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Subdivided Blog

November 16th, 2006

The Blog for Subdivided is up. I’ll put most of the Subdivided news related to screenings, festivals, broadcasts, talks, etc there. I’ll also be putting regular updates on the participants in the film, especially Robert Putnam, Andres Duany, and James Kunstler, who are very active. Subdivided will premiere in January on PBS Station KERA, and the DVD will be available then as well.
It’s been a long road…

Metaverse Gallery in Second Life - Notes from the Opening

November 5th, 2006

Second Life Metaverse Gallery opening

The Metaverse Gallery in Second Life opened this weekend. It was the most
fun I think I’ve ever had at an art opening. It was very well attended.

A lot
of people go in to Second
, walk around a bit, look at all the ugliness,
porn, gambling, and then say something like “I tried it but it was boring.”
And for the most part, they are right. A lot of these people are used to games,
where the expectations and rules are set. In Second Life
you have to work pretty hard to make compelling places and created meaningful
. And that’s just
what the Worlds Lab team
did - they worked really hard for several months.

The Metaverse Gallery in many ways is the culmination
of a series of Online Worlds courses and research that has taken place over
the last year at UT Dallas. What we’ve come to is the idea that Second
Life is an awkward, temporary, highly flawed, difficult, very early version of
something that will evolve in a most painful manner into an immersive 3D metaverse
. At
the moment, it’s the only place to really test out ideas about how to do things
other than games in participatory 3D spaces. And I’ve been adamant in my belief
that in very short order the non game 3D shared spaces will eclipse the game
spaces. This is where a lot of people have it wrong in thinking that the game
spaces will expand and merge somehow. Not a chance. But that’s a different
topic I’ve written about elsewhere.

For us, we’ve given a lot of thought to the the structures themselves, and
what kind of art work we wanted to show. Our view, hotly debated in SL circles,
is that rather than just dumping things from the physical world in to SL we
need to build environments that suit the structure and rules of the online
world itself. The same thing goes for the art - why scan in things from the
1st world or from the 2D Internet when you can show work made in world?


Metaverse Art Gallery is basically an example of our thinking. We chose to
build a floating platform without stairs or other gravity dependent details.
Some of the walls are transparent from one side and opaque from the other -
try that in
fleshspace. The entire structure floats on a semi-transparent platform. For
the inaugural artist, we chose someone who is an artist in SL, and makes her
work there. In some ways she is very traditional - she makes portraits of other
avatars. It is very accessible work, which is also on purpose. Obtuseness for
its own sake helps no-one.

The building will evolve over time as our team, their skills, and our thinking
matures. In this show we included a small area where chat conversations are
re posted Jenny Holzer style on the floor. A kind of reactive public sculpture.
We’re also talking a lot about dynamic architecture (or really, dynamic
UI). Most of the structures on the island will eventually incorporate dynamic
elements that respond to several kinds of inputs: avatars in the immediate
surroundings, in world data such as time and communications, and external web
data such as database feeds from RSS and XML (stock market, weather, blog entries,
flickr postings, etc). All of these combine to do what is impossible in the
1st world: structures that change dynamically based on a set of external conditions.

We’re thinking a lot about these and other ideas and
the experiments that we are doing can be viewed in real time in the research
area on the island. One of the projects is, at the moment, called “the proximity
noodle.” It’s a pretty simple set of objects that bend toward you when you
approach. Now on the one hand I despise “gee whiz” art - art basically art
made to demonstrate some technical achievement. There’s quite a bit of this
in SL - “sculptures” that wave around in the “wind” for example. You look at
them and say to yourself “gee whiz!” And that’s the end of it.

