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The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. LA Times (USA) – Fans flock to Disney\’s Club Penguin Times. \”The newspaper industry is constantly bewailing its need for a new economic model, as the Internet upends the old one. Maybe it could take a page from the Club Penguin Times. The Club Penguin Times, after all, is more widely read than New York\’s Daily News, the Chicago Tribune or the Dallas Morning News. And it\’s not even 3 years old.\”

2. Half Life Source (USA) – Sony confirms that the PS3 Home 3D virtual online community service has been delayed until later this year. \”Sony Corp\’s game unit said on Tuesday it was delaying the launch of its \”Home\” 3D virtual online community service for the PS3 game console to later this year. It\’s been the second such delay for the PlayStation 3. Last Year, Sony postponed the launch of the \”Home\” service, which is aimed at giving users a place to interact with other PS3 users, to early this year from last Winter.\”

3. SecurityPro News (USA) – Next Malware Breeding Ground: Online Games? \”Dr. Igor Muttik, senior architect for McAfee Avert Labs, has published a 19-page whitepaper (PDF) warning we may soon see a spike in malware targeting in virtual worlds and online gaming. What would they want with virtual goods? The same thing they always want: money. Virtual goods and currencies can be traded for real goods and currencies. General data can work too for nefarious purposes, so key-logging and the like are distinct possibilities. \”

4. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (USA) – Goertzel on “OpenCog Prime: Design for an Open-Source Thinking Machine”. \”Dr. Ben Goertzel from Novament will be in the area and has graciously offered to give a presentation of their current project on Sept. 7: Topic: OpenCog Prime: Design for an Open-Source Thinking Machine (Underlying Principles and Early Experiments) OpenCogPrime is a highly detailed software design, aimed at powerful Artificial General intelligence at the human level and ultimately beyond, intended to be implemented within the OpenCog open-source AI software framework.\”

5. 1UP.com (USA) – Building a Better Virtual World Through Democracy. \”EVE Online is a massive and persistent universe where players have direct involvement in both the economy and the game\’s political system. This serves as an important, always-changing, plot device. But because of this, for better or worse, the world lives and dies by community involvement to a much greater degree than most MMOs. If things start to go bad, the game\’s subscribers can\’t simply take their character over to another server. Unfortunately, some employees of the game\’s developer, CCP, have been caught trying to manipulate the system. In response, CCP created an Internal Affairs division to monitor the activities of both player and staff accounts.\”

6. Times Online (UK) – Computer warriors pay geek mercenaries to fight their wars for them. \”Andy Crowther used to have time to play a lot of computer games. Not any more. At 33, he is now a supermarket manager in North London and has a girlfriend. Despite the intrusion of real life, Mr Crowther still enjoys slaughtering hordes of monsters and capturing treasure in online games such as World of Warcraft and Star Wars Galaxies. But, like increasing numbers of gamers, he no longer has endless hours to earn the “virtual gold” needed to buy weapons and upgrades which make the game more fun. Luckily for him, 400,000 geeks, mostly in East Asia, are available for hire at the click of a button.\”

7. itbusiness.ca (Canada) – Toronto\’s Webkinz brings fantasy world to real global market. \”Webkinz has become a household name in North America by appealing to children with its brand of cuddly, plush animals that come with a key that grants access to a virtual world. Now the company is hoping it can evoke the same interest internationally. Pre-teen kids and their parents are very familiar with the plush phenomenon started by Woodbridge, Ont.-based Ganz Inc. in 2005.\”

8. Medical News Today (USA) – Burnt Kids\’ Pain Lessened By Distracting Device. \”Cunningly disguised as a toy, a new medical device that harnesses the power of distraction can greatly reduce the pain felt by young burns victims. Designed for medical device company Diversionary Therapy Technologies by Sam Bucolo, who is a Queensland University of Technology industrial design Associate Professor, Ditto is a virtual reality-inspired diversionary therapy aid. \”

