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  Ben Folds Underwhelms ‘Second Life’ Residents  
Posted 2006-10-20 by Tony Walsh
A recent launch party for recording artist Ben Folds held in the virtual world of Second Life last night appears to have bombed. Australia's The Age reports that only about 25 avatars attended the invite-only event, while in-world media outlet In the Grid paints a more detailed picture: "[F]or some reason, the event actually started over at the new 'aloft' hotel [clickback]... a full hour and a half before Folds was scheduled to show up, basically a dance party for a bunch of journalists who didn't want to dance... it was never really explained what 90 minutes of high-energy techno dance music had to do with uber-slacker pianist Ben Folds, being spun by a non-Sony DJ using non-Sony music." During a Q&A session with Folds, reports The Second Life Herald, "Ben did show his edginess (tm) by telling a questioner to 'fuck off'... As an employee of MTV put it after the event 'He needs SL more than SL needs him.'"

Matt Mihaly of The Forge calls bullshit on the whole affair: "Almost two dozen people attended. That's right, two dozen. Just think of the impact! Why, if only half of them buy his album, he’ll have sold twelve albums!" Obviously an effort like this isn't about record sales, but it's also clearly not about offering Second Life residents a valuable experience. Like the handful of similar events preceding it [1, 2,3], this one could only be leveraged for its external media buzz potential. The Age and other mainstream publications don't know enough to identify events like this as anything but a major-label snow-job (that's what we have bloggers for). The business community thinks events like this are about engagement. Frankly, I think users could be more effectively engaged with a streaming video concert or web-based interactive narrative--at least the audiences in this case could number in the thousands.
  The Shape of Virtual Music Spaces to Come?  
Posted 2006-10-12 by Tony Walsh
The Electric Sheep Company will be opening a music space in the virtual world of Second Life for Sony BMG on October 19, 2006: "Sony BMG’s space features a gorgeous club and loft, a shop that will contain licensed Sony BMG merchandise including full audio tracks from your favorite Sony BMG artists, and lounges featuring images, information, and streaming audio and video content for 8 of Sony BMG’s hottest acts, including DMX, Justin Timberlake, Ben Folds, Christina Aguilera, and more."

I thought I'd point out some visual similarities between the Sony BMG space in Second Life and Universal Music's The Lounge (originally launched as the Pussy Cat Doll Lounge).
Image- Visual Comparison
I find it interesting that both music publishers seem to think the best way to market their brands is in large part through the use of urban spaces peppered with billboards. Both the Second Life and The Lounge music spaces above feature exclusive avatars resembling recording artists. In Second Life it's entirely possible to create lookalike characters, such as an entire U2 tribute band--brand-hijacking, anyone?
  Feedburner Paints Poor Podcast Picture  
Posted 2006-10-05 by Tony Walsh
Frank Barnako does the math on a San Francisco Chronicle audio interview with a Feedburner rep, finding that while podcast subcriptions via Feedburner are growing 20-30% monthly, there are only 70 subscribers per podcast, on average. That's some serious suckitude. So much for podcasts replacing radio. I'm guessing that there are thousands of subscribers for 1% of all podcasts, given that 99% of everything is crap. Another way of looking at this is how Feedburner's podcast subscriptions compare to subscriptions requested through the iTunes store. Maybe it's not podcasts that suck... maybe it's something about Feedburner.

Earlier this year, Forrester blogger Charlene Li told us "only 1% of online households in North America regularly download and listen to podcasts." The Feedburner numbers seem to back this up, albeit in a loosey-goosey fashion.
  Vivox Gives 1M Minutes of Free VoIP to ‘Second Life’ Users  
Posted 2006-10-04 by Tony Walsh
Residents of the online world Second Life are now able to call nearly any real-world phone in North America using Vivox Phone Booths available in a number of sponsored virtual-world locations, as well as engage in real-time voice-chat conversations with up to 5 others--a process demonstrated earlier this year. Through its "Million Minutes" promotion, Vivox is giving away free airtime while quantities last. After a million minutes of airtime are consumed (and it's not clear whether this is 1M minutes for all Second Lifeers or for each resident), the service will presumably become a paid option.

Not sure why I'd download Vivox's software and use a Vivox Phone Booth when I've already got Skype. I want fewer communication software packages, not more. Until voice is actually integrated into the Second Life client, you won't find me phoning home using Vivox software. The company has already seamlessly integrated voice chat into EVE Online, let's hope Second Life is next.

It bears mentioning that real-time voice chat is already a built-in feature for paid residents of competing virtual world There. After having tested out this feature, I'm impressed with its seamless integration. When you talk, your avatar's lips flap. And there don't seem to be any limits to how many avatars you can talk to.
  ‘Electroplankton’: Second Impressions  
Posted 2006-07-01 by Tony Walsh
In a recent "First Impressions" post on the Nintendo DS game Electroplankton, I lamented the lack of practicality of the interactive toy. My chief complaint was that in "Performance" mode, generative electronic music can be created, but not saved. I had a chance to let Electroplankton play itself in "Audience" mode for a couple hours on my way to and from meetings yesterday, and am again struck by the lack of sensible features.