And while we may get close to geewhiz art in the coming months I hope we
push it well beyond and into expressiveness, or simply play. I think some of
the work in metaverse spaces will be more about mature play and surprise than
the contemplative befuddlement you see visitors engaged in inside many a traditional
art exhibit. This is important, because even though these places are not games,
the element of experimentation and play is certainly present. We don’t want
to have to pretend to be serious. If there is any place to knock some holes
in the often elitist, noxious air of contemporary art it is here.

virtual art museumWe
intend to continue to develop and take seriously the idea that the
conventions of the metaverse are far from developed
. Some have come from gaming, the rest
are in development, and mostly invisible. One thing that is not helping is
all the corporations and educational institutions building real world structures
in Second Life. It’s seriously missing the point, and I think all the new design
firms who are doing all this building need to do some client education.

The opening was a first, and really felt like something. This is the bar for
3pointD space events.
Most of them are just frustrating, stupid, or, as many have found, boring.
But if you want a meaningful experience,
you are going to have to create one.

Here’s some reference links:

to The Metaverse Gallery Now
(Second Life required), or check out
the pics
on flickr

Press Coverage (so far):
SLNN posted this
of the event, and the Dallas Morning News ran a
on it as well, excerpt of it is here.
There was also a bit in Glass
, and my friend Dennis Hollingsworth gave
us a
(a little early!)

Artist: Shoshana
| UT Worlds Lab Team members Christi
(”Juliette Cordeaux” who curated the show) Russell Smith
(”Rusmi Taka”), Jeff Martini (”Jerry Tones”), & Steve
Petterborg. More about the lab at UT
Dallas Online Worlds Lab.

Metaverse Gallery Opening

November 3rd, 2006

Metaverse Art Gallery Opening

Metaverse Art Gallery Opening

The opening is this Saturday @ 9PM CST. 7PM SL time. Be there or be analog.
More info

Metaverse Talk at TexElectronica

October 26th, 2006

TexElectronicaI will be giving a talk on the emerging metaverse, art, and related topics this Saturday afternoon at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. I’ll be previewing the upcoming art show on the ATEC Second Life Island. The talk is part of the TexElectronica New Media Art event hosted by UNT. Tom Linehan and Frank Dufour from UTD are also scheduled at the event.

The Dark Side of Social Networks

October 23rd, 2006

So you are in college and looking for a good gig. What do you do in the age of GooTube? You make a video of course. And you claim you can serve a tennis ball 140 mph and bench press 495 pounds. Wait, no, maybe you shouldn’t do that.

Actually I don’t think Yale student Aleksey Vayner knew he was living in the age of web 2.0 and GooTube - his video was part of a supposedly confidential application to UBS for an investment banking job. If your video is digital, you should assume everyone will see it, at least until we have better permission layers on Internet media.

Social networks can connect you and make you popular, but they can also bring you 15 minutes of shame.


October 20th, 2006

The new EMAC Site is up. Just a default template for now but I’ve been pretty good about posting there in the past week or so - mostly for the UTD Arts & Technology community but anyone who reads this blog will probably find it interesting.

It’s mostly quick bits of things with sprinklings of commentary. The site is a group effort and there are several grad students contributing. EMAC stands for Emerging Media & Communication and is the new area I started this year inside the Arts & Technology program at the University of Texas and, happily, it’s really taking off.

Andres Duany: The New Civic Art

October 18th, 2006

Andres Duany: The New Civic Art

Originally uploaded by Dean Terry.

The Cover of Andres Duany’s new book The New Civic Art

Duany is featured in the documentary film “Subdivided” by yours truly.

YouTube Copy Cats: Here They Come!

October 14th, 2006

so clever!

Originally uploaded by factoryjoe.

Silicon Valley has sequelitus even worse than Hollywood. It’s kind of pathetic.
This capture from Skype, courtesy
of factoryjoe,
says it all.

The Metaverse: Beyond Games - Notes from the Austin Games Conference

October 8th, 2006


avatars in the metaverse

Last week I was at the Austin Game Conference, and, other than my own presentation,
pretty much missed everything. Some have asked for my slides from the talk,
so here
they are
. There are many notes and anecdotes missing, but you should
be able to glean something from it. I’ll be turning it into an article / chapter
(s) in the coming months and publish the updates here.