9. The Washington Post (USA) – Gameworld: Videogaming enters the Third Dimension. \”Videogamers, your glasses to transport you into three dimensional space. Visual computing technology company Nvidia (NVDA.O) has unveiled the first mainstream 3D gaming technology at the inaugural NVISION 08 conference in San Jose, which focused on the convergence of technology with Hollywood, games and business. With Hollywood migrating to 3D for event movies like \”Journey to the Center of the Earth\” and next year\’s \”Avatar\” from James Cameron, the electronics and gaming industries have created new technology that lets home systems and PCs also deliver true 3D.\”

10. iTnews (Australia) – VIC government shuts down Second Life presence. \”The virtual bulldozers have moved in on Melbourne Laneways on Second Life’s ABC Island, after Multimedia Victoria said it would not renew the lease. The research project was launched in October 2007 to test the ‘potential impact [of virtual worlds] on the economic and social lives of Victorians’.\”

Weekend Whimsy

1. Eternal Sonata Playthrough:59 a new life

2. Bossa Nova Club

3. Bunnytry star trek second life

Linden Lab blabs about the blog.

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<sarcasm>Linden Lab display their aptitude with resources and their grasp of technologies once again with their plans to close down the current main blog and forums and replace the software behind them.</sarcasm&gt. It seems unfortunate that this company, which we rely on to produce the product we desire, keeps behaving like it had its head chopped off. Do they figure that having gotten this far, and getting this big, without any solid plan, that they can just continue on in the same vein as always and achieve the same or greater results?

The greatest surprise to me in all this is that Linden Lab has discontinued the use of the official blog at least a month, if not more, before the new product has been released; worse, they are committing to a system that has not even been fully worked out yet: \”I don\’t know yet what the new forum structure will be. We\’re happy to hear your thoughts about ideas for different boards though.\” – Robin Linden. In the meantime, we are expected to find information based on leads from the message of the day from the log-in screen; this information is to be dispersed in some manner amongst other blogs, side-bars and other unexpected places. It all sounds most unsatisfactory.

The benefits of the new system to residents seem pretty thin on the ground – this is not necessarily a problem. However, if the changes are being made to benefit Linden Lab, it would be a pleasant change to know what those benefits are, rather than being told that they are doing this for the good of the residents – transparency, transparency, transparency!  I\’m sure Linden Lab are finding it useful to tuck away all those resident comments on the forums, especially the nasty ones, where the search engines cannot reach, and where folks who are not already residents cannot access them.

It also seems hard to believe that the software Linden Lab is currently using is completely outmoded and inadequate for the task. WordPress and VBulletin? Both configurable and flexible.  How much more integrated do they need to be? How much more nicely will the two new pieces of software play together?

Then there\’s the second-most intriguing idea: externally sourced moderators. Some residents are disappointed that resident moderators are not being selected, feeling that they would have a better grasp of \”what goes\” than outsiders with potentially no experience with Second Life, or, perhaps worse, new folk with a little training in the new rules and regulations pertaining directly to the forums and no knowledge or experience outside that. I think that we are better taking our chances with moderators who are not also residents – less chance for over-emotional involvement.  Also, it always seems that the very folk who want to take on these positions for the love of it are the ones who should not be encouraged to do so – people who want to be politicians should never be allowed to be politicians, either.

Moderation of forums is required. People are people – they make mistakes and  they disagree, sometimes violently. Penalties are required – where is your motivation for keeping within the rules if no penalties apply? However, when it comes to moderation and governance of forums, it\’s necessary a) to know where the boundaries are and b) to have penalties that are appropriate and suitable. Linden Lab are not known for making firm boundaries, however, and the only penalties available are (figurative) exile or death. There is no evidence to suggest that these things will change substantively come October.

