As I write this, 50-some avatars are busy partying away in the new Cannery Art Gallery (Teleport SLURL), created by SL developer Rezzable. This is unremarkable in itself — there are parties going on 24/7 in Second Life. But what it represents for me is the coming together of Web 2.0 and virtual world platforms into something that looks like a totally new manifestation of multi-platform community.
I’m in somewhat of a privileged position as the writer of a weekly event’s calendar for the SL news site New World Notes. As a result, I come across many, many examples of how people are experimenting with this virtual platform to create connections and bonds with each other — from speed dating to religious cults. Combine this with my other "job" as community moderator of the swing dance website Yehoodi.com (with 10,000 registered users from around the world), and I think I have a pretty unique perspective on virtual and Web2.0 community.
Which brings me back to the Cannery…
The Cannery Gallery, as I understand it, is the result of a hybrid Second Life / Flickr community.
Second Life photographers, a growing population of in-world artists, have been increasingly making their presence known on the community photo site Flickr, through creating new photo groups, discussions, tags and cross-commentary. A search for "second life" on Flickr turns up 413 different groups, several with hundreds of members. A few SL photographers have excelled at their craft to the point that they make substantial incomes selling their work, doing professional photo shoots, and exhibiting in the real world.
The idea for the cannery
gallery came from taking SL photos and posting them on Flickr. There is a very active SL community over there,
where I had the chance to meet lots of SL photographers, including prominent ones like Vint [Falken] and Shoshana [Epsilon]… From
Rezzable’s perspective this is good example of how we are trying to
link online communities with SL. So now we all can hang out in SL.
Thus, a bunch of people within a virtual world started connecting with each other via a Web2.0 social networking site, then translated that connection back into an in-world space to "hang out" and present their work.
What this says to me is that as virtual worlds become more common and accepted, real world and web communities will start to see value in engaging in a virtual presence. That is, they will learn to leverage the strengths of virtual environments to enhance existing communities in ways that would not be possible in the real world or the web.
As the Cannery opening shows, virtual worlds can host synchronous events in which participants have a sense of presence and embodiment. For certain kinds of events — special celebrations, governance meetings, art showings, symposia — virtual worlds have distinct advantages over web or real world events. You can gather people in one space, accessible to all of your members regardless of geography. You can share media with each other (video, images, music, text), and create new media together collaboratively.
Sure, you can have a video conference using iChat. But can you then dance together? Or manipulate a 3D model of your new community center? Or have your chat translated into five different languages?
We are learning that children interact with digital media today in ways that are very different from previous generations. Kids don’t notice that Pokemon is a card game, a movie, a TV show, a video game and a set of action figures. Pokemon is an imagined world that transcends whatever media it is present in, and children adapt to whatever form Pokemon manifests itself next.
As this generation becomes adults, their communities — their churches, book clubs, jazz appreciation societies, Amnesty International chapters — are going to start to transcend traditional and "new" media to exist in different virtual spaces as the needs arise.
Today’s it’s a Flickr group hosting an exhibit in a virtual world. Tomorrow, it might be a Filipino diaspora meetup, an alcoholics anonymous meeting, or a breakbeat DJ summit. Interesting times, interesting places.