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Your first steps into the Web cosmos

Step 1: Starting up Virtual Places

As there are many versions of VP for different platforms, there are many ways to start the program.

Starting VP in Windows 3.11

  1. Locate the Virtual Places program group.
  2. Double-click on the VPlaces icon.

Starting VP in Windows 95

Double-click on the shortcut to Virtual Places (or Talk! by Excite) or select from the Start .menu, Programs then Virtual Places.

Starting VP on the Macintosh

Double-click on the VP icon on your desktop or in the folder in which you installed VP.

As I describe the VP interface, I will be using the open community under VP 2.0 and 2.1. I will occasionally show screens from the AOL version. Most VP versions are so similar that you should have no trouble with the descriptions here matching your version.

Step 2: Creating your identity

In all versions of VP, you will be asked to create your identity. This involves filling out a few dialogue boxes and choosing your starting avatar.

Figure 10.6 Vp9o.jpg
Fill out the Identity dialogue to immigrate to Virtual Places.

As the preceding figure shows, the Identity dialogue is pretty simple. You have to fill in your nickname and your e-mail address. The other information is optional. The second tab in this dialogue allows you to give more information about yourself, such as gender, hobbies, etc. In the AOL version, your identity is already tied to your AOL screen name.

Figure 10.7 Vp9n.jpg
Select an avatar from the Personal Avatars dialogue.

Next, you should select your own avatar. You could, of course, stay with the default avatar (the masked man) but who wants to be walking around looking like some kind of strange face on Mars? You can select your avatar from the stock library or personal library. Stock avatars are provided by Virtual Places but these are pretty generic looking. Personal avatars have more character, and you can import custom-made avatars from several personal avatar libraries on the Web or by scanning them in from pictures or artwork. I detail how to do this later in the chapter.

Note that you can always change your avatar and identity at a later time. Simply right-click (click and hold on the Macintosh) on your avatar and select Identity.

Step 3: Attaching to the browser

After you have started Virtual Places and created your identity, it should have started your Web browser and then automatically connected to the default community server. This ìattach to the browserî phase is important, as VP cannot run without a Web browser. Versions 2.0 and 2.1 run entirely within Internet Explorer 3.0. The AOL version starts up a Web browser inside AOL itself. The other versions start Netscape on its own and build windows around it to provide the interface. If VP cannot attach to a Web browser, you may have to reinstall that browser. Make sure you have the right browser and right version installed for your version of VP (see Table 10.1).

Step 4: Connecting to a community server and entering a room

Figure 10.8 Vp9s.jpg
The VP Places Directory shows the first room closed because there are too many people there already.

Next, the VP software will attempt to connect to a community server and bring up the Web page associated with the entry chat room for that server. After that, VP will try to place your avatar into the entry room for that community.

If you cannot connect to a community server, or if a room is full, I recommend that you try again later, as the server may be down. If you cannot join the entry room for that community server, you will be presented with a dialogue box called the Places Directory (also called the Places Selector). You can see an example of the Places Directory in the preceding figure. This will allow you to select and go to a room that is not full. There is a room occupancy limit of 25, which keeps the pace of chat down to a readable level. If you want to wait for a chance to enter the full room, you can cancel the Places Directory dialogue and opt to become an observer.

The Preferences option under your Tools menu will also let you change the default Web page, and the Community Servers options allow you to set the community you want to enter when you first connect to Virtual Places.

Step 5: Join in with the community

Figure 10.9 Vp9i.jpg
The Virtual Places open community 2.0 for Windows 95.

Click to get High Resolution print version

If all has gone well to this point, you should be looking at a scene much like the one in the preceding figure. This is the mixed community server Virtual Places 2.0 lobby. It is an open VP community running in Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0. The first thing you will notice is several windows. In the upper left is a Web browser window, showing normal Web pages. Below that is the Chat window, for the threads of chats in the current room, or on the selected Web tour. To the right is the People window, listing the nicknames of all the avatars in the current room, the avatars not able to get into the room and observing, and the active Web tours.

Entering or exiting a room

If you are an observer, and want to enter the room (if the number of participants falls below 25), you can right-click (or click and hold on the Macintosh) on your name under Observers and select Enter Room. Alternately, you can click on the Enter Room icon on the toolbar across the top of the Virtual Places program. If you are in a chat room and wish to become an observer, just right-click on your avatar and select Exit Room.

Observers cannot chat in the room, but they can watch all the activity and wait for a chance to enter the room. Remember, even if you are an observer, you are not hidden; anyone can click on the Other Observers icon in the People window, and see your nickname listed there.

