MIT researcher Drew Harry flies his avatar into a house in Linden Labs' online environment, Second Life. The avatar passes couches, a fireplace, and a dining-room table complete with red-velvet tablecloth and candles. "Second Life is relentlessly literal," Harry says, pointing out one familiar domestic object after another.

The MIT media lab continues to produce the influential thinkers and leading edge research in the field of digital media.

The long oval table common to a boardroom lets small groups of people see and hear one another while sitting comfortably. Since a virtual space doesn't need to accomplish the same goals as a real space, Harry decided to ditch the table. Instead, his virtual meeting room arranges people based on their allegiance. Where an avatar stands signifies whether a person agrees or disagrees with the position being discussed. The meeting room's other visual features are designed to track the complexities of shifting alliances and opinions throughout a conversation.

Friday 22nd June ‘07 8:00 am
Launching a Year-Long Exploration: Philanthropy in Virtual Worlds

With this blog post, and our launch event today, I would like to invite the philanthropic and virtual world communities to join us in these conversations and ongoing activities. As I mentioned in my post ten days ago, later this morning I will step into Second Life to host a wide-ranging discussion with Philip Rosedale on the role of philanthropy in virtual worlds. As many of you know, he is the founder and CEO of Second Life, the largest virtual world in existence. For MacArthur, what is noteworthy is not just the robust growth of virtual worlds, but also the potential of virtual worlds for social, cultural and political interaction and the exchange of knowledge. At the event later this morning, Philip and I will be present both as avatars and through live audio. Check the event information page for details.
        At MacArthur, we are cautious about claims that technology can solve longstanding social problems. We recognize that it is easy to get caught up in awe and admiration of the new, especially something as novel as virtual worlds. As we investigate the possibilities of Second Life and other metaverses, we also will consider the inevitable unexpected outcomes and unintended consequences of virtual worlds.

When we first considered working in virtual worlds, we were tempted to build a replica of our historic foundation building, located in Chicago, in the virtual world. We now believe that the best way to start is to participate in the virtual world by engaging in discussions of serious social issues, working with others to act on their philanthropic impulses, and encouraging innovation and new ideas through grant awards. There is much to be learned as foundations develop strategies around the opportunities and consequences of engaging in virtual worlds. We invite you to join us in exploring how new technologies might be used to learn more about and address pressing social problems.

Nick Yee, a Stanford graduate who recently completed his PhD research on social interaction in virtual environments, says that Harry's design is on the right track. Sometimes companies try to have meetings in Second Life, Yee laughs, and they have the same problems they do in real life: for example, people have trouble seeing PowerPoint presentations. "By enforcing physical embodiments and physical rules," Yee says, "we bind ourselves to the physical symbols and metaphors of the physical world."

The orb is my virtual alternative to the Vitruvian man.

Wired Magazine: Issue 15.08
Clive Thompson Thinks: Desktop Orb Could Reform Energy Hogs

David Rose, CEO of Ambient Devices


Virtual meeting space: Rather than designing a meeting space that resembles one of those found in the physical world, MIT researcher Drew Harry intends this space to track the flow of ideas in a conversation, and to give significance to where people place the avatars that represent them.
Credit: Drew Harry/MIT Media Lab

Harry designs virtual spaces that don't look like the familiar world--his virtual meeting room looks more like a football field than like a conference room. He says his goal is to stop mimicking the physical world and start creating a new kind of space. "It's not clear to me yet that [virtual worlds] are actually useful," Harry says. They will be useful, in his view, if they can take advantage of not being physical.

Even though it's not the emphasis of this research, the decision to make the avatars non descript fits perfectly with my exploration and research of what promotes effective communication.   st

The MacArthur Foundation announces a series of events, beginning with a launch in Second Life today, which will broadly consider the role of philanthropy in virtual worlds.
Today we announce support to the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School to begin a year-long exploration of the role of philanthropy in virtual worlds. During the coming 12 months, the Center on Public Diplomacy will support a series of discussions in virtual worlds about the concept of philanthropy, help us share what we and the organizations that we fund know and are doing in areas such as affordable housing preservation, community and economic development and urban policy, global conservation and human rights, and provide awards for in-world innovations.

Web 2.0 is addressing interactivity and a new relationship with virtual.  This is Microsoft's attempt to engage users.

The Vitruvian man represents a canon of proportions.  These standards do not reflect a virtual environment and we must move beyond this line of thinking in order to fully realize the opportunities in emerging new media.
The orb is my virtual alternative to the Vitruvian man.


The orb is my virtual alternative to the Vitruvian man.


Wired Magazine: Issue 15.08
Clive Thompson Thinks: Desktop Orb Could Reform Energy Hogs

David Rose, CEO of Ambient Devices  viewed 8-27-2007