Collaboration in the Virtual World

Since 2006 I have been working within Second Life, using it as a collaborative platform. But one of the key questions to be answered is what makes Second Life qualitatively better than a discussion forum or VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) application? What is the added value of a virtual synthetic world like Second Life? And where will this lead in 2008?

1) A social Technology. MUVE (Multi User Virtual Environment) users share, real-time experiences. A website is an isolated, one-way communication channel. Second Life, on the other hand, allows visitors to interact in real time using many different media at once (synchronous communication). For example, an avatar visiting a virtual meeting hall can view a video while text messaging or voice chatting with another avatar watching the same video. It allows a resident to communicate either to the whole population, or to a specific resident on a one-to-one basis. “Building together, assistance from peers is nice, interaction helps a lot, finding similar people around the world, the international atmosphere in general, geographic separation of teacher and student is less of a barrier” However, external applications (email) are still needed for direct file transfer.

2) Graphical 3D representation; provides visual sensory stimulation that leads to a contributed sense of immersion. An equality which isn’t easily achieve in other learning applications. This provides a cost effective avenue for continued research in the fields of not only education but training and simulation as well.

3) Forums within communities. For example, plays a vital role within social interaction between community members and encourages collaboration. Establishing a sense of belonging within the community is greatly satisfying “We learn by becoming part of a community of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991) however, “such collaboration will not automatically occur simply because peer-to-peer interaction is supported and facilitated.” (Murphy, E. 2004). Illustrating that encouragement of social interaction is not solely defined by the facilitated technology to communicate.  How does the MMO (massively multiplayer online) environment encourage this interaction and collaboration?

In typical gaming synthetic worlds, communities are built around common goals or objectives (e.g. slaying Onyxia in World of Warcraft), whereas in Second Life there is no pre-determined path. Communities form around ideas, projects, brands and interests, and therefore the responsibility is passed to its residents to form their own objectives and goals.

2008 will be an extremely interesting year with continued improvements to Second Life, for example the mash up between moodle and Second Life. It will also be the year for new emerging synthetic environments, such as the MPK20 project developed by Sun Microsystems, which looks extremely interesting. Providing a true distributed multi-user internet application, where several users are capable of viewing and editing the same document within the environment. Whereas Second Life is unable to provide this level of collaboration, it's of no value if a user can open a page in isolation and other users are not involved in either being unable to view or change what that user is browsing. This level of functionality provides a more versatile collaboration tool.

Most interestingly of all will be the work of Second Life’s own residents and the extent to which Second Life can integrate with traditional e-learning models to find new approaches to teaching and learning that are truly immersive and collaborative. 2008 looks exciting!

Second Life Media Zoo link;

Comments on Collaboration in the Virtual World:

Nicholas Chambers says:

Quite frankly, I fail to see any point using SL as a collaboration tool. You've got a whole suites of programs designed specifically for this purpose, which are by far superior than anything SL will ever be able to offer. It might be a good place to spend your spare (providing you like virtual strip-bars) time, but I'd rather become a fisherman than run a business meeting in Second Life.

Posted Feb 25, 2008 12:09:53 PM | link

Joe Sanchez says:

We have been running a year long study about collaboration in Second Life that began in July 2007. We created a group called the Educators Coop and restricted membership to university faculty, librarians, k-12 teachers and grad students. Each member pays $80 a year for a 1024m parcel of land located on the same private sim. Members must verify their real life identities and agree to participate in the research project as subjects. More info can be found here

The data so far is showing that SL is platform for collaboration. The data from the first six months will be published in the September issue of The Journal of the Research Center for
Educational Technology.

Posted Feb 25, 2008 12:43:05 PM | link

JuJutsu says:

Two tincans connected by string is also a platform for collaboration. The question [to me anyway] is whether it's better than alternatives in some way.

Posted Feb 25, 2008 1:54:48 PM | link

Occulte says:

The predominant issue I have with Snow Crash inherited metaverses like SL, is that I don't really see them being a good tool for anything other than casual use, much less collaboration. There's already a much more powerful wealth of information called the "World Wide Web".

Monetarily speaking, having to purchase land in a virtual world is a wasted investment. Land in the real world is valued by locality, scarcity, and natural assets.

Land can be freely created in a virtual environment where limitation to ownership is artificially capped by the creator. Locality is meaningless when teleporation is a click away. Finally, there isn't any such thing as a "natural" resource in a virtual world.

Posted Feb 26, 2008 5:16:27 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

I always marvel at the amount of bile that Second Life inspires in academics and IT gurus. I've often suspected that this dislike -- it isn't merely skepticism, but active malice -- is basically an unconscious realization dawning on them that here is a platform that doesn't require *them* as gurus and gate-keepers to use. Some people just won't accept technology unless they themselves get to perform those two functions around it.

When you come to New York City, do you go to the strip joints or do you just go to the Javitts Convention Center? They're roughly in the same neighbourhood. But you pick, and teleport/cab accordingly.

I would add to the list of obvious things mentioned:

o serendipity -- with 60,000 concurrent log-ons from all over the world and more than a million people every month logging on now, you have lots of opportunities to make contacts by chance or design, using the public events list or key word searches or networking among groups

o groups enable you not only to send IMs but notecards and objects by attachment, a kind of 3-D email.

o land enables you to prototype buildings and designs and make simultaneous as well as asynchronous collaborations

o with scripting and animations and building tools, you can manipulate the world in ways you cannot in a webinar or some other collaborative tool

And in fact there are scarce resources in Second Life. Locality is one of the features built into the land market, so view, landscaping, etc. becomes scarce. Waterfront costs more than a flat granite parcel. Imagine, land for sale in the oldest sims next to the most famous avatars -- small parcels of less than 2000 m2 -- selling for $680 US! One of the reasons that ad farming extortionists became such a problem is because of the importance of view and locality.

