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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The SLENZ Update – No 36, December 24, 2008

MERRY CHRISTMAS &

A HAPPY NEW YEAR

We wish all our readers the best for 2009  in real life and virtual worlds despite the economic downturn which has spread around the globe. May all of you have  a safe and happy Christmas and may  the prospects for our world, whichever world that is,  brighten in the New Year. The SLENZ Update will not appear between Christmas and New Year, even though all worlds will continue turning.  The next issue will be about January 5, 2009, although  we may blog anything special which happens in between the holidays. In the meantime for  you who are still reading blogs on Christmas eve here are two items to think about over the holiday break.  By the way I think I want a Playstation 3 from Santa!!!!

For VW tourists

amongst us …

No Virginia, Santa cannot teleport with Rudolph, his sleigh and his assets between Virtual Worlds. Yet.

But as Peter Quirk (Senior Consulting Program Manager at EMC, Boston)  says its “the early days” for Virtual World interoperability.

Commenting via LinkedIn he  noted that most of the worlds (hundreds at present – see http://www.kzero.co.uk/blog/?page_id=2537 ) have been “designed as walled gardens”. quirkpeter

Commenting that interoperability comes in many forms – asset compatibility or interchange, common authentication systems, avatar compatibility and re-use, real-time messaging and voice interoperability, common currency, trade between worlds, etc – he said  that in terms of asset compatibility, it’s becoming clear  that commercial tools like 3D Studio Max, Sketchup and Maya and free tools like Blender can produce assets in multiple formats that can target multiple worlds.

The Collada format and the KML wrapper supported by Sketchup and Google Earth is gaining traction as an import format for a number of platforms.

Asset libraries are also developing quickly. Google’s 3D warehouse provides assets in Sketchup or Collada format, but tools exist to convert them to other formats (see my post http://tinyurl.com/6qfn2a for an example) Dassault Systemes has leveraged its investment in professional parts libraries to build a library of 3DVia parts for Microsoft’s Virtual Earth and 3Dswym. I’m sure more will follow. Turbosquid is a clearinghouse for digital artists to sell 3D models and textures. The assets are delivered in the formats used by high-end design tools, with which they may be repurposed for Virtual Worlds.

“Unfortunately, that’s only half the story – scripts are what make assets interesting and the interoperability of scripts is minimal,” he said. “There is some compatibility of Linden Scripting Language between Second Life, OpenSim and realXtend but there are enough differences to make it difficult to predict whether a script will be usable on any platform. OpenSim has its own script extensions (OSSL) and realXtend achieves a lot of its scripting power from server-side Python scripts which can make up for missing functionality in the OpenSim LSL implementation.

However, Quirk said, common authentication in Second Life, OpenSim and realXtend is getting close. This year’s experimental  teleport activity between Second Life and IBM’s OpenSim  was based on major work to develop open grid protocols for authentication, grid discovery and asset management. (See http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Open_Grid_Public_Beta/Open_Sim_OGP_How_To ).

But, Quirk went on, Avatar compatibility is likely to be more complex due to the fundamentally different ways of representing meshes and skeletons, not to mention the IP issues of taking clothes and accessories between worlds.

“Real-time messaging and voice between worlds shouldn’t be hard but there hasn’t been a lot of focus on this, presumably because one needs to be able to discover the identity of someone in another world before calling them,” he said.

Noting there are tools in Second Life for connecting to Jabber, MSN Messenger, AOL and other IM systems, Quirk said, “I would expect these to appear in OpenSim/realXtend soon. You’d think each of the IM platforms would have some interest in becoming the interworld chat conduit, but the advertising-subsidised models don’t work in virtual worlds. On the other hand, mobile phone operators have demonstrated solutions for talking between Second Life and the real world and they have a workable revenue model for equipping each avatar with a virtual mobile number.”

Quirk said he believe a common currency is a some way off. OpensSm is starting to implement support for “play money” as some call it, but a serious bank or Linden Lab will have to provide the back-end services to enable conversions from real currency to in-world currency and for currency exchanges between worlds.

