Friday, May 30, 2008

Random stuff about Hamlet Au, and some questions for the man who asks questions

In as much as I routinely go against the advice of nearly every social media specialist and don't shrink from publishing long blogposts here, it is hard to condense what I have to say about Hamlet Au (aka Wagner James Au) in one article... so, to heck with that. Today a morsel... tomorrow the world!

Instead, let me give you some tidbits that have little or nothing to do with the recent publication of his book "The Making of Second Life," which has been praised to the hilt by everyone including me, or that he publishes New World Notes, the most widely read Second Life® blog (and it is believed that there are at least 1,000 of them), or the fact that Torley Linden credited Hamlet and his New World Notes for convincing him to dip his watermellony toes into Second Life, or that Hamlet's been covering the gaming industry for GigaOM.com since July 2006, or importantly, that he was hired by Linden Lab as the first embedded journalist in Second Life between April 2003 and February 2006, or that whenever he's blogged about me, or NPIRL, or the Garden of NPIRL Delights, readership of this blog has soared.

I don't know how he does it.

And that's not the half of it.

Whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself and my combined Real Life/Second Life workload, I think about Hamlet. In all my dealings with him, I have never once heard him complain, even when he was in the throes of launching his book and doing most everything else at the same time.


At home, Hamlet has the bestest wall clocks. If I knew how to file a JIRA, I'd ask for something similar: the current time in these six places in the world, on the top of my screen

But back to those tidbits:

* He didn't major in Journalism; rather, his BA is in Philosphy from the University of Hawaii
* In fact, he's originally from Kailua in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, which also happens to be the location where episodes of the television series Hawaii Five-Oh were filmed and where Lost is shot today
* His first by-lined article was an interview with David Lynch
* His first published piece was erotica for a now defunct San Francisco magazine called Future Sex , and yes, I did look for it and didn't find it :D
* He has a lot more on his mind than virtual worlds and games. In his January 1, 2002 controversial piece "We were wrong" for Salon he asked "When will Nader, Moore, Steinem, Chomsky -- and the other leftists who were monumentally mistaken about the war in Afghanistan -- join me in admitting it?"
* Hamlet doesn't rightly know what his true rez day is, especially since his Hamlet Linden account has been deleted

I find it interesting that someone who was born in paradise - Hawaii - and lives in one of the most sophisticated and exciting and delicious and expensive cities of the world - San Francisco - spends most of his time in front of a computer.


In his virtual living room, Hamlet enjoys a photograph of the view outside the window of his Real Life home

Several weeks ago, just before my two lives went simultaneously crazy, Hamlet indulged me and let me ask him a lot of random questions - some which are now as old as a good bottle of Port (how time flies in Second Life!), but a few are perennials - like, what did he look like when he was a newbie? Did he wear wings? His answer: "I had giant weird 70s hair and white pajamas because I didn't know how to make a suit or adjust hair, and it took me forever to bother doing either. A bit like an afro meets, I dunno, Sean Cassidy."

What were some of your earlier epiphanies as a user... not as a journalist?
Hamlet Au: Any epiphany I've had, I've written about. That's how I did it. I didn't want to insert my epiphanies directly, but rather, describe what I saw and experienced and who I met.

The way I see it, you take yourself out of the equation as much as possible and look at it almost as if it were a film... except that you get to ask questions. (BTW, Hamlet had originially intended to work in film way back when).
Hamlet Au: Well, if it's a film, then I try to be more like Errol Morris. That is, I have a definite perspective, but I try to keep it underlying the narrative and not let it overwhelm what people are telling me and doing. So, (I try to be) "Someone like that." The book finally gave me a chance to put my perspective more to the fore. My editor had to push me on that, it's been so ingrained for me to shut up and let the story unfold.


Ha! I knew Hamlet had the NPIRL blood in him. Here's a couch in his living room

We wonder about the person behind the man who reports for us.
Hamlet Au: "Reporting," per se, I consider less my role. I don't write "news" so much as try to find emblematic stories and content. My blog has become more "newsy" ironically enough, as I started writing the book and had less time to go in-world and really root around for that perfect story. That's always been a tension. People will often ask "Why aren't you writing the news about Linden doing X?" or whatever, and the thing is, if it's just the usual downtime or whatever I don't necessarily jump on it.

What's your daily life like?
Hamlet Au: I usually get up late, say 10am ideally, and either blog something immediately or more usually I was up the night before and blogged a late night post. I'm usually in-world late night, which probably means I've come to know more EU Residents than I otherwise would.