I may not have attended many of the talks, but I did have spies. Other UTD
Virtual Worlds Lab folks were there and they gave me reports on many of the
panels. One interesting thread was the "metaverse" talk which I’ve
been tracking for some time now. Much of it, granted, is already starting to
sound hype-filled, but there are important ideas to discuss. There are competing
visions about how the metaverse will evolve (if at all).

One idea that I think
deserves to be deflated is that, by some magic transformation, the game industry
itself will create an extensible 3D universe that moves beyond games and connects
a diverse set of 3D worlds. I have doubts that, in any conscious manner, that
this will be the case. The game developers have enough problems creating new
games that will compete in a very tight marketplace. And, with a few
they get pretty uncomfortable once the talk begins to move beyond games. The
talk about casual games, serious games, and the ill-defined metaverse were
efforts to expand the space but stay with in their comfort zone.

My bet is that the extensible, user generated 3D worlds that move beyond
games will come from outside the game industry and more importantly, they
will eventually eclipse it.

In several sessions the WOW vs MySpace stat came up: 1 million US WOW players
vs 110+ million MySpace users. One of the points that Monica Evans and I were
trying to make is that MMORPG games need to take much more seriously the social
aspects. Monica, who is a pHD candidate at UT Dallas, argued that the social
space that exists within and around the game is actually the most important
aspect. I argued, among other things, that game developers need to take look
at the web 2.0 social network space for ideas about how to create tools for
community building. They are very different ways of producing, however. Games
are top down productions where all the content is created by the game company.
Social Networks are made up of a set of tools that enable participants to create
their own content. One designs the experience and the other designs the tools
that allow people to create their own experiences. In the 3D space, Second
is the best know example of this.

Once you leave the confines of game worlds and game related interactions the
conventions for new forms of navigating and communicating are non-existent.
In game worlds you can model whatever world you are emulating: fantasy, sci-fi,
etc. When you move in to 3D spaces for other purposes - an "art gallery" or
"office space" for example - basically the only option is to fall
back on real world examples. And that’s where not only the whole thing falls
on its face, but also where the opportunity lies.

The opportunity is to create new kinds of worlds that vary from imaginative
creations beyond the narrow game genres to very practical spaces that extend
and even create new areas of the economy.

The problem is that no one seems to be leading the charge. Some new, consumer
oriented tools would help. What we have now are game development
tools, Second Life and a few other similar worlds, and Multiverse. These
are developer and early adopter tools. My second bet, as I presented in my
talk, is that the "multiverse" will
develop out of lots and lots of small, individually created and interconnected
social worlds, rather than from the expansion and connecting of larger, game-like

we don’t have yet are simple tools that allow individuals and groups to create
these stand alone worlds. For lack of a better name I call it "iWorld" in
reference to the Apple suite of software that is so easy to use. That is the
way it needs to work. What iMovie is to Final Cut, iWorld would be to the current
crop of developer tools (even though they are a far cry from the maturity and
elegance of Final Cut Pro). I should be able to create a virtual room, put
stuff in it, and invite friends over. Then I should be able to connect it to
other rooms and larger spaces.

Games take social interaction as
a secondary consideration. And you really can’t blame them: creating a good game
is very hard. But they just need to talk to their own, most ardent fans to
find out just what’s missing. That’s just what I did several months ago in
Atlanta at the FanFaire for Sony’s Everquest and other properties. What I
learned is that without exception among the thirty or so interviews and discussions
I had, that the social connection was more important than the game.
The players loved the game, but they really needed the connection
to other people. This need is the very serious part of game worlds, and game
companies are not well equipped to deal with it. It’s not their area of expertise.

