Archive for October, 2016


Class 6: Online communities

October 27, 2016

Gentle Heron welcomes the class to Virtual Ability Island.

Gentle Heron hosted our visit to Virtual Ability Island this week. We gathered in the auditorium where she told us of the origin and development of the island. It was opened in 2007 to support a community enabling people with a wide range of disabilities to thrive in online virtual worlds like SL. Now, with a population of over 1,000 individuals from six continents (in Real Life) of varying abilities (not all are disabled) the community is vibrant and active. Although disability may be less apparent in SL where, for example avatars can walk even though their human counterparts may need a wheelchair, those with visual or hearing impairment require particular consideration.

The principles of universal design and access for all underpin the development of the environment so that colour schemes, landscaping, materials and access all promote integration – there is no segregation between the able and the disabled. You won’t find any stairs here, only ramps, colour schemes are soothing to promote calm stress-free engagement and support those with visual disability, while speech is accompanied by text in local chat so those with hearing impairment are not disadvantaged. The Virtual Ability website is worth a visit if you would like to read about the history and development.


Some participants enjoying virtual refreshment during the visit to Virtual Ability Island.

Gentle spoke of the importance of community support in SL, in particular for people who may not be able to leave their homes in Real Life. Online communities may well provide their only means of socialising, getting informed, engaging with the wider world and influencing issues outside their immediate physical environment.

We then teleported to Cape Able to visit the art gallery. It hosts work by artists working in both RL and SL. We saw work by SL photographer Slatan Dryke. Next door is the virtual presence of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, with a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition downstairs and pieces from its famed Masterpieces of American Indian Art upstairs.


Imagine Magazine, an SL periodical, published a profile on Gentle Heron in the November 2010 edition.

The final location we visited was Cape Serenity which hosts a library and poetry garden. The library has a selection of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama that can be read directly in SL, or in the form of notecards, or provide links to free downloads and websites. It features publications by residents writing about their direct experiences of disability and engagement. The poetry garden was the highlight of the evening. A beautifully serene place with birdsong, a pond, rabbits and birds wandering through panels displaying poems.


  1. Write the sixth post: to your blog discussing the importance of regulation, convention and etiquette in online communities.
  2. Write the seventh post: to your blog describing how you have contributed to the theme of your group’s project and describing the group meetings held so far.
  3. Read: Digital identity development is a process, by Eric Stoller.
  4. Read: Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man in the Guardian newspaper 2011.


Class 5: personal branding – presence online

October 20, 2016

Class began with a review of the student groups. Some of the groups have been unable to make contact with one of their members so John suggested that we would consider the groups again next week. By then the pattern of class attendance will have emerged and if some realignment of membership is required we can do it then.

Most of the class have now joined the Facebook group and everyone agreed that it is a very useful way to keep in touch with class issues because most of us access the app regularly throughout the day. John asked how the group members intend to communicate online and it appears that many of you will use Facebook messenger. In addition to the advantage of regular checking it is also accessible across may platforms – phone, pc, tablet etc. This gives it an advantage over WhatsApp, WeChat and other apps that are limited to the phone.

Only some of you had read the articles posted here last week so there was a limited discussion on how employers might interact with employees who have a very public social media presence. In the four years since the Wall Street Journal article was published the landscape has changed so much that it appeared quite dated. However, it did begin a discussion about the ubiquity of social media and how our real lives are becoming synonymous with our online profiles. We will return to this subject next week.


Lauk’s Nest, one of the oldest parks in Second Life, was built in 2004 by Laukosargas Svarog.

The class finished with a visit to Lauk’s Nest, one of the oldest natural parks in SL. Symeon Siamendes greeted us by offering cocktails and a notecard giving the history of the park. It was created only two years after the launch of SL itself, in 2004 and, almost uniquely for the virtual world, it has been sold to different owners four times since then. Each has maintained the integrity of the original creation.

John commenced disbursement of L$300 to each participant and said he would ensure everyone received their payment before class next week.