In Audience mode, one can pop a pair of headphones into the DS, and let Electroplankton cycle through its various generative music scenarios. Unfortunately, it seems that one must leave the DS open (it features a clamshell-like design) during playback--closing the unit stops the music. Having to leave the unit open while it's just playing music makes it bulky (I had it stuffed into my bag) and wastes the batteries. But the biggest design gaffe is the absence of a playlist--a means to control one's listening experience. I enjoy some of the Electroplankton music scenarios, but not all. Some, I'd like to hear more than others. Some, I'd like to skip altogether. Some individual pieces, I'd like to hear for an hour. But no. I must listen to about 120 seconds of random electronica at a time. It's not like I expect my DS Lite to be an iPod, but it so easily could be *like* an iPod without too much extra design effort.
  ‘Electroplankton DS’: First Impressions  
Posted 2006-06-26 by Tony Walsh
Electroplankton is not a game, but it can be played on the Nintendo DS handheld game console. At worst, it's a toy, and at best it's a live performance tool. Users can interact with (i.e. "play") digital plankton, each with their own musical abilities and functions. Improvised and generative musical compositions can be created through Performance mode, but not recorded (except through outside means). Generative music can also be appreciated through Audience mode--basically, you can just set up Electroplankton to play crazy electronic music all day.

While I appreciate the well-crafted, intuitive interactivity, colourful, cute graphics and animation, I think Nintendo missed the boat on this title. It's totally overpriced (roughly $50 CAD) for a toy. At the very least, I would have expected compositions to be recorded, but better yet, shared through WiFi. Unfortunately, the audio seems to be comprised of samples rather than chip-based synthesis, resulting in sub-par quality. And my final gripe is that there's no built-in way to broadcast the images from Electroplankton to a video device during a performance, but that's really a fault with the DS.
  BBC’s Virtual Fest Brings Big Numbers  
Posted 2006-06-22 by Tony Walsh
BBC News reports that attendance for BBC Radio 1's recent festival in the virtual world of Second Life pulled in more than 6,000 avatar attendees over the weekend of May 13, 2006. As a point of reference, the number of avatars present at any given time in Second Life hovers around 6,500--in other words, the daily population spikes around 6,500. So hosting 6,000 avatars at a single event in a 2- or 3-day period is impressive.

To put some more detail into the mix, the most common large-scale events in Second Life are normally held at the intersection of 4 distinct, square plots of land called "sims." Each 1-square sim can hold roughly 4 dozen avatars at any given time. A large-scale event, therefore, is typically capable of hosting around 200 avatars at once. I don't know exactly how Radio 1's event was configured, but an earlier report from the BBC indicated that "The radio network believe[d] up to 400 people [would] be able to attend the event..." It's not clear if this earlier report refers to peak (but rotating) capacity, or total number of avatars expected to attend over the course of the weekend. If the latter is the case, expectations were exceeded fifteen-fold.

Continue reading: BBC’s Virtual Fest Brings Big Numbers
  ‘Universal Motown Records’ Rolls Into ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-06-14 by Tony Walsh
The virtual world of Second Life will play host to another major music publisher this summer. Hot on the heels of Sire Records, Universal Motown Records and Universal Republic Records plan to launch promotional events in digital space for artists Chamillionaire and Hinder. According to an official announcement by the music publishers, "Fans utilizing their 'Second Life' avatars can... enjoy music, videos, photos and other never-before-experienced content celebrating the respective artists..." I have to wonder how many of Second Life's 128,734 active users (or, how many of the 6 or 7 thousand users online during peak hours) could be described as "fans" of Chamillionaire and Hinder.

A location called Soundscape, built by InWorld Studios, will serve as a persistent brand experience inside Second Life, while scheduled events featuring the artists will take place on June 25 and 26. Exclusive Hinder-specific content will be deployed in-world on July 15 and July 29.

Continue reading: ‘Universal Motown Records’ Rolls Into ‘Second Life’
  Sire Records Launches ‘Second Life’ Listening Party  
Posted 2006-05-23 by Tony Walsh
Sire Records will launch a listening party for recording artist Regina Spektor in the virtual world of Second Life next week, according to an official press release and Warner Bros. Records Tech Director Ethan Kaplan.

Earlier this year, Kaplan had expressed interest in "someone who knows Second Life like the back of their hand to create a mini-world type thing for a band of ours." That someone turned out to be Millions of Us, a company created by former Linden Lab employee Ruben Steiger. Steiger writes that "This is the first time a major US. label has done something big in Second Life," and that "This project basically takes a record album and turns it into a socially-enabled music video — it becomes an album you can live in... Once you're 'in' the album, listening to the songs which are only available here before the official release on June 14th, you can invite friends to come hang out with you and listen as well. The entire build changes (like theatrical set changes) to match the mood of various songs. You have to hang out a little while to see this, but it’s definitely worth it."

Continue reading: Sire Records Launches ‘Second Life’ Listening Party
  ‘Metaverse Sessions’ Launched  
Posted 2006-05-16 by Tony Walsh
Podcaster John Swords (SecondCast) and journalist Mark Wallace (3pointD) converged upon the Metaverse Roadmap Summit in San Francisco this month, interviewing selected attendees for a tag-team effort launched as "Metaverse Sessions." The first of these podcasts features the engaging Jerry Paffendorf of Accelerations Studies Foundation and the Electric Sheep Company.

Future interviews will include Reuben Steiger of Millions of Us, Sibley Verbeck of The Electric Sheep Company, Robert Scoble of Microsoft, Dr. Douglas Englebart, and Cory Bridges of Multiverse. Eventually, presentations from the SDForum on virtual worlds will be added to the Metaverse Sessions.
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