Applications and Tools, Art and Exploration, Business in Virtual Worlds, Collaboration, Papervision, Virtual World Platforms

A Sense of Place: Mapping in Second Life and Virtual Worlds

I often regret that I wasn’t around for the days of telehubs and a contained land mass: Second Life is too vast now, teleports make it too easy to bounce around, and private islands mean that the majority of the Grid isn’t a continuous space. Over on the OpenSim grids, you get a sense of place: it’s still small enough to wander around and meet all your neighbours.

The map of SL isn’t much of a map really. Show it to a cartographer and they’d scorn it: it’s an information dashboard, maybe, showing land for sale or green dots, but not much else. There’s nothing on the map to give you a sense of what’s actually there.

But there’s more than one way to map reality, or virtuality, and we’re seeing a continued shift of data across spaces, and the tools to establish a sense of ‘place’ continue to expand.

Google Earth Map of Second Life
Pais pointed me in the direction of a new Web site that maps the real world with SLurls. The idea’s ingenious: if you have a build in Second Life that represents a real place, map it on Google Earth.

The application, called Viwogeo, is built using the Google API and SLurls. If you have a location in SL that’s modeled on a real place, add it – the map will be increasingly useful the more it’s used.

Mapping the World within the Virtual
Headed the other way, the Google/SL mash-up reminded me of work out of the UK on bringing real-world data INTO Second Life, including this stunning recreation of the City of London (they subsequently had to remove the build because of license issues with the GIS data):

On the more technical side of things, Daden has published a review article through the International Journal of Health Geographics entitled “Web GIS in practice V: 3-D interactive and real-time mapping in Second Life”.

Among the applications they discuss are a DataGlobe that overlays information from the Discovery Channel:

And an airplane tracking demo:

They give a brief technical summary of their work.

Their work is not unlike similar applications built in Papervision, including a real time news feed from Yahoo layered on GIS information on a 3D globe:

And here’s a video from an International GIS Day presentation showing the import of Lidar and terrain data into Second Life, picked up through Digital Urban:

Google and Microsoft and Making the Real Virtual
I’ve written before about the work of Google and Microsoft in layering virtual environments on to their real world maps, and have noted in particular that Microsoft is building a rich tool set for content creation, in particular through their purchase of Calligari and its (now free) TrueSpace application.

What’s missing, of course, is a sense of personal presence, although there’s an argument making the rounds that we’re more likely to face an avatar-less future than one with avatars – an argument I don’t buy. Ugotrade picks up on this in the interview with Tim O’Reilly, and I respond in the comments.

Co-Creating Spaces
But in the end, with all the mash-ups and real-world data integration, I still believe that perhaps the most visionary work today is being done by the folks over at The Arch, in particular Keystone and Theory’s work on Wikitecture, the exploration of reflective architecture, and the notions of collaborative creativity.

Keystone echoes my own beliefs when he says that “Second Life is the single, largest collective expression of creativity in a single location the world has ever seen – a cultural renaissance (three times the size of Boston? five times the size of San Francisco? four times the size of Seoul?).”

As I wrote in “The Courage to Create“:

“Coupled with this is the idea of the Spiked City. In an ideas-based economy where tangible goods constantly trend towards commodity, attracting ideas is what counts, and attracting ideas means attracting people, and the most efficient way to attract people is still the city. The city is one of the few ways that the conditions can be set to attract and develop talent, and some cities are better than others at doing this, thus creating “spikes” where the economic value and talent is pooling.

Second Life, however, contains both: efficiencies and connections through collapsed geography, and the conditions by which the creative class is attracted. It may well be the largest mass creative project the world has known, and one of the largest concentrations of creative talent in the world today.”

I’ll leave you with his postcard from The Arch:

Note: Keystone (Jon Brouchard) will appear at Metanomics on Monday at 12:00 pm SLT, kicking off a series on virtual architecture that includes events at Orange Island.


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