Friday, June 29, 2007

Second Life....Or Get A Life?

One of the more daunting aspects of this project is the stipulation that we create our "Newsroom of the Future" in Second Life. I happened to be in Durham, N.C. having lunch with Gary Kebbel, the director of the Knight Challenge Grant program, when I first learned this was going to be a part of my life. Over sandwiches at Satisfactions, he mentioned that the Knight Foundation had added the Second Life requirement to our grant. I was just so giddy that we were getting the grant that I didn't say much about the Second Life thing.

I had heard the hype, but I hadn't really explored it myself, having neither the time or the inclination. But after that meeting, I began to check it out. And since then, I've alternated between anxiety and excitement over this element.

For instance, I figured this was a pure geek realm. So I was surprised to learn that so many corporations and non-profits were buying land in Second Life to develop projects. Count Duke among those that have set up an official "Duke" island in SL.

Still, I registered, created an avatar and went poking around. And that left me feeling even more daunted. After returning to Silicon Valley a couple weeks ago, I attended a presentation by two of the main engineers from Linden Labs, which developed SL. They did a demo which was completely stunning and inspiring. At the same time, when it came down to the actually making and building of a simple object, I left thinking that I could spen the whole next year doing nothing but managing our Second Life presence.

Even more interesting to me has been people's reactions when I tell them I'll be doing something in Second Life. I get everything from extreme eye rolling to awkward silences to ecstatic applause. Really. It's interesting how provocative just the very idea of SL has become.

The other issue is cost. Linden offers a discount to educational institutions and non profits. But still, to build something in SL, you have to own land. And the most direct way to get land is to buy an island. Even with the discount, it costs $800 for an island and $150 per month to maintain it. Since our grant is $40,000, it's not a trivial amount.

Fortunately, I had a great chat with Tim Bounds, the IT support guy for Student Affairs. He's in charge of developing Duke's SL island. They just bought the island this spring and haven't done much there yet. But Tim made a generous offer to donate a chunk of Duke's land to the project which will be great on several levels. It we want Duke students to come and interact in our virtual newsroom, it might as well be on Duke's island, right?

The next challenge is to find someone who wants to take charge of all this for us. Fortunately, I've had an offer from someone who is eager to get involved with the Next Newsroom project. And I also contacted the folks at Duke's Information Studies and Information Sciences department. They're developing their own presence in SL, and they teach several classes that deal with SL. In any case, they apparently have been looking at issues of new media and community, so I'm eager to talk to them about what we're doing.

I'll leave it there for now. But if anyone has an SL experiences they want to share, please post them here, or send them to me.

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