Africa in Virtual Worlds

…Journal of our Experiences with Social Media and Virtual Worlds to date…

Archive for the month “May, 2008”

Respecting Land Owners in Second Life…

Have you spoken to a few owners of virtual land in Second Life (R) the past month or two? In developing a new media strategy and virtual world presence, we follow the trends as closely as possible, and it is with some distress and a pinch of interest that we listen to the discontent of land owners. Prices of private islands (sims) have been slashed by Linden Lab.

After all, we also used some donated funds to purchase two islands, Virtual Africa and Robben Island, to drive our project in-world – at the original prices. Landowners in Second Life (R) have been the backbone of the the virtual economy, and their investment of (very real) money ensured that the platform grew rapidly since 2003/4. However, it does seem like the devaluation of land by dropping prices of private land will take its toll on the enthusiasm and free enterprise spirit of many of those that have developed the vivid spaces for others to use. I can just imagine what it must feel like to see your investment of time, energy and money disappearing with every new announcement from Linden Lab. Second Life resident Erbo Evans is quite outspoken about the recent developments in his blog: “LL to Island Owners: Drop Dead“.

This is as good opportunity as any to thank one such landowner and pioneer associated with Second Life News Network, Doeko Cassidy (SL): Uthango established its offices at one of Doeko’s beautiful islands, Sunset Commerce after a visit to Ina Centaur (SL) – at the time busy with a building for SLiterary – and we got our first little office in this events centre, next to Jilly Kidd (SL) – who has since moved to Cookie and now drives the popular Meet the Author chat show on the in-world television channel SLCN (Second Life Cable Network). But let me not start with another topic; our own vision related to African literature was shared with these two professionals early in 2007, and we still need to execute it…

So, Uthango wanted a way to establish a visual in-world presence, and we approached the land owner who had the plot next to the first sLiterary building based at Sunset Commerce. I (Alanagh) sold my little privately-owned CapeCod beach house, and bought the prefab office with some Lindens I made from the deal. We still use a year later. Its developer has since founded another virtual world platform! More about that later…

By the end of 2007, Doeko Cassidy agreed to graciously sponsor Uthango by waving our weekly rental and he has been doing that ever since.

Doeko Cassidy

Even though we now also have two private islands, we would love to retain the office at Suncet Commerce – it is a lovely environment and we have been visited by many newcomers to Second Life. Sharing the beautiful sim with SL companies such as GRACILE (whose owner made her piece of land available after some negotiation) has only been a pleasure – and not only because the clothes are stunning! Sunset Commerce is not managed heavy-handedly and we get on with the business of being creative.

We hope that the landowners of Second Life (R) will get the respect they deserve for contributing to the growth of the SL platform, and to the overall community, but also for the goodwill that they so often show their tenants and the way they manage to create spaces that have meaning… like Doeko Cassidy, in our own Second Life journey. If you have the broadband connection, and you have the graphic card you need, we invite you to register for Second Life, and to visit our offices at Sunset Commerce:

Uthango at Sunset Commerce

If you struggle to access Second Life, or do not have the right computer equipment, we invite you to stay in touch with this project here. We continue to pursue ways to address digital divide in realistic ways. There are individuals and companies worldwide that assist us in doing so… we respect their efforts and hope that their role will be recognized and a win-win-win will be crafted as we move forward – between the platform-creator (Linden Lab), the landowners and average Second Life users wishing to have a meaningful experience. Is it too much to ask?

Ps: After all the lessons learned, one of our sims, Robben Island, is set up to host pro-Africa companies, individuals and organisations wishing to have a presence in Second Life. Contact us (preferably via email) for more information.

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Cory’s Challenge to Second Life – Public Gain or Organisational Loss??

It was with a sense of usual Second Life excitement – that some great new thing is happening! – that Uthango’s representatives attended the recent introduction of the “Second Life and Public Good” Community Challenge” sponsored by the USC Network Culture Project. On 6 May 2008 Cory Ondrejka, a fellow at USC introduced the challenge and we had all our ears open to hear some groundbreaking news on how the McArthur Foundation plans to facilitate the public good application of virtual worlds.

However, the bigger issue here relates to accountability and the credible use of time and resources of an NGO that operates primarily (as it should!) in the real world. Unless we include the pseudo-charities that have sprung up unregulated in Second Life, but seem to have shrunk in numbers over the past year as more legitimate NGOs made their appearances, the organizations spending public funds need to make a serious cost-benefit analysis to make sense of this challenge. It does ‘seem’ like an obvious step for us to participate (at least advocacy-wise), but Uthango is debating this extensively in-house at the moment. Given limited resources (with one executive in-world volunteering 6 hours more a work day and another two staff members in and out on ad hoc basis) and the costs of connectivity, this is not a decision to make quickly – but rather, thoughtfully and in consultation with the community that supports us.

We are glad that there is such initiative and it was certainly embraced by the SL community at the event, and later at the NonProfit Commons meeting, by the organisations represented.

We invite our Second Life Africa members and friends and partners to get in touch and share your thoughts. We have already had some interesting ‘proposals for collaboration’ – some echoing creative earlier ideas that we had, but abandoned due to experience or call it, a ‘reality check’ about the potential of the platform! We will certainly attend the planned information session – which was delightfully enough also quoted in ‘African’ time!

A bit more About the Community Challenge:

We are currently accepting proposals from groups, organizations, or individuals for projects that show how Second Life can enhance, develop, or sustain the public good. The best submissions will be selected based on how well they demonstrate the significance of virtual worlds for making an impact on society or culture.

Up to three finalists will be selected by community vote. The finalists will be provided with a $100,000L per month building stipend (and land, if required) for three months to execute their proposal. The projects will be showcased in Second Life at the State of Play conference to be held in Chicago, October 2008.

Projects may address any social need and could include conservation, human rights and international justice, global peace and security, reproductive health, digital media and learning, or juvenile justice. Proposals should provide a clear description of how the project uses the abilities of Second Life to advance the project goals and should provide clear metrics for assessing the success of the project.

We are not entirely sure if existing projects should be submitted or brand new ideas – maybe those ones that still require funds to see realization? This will be one of the questions that we pose to the organizers.

Your thoughts, welcomed! Watch this space…

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