PLAN 68: Article
Campus Living In Second Life

Media Lab Students Win Institute Competition

Two graduate students from the Sociable Media Group in the Media Lab have been chosen winners in MIT’s Institute-wide Second Life Design Competition.  Second Life is an online virtual world in which people interact through avatars; MIT is exploring its potential for enhancing teaching, learning and creative expression.  

The challenge of the competition was to design and create a space within Second Life to represent campus living spaces, represented by clusters of Pods. The Pods were to be modular, replicable and easily customized so that any MIT student could join Second Life and, with little foreknowledge, create and add his or her own Pod to a cluster.

Team Sociable, AKA Drew Harry and Dietmar Offenhuber, proposed an extensible cellular building structure inspired by Archigram's Plug-In City and Metabolistic Architecture.  Each Pod in the system is a flexible space that is owned by a single person and can be used for a range of purposes – as an apartment, a workshop, a gallery, a store, a classroom, a storage closet, whatever. To start new Pod owners off, a range of templates are provided for different uses or styles, but they are easily customized by the owner. 

Each Pod displays textual information that describes its contents, and users are able to browse for Pods that contain specific search terms.  (The promising Pods light up!) Each Pod also features a data collection system that records visits to the Pod so one can see how many people are currently in each space and how many people have recently visited; this data is shown on the Pod itself to make it easy to gauge popularity.  In a sense, then, the Pods are a 3D analogy of a profile page – a customizable place for broadcasting (either private or public), as well as being a virtual place that people can visit together.

All of the Pods interconnect with other Pods to form larger structures called Megastructures; each Pod’s connector allows it to rotate around the vertical axis of the Megastructure at the connection point.  Because the designers wanted to emphasize the relationships between Pods, they provided a kind of glass elevator to follow the junctions that connect the Pods from the base of the Megastructure to the Pod a visitor has selected; the trip will provide an overview of the other types of Pods in the larger structure, providing a basis for future exploration.

Since there will be more than one Megastructure in the Sim, a track for small cars will take visitors from one to another. As with the paths within the Megastructure, the track between the Megastructures will provide a sense of context within the Sim as a whole, and might encourage people to visit other places they see while en route to their destination. 

To see the proposal, and learn more about it, visit http://web.media.mit.edu/~dharry/theprojects/.

The Second Life Design Competition was sponsored by the MIT’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition and the Education Arcade.  The Office of Educational Innovation and Technology, in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Education, provides support and direction to the MIT Second Life virtual world initiative.

PLAN 68
Posted July 2007