Excavating in Second Life (3)

Some nice feedback over at ClioAudio on my plans for a virtual excavation in Second Life –

“In my head till now Second Life has been next door to Doom, Quake and Half-Life, but not as compelling due to the lack of gore. The archaeological models I’ve seen have been painstakingly created, but they’ve always seemed unrealistic. Partly because of the limitations of technology, but also because they tend to be re-creations of monuments and artefacts in pristine condition. Between them Shawn and Eric have shown Second Life could be much more interesting if you take another approach and try and build a virtual excavation.”

Alun raises an important point when he expresses reservations about the fact that this is in Second Life.

“Really it’s the fact it’s in Second Life which is my concern. Is it possible to export the information out from Second Life and make it accessible to other programs? If not then you would seem to be at the mercy of one company. Which is why I should go back and see what you can and cannot do in Second Life.”

It is in fact possible to export information out of Second Life – the Sloodle project for instance has been working very hard to integrate the Moodle learning management system with learning activities carried out in Second Life. I’ve used some of the tools that they’ve developed to post directly from Second Life into the blog part of a Moodle course area, for instance. I can imagine recording information from the virtual excavation directly in this way… but sometimes the easiest way to export information from one system or world is to do it in your head. If I have Nabonidus and Second Life both open at the same time on a computer, I can just switch from one to the other…

People with whom I chat about things like Second Life express reservations about my project being on just the one platform, owned by a commercial company. At the current moment, there’s not much I can do about that. Part of me wants to say, ‘but do you object to writing your papers using MS Word?’. The analogy isn’t exact. Were Microsoft to go under, your copy of Word would still work. If Linden Labs goes under, Second Life might cease to exist altogether. This is a very real concern. Other virtual worlds (proper games) have gone *ppphhht* as their parent companies pull the plug (The Economist did an article, ‘The End is Virtually Nigh’ on one such). New projects, such as the Multiverse project, would allow you to set up your own world independent of a commercial company (see also this article). But really, how many of us archaeologists have the kind of skill sets necessary to get something like that up and running?

This was the initial genius of Second Life – it promised to let anybody (with a broadband connection), build their own virtual reality. Now in truth it’s not so simple, but as the first to really roll that out on a grand scale, it has been a success. I fully expect, if I am able to get this virtual excavation to work as I imagine it, that someday I’ll have to migrate it to a different world or platform. It probably won’t be a straight one-to-one transfer. But having done it once, and understanding what is involved, it’ll be much easier to do a second time.

3 thoughts on “Excavating in Second Life (3)

  1. I write my papers with Pages :) I also currently do presentations in Keynote rather than PowerPoint but I appreciate that’s unthinkable for many archaeologists, even those who are Mac-based.

    My format worry is based on things like Intel Stonehenge VRML model. It wasn’t actually in VRML, but a compressed .SVR format by Superscape. They dropped support for the .SVR plug-in a long while ago and so now the model is unusable. What I was thinking terms of export was converting the models to a standard VRML.

    What I’m not taking into account is the social aspect of Second Life, so in reality that’s not viable. What I really like about your excavation is that it’s something where this interactivity between people is important and adds to the project in a meaningful way.

    I look forward to seeing how it goes.

  2. Hello Shawn;

    I would like to welcome you to Second Life. I am sure I am not the first to do so, but I wanted extend a hand of the community and contribute to the thread.

    In regards to your concerns about “Linden Lab’s Private Platform” and your colleagues concerns about data portability, these are two major topics of open discussion and activity inside Second Life and around it.

    Were are we today?

    The “Virtual Worlds Industry”, a very loose collective of major corporations and marketing firms, met in November 2007 and work is now going all across the spectrum on these issues. Until solutions are found too the many complex business, security, legal and technical problems, and then standards adopted and accepted there is going to be just one major game in town, Second Life.

    The open servers (sims) being developed are a good start to providing an alternative to one company holding all the cards, but they are not yet fully functional, nor will they be any time soon. Linden Lab’s roadmap for releasing the server code to open source has no firm date. Other virtual world platforms are not as robust and fertile or are less open by design.


    This is a time of massive change for us all, the world, meaning there is aggressive experimentation, testing, capitalization and intellectual discourse going on every day. The top minds from Stanford, MIT, Princeton and Cornell are all actively engaged in Second Life and have been some time on these issues.

    User created content: who owns it, stores it, distributes it, controls it, how secure is it from theft or copying, can it me monetized, how will it be monetized, should it be monetized, can it remain monetized as it is in Second Life ….. well you understand this is the major issue. Virtual Worlds technical problems are being solved rapidly. This is all about who will be on top in this new trillion dollar economy.

    We all expect Google IBM, Microsoft and China to compete for dominance of the next “The killer app”, a new 3D portable cross platform browser with a fully supported infrastructure of servers and data centers hosting web services supplying all user needs & 3D real-time active content, with fully integrated server and user developer environments and toolsets, all based on commonly accepted open source standards. But that day Is not within the very near future.

    What to do?
    Right now this is the Wild West. The attitude of most corporations, academics and users is to understand the risks associated with this evolving environment and jump in and experiment, learn and build because Second Life is the nexus of change. This is the game of Second Life, changing how we communicate, work and play.

    Welcome to Second Life, can’t wait to see your build.
    JRB, Architect

  3. Thank you for the note Jean Ricard! With the mass of media attention surrounding things like Second Life and other 3d worlds, it can be very hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to know what is really going on out there.

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