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February 27 2014

January 08 2014

Intelligence Report Shows U.S. Spies Feared Rise of Virtual Bin Laden

In 2008, when millions of netizens were flocking to the online worlds of Second Life and World of Warcraft, the U.S. intelligence brass was worried about virtual, immortal version of Osama Bin Laden

"Imagine that jihadist supporters create a detailed avatar of Usama bin Ladin and use his many voice recordings to animate the avatar for up-close virtual reality experiences that could be used to preach, convert, recruit, and propagate dogma to the media," said a confidential study commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in July 2008.

More about Terrorism, Osama Bin Laden, Second Life, World Of Warcraft, and Online Games
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December 09 2013

NSA Sent Undercover Agents to Spy on 'World of Warcraft,' 'Second Life'

First it was porn; now, it's your video games

The National Security Agency has been monitoring online games including World of Warcraft, Second Life and video games on Xbox Live, sometimes even using undercover agents disguised as trolls or orcs.

This is the latest revelation to come from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, as first reported by The New York Times, ProPublica and The Guardian on Monday.

Since at least 2007, the NSA and its sister British spy agency the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) have worried that terrorists might use online video games to secretly plan attacks, drive fundraising efforts or simply communicate on unmonitored channels, according to the leaked documents (.PDF) Read more...

More about Second Life, World Of Warcraft, Xbox Live, Video Games, and Surveillance

February 08 2011

Why Virtual Worlds Play an Important Role in the Changing Arab World

Follow artist, writer and entrepreneur Rita J. King on Twitter.

While co-directing the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project with Joshua Fouts, I traveled to four continents in the physical world and interviewed people from 25 countries in the virtual world called Second Life. What we learned and experienced in the virtual world has since crossed over into the physical world in interesting ways.

The Psychological Impact of Virtual Worlds

Second Life has long been plagued by a misguided media narrative that latched onto its novel and cartoonish appearance while missing the much larger point: For the first time in history, geographically dispersed people are sharing a space limited only by their imaginations, and are visualizing together how the space is used and built upon.

Mosque communities have sprung up all over the virtual world as they have in the physical world, built from the ground up by various individuals and organizations. In Second Life, mosque projects and sites related to exploring Islam range greatly. Some seek to promote diversity by not requiring head scarves (avatars have no real skin to cover) and allowing digital shoes in virtual mosques, since they don’t track dirt into sacred space. Others insist on adherence to physical world standards as implemented by the various projects’ directors.

Experiences shared within virtual worlds, particularly user-created environments, are not perceived as trivial by those who partake in them. People can collaborate on developing the infrastructure of virtual environments, while social media platforms, though valuable for other reasons, have flat, standardized user interfaces.

Further, virtual experiences can help in overcoming shyness, language barriers, or other impediments to meaningful communication, creating the perfect medium for exploring cultural understanding.

The Impact of Virtual Protests

In 2008, when violence erupted in Gaza, a protest took place in Second Life. The space in which the protest took place was created by IslamOnline, an Egyptian and Qatari group with various web properties including a science section edited by a young Egyptian, Mohammed Yahia, who is also the creative leader of the group’s Virtual Hajj to Mecca in Second Life.

For the protest, IslamOnline created a virtual environment. At the perimeter were pictures, often bloody and smoky, clipped from the pages of newspapers around the world covering the conflict, particularly focused on the deaths of Palestinians. People (in the form of avatars) from all over the world held signs and engaged in discussions. Some protesters were passionate while others were calm. Some had first-hand knowledge of the violence in Gaza and others had no knowledge of the complex situation at all. This didn’t stop them from sharing opinions, just as people do in blog comments or around the dinner table.

I encountered an avatar waving a Palestinian flag who had set himself on fire and asked him why he’d chosen to make this form of protest.

“I’m heartbroken and furious with both sides that it had to come to this,” he said, adding that in a virtual world, he could express himself this way without hurting anyone, and that he felt that others had taken the time to listen to his view.

Yahia took the time to discuss the role of digital culture in real world dynamics.