  1. Look at: the infographic Personal Branding: 10 Steps to a New Professional You.
  2. Explore: Humans of New York Facebook page and related social media see how Brandon Stanton has used social media to make an impact- an example being his use of instagram, facebook, twitter alongside the blog. Take note of how he has identified and positioned himself.
  3. Read: about the Heron Sanctuary which we will be visiting next week. Virtual Ability Inc. 
  4. Write the fifth post: to your blog about how you might convert your personal presence online into an identity for professional networking.

Class 4: Online collaboration

October 13, 2016

Sitearm Madonna, guest lecturer, chats with Locks Aichi and John O’Connor after class.

Guest lecturer Sitearm Madonna joined us in class this week to share his Online Collaboration Tips for the Tech-Savvy @ Dublin Institute of Technology in Second Life. You can find a summary of the tips on Sitearm’s blog.

During the questions after his presentation Sitearm, aka James Neville, explained the origin of his female avatar. Formerly an engineer with oil company Exxon he began working in online virtual worlds as they emerged for consumers in the early 2000s. As he joined various worlds he noticed the user was offered a male or female avatar and he decided to select the female for Second Life. This preceded the advent of voice chat when all communication was via text so, his deep Texan drawl was not a giveaway. Nevertheless, one virtual colleague noticed he wasn’t wearing new outfits regularly and deduced the truth of his real life gender! Site has continued to manifest in the female avatar, sometimes using the voice morphing tool, but has never attempted to hide his real life identity. He argues this is common in virtual worlds and gives him an insight into the female condition that would otherwise be hidden from him.

Then we spoke about the assignment from last week: to make contact with new people in SL. Many of you engaged in interesting conversations with a range of people. John reminded you to write up the experience in your blog if you haven’t already done so. He also reminded you again that the first assessment point is next week (see last week’s class summary for details).

Pepe Picante shared the Facebook group with the class which you should all join. This is a closed group which will operate just for this class. It will be a useful tool for communication between classes and John will post links to the class summaries there.

Finally, John circulated an updated list of student Project Groups and recommended that you start meeting regularly. You need to get to know each other and begin thinking about your group’s dynamics following Sitearm’s talk. You also need time to consider the direction in which you want to take your project. Read the project brief carefully and regularly. Also read the assessment criteria for the project. There is little value in working outside the requirements. It is also important to remember that although this is a group project you will be assessed individually. So, don’t be waiting around for others to start. Get working immediately!


  1. Decide: among your group what tools you will use for planning your project (how you will stay in touch and share information, etc.).
  2. Write the fourth post: on your blog explaining your choice of communication tools and reflect on how the group arrived at the decision.
  3. Read: Living Structures in Second Life Virtual Worlds Projects by Sitearm Madonna.
  4. Read: Your Employee Is an Online Celebrity. Now What Do You Do? a Wall Street Journal article about employees developing their personal brand and implications for their employer.

Class 3: Digital footprints

October 6, 2016

Following last week’s poll to select a communication app we agreed to set up a private Facebook group. Details will be circulated during the week.

Participants spoke about their experiences visiting locations in SL. You selected them from the list of suggestions offered by SL and from talking to other residents (as those who ‘play’ SL are known). Many of you appear to have visited interesting places that were unnervingly empty of people. This may well have been due to the time zone differences. But some of you found lively social gatherings that led to interactions with others. We talked about the maturity rating of locations from G(eneral) through M(oderate) to A(dult). It is important to remember that just as you would take care to read your surroundings in Real Life you should be cautious when visiting new places in SL.

John reminded the class that every participant should have their blog set up now, with at least two posts written (as described in the previous two class summaries) and the ‘about’ section completed. Some of you have not submitted links yet and should do so immediately. Remember, the blogs are assessed for progress after week four and need to be up to date before class five starts at 8.00 pm on 20th October.

You all received a notecard when logging into SL for the class, listing the student groups for the project. Only students who have submitted their blog were on the list. An updated list will be circulated next week. The brief for the project Who’s watching you has been posted on the website. We discussed the theme and John pointed out the reading and watching links that will get you started on your research work. Last week’s reading 5 steps to build a productive and tight-knit remote team should help you get started on the practicalities. The purpose of the project is to give you the opportunity to work collaboratively online so, please try to limit Real Life encounters on the project!


