Dr. Dobb’s Journal and Life 2.0

May 2, 2007

by Onder Skall

NOTE: this article was actually written several weeks ago and sent in to the Herald. It got lost in the shuffle and never saw the light of day. For ongoing coverage of the Life 2.0 event, see Metaversed.

When I had first heard of the Dr. Dobbs Life 2.0 event (through channels I’ve since forgotten) the details were pretty sketchy. We knew it was going to be in-world, and roughly what it was about (the journal is about hardcore code-crunching, after all), but there was nothing really beyond that. A perusal of the “Life 2.0” website shed some light on the matter:

[…] John Jainschigg, Director of Online Technology for Dr. Dobb’s Journal, announced Dr. Dobb’s Life 2.0 http://www.life20.net, a new initiative aimed at providing software developers with a resource for events, training, and business development within the Second Life virtual world.

According to the program summary the hardcore basics of LSL and building in SL will be covered April 28/29, followed by a series of two-hour seminars over the next few days on topics like “SL as Platform” and “SL is Not a Game/SL is All Games”. Still, there was a serious lack of names here. I went to the island, took a look around, and found it to be a vacant work-in-progress. What’s going on here? (Side note: turns out I’m just a little early – they’ll be almost done building the place by the end of the week.)

After about five minutes another green dot appeared on the mini-map and I chased it down. Maybe they knew something. As it turned out this was Rissa Maidstone, an independent consultant helping to put the place together. She contacted John Jainschigg (John Zhaoying in SL) who quickly joined us, and the three of us settled in for a chat. What is this event meant to accomplish? Who is it for? Is this going to be a one-off event, or is Dobb’s going to make more than just another corporate brochure site?

The fact is, I’ve really lost touch with Dr. Dobb’s Journal. I hung up my programmer hat years ago when life pulled me in another direction, and only had a distant recollection of having owned C++ manuals that they produced. They were, and continue to be, the ultimate resource for software developers serious about staying on the cutting edge. They were the first to print Richard Stallman’s “GNU Manifesto“, were all over the introduction of Linux, and recently explored how to prepare for the so-called “Vista Killer”, SLED10 Linux. You don’t get any more bleeding edge than these guys.

As it turns out, these days, this is just the tip of the iceberg for them.

Over the course of our conversation I discovered that they had been picked up by media giant CMP Media, and had gotten into the habit of holding regular developer’s conferences worldwide. Those events include SD West, SD Boston, Architecture and Design, SD Best Practices, .NET Roadshow, SD India, SD Russia and a couple of others. (SD is “Software Development”.) This latest venture, entitled “Life 2.0”, tackles software development here in Second Life.

What follows is the basic content of my conversation with John Jainschigg, Director of Online Technology for Dr. Dobb’s Journal. SL’s funky chatlog formatting has been stripped out for readability’s sake and our little side conversations removed so that you can just get the raw content.

JJ: “A formal definition of Life 2.0? […] it (obviously) follows on Web 2.0 which is a useless, confusing buzzword that suits use to mean ‘the conflation of social networking and content aggregation and generally anything that lets us build pageviews without paying editors and writers and art directors’ and which web guys have been obliged to use, even though they know better, to mean ‘AJAX, and a range of javascript-based and XML-based techniques for bidirectional, asynch page updating without META-REFRESH’.

Life 2.0, following on this terminology and the cloud of confusion surrounding it, is my personal joke which expands to mean something like this: The metaverse is, first of all, not like anything else you’ve ever encountered on the web. And it is, first and foremost, a place where people who understand technology (and people) can create value directly.”

OS: “How do you respond to the accusation that defining it as a place for ‘people who understand technology’ is an elitist perspective?”

JJ: “Ah — but that’s also part of my point. I just did a series of talks about SL at SD West and other places and my core theme (because I was talking, mostly, to big companies who are dying for qualified people at every level, globally, who understand technology AND business AND process) is that Second Life is the world’s greatest crucible for identifying, filtering, training, motivating and maybe ultimately _employing_ “software development” talent that bears NO connection with the current ‘culture’ of software dev — the accounting systems, and the compilers and the flat websites.