“In the Arab world, we have seen that line [between in the virtual and physical] thin more than ever over the past few months,” Yahia told me via Twitter from Cairo. “Our digital identities have echoed louder than ever into the physical world, bringing about change and connecting us in ways that would not have been possible before. The relationships we have formed digitally have made some protesters feel like they’ve known each other for years, coming together and working together in some amazing displays of empathy.”


With hundreds of millions of people around the world, many of them young, increasingly exploring virtual worlds, the environments will continue to evolve. The new global culture and economy will transform, in part, through shared experiences in immersive spaces.

See Also:

- How Egyptians Used Twitter During the January Crisis [INFOGRAPHIC]
- How Journalists Are Using Social Media To Report on the Egyptian Demonstrations
- How Users in Egypt Are Bypassing Twitter & Facebook Blocks

More About: arab world, Egypt, Gaza, politics, Second Life, social media, virtual worlds

For more Social Media coverage:

September 27 2010

Formspring Snags Two Key Hires from Nokia and Second Life

Social Q&A website Formspring is looking to take its product to the next level, starting with snagging two key senior-level hires from Nokia and Linden Lab, creators of Second Life.

Later today, Formspring will announce that it has hired Rob Storrs to be its head of engineering and Tom Wang to be its head of product. They started with Formspring earlier this month, CEO Ade Olonoh told me last week.

Rob Storrs was the director of web development at Linden Lab, the company behind the Second Life virtual world. There, he created and oversaw different engineering teams focused on social networking, search, virtual goods and e-commerce.

Tom Wang was the VP of Product at social networking service Plum before its acquisition by Nokia in 2009. Before that, he was the VP of product at Break Media and a Director of Product Management at AOL.

Growth and Challenges

Both are definitely impressive hires for a company that’s been, for the most part, on the rise. Formspring was launched just 10 months ago, but it already has 17 employees, 20 million users and 1 bilion questions answered. We can think of a lot of startups that would love that type of traction.

The social Q&A service is also a power player on Twitter, apparently; Olonoh told me that 1-2% of all tweets are related to Formspring, an incredibly impressive number that is actually believable when you search for Formspring on the microblogging service.

Everything isn’t perfect at the company, though; the website’s traffic has been going downhill since its peak in May, according to data sent to us by Compete. In May, Formspring had 8.96 million unique U.S. visitors, but that number has dropped to 6 million as of August. While the drop can be attributed to the summer doldrums (Formspring has a lot of high school and college users), it’s still the wrong direction. The company hopes the return of classes and its two new senior hires will put them back on track.

More About: formspring, hires, Linden Lab, Nokia, Plum, Second Life

For more Business coverage:

March 04 2010

How Much Are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn Worth? [REPORT]

For the moment, the valuations we have for private companies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are based mostly on what we know from venture capital investments that have been made in the companies.

SharesPost, however, is a company that lets owners of shares in private companies sell them to prospective buyers, and they’ve just released an index detailing valuations of some of the most prominent companies in the social media space.

Here’s what they report:

Facebook: $11.5 billion

Zynga: $2.6 billion

Twitter: $1.4 billion

LinkedIn: $1.3 billion

Linden Labs (Second Life): $383 million

How close are these valuations to reality? Facebook’s most recent investment from DST valued the company at north of $10 billion, while Twitter was valued at roughly $1 billion when it took $100 million in funding back in September. In other words — likely not too far off.

SharePost also says that they’ve been involved “in the negotiations of more than $229MM worth of transactions,” so there is enough activity in their marketplace for them to make rough estimates of valuation. Their estimates also take into account venture capital investments and research reports from equity analysts.

What do you think of the valuations? Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, tforgo

Tags: facebook, finance, linden labs, linkedin, Second Life, sharespost, twitter, Zynga

February 07 2010

January 22 2010

What’s Up With Virtual Worlds? [ANALYSIS]

From 2005 up through 2008, virtual worlds seemed like the hottest ticket in tech, but we’ve heard less about them in recent months. We imagined the people of Earth leading double lives in alternate realities. It was the stuff of science fiction, like flying cars and robot butlers, and unlike those things, it actually looked like it could become reality.

