revelations and can NEVER get back the moment you rob by spoiling them.”

“That’s some wrath right there. We own pitchforks, hot wax and feathers. And we’re not afraid to use them.”

I find this fascinating because a large “spoiler” culture exists with fans of movies and tv shows among. I’ll never forget reading fan websites of Survivor when it was in its second season and seeing how much time and effort the fans spent analysing every tiny part of every screen cap from every second of the 2 minute “next week on survivor” teasers each week. The game was in the analysis of editing techniques, visual clues from the screen cap, and a real knowledge of media literacy.

In this case, I think the fans love to predict and hypothesise from clever analysis of plot and character and author, but they really do not want to be spoonfed these things by somebody who works at the publishing company. There’s a difference between good spoiling and bad spoiling!

Eduserv’s ‘Virtual Worlds, Real Learning?’ Conference


Yesterday I attended the Eduserv Symposium I mentioned previously. Luckily I attended with fellow NMC friends Corwin:


and later CDB:


as one of the advantages of being in Second Life was that we could engage in back channel conversations while the speakers were presenting.

My two favourite sessions were from Professor Gilly Salmon, who spoke about Leicester University’s SEAL project, emphasising the focus on “what’s new?” “what can we learn in SL that we cannot learn offline?”; and Stephen Downes, who was incredibly provocative and raised a lot of questions to pierce through the hype of SL education.


Stephen’s session made me laugh and I think it is very helpful to be critical and to ask questions about the model of pedagogy being used (or replicated exactly) in this new-ish environment. I especially liked the final panel session when people like Gilly interacted with Stephen and this is where the most interesting discussion happened. Unfortunatley this was a bit brief and right at the very end though!

I think there is a long way to go to have a mixed reality event like this – the SL audience were pretty much ignored til the very end. But aside from a few technical issues to begin with, the streaming went very well and it worked. I have seen other models where the speakers come from different audiences (one SL and one in the real venue) and the interaction was much more fluid. But really, I am thankful I can get to attend from the other side of the world at no cost, listening whilst sitting in my lounge room sipping hot chocolate.

Global Kids Machinima

This collection of five 30 second Public Service Announcements were created in Teen Second Life by Global Kids after school program, the Virtual Video Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation and developed with the support of the Museum of the Moving Image. These were the first videos created by the students, to learn the basic of creating machinima around social issues. Their final project will focus on child soldiers. Read more at

Fantastic! These kids are talking about new media through new media – and fortunately for teachers of young people everywhere they are sharing what they’re doing and how they’re doing it on youtube and their group blog.

Pew Internet Survey

seagull reports some American stats from the Pew Internet and American Life Project about people’s internet use.

“The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that adult Americans are broadly divided into three groups: 31% are elite technology users, 20% are moderate users and the remainder has little or no use of the Internet or cellphones.

But Americans are divided within each group, according to a Pew analysis of 2006 data released Sunday. The high-tech elites, for instance, are almost evenly split four ways into:

– “Omnivores,” who fully embrace technology and express themselves creatively through blogs and personal Web pages.

– “Connectors,” who see the Internet and cellphones as communications tools.

– “Productivity enhancers,” who consider technology as largely ways to better keep up with their jobs and daily lives.

– “Lackluster veterans,” those who use technology frequently but aren’t thrilled by it.

I think it’s very interesting and wonder how close the Australian experience is. I did the survey myself and came back (surprise surprise) an Omnivore. Here are the characteristics:

Based on your answers to the questionnaire, you most closely resemble survey respondents within the Omnivores typology group.

Omnivores make up 8% of the American public.

Members of this group use their extensive suite of technology tools to do an enormous range of things online, on the go, and with their cell phones. Omnivores are highly engaged with video online and digital content. Between blogging, maintaining their Web pages, remixing digital content, or posting their creations to their websites, they are creative participants in cyberspace.

Omnivores embrace all this connectivity, feeling confident in how they manage information and their many devices. This puts information technology at the center of how they express themselves, do their jobs, and connect to their friends.

Sometimes I forget how few people are “doing” technology. It all seems so mainstream now, and such a central component of my work and life that I couldn’t imagine being without it.

I’m in Wired!


In parallel with my forthcoming book launch, Wired magazine will be dedicating a special issue to youth online!!!!

UPDATE:  This is just a joke!  Apologies to the people who thought it was real :)   I thought it would be obvious but it’s a very kind compliment that some people thought it could really be possible.  You can make your own Wired magazine cover here.

TV Series in SL

the tudors

The TV show The Tudors is airing some of its episodes in Second Life!  Here are the details:

Showtime and the Alliance Second Life Library are pleased to announce that episodes one and two of the new series “The Tudors” will be shown on Second Life Library Renaissance Island. “The Tudors” provides a new spin on the early life of King Henry VIII of England and debuted on Showtime on April 1. Episode 1 will be shown on Renaissance Island on Saturday May 12 at 10 am sl and 5 pm sl; Episode 2 will be shown on Renaissance Island on Sunday May 13 at 10 am sl and 5 pm sl. Renaissance Island is one of ten library islands and is an historical roleplay and educational site for teachers, students, and anyone interested in the Elizabethan era of England in the late sixteenth century.

