In the old days, people occasionally would rummage through their attic or basement and find forgotten treasures. People probably still do. I don’t, but I do have old webpages and websites. This week I went rummaging through one of them, what I used to call my Thereography Studio – photographs from the now defunct virtual world There.com. You can visit it at hawk.frodo.tv.
There.com was the very first virtual world that I joined. Virtual worlds had interested me for a long time – I wrote my Masters thesis about future virtual worlds in 1995 – but I didn’t find one that really interested me until I visited Eugene, Oregon in early 2003 and met Don Carson, an artist working on a brand new virtual world, There, that was opening beta testing. I joined as a beta tester in March 2003. It wasn’t long before I began taking pictures. Here’s the very first picture I took in There, on March 23, 2003. It’s a self portrait of my avatar Hawk looking up at There’s moon and starry sky:
I loved There and still have fond memories of of the good times and the good people I knew there. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. However, despite how much I loved There, I was only active there for a little over a year, even though I remained a member for another six years, right up to the day it closed on March 10, 2010.
The reason was Second Life. Many people in There disdained Second Life. Movement in Second Life was choppy, avatars were ugly, and vehicles unruly. But Second Life had two crucial features that won me over immediately: a set of tools that made building easy and free, and even more importantly, it explicitly granted to creators intellectual property rights to everything people created in Second Life. I had been writing an “Ancient History of There”, but it bothered me that the company that owned There could assert ownership of it. I had no such worries in Second Life.
Still, There was fun. Vehicles were particular fun, especially buggies and hoverboards. Hoverboards were basically skateboards with engines that gave them a limited ability to lift off the ground. I became freestyle hoverboard champion, and then ran hoverboard championship competitions. Sadly when There closed its doors, I still had a good size jackpot of cash and inventory to distribute as prizes. It all vanished with There.
Here’s a picture I took in 2004 of my avatar Hawk riding one of my collection of hoverboards:
The closing of There highlights an important difference between a virtual world and the physical world: a virtual world can vanish in an instant, like There vanished in March 2010, and suddenly everything is gone, not just our possessions, but our friends too, unless we’ve established contact outside the virtual world.