A visit to ICANN in Second Life

Having visited ICANN’s headquarters in Los Angeles a month ago, I have finally got around to visiting the organisation’s virtual HQ in Second Life.

Set up by US lawyer and ICANN watcher Brett Fausett and Gavin Brown, the CTO of CentralNic, the idea is to set up an online meeting point. In fact, ICANN has its very own island called Ninca (anagram of ICANN) and I have to confess it is pretty impressive.

[If you are thinking ‘what the hell is Kieren talking about?’ then visit this wiki page, plus Brett’s blog has ongoing details.]

I teleported into a meeting room in one of the two buildings. There are four meeting rooms here – all the same as far as I could make out. Then I walked out of there across a big courtyard to the main building where there is a reception (with a reception and a few tables with papers you can click on that bring up related ICANN texts – the most recent news from ICANN is on one about IDNs). And then up the stairs to a big conference hall, with microphones and a desk down the front.

Despite heavy scepticism about how useful this will actually be, it is hard not to be impressed by the effort put in. And I understand that Gavin Brown has been knocking up some clever coding to forge a link between what goes on in the conference room and an IRC chatroom outside the Second Life world.

Since I’m not sure I’ll be going to the ICANN meeting in Sao Paulo in Brazil next month, I can see how this could theoretically be useful – but a hell of alot of work needs to be done before it become more than just a novelty.

The biggest issue that you need a pretty powerful computer and a very fast Internet connection for Second Life to even be feasible. For example, I simply cannot access it with my laptop. Also, there is a whole learning course for people entering Second Life because it’s, well, a bit complicated. And I have to confess I haven’t really bothered learning how it all works and have simply relied on computer-game know-how to figure it out.

Is a meeting spot in Second Life likely to be so compelling that people are willing to install heavy software on a fast machine and then learn how to interact with it?

Those under 25 certainly think Second Life is great fun, but then that’s about 0.5 percent of the people interested in ICANN. When I paid Ninca a visit (I wonder whether my avatar is just stood there waiting for me to log on?) there wasn’t a soul about.

But theoretically, if the technology can be created that allows for all feeds, audio, webcasts and so on to be pulled into the Ninca environment – and you get to see others also there and discuss matters, then it could be really useful.

That whole element aside however, Second Life does remain just one company’s solution, and there are bound to be other competing companies with different software and different features along soon. I would be wary of putting too much in the hands of one company and on one company’s servers. There is also the issue that if this was deemed to be an important tool in years to come whether ICANN itself would assert some rights over Ninca.

Anyway, if I don’t go to Sao Paulo, I will visit Ninca and I’ll see if it works both from a conference level and if it is possible to report on events from in there. It could actually work out easier getting quotes off people for stories. We shall see.

  1. I played with Second Life about a year ago and found it rather clunky and not particularly visually attractive (as computer games go). I can’t really believe going to “events” in this virtual world is more efficient than going to a virtual meeting room of a more traditional sort (e.g. text chat, with slideshow/video). Seems to just add another layer of complexity to the problem of having virtual meetings.

  2. I have to admit, Second Life has come on a bit in the past few months. I remember when everyone starting talking about it whether it ws the same thing I looked at briefly a long while previously and decided it wasn’t worth writing a story about.

    But yes, anyway, I remain sceptical. But at the same time, it would have been interesting if there were other people there and something was going on. It felt, somehow, slightly exciting. And that is the difference between things working and not working – does it give you a slight twinge of excitement?

    The problem is I don’t think the technology is there for it not to be an anti-climax. But it’s always nice to try these things out.


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