Room occupancy limits

To keep screen crowding to a minimum, Virtual Places limits the number of avatars and chat participants on a Web page to 25 and automatically opens the Places Directory window when you arrive at a full room. You can still watch the action, but you can't chat or put your avatar on the page once 25 people are active. All is not lost, however. You can exchange IMs with any person on the screen. You can check the All Places window for where others are hanging out and seek action elsewhere. Or you can wait for a vacancy in the "room" and fill it.

Itís all about Communicating

Now that you are in a room, itís time to start doing what everyone is here to do: communicate! To chat, simply click in the text entry area, type some text, and press Send (or press Enter on your keyboard). In a second or two (depending on how much chat is going on), your words should appear above your avatar in a cartoon bubble. Note that as you (or others) start typing, a small bubble appears over your avatar. This tiny bubble is very handy and indicates to others that your are composing a new message or reply.

Figure 10.10 Vp2a.jpg
Thereís an avatar crush one fine day in VP chat space.

VP chat can get dramatic, as these avatars try to rescue of some poor fellow being crushed by another avvie.

Moving your avatar around

As the preceding figure suggests, you can move your avatar by simply clicking the left mouse button down (clicking and holding the mouse button on the Macintosh), dragging your avatar around, and dropping it somewhere inside the Web page window. Other people will see your avatar move suddenly some seconds after you drop it. Be careful about dropping your avatar right down on top of someone elseís, as this is considered rude.


Figure 10.11 Vp4v.jpg
The VP gestures selectorósay it with panache!

Figure 10.12 Vp2c.jpg
Hand-waving good-byes.

If you want to send an emotion along with your message, click on the Gestures button at the right-hand side of the text entry area. There is a palette of gestures and emotions (see the preceding figure). Picking one of these gestures will ensure that it flows out with your next message (like the hand-waving good-bye shown).

You can double-click right on the gesture palette to preview what a gesture will do. Try to avoid testing gestures where people are conversing. It can make things very confusing. These are not the only gestures available to you. Some VeePsters (the name for pro users of Virtual Places) have begun to build others.

Sending an Instant Message to someone

Figure 10.13 Vp4e.jpg
Instant Messaging dialogue.

You can initiate a chat with someone using instant messaging in several ways:

  1. Click on their avatar with the right mouse button and select Send Instant Message.
  2. Select Send an Instant Message from the Tools menu.
  3. Drag and drop your avatar onto the other person's avatar.
  4. Click on the person's nickname entry in the People window and press the IM icon at the bottom of the People window

If the user agrees to the chat in this way, they will type something in response and send it back to you. Instant messaging is a kind of private conversation. You can also send alters, a kind of quick wake-up call to another person. Note also that if you are an observer you can still send instant messages to other observers.

Ignoring someone

If you are really being bothered by someone, you can ignore them by following these simple steps:

  1. Right-click on that person's avatar.
  2. Select Ignore from the menu.

From this point on you will not see their chat (and they will not know you have ignored them, either).

Saving Chat Transcripts

If you really want to save the last chat you had since you entered a room, you can save it to a text file using the following steps:

  1. Click on the Room or Group tab (at the bottom of the chat area).
  2. Right-click (or click and hold on the Macintosh) in Chat window and select Save As from the menu. (You can also select Save Dialogue As from the File menu).
  3. Fill-in file name and click on the OK button to save chat transcript

Finding someone

Figure 10.14 Vp9v.jpg
Locate someone in the community.

To find someone in the chat room or any other room in this VP community, simply follow these steps:

  1. Click on the Tools menu and select Find, or click on the Locate icon at the bottom of the People window.
  2. Type in the nickname, or first name, or last name, or e-mail address of the person you are trying to find. You can even enter the first few letters of the name, and VP will find all people with similar names.
  3. You will be presented with a dialogue box (see preceding figure) which lists all people found and their corresponding a locations (if they are in VP at the moment). You can then send them an instant message or go to their location. This Locate feature is a very important social interface in VP.

Finding out about someone

Figure 10.15 Vp9f.jpg
Selecting someoneís avatar helps reveal their identity: Just who is this cowboy?

If you really want to find out about someone you are chatting with, just right-click (or click and hold on the Macintosh) on their avatar and select Identity, and you will see a dialogue box like one in the following figure. Whether you choose to believe what people write in as their identities is another story!

Figure 10.16 Vp9g.jpg
I got the scoop on him; seems like he is a true bronco buster!

Finishing off the interface: The VP menus

The menus at the top of your Virtual Places program window allow you perform many functions quickly and access advanced services. Note that I am describing the menus for VP version 2.0, running the open communities. The menus may be slightly different for your version of VP.

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.