Giving New Worlds to the World

Almost a year in planning — but built in less than two weeks! — the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic officially launched on June 9, 2009, their first virtual presence in Second Life®. Commemorating the National Holiday of June 10 — Day of Portugal and of the Portuguese Communities, also celebrating the death of Portugal’s greatest poet Luís Vaz de Camões, who fixed the Portuguese language and grammar (similar to Shakespeare for English, Goethe for German, or Dante for Italian) with his epic The Lusiads — this is not a “media splash” or a “let’s build it and they’ll come” kind of project, that is here one day and gone the next when the buzz has died. It’s something quite different. But it’s hard to explain why it’s different 🙂

to-boldly-go_001

First and foremost, I should explain that I had absolutely nothing to do with the project — it’s a joint partnership between the Museum of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic and the not-for-profit RL association CCV, which created, designed, and managed the whole project together. In the good tradition of Second Life’s most exciting projects, it has been done by a group of 40 or so enthusiastic volunteers and didn’t cost nothing. Well, almost nothing — but you get the point — since there are always some bits that have to be paid. My own company, Beta Technologies, just sponsored a little work. All the talent and creativity put into this awesome project, are, however, in the hands of independent, freelancer builders, who contributed their work to a project that meant something to them: keeping in touch with Portuguese and Portuguese descendants world-wide. And naturally Second Life is the best way to do this — it’s not merely about “promoting” or “informing”, but really about being in touch, and that means dialogue.

Most of my audience is international, so many of the reasons for the above might make little or no sense to them. It’s hard to explain. Portugal is a weird country, where most of its inhabitants actually live abroad. The exact number is not known, but the best estimate is close to 30 million — compared to the 10.5 million that live inside the geographical boundaries of Europe’s oldest nation.

Keeping in touch with all those people is hard, as they’re spread around the world. Communication is not always easy. It’s obvious that most of them watch TV and sometimes get Portuguese channels to play on their cable service. But there is a difference — getting their feedback and input is not so easy.

The Internet changed all this, as it’s the best medium known to Humankind that allows two-way communication to a vast audience. For a “nation” (in the broadest sense of the word, that encompasses a common heritage, a language, a culture, and a lot of traditions) that is so thinly spread all over the world, there is simply no better way to “keep in touch”. And it’s the kind of “keeping in touch” that is important: community-building in the best sense of the word.

For the past year or so, the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic has understood this point very well, and has been one of the few official institutions that has reached out using social networking. Perhaps unlike others they had real incentives for doing so: keeping in touch with the widely-spread Portuguese-speaking community is in fact one of the Presidency’s attributions. Other institutions — Governmental or not — might do it for the media splash or because “it’s something we have to do”, but the Presidency just sees as one technological tool to actually fulfil better their goals.

So, why Second Life? While Twitter or YouTube or similar technologies certainly enable two-way communication and an easier way to be in touch — as opposed to, say, airing speeches on TV — they lack the effect of actually “being there”. This is one of the reasons that the Presidency tries to arrange tours where they bring a retinue (which might include artists beside businesspersons — “being in touch” means not only talking politics and economy, but reforging the ties with a common heritage and culture) to far-away spots on the globe and let the local Portuguese communities get a taste of “being back at home”. Of course, it’s impossible to do that consistently every day, for every one of those 30 millions.

By contrast, a virtual presence in Second Life actively allows that to happen. This made the Presidency endorse this project, which has some oddities that are not obvious at first sight.

The first experience that a visitor gets when jumping to the “Alma” sim is visual impact. This gathered some comments from SL solution developers, criticising the whole building, since the age of building things to attract the media is worthless.

As a matter of fact, this is exactly what the team behind the build had very clearly in mind. So, instead of creating a new place to attract a new community, they actually subsumed an existing, active, dynamic community, which already had attracted a reasonable number of Portuguese-speaking residents, who gathered together on a virtual space targeted to cultural events. That was the important aspect of this whole project: building on the foundations of an existing, vibrant community, and extending its reach through an official endorsement. The re-building of the whole space, created almost exclusively by existing members of the community, just allowed it to forge stronger ties, and expand its reach by telling: “we can do it — together”. So it’s not as if someone external to the original project suddenly “took over”, pasted their logo over it, and claimed it as its own.

Rather, the endorsement by the Presidency was just a pretext to make this project grow and get some “official” recognition. Unlike Government-based projects, which so very often have to indulge in political relationships and struggles of power, the Presidency has a free hand in which projects it ought to support, endorse, or sponsor.

