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  ‘Second Life’ Environmental Impact Gives Simran Sethi Pause for Thought  
Posted 2007-04-17 by Tony Walsh
Simran Sethi, contributor and host of The Green on the Sundance Channel, appeared in Second Life today for a public discussion about environmental issues and solutions.

I attended because I wanted to know if Sethi was aware of the environmental impact of Second Life, an expanding virtual world that is served from thousands of computers to hundreds of thousands of computers. I've been wondering since last December about how much energy that degree of usage requires, because I might change my personal usage habits if it turned out I was wasting power.

Sethi hadn't considered Second Life's consumption, but told the audience she'd "really need to think about it." In response to a separate question, Sethi said that we need to be thoughtful about how we consume, and what the larger implications of our consumption might be. I agree. We have a good idea how much riding a bike, or watching TV, or leaving our phone-charger plugged into the wall costs the environment--why not look at virtual worlds, too? Particularly if they're going to be used as platforms for discussing ecological footprint reduction.

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Environmental Impact Gives Simran Sethi Pause for Thought
  ‘Virtual World Sustainability’ Still in Question  
Posted 2007-03-19 by Tony Walsh
Last December, I wondered aloud if Second Life was ecologically sustainable, given the large number of always-on servers powering the virtual world. At the time, user concurrency hovered around the 15,000 mark--these days it's more like 30,000, which makes my original question all the more relevant. With more and more computers (both server and client) being turned on to support the growth of places like Second Life, is the virtual world (and I mean any virtual world here) good for our environment?

Nick Carr got a lot more mileage out of the meme, finding that "an avatar consumes a bit less energy than a real person, though they're in the same ballpark." Carr's math picked up a lot of steam, even if its accuracy was debatable. Lots of blogs considered the question thanks to Carr's high-profile punditry--even William Gibson took notice.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear at a panel during this year's SXSW conference that the meme is still alive and kicking. Robin Hunicke carried it forward in a discussion about the 3D web, expressing concern at the consumption of resources related to virtual worlds, and adding that she travels more now because of games--not less. Speaking from personal experience, I've traveled by air more--not less--because of virtual worlds.

Continue reading: ‘Virtual World Sustainability’ Still in Question
  PSA:  Support World Vision in ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-12-19 by Tony Walsh
World Vision's marketing manager asked me to give the organization's Second Life campaign a plug, and I feel obligated to issue a public service announcement. Hard to say no to well-intentioned charities, even for a bitter scorpion like myself. So, without further comment, criticism, or analysis (aren't you lucky), here's the deal:

The World Vision charity has set up a Second Life version of its Alternative Gift Catalogue web site, where visitors "can experience a virtual developing community environment, whilst seeing and interacting with some of the alternative gifts which this year support 53 of World Vision’s community projects around the world." Clicking on in-world items produces further information about the items, and launches the charity's Alternative Gift web site where over 90 gifts can be browsed or purchased.

"World Vision is a Christian charity and one of the world’s leading relief and development agencies, currently helping more than 100 million people in nearly 100 countries in their struggle against poverty, hunger and injustice, irrespective of their religions beliefs."
  Greenwashing ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-12-18 by Tony Walsh
 reports that environmentalist group "Clean Energy Now!" has established a headquarters in virtual world Second Life, where it "plans to increase awareness within [Second Life] about the problems caused by the ongoing use of fossil fuels, including social, environmental and economic problems" through in-world educational events.

I think Clean Energy Now! needs to address the question I raised at the beginning of the month: "Is Second Life sustainable ecologically?" Rough Type's Nicholas Carr took a stab at responding to the question, which was in turn responded to by some Linden Lab employees. Some details about Second Life energy requirements were revealed, but haven't been formally examined, collected, or published that I am aware of.

I don't know how the group can reasonably use Second Life as a platform to campaign for clean energy when it hasn't studied Second Life's energy usage. At the very least, the group should find out whether or not Second Life is powered by clean energy sources, since that's the group's focus. Is Second Life clean? Is it the best platform for the job of educating people about clean energy? If it isn't, what are we losing in one area to gain in another? In my opinion, these are the questions that Clean Energy Now! should be prepared to answer. So far, the group's founder told that she uses "a lot of energy to promote the use of less." Not exactly what I consider leading by example.
  Are ‘Second Life’ Avatars Energy-Suckers?  
Posted 2006-12-05 by Tony Walsh
Rough Type's Nicholas Carr responds to my question "is Second Life sustainable?" Carr informally juggles some numbers related to Second Life's average concurrent population and power consumption by the servers running the virtual world, comparing power usage per avatar to power usage per human being. He finds that "an avatar consumes a bit less energy than a real person, though they're in the same ballpark." It's great that Carr took a stab at this, but it would be better if Linden Lab could give us some actual power-consumption data to work with.

If Carr's model is accurate, I'm a bit surprised that avatars consume even close to the amount of power we humans consume. Actually, if you consider that it takes a human to operate an avatar through his or her own computer, the power-consumption is even higher. That's one human running their own computer to operate an avatar existing on Linden Lab's servers.
  Is ‘Second Life’ Sustainable?  
Posted 2006-12-01 by Tony Walsh
I agree with venture capitalist Susan Wu: Linden Lab's Second Life is an incredibly innovative platform, but is probably not sustainable. I have noted, as Wu does, that the closed system has a high barrier to entry and doesn't provide a great user experience. I said in a recent interview for La Stampa that "Second Life is more powerful as an idea than as a functional software platform. If the platform doesn't survive, the idea of Second Life will live on."

Given that Linden Lab is struggling to scale Second Life to accommodate a massive upswing in sign-ups this year, I wouldn't have imagined that the company is already nearly profitable. That's good news for now, but Linden Lab desperately needs to shore up its virtual world infrastructure, from servers to staffers--demand for virtual land has outstripped its capacity to supply servers, for example (over 1,000 island orders are currently on backorder). Certainly Second Life can scale with enough resources, but will its profitability (and therefore longevity) scale accordingly?

Continue reading: Is ‘Second Life’ Sustainable?
  A Call for Greener Electronics  
Posted 2006-08-28 by Tony Walsh
Greenpeace has placed Motorola, Acer, and Apple among the top producers of toxic electronics. Nokia and Dell produce the least toxic gear, but still only score a 7/10 on the "Greener Electronics" scale below.

If you must buy new electronics (instead of re-using the old stuff), consider spending your money on products made by cleaner corporations. Or pester the dirty corporations to clean up their acts. I'm surprised Apple is so tarnished, and honestly I'll think twice about my next computer purchase (particularly after the iPod City fiasco). Dell might be hell in the customer service department, but it's allegedly greener than Apple. Sheesh, who knew?
  Real Centralia Inspires ‘Silent Hill’ Movie  
Posted 2006-03-30 by Tony Walsh
Damn Interesting brought my attention to the bizarre tale of Centralia, Pennsylvania. According to the Wikipedia, this borough is all but abandoned today, due to an underground fire that's been burning for 40 years. The fire was caused in 1962 when landfill in an abandoned mine pit was ignited, subsequently catching hold of a coal vein, and spreading underground. The situation only worsened over time, with most residents relocating in 1984. In 2002 the US Postal Service revoked the borough's Zip Code, and apparently the borough excluded from most modern maps. In essence, the place has been officially written off. Nowheresville, U.S.A.

Centralia's sad story seems to have been integrated into the backstory for the upcoming Silent Hill movie, based on the suspense/horror video game series of the same name. The initial working title of the movie was "Centralia," and it was filmed in large part on location in one of Canada's ghost towns, Brantford, Ontario.
  Climate Change Roundup  
Posted 2006-03-17 by Tony Walsh
Sometimes I wonder how much our technology will really do for us in the face of potentially-dramatic climate change. Something tells me we're going to be making a lot fewer mobile phones and video game consoles in the next few decades and a lot more on things like low-cost methods of water extraction and purification.
  Rise of the ‘Creative’ Teen  
Posted 2006-02-10 by Tony Walsh
Last year, branding agency Energy BBDO conducted a survey of 3,322 teens in 13 countries around the world. The firm released findings today identifying 30% of teens surveyed as "Creatives" who shun outward appearances, and care little about brands. Energy BBDO says Creatives are "the most wired, most innovative and most influential teens worldwide."

Among the findings about this already-compartmentalized group:
  • 9% value looking good
  • 37% say they "like wearing brand logos," but 64% believe there is "too much advertising and marketing in the world"
  • 70% go on-line every day or almost every day
  • Creatives are less likely than others to feel positively about brands such as McDonalds, KFC and AOL
  • They are are "much more" likely than other teens to use IM, email, or a search engine every day
  • They are on the cutting edge of the content creation and personal media trend
  • In the USA, Creatives are outnumbered by Traditionals 23% to 41%
  • 70% said they would fight for a worthy cause
  • 72% said they think environmental responsibility is important
  • 67% said imagination is the most important thing to teach a child
  • 56% said there is no one right or wrong way to live
  • 15% valued feeling fulfilled in a job over a good income

Continue reading: Rise of the ‘Creative’ Teen
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