At the Glastonbury Festival in the UK this year, the big story was not so much the performances as the weather. In particular it was the mud which featured heavily, slowing down the processions of bedraggled festival goers as they migrated from one stage to the next. On Saturday, I visited Secondfest after seeing the publicity in the Guardian newspaper. This was a virtual festival, hosted in SecondLife and sponsored by the Guardian and by Intel. Virtual festivals have their own kind of mud. It’s called lag. Attempts to organise large ‘gatherings’ in SecondLife really do tend to show up the platform’s limitations. With a practical limit of about 40 ‘avatars’ per ‘sim’, after which the whole experience degrades rapidly to a crawl, SecondLife really can’t deliver an experience which more than 40 people can enjoy simultaneously. In true festival style, this was mediated a little by having more than one stage, with other areas between. According to one blogger (hosted by the Guardian), the festival ‘site’ had attracted 3,000 unique avatars by the end of the first day. That’s about 10% of the average population of SecondLife logged in at any one time, which seems quite impressive. I logged into the festival twice, and the most I saw in front of the ‘main stage’ was about 20 avatars (dancing!). It seems to be a typical experience of SecondLife that you find your avatar walking through very cleverly realised settings, alone. Secondfest was no exception once my avatar had left the vicinity of the main stage. But for the complete lack of other people, the ‘camping area’ was very well done - the tents were cleverly rendered and it was even possible to crawl inside one and have a rest: I think that the provision of ‘portaloos’ for avatars might have been overdoing it a bit though: I might pop in again today to see if anything’s changed, but so far it feels like most of my SecondLife encounters: it sounds promising, it looks good, but it’s ultimately a fairly unsatisfying experience. It’s a shame, because there is clearly a strong desire to used a platform like SecondLife to host large, virtual gatherings. Currently, the platform really just isn’t up to it. But at least the avatars that had waded through the virtual mud to the Secondfest main stage and were maniacally dancing, seemed to be having ‘fun’….
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