Everything in SL is software including the Xcite! genitals that subnetwork with the Material Squirrel angel wings, right? But this is software that’s NOT being produced by people with classic software backgrounds, in many cases, or with classic software ‘sensibilities’. Many are self-taught. Others are surely alpha-geeks in the real world, who find another kind of bliss here.

But this starts looking globally important when you think about what business is going to need in 5 or 10 years: people who grasp multiple cultures intuitively, people who can create applications linking vast dynamic processes, people who know all about ‘flying around a 3D space building large-scale data visualization.’ Your classic software people… may or may not be equipped to cope. But SL is kicking out an entire generation of those future experts, right now.”

OS: “So… what you’re talking about here is a predicted… (oh I hate this term but here goes)… ‘paradigm shift’ between old school programmers and a new wave.”

JJ: “I was going to say, some of the people who’ll be at Life 2.0 — like AngryBeth Shortbread and Jacque Quijote, are SL-based artists who work in this medium of ‘space’. They have amazing installations which — under the ‘art content,’ which is also vital — are meditations on space and interactivity.

I should add that I think the readers of Dobb’s are, in the main, immune from such a shift because they’re the type who embraces this stuff.”

OS: “Who are you hoping comes to the event?”

JJ: “Well, we’re doing things that we never have to do at RL events. At an RL event, you hope EVERYBODY comes. Here, at least on-sim, we can’t accommodate more than a handful. So we’re doing two things:

First, we’re extending a lot of content to the web in as close-to-realtime as technology and cost permit — interactive web/SL chat, some video, a lot of steaming (beyond to-SL-client streaming) and interoperating presentation-systems that show on the web as well as inworld.

And second, we’re doing something that makes me a little uncomfortable, but I have no better solution beyond ‘Promising that this is just the first of what will be a regular series of events.’ Which is we’re trying to insure that native-inworld and native-outworld folks have equal access to the SL parts of the event, by subdividing our seats and doing blind lotteries.”

OS: “Oooh that’s bold!”

JJ: “I have no better solution. Initial registration has been very enthusiastic. So if I wanted to fill the sim for a week, just with people like the CIO of Raytheon and the head of interactive media at Princeton, I could do it several times over.

But there’s a level at which doing that would be bogus. This world isn’t Dobb’s creation. And those outside it need to see the genius and meet the geniuses who built it.

So we gotta mingle, the other way we’re doing that (and I hope it works) is by conducting tours all over SL during the event. We’re gonna be TP-hudding folks around like planes over Newark Airport. And hopefully, letting them plug into the communities here and make contacts they’ll later remember to follow up on.

[…] I think a lot of folks do tours. I’d love — for one thing — to have that be a service we can render. Become the place to get your tour-HUD and then go zoom around and see, do, be. That is our hope in most cases. In keeping with the philosophy, we’re going much further afield than just what’s become the standard ‘corporate stops.’ We’ll do a couple of those, certainly. But I’d much rather show people Svarga or Sanctum Sanctorum or NOAA or the spaceport than ‘yet another tour of American Apparel.’ (not that there’s anything wrong with jeans!)”

I ran out of time and said my goodbyes, but I have to say that Dobb’s is doing two things right here:

  1. Somehow I caught them unawares (I still have no idea how I heard about this…). The website is sparse and the sim isn’t built yet. None of that matters, however, because there were actual staff there! How I wish more corporations would understand that all they have to do is put a script in the sim that buzzes somebody in RL to log in and chat for a second!
  2. They are building towards becoming a part of SL, instead of building something they think looks flashy to impress the residents. A successful business in RL seeks to become part of the community, not bulldoze it. (Well, except Wal-Mart… )

For full details on the “Dr. Dobb’s Life 2.0 Summit” including LSL University, summit panels, the career center, show floor, and sponsorship, see www.life20.net.


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