SLurl

Earlier, in The Geography of Travel we suggested the complicated relationships that form between users and maps shaped by function.  Second Life reminds us of this as it reaches to provide webpage links to places in it's virtual world...

Second Life recently introduced a web application layer that links map annotations on a webpage, say,  to locations within their virtual world.  Thus a web-page click of a link on a map of a place in Second Life can transport you to that location (Second Life client software required).   Beyond simple analogies to Google Maps, SLurl is interesting for the questions it suggests on how we may relate with places on the inside from maps on the outside.

While some worlds offer web-based views into their worlds, the distinction here is that SLurl relates the user to the location in the virtual world by transporting them (via their avatar) to the site.   This is different from an abstract depiction of a user's state within a virtual world ("you are here, here is what you have").

One reason why many virtual worlds limit (or don't provide) web-views into their worlds to users is to minimize server loads: the mayhem of too many non-participating participants idly clicking web browser refresh buttons can be a distraction and expense to the infrastructure of the world.  The semantics of SLurl side-steps this by forcing the user into the world: click the link the client software is executed, and there you are.  Nothing idle about that.

SLurls raise questions on the nature and relationship of an external viewer and a virtual world (ed/).  What are the pitfalls with maps that are too eager to transition from being about someplace to becoming the place?  To know about a place does that mean you have to always go there?

Refs:

About SLurl.

Demonstration of SLurl (requires SL install on desktop).

Clickable Culture discussion.


Comments on SLurl:

Elric says:

"SLurl's raise questions on the nature and relationship of the participant and an external with the world"

duh ?

I say again

duh ?

Posted Mar 4, 2006 4:47:02 PM | link

Nate says:

thanks Elric, noted and fixed.

Posted Mar 4, 2006 5:46:23 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

SLurl's raise questions

Still messy. =)

Second Life is already fairly well-known as having an extraordinarily weak boundary for a magic circle. I don't even feel safe saying it has one. Thus, SLurl is a bit unique to SL, because it's SL.

In one of the classes I'm taking this quarter, I'm trying to sell a condo unit. Well, that's the throwdown line: the actual sale is irrelevant. It's more accurate to say that I'm building a website, and integrating into it VRML/X3D in an attempt to let potential buyers feel the experience of being in that apartment.

My personal contribution to the project relates to the interaction between the webpage and the virtual world: click on something on the site, and something happens in the world. For instance, if you click on "Kitchen", it gives you a nice view of the kitchen. And of course, you can then proceed to walk around and look at things.

The "magic circle", here, is that the unit is a limited facsimile. We can't, for instance, stimulate a party, or a girls' night in. And worse, it's not really photorealistic; the walls are too obviously just a big rectangle, everything is too clean-cut, and so on. Similar to SL itself, if I could make the comparison.

And in this case, knowing about the place is just one small step to becoming a part of the place. Because the entire goal is to make the user a client, to say to them, "You can imagine yourself living here, and you can imagine yourself liking it."

Posted Mar 4, 2006 10:24:34 PM | link

Nate says:

Michael>

I too don't think the SLurl represents a "magic circle" problem for SL - as you point out, it seems a handy tool for encouraging one's Second Life to be an extension of their first.

Howevr, you seem to be hinting of another conundrum of virtual worlds. For the most part them seem to emphasize the need to be there to belong. But to what degree is presence==immersion==a prerequisite for "becoming a part of the place," as you put it?

By and large the thinking seems to be that one has to "be there" to be engaged and that is the only way to lead to becoming part of a place.

Is it? I think there is room for abstractions when it comes to depicting and understanding a place. Can those be surrogates for "being there?"

Second Life and most virtual worlds have a strong "teleport" culture. It is convenient and it apes the web browser: episodic and networked view of knowledge. The SLurl is a logical extension of this...

I knew someone once who loved maps, detailed maps of Europe, Africa, anywhere. Question. Did he know more or less of Africa than someone who spent a weekend in Capetown and X and Y? Or is it different somehow, how?


Posted Mar 4, 2006 11:29:21 PM | link

Raph says:

I just have to point out that There.com has had something quite similar since alpha. By and large, it proved to be a very useful tool for event organization, socialization, and so on.

Posted Mar 5, 2006 1:50:36 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

Well, to touch back to my project, an important facet to note is that there is no central database, and thus, no multi-user phenomenon. The navigation-by-hyperlink is a device meant purely to explore the place; other people are implied, but never shown.

Thinking about my reply, I've invented a new term and field of study: information structure. (I'm an Informatics student, so I get to wave my hands and do this.)

It begs the question of, once you've pointed out a Thing, what information can be gleaned from it? How is information embedded inside information? I could go on and on, but I shouldn't. =)

Someone who's visited Capetown for a weekend will have a different understanding of the place than someone who's lived there for years, from someone who sees a map. It's all about Capetown, but you learn different things from different experiences.

Does one know more or less than the other (about Capetown)? I'd say the question makes a false assumption: that knowledge is one-dimensional. That's why I bring up my pretty new term: in some cases, there is overlap. If you spend a weekend, you might learn the layout of the place rather well, just as if you memorized a couple maps. But in other cases, it is exclusive. Spending a weekend will permit you to partake in a culture, whereas map-reading will (likely) not.

