The SLENZ Update – No 37, January 2, 2009

The year that was …

I feel sure that during the year a lot of New Zealanders lost their embarrassment over being residents/participants  in virtual world’s like Second Life and began to see MUVEs as part of their “real” world.

Although the Lindens do not disclose  the number of Kiwis accessing Second Life on a regular basis reliable sources in the telecommunications industry  claim that new  Kiwi registrations on Second Life have been similar to the adoption of Broadband by the general populace – not earth-shattering but showing considerable progress compared to some years.

The major problems still facing New Zealand users of  high bandwidth applications, however,   are still the exhorbitant, one could say rip-off costs, associated with Broadband as the major telcos  attempt to milk the last drops out of their near-monopoly cash cows and the fact that their claims of delivering consistent, reliable broadband speeds in many centres outside  the major cities,  are at least questionable if not immoral. In many case, during the evenings, when most high bandwidth users  need their Broadband for “playing/working”, the speeds are little more than dial-up and sometimes even worse.  Despite this the major telcos have  continued to  promote and sell  Broadband in these areas and have charged an arm and a leg to those who believed what they were told about “real” Broadband and what it could do for them.

To use the great Aussie word the claims were generally bulldust, and if there is a hell somewhere organisations like Telecom/TelstraClear should be made to eat  copper wire.

Although Actrix, New Zealand’s oldest internet service provider, and Orcon, are now installing their own equipment in exchanges, Inspire.net is planning to do the same in the provincial areas of the lower North Island, and others are putting their toes in the water, the telecommunications industry, outside FXnetworks does not have the ability to give a worthwhile, consistent Broadband experience for about 80 percent of Kiwi punters.

Despite progress with the work of SLENZ, adult e-education, particularly in MUVEs,  is going to face bandwidth and speed problems for years to come unless, as is  proposed in the health sector, the New Zealand Government  ensures that  alternate and possibly even private/local government/pirate  networks  are given specific incentives  to compete against the big players in the provision of Broadband outside the major centres.

The year that will be …

crystalball_001

While I am loath to take out my crystal ball – I’ve been more often wrong than right –  there are those who are willing to have a shot. One of these brave souls, Lowell Cremorne,   of  Australian-based The Metaverse Journal, has been quite specific with his forecasts.( http://www.metaversejournal.com/2008/12/31/ten-virtual-worlds-predictions-for-2009/)

While I don’t agree with all his pronostications, especially the one that new users will see OpenSim grids as an equal option to signing up to Second Life, I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that virtual worlds will begin to appear as normal daily life in television and  movies: I would go even further and say that by the end of this year that MUVEs, given the need for real life cost cutting, will become a formidable part of training, negotiation and just doing business in the real world, and a legitimate means of social intercourse both within and across continents: they will become a normal part of daily life for much of the 15 to 50 age group in the Western world with those not  participating being seen in some way as part of the left-behind generation, in much the same way as Ma and Pa Kettle were seen by the pre and Baby Boomer generations when they moved to the cities.

One can only agree that Governments are likely to step in with legislation, where they can,  on everything in MUVEs they feel they “must control”,  including certain if not all  sexual activity,  gambling and taxation etc,.  However, I think this will probably only lead to the creation and proliferation of “uncontrolled, unmonitored” private or pirate   MUVEs based on the OpenSim model  where  frontier law will be the only law and which will appear and disappear with startling irregularity for those in the know. Already there are “underground  worlds”  as it were in Second Life and the OpenSim movement will only increase the momentum for other more way-out blackmarket worlds.

Cremorne comments  that Australian Universities will fall further behind in incorporating virtual world training tools  but I believe that  if New Zealand  telecommunications companies give New Zealand educators the right  bandwidth tools, the New Zealand education system, given the SLENZ team’s undoubted expertise and enthusiasm as well as the work of people like Auckland University’s Scott Diener will take us to the front of the educational field in MUVE technology. People forget that this is still only the beginning of virtual world technology. No one, anywhere has more than a toe in the water, no matter how many conferences they make presentations at.

And yes, I have to agree, despite all the improvements, Second Life will remain a frustrating experience for many, especially Kiwis outside the main centres. This is despite the improvements in the new user experience  promoted by the Lindens and the announcement of the  provision of standalone servers.  I would add, contrary to Cremorne”s thoughts,  that  with  Second Life moving away from “frontier law”, on the surface at least,  the  Teen grid will survive, but be incorporated into the main grid. This could widen the education appeal of the genre if it can overcome the  real world tabloid view of all “life” inside computers.

With Sony’s Playstation “Home”  and  XBox’s  offering  I have to agree that the user base for virtual world’s can do nothing but grow, but  until the creation of  a generic browser, a la the original Moasic model, users are likely to remain trapped behind the walls of their chosen simulation  or game be it Second Life or World of Warcraft, Habbo Hotel or OpenSim, Entropia or Vastpark  or any of the  numerous other MUVEs  on offer and in development.

In the meantime virtual worlds offer New Zeland and New Zealanders a rare and real opportunity to become a real part of the world out there participating with world citizens in world events rather than being cut off by wide oceans, time zones and the tyranny of distance.

The world as we know it …

bainbridgews“My general perspective is that virtual worlds are at least as real as many parts of the so-called real world,” William Sims Bainbridge, program director in human-centered computing at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), told Pam Baker of LinuxInsider last month.

“Is religion ‘real’?” he asked. “Is music ‘real?’ Is the stock market ‘real?’ These institutions are real only because many people take them seriously. They are socially and culturally constructed, rather than being innately real.”

Baker’s pieces on virtual worlds as we know them and  their benefits make interesting reading and present some insights that may not have been apparent before.

You can read them at: (http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Virtual-World-Research-Part-1-A-Place-to-Experiment-65656.html and
http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Virtual-World-Research-Part-2-Reality-in-a-Can-65673.html )

The US Army lands …

usarmy1

Yes the US Army is about to land in Second Life. Although it  has scores of bases scattered across the world it  will soon be occupying virtual territory in a bid to win recruits.
“Over the next 30 to 45 days you might, if you’re one of them Second Life avatar dudes, that likes to go populate islands within Second Life, you will find an Army island in Second Life,” Gen. William S. Wallace, the commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said during a presentation at the 26th Army Science Conference, according to Nick Turse at http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/12/the-armys-new-f.html

The US Army Second Life effort will comprise two virtual islands, one a “welcome center” with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter and the other offering “virtual experiences like jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of towers and using a weapon, to see if we can get some kind of recruiting benefit out of this social networking.”

It seems to me that the US Army move gives new meaning to the recent demonstrations in Second Life against the “war” between Israel and Gaza. Even so Al Quaeda  has reportedly been using virtual worlds as training grounds for sometime and perhaps the US Army is just catching up with the game although one might have thought World of Warcraft would have been a better place to seek potential recruits.


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