Residents of Second Life can dress in period clothing, rent cottages, a Renaissance era shop, visit a tavern, go to the Globe Theater, participate in music and events and experience life of that time. On some occasions, residents may catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth herself, William Shakespeare, or other characters of the period.

For more information contact Rain Noonan in world or by email at or Korrigan Keynes at

Kids’ Virtual Worlds


Club Penguin is the hot new virtual world for 9 year olds – check out this NY Times article, in which a mother describes her daughter’s virtual entrepeneurial skills. I especially like these comments:

Professor Taylor commiserated. “These are new territories we’re exploring here with this generation of children, with technology moving as quickly as it is,” she said. “We tend to think they can’t understand the difference between fantasy and the real world, and that’s just not true. Here’s a way we can see them moving back and forth.”

“Kids say it’s fun because they get to be a bit more in control than maybe 9-year-olds are in the real world,” Ms. McVeigh said. “What we tried to do is appeal to just about every range of interest. Some kids like to work, or look after pets, or decorate. Just like in life, you can follow your fancy.”

Or, as Karen Mason, the spokeswoman for Club Penguin, put it, “We offer children the training wheels for the kinds of activities they might pursue as they get older.”

I like those points a lot – kids can distinguish between fantasy and reality, and these sorts of worlds are apprenticing them into the types of digital literacies which they will need for successful social futures, where online networking and communication is sure to be more pervasive than it is today.

It’s a fun article too – the descriptions of the daughter’s activities remind me of how I first felt when I saw my friend’s teenage daughter playing Gaia Online, the popular manga-style world which also allows kids the opportunity to make money – and to do so by writing and participating.

Incidentally, I just saw the stats for Gaia Online – users online right now: 56,109!!!!  This contrasts with users on Second Life right now as I write this: 30,595.  That’s pretty extraordinary – a kid’s online world being more active than an adult’s world.  Or perhaps it isn’t extraordinary at all.  But its not something I’ve seen anybody notice before.

Virtual Worlds, Real Learning?

From my SLED (Second Life Educators) email list this morning came news of this great symposium, which will be streamed into Second Life.  And since it is in London time, the corresponding Sydney time for me is a very decent 7pm!

The Eduserv Foundation’s third annual symposium “Virtual worlds, real learning” will be held on Thursday 10th May at the Congress Centre in London. The event will attempt to look past the hype surrounding virtual worlds such as Second Life and evaluate whether they offer real opportunities for learners at UK educational institutions.This event attracted much interest and places filled up very quickly. However, we will be streaming all the presentations live into Second Life and on the Web. There will be (at least) three Virtual venues in Second Life at which the steams can be viewed:

* The Virtual Congress Centre on Eduserv Island.
* The auditorium on Cybrary City.
* The outdoor teaching space on NMC’s Teaching 2 island.

Details of the speakers below…

Continue reading

Tasks for May

Here’s a litte list, just so readers will realise why I am blogging infrequently or even not at all these past few months:

1) Finish writing a book chapter for the book “Multimodal Semiotics” – now we have the contract all signed, sealed and delivered this one should be quickly and painlessly written over the next few days.

2) This leads to 2) the conference paper Julia and I are sharing to produce a “teacher-focussed” paper for the New Literacies strand of the September Future of Literacy conference.

3) Following these I have a big chapter of Second Life Education to write for the edited volume I will be editing with my colleaguess, see info:

Identity, Learning and Support in Virtual Worlds

A Proposal for an Edited Volume
Co-editors: Sharon Tettegah, Craig A. Cunningham & Angela Thomas.

This book explores the educational use and implications of various virtual environments. We focus on the use of chat spaces, Web 2.0, 3D Web or object oriented web (Web 3.0), and virtual environment applications.


The World Wide Web, Internet and other technologies continue to evolve. Emerging most recently are so-called “multi-user virtual environments” (MUVEs) such as virtual worlds, which transcend the static Web pages of Web 1.0 as well as the predetermined applications of Web 2.0 to provide e-ecologies with the capacity to immerse the user in a “place” that cuts across time and space and affords opportunities for communication, exploration, collaboration, shared inquiry, and both formal and informal learning. Through its chapters and tightly integrated Introduction and Conclusion, this book introduces the reader to these spaces, and the myriad possibilities they represent for the further evolution of education at the prek-12, post-secondary, and lifelong learning levels.

Our approach to this book involves reflecting on, “what does it mean to teach and learn within and with virtual environments? It means that we as learners are no longer engaged in one way interactions. Virtual environments have enabled us to be highly immersed in spaces that yield high social presence, constructivist learning, interactive problem solving, and surprisingly are still enjoyable. This book will be divided into three sections: Section 1 on identity, section 2 on learning and section 3 on community development and support.

4) An article for E-Learning I promised Sharon, who is editing this special edition with a focus on SL.

5) Preparation for the two key conference talks I’m delivering in May, and prep for numerous meetings with colleagues (some planned, some hoped for) with a view to consider possiple future joint project work with colleagues from the NMC and beyond.


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