Online Social Networks (OSL) 2005 - Roundtable Meeting in Second Life!

I know that all the members of Brigadoon are very interested in how online communities and online social networks help people, so I'd like to bring this to everyone's attention. :)

There is a very interesting Online Conference going on Feb 9-23 called "Online Social Networks (OSL) 2005"

Here's a description:

OSN2005 will be a summit for all those interested in working with social networking processes, tools, and media. In addition to attending many workshops, panels, and presentations by leading experts and practitioners, attendees will have the opportunity to be part of a community with a significant role in defining the future direction of online social networking. If you want to help shape this industry, come to OSN2005!

During the OSN2005 summit we will co-create and publish a manifesto describing what we want and need from online social networking tools. What are the key criteria for choosing and assessing OSN products and services? What gaps exist in currently available software and related tools? What needs to happen before it's common knowledge that OSN products and services can deliver significant value? What are the most promising developments in the OSN industry?

Attendees will be invited to participate in a series of focus groups to provide feedback on current OSN technology and articulate specific suggestions for future features and developments. A series of White papers based on these focus groups will be shared with venture investors who want to know where to place their bets in this industry.

I'm attending this conference, and it's already turning out to be a fascinating meeting of minds and ideas. Last night I was speaking online with one of the conference organizers, and I suggested that they have a "break-out roundtable discussion" using the Second Life environment. She thought that was a great idea, and encouraged me to step up to the plate and organize it myself. So I did. :)

We'll be having a "Second Life VIrtual Roundtable" meeting on Saturday, February 12, at 6:00pm Eastern Time on the Second Life sim named "Live2Give."  I volunteered to host it and have it on the "Live2Give" sim since it's a large publically accessible area with plenty of space for lots of people to meet.

I'd like to extend the invitation to everyone reading this blog, whether or not you are "attending" the conference.  Please join us!   The meeting in Second Life won't be anything formal, just a chance to have a friendly chat with other people at the conference who are interested in the future of online social networks and to share ideas about online communities.

To join the meeting, log on to Second Life and teleport to the sim "Live2Give."  If you have any trouble just send me an Instant Message in Second Life (my name there is John Prototype).

Hope to see you then!

Details on how to join the meeting:

1) If you don't already have an account on Second Life, sign up here.  It's a free 7-day trial, so if you don't care to continue to use Second Life after the meeting you can cancel your account within a week at no cost.

2) Log on to Second Life.

3) Click the MAP button at the bottom of the screen.

4) In the MAP window that pops up, look to the right and click on the REGION pulldown menu.

5) Scroll down and select "Live2Give"

6) Click the TELEPORT button just below the pulldown menu.  You will be automatically transported to Live2Give island, and you'll be dropped right into the meeting area.

7) If you log on to Second Life and have any problems, send an Instant Message to me (John Prototype), or contact me on AIM (DangerJohn3) if you have any general problems logging in.

-------- UPDATE Feb 13 -----------
Here is a transcript of the meeting (with photos).

Posted by John Lester on February 11, 2005 at 01:57 PM in John's posts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

My home on Brigadoon

The virtual world of SL allows you to express yourself in many ways.  One way that most people express themselves is by building a "home" in SL.  You can build anything you like using the building tools in the software, the same way you can use a program like Photoshop to create any picture you like.  If you've been reading this blog, you've seen that some people express themselves on Brigadoon by building homes surrounded by wonderful gardens full of flowers and beautiful trees.  Other people create little mountain chalets.  Some even build large houseboats or yachts that actually move on the water, complete with circling seagulls and parrots that talk to you!

I put off building a home for myself for a long time.  I had created a greek temple on the mountain as a public meeting space, but I never had my own "house" really. 

Well, last week while I was wandering around the public world of SL, I saw a house for sale.  You can either create your own house in SL or visit a number of vendors who sell pre-built homes.  As soon as I saw the house, I knew it was the one I wanted.  I immediately purchased it and set it up on Brigadoon.

