The SLENZ Update – No 44, February 4, 2009

Strangers: off to the world

rollo-mike-fiona

UK-born Mike Baker (SL: Rollo Kohime),  a senior lecturer in the Degree in Arts and Media programme in the School of Arts and Media at Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Nelson, NZ-Aotearoa, has had papers on his Masters project accepted for three national and international conferences in February and June.

The papers will be delivered at intercreateSCANZ Symposium, at New Plymouth, in Taranaki, New Zealand, PSI15 Performance Studies International Conference, in Zagreb, Croatia, and the SDHS Society of Dance History Scholars: Topographies: Sites, Bodies, Technologies, at Stanford University, USA. He has  also been named to an international panel to deliver/discuss the paper of Isabel de Cavadas Valverde: Envisioning virtual cartographies for corporeal interaction: dance and performance convergent applications of Second Life 3D Metaverse social environment, at the SDHS Conference at Stanford.

Baker (pictured above with wife Fiona), who has danced and worked with: BodyCartography Project, (USA/NZ) Wilhemeena Gordon, (NZ) Nancy Stark-Smith, State-of-Flux Dance Co, (Melbourne, Australia) Martin Keogh (USA) jzamal Xanitha (USA) and Catherine Chappell – Touch Compass Dance Trust (NZ), is completing a Masters in Art and Design (majoring in dance and video) with AUT University,  Auckland.

His performance-based Masters project, “Company of Strangers – Negotiating Meetings, Exchanges and Conversations in Urban Spaces”, critically explores both in the real world and Second Life the forces of indeterminacy which he maintains are responsible for the dynamics which create the personna of the ‘stranger’ in encounters between people in urban spaces. He uses interventionist dance strategies to prompt and then interrogate the formation, nature and parameters of encounters in designated public places. The experimental movement frameworks employed are informed by the discipline of Contact Improvisation Dance. The working process is documented using a range of video narrative and internet blogs.

The Second Life portion of Baker’s dance project is based on the NMIT/SLENZ island of Koru. His blog is at: http://hoststranger.blogspot.com

Better SL viewer ahead?

On the face of it the churn rate of “newbies” entering Second Life is probably unacceptable in business terms but 15 percent of those trying out Second Life for the first time, deciding to “settle” in world, to my mind, is nothing to get discouraged about.

Given similar problems to those Second Life has had over the years many five-year-old – old hat? – businesses would be pleased with the on-going, steady retention rate. philip_rosedale

Linden Labs’ executives, Philip Rosedale and Mark Kingdon appear far from discouraged even though they would like to “triple that number,” according to an exclusive report by Ian Lamont, in The Industry Standard. (Story and transcripts http://www.thestandard.com/news/2009/01/30/exclusive-linden-lab-executives-plot-second-life-growth-interface-concerns-persist?page=0%2C0&source=nlt_daily)

Both Rosedale (pictured right) and Kingdon (pictured left) said in the Lamont interview that on-going, significant work to make the user interface less complex would have a huge impact on the retention rate of the virtual world.kingdon2

Singling out search, the user interface and new user orientation as needing major improvements, to up the on-going user retention rate, Rosedale told Lamont, “We need to collapse the orientation experience on learning the interface down to a 30-minute timeframe. We’re not there yet.”

Going on to describe the current interface as “overwhelming,” Rosedale said, “The basic UI of the software also needs to change. “It has too many pixels,” he said referring to the buttons, numbers, and other data presented to users on the screen. “They’re all kind of demanding your attention — your [Linden] dollar balance, your inventory window, all the buttons on the bottom bar, chat and text that are visible in the window, that’s asking something of you, blue pop-ups that are coming up.”

Rosedale said that Second Life had moved beyond an emerging application for technology-savvy users. “There is a lot more diversity in use, demographics and behavior in Second Life today than there was, say, at the end of 2003,” he said.

Kingdon added. “There is a very compelling set of activities that virtual worlds are incredibly powerful for. They erase geographies, they allow for a type of interaction that you can’t get in the real world and they bring with them really interesting economic and business opportunities for users.”

Kingdon detailed localisation projects for countries in Europe, Asia, and South America, and cited in-world training and remote meetings as compelling activities for companies. Both he and Rosedale portrayed Second Life as a competitor to enterprise video conferencing, which they believe is unable to match Second Life’s ability to make people feel comfortable interacting with other remote users.

