Synchronized Punditry About Second Life

Clay Shirky, Beth Coleman, and Henry Jenkins have decided to coordinate simultaneous blog posts discussing Second Life.

Clay's post on Many-to-Many, entitled Second Life, Games, and Virtual Worlds, addresses two questions: "Will Second Life become a platform for a significant online population? And, second, what can Second Life tell us about the future of virtual worlds generally?" No, it's not an SL-bashing piece. Not in the least. What it is is a thoughtful, lengthy exploration of the questions he poses. His conclusion? That the promise of immersive virtual worlds will not be met with today's technologies, and that "as a result, games will continue to dominate the list of well-populated environments for the foreseeable future, rendering ineffectual the category of virtual worlds, and, critically, many of the predictions being attached thereunto."

Henry's post, A Second Look at Second Life, responds directly to some of Clay's previous criticisms of SL press coverage, but shifts the focus: "I care only a little bit about the future of virtual worlds. I care a great deal about the future of participatory culture. And for the moment, the debate about and the hype surrounding SL is keeping alive the idea that we might design and inhabit our own worlds and construct our own culture. That's something worth defending."

Unfortunately, Beth's post has yet to make its appearance on her site, but I'll update this post once it does.

The posts are intended to be the beginning of a coordinated conversation. According to Henry, "After corresponding with Shirky and with my colleague Beth Coleman, it was decided that we would offer some new statements about this controversy across our three blogs today and respond to each other's posts in about a week's time. We also agreed that we would post links to the other posts through our sites which would help readers navigate between the various positions." I'll certainly be watching this interchange with interest.


Comments on Synchronized Punditry About Second Life:

Hellinar says:

Two posts well worth reading. I’m looking forward to seeing Beth’s contribution. I particularly liked Henry’s description of SL as a “carnival” in the medieval sense. And Clay’s argument that virtual worlds are well suited to games I found convincing. This other claim by Clay I found quite unconvincing:

“One of the basic promises of virtual reality, at least in its Snow Crash-inflected version, is that we will be able to re-create the full sense of being in someone’s presence in a mediated environment.”

That seems like a futile and pointless target to set as a goal for virtual worlds. Very much a “horseless carriage”. Its like setting the target of an ultimate “horseless carriage” that will graze in the back lot overnight, and be fueled up and ready to go in the morning. We have yet to produce motor cars that do that, but they are popular anyway. Surely the point of a mediated environment is that it should do some things better than face to face, and thus offset the drawbacks?

I’d say this latter target was already reached for some people with physical limitations. They don’t want to create “a full sense of people being in their presence”. They want to create a fuller sense of who they are, without uncalled for limitations getting in the way. In as more limited way, SL lets you extend the range of your possessions, at the cost of physical presence and fidelity. I’ll never own a castle or a yacht in the physical world, but a I can express what I would do with such possessions in the world of SL. Thats enough of an advantage for some people, but probably not mass market.

Virtual worlds will become popular when the average person can see an advantage to them that outweighs the disadvantages. The disadvantages are slowly being eroded by technical improvement. But the killer advantages are still waiting to be discovered, and that mostly require imagination. SL may be able to host those killer apps, or it may need a new platform. But I don't think they are that far off.


Posted Jan 30, 2007 12:19:02 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Well, Hellinar. The killer app is violent porn for teens. Or interesting art, but porn will probably beat art. I was in the participatory-culture camp 10 years ago, but now I doubt it. There are too many people moving throught these systems now to establish cultures that aren't bastardized pop-cultures or extremist-fetish (which are more capable of growing their own cultures due to their insular nature)... *frowns*

Of course, before you get violent porn, you'll have descriptive bloodshed. Like Age of Conan.

Posted Jan 30, 2007 1:46:10 PM | link

Linda Polin says:

I've been thinking very hard about why I don't find SL very compelling. I'm an old MOO/MUSHer and so my initial reaction, "there's no reason to be there," doesn't really hold water. After all, there was no explicit game or goal in most MOOs (though, of course, we did quest in DragonMUCK). Why were PointMOOt or Opal MOO or any of the others so compelling, where SL isn't?