My home is basically a house inspired by the TV show and movie "The Addams Family."  It's based on the Addams Family's house, and was built by SL resident Eva Virgo..  I always loved that TV show and movie.  The style is somewhat "gothic," but it's not dark or foreboding at all.  It's open and airy, and I plan to build modifications to it over time.  I'd like to create a little "Thing" guy and have him dancing around the entrance.  Oh, and I need to work on getting a dragon to live under the staircase. :)

I've been using my new house as a place for holding meetings now and then on Brigadoon.  Here are some pictures of my house and a bunch of us meeting the other day.  When I told my good friend lilone Sandrain about my new home, I mentioned "I think I need some friendly bats flying around my belfry."  She laughed and then created a bunch of cute little bats for me (they even fly!), and I've made them permanent residents of my home.  Brigadoon resident Jamison immediately gave me some wonderful chairs for my meeting space, and Coos gave me a beautiful torch that I've placed on my roof deck.  Pepsi recently gave me a wonderul candelabra that I am placing in the living room.

Creative expression in SL takes many forms, just like in the real world.  The way we dress, the homes we live in, and the way we behave with other people.  Brigadoon is allowing everyone to freely explore all those modes of expression, and more.


Posted by John Lester on January 22, 2005 at 06:27 PM in John's posts | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Donating to support Brigadoon

Project Brigadoon is financially supported by Braintalk Communities Inc.  However, we would like to give people who wish to directly contribute to Project Brigadoon the ability to make donations online.

Therefore, we've just added a donation button to the Brigadoon blog (in the left column on this page).  This will give people interested in contributing to Brigadoon the ability to donate online using Paypal or a credit card.

I am using BrainTalk Communities Inc. as the organization to receive and process the funds.  Since BrainTalk Communities is a non-profit organization, all donations are fully tax deductible, and all donations made through the "donate" button on this Brigadoon blog will be used *exclusively* for Project Brigadoon.

All donations to Project Brigadoon will be used to help pay monthly land rental fees, as well as to potentially purchase more land as the members of Brigadoon grow.

Thank you for your generosity and support.  By donating to Project Brigadoon, you will be helping a group of people dealing with Asperger's Syndrome and Autism to become more independent and confident in themselves.  Thank you.

-John Lester (Second Life name: John Prototype)

Posted by John Lester on January 21, 2005 at 02:36 PM in John's posts | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Introducing myself - John Prototype

John_prototype_brigadoonTo get this blog rolling, I'm going to start by introducing myself.  My real-world name is John Lester, and I run BrainTalk Communities.  In the virtual world of Second Life, I go by the name John Prototype.  That's a pic of my avatar to the left.  Yes, my avatar looks very similar to me in "real life," but not everyone creates an avatar that looks like them.  Everyone has the freedom to create an avatar that looks however they want.  Some people even make avatars that look like animals!  In my pic there, I'm wearing an official "Project Brigadoon" T-shirt.  In Second Life, you can create clothes and upload images from your PC to use as textures.

I have been involved in creating and managing online communities since 1993 when I started BrainTalk, a project originally based out of Massachusetts General Hospital (where I work as the Information Technology Director for the Neurology Department). Braintalk is an Internet-based online self-help support environment providing online resources for patients and caregivers to find and communicate with each other around the world. 

In 2004, I started a non-profit organization called BrainTalk Communities Inc. The fundamental mission of Braintalk Communities is to foster online communities of self-help support groups, giving patients and caregivers the ability to communicate with each other using a variety of Internet technologies such as web-based bulletin boards, chatrooms, and new virtual-world environments.

Brigadoon is our private virtual island in Second Life, and I'm the owner/manager/janitor. :)  All the members of Brigadoon are free to build whatever they like on the island.  Most people have built homes and beautiful gardens, and we also have a number of meeting spaces where we gather and sit around and socialize.  Here are some photos of a a few group gatherings.



