Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dancing With Abe - In Second Life

Dancing with Abe at the
Land of Lincoln.
It would seem that the virtual environment of Second Life is making a bit of a comeback in the area of genealogy. For those of you not familiar with it, I will include a few links at the end that better explain its existence, but I would describe it as something similar to a free video game, except that the users or players create the world around them. They also completely dictate what their character or avatar looks like while roaming around in this 3D universe. One other thing to remember, unlike a video game, there are no real objectives or goals to this experience - unless you choose to visit such an area that has combative elements. As far as a use for genealogy, there are several ways Second Life can be utilized: One on one research assistance from other residents, links to various databases or sites, instructional notecards or slideshows, seminars/lectures.

My historic quilt exhibit at our virtual campus library.
The woman in the middle is my 3rd great grandmother.
Second Life is not that new having been around since 2005. I myself have been actively using this platform since early 2008. Similarly to genealogy, my purpose "in-world" was solely for educational purposes. As my profile states, my day job is that of a librarian at a major university, and believe it or not, we have our own space or island dedicated to allowing our students to experience some of their classes in this immersive environment. We have classes that experiment with cultural studies, agriculture, medicine/dental, music/theatre and politics, etc. Overall, students that participate in this method of learning give it high marks, as being fun, enlightening and sometimes very challenging. When they first enter this 3D world, they view it as just another video game, and are sceptical to its uses when no goal is waiting to be achieved. However, by the end of their course they have experienced learning on a level that questions their identity, representation, interaction and reality as we know it. To go along with the classroom settings, we also have a virtual representation of our campus library. It is not full of books, but rather, information on how to use SL, points of interest, reference information, as well as art or historical exhibits that teach through interaction.
Henry VIII and I acting
as tour guides during the
Stepping Into History Conference
on Renaissance Island.

Genealogy is also not new to Second Life. When I first entered this new world, I sought out interesting groups I might like, such as Jane Austen fans, art lovers and of course, genealogy. Back then, they were an active group and I have rarely attended an event that did not at least have a half dozen participants. Within my first year, I can remember attending an event with over 20 avatars. Today, the activity is growing with the last event running at the maximum of 40 attendees. Like the educational groups in-world, genealogy has focused on instructional learning and social networking. Although, keep in mind, that Second Life (SL) is designed to be a place of anonymity. If you only want to attend and not reveal your true identity, that is perfectly fine. So, social networking and relationships developed are sometimes relegated to this virtual world. It is also against the rules of SL to actively ask who the real person behind the avatar is, so be careful. If someone wants to reveal their true identity, that is allowed, but some people enjoy becoming another person entirely within the confines of their avatar. Once in-world, simply search for "genealogy" to locate some of the great places to connect with fellow researchers. Also, the APG has recently begun a chapter in-world....which is a big deal on the professional acceptance level.
Clarise Beaumont aka Dear Myrtle conducting a genealogy session
on Tuesday night.

My purpose behind this post is to alert my readers that I may post something from time to time about a discussion that was held in-world. Recently, the Just Genealogy group has begun discussing a course series which includes homework - finished by being posted to your blog for the others to read. I would also like to encourage those of you who have not tried this form of interaction with fellow genealogists, to give it a try!

Playing Marie Antoinette
Caution: opinion coming at you. Ok, here is the lowdown on SL. There are a lot of other things you can do or experience in SL. Some are on the risque side, some are on the amazing side (touring King Tut's tomb or dancing with Abe Lincoln & Henry VIII), and some are on the vain side. You are suddenly presented with a 3D barbie and you can make it look any way you want - of course, that may also cost real money to change the appearance drastically. You can make wonderful new friends, own your own home/land and attend discussions by experts that you could only attend at major conferences - only it is kind of like a big chat room and you can ask questions of these experts. BUT, SL has a steep learning curve. You will have to have fairly up-to-date PC equipment to handle the graphics and processing drain. You will also have to have A LOT of patience. In fact, if you get sucked in to all the amazing things you can do or purchase in SL, it will seriously suck away your time! I recently read a tweet by a fellow genealogist that said she just spent three hours clothes shopping in SL. It can get addictive quite quickly. To be honest, even after all the fun, you will run upon locations that kick you out due to too many attendees, or make your PC crash due to too many animations going on at once, or griefers that try to make trouble for others, or walking through walls, or not being able to control that avatar at the level you need.

Attending a Shakespeare Play at the
full size replica of the Globe Theatre.
Dressed as Queen Elizabeth I.
Just learning to function in SL takes time and practice. My advice: watch YouTube tutorials from Linden Labs that show you how to access things you need or how to accomplish certain/basic tasks. However, if you stick with it initially, and can have an avatar ready to attend events, I think you will really appreciate the rewards of being able to join in live conversations with genealogy experts from around the world. This is the true benefit of SL.....and after all your learning and collaborating, sneak out to have a little people who focus on history, you will love some of the amazing places and communities you will discover. Of course, if you are lucky, you might happen upon a dance! Genealogists definitely know how to boogie!

Some fun SL links

The main site to download SL for free:

Dear Myrtle's Blog (Our SL genealogy expert):

Article by Dear Myrtle about SL:

SL Wiki and video tutorials:

Fabulously Free in SL (for clothes shopping):

Renaissance Island:

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre:

If you join SL and want to be notified of upcoming genealogy activities, join the in-world groups as well as the Facebook group - Genealogists in Second Life.

Sif enjoying
a Mint Julep
at the
P.S. If you choose to join in the fun, feel free to friend me in-world. My avatar's name is Sifriya Devin. Although, these days, she's not around too much except to attend genealogy or a few national library events. Educationally speaking, Linden Labs decided to remove the educational discount for organizations. Therefore, while we have continued our University  presence in SL for the next year, we are not as active as we used to be while we explore other 3D world options such as Open Sim.

See you in-world!

Trademark Notice:

Second Life® and Linden Lab® are trademarks or registered trademarks of Linden Research, Inc. All rights reserved. No infringement is intended.



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