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.

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The SLENZ Update – No 31, December 04, 2008

Count down to SLENZ

‘open’ workshop

December 15, from 9am to 5pm (New Zealand Time) (SL Time 2pm – 10 pm December 14) : New Zealand’s leading virtual world learning research group, Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ), has invited interested educators to attend a free, one-day workshop in real life on Wellington Institute of Technology’s Wellington campus and in Second Life on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s island of Koru (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/156/122/27). Registration essential on first-come, first-served basis as numbers limited. For registration email: Susan.Jenkins@weltec.ac.nz

One global player in virtual education

‘Immersive Education’

egypt_girl_closeup_small

The range  of educational opportunities and organisations promoting or researching  virtual worlds is increasing day by day. One of the more interesting is Immersive Education, developed by the Immersive Education Initiative, a non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies  working together to define and develop open standards, best practices, platforms, and communities of support for virtual worlds, simulators and game-based learning and training systems.(http://ImmersiveEducation.org)

Immersive Education combines interactive 3D graphics, video game and simulation technology, virtual reality, voice chat, Web cameras and rich digital media with collaborative online course environments and classrooms. Immersive Education gives participants a sense of “being there” even when attending a class or training session in person isn’t possible, practical, or desirable, which in turn provides educators and students with the ability to connect and communicate in a way that greatly enhances the learning experience.(http://immersiveeducation.org/TalkingPoints.pdf)

The Immersive Education Initiative is an official activity of the international Media Grid standards group. (http://mediagrid.org/) The Media Grid standards group actively applies open standards to specific problem spaces, such as distance education, digital libraries, and the impact of digital media on culture and society.
Immersive Education is not limited to one platform but considers the whole gamut and for that reason alone is well worth following.  For instance late last month Immersive Education Japan (iED Japan) ran a series of Immersive Education Days at University of Aizu, Japan, as part of Immersive Education: ASIA, programme.  Immersive Education presentations, lectures, workshops and related events included IEI members from Boston College, University of Aizu, National University of Singapore, Keio University, Smithsonian Institution, Montana State University, Southeast Kansas Education Service Center at Greenbush, University of Essex and Sun Microsystems to provide an in-depth overview of Immersive Education, the Education Grid [http://TheEducationGrid.org] and related technologies. To coincide with the event Japan’s first “node” (virtual world and collaboration server) on the Education Grid was announced. Hosted by the University of Aizu and sponsored by Sun Microsystems, Japan’s Education Grid node will enable cultural and technological exchange with educators and students around the world through virtual learning worlds and collaboration environments. Related announcements/initiatives included the launch of three new Project Wonderland (pictured – video is on IE site, along with videos from Second Life and Croquet) Community Groups; progress report by the Open File Formats Technology Group; formation of the Library Technology Working Group; formation of the Psychology of Immersive Environments Technology Working Group; formation of the Assessment, Evaluation and Grading Technology Working Group; preview of Second Life, realXtend, and OpenSim nodes on the Education Grid; and the official launch of the Initiative’s “Own the Node” program.

wonderland_shared_applications

Second Life: Better every day?

Some Second Life residents might not agree with the Linden Lab claim that  Second Life is becoming more usable and more reliable. Perhaps I’m tempting the Gods but I for one , however, believe the claim. Putting aside ISP problems my  Second Life experience has improved considerably over the past three years – and I would average more than two hours a day in world often at peak US usage periods – but its still far from perfect.

I make this observation in light of the  Lindens’ recent claim (http://blog.secondlife.com/2008/12/02/m-linden-second-life-update-and-welcome-to-howard-linden-aka-howard-look/) that their staff has been hard at work over the last  few months making Second Life more relevant, more usable and more reliable.

“Our work is showing up in Second Life’s usage statistics,” M.Linden said on Tuesday. ” On Sunday of this past weekend, we hit another concurrency high of 76,946 and yesterday log-ins for the previous 60 days crossed the 1.4 Million mark.”

Noting that reliability was a top strategic focus for the Lab, he said that the launch of LL Net (the private fiber optic ring connecting the Linden Lab data centers) to provide additional redundancy and eliminate  reliance on VPNs, was ahead of schedule..

On the issue of making Second Life more relevant, he said,  the Big Spaceship project to improve residents’ first hour experience was proceeding well alongside a new website design.

Although the team also was making great progress on the major usability project, redesigning  the viewer so that it was easy to use for new residents without sacrificing functionality for experienced users, he said, it would be well into the second half of next year before the new client was implemented.

At the same time Linden Lab has been out hiring  and as placed Howard Look (SL:Howard Linden) formerly a VP of Software at Pixar, into the role of SVP of Customer Applications ( “The Front”) He will be responsible for leading the engineering team responsible for the customer-facing part of the Second Life experience.

Interestingly for educators Howard also has a passion for education and spent time this past summer as a substitute teacher (4th grade and middle school math).

EVENT


December 12, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m: (Public seminar) Open Educational Resources and Scholarship in the 21st Century, University of Auckland Conference Centre, 423-342, 22 Symonds Street, Auckland. Speaker: Joseph Hardin, the Director of the Collaborative Technologies Laboratory in the Media Union and Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and currently the Board Chair for the Sakai project. Prior to joining the University of Michigan, he was head of the Software Development Group (SDG) and Associate Director for Software Development at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois. Most notably, his teams were responsible for the development of the NCSA Mosaic browser, arguably the tool that launched the world wide web.