The island of Brigadoon is accessible only to members of project Brigadoon.  The idea is to create a private haven where people dealing with Asperger's/Autism can practice their socialization skills in an  environment where everyone knows everyone else.  People dealing with Asperger's/Autism sometimes have real difficulty dealing with social situations, and they are often filled with great creative ideas.  Brigadoon gives them a place to meet other people also dealing with Asperger's/Autism, a place to socialize with each other, and a place to build and create their own word filled with wonder and beauty.

The island of Brigadoon is about 16 acres large.  Here are some panoramic shots of the whole island.  In some of these pictures you'll see me sitting on or inside what looks like a Greek Temple.  I build that myself as a fun meeting space on Brigadoon.  The mosaics you see in the temple are real photos of real mosasics I found on a museum website.  I uploaded them from my computer into Second Life and used them as textures for the temple.  Panorama_brigadoon_03


Finally, here is a picture of the first thing built on Brigadoon.  It's a stone monument with an embedded plaque commemorating the creation of the Island.


I will let the other members of Brigadoon introduce themselves on their own and let them share additional images of the amazing things they have created.  All the members of Brigadoon can use this Blog however they like, to share with the general public their experiences and thoughts about Brigadoon, Second Life, Asperger's/Autism, or anything else that comes to mind.  I will be posting my thoughts as well here.  Please check back again soon!

Posted by John Lester on January 10, 2005 at 08:46 PM in John's posts | Permalink | Comments (75)

More about Brigadoon

Here are some more details about Brigadoon and how I feel it might help people dealing with Asperger's Syndrome.

Basically, I'm trying to do with Brigadoon the same as I've always done with the Braintalk Communities, just using a new communication technology. Namely, I'm trying to provide a group of people with an environment within which they can interact with each other and help each other learn how to communicate in new ways, to see if they can learn from each other and provide support to each other. I'm helping to guide this community, but for the most part I want to see what the participants in this community make of this new environment on their own. I've seen amazing support environments spring up on Braintalk, with people helping each other help themselves with minimal intervention on my part. That's the same with what I'm trying to do with Brigadoon.

Brigadoon is a private "virtual world"...a whole Island...that exists in the commercial online virtual world system known as "Second Life." It truly isn't a "game"...there are no preconceived goals or "monsters" or tasks that people have to do (like with the Sims Online). It's simply an online world where people can create whatever they like, interact however they like...essentially a tabula rasa.

In this "Second Life" environment, people have the ability to create private" areas. Whole areas where only specific people have access. Basically like having an Intranet with a controlled membership. I've scraped up funds to be able to purchase and maintain such a private area in the Second Life world (Brigadoon Island)...and I'm opening it up to high-functioning Autism/Asperger's Syndrome people who are currently using Braintalk.

What's special about Second Life that I think will help Autism/AS people? Well, from what I've seen on Braintalk, and in other online communities, there are many Autism/AS people who are very high functioning and are seeking out new online technologies to help them communicate with people and to help them practice their socialization skills. Many of these people are amazingly articulate when posting messages in online forums and chatrooms, yet they still have problems interacting in the "real world" when put in a situation where they are face-to-face with other people.

What's special about the "Second Life" environment is that it is visually very REAL. You create your own avatar to represent you in this virtual world, and instead of just seeing names on a webpage you actually SEE other people standing around you in a 3-d world. You can also BUILD things in this world...houses, theaters, sculptures, gardens...whatever you like. And then you can visit these places with other people, and interact with them in a 3-d world that looks quite similar to the "real world." You can sit in a garden with other people and socialize. You can sail on a boat and watch the sunset with friends. You can host a campfire gathering on the beach and show each other how to build sculptures or just chat about whatever you want.

I've heard from high-functioning Autism/AS people that they really want to learn how to socialize and interact better with other people. It's just hard to do in the "real world." I've heard that they try very hard to learn socialization skills the same way most people learn to "play the piano" takes repetition and experimentation. And the reason many of them embrace the online world is that is is one step removed from the real world. Less stressful, with less consequences.

