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The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World Hardcover – February 26, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
For those unfamiliar with the hype or the ridicule, Second Life is a massively multi-user online world, a vast simulation created by ordinary loggers-in using 3-D graphic-design tools from the site's proprietor, Linden Labs. Posing as animated avatars, Residents ramble or fly through the videoscape; they socialize with other avatars, create art, have sex, build cities, open shops and nightclubs, spend Linden Dollars (redeemable for real dollars) and fight wars, all while seated at their computer screens. Au, a journalist who chronicled the site as Linden Labs' reporter-avatar, visits the usual dot-com–saga touchstones. There's the shoestring startup by eccentric geeks; the pilgrimage to Burning Man; the bloviating visionary founder, Philip Rosedale (I'm passionate about Second Life because there doesn't need to be a God); the marketing gobbledygook about Leverag[ing] Metaverse Brands. Au celebrates Second Life as a seedbed for unfettered cybercapitalism, a liberating outlet for the masses' pentup creativity and a lucid dream that erases the virtual-real divide. Alas, in his telling, Second Life's ongoing fantasia—the monkey now perched on the wing screamed 'DIEEEE' as he strafed a well-armed babe in a bikini—feels very much like a recounted dream: creative, certainly, but rather tedious and patently irrelevant. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Au, who has written feature articles for the Los Angeles Times and online magazines such as Salon, acted as the embedded journalist during the first three years of the ever popular online world Second Life. As opposed to other virtual realities, such as The Simms, the residents of Second Life have the full power to cocreate themselves and the environment in which they live, building entire cities that morph continuously as members expand on each other’s work. The epitome of Web 2.0, where users take an active role in creating content, Second Life has all the features of real life and more: money, real estate, bars and other hangouts, deeply developed personal relationships, even a quirky version of sex. Possibilities are only restrained by the imagination. Au charts the course of the evolution of Second Life from an idea in its creators’ minds to the megahit that it is today, with many surprising revelations on the possibilities that unfold within this virtual reality. --David Siegfried
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Top customer reviews
Fortunately, for the uninitiated, and the mildly interested (like me), there is a book that tells you all you need to know. I was surprised at myself for liking it, but it gives an interesting insight into the process of building a successful dotcom. Deep and meaningful it isn't, but it does more than just portray events in Second Life, and landmarks on the way to making it the world's biggest (?) online community. It begins with the story of the startup, the connections and friendships, the doubts, the constraints, and the skeptics, before giving a topic-by-topic coverage of the metaverse itself. Even in the early chapters, there is a certain lack of pure narrative, so even though Au has seen inside the offices of Linden Lab, he tells relatively little of the story of the business, which might have made the book more interesting. Nevertheless, we do gain some insight into the mind of Philip Rosedale, the visionary entrepreneur behind Second Life, although I'm sure there are better business biographies on the market.
When Au covers the stories within Second Life, there are the usual ones about those who have made real money from the metaverse, and the rather extraordinary, including one about an in-world private investigator who gets paid to catch cheating husbands within the virtual world. I kid you not, real world wives (well, a few at any rate) are paying a virtual private investigator to check on real husbands having virtual affairs with something that just happens to look like Lara Croft. On the scale of infidelity, I gather this rates somewhat higher than porn, but I trust a lot less than a real-life affair. With the female concern about emotional infidelity, it's not hard to sympathise. Even so, when Au describes what Second Life sex is really about (a bit of cartoon shenanigans, some right clicking and some keyboard action, presumably one-handed) it's hard to imagine what all the fuss is about. Anyone doing this to get away from his real world life must be a pretty sad case anyway.
I think what makes the book mostly worthwhile is the author's ability to bring a bizarre community back into the realm of the human. Here we meet a disabled person who has made it as a music entrepreneur, a victim of crime who fears to tread outside who has reinvented herself in the fashion business, and a blonde, tanned, white girl (well, avatar) who wears black skin for a change - and falls victim to the scourge of racism. If your sense of humanity is dented by that last one, there is also a discussion of a display to teach people about schizophrenia, and even a brief mention of a UN poverty awareness campaign, all using the technology of Second Life to create interactive displays.
There is also the inevitable. Au charts the rise and pathetic decline of real world corporations that invested heavily in a Second Life presence, not having the faintest clue what the online world was really about. They all thought they could put up huge displays, not realising that Second Life was about content creation and interactivity, rather than virtual world copies of fancy ideas from reality. Flying is possible in Second Life, but hardly anyone does it. If it were the real world, and you could fly, would you waste a moment?
On the down side, the book is only averagely-well written, complete with gobbledigook phrases like "Mirrored Flourishing", which I'm not going to describe. Those who want a better narrative with a more convincing, energetic writing style might prefer Peter Ludlow's "The Second Life Herald", but this one has a lot more humanity to it. I spent a total of 4 hours "playing" Second Life, and a comparable amount of time reading this book (I'm a slow reader). The book was better.
Given this challenge, Wagner James Au crafts an excellent book about the history and nature of Second Life. Leveraging his status as a former employee and virtual embedded journalist, Au shares with the reader his well-researched subjective viewpoint into a world of fluid forms and fluid personalities. Touching on such topics as the economy, socialization, politics, the nature of self, and the interaction between the real world and the artificial one, the book weaves a narrative that is one part company history, one part personal experience, and one part industry commentary.
While the book overall is an interesting read, I found myself having to swallow some significant typos and informational errors. This is a pet peeve of mine, and I feel the book really could have used a second editorial pass and some fact-checking (for instance, the 3D embedded content viewer inDuality ([...]) is made by Pelican Crossing, not Penguin Crossing). Print is not the web, and sadly, once one publishes an edition of a book with this many errors, it's published forever.
But if you have a tolerance for typos and a willingness to do your own fact-checking (which will be necessary anyway, given the changeable nature of the subject matter), this book is a good read and can serve as a starting point for further forays into the field of 3D interactive worlds, and Second Life specifically.