BlogHer07 Conference is one of the biggest RL blogging conferences to date, and one of the first to deal with non-SecondLife issues with a significant SecondLife participation. The real-life (RL) part of the conference is taking place in Chicago USA with about 750-800 attendees in Chicago and an unknown number of SecondLife and WWW international attendees. SL participants had the advantage of being able to interact directly with the speakers via instant message – over those just watching the live video stream on SLCN.tv on the world wide web.
Speakers last night included:
- renowned new media researcher Esther Dyson;
- SlideShare CEO Rashmi Sinha;
- Ning CEO (and co-founder with Marc Andreesen) Gina Bianchini; and
- Technology journalist Annalee Newitz
This was a fairly free-ranging discussion among the panelists, and the discussion was streamed by live video into SecondLife.
Blogs and news media
Some key points included:
a discussion of whether blogs had moved beyond the ‘echo-chamber’ effect of the blogosphere – in which bloggers were essentially talking to themselves about themselves.
There was broad agreement that blogs are now part of mainstream media – breaking news often as rapidly as mainstream media channels.
There is no longer a single blogosphere – some blogs have remained inward looking, while others are more outward focussed – there is no longer a single mode of blogging (if there ever was). And there is a large expansion currently underway in new media of all kinds – flickr for photos, podcasting, YouTube, Facebook Twitter and others.
All of which could be argued to have arisen from Maslow’s basic needs hierarchy – notably the need to communicate. The internet has developed/evolved a very wide range by which people can find communities of common interest. One symptom of this that has been picked up and taken out of proportion is the capacity for such communities of interest to include a focus on physical aspects of representation – including pornography – and this goes back to a basic need for self expression.
Is blogging weird and elitist? Or is it more like literacy? – becoming increasingly an essential aspect of how people relate to each other. Certainly there are things that are more elitist than blogging, and there are also elitist bloggers – as there are in other walks of life. But there is no doubting that online communities can be strong.
While the IT industry is increasingly credential-driven, self-taught geeks are still contributing greatly to the shape of new media technologies.
It is important for women to break into the technology industry. This is not a gender issue, however, because first and foremost, technology needs to be tailored for people. The problem is not one of women lacking a voice in technology, but getting people to learn to listen – everyone, male and female has a role to play in shaping technology.
And sometimes that takes a thick skin – you need to be a bit Aspergers-like to become desensitised to the emotional social cues that serve to exclude those less confident with the technology.
There is also a real need for new media literacy – it is important to know who owns the media you use, and this is often buried deep within terms of service agreements. It is important to read the fine print of your terms of service agreements on social sites as many require you effectively to sign over the rights of your content to them so it can be (re)-used as they see fit. But if you find clauses you don’t like – blog it. Spread the word – and do so in nice simple terms, like ‘never mind reading the whole thing, look at these two sentences in which you sign your life away’.
One speaker focussed on the ‘power of one’ – if you don’t like a feature, or if you would like to see a new feature implemented, then let the big players know. The first responder may not be equipped to deal with the issue – or even understand that there is one – but persevere up the food chain. People who build the new media do care what people think – it is the basis of their business.
Another speaker focussed on the ‘people power’ aspect of blogs, noting that ‘mesh’ networks a re really taking off in China, as the Chinese authorities’ power to act against a million small voices is very limited. Mesh networks are able to provide people with an alternate voice, to amend the messages being given by those in power.
SecondLife and News Media
It was noted that virtual world SecondLife is a real space with real people – so it’s not a game (pre-scripted and bounded) – but a real community. So news in SecondLife is real news.
SecondLife is about building networks of people across the globe and across timezones, with a common visual environment. But with the current old media hype about SecondLife many are coming into SecondLife that don’t ‘get it’ – that don’t understand the concept of social networking.
One presenter noted that most politicians just use SL to gain real life publicity – to demonstrate their connection with progressive youth culture.
Ironically the person credited with the conceptual basis for SecondLife, writer – William Gibson will be entering SecondLife to promote his new book, but he refuses interviews from in-world real journalists on the basis that he doesn’t want to promote SL as a vehicle for promoting his book. Perhaps his initial negative experience in coming into SL has helped to shape his attitude towards SL.
For real journalists in SecondLife there are both challenges and opportunities. One major challenge – common to all writers – is that remuneration is within a micro-economy. So reporters writing for SL media are paid (when they are paid at all) in the order of US$4-5 in real money. But they can earn between 10 and 40 times that writing for real life media.
But the fact that the avatars are driven by real people has enabled genuine voice-of-the-people interviews with those who would otherwise be severely subject to censorship in conventional media. And the emergence of voice as part of teh chat function means that genuine vox populi news has become more widely available.
In response to a question from Sharon (as Teal Etzel) on whether the panel viewed themselves as recording the early history of the emerging 3D web, and as archiving a significant moment for future historians, there was a mixed reaction.
Some new media sites were storing broadcast quality copies of podcasts for archival purposes. Others couldn’t see that history was in the making, or that SL was in any way a significant event/activity.
One view was that SL is like a village – with parochial interests and local interest for residents, but of no greater significance.
Another view was that yes it’s not the fact that SL inhabitants are ordinary people with ordinary lives, but that these ordinary people are in extraordinary circumstances, taking the trouble to learn a complex interface at the beta stage of its development – and on that basis, such people were indeed on the cutting edge of something new and emergent, and that will shape the future of the technology.
Overall the discussion was stimulating and SL has provided a unique opportunity to participate actively in a conference in Chicago, and to hear some world-class academics – while sitting at home in Australia 🙂