Ironically the answer I come up with is community engagement, a descriptor I also apply to my experiences in WoW, both in and out of guild. Those MOOs were small enough that you pretty much knew a lot of the people who were playing in them. You "saw" them regularly; you coordinated construction/programming efforts; you chatted while engaged in a sort of parallel play: working on your object and chatting about it and other things. I find SL a lot like the universe: lots of "empty space." Perhaps there is simply too much acreage for the number of people generally simultaneously logged in. It is rare for me to encounter more than three or four people in the same spot, unless I go to a "bar" (and even then the most I've seen together in one spot rarely exceeds 8 or 10 people). It feels lonely to me. Yet, I can log in to WoW at 2 a.m. my time and see a bustling Iron Forge scene. Even if I don't know a soul online at the moment, I feel a human surround. In SL, I see empty houses, vending machines and stores, stuff, stuff, stuff...like a deserted mall. Okay, maybe it's a matter of being in the right place or on at the right time, but gee, I have a tough time finding the right place and right time then.

Okay, so it's not just a meatspace. I listened to Mitch Kapor's remarks about SL at Davos and I'm still not there. The idea that people accomplish social action goals in SL doesn't impress me, because it isn't the ONLY way or prhaps even the BEST way for social goal driven groups to organize and pursue action. So, that argument doesn't do it for me. Heck, moveon.org and the meetup.com infrastructure it partly relied upon, was much more compelling in what it accomplished, even as a new app.

Frankly, though I have no interest in flying, I find VATSIM the most compelling immersive world to watch as an indicator of the future of virtual worlds. It strikes me as a bit of a mashup of the community appeal and the play appeal and the immersive eye candy appeal. It's not exactly a game; it's not just a social space. Maybe a VATSIM'er could say more about that virtual world. I'm just a tourist there.

So, I gotta go with the "attention economy" answer on this one, and modify this statement from
Virtual worlds will become popular when the average person can see an advantage to them that outweighs the disadvantages.

to
Virtual worlds will become popular when the average person can see a reason to be there that outweighs a reason to be somewhere else. Right now, I don't have that reason.

ps
Does anyone find it weird that in SL, where physics is on hold, i.e., a potentially liberating space where people move around by flying (when they're not waddling), that the tendancy is toward building spaces with walls, doorways, roofs, and other obstacles to navigation?

Posted Jan 30, 2007 2:20:35 PM | link

larryr says:

why not take the discussion to the actual media type-----drop in friday night--youre all blogging away in textland....
and yes,years of designs with no walls or doors do exist...everything old is new again.)
vr life before second life. and vr life after it im sure.;)
larryr
c3
-------------------------------------------------
Event Invitation: Gallery Opening and Reception " 15 Years of Virtual Worlds
Design."

What:

Join us Friday night as virtual world designer/ producer Cube3 opens their
new office plaza located within the virtual world Second Life. The event
will feature an opening reception featuring live/avatar DJ Cybster Curtis as
well as the opening of the 3D gallery show documenting many of the virtual
world projects and communities developed by Cube3 team members and it's
partners over the years. The gallery show will remain up all month and be
open to all interested in virtual world's design.

When: Friday, February 2, 2007 (Reception) - VR Offices open 24/7 before and
after.

Time: 8pm - 11pm EST (5pm - 8pm SLT , PST)

Where: Cube3 Offices in Second Life (Theta, 57, 149, 26)
(http://slurl.com/secondlife/Theta/57/149/26 )

Dress: Yes, but it's Avatar beware.

Posted Jan 30, 2007 2:51:38 PM | link

Hellinar says:

@Linda: Both the conventional houses, and the lack of people, I see as symptoms of us still being in the horseless carriage stage of virtual worlds. SL may be making the same kind of mistake Clay was making in following too closely to the physical world model. This throws away potential benefit of a programmable physics.

