Baby Steps into Second Life…

I continue to be fascinated by the reactions people have to Second Life. Perhaps it’s just because I’m paying more attention now that part of our project will touch on this virtual world.

So far, it’s not clear to me how interested college students are in this stuff. When I visit the Duke Student Affairs island, which they just acquired last spring, it’s pretty empty. And when I spoke to some Chronicle staffers last month and mentioned Second Life, there were some audible groans and eye rolling. On the other hand, there are some Duke islands, including the ISIS or Information Science + Information Studies Group, that are far more active.

As a New York Times reader, it seems they’ve become, well, a bit obsessed with SL. There was this article back in August in the House & Home section (!) about people buying and selling real estate in SL. There was the one about the Royal Philharmonic streaming a concert into SL. And then there was my favorite: The one how people’s lives in SL tend to mirror their real lives so much that they have to spend a weekend cleaning out their closets in world.

Closer to home, for me at least in Silicon Valley, there is the online gossip column Valleywag, which has turned its utter disdain for Second Life into a blood sport. That said, I think we’re going to learn a lot for this project by working in this environment. And I’m fortunate that Victoria Szabo has agreed to be our SL project manager. Victoria works in the Information Science + Information Studies department, something created well after I graduated in 1991. Their mission: “study and create new information technologies and to analyze their impact on art, culture, science, commerce, society, and the environment.” This fall, Victoria is teaching a class on virtual realities, including SL.

As I’ve been getting re-acquainted with life at Duke, it’s clear to me that ISIS is by far doing the most exciting things on campus related to multimedia. And having Victoria and Richard Lucic on our advisory team will be a big help. Already, Victoria has offered to help The Chronicle folks get started on podcasting, something long overdue.

That’s something that I hoped would emerge as a short-term benefit of this project. How can we help media groups on campus now? And how can we help them work together? And to build those relationships, and to get our efforts jump started in SL, we’ve launched on something that I think will be quite exciting to watch this semester.

At our advisory team meeting back in September, we decided that Victoria would lead the effort to create a basic newsroom in Second Life where the main student media groups on campus would broadcast or publish their work. This likely won’t be as ambitious as the Reuters Newsroom in Second Life (which recently won a Batten Award), at least not yet. But we think this will help give us some initial direction and teach us a lot. And that’s always important.

One question I have for any college media folks out there: Is anyone else doing this? I haven’t been able to find any other examples of college media delving into SL yet. On the other hand, my gut tells me someone, somewhere, has done this. And I’d love to hear from you about your experiences.

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