So, in a nutshell, my basic idea is this. Second Life provides a more perceptually immersive socialization environment online. It looks more "real"...and gives you more freedom. Yet it is still NOT the "real world," so it's a place that people can practice their socialization and collaborative skills in a much more "consequence-free" place. By giving Autism/AS access to this private Brigadoon environment, I'm creating a place where everyone else is "on the same page" so to speak...everyone knows that everyone else is dealing with the same issues, and they can help each other help themselves. And I feel that what they learn from participating on Brigadoon can truly HELP them in the REAL world. Help them deal with face-to-face interactions.

Now, Brigadoon is a private island, but it exists in a larger public world of Second Life. The same way Braintalk exists on the Web....Braintalk is a private haven, and outside of it is the whole Web. People who have access to Brigadoon have the OPTION of visiting this public world of Second Life...full of thousands of random people with different goals for using the Second Life world. By default, if someone is an adult (18+) and they want to participate in Brigadoon, I give them the option of visiting the public world of Second Life. BUT...if someone is a minor (under 18) and they want to use Brigadoon, I can set it up so that they ONLY have access to Brigadoon...they can never "wander off" our private area.

Behind all of this, everyone is a real person. And I understand the potential for misunderstandings, hurt feelings, etc. But with Brigadoon, I'm the only person able to add members. And while I realize I cannot control every little thing that people say to each other on Brigadoon, I CAN manage it the same way I manage Braintalk. By providing some guidance, by helping people, and by trying to provide an example in how to be supportive. So far, all the current members of Brigadoon have been very helpful and cooperative...the few bad interactions have only been when people go OFF of Brigadoon and meet other random people. I can't promise that people on Brigadoon won't get into conflicts...the same exact way I cannot totally prevent conflicts on Braintalk. But that's a real-life risk that participants in Brigadoon have to accept...the same way when people participate in the forums on Braintalk. All I can promise is that, on Brigadoon, I'm keeping close tabs on things and working hard with the residents to foster a supportive environment as best I can.

Mind you, I have no idea if any of this will "work" is truly an experimental community (same as Braintalk was/is). I just have a gut feeling that Brigadoon can provide an innovative and helpful environment that will let Autism/AS people practice their socialization skills....and that they will be able to take what they've learned into to the "real world" to help them interact and socialize with people.

Take care,

If you've made it this far and would like to know more about me and what I do in Brigadoon, please check this out.

Posted by John Lester on January 9, 2005 at 02:58 PM in John's posts | Permalink | Comments (29)

About Brigadoon

Welcome.  What follows is a detailed explanation of Project Brigadoon.  If you would like to be involved in this project, please email me at [email protected].

All of the Authors on this blog are participants in Project Brigadoon.  This Blog is a place where they can publically share their thoughts, experiences and feelings.   About Brigadoon, Second Life, Asperger's Syndrome/Autism, or anything else.  This Blog is also a place where the general public can interact with participants in Brigadoon by posting comments.

-John Lester
President, BrainTalk Communities, Inc.
Founder, Project Brigadoon
Second Life name: John Protoype


What is Brigadoon?

"Brigadoon" is the name of a project that I've been thinking about for a long time. The name is actually a reference to an old musical, which was a wistful fantasy about two Americans who stumble on the enchanted village of Brigadoon while hunting grouse on the Scottish moors. This village of Brigadoon was a beautiful place full of magic, but it would only occasionally materialize from the mists of time every 100 years or so.

Anyway, now that you know where I got the name from, let me explain this idea. I have always been interested in creating online worlds where people dealing with neurological problems could find each other and, most importantly, help each other help themselves. I am not a physician, and I do not give medical advice to anyone. However, I have always felt that there was a need to give patients the ability to find other people dealing with similar situations, and that the help they could give to each other in a self-help supportive environment was invaluable. Like I've said before, I'm just a landlord...I build and maintain places where people create their own communities and help each other.  That is why I created BrainTalk Communities Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to providing online communities for patients and caregivers dealing with neurological issues. I started BrainTalk back in 1993, and it is now the largest online community for neurology self-help groups in the world. (here's a bit of history if you'd like to know the origins of BrainTalk)

Aside from online bulletin boards and chatrooms, I have always been interested in more "advanced" online worlds and communities. Places that could provide more realism, in a graphical and interactive way. Virtual worlds, where people could not just communicate with each other, but where they could BUILD virtual places and homes. Where they could, in essence, build a world around themselves within which they could talk to each other and create a whole new kind of online community.