VW education/meetings do work

lbj_close_talker

On Mark Kingdon’s case (above) for the benefits of holding real world meetings in virtual worlds Metaverse developer Caleb Booker has provided a compelling argument for the use of virtual worlds like Second Life for real world education environments and meeting spaces.( http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/01/27/roi-in-virtual-worlds-1-why-webcams-fail/)

I have to agree with Wagner Au  in New World Notes (http://nwn.blogs.com/) that up until now, “the notion that the professional world should prefer meeting in the metaverse over speakerphones or web cams or other technologies seemed roughly crazy.”

He based this on the assumption that  in-world meetings put on by companies like IBM and Microsoft “were mostly limited to the early adopters already familiar with Second Life.”

However, Au goes on to say, that Booker lays out his reasoning lucidly for why the professional world should change its view through comparing being “close” to  people in an avatar sense to getting the “close-talker” feeling of  being trapped counting the other speaker’s nostril hairs, as in the Lyndon Baines Johnson picture above or a la webcam, and not being able to look away.

Suffice to say, Caleb argues cogently that Virtual space experiences work better than a webcam experience because one can maintain some “personal space”;  whatever learning mode one is in, chances are one will do fine;  and the experience fills one’s field of vision far more readily.

Read Caleb’s article: its one of the best expositions on just why education as opposed to other forms of elearning WILL work in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

Kermit for the third time..

intellagirltully

My final word on the saga of  the believability of Kermit. Intellagirl Tully (real life Sarah Robbins) is recognised as one of the foremost researchers/educators operating in Virtual Worlds. She probably has thought more about academic identity in a non-academic world than most other people. I’m indebted to a SLED list poster for pointing me to her “enjoyable and insightful” piece for the SLCC Education Workshop in 2006 titled, ” ‘Image Slippage’: Navigating the Dichotomies of an Academic Identity in a Non-Academic Virtual World.” You can read it at: http://secondlife.intellagirl.com/SLCC-Robbins.doc

Is the writing on the SL wall?

blumenthal

The on-going debate inside the walls of Linden Lab and among Second Life educators and others on the benefits or not of merging the carefully policed, but poorly-patronised Teen Grid with the well-patronised adult grid, has been brought into sharper focus by MySpace’s decision to remove the profiles of about 90,000 US-registered sex offenders.

The question is not whether Second Life can survive the addition of a teenage group of possible hell-raisers (grin) but whether it can survive the imposition of more stringent controls such as proof of age, identity, location and possible background checks being placed on the general population of Second Life, things which may be required by some US regulators to ensure the safety of the teens.

Personally I’m not a proponent of the Nanny State and think this would be a step too far. I have enjoyed, for better or worse, the “anything goes, frontier” feel of Second Life – even the griefers – for the past four years and hope to continue to be surprised and astounded by the activities/art/works of my fellow residents for years to come, no matter what their real life backgrounds.

Proof of age is currently not mandatory within Second Life and is required only for specific “adult” areas – I’ve only come across one proof-of-age-barred area over many hours of exploration – but given the general in-world penchant for privacy I don’t think the introduction of mandatory proof-of-age on the general grid would be a good thing.

[Interestingly the Linden Lab ban on casinos and sexual age-play among adults has, as predicted, reportedly only served to drive these activities underground.]

The thoughts on this issue were sparked by comments made by Connecticut Attorney-General Richard Blumenthal (pictured above at an unrelated occasion, but appropriate-looking “friend”) who initiated the release of the MySpace figures which were almost double the number that News Corporation-owned MySpace officials originally announced last year. (http://preview.tinyurl.com/c62qqs)

Blumenthal said the “shocking revelation” backed up his campaign to ensure that social networking sites should be barred as “playgrounds for predators”. “

Almost 100,000 convicted sex offenders mixing with children on MySpace is absolutely appalling and totally unacceptable,” he said. “For every one of them, there may be hundreds of others using false names and ages.”

Blumenthal said the new data unmasked what he called MySpace’s “monstrously inadequate counter-measures” and noted he would continue “to fight for reforms and safeguards at MySpace and other social networking sites to protect children, including age and identification verification.

“I urge MySpace and the social networking industry to end their resistance to age and identify verification,” he said.

One wonders how long it will be before he and his fellow travelers look at virtual worlds, now that social networking and virtual worlds are coming together.

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.”