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The Watch - virtual worlds in the news

April 26, 2009

1. BBC (UK) - Virtual worlds and web ‘merging’. “Second Life boss, Mark Kingdon, said identity is key in virtual worlds. “You take one avatar and you cross multiple virtual worlds… that is going to be a really powerful and important part of the virtual world future,” predicted Mark Kingdon, the boss of Second Life. This online fantasy space had 1.4m users over the past two months, out of its 17m registered users, who can access to products and places replicated from real life. The residents can spend their time visiting exact replicas of actual tourist hotspots, shops, or even bizarre fantasy lands. Videos on the site’s homepage aim to help users find content that interests them within the vast 3D environment. Second Life may have been one of the first virtual worlds of its kind, but six years on, the competition is fierce.”

2. USA Today (USA) - In virtual worlds, kids just want to grow up. “While Peter Pan never wanted to grow up, it seems that today tweens (kids ages 8 to 12) are anxious to do so, at least in virtual worlds. Banking on kids’ desire to play at “growing up” is a new online game called SuperSecret.
The site was created to give kids a place to go after they outgrow the mega-popular virtual worlds of Club Penguin and Webkinz but before they are ready for the more adult online games of World of Warcraft or the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace. SuperSecret entices kids with the wish fulfillment of living a virtual life that ages them a lot quicker than in real life. After playing the game for about 30 days, kids will age from the entry age of 10 years to age 15. With each birthday comes new privileges and things to do, as well as access to new parts of the virtual world.”

3. CNET (USA) - Hacking online games a widespread problem. “It will likely come as no surprise to anyone familiar with virtual worlds and online games that they can be hacked. But what might come as a shock is the sheer breadth of types of exploits that are possible. That was the broad message of a Thursday panel called, appropriately, “Exploiting Online Games” at the RSA 2009 security conference here. Moderated by Gary McGraw, CTO of software security consulting firm Cigital and an author of several books, the panel took the audience on a deep dive into the diverse ways that hackers and others have figured out to either skim real money or to gain game play advantages not available to normal players.”

4. Touch Arcade (USA) - ‘World of Warcraft’ on an iPhone… For Real? “Most of you have probably seen World of Warcraft-on-iPhone claims/videos/mock-ups before, but this time it looks like it might actually be true. Someone posted this YouTube video of World of Warcraft running on an iPhone.”

5. Federal News Radio (USA) - Virtual Worlds: the next-generation of web 2.0. “Imagine being a soldier in Saudi Arabia who steps into a holographic tent for the training he needs to pass the sergeant’s exam. Or an emergency manager in a rural Oregon county who goes to a telepresence room where her avatar meets with the avatar of the state emergency management director to negotiate for badly needed relief supplies after a flood. That’s the promise of “virtual worlds”, a term which describes such popular web destinations as Second Life and sites where users can meet and interact in graphical environments that exist only in a computer. Today, some of the best minds in government, private industry, and science are wrapping up the 2-day, 2nd annual Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds conference. The meeting is being held in the analog space of the National Defense University, at historic Fort McNair in southwest D.C., but there are also virtual participants online watching through webcasts, and in a number of virtual communities, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.”

6. The Guardian (UK) - A whole new world of studying. “There’s not a red pen in sight when Russell Stannard marks his master’s students’ essays - but it’s not because the students never make mistakes. Stannard doesn’t use a pen, or even paper, to give his students feedback. Instead - and in keeping with his role as principal lecturer in multimedia and ICT - he turns on his computer, records himself marking the work on-screen, then emails his students the video. When students open the video, they can hear Stannard’s voice commentary as well as watch him going through the process of marking. The resulting feedback is more comprehensive than the more conventional notes scrawled in the margin, and Stannard, who works at the University of Westminster, now believes it has the potential to revolutionise distance learning.”

7. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) - Second Life to banish racy content. “Second Life plans to clean up the streets of its virtual mainland by providing stricter control of adult content and sending racy material to a separate faux continent. The announcement comes as Second Life creator Linden Labs moves to enhance the virtual world’s viability as a venue for education, conferences, and business.”

8. Virtual Worlds News (USA) - Wiggles Release Pseudo-World For Preschoolers. “I started my day off with some WiggleTime, the new pseudo-virtual world from the very energetic child’s group The Wiggles. I call it a pseudo-virtual world becuase it’s described as a virtual world and hews to that metaphor, but it’s a single-user experience for now. ”

9. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) - Second Life’s second wind. “Doomsayers rashly declared it “dead and buried” and the media lost interest, but virtual world Second Life continues to prosper as the real economy falters, a virtual world commentator says. After a few years of immense hype, reports late last year chronicled Second Life’s apparent malaise, as companies faced having to ditch their virtual presence as users lost interest.”

10. The Age (Australia) - Your Turn: eKidna World. “You have to admire 40-year-old Brisbane mum Karen Orford. The response from most parents fearful of the impact of games and online worlds on their kids is to ban them from the household, but instead, Karen put her house and $300,000 on the line to build a kid-friendly virtual world. The result is eKidna World, a safe and fun online site designed for 8-12 year olds that is uniquely Australian, and includes games like surfing, fishing, kangaroo racing, snowball throwing and sheep herding. “

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