  1. Go: outside your established community/group (eg, this class group) in SL and make contact with at least two people relevant to your interests (artist, gallery owner, musician, shop manager, business owner, educator, builder, etc). Try to engage them in conversation.
  2. Write the third post: on your blog describing your encounters.

Group project: Who’s watching you?

October 6, 2016


For the project you will explore the concept of your digital identity and it’s importance to you and anyone else. In your groups you will research the traces each of you has already left online, your digital footprint: what you are sharing? what can others learn about you? who might be watching you? who owns the information you might have thought was private? And, most importantly, what value might it have to others and what are they doing with it?

The tacit agreement most of us make when we engage online is that our personal details, behaviour, preferences, likes and dislikes and so on will be shared in exchange for the ‘free’ availability of useful or entertaining apps, games, tools, services etc. Most of us share apparently innocuous information online on a daily basis. Taken on their own, these nuggets of personal information seem harmless but, when they are aggregated the result can be a surprisingly comprehensive profile of our behaviour. The corporations engaged in this activity protect themselves by asking us to agree to Terms of Reference when signing up for services but, does anybody read the terms? and if you do read them have you ever decided against proceeding to sign up?

This information is gathered legally and often shared legally. But in addition, there are more sinister operators at work in the so-called ‘dark web’. They will seek to break encrypted information you may reasonably expect to be kept secret: credit card details from legitimate online purchases for example.

In the early incarnation of the world wide web it was often compared with the wild west of the US, a new frontier with little regulation or law enforcement. While that has now changed and much activity is in fact regulated the fact remains that we are in new territory. As major corporations gather information the unexpected consequences of the ‘big data’ phenomenon is only beginning to emerge.

For the project you are to research the digital footprint of your group members. Consider all your online activity, whether through social media, shopping, gaming, correspondence, searching and researching, downloading, communicating and so on. Build a picture of the shadow you are leaving behind, the information that might remain online for others to find. Analyse the impact this may have and envisage a scenario where it might be used by unscrupulous operators to their own benefit.

Present your findings in an entertaining, informative and lively manner using whatever medium and format you wish as long as it can be stored for later review (e.g. a talk, short film, narration+visuals).

Each participant must also describe the progress of the project in a weekly blog post with particular emphasis on their contribution to the project. (What are you bringing to the group and how does it fit into the team’s work?) Discuss the details of the project and also the issues that arise in working collaboratively online. How easy is it meet up virtually and plan the project? What difficulties arise in development? How easy or difficult is communication? What particular problems arise and how do you deal with them? Focus on the experience rather than writing a ‘correct’ post or having an answer for every difficulty.

See page 6 Module assessment for assessment criteria applying to this project.

Important note: If you use images or sound be mindful of copyright, particularly as presentations will be posted to the module blog.

Presentations should be no less than 5 minutes and no more than 10 minutes in duration.

Your presentation can be made in the DIT campus or any appropriate venue selected by the group. Presentation date is normal class time on Thursday 8th December.

Reading and watching list:

Fake It – to control your digital identity In a 2013 TEDx Oxford presentation Danish journalist Pernille Tranberg, who wrote the book Fake It – Your Guide to Digital Self-defense with the German journalist Steffan Heuer, explains what happens with your data, what it can cost you now and in years to come.

The Power of Privacy In this 2016 film by The Guardian, Aleks Krotoski travels the world to undergo challenges that explore our digital life in the 21st century. Watch her be stalked and hacked, fight to get leaked documents back, dive into open data and live in a futuristic home that monitors her every move.

Is someone watching you online? The security risks of the Internet of Things is outlined in this 2016 article from The Conversation by Patryk Szewczyk and Nikolai Hampton.

Who’s watching me on the internet? Technology Correspondent for the BBC, Rory Cellan-Jones writes about our digital footprint and explains data trails in iWonder 2016.

Mockumentary made by Limerick School of Art and Design students in 2014 on how NOT to do a group project. (Only to be used for light relief.)

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