On Location from the National Conference for Media Reform – Day 2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 7, 2008 by jammingecono

The conferencing schedule remains full for yr’ humble servant here in sunny (finally) Minneapolis.

My flogging of Second Life and virtual worlds for political change here among the media reformers has kind of fallen on deaf ears.  That’s both a good thing (the idea’s still fresh) and bad (lots of educamating of people left to do to get this happening).  Fortunately, that’s not the only reason I’m following the conference.

BTW, big shout-out to Ruby, Shireen, and Paul who’ve been my partners in Twitter crime here at the conference.

Oh, almost forgot.  Very VERY excited by a tip Ruby gave me that Adam Reuters expressed interest in our Rez the Vote idea.  Going to be tough to focus on getting work done with that kind of opportunity hanging over my head.

Another really interesting development from a virtual world is the success in connecting Second Life to Open Sim (h/t to Wagner Au).  Being able to easily travel between virtual worlds wouldn address one of the major issues of organizing for political change in virtual worlds: limited membership.  With only approximately 500K actives in SL, there just isn’t the critical mass you get with e-mail campaigns.  However, an easy way to draw in other virtual worlds denizens (WoW, Eve:Online, There.com, etc.) to a central location in another world (SL or otherwise) could be a force multiplier.  Can’t wait to learn more about this.

The new journalism panel here is getting ready to wrap up, so I guess I should too…

On Location at the National Conference for Media Reform

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 6, 2008 by jammingecono

Howdy again everyone. I’m blogging from the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis. This is the fourth time I’ve attended this event and every year it gets better. It appears that the attendance may have plateaued at the same 3-3.5K number they had in Memphis last time,

I haven’t heard much about NCMR-related activities going on in Second Life, but one of my colleagues in the SL-organizing world. That said, Ruby Glitter (aka Ruby Sinreich) is here and I’m looking forward to catching up with her and revivng an idea we tried to get off the ground a while back for an SL-based voter registration effort. I’ll admit that I dropped the ball on that one, but I’m energized by all the great progressive activists here. I’ve also gotten more experience organizing SL events in my day job, so I’m a little more confident in getting the details right on that.

Larry Lessig just walked on at the opening session (looking buff in a black t-shirt, btw). His presentations are always awesome, so I’ll catch up with y’all later.

Challenges to Using Second Life on K Street – Part Deux

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 28, 2008 by jammingecono

Continuing the discussion I began in my last post, I spent the better part of the weekend finishing Clay Shirky’s excellent new book and thinking about how Second Life fits into the larger world of public policy-making. Engaging stuff, I know…

There are any number of ways to engage elected and appointed officials and various social media tools that fit in to the ladder of engagement.

For the uninitiated, the “ladder of engagement” is a wonky term that basically denotes how to get someone involved in your cause. Priscilla Brisbane had a great visual that describes it. With a hat tip to Beth Kanter, here it is:

Beth Kanter's Ladder of Engagement

For example, a MoveOn.org supporter who signs up for the group’s e-mail list would fall into the “simple actions” silo. In the classic ladder of engagement strategy, that person would then be asked to “click here to take action” (write an e-mail to Congress, for example). If they performed that action, they’d be asked to “tell a friend,” followed perhaps by “host a house party,” then “donate,” etc. etc. While Meetup has a role in organizing the house parties, MoveOn’s primary means of communication is e-mail which they use primarily as a broadcast medium as it’s best suited to leveraging MoveOn’s several million-strong e-mail list.

I think it’s safe to say that Second Life will not be a broadcast medium in terms of advocacy, at least in the short term. Limiting factors include the smallish base of 195,000 active U.S. users (as of March ’08), the high technical hurdles to using SL (both in terms of computer specs and time invested in learning the tool), and the negative impression SL continues to have in the media (the Jon Stewart rant being only the most visible example).

So is SL ready for advocacy?

In a word, “yes.”

In a second word, “but …”

It’s important to define what Second Life does really well. It provides a robust 3-D environment where anyone can create content and share it with all the ease of a social networking tool.

What doesn’t SL do well? Easily enable mass communication. Make it easy for new users to participate. Produce easily segmentable and reportable metrics.

