As 2008 draws to a close it is fair to say that the hype surrounding virtual worlds has dissipated. However, it is worth highlighting the continued utility of virtual worlds as not only immersive environments, but also as compelling communication venues.
What continues to separate Second Life from popular gaming virtual environments such as World of Warcraft (WoW), is its ability to globally connect users. WoW is of course a multi-user environment but as any player will know the opportunities for globally connecting are limited by the local server you attach yourself to. Second Life remains a more international venue when used in creative ways – global networked protest is one such way.
A recent article in the Economist highlighted the way in which the anarchist movement driving the riots within Greece has been able to connect internationally using the technology tools we are increasingly familiar with, YouTube (150,000 views), Blogs and Facebook. Facebook in particular appears to be the protest connection venue of choice, for a variety of movements from Egypt to Greece. The behavioral socio-political data that is present within the architecture of the Facebook site would provide keen insight into this developing opposition phenomena if examined and exploited. The new kids on the block are also represented by Twitter (through the #griot descriptor) and Second Life. This global connectivity produced a global reaction with protests appearing in a variety of other countries. While Facebook and Twitter are currently gathering the majority of the attention, arguably the seeds of better future information portals are to be found in Second Life.
A monument to the teenager killed by Greek Police (slurl to SL venue) has been erected within Second Life by the group Second Life Left Unity. While clearly biased in its representation it contains some interesting commentary on the subject – it clearly lacks the collaborative editing of wikipedia but the content is compelling. In similar fashion demonstrations are being held in Second Life relating to the current Israeli action in Gaza where protests are being held at the Islam Online site within the virtual world.
Second Life Monumnet to slain teenager in GreeceSecond Life Monument to teenager killed by Greek Police
While sparsely attended these portals of information continue to be encouraging for the health of virtual worlds. Once a user is within a virtual location dedicated to a particular subject, the information available is both easier to link to and more interactive than anything to be found on the 2-D web. It is also more collaborative in that other users can be present at the same time in the same place and therefore debate and information exchange can happen more spontaneously. Future trends in Second Life hopefully may include the use of common space dedicated to specific subjects, where Wikipedia style collaborative editing of information exhibits may take place. For now Second Life tends to have a clear political bias (as recently commented upon in New World Notes) and this drives the majority of user content production.
Second Life Information portal on Greek RiotsSecond Life Information Portal on Greek riots: highlighting alleged activity of local Fascist groups
Globally networked content also suggests that awareness of the information space within virtual worlds (mainly Second Life for now) will be an important corporate and government function. This is especially true if traditional entities wish to compete with the informal information infrastructure provided by these virtual environments.
Networked inchoate anarchic protest is in itself a significant potential trend over the medium-term. The global economic crash will create new systems and ideas or at least new ways of using old ideas. As the Economist notes the traditional mass staged rally aimed at G8 gatherings seems particularly quaint when put against the practice and potential of networked spontaneous protest. The key element these new technologies provide is the ability to amplify the protest message to a wider networked audience – this trend will only increase.
2008 was in some ways a slow year for virtual worlds but after the hype of 2007 it was always likely to come down to earth. But the key enablers of virtual worlds remain in place: increasing virtualization, enabled by ever-faster computers, pervasive broadband access and increasing numbers of wired citizens. Compared to other online social systems the numbers for virtual worlds continue to be small but the promise remains significant.
An article appeared in the UK’s Observer by Jason Burke detailing leaked French intelligence reports citing concerns regarding the pan-European rise of the ‘violent extreme left’. As with all leaks from intelligence services – this report is open to question and particularly the reporting surrounding the arrest of two French activists in the village of Tarnac. This link offers an alternate perspective on those events.
Certainly, the conditions exist for the re-emergence of a more strident anti-capitalist activism and maybe a return the high level of activity seen before 9/11. However, events shouldn’t be made to fit a neat theory – things seldom work that way.