Why is official recognition so important? Couldn’t the project thrive on its own? The answer, looking at all the successful projects in SL, is naturally yes. However, there are two aspects which are also important to consider in this case. One is that so many SL projects are driven by an egotistical attitude to get “fame & glory”, and when these are not forthcoming, the owners simply get enraged with everybody else and shut the project down (this, of course, is not different from what happens in RL too; the major difference is that SL projects are usually far cheaper to create, and thus this happens more easily in SL than in RL). Having a responsible entity behind the project makes the project leaders more conscious of what their ultimate goal is — reaching out to a community, not self-promotion — and they will be “checked” to stay true to their goals 🙂

The other aspect, of course, is that building successful communities (even in SL) is hard. Starting from scratch could have been an option — people at the Presidency have been given training in SL for close to a year now — but it is something that requires much more commitment than “a few hours per week”. So it seemed obvious that sponsoring an existing community would make much more sense than starting your own. This model, now endorsed by such a highly respectable institution, is one that hopefully others will follow. This is important mostly for SL — not necessarily just for one or two people at this particular case — to give them a case study on how to successfully employ existing relationships in SL to work towards a common goal. Although certainly a lot of new communities were endorsed by organisations in SL, that actually worked out well (Orange Island and Metanomics are two examples that immediately come to mind), these have required an immense amount of effort to get established. The reverse model — starting from an existing community, giving them a free hand, but just rubber-stamb it officially — has even more reasons to succeed. Even though it might be a model that is not easy to replicate: not all communities might be happy to be “taken over” by existing entities. The entity itself must be above reproach and closely aligned to the communities’ current goals. In this particular case, this was definitely true: the “Tagus” group centred around the “Alma” sim already focused on promoting the Portuguese heritage and culture and reaching out to Portuguese speakers all over the world. They will continue to do exactly the same as before.

For the Portuguese taxpayer, this is also a very positive model to follow, since, as said, the cost was virtually zero. The sim already existed. A not-for-profit was already running it. The members of the not-for-profit contribute their work for free, and will continue to do so. Some costs inevitably occur, but the trick is to offset them by attracting official sponsors — companies that are aligned with the same ideas and goals and willing to contribute money or labour to be part of the project and help to carry the burden of the cost. All enjoy public recognition that way, and the usual criticism — “why are you wasting taxpayers’ money in the virtual world when the world-wide financial crisis is affecting us in the real one?” — will simply fall in empty ears. Perhaps exactly because there is a financial crisis going on, projects like this one shows that you can have a wide reach — using SL — without having huge costs. It’s the magic of social networking.

Speaking strictly for myself, I hope the project — and the model — is a huge success and actively encourages many others to do exactly the same. For the Portuguese market, of course, which has neglected SL completely, this was a very surprising announcement: locally, everybody thought that SL had “died” long ago, and such a high-profile entity suddenly announcing their virtual presence in SL came as a shock. For a little while, all the media, for a change, published news that were neither drama-filled (as it is the case with all the financial crisis-related articles and TV spots) nor gossip, which are the usual “juice” that keeps those ads being sold. For a short moment, a positive, innovative project captured the interest of the media and the population.

We need more of those. The world — real or virtual — is far more interesting and positive than the media likes to show. But it takes courage to write about positive examples. Let this one remain as a reference, and let’s hear about the forthcoming ones!

Good luck to CCV and to the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic with their own project 🙂

Message of the President of the Portuguese Republic to all Portuguese Communities during the Day of Portugal, of Camões, and of the Portuguese Communities

Unfortunately, the official site for the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic doesn’t offer translations of the speech made on the launch day of their virtual presence in SL, nor of the website area related to Second Life. The text below is an attempt to give all English speakers a rough idea on what has been said. All errors or mistakes are my own responsibility — Gwyn

Portuguese and Portuguese descendents,

On this Day of Portugal, of Camões, and of the Portuguese Communities, I greet the Portuguese living or working outside their Country, as well as all Portuguese descendants who, on the seven parts of the world, keep alive the flame of Portugueseness.

“The further away I go, the nearer I stay”, are words left to us by Miguel Torga in one of his unforgettable poems. Torga knew and lived the reality of the the diaspora and knew what he was talking about.

It is crucial to know what we are talking about, when we talk about the Portuguese diaspora. That is the reason why I have made an effort to be in close contact with the Portuguese communities spread around the world.

Every time I travel on official visits to foreign countries — like what happened this year on the trip to Germany — I try to include in the official programme some moments of direct dialogue with the communities of the diaspora.

