Thoughts from a former Second Life advocate

(In response to Matt’s previous post re: the Second Life educational discount…) Actually, the educational discount was pretty good if you consider the amount of space you get on an island and all you can fit there – education, advertisements, meeting spaces, etc.

Where the expense really comes in and caused many institutions to balk is development — people quickly realized that building/programming in SL was not easy by any means for most people without a computer science degree. You’d end up either farming out the development to emerging technologies groups on your campus or paying big bucks to put something up. (Or you’ll find some geeky instructional designer who quickly falls in love with it and dumps hundreds of hours into developing in SL.) If you don’t have either of these and you’re using SL for education, you have to invest time in researching areas and finding places that will help achieve your objective.

Yes, I admit — I was a big-time SL advocate in the beginning. I’ve since been able to step back and realize just how much work and exactly how realistic it is (isn’t) to invest time/money in this project. SL had tons of potential, especially in education … it just isn’t practical.

I’m wondering what this SL alternative is that was mentioned in the article. (I’ve been away from SL and virtual worlds for so long; I apologize if there’s an obvious answer.) I think even with this alternative, the excitement over virtual worlds will decrease dramatically. My reasoning is this — sure, you have an open source alternative. But chances are (and Matt, please correct me if I’m wrong) you’ll have to self-host, meaning you’ll have to find hardware to put it on and people to maintain it. I know this is almost sounding cliché but with budgets being slashed as drastically as they are this year and projected for next, most places are just not going to be able to justify the expense. I suspect many schools were already seriously looking at their SL property to be included in the cutbacks we’re all facing, and LL’s announcement just made their decision a lot easier.


And The Second Life Exodus Begins

When I first heard that Second Life was ending their educator discount program, I knew that there would eventually be some talk about schools leaving. I just didn’t think it would come so swiftly and decisively. Apparently, there was even a session discussing which alternative to move to at Educause this week (Academics Discuss Mass Migration From Second Life).

I find it funny that people keep referring to the discount as “generous.”  Look, Second Life has always been cool but overpriced.  Even the half off discount was a stretch for most educational institutions.  At least half of the institutions that I knew of that considered going in to Second Life didn’t because even with half-off there was no way they could budget it.

The corporate world already turned its back on land in Second Life. The gaming sector never cared.  Individuals mostly couldn’t afford it, since it was really set-up for corporations.  The government sector never has any extra money for innovation.  The only group that had interest and at least a bit of money was the educational sector.  And some have said that was the only thing keeping Linden Labs afloat.

Nice knowin’ ya, Second Life.  Say “hi” to Google Wave, Jaiku, Lively, and Netscape in the virtual after world…

Is Second Life Shooting Itself In the Foot?

By now you have possibly heard the news that Second Life is going to end its educator discount.  That discount was a whopping half off land prices.  Is this going to signal the end of Second Life?

I can’t count the number of people I have talked to through the years that cited cost as a reason why their educational institution wasn’t getting in to Second Life – even with the discount.  I get that Second Life usage is really dropping and they need to make more money.  But I am also sure a large number of colleges are just going to close shop rather than double expenses.  I have heard that many college SL projects are already on the edge of elimination as it it is.

So one has to wonder – will the net gain of those that stay and pay double make up for the huge loss of everyone that will leave?  Right now, I doubt it.  Personally, I think Second Life is going to lose more than they think they will gain.

As interest in Second Life wanes in many places, some have speculated that the educational sector is the main thing keeping it a float.  Why shoot one of your only good legs in the foot?

Will 2011 be remembered as the year virtual worlds died? I hope not – but they are life support and need better thinking than this to survive.

Star Trek Forgot To Mention That The Holodeck Was Invented By Google

Okay, so I know that there have been many people working on holodeck-like inventions for quite a while.  But none have been quite as cool as Google’s Liquid Galaxies, and I don’t remember hearing about any of the previous attempts being released as open-source.  Yes – Google released their immersive environment tool as open source.  You can read more about it here:

Of course, it is the design and software that is open-source, not the actual hardware itself.  But it is an interesting start, nonetheless.  Two things in the article gave me some ideas:

  • You can hook up any where from two to “dozens” of screens potentially.
  • You can add other virtual interfaces to the set-up. In other words, it is not just limited to Google Earth.

