The SLENZ Update – No 105, June 29, 2009

ANOTHER TABLOID BLOG FRENZY

Hysteria over Australian SL-block

rumours:  fear-mongering or worse …

CENSOREDLooks like bulldust to me …

I haven’t commented on the latest round of histrionics and hysteria fomented by “tabloid” bloggers about the Australia moves … but as one of the most authoritative writers on virtual worlds,  James Wagner Au (pictured), has pointed out in NewWorldNotes it’s more about smoke than substance, with Second Life and video games bloggers implying a lot more from the Sydney Morning Herald story than is actually in it.WagnerJAu

I say this  despite the fact that  the Christian Today Australia, an online Christian “tabloid”,  in a blatent, unattributed lift from one of the more rabid bloggers, Duncan Riley,   said today that  Second Life was to be “banned in Australia” and that this had been confirmed by a spokesperson for Australian Federal Minister  Stephen Conroy  that “under the (Australian Rating System) filtering plan,  it (censorship) will be extended to downloadable games, flash-based web games and sites which sell physical copies of games that do not meet the MA15+ standard.” [The MA15+ means restricted to those people ages 15 and above.  Games for 18-plus “adults” are classed as RC (Refused Classification) because of pornographic, illegal material,  certain forms of ‘hate speech” and  copyrighted content, despite some Australian States having legalised brothels and a large  “adult” porno industry both in real life and easily accessed on the net]

The story just grows like Topsy: the interpretation of one trenchant critic of  Australian Government filtering of internet content, quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald as referring to the possibility of Second Life being blocked, has become fact. But  whether true or not it’s important to New Zealand residents of Second Life because it gives more “ammunition” to critics in New Zealand even if that “ammunition” is more akin to bulldust than reality.

But one thing that seems very common among Second Life residents is the propensity to have panic-attacks and anxiety complexes and to find rumour and innuendo nutritious.

The possibility of an Australian ban/block  on Second Life has been canvassed off and on for months in various media – but there has never really been anything more than a little smoke.

And, anyway even if the Australian Government does receive “complaints” and goes ahead with a “ban” it need have no effect on educators.

Zindra Alps_002Adult Zindra – virtually another  Second Life game which could be
blocked without harm to Australian educators …

With the creation of Zindra, Linden Labs have virtually created two “games” – to use the Australian reference – and it should be easy enough under the current filtering regime being trialed by Australian ISPs for any Federal Government agency to block the “adult” potentially more raunchy game while continuing to allow access to the “PG, Mature” Second Life without the raunch.

Although not on line this has been done with video games sold in  real life shops in Australia, such as Grand Theft Auto and Fallout 3, with a special edition being created for their Australian audiences.

Given this, for teaching purposes, “blocks” on the “Adult” game should not affect Australian educators because they have no reason to go into Zindra (for education purposes) and so should have little effect on the real life education and business uses of  Second Life  in Australia – unless, of course, the main reason for some Australian “educators” being in the game is “adult” content.

I also wonder whether the Australian video games industry is not promoting this issue and the Second Life connection to it in a bid to deflect criticism and draw Second Life and other virtual worlds into their bed, as it were, to obfuscate the real issues of violence and violent sex  in many video games.

The debate, however,  as noted above is obviously not about pornography because some of the most raunchy pornographic picture and video sites on the web originate from Australia, and have only rudimentary age checks (answer what date you were born before accessing this site) and so are, in reality, open to anyone of any age: as they are not” games” however, they appear not subject to the debate in the on-line games context.

Finally, as an afterthought, I think money could be well spent on doing research on Second Life residents and Second Life bloggers to see whether they have a higher propensity for hysteria  and paranoia than the average person who doesn’t get “addicted” to SecondLife. *grin*

The SLENZ Update – No 101, June 18, 2009

Is there really virtual world

promise in peer-to-peer

… at this stage?

As if,  worrying whether the soon-to-be-released Second Life Viewer 2009 will  require educators to completely revamp their techniques and training of students, was not enough, we still have to wonder whether we might not have backed the wrong  horse and that the possible peer-to-peer virtual world competition for Second Life –  both public and behind the firewall – waiting in the wings, might not provide better applications.

We already have Entropia, Forterra(Olive),  Twinity, Wonderland,  Croquet, Prototerra, Kaneva, Hipihi,  and others  in the virtual world arena but just when one might have thought that Second Life and the Second Life-based OpenSim worlds – OpenSim, OpenLife, OsGrid, and smaller players like ONGENS, etc – were holding their own for education purposes,  at least one and perhaps two of  the Open Source alternatives to Second Life appear to be  breaking through, although they don’t have numbers yet.

The latest food for thought on this issue came from Feldspar  Epstein, of  The Metaverse Journal, who  explains the difference between the OpenSim concept, and that of Open Source such as  “Open Cobalt” and “Solipsis”,  as being that essentially while  OpenSim grids are designed to be served from a common point,  Open Cobalt and Solipsis implementations are designed to be served from many points – they are both peer-to-peer technologies.