Except it hasn’t. What happened? Are people still using virtual worlds? Let’s look at the latest developments in two of the most hyped virtual world platforms for insights into where (if anywhere) the alternate reality trend is headed.

Second Life: It’s Doing Better Than You’d Think

Second Life was regarded as the standard-bearer for a long time, but the flurry of press over in-world concerts and political campaigns has died down in 2009. However, it appears that the virtual world itself hasn’t done the same — or at least its economy hasn’t.

Second Life creators and curators Linden Lab reported just a few days ago that 2009 was actually kind of huge. Second Life’s economy grew 65% over 2008 to $567 million, or around 25% of the virtual goods economy in the United States. This was during a time when the real world’s economy actually shrunk.

Second Life’s economy revolves around virtual land and items, the former created by Linden Lab and the latter created by users. Based on anecdotal observation, it seems to us that a sizable portion of the property and items powering the economy are being used for adult activities in the world’s new, adult-only continent Zindra, though Linden Lab hasn’t released the data.

The author of a recent article on Second Life at PC Pro observed that the areas of the world outside the adult community seemed empty, but readers responded saying that the real problem is a lack of tools for locating like-minded people. That noted, it looks like Second Life has settled into a niche. That’s not a bad thing if it’s making money, but it’s not the virtual world explosion that the press, users, and Linden Lab itself hoped for a few years ago.

Metaplace’s Failure To Launch

Metaplace aspired to be the first great web-wide platform for virtual worlds. Shortly after launching, it became the foundation for 70,000 worlds.

Metaplace was envisioned to be a place where anyone could go to create their own virtual world and community, just like they can create their own profiles on Facebook. Just like Facebook profiles, the worlds could be linked or associated in a number of ways. It was also an open platform, ideal for developers who wanted to integrate virtual worlds with whatever other projects they were working on.

Since it was a combination of the best ideas in both the web and virtual worlds spaces, it seemed like the most cohesive plan for virtual world domination on the scene. It was a tough sell to users, unfortunately. They didn’t always understand the concepts that developers and designers found so exciting about the project.

The grand idea might have been too ambitious. In December, Metaplace announced that it would close on January 1, 2010. “Unfortunately, over the last few months it has become apparent that Metaplace as a consumer UGC service is not gaining enough traction to be a viable product, requiring a strategic shift,” the company said.

Nobody’s explained what the new plan is yet, but the company has said on Twitter that it’s looking for Facebook game designers and programmers.

The State of Virtual Worlds

Dedicated virtual worlds platforms haven’t become mainstream despite all the press attention and investor enthusiasm. Maybe most users find them too abstract, or maybe the sort of extreme anonymity they provide only appeals to a few subsets of people.

The greatest virtual world success story to date for grown-up users (it’s a whole different story for kids) is arguably the online roleplaying game World of Warcraft. Maybe the lesson to be learned here is that socialization alone isn’t enough to keep people interested in a virtual reality. If socializing is the sole objective, people usually prefer to be themselves on Facebook or Twitter.

Also consider Foursquare and Gowalla, which make virtual worlds out of the real one. Like virtual worlds, socialization on its own appears not to be enough to sustain location based services. Foursquare and Gowalla found success where previous entrants in the space had struggled by incorporating gaming elements to keep things interesting.

And while location based services and massively multiplayer video games are not the virtual reality science fiction that geeks hoped for, if you think about it, social networking and location gaming are concepts so out there that even most sci-fi authors didn’t see them coming.

More gaming resources from Mashable:

- The Future of Gaming: 5 Social Predictions
- Free Multiplayer Android Games [3 of the Best]
- Top 10 Games You Can Play on Facebook
- 15 iPhone Apps to Tame the Kids
- 60+ Free Classic Tabletop Games for the iPhone

Tags: games, gaming, metaplace, Second Life, social gaming, video games, virtual worlds, world of warcraft

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