For example, in SL, the server could simply delete random empty lots to bring the population density to a desired level no matter how many people were online. Trade the permanence of geography for an optimum social experience. I wonder how many people would turn a “population density” dial if one was available in SL? Its something you can’t do in the real world. A reason to be there rather than your local mall.

@larryr: I think Henry made some good points about the superiority of text for some kinds of conversations. Even so, I may well take up the invitation. The gallery show is something that certainly wouldn't work in text.

Posted Jan 30, 2007 3:27:16 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

@Hellinar and Linda in regards to zoning and population density:

With the client being released to open source, I can foresee that a gifted programmer will create a hack that will display SL a way that will be optimum for the user and there could be a great body of apps that will transform and display everything sent by the server to whatever the user wishes.

Posted Jan 30, 2007 8:54:36 PM | link

Cael says:

@magicback:

The problem there is not that it could or couldn't happen - i think we can all accept that it could - but motivation to provide such a service. The WoW-modders, the various game mod teams, people who mod Firefox or Windows or whatever, even the linux community (which is probably more technically skilled than any other dispersed community on the planet, barring astronomers) all have a motivation to do their thing.

The WoW modders improve the WoW interface so that they enjoy playing the GAME more and to help them "win".

Game-modders are involved in improving old games or creating new ones.

Windows modders know that their operating system is badly flawed and feel they can improve the productivity and security of something they have to use.

The linux community is involved in making the "perfect" OS because doing so is to their benefit and everyone else's.

Why would anyone bother to improve Second Life to that extent? Only about 20,000 people play it regularly (by pessimistic guess, which means SAFE guess). That's not a very big pool to find that kind of dedication or skill in, especially when the environment itself is more geared toward toy-scripters and fetishists. And they seem more than happy with it the way it is, they think it's the BEST THING EVARRR! if posts from the disturbingly obsessed "residents" are anything to go by.

You can dismiss this as normal programmer's cynicism if you like but given a choice between grumpy cynicism and joyful fluffy-bunny optimism, i'll go with the one which offers a better record of being right, and there's simply no contest there.


Posted Jan 31, 2007 5:08:39 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

"Does anyone find it weird that in SL, where physics is on hold, i.e., a potentially liberating space where people move around by flying (when they're not waddling), that the tendancy is toward building spaces with walls, doorways, roofs, and other obstacles to navigation?"

It's not wierd, it's about how we perceive spaces, and enjoy them. A game is an experience littered with obstacles, some people find obstacles fun. Or scenery. Some people like to "see" themselves in a house that looks like a house, or to walk round paths that look like paths. The acid-trip potential of experiencing life as an alien spore that moves by blinking along pulsing cyan TV advertising clips is beyond the context of most people. It's heuristics or something.

I enjoy "walking" around spaces. In real life as well as in virtual worlds/games/etc. I can relate to that as a bipedal human person, that fills in a lot of gaps in the simulation- easier to fool yourself what you're seeing is a little more real than it is. It's just one reason I personally hate short range teleporting (though this is actually a feature desired by most people with their McMansions or picket fence faux colonial homes).

Oh, and I don't waddle :)

Finding a good crowd can be tough. The problem is more around the finding, than the lack of good crowds though. Maybe someone will look into that.

Posted Jan 31, 2007 5:13:29 AM | link

Ombrone says:

@cael
"Why would anyone bother to improve Second Life to that extent? Only about 20,000 people play it regularly (by pessimistic guess, which means SAFE guess). That's not a very big pool to find that kind of dedication or skill in, especially when the environment itself is more geared toward toy-scripters and fetishists. And they seem more than happy with it the way it is, they think it's the BEST THING EVARRR! if posts from the disturbingly obsessed "residents" are anything to go by."

With an average concurrency of 20K (peak at 27k) SL should got 20k regular player? Strange aritmethic.

And about being happy... have u ever read am average thread in SL forum or blog?
The game played there is called shoot the linden.
By a lot of your happy, blood thirsty enraged user.

I guess a new Open Source Client developed by any of the hundreds of people creating new stuff for SL will be received with a lot of satisfaction.

Signed
An average disturbingly obsessed "resident"

Posted Jan 31, 2007 11:28:53 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

It's definitely more like a sophisticated and coordinated attack, by those with tenured positions in either Web. 1.0, Web. 2.0 flat social software or Ludology 301, who evidently feel they have a great deal to lose from Web 3pointD.

Shirky's latest premise still hinges on his deep irritation with the fact that people try SL, but don't stick to it. He's still buzzing around like a black fly and pouncing on the fact that there's no real 3.5 million (like there wasn't any real 2 million when he started his critique) and that 10 percent only seem to really log on (26,000 at any one time). He studiously ignores facts like 19,000 landowners growing to 55,000 landowners just in the time it's taken him to start and continue his jihad. Land means nothing to him; it's virtual.

So because people don't stick -- at least stick in the way he wants them to stick on the things he wants them to stick on-- Shirky concludes that Teh Ppl want WoW, they want structure, and non-magic-circle "not-a-games" won't work for them. Of course, that's like saying if the Internet is used by most people for email and shopping, the use of the Internet by a minority of people for research and maintaining databases is irrelevant.

He's really resistant to the idea of virtual worlds hooking up. That's because he doesn't live in them and see they already are hooked up. People already sell their Runescape accounts at their mall in teen Second Life; meet when WoW is down for planning strategies and socializing in SL; design their WoW armour for sale in SL; sell their WoW loot to buy SL land and even bridge the worlds. The average desktop with both SL and WoW running along with Skype and Google and Outlook Express and Feed Burner seems to be something he can't accept -- the humans themselves are the links, even if the links didn't happen yet technically.

Henry Jenkins says:

"I am pretty sure that the value of the web/net lies in asynchronous communications and that real time interactions -- whether we are talking 3d or skype -- will always represent a special class of uses which competes not with the web but with other teleconferencing technologies. Most of us will find uses for virtual worlds one of these days; most of us will not "live" there nor will we conduct most of our business there."

Spoken like a man of the last century. It's just going to accelerate and spread far wider and faster than you think, as much as it seems so ideologically repugnant to admit. Bashers of SL are at a bit of a loss; they can only take a meta-relationship to a mass-culture phenom like WoW, and the ludologists of TN can only participate in this mass culture if they justify it as a kind of alternative research trip or tongue-in-cheek form of legitimate, funded play. But when they come to something decidedly and consciously elitist, or at least meant for a minority of users in its present phase, they don't embrace it as the elitists they are. They hunt around for signs of Kool-Aid drinking and mass-culture excess like the sex trade. It's a very funny cultural moment.

It's funny to read Henry Jenkins bashing Lamda MOO -- to read TN or Raph Koster, those of us who missed the magic with Lamda MOO are constantly being told to pay homage to our forbearers and appreciate the tremendous role they played in creating the grammar of virtuality. Ok, genuflect, genuflect.

But...why would it matter? There are already virtual worlds everywhere. One of the reasons virtual worlds are so attractive is that a lot of what passes for real life is virtual, you know? Can you get more virtual than things like a Dilbert cubicle, the UN, or Washington's understanding of the war in Iraq?

People already spend 8-10-12-14 hours a day online either at jobs in offices, or surfing and shopping and emailing, or playing games of all kinds. It will be a natural segue for them to have virtuality take over for not only social relationships and teleconferencing but trying on dresses or prototyping houses.

The clunkiness of the tools shouldn't distract. Group tools were horrendously clunky a year ago; today they are models of efficiency for business management, given what they are.

Ultimately, I have to give TN about a C- for their game of synchronized punditry. It would have only been a fair fight if they allowed Cory Linden, Jerry Paffendorf and some of the other thinky boosters of SL to be at the same starting gate as these three.

But they don't have to be. It will be self-evident in time that fears and memes of the past were hobbling the perception of the present.

Posted Jan 31, 2007 2:59:44 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

@Prok: Um, this synchronized punditry was not intiatied by Terra Nova, or Liz in particular. Liz, I believe, is just passing on news of it (correct me if I'm wrong, Liz). You're grading us for a course in which we haven't enrolled ;).

Posted Jan 31, 2007 3:16:34 PM | link

Allen Sligar says:

I read Clay's piece, I thought it was well put together and might help inform the general public on how to differentiate beteen a VW and a MMOG.

I like Linda's take on it.

In the main there is a differentiation between online gamers and online VW participants in spaces like SL as well.

People inhabit those spaces for different reasons, those reasons while not entirely mutually exclusive are I would argue mostly not the same when taken out of context.

What I mean is gamers like games, those games might have some of the characteristics of a VW like SL (some component parts) and SL might have some of the characteristics of a game world but this does not mean adoption of one platform corresponds to the other platform.

Sorry this is not likely going to be real popular on TN, but thems the breaks.

For Example: Housing and Pets

Most games have one or the other or both, so does SL, but these features presence does not mean that gamers will enjoy housing and pets in SL, even though SL has housing and pets thier social utility is mostly different.

This is where MSM and people who should know better are getting confused.

The damning conclusion and end result of this (and therin lies the responsibility to help people understand and differentiate) is that when investments in (unbranded) VW's don't get the same ROI as a popular online MMOG, is that those influential people who've invested money in a VW space will write off VW's as complete bullshit.

I'm personally happy when someone writes an informative piece that elicits understanding like these authors have, I think game devs and TN should be pretty happy about this type of piece as well.


Posted Jan 31, 2007 5:31:59 PM | link

Taran Rampersad (Nobody Fugazi) says:

I've read all of the pieces, and I find them all strangely familiar. Little pieces from here and there throughout the real SecondLife blogosphere. Odd, that.

It's sort of like G.W. Bush discussing Iraq on a few different levels. Thats about all the energy I have after reading the related entries.

Hurrah for the three of them.

Posted Jan 31, 2007 11:36:14 PM | link

Aaron Delwiche says:

In reading the recent Second Life threads, I keep thinking about the impassioned comments that Jerry Paffendorf made during the final session of the Terra Nova gathering last December. Speaking from the floor, he respectfully suggested that many of our leading virtual world scholars are not quite grasping the significance of the developments unfolding with Second Life and affiliated technologies.

I'm paraphrasing here, but Jerry said something along the lines of: "I used to find the postings on Terra Nova to be incredibly insightful and visionary, but this is happening less and less. You guys really need to be paying attention to the many technologies that are intersecting to create a version of the metaverse that is far more interesting than World of Warcraft."

Of the many remarkable panels and presentations, Jerry's heartfelt comments are what I will remember most about that gathering. He called on all of us to step outside the parameters of our favorite virtual worlds to consider a larger vision of what the metaverse might become. I am confident that the regular authors and commenters on Terra Nova will eventually rise to the challenge. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go.

During the last few years, I have taught five semester-long courses that revolve around virtual worlds. Students in these classes have explored Everquest (2003), Second Life (2004), World of Warcraft (2005), Everquest II (2006), and now Second Life (2007). Each of these virtual worlds offered its own advantages. In the courses focused on virtual ethnography, WoW and its EQ brethren were a terrific vehicle for gaining insight into communication research methods and the larger issues associated with virtual worlds scholarship.

Because those classes also connected virtual world activities to the history of role-playing games, Second Life would not have worked as well in those situations. However, without a doubt, Second Life is currently the most exciting virtual world platform available to educators. Stan's post (in the middle of the above thread) does a marvelous job of describing the excitement that many teenagers express when confronted with the creative possibilities of the SL platform. His account resonates with my own experiences using SL in the classroom. At first, the hardcore gaming students dismiss the platform because it isn't World of Warcraft. The graphics are somewhat weak, the lag can be abysmal, and it's difficult -- at first -- to find something interesting to do. However, once they stop comparing it to the level treadmill games, many of these students become intrigued by the possibilities of building something new. From the point of view of many educators, these tools for user creation are what makes Second Life so exciting.

This semester, I'm teaching a course on virtual world promotions. In a recent discussion, after reading through the backlash articles, one student (a hard-nosed journalist type) suggested that Second Life is just the flavor of the month. "What happens, down the road, when it's replaced by something else," he asked.

And so we talked about this. In fact, for the sake of argument, our course takes it as a given that something other than Second Life will dominate the social virtual world space in 2012. And, assuming that this is the case, we discussed a series of questions:

+ Will three-dimensional user-created social virtual worlds disappear altogether?

+ Will the communities and social networks formed within Second Life disappear altogether?

+ Will the corporations, public agencies and government officials currently investing time and energy in SL have wasted their time?

+ Will these initial experiments in Second Life teach us anything that carries forward to the next stages of the metaverse?

These are the same questions that I would pose to Second Life's most vocal critics.

Before ending this comment, I'd like to make two of my own predictions for 2007.

#1. In response to popular demand, Terra Nova will invite a well-known metaverse visionary to join the list of regular contributors. (Prokofy, I never thought that you and I would agree on something, but you're 100% correct when you note that Jerry's voice should be foregrounded in this discussion.)

#2. At least five people who have publicly scoffed at Second Life in the TN comments threads will, before the end of the year, make a grudging post in which they admit that "event x" or "application y" in Second Life was pretty darned cool.

And, just to give those people an opportunity to chime in now, I would like to direct all of you to the completely awesome comic book created in Second Life by Camp Global Kids (link to medium-sized PDF is: http://www.holymeatballs.org/pdfs/campgk2006Small.pdf). This is a terrific, hype-slicing example of where things are heading.

When I read the work of these talented kids, the phrase "ponzi scheme" is the last thing that comes to mind.

Posted Jan 31, 2007 11:49:59 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

+ Will three-dimensional user-created social virtual worlds disappear altogether?

Most certainly not. They very likely will, however, become much less "open" insofar as creativity will be constrained to comply more closely to the norms of the wider audience of adopters. Stability and predictability will breed wider adoption. It will also force the innovators and early adopters to themselves evolve, much like static http/html expression as communication and usenet/bbs reemerged as the more resilient and socially powerful blogosphere. Similarly, blogs are beginning a phase of corporatization and popularization, pushing some early adopters and creative communicators aside while disproportionately rewarding others. I reference the growing number of companies engaging in statistically driven, "AI" types of blog monitoring agents and, more prophetically, blog message infiltrators. Not "spam" per se, but the evolution of paid message seeding from broadcast advertising to automated viral marketing, if you will.

+ Will the communities and social networks formed within Second Life disappear altogether?

A highly unpopular position, but probably. I'm sure a few of the stronger networks will endure, probably more as meta-networks that evolve beyond the specific Second Life platform. At first, many will seem to survive, but the decay rate of internet social networks is brutal. Worse, anonymity serves to undermine most internet social networks over time. SL networks which shed anonymity have a better chance of surviving.

+ Will the corporations, public agencies and government officials currently investing time and energy in SL have wasted their time?

For most yes. But *not* because of LL or SL as a company, platform, or phenomenon. Simply because most corporations have a terrible ability to capitalize on organizational learning. From the corporation's perspective, read the shareholders perspective, it is similar to any new technology/process adoption curve. Most new learning investment by the company will walk out the door if the investment proves valuable to the individual actually acquiring the skills. The story will be if a company actually has a strong organizational learning culture and does capitalize on experience and knowledge gained from SL participation. That company will appear in a b-school hbr case.

+ Will these initial experiments in Second Life teach us anything that carries forward to the next stages of the metaverse?

If by "us" you mean non-corporate individuals, then absolutely. I'm unconvinced it is teaching anything more or less valuable than other MMO(RP)Gs. Taking a broader perspective, the broad participation of people in any MMO experience is teaching fundamentals that will probably carry some significant generational quality. The Atari Generation, the Internet Generation, the Virtual Generation, perhaps as an evolution. Speaking for myself, I suspect I'm too old to accurately predict how this will manifest itself. But I could produce another 1500 words of guesses that will be logically consistent yet ultimately wrong.

And I will be anything but "grudging" in my comments should I be proven wrong about SL's economic system. The comic book is great, something I can appreciate, but a cheap shot. I was talking about a different system, one on which these kids are supposed to be prohibited as participants. What did someone say? Buicks and Boysenberries?

Posted Feb 1, 2007 2:12:17 PM | link

Aaron Delwiche says:

Randolfe,

Not sure if I'd call it a "cheap shot" to reference the comic book created on the teen grid, but your point about them not being part of the adult SL community is well taken.

Your comment about the short-lived nature of organizational memory is also important. However, this is an attribute of all sorts of organizations, and not just corporations. Furthermore, when individuals leave those institutions, it's not as if they vaporize into a puff of smoke. They take their knowledge with them and fold it into new collective projects.

The reference to non-corporate individuals is confusing. Are you suggesting that people who work with corporations are incapable of learning new things and incapable of building socially valuable structures in the virtual and real worlds? I don't want to put words in your mouth, so I assume that this is *not* what you are arguing.

But what does it mean to say that someone is a non-corporate individual? I'm a teacher, and I'm also a new media research. I'm also part of a start-up corporation that is active in this space. Does this make me a corporate individual? If so, what characteristics are you ascribing to me based on this identity?

Regarding the learning that occurs in Second Life as opposed to massively multiplayer games, I would encourage you to take a closer look at the range of courses that have been integrated with the different platforms. There have been a handful of classes that successfully use the game-like MMOGs, but teachers and students are deeply limited by the lack of user-creation tools. In contrast, Second Life (and other social virtual worlds) makes it possible for instructors and students to create entirely new types of learning environments.

Consider the work that Anne Beamish (UT Austin) and Terry Beaubois (Montana State University) have been doing with architecture students. Visit the New Media Consortium's site and investigate some of the innovative classroom applications pioneered by their members. Chat with students who have learned the basics of 3D modeling and scripting as a result of the Second Life development tools. Read the work of science teachers who are using social virtual worlds as a way of demonstrating science concepts. Selectively skim the Second Life educators list for its most useful and substantive postings.

This type of creativity flourishes in Second Life and There and affiliated technologies. It does not happen in WoW or Vanguard. I'm not saying that WoW can't work as a teaching tool -- simply that it's extremely limited.

Aaron

Posted Feb 2, 2007 1:18:02 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Thomas, I'm sorry, but I find that a rather lame alibi. Liz Lawley is your conscripted author now on TN. So of course it's related to you all. Even if she is only reporting news, it's like announcing a seminar in the next hall your'd like your students to attend. The brighter ones will realize that they should go, even if it is not for credit.

My contribution on Beth's blog:
http://www.projectgoodluck.com/blog/2007/02/beyond-second-life-toward-v-economy.php#3674947674196018275

Posted Feb 3, 2007 11:14:27 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Of course, Prok; Liz's notice of the event constitutes an implicit approval of its significance. But it's not an alibi, because my point still stands. You said:

I have to give TN about a C- for their game of synchronized punditry. It would have only been a fair fight if they allowed Cory Linden, Jerry Paffendorf and some of the other thinky boosters of SL to be at the same starting gate as these three.

You obviously assume in this quote that TN (as a blog, officially) was in on the ground floor of planning this thing. It wasn't. Acknowledge that you were wrong and move on. Please don't take this to vague accusations when I have you dead to rights here. You know that I don't go out of my way to disagree with you.

Posted Feb 4, 2007 12:30:46 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

(Note: emphasis is added in quote of Prok, above.)

Posted Feb 4, 2007 12:31:34 AM | link

KirkJobSluder says:

Profky: It's definitely more like a sophisticated and coordinated attack, by those with tenured positions in either Web. 1.0, Web. 2.0 flat social software or Ludology 301, who evidently feel they have a great deal to lose from Web 3pointD.

I've been trying pretty darn hard over the last few years to get a coherent definition of Web 2.0, much less this new-fangled Web 3pointD (which I believe I saw demoed back in '93-'94 at CSCL). And have largely come to the conclusion that they are little more than straw-man positions taken in contrast to other fictional straw-man positions for the purpose of setting one's self up as the prophet of the future. While simultaneously ignoring the fact that the Computer-Supported Collaborative Work/Learn/Play communities have consistently held many of the same values regarding the end goals of community (however that is defined), and collaboration over the last 30 years.

The best claimed features of Web 2.0 and Web 3.D wore prototyped, explored, and developed along side the earliest HTTP/HTML specifications, and the worst claimed features of Web 1.0 as static one-many marketing have invaded collaborative systems and spaces.

Which is why I keep coming back to my repeated refrain, It's the community, not the technology, stupid. Perhaps it's because my first virtual community involved a text-based BBS that existed from approx. 1987-1995 before all this Web 1/2/3 thing. But very little of what gets described as "revolutionary" about SL/WoW sounds especially revolutionary or technology-bound to me. Of course five years ago "virtual community" did not require 3D space, and was just as valid applied to the asynchronous messaging systems you despise as game spaces.

And before we go back into yet another 'round of bashing asynchronous CMC as "last century," how in particular would advocates of virtuality address my research findings that international time zones place significant constraints on the kinds of social networks that can be constructed using synchronous virtual communication? It would seem that any advantage that synchronous communications networks have would have resulted in the elimination of asynchronous networks over a generation ago.

But they don't have to be. It will be self-evident in time that fears and memes of the past were hobbling the perception of the present.

Which is a nice way to poison the rhetorical well by insisting that those of us who consider the limitations as well as the promise of virtual worlds are motivated by "fear." I don't think there is much to fear here. The history of virtual community via asynchronous technologies spans centuries, and I'm willing to place a quarter bet that asynchronous text-based communities will be around for a while to come.

Well, I think there is a legitimate concern that the hype and posturing over web 2.0/3D will lead people to blow money on the wrong technology for the task, or blow money on technology instead of the organizational change needed to make that technology worthwhile. But that's another topic.

Posted Feb 5, 2007 10:23:55 AM | link

KirkJobSluder says:

Aaron: He called on all of us to step outside the parameters of our favorite virtual worlds to consider a larger vision of what the metaverse might become.

Well, as a lover of the cognitive alchemy of words and texts, my favorite virtual worlds are the asynchronous systems that are Profky's scapegoats in these discussions. My opinion is that the future information ecology is going to involve a wide variety of technologies, including asynchronous knowledge-construction systems, 3D virtual spaces, geographically-aware information systems, and ubiquitous computing devices, with a high degree of information-sharing between them. For a peek into the future of the metaverse, Gmail, Flickr, wikipedia, and Nokia are as important as Second Life.

I'm not a critic of SL as it is, I'm a critic of the claim the often-repeated claim that a single form of CMC or technology interaction is ever going to gobble up the entire spectrum. But to answer your questions.

+ Will three-dimensional user-created social virtual worlds disappear altogether?

No, I don't think that 2D social spaces will either.

+ Will the communities and social networks formed within Second Life disappear altogether?

Well, it's the nature of social networks to mutate and change over time. But I have seen what happens to a community when the technological rug is pulled out from under its feet. And the community didn't survive in the same form, although many network ties still persisted in other forms. I suspect that the weaker ties will vanish from that network, and stronger cliques will fragment and find other social media.

+ Will the corporations, public agencies and government officials currently investing time and energy in SL have wasted their time?

Depends on their goals for investment to start with. I wouldn't invest in SL as the dominant online networking medium of the extended future. I would invest in SL for short and medium term social networking potential.

+ Will these initial experiments in Second Life teach us anything that carries forward to the next stages of the metaverse?

Of course, however, those lessons will be promptly dismissed and ignored by advocates of "Web 4.0" who will fixate on the most problematic features of SL.

Posted Feb 5, 2007 10:50:29 AM | link