Geek Speak: Catherine Winters, aka Catherine Omega in Second Life

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Catherine Winters says she is “almost certainly” the oldest resident of Second Life from Vancouver. The 27-year-old Web developer and blogger joined the virtual world as a beta tester in 2003, and co-authored the first edition of Second Life: The Official Guide, which was published in 2006. She’s known as Catherine Omega in Second Life.

      In 2007, Social Signal, a Vancouver-based social-media agency, hired Winters as its manager of virtual worlds. The Mount Pleasant resident went on to do Web development for the Masters of Digital Media Program at the Centre for Digital Media on the Great Northern Way Campus. After that, she worked for Agentic Communications, a local Web-development agency. Now, Winters is taking some time off before she enters the fine-art program at Langara College this fall.

      Winters started her blog, Omega Point, in 2006. On July 25, she participated in Blogathon 2009, a 24-hour blogging marathon for charity.

      The Georgia Straight reached Winters on her cellphone at a café on Commercial Drive.

      Who is Catherine Omega?

      Second Life assigns usernames by giving you a first name and a last name. In Second Life, you can choose anything you like at all for your first name. But you can only select your last name from a list. At the time, when I joined, there were only about a dozen names to choose from, and Omega was the most cool one. But it’s ironic that Catherine Omega has become more famous than Catherine Winters.

      How has Second Life changed in the six years you’ve been there?

      I guess the most significant thing is that it’s become much larger. People also no longer use Second Life to talk about Second Life.

      I have this theory in the back of my head that it’s impossible for any communications medium or media to be used for anything except talking about that media for the first period of existence. I mean, radio, publishing—you had lorem ipsum. With Twitter, until the past year or so, it was just, “Hey, how to get more followers on Twitter?” In the early days of the Web, it was all about, “Wow, how do we make a Web site?”

      But now people are using Second Life for things that are more social, are more storytelling, are more business. The makers of Second Life, Linden Lab, actually use it for conducting business meetings. They use it instead of telecommuting.

      How have you turned your interest in Second Life into work?

      Well, when I got started, there weren’t a lot of users. Everybody was kind of in the same boat. As one of the first people in there, I managed to learn a lot of the tricks and a lot of the programming—and making things—really early.

      I was able to leverage my teaching of other people, because I had so much free time at the time, into gaining a reputation that allowed me later to—well, I was invited to co-author the first book on Second Life. Later, one of co-authors on that project recommended me for a job at Social Signal.

      How much do you use Second Life?

      Today, I actually don’t go on Second Life very much as Catherine Omega. When I do, I tend to get a lot of messages, and it really makes it very difficult to do anything. I mean, it’s sort of like that quote from Bill Gates recently that he can’t use Facebook because he gets all these friend requests. It’s a really first world kind of complaint. But, when I use Second Life now, I go in under one of my other accounts.

      I mean, it’s not a broadcast medium. It’s like hanging out at a coffee shop or being at a party. If everybody there wants to talk to you about stuff, it’s not as much fun.

      It’s actually kind of funny that it was my visibility and prominence within the Second Life community that helped me rise out of poverty, but now that I’m out the same thing makes it really difficult to go back in.

      Are there any other virtual worlds that you’ve tried that you like?

      Not really. I used Active Worlds, which from about 1995 to 2000 was the equivalent of Second Life—nowhere near as popular, nowhere near as advanced. But, no, I think Second Life continues to be the dominant player for a good reason.

      What kind of a future do you think Second Life has?

      That’s a really interesting question, because for a long time I think that people had predicted that, as soon as Google decided to do a virtual world, that would be it. But then they did—they did Google Lively—and it turned out that that wasn’t in any way what people wanted.

      I think that the future of Second Life is actually fairly bright. If you’d asked me several years ago what I had thought, I would have said, “No, it’s probably going to be around for a while, and they’re going to run out of money.” But they’re profitable, they’re expanding still, and their user base is still growing.

      There aren’t as many stories in the media any longer—the whole “New York Times has a presence in Second Life” or “Wow, American Apparel has a store in Second Life.” But it’s just the same way that you read in the paper, the past year or so, “Wow, Ashton Kutcher’s on Twitter.”

      It’s just buzz, and it doesn’t actually correlate to any growth or anything else. Eventually, the media gets tired of those kinds of stories but brings up the important ones.

      What do you like to blog about?

      I mostly tell people that I blog about things that I hate—that my blog’s a soapbox for me to complain. But, honestly, it’s just a platform for me to talk about little anecdotes that happen in my life. It’s pretty cathartic that way, and, you know, I try to make it entertaining.

      How did you manage to survive doing Blogathon—blogging for 24 hours?

      As it turns out, I can’t actually stay up for 24 hours. That was significantly harder than I thought it was going to be. I mean, I know that even staying up that late is pretty difficult, but when you’re hammering out that much text—I’m not actually sure how much I wrote—it’s a lot of work.

      Fortunately, we did get a lot of donations for the Canadian Cancer Society. I’m not actually sure how much money I helped raise. But my contact there indicated that the amount donated was definitely greater than the $150 that people actually told me they donated.

      I know that many bloggers raised $1,000 or more, and I didn’t come close to that. But I thought it was fun, had a good time, and we were able to help raise some money.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at




      Aug 6, 2009 at 5:02pm

      Folks using Second Life could really consider getting a first life.