“Open Cobalt (based on Croquet technology) consists of two parts: a browser and a toolkit,” Epstein says. ” The browser is used to view the 3D virtual workspaces created with the toolkit. Each workspace can live on a separate personal computer. Workspaces are real time and computationally dynamic, and each can host multiple participants. Additionally, individual workspaces can be interlinked into a private and secure network of work spaces.”

Attractive features

Epstein lists a number of  attractive Open Cobalt features, particularly for researchers and  educators, as: Open source licensing (MIT);  deeply malleable, collaborative space; runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux; internet access is not required; it can run over LANs and Intranets;  private and public environments can be created; in-world text, voice and video chat, web browsing (VNC allows access to browsers like Firefox) and annotations; Access to remote applications via VNC; Navigation between virtual workspaces is possible using 3D hyperlinks; Mesh, texture, media, and whole avatar imports.

An alpha phase Open  Cobalt download is available here and further information is available here. The beta release is due this year, and a full implementation is expected to be released in 2010.

Meanwhile the efficacy or on-going  viability of the French Telecom-developed Solipsis is more murky, although according to Epstein it is about to go into beta testing but I would question this.

A search of the net would suggest otherwise.

On Solipsis netofpeers.net  it  is revealed,  in a link from Professor  Shun-Yun Hu, of  the University of  Taiwan, that although Solipsis is a pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world with no central servers,  only relying on end-users’ machines, the initial Solipsis project  ended some time ago when the core team left the project. The original Solipsis web site is available here. Although the dowloads are available there appears to have been little real activity since 2005, and the developers’ page is here but a number of the links appear dead.twinverse

More recently, however,  Joaquin Keller, has started TwinVerse – a virtual world based on geography, pictured right- and which seems little more than a glorified video and text chat room overlaid on Google satellite pictures/maps of various world spots, and nothing like the 3D virtual worlds, as presented by Second Life or Twinity or Entropia et al, and less than half as interesting.

Speaking of peer-to-peer virtual worlds Epstein doesn’t go into the much-touted Australian startup, Project Outback (from Yoik) which  folded sometime ago after considerable promotion by one of the former Kazaa peer-to-peer network promoters, nor the most viable other offering VastPark. currently in closed beta (downloads here) and based on the OPeN (Univ. of Melbourne) software funded by NICTA, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research
Centre of Excellence,  which signed a commercial license agreement with VastPark, in 2008.

Other peer-to-peer possibilities, in various states of array and disarray, include :  Colyseus (CMU); HYDRA (National Univ. of Singapore);  and peers@play (Univ. of Mannheim, Duisburg-Essen, and Hannover).

However, after looking at all the offerings I could find for peer-to-peer worlds ( I may have missed some) I believe that aside from Open Cobalt, which is actually Croquet in another form,  and VastPark, there appears nothing in the peer-to-peer virtual world public domain that is any real threat at this stage to Second Life and open-source Second Life-based products, for credibility, ease-of-use, attractiveness, population, and what I believe is the fundamental key to virtual world success,  immersibility (suspension of disbelief).

So forget peer-to-peer virtual worlds for the moment and concentrate on worrying about  the Second Life 2009 viewer, or perhaps the new adult continent of Zindra.  Just kidding.

The SLENZ Update – No 16, October 16, 2008

CPAs get SL picture

One  never thinks of  accountants as being enthusiastic about innovation – it can put red on the bottomline – but Australia’s accountants have greeted the concept of Second Life with gusto.

Their enthusiasm came after Australian Second Life residents Lee Hopkins (Lee Laperriere), an online communications strategist and Lindy McKeown ( Decka Mah), an educational consultant, presented the first Chartered Practising Accountants’ event in Second Life for the CPA Australian Congress.

The presentation attracted Second Life accountancy professionals from Mildura, Tumut, Euroa, Tamworth, Cairns, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and London, Liverpool, Detroit and New York.

One of the CPA organisers, Alex Dalidakis, expresses the CPA delight at the success of the in-world congress and gives tips on how to run a congress in  his blog. http://lovenumbertwo.blogspot.com/2008/10/running-second-life-event.html.

Hopkins also provides details in his blog http://www.leehopkins.net/ and the presentation at http://www.leehopkins.net/downloads/virtu al-worlds-for-finance-professionals-v2.pdf

Y’all welcome

Dr Ross Brown demonstrates YAWL

The Queensland University of Technology, a pioneer in the development of Second Life applications such as “Air Gondwana” for law students, has devised YAWL, which stands for “Yet Another Workflow Language”, a business language based on Second Life. http://www.news.qut.edu.au/cgi-bin/WebObjects/News.woa/wa/goNewsPage?newsEventID=20357

Used for training people for work in hazardous scenarios such as mining, health and fire fighting, YAWL, among a clutch of new services fostered by the Smart Services Co-operative Research Centre, takes them into Second Life to give them a first taste of the risks they will encounter when they enter the workforce.