On this point  he commented that many national and state governments are interested in taxing sales and capital gains in-world, further complicating the roll-out of cross-world trading. In many of the teen worlds the money enters the world via gift cards sold in stores. The sales tax is paid in the store. There is no indication that these walled gardens want to open up to other currencies yet.

http://peterquirk.wordpress.com

I just wannna

go Home … ;=)

YouTuber “thecreativeone” (David diFranco)has created an interesting “newbie” consumer tour of Sony’s Home virtual world for Playstation 3.  The graphics and some parts of the user interface look terrific, although movement sometimes leaves something to be desired. But  for those in their teens and twenties and even thirties Home  looks like real competition for for Microsoft and Nintendo in the console catchup game (wish it was on PC) and could even threaten the up take  of  Virtual Worlds, like Second Life, through cannibalising their client bases.  While this video isn’t well organised, it gives you a good idea of what Home is about even though he did not cover the Mall where you purchase items with real cash and  the customisation of one’s room’s wallpaper, as well as other some other major points (grin).  diFranco, who  said that although bowling was  all right, it “definitely is not as fun as Wii Sports’ Bowling, ” added, “Home is a living, breathing world, with real players interacting with one another in a variety of ways,” he said. “Whether it is furnishing your personal space or versing someone in bowling, there is something for everyone. While Home is definitely far from perfect, its future seems to be bright, and with many enhancements on the way. I made a “short” video showing off Home, which can be viewed below. It’s very loosely edited, but it should give you a good idea of what to expect in this online world.”http://www.thecreativeone.tv/

He didn’t mention it but  Sony,which announced  last month that 17 million PS3s have been sold worldwide leading to one estimate of the PSNetwork having 8.5 million users, would appear to have a headstart over almost all PC-based Virtual Worlds.  The major exception is  Habbo Hotel which has 100 million registered avatars, an average 8 million unique visitors monthly,with 75,000 avatars being created every day. Eat your heart out SL?

The SLENZ Update – No 23, November 08, 2008

**ALERT: FOR SLENZERS **

Version 4 of the “Process for learning design for the SLENZ project” has been published by joint project leader Terry Neal and Leigh Blackall. Its aims are to set out a process for designing learning activities to achieve the SLENZ project objectives. The full text is available for SLENZERS at http://docs.google.com/View?docid=dd2zdcf6_0c5trmf3n or on this blog under the heading to the left, SLENZ Project.

Social network + Web 3 = VWs

If you have been thinking that Virtual Worlds are not the wave of the future a recent report from In-Stat should help to dispel those thoughts.
But, given the current world economy, there might be few at the New Zealand end of the world who can afford to read the US$2995, 58-page report.instat
“Evidence supports the conclusion that the ‘killer application’ that is critical to virtual worlds-and, by extension, to Web 3.0-is, in fact, already here and it is none other than social networking,” said Vahid Dejwakh, an analyst with In-Stat, a part of Reed Business Information and a segment of the US$8 billion Reed Elsevier global information network.
As blogging and the ability to comment on news items online are, in essence, popularising and decentralising the news industry, so too are virtual worlds popularising and decentralising the gaming, meeting, and 3D graphic design industries, In-Stat reported. (http://www.in-stat.com/press.asp?ID=2405&sku=IN0804326CM)
Virtual worlds – especially the 3D kinds, such as Second Life – were classified under the Web 3.0 category because of their profound ability to integrate multiple types of content, information sources, and feeds into one highly engaging and interactive format, the research organisation said.
In-Stat found:
* Total registered users of virtual worlds are expected to exceed 1 billion and total revenue is expected to exceed US$3 billion by 2012.
* 70 percent of the more than 300 million registered users of virtual worlds are younger than 18.
* Virtual world companies earn close to 90 percent of their revenue from the sale of virtual items, currency, land, and fees associated with these items.
In addition to Web 3.0 applicability, In-Stat identified nine other critical components of virtual worlds, including user-generated content, social networking, virtual items, an economy, and business integration. In-Stat then rated each virtual world company according to these ten components. All ten platforms scored the maximum points possible in the social networking category, which emerged as the one critical element to virtual worlds.
The research, Virtual Worlds and Web 3.0: Examined, Compared, Analyzed (#IN0804326CM), covers the worldwide market for virtual worlds. It provides analysis of this form of gaming and social networking including profiles of 17 virtual worlds.
It also includes forecasts of worldwide registered users and revenue for virtual worlds through 2012. User demographics and market shares of virtual worlds are also provided.
Info: http://www.instat.com/catalog/mmcatalogue.asp?id=212

Where will the girls be?

Given the ubiquity of Playstation buffs, especially  young (18-35) men, could “Home”, the upcoming, console-based virtual world for the PlayStation 3, eventually develop into  a serious rival for the current crop of  Virtual Worlds?

