~~~You've undoubtedly seen the messages that are showing up lately about the finalists for the "Linden prize." Tonight I got an IM from my friend Ernst Osterham asking me if I had looked over the list. I said I had, but that nothing about the list had particularly struck me as terribly intriguing. He replied that he too thought that overall it was sort of "blah." And I thought, "well, maybe Ernst is right and that's why nothing about it struck me. But I figured I probably should go and actually look at some of the nominated places and programs before I got all judgmental.
Not that I'm ever judgmental. Nooooo...of course not.
So I pulled up their list and started teleporting...and I got through most of them before I just gave up. Does that mean they were dreadful choices for the prize? No...not really. They're just....not really as blindingly unique or stunningly creative as you would expect a project to be get a big ol' 10K prize from Lindens.
Here's how they explain the prize initiative:
"The Linden Prize will award one Second Life Resident or team with $10,000 USD for an innovative inworld project that improves the way people work, learn and communicate in their daily lives outside of the virtual world. This annual award is intended to align with Linden Lab’s company mission, which is to connect all people to an online world that advances the human condition. Many projects inside of Second Life have already enhanced and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and the company wants to recognize the users’ accomplishments...."
And here is what they say about what they are looking for:
"We rely on several core principles when choosing the finalists and winner.
* Work in Second Life that also achieves tangible, compelling results outside of Second Life.
* Distinctive, original work using Second Life that clearly demonstrates high quality, execution, function, aesthetics and technical sophistication.
* Work that has the capacity for inspiring and influencing future development, knowledge, creativity, and collaboration both inside and outside of Second Life."
Mind you, I'm not going to go so far as to say that I thought that the finalists for the prize didn't meet the above criteria. But I will say that here is what I found when I went to visit the nominees' builds in-world:
* Sims that were almost entirely empty. When I went to Non Profit Commons, there were a couple of greeters there--really nice friendly people, ready to help with answering any questions. But few or no visitors.
* The usual sort of visual communication techniques and design choices that make most SL exhibits and museums so terribly ineffective--panels and text on walls, objects to click on to get notecards, etc.
* Environments that did little more than replicate real life educational spaces and exhibits.
Am I being too harsh? Probably. The argument can be made that I really didn't give the time or attention to each build that they deserved. But that's the thing--I suspect that a great many of the standard garden variety SL visitors are going to react to these builds in ways that are similar to my reaction. If we're not engaged quickly and in a lively, unpredictable fashion, then we wander off to look at the next shiny thing that catches our attention.
So I'm not saying that any of these prize nominees had anything wrong with their content, or that they lacked content--they just weren't presenting it in an engaging way, or in a way that connected well. Non Profit Commons, for example, had a lot of content--important content. In fact, it probably had TOO MUCH content: the dense multiplicity of narratives and messages overwhelmed me: I just glazed over in a matter of minutes, and moved on to the next build.
When so many of the finalists for the Linden Prize are like this-- unimaginative builds dealing with oh-so-serious topics and Education with a capital "E"--it can be discouraging. It seems to reinforce the sense that so many of us have that the Lindens want to foster an image for SL that is serious and perhaps even more than a little pretentious. It seems like the version of SL that LL hopes to promote is largely unrelated to the reality that is experienced by the majority of us users, who are basically in this for shits and giggles and maybe a bit of highly unstructured self-directed learning. Many of us have long suspected that the Lindens not only don't understand what we do and why we do it, they are downright embarrassed by us. And at first glance, it would seem that the list of Linden prize finalists reinforces that suspicion...except...
...and this is a big exception...
...one of the finalists is the team that brought the "Sion chicken" concept to SL. I have no idea how it got to the finals. but gawd bless those folks for applying for the prize, and gawd bless whoever said, "yeah, that's worth recognizing." The chickens are of course, silly. And pretty much pointless...other than the fact that a lot of people seem to have fun with them.
It gives me some hope that maybe there are Lindens who do "get it"--that life on the grid has to have an element of fun. The fact that the platform can still attract creative, pleasantly silly people and offers stuff that is silly or creative--or silly AND creative--is what gives it real appeal. It's not Education with a big "E," or business meetings, or serious non-profits sharing serious messages...although those are all important in their limited, limping ways. But they are not what makes SL unique.
Now, I will admit, that there is another way of looking at the inclusion of the Sion Chicken business in the finalists for the Linden Prize. This concept is somewhat suggestive of certain growing stuff/task-based game-ish elements that are such a popular facet of certain facebooky things. When the Lindens included Sion Chickens among the prize finalists, is that reflective of some deep-seated Linden desire to make the SL platform more like those massively-adopted social media products? If so, then yeah, that's a little scary.
But being the optimist that I am, I prefer to look on it as evidence of the possibility that they do simply comprehend that fun is important too.
Of course, I think we can make a pretty good argument that what is really most important in SL is how it brings people together. This was the thing that struck me more than anything else when I visited the locations associated with the Linden prize finalists. I generally couldn't tell to what extent these projects and builds fostered the development of micro-communities or encouraged and facilitated interaction between people who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to talk with each other.
This was brought home to me during my explorations tonight, when--after I grew tired of visiting prize finalists--I started going to places that had some association with Memorial Day--places like the Vietnam Memorial build. I finally wound up at "Patriot Island," home of the Wounded Warriors programming and the site of a decent recreation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It was a pretty nice build; it had some very good content--including useful information for rl veterans about where they could go for help regarding various issues and problems--but most importantly it had people. There were more people on Patriot Island at 11:30 PM than on all the Linden Prize finalist sims combined. They were talking about nothing earthshaking--mostly they were just being silly and having fun (although there was one volunteer in dress blues doing sentry duty in very dignified fashion at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). A couple of the people IM'ed me, welcoming me and answering some questions. I also talked to one of their admins to get information about who to contact for an interview. At some point before long, I think I'll write a longer piece about the build and related projects.
But yeah, what made the build appealing and encouraged me to stay there longer than I did at any other place I went tonight, was the human element.
Whoever gets the prize, I really hope that it is whoever does the best job of incorporating the human element into what they do--although giving points for silliness and fun would be appropriate as well.