Looking for Archivematica the software project? see: archivematica.org


archivemati.ca header image 1

Second Life, First Impressions

May 1st, 2007 · 1 Comment · Web 2.0

Maximum Vollmar, pleased to meet you. I finally had some time this week to pay a visit to the Second Life metaverse. I have been following Christian Van Der Ven’s blog posts with some interest so I already had some idea of what to expect and what to look for. Christian (who is Christi Janus in-world) has been exploring and musing what opportunities Second Life might have for archives and archivists. If you’ve never heard of Second Life, check out this introduction video on YouTube.

The first order of business was to get an account, choose an in-world name, download the client software and complete the mandatory (but brief) tutorials before being let loose into the Second Life world. Then I spent a good two hours altering my appearance (body, hair, clothes, etc.). So here then is Maximum Vollmar, my Second Life alter-ego.

Then I teleported over to InfoIsland and Cybrary City where a number of archives, libraries and their staff have begun to claim the information science professionals’ place in Second Life. They have a virtual reference desk staffed in shifts by real-world reference desk personnel from around the world. However, it appears their main role is to help newcomers to Second Life and not really to provide reference access to real-world collections.

Chatting and Flying — the fun part

Nevertheless, I ran into some very nice people to chat with at the InfoIsland reference desk. The immediacy of connecting with other people in a virtual space is real and fun. I actually found Christian there right away and I joined the Archivists of Second Life group.

I then took some time to levitate and fly around the island. Even though it is virtual reality, the effect of flying and virtual weightlessness is still pretty cool. I like it. Here I am floating above the future Library and Archives of Canada building in SL.

floating above future LAC site

Crashing and Finding Your Way — the not-so-fun part

However, I think that virtual chatting and flying are probably the highlights for me. My first impression is that there are still very few library or archival collections or interfaces to collections in Second Life. There are some impressive looking buildings and public spaces that are fun to walk through and explore but they typically offer a dis-organized, hodge-podge of content, most of which are URL links back out to the ‘real’ Web.

Also, Second Life is extremely disorienting to navigate. It is hard to get a grasp on what is available where, even when limiting your movements to a couple of islands. Part of the problem is that Second Life only renders your immediate surroundings so there is a feature-less horizon all around you where, in fact, there are buildings and places you just left. As well, the Second Life technical environment appears to be significantly unstable right now, partly the by-product of large volumes of newcomers like myself. The serious Second Lifers have, in fact, just voiced their serious concerns about it. I was frozen out several times and had to completely re-boot my machine.

The Second Life potential

Okay, but fair enough. It is still early days in this brave new world. Kind of like the World Wide Web in 1995. I do think Second Life has lots of potential to enhance the access experience for some targeted user groups (i.e. youth and tech-savy adults with lost of time on their hands). In particular if we can use real-world databases as back-ends to SL interfaces, which may become more common with the advent of tools such as SLQuery or the use of the SL scripting language HTTP Request functionality. At the same time, I don’t think SL will ever become the mainstream channel for people to access online content, i.e. a lot still has to happen if Second Life clients are ever going to become as commonplace on desktops as web browsers.

The challenge will be to use the virtual world to enhance the archival access function and experience, otherwise it just becomes a time-sucking toy and a poor substitute for standard web interfaces. My initial gut feeling is, in fact, that SL environments will never replace web-based archives access systems but that their main role is going to be in networking, hosting events, and building communities around archival collections and historical topics of interests…and for flying through virtual stacks :-)

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 David Kemper // May 3, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    Welcome to Second Life, Peter. It is indeed a time-sucking toy, that’s for sure. But I agree that it has some networking or community-building potential.

    For now, I’m still trying to fix my avatar. :)