Second Life is not just gambling and porn

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The Second Life Library 2.0 panel gave one of the best (and shortest) explanations of Second Life I’ve heard so far: “Its a community, not like a game with a point.”

It might not have a point, but it does have momentum: it recently crossed the one million residents mark, companies like American Apparel have opened shop there, IBM has held employee meetings in its virtual space, and Reuters has a bureau in-world.

So a bunch of geeky librarians have banded together to build Info Island and offer a variety of library services. You could say they are a bit of an obsessive group (“employers don’t understand it yet, so people are doing it on their own time”) and in that way, they are just like any other evolving online community. I think the things they are learning about as a result will have application beyond the library world:

  • How to collaborate with and manage virtual teams spread across five continents
  • How to create links between in-world activity and real-world information resources
  • Dealing with the potential stigma of porn and gambling getting there first (“Pornography and gambling tend to lead in innovation technology.”)

Because I think environments like Second Life are going to be around for some time, I enjoyed the predictions the panel made:

  • Library services to avatars will thrive [What other avatar services will be needed?]
  • Architecture will evolve away from real-world architecture [It is a world with flying and teleportation — you can change the laws of physics, Captain]
  • Libraries will include elements from museums, theme parks, etc. [Budget constraints are very different when you build in an existing virtual world]
  • Exhibits and events will be more useful than traditional collections [Rich media wins in the digital world — books are still too clunky unless they are analog]
  • Demand will grow for immersive, experiential learning such as walk-in books and 3D interactive mashups [Fully inhabiting virtual worlds means moving past physical world analogies and developing new forms and experiences]

Between four and five thousand visitors teleport in to Info Island on a typical day. That makes it busier than all public libraries outside of larger cities as well as more trafficked than many college and university libraries.

When will the first “real” store will see significant revenue from virtual world activities? Which businesses will hold digital company-wide meetings?

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6 thoughts on “Second Life is not just gambling and porn

  1. Hmm. I was there for parts of this until I got bored and ran off. I think what was severely lacking was an idea of what library services for avatars are, especially since library services on the internet are still not as attractive as many other ways of finding information. Between Google, Wikipedia and Technorati I have the bases pretty much covered; if we’re discussing research librarian services then perhaps there is a market for people who use Google, Wikipedia and Technorati. Then again, I have my own library of books to reference which is constantly growing, so I’m a librarian in my own right.

    What is a librarian anyway? I am not holding librarians in disregard; what I am trying to do is find the context of a librarian in a world where a few keystrokes dig up just about everything I need. So that was lacking for me, as a non-professional librarian.

    To me, a library is a physical entity where information was housed when information was more physical in nature. It is not so anymore. So what a librarian is defined as has to change, and while it’s good that librarians are discussing it amongst themselves, I think a bit more extroversion would benefit all of the society which librarians are trying to affect.

  2. Google can turn up wonders with a few keystrokes, true — but for highly specialized information (say, in medicine) it isn’t a robust enough tool, just to mention one serious limitation. Unfortunately, it is still faster and easier to use that most online library catalogs and specialty databases (that’s not a knock on Google, but on the pay for access tools). The difference between Google, Technorati, Wikipedia, Icerocket, etc is the difference between “good enough” and “exhaustively complete” and most of the time good enough is, well, good enough.

    As for libraries being physical entities — they are, but librarians aren’t just gatekeepers of physical collections. Librarians are navigators of information spaces — physical and virtual. That’s why I was happy to see librarians getting involved in Second Life — it is an evolving virtual space, and librarians already know something about that.

  3. Well, I guess I’m spoiled. I have a Merck Manual and a PDR, which cover more than what I need nowadays for medicine. I do see your point, but your point revolves around paid services whereas I support Open Content.

    Does Open Content mean the end of Libraries, then? Or is there more to this?

  4. Open content will only mean the end of libraries if they fight it, IMO.

    With more and more content being created every day (and older content getting digitized and uploaded) I see more of a need for skilled information navigation, and librarians can do that job. Google returns one million results or more for the typically 1.5 word search string — people need education and help so they can evaluate which of those links really matter, and when what they need isn’t there, how they can search more effectively on the open web or through freely available from their local public library sources to find what they need and want.

  5. OK, I can go with that. It’s a paradigm shift for librarians. But at that point, will they be librarians or will they become full fledged educators. Interesting thought…

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