From my conversation with Beyer Sellers, producer and host of Metanomics, on how he experienced the ups and downs of dealing with Second Life…
I had no idea what I was doing. For a while, when I was working with Jenzza Misfit, we were trying to bring in sponsors, we needed to deal with producing the show, we needed to manage a community. There was a lot of interest in having a serious business oriented community in Second Life, and the educators, who were trying to make Second Life look more credible, were very interested in seeing us succeed and be serious and effective. Frankly, yeah, I guess, I was confused or didn’t know what to do, I would say that was true for all of it.
I think everyone gets confused about Second Life and just getting things to work and understand where they were headed. It was just getting a sense of what the potential audience was, how people were viewing it, and all that. And we were constantly pushing up against the limits of the software. So between the avateering and chat bridge and all of this other stuff, we were trying new stuff all the time.
And first we just learned about how to do the actual, sort of traditional interview show. I did learn quite a bit about interviewing; early on, I talked way too much. I asked questions that were way too long. I had to learn that you should never ask a question if the answer is a simple yes or no. So I learned a lot just about how to structure an interview, how to ask shorter questions — not that I implemented it that well.
And I talked a lot with the folks at Treet TV to just understand how to keep people’s interests. How to structure the interview by having a hook right at the beginning so people know what they’re getting into and will stay through the very short introduction matter, and then structure the questions so that people would stay in their seats.
There are at least three dimensions in Second Life. One is just what the platform can do. Second is how people are using it, and then the organization of Linden Lab itself; where they were headed and how they were managing this huge community based experiment. And so I learned a lot about all of those.
I also learned I don’t really like to run a business. So I was very happy when I hooked up with Remedy Communications, who took over almost all of the business stuff. I’m an academic, and the part that I can contribute is to ask intelligent questions and follow up and be a reasonable on-air voice and that’s the part I want: finding good guests and good topics. That’s something I learned.
Other people helped me to produce the series. I just relied extremely heavily, as much as I possibly could, on other people. I mean it was such a big community and there were all these people who wanted to volunteer. And I was ready to give them as much freedom as I could trust them with.
What I did, really, is I had a small group of people and it was a shifting group, over time. But at any one time, there were a handful of people that I would rely on because I knew them. I met Jenzza Misfit very early on, for example, and she really lived in Second Life. She was there all the time. She knew so many people. And I would trust her on whether I could trust someone else. And then the other thing is, it’s the classic management technique. You give someone some freedom and some responsibility, not so much that if they fail, it’s a big problem, but enough so that it takes and you see that they really did something. Then I can count on this person.
There’s just so much to be done. During the show we probably had a minimum of a half a dozen people, other than the Treet TV people, who were actively managing some aspect of the show. There’s no way I could have done it myself. So we had greeters, since there were lots of sims. People clicked something that told them about Metanomics, and it would be take them to a landing spot where then they could click to be transported to any number of sims. And so someone had to be there to help the newbies out and say “oh, click here and you’ll go to this sim.” There were a lot of educators and business types coming in that this was their introduction to Second Life.
There was just managing or dealing with the people on the sims; there’s always someone with a video problem or an audio problem or a sim problem. Someone has to handle the guests; a good chunk of the guests were not Second Life people. This was their first experience with Second Life. So someone had to help them, someone had to do the promotions, someone had to manage the website. There was just lots and lots to do.
Certainly a lack of time hindered us, and I’d say the software is not perfect. One of the things I guess that I learned about software from this is that if you want software to do a particular thing well, you should design it to do that thing. Second Life was not designed specifically to have a show like Metanomics with that type of interaction between guests and audience. Linden Lab built in a bunch of different affordances, but it’s not like that was the goal of the platform. And so we’re constantly dealing with its little quirks and imperfections for the purpose of our show.
We had crashes, lots and lots of crashes, and things like that. In the middle of the show, we’re one minute before a show, all sorts of stuff like that.
It was largely a volunteer effort, and most of the people that we had were not getting paid. You know, a lot of the social currency in Second Life is attention and status. People would get some attention and status, and they would be able to meet people, and all of that by being a volunteer on the show. But it also meant they weren’t completely invested; they weren’t necessarily reliable. Over the two and a half years or so, we had 110-115 episodes, something like that. And I bet we had at least 60 different people volunteering or working for pay over that time.
I guess I’d say the strength of Second Life — at least as I see it — is the part that we were able to do a lot with, which was the community. And you’re just trying to be able to do the visual, but we didn’t really do too much of that. It’s just a visual treat to watch those who do more with the visual, and I think that is a wonderful use of the visual part of Second Life, where you have people actually building stuff.
The first drawback, as I mentioned, is this is not what Second Life is designed for. And so everything is a kludge fix. It’s software where you’re trying to make a fix and really the elegant way to do it would be to break some part of the software down and rebuild it from the ground up. But instead, since you’re in a hurry, you just sort of slap something on with duct tape. And that’s what we were constantly doing because you can’t change the software. It’s Linden Lab’s. And so you just have to work with it and you find ways around problems.
And of course there are challenges trying to have a show with a big community. You really get griefers and all of that. But it goes with the territory. Given that you look at the comments on YouTube filled with a bunch of hate-filled viewing, griefing has nothing to do with Second Life.
I think the biggest difference with traditional television is that it’s a radio show with fake visuals of the speakers. And so you’re not actually seeing the people you’re hearing from. And I think that is the problem. I should say, that being said, that points out something I forgot, which is real anonymity is both a positive and a negative. So to be able to have someone on your show to talk honestly about something, because they know that people won’t know who they are in real life — that’s a real plus. But on the downside, if it’s someone who is being very public about who they are, viewers want to see them and their face, not just an avatar.