That morning, I updated my status on the micro-blog Twitter as "jobless." A few minutes later, I got a text message from Barry Joseph : “Sorry to hear the news. Please call when u can.”
Barry is a guy I had known for about a year from his impressive work directing the Online Leadership Program at the youth development non-profit Global Kids. Apparently Global Kids was in need of some fairly specific expertise – online community, virtual world, United Nations, and nonprofit coordination. Serendipitously, my peculiar resumé matched the position very neatly.
So a couple of text message exchanges and phone calls later, and I was the new Second Life producer at Global Kids. My first day on the job was January 3, 2008.
It has been a wonderful ride in my first twelve months at Global Kids, far exceeding my own expectations. I feel that it is important to mark milestones in your own professional development, appreciate your own accomplishments and reflect on where you could have done better. So what follows is a brief summary of my own work in my first year at Global Kids.
I have implemented a number of projects and Second Life events on behalf of Global Kids in 2008. Here’s a brief list of some of them:
- Launch of the International Justice Center in Second Life (March)
- Simulcast of Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan into four virtual worlds and the web (March)
- Simulcast of ICC Prosecutor and Lloyd Axworthy Conversation into SL (March)
- The “I Dig Tanzania” Virtual Summer Camp (July)
- Switchboard SMS-Second Life Development and Public Launch (September)
- RezEd Virtual Conference / Soft Launch of MacArthur's Foundations Sim (November)
- Scenarios USA Virtual Film Premiere (December)
Over the year, I have become better at understanding the resources and staffing needed to successfully produce events in the virtual world. That said, I think we have a lot to learn about how to scale events beyond at most a couple hundred participants to something approaching a mass audience. At the same time, I would like to figure out better ways to engage virtual participants with the subject matter using the affordances of virtual worlds.
Repping Global Kids
All of us in the Online Leadership Program are responsible for representing the organization publicly, whether it be speaking at a real world conference, attending a mixer event, blogging about the work, or using our own professional networks on behalf of Global Kids. In fact, we get so many invitations to participate in public and professional events that we often have to choose between presenting our work and doing our work. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job: talking to others about all of the awesome work that we are doing at Global Kids and sharing my own excitement about the tremendous potential for virtual worlds for education and public good.
In 2008, I represented Global Kids at a number of convenings both in the real world and virtually. Among them:
- The NetSquared Conference at Cisco Systems in San Jose (May)
- Guest Appearance on Metanomics Virtual Talk Show (June)
- USC Colloquium on Developing a Research Agenda for Virtual Worlds (July)
- Second Life Community Convention / SLED Community Conference in Tampa, FL (September)
- State Department Virtual Education SL Panel (October)
I also made a concerted effort to maintain my ties to my own professional networks with the United Nations nonprofit communities, the international justice networks, the Second Life nonprofit communities, and media reform groups.
Over May and June, I was honored to serve as a selection committee member on the USC Public Good in Virtual Worlds Challenge. The USC Network Culture Project launched this initiative to fund promising “public good” projects that emerged from Second Life communities. I sat on the final selection group alongside Craig Wacker of the MacArthur Foundation, online community guru Howard Rheinhold, Lori Bell of the Alliance Library System, and Randy Moss of the American Cancer Society.
I have been an enthusiastic blogger and social media person for several years. I brought over to Global Kids that enthusiasm, blogging almost obsessively about the work on our official blog at http://www.holymeatballs.org. In addition, I have enjoyed taking photos, screenshots, live video, machinima footage, audio recordings and chat logs of the projects that I’ve been involved in.
Personal Goals for the Coming Year
As we enter into 2009, I feel so lucky that we are able to continue our online work in the midst of a recession. Thankfully, we have a number of foundations and corporate funders who continue to support our work, which in many ways is still quite experimental with a high rate of failure.
I have a number of personal goals for my own work in 2009:
- Be a Better Manager : As our projects develop and grow and our staffing remains largely unchanged, we will need to manage our personnel and organizational resources as effectively and parsimoniously as we can. I would like to be a better staff coordinator, helping everyone do the best job and be as satisfied with their own work as possible. Meanwhile, I want to do better at tracking my projects’ spending and costs and keeping the bigger picture of the organization’s budget in mind.
- Bring in New Sources of Support: I am confident that there are other institutions that would like to invest in the kind of innovative education and civic engagement work of Global Kids. I hope to better leverage my own connections with potential supporters of our work to bring in new business. And in general to do better at communicating my own enthusiasm for our work to others.
- Help other Nonprofits use Virtual Worlds: I have learned so much about what works and doesn’t work in virtual worlds since the publication of my report “Best Practices for Nonprofits in Second Life” in September 2007. I would like to help other groups not make the mistakes I made and integrate virtual worlds into their program activities in an informed and sustainable way.
- Produce Better Simulcasts / Mixed Reality Events: For the near future, bringing real world events into virtual worlds is going to be one of our main activities at the Online Leadership Program. In 2008 we experimented with a number of different ways to produce these events, some that worked beyond our expectations and others that fell flat. In 2009, I would like us to build upon that experience to continue to do innovative and fun virtual simulcast and mixed reality events. In particular, I would like us to learn more about how to scale our events to larger audiences and to increase their level of engagement with the subject matter using virtual world tools.
In many ways, 2008 was about learning what is possible in virtual worlds for one small nonprofit. I think 2009 will be more about speading out the lessons we are learning to a broader constellation of public and nonprofit institutions and getting our message out to wider publics.
In our modest plot of virtual land, Global Kids has sprouted some interesting fruit. Time to bring that fruit to market and sow some seeds in other fields.