Over the years, I've explored and experimented with such virtual worlds. Online worlds such as Active Worlds and The Palace. And about 3 years ago, I was in a meeting with Mitch Kapor (the founder of Lotus) at MIT. He told me he was funding a small software development company called Linden Lab and that they were going to be creating a fantastic new online virtual world. A place that was going to be totally open to allow participants to create whatever they wanted. He said that it was going to revolutionize online communities, giving people the ability to communicate with each other and create social networks in a way that was never before possible.

That world is called Second Life. And naturally, my first thought was "hmm...I wonder...if there's some way I could use this world to help people dealing with neurological issues." Second Life is a commercial system (you pay a monthly charge to use their servers), and although it is often classified as an "online game" (like The Sims Online), it really ISN'T a game. It's an online world, with no content or goals except those created by the people who use it. I think of it as the next evolutionary step of something like the World Wide Web. You give people the tools to create, and then just sit back and watch what everyone builds. For an excellent review of Second Life, please read this article in the Houston Chronicle.

I've been exploring Second Life a lot the past year. Testing it out for myself. By default, everyone is logged in to a large communal world that is totally open to the publc. BUT...a few months ago, Linden Lab created a new policy. Individuals can now purchase an entirely private "island" in Second Life...and they can basically restrict access to this island however they wish. So the ability to create a private world within this public world is now possible. It just costs money to have Linden Lab set up and maintain this island for you.

So...I had found an amazing new technology, and I could use it to give people the opportunity to communicate and build their own virtual world. Now I just had to think of EXACTLY HOW to use this opportunity. Who might benefit the most from such a world, where people could interact socially in a much more creative way than just using email or a bulletin board or chatroom? Where people could customize their online "virtual" environment however they liked?

I thought about this for a month or so. Then one day, I was speaking with John Ratey at Harvard, the author of "A User's Guide to the Brain" and "Driven to Distraction." He is very familiar with Braintalk, and has always been interested in ways to give patients the ability to help themselves. We started talking about people dealing with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. How many of them are very high functioning and computer literate, how they have embraced online communities as a way to communicate. How they have such difficulties communicating in the "real world," and how they find the computer to be a very liberating tool. How they have problems dealing with physical environments in the real world, and how they often have a strong desire to modify their physical environment to better help themselves deal with social interactions.

I started rambling about Second Life. About how it might be the "next big thing" in online virtual worlds. And I said something like..."wouldn't it be neat to create a space in Second Life exclusive to people dealing with Autism and Asperger's could give them a private space and the tools to modify that part of the world...and you could work with them to allow these people to create their OWN customized environment. A virtual world essentially made BY them...FOR them. A place where they would be with other people dealing with very similar issues. And just see what they come up with to help each other?"

He looked at me very quietly and smiled and said something to the effect of "nobody has ever done anything like that. It could be really amazing."

We started talking about other things, but my mind kept coming back to this idea. And I thought "well, I think I need to really explore this crazy idea."

So here we are.  BrainTalk Communities Inc. is funding this project as part of it's core mission to explore online communities that help neurology patients and caregivers, and we have purchased  a private island in Second Life.  We will work with people to help them use it as a totally new way to interact socially with each other. Mind you, I have no idea if this will really work...if it will really help people dealing with Autism/Asperger's...if they might find it too complicated or overwhelming...if they can really use it to help each other. But I would like to try.

Please let me know your thoughts and ideas. Thank you.


Want to know more about Brigadoon?  Please see this next post.

Posted by John Lester on January 9, 2005 at 02:57 PM in John's posts | Permalink | Comments (61)