Second Life and Half-Life

Well, it was bound to happen. First it was retailers like American Apparel and Telus making their way into Second Life, the virtual world “game” from Linden Labs, then musicians like Duran Duran and Suzanne Vega, and now it’s politicians.

For whatever reason, former Virginia governor Mark Warner — who wants to become the “fallback” candidate should Senator Hilary Clinton get hit by a truck or decide not to accept the Democratic nomination — decided to make an appearance in Second Life, where he was interviewed by blogger Wagner James Au of New World Notes before an audience of about 30 avatars. Among other things, some handlers taught him how to wave and how to keep his feet on the ground (literally).

My favourite comment about Wagner’s appearance came from Rex Hammock, who said that campaigning on Second Life was “right up there with doing an interview with Steven Colbert. High risk, questionable reward and lots of accolades from people who rarely vote.” Touche.

And in other virtual world news, someone with an appreciation for architecture and a whole lot of time on his hands designed a map for the video game Half-Life 2 that is an exact replica of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kaufmann house, also known as Fallingwater. There’s a cool video walkthrough here.

A shameless plug for my employer

I don’t often do this on my blog, but since several different blogs and news sites have mentioned the Washington Post’s introduction of reader comments on news stories, I thought I would mention that the newspaper I work for in Toronto, the Globe and Mail (www.theglobeandmail.com) has allowed reader comments on every story we publish since last September. It has proven to be an extremely popular feature with readers — so popular that on some contentious news stories we are overwhelmed with hundreds of comments.

We aren’t alone in experimenting with such features. As commenters on the ePolitics post mention, China Daily has had a comment feature for some time, and so has a German newspaper — a recent survey of the industry called the Bivings Report notes that 19 of the U.S. newspapers it surveyed allowed comments on news stories. For awhile now, the BBC has had a feature known as “Have Your Say,” which is turned on for certain stories and includes either moderated comments (in which an editor reviews comments before they are posted) or unmoderated comments (in which readers themselves monitor the comments and flag inappropriate ones for removal).

Like the Post and other newspapers, the Globe is experimenting with blogs and user-generated content as well as comments, and with other ways of allowing our readers to become part of a community. I can’t give any details, but we’ll be rolling out new features along those lines in the months to come. To me, that kind of interactivity is one of the most exciting things to happen to the news media in generations, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

Social software is not a fad

Ryan Carson says he doesn’t have time to use all those social apps like del.icio.us and Flickr and Digg, although he thinks they are cool, and Phil Edwards says that he likes them too but sees the phenomenon as appealing to a relatively small niche of Web geeks — in his post, he says social software is like a reverse Tardis (the time machine in the cult sci-fi TV show Doctor Who), in that it is “much, much bigger on the outside than it is on the inside.” Nice line, Phil. I wish I had come up with that one.

It’s worth reading Ryan’s entire post, because at the end he surveys people like Tom Coates of Yahoo, Mike Davidson of Newsvine and Ted Rheingold of Dogster about what they think of social software and its significance. Predictably enough, Nick “The Prophet of Doom” Carr chimes in on the issue of whether social software is a fad, and says that such apps are a passing fancy — and that even if something useful remains after the fad passes, it will be “less than world-changing.”

My response would be that worlds change in small ways as well as large ones, and I think the social aspect of apps like Flickr and Digg means a lot more than any one of those software services does on its own. Do they take a lot of work? In some cases yes, although my use of del.icio.us is so ingrained into the way I browse that I don’t even notice it any more, thanks to a Firefox extension, and I couldn’t browse for long — or do my job as quickly or as effectively — if I didn’t have something like it. It’s debatable whether Digg or social bookmarking or any of the other social apps are standalone businesses (I would argue in most cases they are not), but what they represent is no less real.

I think that over time, social software features such as tagging, sharing, sorting and voting Digg-style will become more and more a part of all kinds of services, to the point where we hardly realize they are there. Will everyone use them? Unlikely. But I believe that most technology starts with “edge cases,” as Robert Scoble put it — including email, the Web and cellphones — and gradually moves towards the center. Stowe Boyd has some great thoughts on the necessity for and the payoff from social apps here, and Karl Martino says that we are all confused, and that the Web itself is a social app (I would agree).

Does FOO Camp matter?

It started as an inside joke among friends, but FOO Camp has turned into an “event” that seems to draw equal parts admiration and criticism, depending on whether you get invited to it or not. For those who don’t know, FOO is short for “friends of O’Reilly” — as in Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, publisher of technology books and organizer of conferences. According to the Wikipedia entry on FOO Camp, the event got started after an O’Reilly staffer joked about having a “FOO bar” at a conference — a reference to the time-honoured term “fubar,” mean “f***ed up beyond all recognition.”

Over the years, FOO Camp has grown to become one of the hot, invite-only happenings in the Valley — yes, even bigger than Mike Arrington’s TechCrunch parties. And along the way, there has been an undercurrent of frustration from those who feel left out by the invitation-only status of the event, including some people who have never been invited (but think they should be) and some who were invited once but then weren’t asked to come back. The latest brouhaha — not surprisingly — involves Web guru Dave Winer, who clearly falls into the former category.

This definitely has a high-school, “who’s in and who’s not” kind of feel to it, but it also raises the same kinds of issues that the old “A-list gatekeeper” debate over influence in the blogosphere does. Is O’Reilly being elitist by having an exclusive, invite-only party — and if so, does it matter? For those who see the Internet as leveling the playing field, lowering the barriers to entry, and so on, FOO Camp seems like a kick in the communal goolies. But Tim appears to see it partly as good business and partly as an attempt to bring smart people together in a controlled setting, without having to worry about troublemakers, windbags and other assorted riff-raff (he explained to Roger Cadenhead why Dave isn’t invited, and there’s more details here).

For my part, I think Tim should be able to hold whatever kind of event he wants (and so does my friend Stowe Boyd — who gets a comment from the Scobelizer). Would I like to be invited? Sure. But I’m not going to bitch and moan because I haven’t been. Call it elitism or exclusionary or arrogant if you like — the fact is that not everyone can be invited to everything, and sometimes being exclusive (or discriminating, in the positive sense of the word) makes for a better event. My friend Kent Newsome has some thoughts from the other side of the argument, and Tom Coates of plasticbag has his own thoughts (he attended this year).

Yo, Apple — it’s called YouTube

WTF? Mike Arrington at TechCrunch has posted a copy of a letter he received from a lawyer representing Apple, who asked that CrunchGear — Mike’s new gadget site — remove a video clip showing some elements of Apple’s new Leopard operating system, which hasn’t been released yet. The letter says:

“Apple therefore requests that you remove this video from your website and take steps to prevent any further distribution of videos or screenshots of Apple software without Apple’s authorization. If you are represented by counsel, please provide me with the identity of that counsel.”

Mike’s response: “It’s a YouTube video. That’s at www.youtube.com. Get them to take it down if it’s a violation of your IP and it will stop showing at crunchgear and the other sites.” Good one, Mike. My favourite part of the post? The lawyer’s letter begins with these words: “NOT FOR POSTING.” Lol.