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Second Impressions of Second Life

May 3, 2010

This is the second encounter I’ve had with Second Life (the first was for LIBR 203 last spring) and the first thing I noticed is that the user interface of the SL Viewer for Mac OS X has become dramatically more accessible for newer users.  SL carries a fairly steep learning curve b/c there’s so much to explore, so it’s nice to see some attention paid to creating an easier on-ramp.

I’m among the few people in this world who are neutral towards Second Life; most people love it or hate it. I personally think Second Life is fundamentally flawed because it implements a generalized geo-browsing through the lens of a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), which means you’re going to see naked avatars humping in front of the library fountain. Even the profile naming model (why can’t I use my real name?) lends itself more to fantasy and roleplaying than to educational CMC (computer-mediated communication).

That said, Second Life is critical to our understanding of online social spaces on many levels. First off, Second Life is on the bleeding edge of Web browsing technology. If you strip away the silly names and crude social behavior, SL is an advanced tool for geo-spatial browsing that can, for example, approximate the experience of browsing through physical library stacks as an alternative to database mining. For my final project, I’ll be looking at another geo-spatial browsing platform called NASA World Wind, which has a lot more in common with Second Life (and even Google Earth) than you might think.

Second Life is also a system that is overflowing with information, and that information needs to be managed. Exploring Second Life, whether you like the social dynamics or not, is a healthy way to broaden your horizons about LIS and how we can apply LIS methods to areas like information retrieval, usability, knowledge management, reference services, etc. in Second Life.

Most importantly (in my mind), Second Life is a living, breathing social experiment that we in the LIS field should pay close attention to. As far as “online worlds” go, Second Life is just the beginning, and the challenges that it poses to intellectual freedom, and indeed our very sense of morality, are only a taste of what’s to come. Anyone who doubts me should watch the SyFy television series, “Caprica,” and take note of the moral hazards of being a young adult in a virtual world where anything goes.

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