I came away from
the FanFaire event a bit sad. I met several people who had driven alone from
hundreds of miles away to meet fellow gamers. The longing for friendship and
connection in the real world was palpable. In this context, among like-minded
peers, they were comfortable, and it felt like an instant community was formed
during those three days. After it was over they went back to using Everquest
as a social network, even though it is not intended or optimized for this purpose.
The sadness left me thinking that these people need something better. And what
about the much, much larger group that is not interested in the fantasy and
sci-fi worlds the game industry offers? I think they also need 3d social worlds.
Where are they? Second Life is a start, but it has serious flaws that will
keep it from becoming the model for the metaverse (economic
model, a single map, private ownership & governance, a dedication to emulating
reality, etc.) More on this later.

I think it is highly unlikely that the metaverse will emerge from the gaming
world. An expanded 3D world
will more likely emerge from Internet developers who look look to games for
inspiration in the areas of real time interaction and immersive 3D space. There
are interim steps to be made, however. I’ll leave that to your imagination…


Of Artists and Entrepreneurs

September 2nd, 2006

I had lunch with a friend today who, like me, went through the art school mill and now teaches at a university. He came to talk about a business idea that he had been working on. We noted that business in general and entrepreneurship in particular were variously ignored, frowned upon, or downright despised in contemporary art circles. Of course this is complete bullshit. Art itself is a business - one with it’’s own peculiar and quite elitist economy - and artists spend a good deal of time pretending that it is not a business.

brewery los angeles dean terryThe denial is wrapped up in the whole mentality of being a modern or contemporary artist. Get your MFA, work some crap gig, and live in a dirty, dangerous urban environment, preferably an industrial park. I did it for a year or so in the
early 1990’s in downtown Los Angeles and then discovered the beautiful canyons
of Sierra Madre. It didn’t take much to burn down that mythological house. Living in squalor did not give me the warm fuzzies. I had enough grime, chaos, and noise in my own head and didn’t need the inner city to make me feel “authentic”or “connected.”

Early on, I too had the view of business that it was just evil, pointless, greed driven piggishness - and sure, much of it is. During the 1990’s when I ran a serious of businesses I often had the feeling of my soul draining to the floor as I sat in a meeting, a visceral feel of time slipping by in the wake of crushing meaninglesness. But at least I could sit down while my soul drained away. At art openings they make you stand up.

But as with so many things, I hated what I didn’t understand.

What I learned is that the same processes involved in “creating” in the fine arts are present everywhere in society, including and most especially in entrepreneurship. Many of the fine artists I have known are totally spineless. They are beholden to a power structure - critics, curators, collectors (the 3 C’s) - that they rarely question. The fakery is no less thick than the most tasteless marketing pitch from a mattress company. The difference is that business lies right to your face while art pretends it isn’t lying.

I’m completely devoted to the creative life, but I have learned not to restrict it out of ignorance to things traditionally labeled “the arts.” It’s everywhere. That feeling of wanting to create something new is the same whether it’s a film, a recording, a virtual island, or a start-up. You just begin with different constraints, established methods, and expectations.

After being burnt out from the dot-com era, over the past year I’ve been feeling more and more like there may be another run to make. Creating a business requires you to bounce your ideas against the unbending nature of physical reality. Of practical, economic reality. It requires you to use the materials of real time, real people, and to create something that works in the face of enormous uncertainties. This is especially true in technology where the ground is shifting beneath you constantly. It is exactly like studying metaphysics, or painting.

descartesHopefully a lot of the way people in the arts view entrepreneurship will change. There are signs. The fact that you can build your own network and market yourself
with various Internet strategies is a major change. It’s an unstable and evolving scenario, but the “long tail” effect is a real one, and the opportunities for a significant level of creative independence for artists with a strong, personal , authentic voice are promising.

Yes, it’s easier to give your cultural product to “the man” - music label, gallery, publisher, etc. - and then let them market and distribute while you stay completely in the dark about the process. But the ability to control the entire enterprise is much more empowering, interesting, and liberating. The whole idea about “marketing yourself” changes from fake cheek kiss networking with those who would present you to the world to using distributed networks on the web to connect directly to an audience.

My friend thought up a way to make money from the backwardness of the art system. I wish him the best in his entrepreneurial and yes, creative endeavor.