Maybe Linden Lab is trying to put on a more professional look for all those \”mainstreamers\” streaming in as the early adopters are pushed out. Maybe this new integrative approach heralds a new phase for both the blog and associated forums and for the whole of Second Life.

Maybe not. What do you think?

Virtual Worlds: more mainstream by the day

The US-based Technology Intelligence Group have released a report titled \”Virtual Worlds Industry Outlook 2008-2009\”. It\’s a really well written document that both looks back at the past year and makes some solid predictions for the coming year.

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The standout observation for me is the \’mainstreaming\’ of non-gaming virtual worlds:

Stanford SUMMIT has been leveraging simulations built on the Forterra OLIVE platform to train doctors on key critical thinking skills with trauma patients, 18 of the top 20 educational institutions own land in Second Life with many using it to teach courses, McDonalds has created a Happy Meal virtual world to reinforce their well known brand, and customer and staff meetings are being held by enterprises across multiple platforms.

There\’s no doubt that virtual worlds are becoming more mainstream, something that was driven home to me earlier this year when I was asked to consult on a film project (there\’ll be more information of that project later this year). The point is, the film in question has a story line with no direct relationship to virtual worlds. One part of the film will feature Second Life – not as a novelty, not in a high-tech context, but in an everyday (rural) life scene. It\’s those increasing references in popular culture that will increase the mainstreaming momentum.

The report also states some confidence around the graphics issues besetting virtual worlds:

the current slate of graphics challenges associated with virtual worlds may soon be remembered in the same vein as 64k computers.

If \’soon\’ means in the next year to two years, then there\’s another aspect of momentum building because at present the average ADSL broadband customer with a PC older than 18 months or so is still encountering great challenges.

Not surprisingly, the education session is seen as a continuing driver of widespread virtual world adoption:

The training and education market will continue to drive widespread adoption of virtual world technology, as the broad experimentation within Second Life demonstrates. Universities and other teaching institutions that initially experimented with Second Life are in the process of standardizing platforms for virtual classrooms, which will be a boom for companies that are already well positioned in this market, such as Proton Media and Forterra Systems.

The power of virtual world add-ons for traditional websites is emphasised – Google Lively is the high-profile recent example:

The frictionless nature of a ‘go to the meeting room’ button on a web page will lower the barriers to adoption

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There\’s certainly a growing convergence of forces that increase the likelihood of virtual worlds reaching the mainstream. As always, there\’ll be plenty of attrition, some conflict and a great deal of uncertainty. In that respect it\’s situation normal.

The legal section of the report also makes fascinating reading with a number of precendents only starting to be established. You can view the report in full here.

What are your thoughts – does the report provide any surprises for you?

Students vs Second Life: Round 2

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Upon reading the comments and articles generated by \”Students vs Second Life\”, I had several prominent thoughts:

  1. There\’s nothing so rarely discussed as \”the obvious\”. Often things that are considered to be obvious are then not subjected to further thought or discussion, the problem often being that the thing is rarely obvious to everyone. I\’m sure the original article was obvious for some, but not for others. Regardless, solutions need to be found for those using Second Life as an educational tool;
  2. A generation is a statistical grouping: it cannot predict the behavior or capabilities of the individual. A generation can only describe trends amongst people or things; also, it can only be used to describe how something acts as a group. This may mean that all the folks on the Teen grid are not wholly representative of their generation – considering how few of them there are, this does not seem an unreasonable assumption;
  3. Second Life is a fantastic product for an underdeveloped market segment: Generation X. For Second Life (and future products of its ilk) to have the greatest life-span possible, will require acceptance that younger people need to be drawn in. Otherwise, it\’s more likely that the Millennials will stay within their comfort zone of other virtual worlds;
  4. Millennials who remain inside Second Life may be the anomalies, when compared to the generational stereotype. They are either unusually self-directed, or have found a way of turning the Second Life tool to their own devices – perhaps as an alternative way to interact with people;
  5. Second Life, as opposed to other virtual worlds, has a greater scope for forms of interaction, because you can create in a more sophisticated way. Second Life is clunky and difficult – but it\’s hard to create a sleek, wonderful interface and backbone that still does everything Second Life can do now, given the resources available;
  6. Individuals of the Millennial generation are not the only ones necessarily lacking in the skill of freeform play – other generations contain individuals lacking the skill also. However, it is just that – a skill, which can be learned. So why should we bother to learn it? It broadens our creative horizons, and teaches us to think, particularly about things which seem obvious;
  7. The human race is still essentially tribal, which also means that we are exclusionary. Our differences can exclude us from any given tribe. Fancy being the only person of your age on your street spending time in Second Life rather than Habbo Hotel?