My project seeks to project the illusion of "being there". It seeks to engage their imagination, rather than evoke a "I'm walking in this place" response.

Consider, for instance, that you're at a party, but oh, I don't know... your wife's in surgery. More likely than not, you're not going to be thinking about the party; you're going to be wondering how she's doing. There's a separation between physical presence and mental presence.

If your map-loving friend has explored Africa, or has read countless memoirs about travels throughout, then perhaps his map-reading can evoke a sense of immersion. A kind of mnemonic of "Ah yes, I remember this place." And without that experience, all you have is say... a list of key plot points of a novel. The experience of reading it isn't there unless it's been done.

I feel like I rambled. I have no idea if I made any sense or stuck to the topic. =)

Posted Mar 5, 2006 3:42:31 AM | link

randolfe_ says:

I've invented a new term and field of study: information structure. (I'm an Informatics student, so I get to wave my hands and do this.)

I was sitting in an Information Structure Theory course back in 1986 whilst a CSE/IS undergrad.

Posted Mar 5, 2006 12:34:37 PM | link

Raph says:

Oh, and it occurs to me that what you're describing is also a view into the world that many folks have ALWAYS had: to wit, the admins. The adjustment from seeing the world as a tapestry of locations, to seeing it as a smaller list of memorized locations you teleport to, and as the ability to go to a person, is quite significant. But perhaps because the prevailing metaphor has always been spatial, admins have always still seen it as a space... so I suppose players will as well.

Posted Mar 5, 2006 2:15:41 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

That's an interesting thought. I got the position of GameHost or something during a beta and had fun darting around to people, as well as to specific rooms. But I've never actually conceived of them as a list of memorized locations.

I was sitting in an Information Structure Theory course back in 1986 whilst a CSE/IS undergrad.

Yeah, I googled it and found the term. The popular definition doesn't seem to be the one I refer to... but I can't explain it very well anyways. Maybe it is. =P

Posted Mar 5, 2006 4:19:19 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

The SLurl has been around for awhile in Second Life. A search engine based on the syntax has been up for several months at: http://roam.wetikon.net/. It's Google... but for SLocations.

It's handy, sure. It allows for another tool to link any/all Web capabilities up with the game/world. In the case of a MMOG like SL, you've got all kinds of explicit, allowed (nay! encouraged!) economic spank going on as well as game/social stuff, so there's even more reasons than in straight-up games to want to have layers of connectivity between out-of-game and in-game experiences; it increases the viral effects of the game and allows for greater user involvement.

It's a bit, to me (philosophically, not technically, so don't go there, please) like when we'd use a bulletin board or wiki to keep track of guild loot; a way to use out-of-game tools to improve in-game experience.

The next step for the SLurl will come when SL introduces in-game browser (Firefox, of course) support, which has been discussed for some time. By that I mean some kind of interface that allows for in-game contact with URIs outside of the game. Whether that might be registered, "safe" pages, any/all Web sites or something inbetween. Because when that happens, an embedded SLurl in a page that shows up in an in-game browser object will essentially be teleport-enabled hypertext links. Beam-links. Go-links. Trans-links. Whatever.

"Click here to go to the circus." Nice.

[Note: This also brings up the whole "when the Web comes to town" subject; the opposite/contrasting question to this post. Not "What do we think about Web tools as they relate to MMOGs," but "What do we think about having Web tools/sites explicitly available *in* MMOGs." Obviously, it wouldn't make much sense in WoW... but in certain sci-fi games? If the sites were vetted first? Hmmm....]

Posted Mar 5, 2006 7:55:25 PM | link

Nate says:

Raph>

Spend enough time sampling a space and especially given enough an explorer instinct then one begins to piece together a larger intuition, an internal map, about the place, sure. But what if the place is big enough, or if one lacks sufficient time, or is impeded by some world factor, or is not *explorer* enough... the obstacles to transitioning from your "tapestry of locations" to a personal map?

Consider the difficulty of envisioning the "galaxy" of Eve-Online. Given the sparse view of space there its difficult enough, bulk it up with numbers, then at best it is very difficult to build up a comprehensive view. Hence the need to resort to the short hand of abstractions, such as the weekly political maps:

http://www.eve-files.com/media/corp/CRII/Latest.jpg

Posted Mar 5, 2006 8:23:48 PM | link

Nate says:

I want to thank Lisa Galarneau for pointing out in backchannel discussion the parallels with the topic/discussion here with Alfred Korzybski and the ideas behind the "map-territory relationship" quandry:


...where it is used to signify that individual people in fact do not in general have access to absolute knowledge of reality, but in fact only have access to a set of beliefs they have built up over time, about reality. So it is considered important to be aware that people's beliefs about reality and their awareness of things (the "map") are not reality itself or everything they could be aware of ("the territory")...

(from wikipedia).

Posted Mar 6, 2006 10:37:27 PM | link

Liz Lawley says:

That was actually me that pointed it out. :) But since Lisa's about to take a job with Microsoft, that makes us pretty much interchangeable Borg parts...

Posted Mar 7, 2006 12:16:24 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

SLURL is cool but I do have to note that if you want to make it relevant and visible, you have to have a jpeg photo to upload as a picture/scene/logo to go on the map and for that you need...you own server to host the photo! Or something like photobucket which isn't always going to work right.

Posted Mar 20, 2006 12:39:27 PM | link