It is fundamental to understand the concrete reality of the Portuguese who emigrated. It is the only way to be aware of their anxiety, their needs, their love to their Fatherland, their profound and touching desire to keep the ties to Portugal.

But these ties have to be materialised in concrete actions. Mere words of thanks or speeches are not enough.

It is not possible to build an authentic relationship with the Communities using just rhetorical proclamations about feelings.

One has to guarantee that the Portuguese of the diaspora keep effective ties with the Portugal they left. Among those, naturally, is the tie to their citizenship. Thus I have defended, through concrete actions, that the exercise of the civic duties by the emigrants is fully ensured.

We ought not to forget that, as the writer Mia Couto said, the identity of the emigrants is a “fleeting identity”.

It is crucial that the identity of our emigrants does not become fleeting, and that, as time goes by, the essential elements tying the communities of the diaspora with the land where they came from are not lost. Because that land has a name: Portugal.

Since we are all Portuguese, we have a collective and patriotic duty: make real what can be fleeting, build our own identity, able to surpass distances and nostalgia.

In the 21st century, where the distances in the global world diminish, the questions about the diaspora cannot continue to be handled with the traditional nostalgic speech, tied to the past, where the feelings are exalted but the concrete actions forgotten.

Not by coincidence, just yesterday I had the pleasure to award the “Entrepreneurship Innovation Award for the Portuguese Diaspora” to a young person who, in the Netherlands, created a mobile phone software application developer company, with a yearly income of 2 million Euros and with 70 million customers, as well as to a Portuguese living in California, CEO of a company in the agriculture/food processing sector, the largest world-wide producer of sweet potatoes, with a yearly income of 36 million Euros and employing 700 people.

I am proud of having contributed towards having the diaspora policies more aware of the urgent need to keep all civic rights of the emigrants intact.

I am proud of Portugal and of being Portuguese. And on this day of June 10, I wish to most emphatically tell you: I am proud of all who wish to remain Portuguese.

Anibal Cavaco Silva
President of the Portuguese Republic


The following is a translation of the page for Second Life at the Presidency webpage, with the usual caveats that apply to my bad translation 🙂 — Gwyn

“June 10th” Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in the Virtual World of Second Life

[NOTE: June 10th is a national holiday in Portugal, commemorating Portugal and the Portuguese Communities around the world]

Opening: June 9, 10 AM GMT
In a landscape dominated by the ecological harmony with the environment, elements of Portugal’s history and culture are combined with futuristic architectonical designs, recreated in 3D and with multimedia. The island is surrounded by green areas and recreations of some animals like dolphins, whales, and birds, with which interaction is possible.

The island is organised in 5 major areas: “Armilar” Auditorium, “Portugal 12-21 Identity” Exhibition, Museum of the Portuguese Republic Presidency, Poetry Belvedere, and “Past and Future Treasure” Space.

[Flash video here: http://web.2.c3.audiovideoweb.com/2c3web3592/presidencia/2009/SL_090608_V01.flv]

Virtual tour of the “June 10th” Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in the Virtual World of Second Life

Links:

  • Description of all areas in the Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in Second Life [1]
  • How to reach the Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in Second Life [2]
  • Second Life event schedule [3]
  • Production team for the Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in Second Life [4]

[1] Description of all areas in the Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in Second Life

“Armilar” Auditorium

This space includes multimedia-reproduction devices allowing live video and audio transmission inside the virtual world, allowing conferences and interaction with real world events. It also includes facilities for remote learning.

“Portugal 12-21 Identity” Exhibition

A futuristic building in glass and open space, representing the bow of a “Nau” (early Portuguese caravel) emerging from the ground to set for sea. The building contains a digital reproduction of all Exhibition objects and is the first national exhibition created in 3D. All the information about the objects is available in writing and in audio through a touch-to-play-sound-stream multimedia device, as well as notecards.

Museum of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic

This building has two floors. The ground floor shows the most relevant historical pictures of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic. The upper floor has portraits of all Presidents. These are interactive, and, when touched, will provide all the information regarding each President, in Portuguese and English.

The Museum also provides virtual versions of all objects that can be bought from its (real) Shop. This space is connected to the website of the Museum and shows its physical, geographic location to invite potential tourists in Portugal to visit the real space.

The Museum uniforms were recreated from the real uniforms; thus, José António Tenente, through his fashion design for the Museum, is Portugal’s first fashion designer with a virtual presence in Second Life.