Here is a brief wrap-up of what other folks had to say, having read the article:

Kate Amdahl suggests that we create \”learning\” areas – areas which have pre-generated content, games and interactive mechanisms, to get folks used to the interface and get them spending time in Second Life. From these places, they can make forays out into the rest of the world, and gradually incorporate the overall idea of Second Life into their play-style.

Sabine Reljic seems to indicate that we would be well rewarded by pushing students into Second Life and out of their comfort zones. I wonder what that would look like. Right now, it would seem that pushing students into Second Life and leaving them to their own devices results in them wandering around lost or standing around chatting. This view is supported by the VirtuEd post. Additionally, pushing teens and young adults tends to result in them pushing back – caution is indicated.

Roland Legrand over at Metanomics has written a great post about what the Millennials know about multi-tasking and collaboration that they can teach the rest of us: \”we also have an obligation to help them\” learn about freeform play.

Over at New World Notes, this post gathered all sorts of interesting comments, and this second post ponders the question of why Habbo Hotel is so popular amongst young Millennials, as opposed to Second Life or Teen Second Life. Of the comments, the most interesting was one which wonders whether Generation X has more of a need to escape into fantasy than the Millennial generation. Did Gen X\’ers grow up in a more hostile environment, from which they looked for relief?

At Massively, Tateru Nino states: \”Where it might be that they would find additional traction if they could cluster with their cultural peers — members of their own generation — digital avatars consistently thwart the sorts of flocking behaviors. Millennials can\’t identify their peers among the avatars of their parents and grandparents\’ generations — and for the peer-oriented Millennials, that\’s frequently a deal-breaker.\” Also, \”The very nature of Second Life turns away Millennials in droves. As entertainment, it is as undirected as a public park.\”

A study by the University of Leipzig supports the finding that there are few Millennials in Second Life. They state that this is  because Second Life is too realistic, and that virtual worlds should be centered around escapism.

All in all, there seems to be a fascinating spectrum and crossover of viewpoints on the topic, many supported by direct, accreted experience and statistical data. Are your own experiences with students in line with one of these, or do you have a unique perspective to share?

Pool: the ideal Second Life tie-in opportunity for the ABC

I received a press release from the ABC\’s Radio National, who have launched collaborative content creation site called Pool.

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It\’s a joint initiative between RMIT University, University of Technology Sydney and the University of Wollongong and runs on the open source content management system Drupal. The call is on for people to contribute their words, pictures, sounds or video with the ability (via a Creative Commons license) for every participant to download the work of others to build or collaborate on. It\’s another plunge into participatory media for the ABC – something that\’s been explored in the ABC\’s presence in Second Life.

I contacted the ABC to ask about any potential tie-in of the Pool initiative with Second Life and at this stage nothing\’s planned in that regard. There seems to be some obvious collaborative opportunities for Pool that involve Second Life, or indeed any virtual world, so here\’s hoping for further exploration of that.