So what advocacy activities are suited to the tool? The answer is that we’re still learning, but I’ve got a few ideas. The one I’ll go into today is, for lack of a better working title…

Second Life = MeetUp on Steroids

While e-mail is certainly a great tool for the citizenry to access their representatives in DC, that ease has made it a victim of the Tragedy of the Commons. Tens of thousands of constituent e-mails overwhelm Congress and the White House every day, mostly generated by the “click here to e-mail your Congressperson” of online advocacy campaigns. As such, the vast majority of e-mails are ignored as mere background noise, serving only to support a media moment (“For Immediate Release: 100,000 MoveOn Members Told Congress to End the War Today”).

Ask any lobbyist and they will tell you that the most important influencing event for policy-makers is the face-to-face meeting. K Streeters base their livelihoods on their personal access to the hands that pull the levers of power in Washington. I believe that Second Life can give people outside of Washington that kind of access and, more importantly, provide for the kind of direct impact that is the greatest benefit of such meetings.

For example, if someone could get a staffer to meet with even a handful of constituents in Second Life on a semi-regular basis, there would be real efficiencies to be had. One, there is no cost for the staffer to fly back to his District and no cost for the constituents to travel to Washington. Second, multi-media content could be presented in a more immersive way (“The proposed toxic waste dump the Senator is supproting will cause me to grow a third arm. Like this! *Yoink*”). Third, SL’s social networking function provides for an easy way to prolong those connections.

The point of this example is that it suits the state of the tool right now.  The limited number of active users makes it best suited to small group interactions while the ability to present information in a novel way (growing the third arm to show the effect of toxic pollution) underscores its influencing capability and provides a platform for continued engagement.

Any Hill types lurking about who’s like to take me up on this idea and put it into practice, feel free to comment or e-mail me at jammingecono [AT] g m a i l [DOT] c o m.

That’s all I have time for today. I’ll talk about another idea tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

Challenges to Using Second Life on K Street

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 25, 2008 by jammingecono

In my day job, I spend quite a bit of time educating non-profit groups, lobbyists, etc. about why they should be interested in virtual worlds. Generally, the discussion goes something like this:

K Streeter: “So I’ve heard about this Second Life thing and read about it and my boss is interested in it. What can I tell him it will do for us?”

MetaPundit: “Well, it’s an experimental way to enhance what you’re already doing to promote your issues online and offline and get on the bleeding edge of online political advocacy. In ROI terms, you can engage your existing supporters in a new way and possibly attract media exposure and new supporters by separating yourself from the thousands of web campaigns that get launched every day in DC.”

K Streeter: “Uh huh. So it’s just a bunch of people with wings trying to have cybersex with each other, right?”

MetaPundit:*sigh*

What I’ve found to be the key hurdle in getting potential clients really interested in Second Life is getting them to download the viewer and actually explore the Grid a bit. In this sense, something Philip Rosedale said a couple of years back still rings true today:

“The majority of people doesn’t (sic) get through the first 4 hour learning curve; but once they’re through, they basically never leave.”

I’ve seen this happen on multiple occassions. While the four hours period Rosedale mentioned has been diminished somewhat thanks to improvements in the registration process and the Orientation Island experience, I think it’s definitely still a significant factor in the 20+ million downloads vs. 600K active accounts discrepancy. If I were to assign a term to the phenomenon, I would call it “getting past ‘cool!'”

On the one hand, the steep learning curve of SL serves as a kind of self-filtering mechanism, keeping out the casual users and rewarding those who really want to engage with the platform. On the other hand, platforms like Facebook and MySpace are succeeding as political engagement tools precisely because they are so easy to use. Where does Second Life fit in then as a platform for enabling political change?

I’ve got some ideas on this front, but I’ll save them for the next posting. In the meantime, I’d love for anyone with some thoughts on this to discuss them in the comments.

My second attempt at SL blogging…

Posted in Uncategorized on April 24, 2008 by jammingecono

So I abandoned my last attempt at a SL blog a while back, but I’m energized to try again thanks to Clay Shirky’s great new book.

Basically, I want to create a platform to discuss my efforts and experiences in using Second Life to effect political change in the real world.  I hope that I can get feedback from my fellow SL bloggers and perhaps engage some non-Residents along the way.

Full disclosure: I work for a public affairs consulting firm in Washington, DC that is helping client from the non-profit and for-profit world get their feet wet in Second Life.