Visitors can also interact with the website for the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic at the rooftop of the Museum, as well as with its social networks, via a “Communication Tree” where the visitor can display the many presences of the Presidency on Sapo Videos, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter. The website can also be viewed in-world.

A display also provides information about the Portuguese Honour Orders.

Poetry Belvedere

At this belvedere the visitor can listen and read to 25 poems by Portuguese authors about the protection of a statue of a woman in black who looks at the sea, invoking the images associated with Fado [a traditional Portuguese song style] and “Saudade” [an unique Portuguese state of mind that can be roughly translated as “nostalgia”, although in Portuguese it can stand for “nostalgia of the present and the future” and not only of the past].

“Past and Future Treasure” Space

Through a simulated treasure hunt, the users will be invited to explore a hidden underwater cave where the imagined world of the epic “The Lusiads” of the great Portuguese poet Camoes has been recreated with models of Portugal’s first king, D. Afonso Henriques, the Republic, and several objects of Portugal’s History — all set in a maze which invites the discovery of a secret at the end.

Here will be a magical astrolabe [nautical navigation device used by the Portuguese navigators] which will teleport the users to a sea of stars, where a caravel sails towards the future.

The Portuguese-speaking countries of the world are represented by a world map. Light beams show the location of those countries on the map. At the Light Pier (near the Lighthouse), these countries are also represented by their national flags, with links to their website or to their page on the Commonwealth of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP).

[2] How to reach the Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in Second Life

The Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in Second Life will have two entries:

  • If you are a new user of Second Life, use this link to go to the Tagus Orientation Area. This is a welcome area for Portuguese speakers and you will find there all the needed help and support to enter this virtual world
  • If you already are a user of Second Life, you can enter through this link, which will send you directly to the Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic

Around the whole virtual space, a group of Portuguese volunteers, currently living around the world, as well as on the Portuguese-speaking countries, will help visitors out and explain them the significance of this space.

Other useful links:

[3] Second Life event schedule
June 9, 2009

    [all times in GMT]

    10:00 – Island and “Portugal 12-21 Identity” Exhibition opening
    Location on the island: “Portugal 12-21 Identity” Exhibition Space

    12:00 – Direct live video broadcast of the President of the Republic Address to all Portuguese Communities
    Location on the island: “Armilar” Auditorium

    18:00 – Audio broadcast of the concert given by Rodrigo Leão, simultaneously with the real life broadcast from the Santa Clara Monastery
    Location on the island: Castle Ruins

    During the days 9 and 10, several Portuguese artists that have become famous in Second Life, will be doing their shows on the island.

[4] Production team for the Virtual Space of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in Second Life


This project has been possible thanks to a partnership between the Museum of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic with more than forty members of the Cultural Virtual Community:
Project Management
• Afrodite Ewry (Célia Gaião)
• Halden Beaumont (Hugo Almeida)
• Tpglourenco Forcella (Rui Lourenço)
Builders and Designers
• ScorpionSoul Paine (Marco Fernando Pires)
• Caty Matova (Irina Pereira Marques)
• Genius Bikcin (Paulo Filipe Fernandes)
• Medeia Magne (Fernanda Marques)
• Moon Adamant
Technical suppot
• Moon Adamant e Damien Fate (Beta Technologies)
• Zuis Mertel (Virtualnauta)
Uniforms
• Astra Minotaur (Teresa Paulino)
Voice-overs
• LuisGaspar Gazov (Luís Gaspar – Estúdio Raposa)
Special Thanks
• PaulUP Ling (Paulo Frias—Univ. Porto)
• Connor Whitman (Frederico Cunha)
• Batata Bombastic (Pedro Duarte)
• Lua Sweetwater (Mafalda Sanches)
• Lizie Bashly (Isabel Silva)
• Zagamundo Quan (João Diogo)
• Luana Jorysh (Sónia Pião)
• Anitia Loire (Ana Loureiro)
• Nes Faulkes (Inês Messias)
• Relka Karu (Raquel Crato)
• Helewys Lawksley (Raquel Valentim)
• Aral Levitt
• Savanah Watkins
• Frenchy Kazan
• Amadeu Gazov
• Cristita12 Dirval
• Kihara Mayako
• BadCat Barcelos
• Eriki Bennelli
• Leninha DeCuir
• NunoMiguel Tobias
• Cuka Zimminy
• Frenchy Kazan
• Kihara Mayako
• Alma Myoo
• Lenalis Benoir
• px Runo
• Nikyta Undercroft
• Electroescadas Metall
• Nalemi Canucci
• Bolota Miklos

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