Prof’s expertise gives new life

Brett Atwood, clinical professor of journalism, knew he was in an alternate universe when he showed up to interview for a consulting job last spring and got teleported to an undisclosed and secure location.

Well, he didn’t get teleported; his avatar, or online persona, in Second Life, an online 3-D digital world with 9 million registered users and counting, got teleported.

Appropriately dressed in a business suit and tie that Atwood had purchased in Second Life for the occasion, his avatar swooshed through cyberspace and joined three or four Second Life executives in a digitally created conference room for a fairly typical job interview lasting an hour and a half.

In the past, residents of Second Life communicated with text messages, but this spring the company rolled out the beta form of voice communication, so Atwood’s interview was much like being on speaker phone, but with avatars sitting across from each other. Though users can use keystrokes to make their avatars move, (F8 for laugh, F2 for clap, F9 for dance) Atwood said once everyone got seated they pretty much just talked.

75 universities and counting
The weirdness of it all isn’t lost on Atwood, but neither is the potential.

“It requires somebody to take a leap of faith,” he said. “It’s easily mocked. I get that.” But, he said, having an online avatar does change the dynamic. It does create a more complete social connection than just text messaging or just voice.

While Second Life debuted in 2003 as primarily a 3-D social networking community, it has evolved into much more, with its own in-world economy and currency that has created at least one real-world millionaire. Another burgeoning area is education, with more than 75 colleges and universities — including WSU — setting up virtual campuses for distance learning, recruitment and global collaborations.

In any case, the interview must have gone well because Atwood got the job as a managing editor at Linden Lab, Second Life’s parent company, and spent about two months this summer working in San Francisco — physically, not virtually.

Learn more Nov. 8
Drawing on his experience as new media editor for Billboard, as well as designing and managing websites for, and, the website for the Stockton Record newspaper in California, Atwood used various website metrics, including Google Analytics and CrazyEgg, to “crunch the numbers” and analyze click-through patterns to determine how people were using the website. He then coordinated a complete overhaul of both the website design and content to better “evangelize” the technology and make it more accessible to a wider audience.

Atwood, who teaches courses in new technology in the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, said he had an academic interest in Second Life prior to working there, but has come away with a heightened sense of the possibilities.

As part of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology’s brown bag series, Using Vision to Think, Atwood will be discussing Second Life 12:10-12:50 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, in CUE 512.
Virtual interview, real anxiety
You would think that interviewing for a job by sending your avatar into an online 3-D digital world would eliminate some worries. After all, avatars can’t have bad hair days.
But, when Brett Atwood, clinical assistant professor of communication, sent his avatar hurtling through cyberspace for an interview with executives at Second Life, the online digital world with 9 million registered users, he was a little shocked when he arrived at the meeting space.
“My hair didn’t res, so I arrived bald,” he said, laughing. But, he said, at least his pants survived the journey.
In fact, they were nice pants, purchased in-world. Atwood’s avatar was wearing a snappy looking suit and tie when he arrived, and Atwood had planned to use a special handshake animation during the introductions.
But, in the end, he just said hello and sat down.
“I chickened out,” he said. “I didn’t use it.
The online logistics of such a maneuver are tricky, he said, especially if you haven’t been able to practice. With sloppy keystrokes, a handshake could easily be mistaken for a spastic gesture, or worse, a wallop upside the head.
Not exactly how you want to start an interview, even if your hair looks perfect.