I wonder how long it will be before someone figures out a way to use Second Life with this?  Anyways, here is my idea: First of all, you get a few dozen flat screen panels with little or not frame (kind of like they do in Sports Bars with nine screens showing four games) and put them together in a sphere shape with the screens facing inward.  Probably with a few in the back on a hinge acting as a door in.  Then you get an omnidirectional treadmill for a floor hooked up to the software in place of a joystick.  Finally, add a few motion detection cameras at key points around the sphere and a wireless microphone.  Maybe even add a glove interface of some kind for more detailed controls.  Wire all of this to work together with virtual environment of your choice (Google Earth, Second Life, World of Warcraft, you name it) – and I think we have our first rudimentary holodeck.  Maybe even someday use 3-D flat screens.

Probably pretty expensive to buy all this.  Probably also a little tough to figure out how to get all those systems to work together.  But I am sure it can be done.  So who has a grant to try this out?

Thank You! Quote of the Day

Jean-Claude Bradley (e-learning coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences, and an associate professor of chemistry, at Drexel University):

“There’s a misconception out there that students are very tech-savvy and following all these blogs and wikis and Second Life. That’s not true. The vast majority have never been [to Second Life].”

I’ve been ranting for a while on the whole digital native myth. Glad to see that I am not the only one that sees it.

The rest of the story is also very interesting:

Creating Life-Size Molecules in Second Life

Am I the Only One That Sees Something Wrong Here?

The December 2007 edition of Sloan-C View hit my in box this morning. It’s not online yet, so I can’t provide a link to the current issue. But it will probably appear here someday. One of the articles was titled “Second Life: A Viable Teaching Solution, or NOT?” Like most teachers, my tendency is to roll my eyes at something like this and move on. Teachers have been using non-viable teaching tools for centuries. Most of the time, we know that the tool is not the focus – it’s the creativity of the teacher using the particular tool. How the tool is used is what makes it viable, not the tool itself.

But such is education. We always tend to focus on the wrong thing. Sloan-C is a great organization, and I really agree with most of their efforts. What got me in this article was the end analysis. They evaluated Second Life against their five pillars of quality. One Second Life con that I read there (and have read many places), was this: steep learning curve.

Is it just me, or does that seem hypocritical for educators to list a learning curve, no matter how steep, as a con? Aren’t we in the business of learning curves? Science teachers will spend days teaching students how to use lab tools before actually doing a real lab, and no one will bat an eye at the steep learning curve of those tools (I used to be an 8th grade Science teacher). But put technology in the mix, and suddenly a steep learning curve is con.

Let’s also be realistic – Second Life doesn’t have as much a steep learning curve as it has a steep flexibility curve. I picked up Second Life pretty fast. I know what you are thinking – tech geek into games picked up Second Life quickly – big shocker! Hold on a second – I don’t play games. Sorry, never played World of Warcraft. Never. Don’t own ANY games that work on my computer at home (I do own a Star Wars Lego game, but don’t have an adequate graphics card to install it). I just don’t play any games. Some of you may want to revoke my geek card for admitting that one, but so be it.

(okay, I occasionally hit the Midway Classic Games Online page. Joust, Rampage, and Tapper are so addictive!)

Second Life works great if you just take a few minutes and learn to do what it tells you to do. People have problems when they want it to work a certain way and it doesn’t. That is just what I find when I really dig in to people’s problems with Second Life. If they would just flex their expectations, they would find it quite easy to learn.

Age Verification in Second Life

Got an interesting letter from the Lindens this morning. Hmm… is this the first step in a move toward a unified Teen+Adult Grid? Let’s hope so.

Hello, [My Account Name].

As you may have heard, we’re implementing the first stage of an Identity Verification system beginning with age. Our ultimate goal is to give Second Life Residents the opportunity to reveal as much or as little real life information about themselves as they like, and to have that information verified. We see this tool as critical to supporting Residents in shedding anonymity and building trust-based relationships — but only to the extent that they’re comfortable.