One way to drive that exploration would be to join Pool and start contributing material from your virtual world life…

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. The Times Online (UK) – Lifelike animation heralds new era for computer games. \”Extraordinarily lifelike characters are to begin appearing in films and computer games thanks to a new type of animation technology. Emily – the woman in the above animation – was produced using a new modelling technology that enables the most minute details of a facial expression to be captured and recreated.\”

2. Press of Atlantic City (USA) – Virtual Realtor home finds real fans online. \”I like stories that have something surprising about them, as I\’m sure most readers do. While it\’s nice to have what I know or suspect confirmed, it\’s more valuable and maybe entertaining to find out something I didn\’t imagine. Early last month, the New Jersey Association of Realtors announced it had opened offices in Second Life, a virtual world online. That was surprising enough, since its members\’ obsession with real estate in this world leaves little time to worry about one where there\’s no commission for property sales.\”

3. The Independent (UK) – Stroke sufferers take virtual road to recovery. \”It may look like a futuristic video game, but this virtual reality treadmill could hold the key to rebuilding lives for stroke and injury sufferers. A scientist at Portsmouth University has developed technology that can speed up recovery for patients by tricking them into believing they are moving more slowly than they actually are.\”

4. Top 40 Charts (USA) – Worlds & Paid, Inc. Partner To Deliver Advanced 3-D Virtual World with e-Commerce For Darryl \’DMC\’ McDaniels. \” Futuristic 3-D social networking community Worlds.com (OTCBB: WDDD) and PAID, INC. (OTCBB: PAYD) have joined forces to develop a cutting edge, rich immersive 3-D environment for hip-hop legend Darryl \’DMC\’ McDaniels, who co-founded the pioneering hip hop group Run-DMC. The highly symbiotic relationship is expected to open an ever-evolving series of pathways to increase web site traffic, enhance the experience of WORLDS.COM users and PAID celebrities\’ fans and grow the revenue and profits of both companies and their clients.\”

5. The Vancouver Sun (Canada) – Break the rules in cyberspace and suffer exile in a virtual cornfield. \”Where\’s Roy Bean when you need him? The legendary hanging judge claimed he delivered the only law west of the Pecos back in the Wild West days in Texas. The modern-day equivalent of is nowhere to be found in the modern frontier known as the Internet. The Internet remains a dangerous place where real-life hucksters, thieves, sexual predators and fraud artists roam all too freely. But it is also home to imaginary worlds that are not unlike the gated communities of cyberspace.\”

6. BBC News (UK) – Poor earning virtual gaming gold. \”Nearly 500,000 people in developing nations earn a wage making virtual goods in online games to sell to players, a study has found. Research by Manchester University shows that the practice, known as gold-farming, is growing rapidly.\”

7. Information Week (USA) – Google\’s Lively Unloved. \”So Google (NSDQ: GOOG)\’s Lively isn\’t so lively. According to The Economist, \”Hardly anyone is using Lively.\” That\’s not exactly a surprise. As I said when Lively was released, \”Lively feels more like a Google Talk-powered chat room with 3-D camera controls than an immersive environment like Second Life.\” And that\’s not to praise Second Life, which I find equally tedious.\”

8. Christian Science Monitor (USA) – A second income on Second Life. \”“Blaze Columbia” is, by any measure, doing well with his line of designer clothing. He’s on track to generate more than $100,000 in annual profits, barely a year after launching his business. And that’s in addition to a first career as a professional photographer. There’s just one big difference between the clothing that this Missouri resident produces and that of any other top-of-the-line dress or business suit: His don’t exist – at least not in the physical world.\”

9. OStatic (USA) – An Introduction To OpenSim: the \”Apache of Virtual Worlds\”. \”You\’ve probably read a bit about OpenSim, the BSD-licensed virtual world server, and recent news that IBM and Linden Lab are working to make Second Life and OpenSim interoperable. Besides that project, what\’s OpenSim about, who\’s working on it, what are they doing with it, and how do you get involved as a developer and participant? Here\’s a starter\’s guide, created with the help of Tish Shute, whose virtual world blog UgoTrade is an indispensable resource on the latest in OpenSim news.\”