The centre, groups 18 industry, government and research partners across Australia including the Queensland and NSW governments,  with a seven-year budget of A$120 million, including a grant of A$30.8million from the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. QUT is its largest academic contributor and the Queensland Government and its local partners (SAP, Suncorp and RACQ) have invested A$38 million. Other partners include UNSW, University of Sydney, RMIT, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Wollongong and Infosys, Telstra, Sensis, Austin Health and Fairfax Digital.

YAWL is the brainchild of QUT software engineering lecturer Dr Ross Brown, who says the way to create more effective lesson plans is to combine virtual worlds such as Second Life with workflow systems traditionally used to guide people through tasks within organisations. YAWL provides a simple interface that hides its complexities while exploiting the benefits of virtual-world technology.

Dr Brown says YAWL allows educators and businesses to take the learning process to where the students and workers are. “We can use YAWL to create virtual, training environments for industries such as health, mining or fire fighting where the actual danger is removed but people can train in a realistic environment,” he said.

Another use is the provision of One-Stop Personalised Financial Services project, involving SAP, Suncorp and QUT researchers, to help bank customers with their financial planning.

What’s the future?

Educators and  their institution administrators often question just where virtual 3D world technology is going. Many put off dipping their toes in the water for this reason. There are promoters, detractors  and fence sitters.

A recent SLED debate, however, has come up with some interesting “rants” on  just where immersive worlds are going and what the future for education within them is.

None was more interesting than that of wellknown – in immersive VW education circles  – than that of Modesto, California’s Stan Trevena (Quidit Small), in what he described as a”rant” on future virtual world developments.

Noting that all SLED debates on the future developments of virtual worlds were focused on Second Life, the Second Life beta tester said he believed inside of four years educators will be hosting their own servers behind their own firewalls, and “not all of us will choose OpenSim”.

“There will be public grids that we will attach to when necessary.  We will be able to link our grids with other education organisations through portals and linking grids.  We will teleport between places of interest, not walk or fly.  We will make our first moves towards a distributed or federated model in the next three years with our virtual worlds (we must come up with a new term, virtual to me means “not real”).”

But, he added, it was at least another year and a half before the first viable alternatives to Second Life  would emerge.

But even though everything was moving towards the Internet becoming the Metaverse and webpages becoming grids, he said, unless there was a breakthrough with Grid/Cloud Computing none of the models (including Second Life) could be scaled to the sizes necessary for mainstream adoption.

“Someone will come along and do for avatar transport what IBM did for eCommerce in the 1990s,” he said. “You will have a core avatar that is your personal (and verifiable) identity.  Dropping into different worlds you will be able to take on alternative identities while still keeping the link to your assets and identity.  We’ll get there in less than 10 years.   Early attempts at this will take place inside of five years.

“Private individuals and small business will be able to pay monthly fees for services to host anything from a personal space to a full size grid.  Some of these will be business and education-focused with heavy emphasis on applications, collaboration and communication.  Others will be more like the fantasy MMO’s of today.  Expect all the same advertising as you see on the web now to offset costs and drive traffic in these future grids.  And all of these will move to industry standard 3D file formats for compatibility issues.  If I want to bring my ‘Legendary Sword of Knowledge’ from World of Starcraft back to my OpenSim property to show it off to my guild, I’ll be able to do that.

“Second Life as it exists today has hit its limits,” he said. “Until there is a major shift in the infrastructure (database) and underlying design we will continue to be stuck in sub-100k concurrent user ceilings.  The performance of the avatars in Second Life pale in comparison to ‘games’ of today … portability will become more important in the equation, again pushing towards a OS and device independence.  Even at this early of a stage in Wonderland’s development upgrades to the client are a no brainer and everyone gets them on their next log-in because it’s web based.  Version 0.5 will be out after the first of the year, early look videos in the next month or two.  We’ll have to see how the new avatar skeletal system is implemented.

“We are passing through a necessary stage right now, but this is not what it will be like in the not too distant future.  We all need to expand our vision beyond just Second Life and OpenSim.  Far too many of our discussions and projections are limited to our fixation on this one platform for education.  And photo realism may not be the ultimate virtual world goal.  And let’s not forget augmented reality and the potential there for mass adoption by the mainstream in portable devices. “

Among the comments was one from  Tom Werner (Carston Courier) who said the only thing that had surprised him in the rant was the projected timeframes. He guessed half the timeframe for

a distributed/federated model and for asset-retention while visiting different worlds.

“It just seems to me that we hear about some new development or world almost every day (Wonderland, Croquet, Qwaq, OpenSim, IBM teleportation, Forterra, sandbox games like GTA 4, Google Lively, ExitReality, Ogoglio, etc., etc.),” he said. ” I just visited Prototerra last week. It was intriguing. They can handle an ‘infinite’ number of avatars in a space by setting a max number of avatars in a space to X and then duplicating the setting instantly at X+1.

“Anyway, I would have seat-of-the-pants guesstimated that open-source-on-your-own-server + distributed model + linking worlds + 3D file-format standards + import-your-own-assets would be here TWO years from now.”