That question arose from a recent interview with Jack Buser, Sony’s Director for PlayStation Home who told Virtualworldnews that the immersive platform which is due to launch as open beta late this year “will always be evolving and living and breathing.”http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/11/playstation-home-to-be-evolving-living-and-breathing-platform.html

“We’ll launch within open beta,” he said. “That means two things. It will be available to all PlayStation users at no cost. But there will obviously be a certain percentage of people who want to stand out from the crowd andplaystation3 customise their avatar with certain items or have a premium space and they will have that option within the PlayStation Mall, but it is not required. Second, we are calling it an open beta for a specific reason. Home will always be evolving. You will be seeing new stuff, including new technology.

“It’s important to realise the scope of PlayStation Home. When you look around, it’s just the icing on the cake,” Buser was quoted as saying. “The cake is that it’s a development platform for third parties to develop content on. We want Home to scale rapidly, and we figured the best way to do that is to get third parties involved. After launch, you’re going to see Home grow rapidly with new media, new content, and new experiences, coming quite rapidly. That’s absolutely been the demand from the users.”

Given the demographic and social networking needs of the age group the only question is where will the girls be?

Stopping trash talk

censored

I’ve always been dead against censorship in Second Life believing that thought processes should never be censored but I recently received  my comeuppance while showing an elderly and rather conservative new user into  a PG-rated welcome area.

I had not been into a Welcome area for a long time (pre-voice days) and I was appalled -she was too – by the bad language in SL voice and trash talk by all and sundry, but especially loud-mouthed yobbo males, who referred continuously to various parts of their anatomy and what they planned to do with it or what they wanted to do with the girls present.

Muting worked but  my uncalled for feeling was that the Lindens should police PG welcome areas much more proficiently if businessmen and women, educators and their students are going to move freely through this michael-leeworld.

Thus I was interested in Michael Lee’s (pictured) blog  http://www.redherring.com/blogs/25281 in which he noted Microsoft had been granted a patent to filter and censor undesired words in real-time. The automatic system would process everything being said and alter the unwanted words so that they are, according to the patent, “either unintelligible or inaudible.”

Microsoft, he said, understood that “censorship of spoken language can be annoying if each obscenity or profanity is “bleeped” to obscure it so that it is not understood, particularly if the frequency with which such utterances occur is too great.” The company, theefore, has opted to either lower the volume below audibility, replacing the word with an acceptable word or phrase, or taking out the word completely.
Lee said Microsoft’s proposed technology would work in real-time – a practical solution when it comes to the many simultaneous conversations that take place in online multiplayer games.

Now when is SL going to avail itself of the technology?

Virtual crime

thief2

With virtual crime in virtual worlds on the rise, Nick Abrahams,  a Partner and Sydney Office Chairman of law firm, Deacons, has published an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald looking at online and virtual world theft, fraud, sex and relationships and their failure .http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/biztech/virtual-crime-is-on-the-rise/2008/11/03/1225560726242.html

[Illustration: Screenshot from: “Thief: Deadly Shadows,” published by Eidos http://www.eidos.co.uk/gss/thief_ds/]

EVENTS

November 15 (SL time, 9am- 5pm): Virtual Praxis: A Conference on Women’s Community in Second Life will be held on Minerva, the teaching and research space in Second Life maintained by The Department of Women’s Studies, Ohio State University. Registration free, conference registration/information. http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/collingwood7/minerva/conference.html. Workshops for conference attendees who are new to Second Life will be held at noon and at 5:00 pm SL time on Friday, November 14. To participate IM Ellie Brewster, or e-mail collingwood.7@osu.edu.

September 24-26, 2009: SLACTIONS 2009, research conference in the Second Life® world as well as real world: “Life, Imagination, and work using Metaverse platforms”. Important dates – Current: Scope and call for papers covering full spectrum of intellectual disciplines and technological endeavors in which any Metaverse platforms are currently being used: from education to business, sociology to social sciences, media production to technology development, architecture and urban planning to the arts. February 28, 2009 – Deadline for paper submissions. OpenSim, Open Croquet, Activeworlds, Open Source Metaverse and Project Wonderland are among the other VWs are on the agenda. SLACTION currently has chapters in Brazil, Hong Kong, USA and Europe. The organisers, from some of the world’s leading tertiary insitutions, have invited Australian and New Zealand academic institutions or private research institutions to set up  local physical chapters. Information:  http://www.slactions.org/