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: