Richard CharkThe latest blog article by Richard Charkin of Macmillan UK (his picture at left) provides a fascinating look at Second Life, a Web 2.0 “virtual reality world.”

Second Life has about 350,000 members and is growing at a phenomenal 15 percent per month!

For publishers, authors and the digital publishing industry, Macmillan UK’s CEO offers a glimpse into the wide-open potential of online virtual reality systems such as Second Life. Is this a look at the future of interactivity with digital content, including books, newspapers and magazines?

…some of the thought-provoking things that are already happening on Second Life are: virtual book signings (authors like Cory Doctorow have done this in Second Life); the development of virtual libraries; the use of virtual communities to test real life business concepts or products before ‘real life” launch; the presence of publishing companies such as John Battelle’s Federated Media Publishing — which has set up an office in the virtual world; the fact that the BBC have broadcast Second Life versions of their shows; the idea that students can now do a university course entirely virtually through one of the sixteen or so US universities running virtual classes—. I could go on. Check it out for yourself.

After joining Second Life last night and “walking” around, I understand what Richard is saying about the potential of Second Life and similar online virtual reality communities for e-book publishers, and for user interactivity with books and other types of publications. Today we are talking about relatively staid things like linking into, and text annotation of, books. But after experiencing Second Life, the real long-term potential of interactivity with content is virtually unlimited (pun intended.)

Jon Olmstead’s (mis)adventures

Jon OlmsteadSo who is Jon Olmstead and what are his (mis)adventures? Well, Jon Olmstead is the identity I created for myself on Second Life. He’s young, blond, handsome, virile, etc. — not exactly what I am in reality (well, I’d like to think I have a wee little bit of these things. <laugh/>) I picked the surname ’Olmstead’ from the allowed list since I am Norwegian-Minnesotan, and Olmstead is one of those classic, albeit old-fashioned, Minnesota names.

For those of us who’ve never played Warcraft and similar virtual-world games, it takes a while to get the hang of Second Life, even doing the basic things like moving around. I still only understand maybe 5% of all its features, and the current Second Life “world” is huge, just like any city with 350,000 inhabitants. I feel like I was instantaneously transported to a strongly libertarian alien world with no manual, which in effect I was.

After creating an avatar, and customizing it (with almost an infinity of combinations to choose from), I started to wander around. I met a very cute avatar whose Second Life name I won’t mention. We struck up a chat. It turns out she is, in her first life, an attorney in New York City, just starting her career. Since it was very late evening in the real world, we only chatted a few minutes before both of us had to retire.

What I found most fascinating is that the behaviors we would do in real life transferred over to Second Life. For example, after we struck up a chat while standing around, I suggested we sit down somewhere. It just felt natural. She suggested a place which had some comfy chairs, and we continued our chat, even though it was all virtual (IM-like). It actually felt more comfortable to talk while our avatars were sitting in chairs than when standing.

Anyway, about my misadventure as Jon Olmstead. This morning I logged onto Second Life, and wandered around some more. I found myself at what I later determined to be an apartment complex. There was a wide open door on the second floor, and I wandered in — nothing stopped me (many private places in Second Life have invisible “force fields” keeping you out.) At first it sort of looked like an apartment lobby. I went upstairs, and found myself alone in a bedroom with a lot of, ahem, interesting but tastefully rendered pictures on the wall. Looking at the menu of services offered there, it was clearly adult in nature (since TeleRead is a family-friendly blog, I’ll leave the menu contents to the imagination of the reader.)

While in that room, I inadvertantly applied an animation I found there (don’t do that unless you know what you are doing!), and ended up in a very embarassing situation which I won’t describe but which my new-found virtual friend will probably ROTFL when I tell her. The mistress of the apartment then arrived, who was dressed as one would expect for running this love nest. She was shocked to see me there, and asked what I was doing. She then said to leave, and of course instructed me on how to remove the animation, which I was having trouble removing. It turned out she left her apartment door wide open overnight — normally she keeps it locked and only lets in those she invites. I simply wandered into an apartment with a wide open door.

So, it would not surprise me if Jon Olmstead now appears on some list in Second Life World for this indiscretion. Mr. Olmstead will just have to somehow redeem himself of this embarassment. Will he do so? Stay tuned in to find out…

The bottom line is to be very careful what you do there, don’t eat or apply anything unless you’re sure what it is, and take your time learning the ropes — just as one would do in the real world. Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to visit SL and at least take a quick tour. You don’t need to register a credit card — you can visit and wander around for free. But you may just decide to stay and build a second life there. Interestingly, it is possible to exchange “Linden Dollars” for real dollars, and there are people actually making real money in Second Life — merging the real and virtual worlds. This now gets us back to Richard’s blog comments.

If you want to meet my alter-ego at Second Life, drop me an email and we’ll arrange a time we can meet. I otherwise don’t plan to spend much time there, although I am seriously thinking of developing a presence there for my e-book publishing venture. Anyone reading this who is experienced with running a business on Second Life, and might want to explore some business arrangement with me on this, let me know!

From the library angle, if libraries are important in the real world, they should also be important in the Second Life-world.

Another look into Second Life


  1. Funny, I was thinking of getting my feet wet in second life fairly soon as well. I attended a panel on business opportunities in virtual environments, and actually I was interested in virtual training.

    Strange cultural fact: this game attracts an older crowd (median about 34 or so), and a good percentage of females. One journalist mentioned that it may be the type of environment where teens are going to lose their virginity these days.

  2. I’m really looking forward to seeing ‘real’ books in Second Life. Right now there are virtual libraries which store scripts that when you click them, lead you to a web page. Another style of book is one that you can take out of your inventory and read, but it’s very awkward to do that because it takes awhile for the picture of the text to come into resolution (what we refer to as ‘rezzing’). There are a few books to be had which are just typed in on notecards and which aren’t very reader friendly. I would really just like something with the ease of an ebook, without the hassle of waiting for each page to load slooowwwlllly. As yet, no popular authors or authors from SL have published in world that I know about, and I’m always on the lookout for new things to read. Good luck with your venture! 🙂

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