Birmingham’s place in Second Life


This is in direct response to a couple of blog posts (Bounder & star-one) about today’s launch of b-scape by the Digital Birmingham partnership, for which I now work. In fact, as from next week I’m tasked with taking forward the stuff we’ve done on Second Life to the next stage so I’m just laying out my position now on why Second Life matters for the Second City.

Firstly, my colleague Phil, who presented at today’s launch event, had the misfortune to experience enough glitches to drive a man to an early grave. The next presentation suffered as well with the Skype connection continually cutting out. One for the organisers to address at our first ever Digital conference.

Making the case for Second Life isn’t easy I realise. It is glitchy if you’re not on the quickest of computers. I tried it a couple of years ago but gave up when I realised my laptop couldn’t take it. But just as we didn’t give up on the slowness of the internet during the dial-up years we shouldn’t give up on Second Life either. Indeed we shouldn’t give up on Virtual Birmingham yet because what we’ve done with b-scape is fundamentally different to how Second Life has been used to date. Our approach, working with Moseley-based Daden, has been to rethink how virtual worlds can work in the city context. We’ve asked ourselves who would use it and why and realised that simply putting recreations of the city centre in there wasn’t the answer. Building them is costly, takes too long and is often little more than an exercise in vanity (it’s what Manchester and London have done – in fact Manchester is populated by fake residents sliding around the place).

The point of getting Birmingham in there is part of keeping us ahead of the game on the digital front. But it’s not keeping ahead for the sake of it. It’s innovating in the same way we’ve always innovated around new technologies – and it’s being recognised as such. Leading self-confessed geeks around the world are excited:

“hats off to Birmingham, a city that is taking more of a chance than any other I can think of. Certainly, Boston has a ways to go before it adopts virtual (let alone digital) technologies with such enthusiasm” (Place Of Social Media blog)

I think you need to give this one time. Realise that the curve of interest in virtual worlds is settling down to real interest from transport planners, developers, architects and regeneration experts. Libraries, hospitals and universities are getting on board because they see in Virtual Worlds a way of working that either more closely replicates how they work in the real world or enables new way of consultation on real-world infrastructure projects. 

I hate to wheel the next example out because I generally hate ‘kids know best’ arguments but a group of teenagers being accompanied by the council’s youth offending team were at Hello Digital today and were introduced to both the virtual Millennium Point and the Virtual Birmingham space and seemed genuinely excited by both. For them it more closely replicated the visual experience of computer games. So, at least for a short while, it engaged them. It made them stop and ask questions. I’m kind of glad that Birmingham’s online community are doing the same as well since my job is to build partnerships and see where we want to go with this thing. If you want me to come and ‘re-launch’ Virtual Birmingham to you I’ll do that.

So I’m at the reins of this one for the meantime and I’m hear to listen, albeit in my pants:

Link for Virtual Birmingham in Second Life

8 thoughts on “Birmingham’s place in Second Life

  1. Like I say Dave, I’m asking questions in the hope of being convinced that this is the smart move. I agree that simple 3D renderings of buildings would be a vanity project, and completely useless — I was very excited about the idea of the virtual birmingham (and was in fact waiting with a Second Life link to access it as soon as it was launched, so didn’t hear of launch glitches until after).

    A lot of the problems with b-space are those of Second Life, not the project – mainly that it’s slow and very difficult to use. I worry that the words pre-launch (always with this sort of thing, ideas that _could_ happen in the future rather than “here’s some cool stuff that’s here now”) end up putting people off. If someone tries to use Second Life and the new Digital Birmingham thing for the first time and has problems they’ll end up associating DB with their trouble just as much as SL. Second Life has had some years to get fast enough and shows no signs of it.

    You’re right to be wary of using the “kids” arguement, I’ve been playing computer games for fifteen years probably – so mine isn’t a problem of conceptualising what’s happening on screen. I’d also say that I have a fairly fast computer and internet connection – and SL is still slow and buggy.

    I hope that planners and the like find virtual worlds useful, because I don’t think there’s anything there yet that isn’t better served outside them for the punter.

    Like you say, time will indeed tell and there’s value in this as an experiment anyway. Watching (without logging on again until Moore’s Law goes through a cycle or two) with interest – good luck.

  2. Thanks for coming back Jon. Just to say there weren’t any launch glitches with SL as such, just glitches with Millennium Point’s wi-fi. Virtual Brum is there now for anyone to use – let’s see how this plays out.

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  5. Just went to the SL Brum and no-one there (7.18 pm on a Friday night) – are there any events planned for this space ? the set up was Ok – nothing special and I would really like a proper representation of Birmingham because it has some stunning buildings…

  6. Met a guy from Bradford there – showed me a cool site in Bradford. he knows david from Daden . Still no-one there from Birmingham. perhaps dave could organise a get together through his blog ?

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