We’ve engaged the services of a third party provider, Aristotle’s Integrity, who will match information that Residents provide with information available in public records. You will be asked to provide your name, geographic location, birthdate, and an ID that is specific to your country, for example the last four digits of your social security number if you’re American. We will not be storing any information except for a code that tells us there was a positive match. Integrity will not keep any identifying information about you.

Age verification will initially be used as a way to limit access to restricted content within Second Life. Therefore, in order to enter any parcel or region which has been flagged as containing restricted content, i.e. sexual activity or extreme violence, age verification will be required to ensure only adults, or people over the age of 18, gain access. Verifying age will be voluntary, except in this context.

Prior to launching age verification throughout Second Life, we’re hoping you, the concierge customers, will help us out by trying the process and letting us know about your experience — if you were able to accurately verify your age, if the process itself is clear and understandable, and what problems you encountered. Please visit the Age Verification link available from the Your Account section of our website in the right sidebar and enter the requested information. This link is currently only available to concierge customers. When you are finished, you will be asked to take a short survey to fill us in on your experience.

For more information on Age Verification in Second Life, please visit the Second Life Blog.

Thank you very much for your help, and your continued support.

Linden Lab
Creators of Second Life

(Read LL’s blog post re: age verification.)

Using Second Life to Go Deeper

Never Mind the Technology, Where’s the Learning? posted a very interesting YouTube video recently. It takes a while to figure out what is going on, but I will post it at the end of this post. Just sit through to the end (about 4 minutes), and what I have to say will make sense.

One of the vast, barely explored educational aspects of Second Life is the ability to go deep. For example – what about re-creating a famous painting on an island in Second Life (see video for example)? Take art criticism to the next level by actually getting into the head and vision of the masters. Pick a painting, like Starry Nights. One of my favorites. I love to just stare at it. But to be able to virtually walk around in it? Amazing. What about The Scream, or any number of impressionist paintings by people like Monet.

What if some artists decided to do something original in Second Life with their own island? Many have, but what about to the level of the video below? If anyone knows of anyone that has, please let me know.

Also – where are the islands based on famous books or songs? Anything from Lord of the Rinds to Tom Sawyer would be an incredible experience. I know I’ve seen a few Sci-Fi and historical themed islands.

(Apparently, this no longer exists in Second Life. Bummer.)

Sloog HUD Improves Second Life Exploration

Although I am a big fan of Second Life, I will readily admit that some of the features aren’t very usable yet. The Search feature is almost useless, and since Landmarks are both private and inaccessible outside Second Life, it’s hard to share interesting places you’ve found with your friends.

Frustrated by the unwieldy Search and Landmark tools, a group of Second Life users created a bookmarking system called Sloog. Sloog allows users to bookmark locations and avatars using a free in-world Heads-up Display (HUD), identify them using custom tags, and save them to an online profile. Each Sloog contains the Second Life URL (SLURL) to the location and the list of descriptive tags added by the user.

Although there is a setting to make bookmarks private, the best feature of Sloog is the ability to share and explore public bookmarks (or “Sloogs”). The Sloog tagging system, as Katrina pointed out, is very similar to the one used by, and is much easier to use than the in-world Second Life search tool. Plus, you can access your bookmarked locations from your online profile without having to log into SL.

I would also like to point out that in the list of popular tags on Sloog‘s website, “Education” is one of the largest! Clicking on the tag will take you to a list of all locations in Second Life that have been tagged as educational — a great way to find and share new places or promote your own educational space.

The University of New Orleans Enters Second Life

The University of New Orleans recently joined the ranks of higher education institutions that have established virtual campuses in Second Life. Unlike most participating universities, which primarily use their Second Life islands to recruit new students, promote their school, and experiment with virtual worlds, UNO’s purpose is more essential: to maintain classes in the event of another Hurricane Katrina-like disaster. If students, faculty, and administrators are forced to evacuate during a storm, they can reconnect with each other through Second Life.

Although the university uses Blackboard to manage its online courses, UNO administrators believe that the “presence” created by avatars in a 3D space raises the level of online class interaction. The university will offer two courses at its virtual campus starting in the fall.

Currently, the New Orleans Island campus is closed to the public.