On the terrace of his Second Life home, Hamlet has a humongous marijuana plant that must be watered every day or it begins to IM him, complaining

How is the book promotion going?
Hamlet Au: The book tour has been fun, but most of the radio interviews I've done were so basic, I end up giving tech support. Seriously. The radio guy is like "Where do I go to download this?" "Do I have to pay money?" Etc. etc. Most have been curious. Just one radio host (I won't say her name) really didn't like the idea of Second Life. She kept wondering if she went in-world if a serial killer would attack her, so we spent about five minutes talking about serial killers. I said "Well, if you're worried, you can always log off. But she wouldn't give it up. I (then) said, "Well, there's serial killers in real life", and she's all "But I'd know to run away," and I'm thinking "Yeah, Ted Bundy was really popular with his female co-workers," and then I'm like, "Why the fuck am I arguing with this lady about serial killers?"

What were some of the better interviews?
Moira Gunn of Tech Nation did a really great interview with me. She's a smart cookie. She asked me if I was an evangelist for Linden Lab, and that was a good point to raise. I said "No, I'm an evangelist for the community, and for the idea of Second Life." I don't think I was even when Linden Lab was actually paying me as a contractor. Residents I interviewed would often go "OMG I love LL! I love Philip!" I rarely quoted that stuff. What's important is not what they think of LL; what's important are the things they express in here, what it says about them, about the world, and the world outside.

Good answer!
Hamlet Au: Virtual Worlds 2008 was hugely fun. It's so great and humbling to meet such a diverse group of SLers. "Colonel Bob in the Morning" - that's the name of his show - Very nice guy. He kept talking about wanting to be Dean Martin in SL.

You did tell him he CAN be Dean Martin?
Hamlet Au: Well, of course! Dean Takahashi did some great interviews and reviews for Industry Standard and Wall Street Journal. Very gratifying.

In between our chatter, I learned that Hamlet hasn't read "The Painted Word," a book that I have easily given away 50 copies of, by Tom Wolfe, the man who originally inspired Hamlet's three-piece white suit.
Hamlet Au: I've been meaning to send him a copy of my book. He seems to keep up on the latest tech stuff.


Hamlet Au... from Tom Wolfe-ish to Hunter S. Thompson-ish, but really his very own person who just happens to like three-piece white suits, seen here at Parsec

Seems to me that back in the early days you had more direct access (to Linden Lab). Is this just because everyone's gotten so busy?
Hamlet Au: I used to be able to ask Lindens I know about this or that issue and now they want it all funnelled through their PR agency. Again, it sort of is understandable, but then, I don't know how it's helping them overall. They're trying stuff, they deserve credit for that, press conferences, etc.

How often do you deal with their agency versus with them? Do they have an account exec that takes your questions and then "gets back to you?"
Hamlet Au: Yeah. I used to be able to e-mail Philip and get a direct quote within 24 hours. Wow, up until mid-2007, I think. I've always tried to be an intermediary between the Lindens and the Residents, sort of an ombudsman, but that's become quite difficult.

I get the sense that it was almost a personal loss for you when Cory Linden (aka Cory Ondrejka) left.
Hamlet Au: Yes, I was really upset even without knowing what happened; I still don't. And I still am.

What would you like to have happen with New World Notes?
Hamlet Au: Well, I want to take NWN to the next level, and that could mean many things, including more Second Life content creation. I loved working with Lainy (Voom). I'd love to do more stuff like that. (Hamlet and Lainy created this vid to promote his book).

How ingrained is this life with you? And can you imagine another? Are you actively exploring other virtual worlds?
Hamlet Au: I report on lots of other VWs for my day job, so to speak, with GigaOM.com, and I am interested in an abstract level, and there are definitely a lot of good ideas going on out there and folks building competitors to SL that I admire. Still... People keep asking me, What are you doing now that the book is out, will you leave SL? And the thing is, there's really nothing else out there that has everything I could ever want. This is what I do.

2 comments:

Princess Ivory said...

Great article, Bettina! Hamlet Au is one of my heroes.

And FYI regarding clocks: Google Desktop. I've loaded in a bunch of custom content (including a 24-hour clock, but it can't be forced to LL time yet, four clocks showing different timezones, and a stopwatch.) Lots of fun.

Princess Ivory

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, love the Dinocomment...I like wanna be Dino also..never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool..oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth...