‘How do you tell when you have run out of invisible ink?’

Bee hives. Terra Mellifera Caerleon Isle
Bee hives. terra mellifera, Caerleon Isle

Last week I heard Sarah ‘Intellagirl’ Robins give a talk at one of the excellent Gronstedt Group meetings in Second Life. She describes herself as being up to her eyeballs in Web 2.0 examining how these new technologies can be used by organizations. Intellagirl said that it is an uphill battle getting companies to adopt Second Life as a communication and training platform. The reasons she gave for this were that staff feel they are not tech savvy, computers are not up to speed, and training in Second Life requires a different pedagogy. Intellagirl suggests that here training must be student centered, as the traditional lecture approach does not work. Educators and trainers need to use their imaginations, and find ways to exploit this new medium, rather than resorting to ‘the same old, same old’ conventional teaching models.

nonnatus Korhonen's world creatures
nonnatus Korhonen's world creatures found on mellifera (scripted to interact with your avatar).

At this point in the talk, Intellagirl briefly took off on a fascinating tangent. She said she had been looking into Stigmergy, and she used this reference in the context of social insects such as ants that leave chemical trails for other ants to follow. Intellagirl then applied this analogy to patterns of use and human behavior on the World Wide Web. I wonder if this makes those of us exploring 3D online environments into scout ants? With our pixel sized avatars we are off foraging for locations, ideas, scripts and builds that will help us with our work. We leave trails, creating millions of highways and byways that will lead others into virtual spaces ‘en masse’.

Giant strawberry on strange floating platform above Caerleon Isle and
An enticing giant strawberry hovering on a strange floating platform high above Caerleon Isle.

Will it seem as though something spontaneous has suddenly happened when hordes of people move into virtual worlds to carry out their work, meet friends and take classes?

Stigmergy is a mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a subsequent action, by the same or a different agent. (Wikipedia)

My last post showed the recent T-Mobile dance held in Liverpool Street Station, London, UK. This apparently spontaneous moment belongs to an intriguing tradition that, according to Wikipedia, began in 2003 and is known as ‘Flash Mob’. If you type ‘Flash Mob’ into YouTube you can see some great examples of Flash Mob happenings (often shakily videoed on mobile phones). The Liverpool Street dance was highly organized and carefully choreographed (and no doubt cost a small fortune). Yet, the final effect was an event that seemed spontaneous (at least initially).

Ant and nonnatus korhonen maze, mellfera
Ant and nonnatus korhonen maze, mellifera

Thinking along these lines of stigmergy and flashmobs I was reminded of a post by Botgirl Questi’s titled ‘Are we ants or are we avatars? Botgirl has been taking an extensive look at social networking on her blog, and in this post mused

‘ Something about Twitter recently has made me feel like a minuscule and insignificant ant scurrying from data crumb to data crumb in the semi-aware hive-consciousness of social networking.’

Visit Botgirl’s blog and watch the YouTube video she placed there, this video reveals the phenomenal size and structure of an ant colony. The ant’s nest was created well out of sight, and reaches far beneath the African soil. Virtual worlds are also growing out of sight, expanding out in cyberspace.Take a look at Metaverse Journal’s How big is Second Life? which states Second Life is 22400 square km in size (8648.9 sq. miles). That seems quite big! Has the ‘spontaneous’ moment already arrived? How will we know? Synthetic worlds are a bit like invisible ink, you will only see them if you know they exist and you know where and how to look.

And finally, a question: How big does a virtual world have to get before it is put on the bus route?

Foot bridge to the bee hives in mellifera
Foot bridge to the bee hives in mellifera

Additional Information

Title quote: ‘How do you tell when you have run out of invisible ink’ by Steve Wright and found on ‘notstevewright’ on Twitter.

Images above taken on Caerleon Isle, showing mellifera a mixed reality project by Andrew Burrell and Trish Adams (nonnatus korhonen and neurone schism). mellifera created with the assistance of the Australian Council for the Arts.

Visit mellifera in Second Life at http://slurl.com/secondlife/Caerleon%20Isle/242/239/27

For more information about the artists go to: http://mellifera.cc/

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