What's hilarious is that as much as the Lindens, who basically have the same set of views as represented by Occulte, and basically, in my view, use land sale as a temporary expediency like Lenin with NEP, are outsmarted over and over against by emergent behaviour. Or maybe it's old ancient customs where people value land, no matter how much the powers that be collectivize it, redistribute it, etc.

o Locality isn't meaningless when you can teleport, because people *like* immersiveness, and they stroll or drive around and pay attention to geographical contiguity in ways that those contemptuous of these features can't admit. With the configurations of ban lines and access only, locality of certain types can become even more meaningful than real life, i.e. in a RL club, you might still get in a club if the bouncer likes your face, whereas in SL if you are banned, you're banned, and likely not only from that club.

o Land can't be endlessly "freely" created because it attaches to servers, which cost money obviously and need people to maintain them

o FPS is a scarcity and the tragedy of the commons plays out all over the place in fascinating ways, i.e. when a tiny club can hog all the avatar spaces or when people can get along on one sim and agree to curb script usage to keep time dilation healthy.

o While you can argue that land isn't a good investment, and is highly risk-prone, thousands of people who have bought and sold it at a profit wouldn't agree with you

I just don't get it. Here you have this perfect world to test all your theories. It's made for you, already. You don't have to get a grant or make it yourself. There it is. You should all be there, testing your theories. Why aren't you?

Posted Feb 26, 2008 7:01:47 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Land in SL could be created freely and endlessly if the funding model for the service was different. If Linden charged $15 USD a month per person and made unlimited land free with the purchase, that would work. You could even do a reverse prim/penalty model than the one in effect now, and charge people a fee for land that *doesn't* have stuff on it. IE, you get all the land you want for free, but you have to do something with it.

Or, don't even do that. Because while, yes, land does take up some space on the server, it takes up no more space than any other object. And server space, frankly, is one of the smallest costs of service these days anyway.

The issue of doing things in a 3D space being immersive is important, yes. And having your avatar move through spaces is interesting, fun, etc. But there are ways to handle these issues that are much different than how SL does it. For example, you could have borders of null space between buildable parcels, so that whatever you build on your land would be separated "in space" by what I have on mine. That way, when I look out of my window, I see... land. The value of the "view" in SL is going to be proportional to how much I appreciate my neighbors' aesthetics.

Land games are an interesting and fun and -- as you point out, for some people, profitable -- sub-game on SL. I am in no way contemptuous of the value of the experience of "stuff under my feet and things to look at in the sky." But I do reserve the right to question the supposition that scarce land, sold/rented to players, is the only basis for that experience. I find it to be, in the case of SL, a distraction. I think more people would create more interesting places, things and experiences if the funding were more direct, and if land had value only as "that stuff we usually walk on."

Posted Feb 26, 2008 11:47:42 PM | link

Occulte says:

This is a response to Prokofy Neva's diatribe.

Your attempts at debunking my reasoning were mostly suppressed correlative fallacies. I presented my opinion on why SL land is inherently value-less.

  • In the "real-world", pricing/value of land is controlled by entire financial markets based off of simple supply and demand; not gatekeepers. In SL, there's only 1 gatekeeper that judges how much land costs in that metaverse; that's Linden Research.
  • Your argument that land can't be freely created because they have to be placed onto servers that have limited resources is a moot point. Infact, that's akin to arguing that going to a buffet isn't really, all you can eat. In this case, the buffet is the freely available pieces of property, while Linden Research is the restaurant in need of new plates.
  • "While you can argue that land isn't a good investment, and is highly risk-prone, thousands of people who have bought and sold it at a profit wouldn't agree with you".

    This is just an example how of you now use Red Herring fallacies to prove yourself (or should I say, convince yourself), correct. Your argument isn't refuting what I said. Infact, I never talked about risk nor the "thousands of people whom would disagree with me".

It's quite clear at this point that continuing this response really isn't useful to the original author's write up. It's also apparent (judging from your website) that you have vested interests in SL succeeding. I'd like to say that I find it refreshing to see that somebody has the entrepreneurial skills to create a business from something not previously thought of.

I don't have any malice or contempt for SL because it doesn't affect me in any sort of way. My initial response was one of observation and simple practicality.

Posted Feb 27, 2008 11:18:26 AM | link

dr0 says:

I'm a freelance artist, so a good collaboration tool for me should include a way to send an industry standard formatted file from my computer to someone else's computer, and some basic tools to edit it on the fly. It bugs me that SL's formats are compressed and proprietary. If I can't draw together with my client or edit a proper 3d mesh, or edit a spreadsheet or text document on the fly, or send him/her a file, there are definitely better options.

A.viary looks promising, as does google docs, maybe with skype thrown into it if you want to get all fancy. We can send files with an email attachment.

Of course I'm going to mention Tomorrow Space and Metaplace because I'm fans of them both, and I really do think they have more potential as collaboration tools than SL.

Now don't get me wrong:

I have land in SL and hang out with friends from time to time. I have been to good meetings and events with presentations, but I wouldn't call it a good collaboration tool... I mean, where are the tools???

Posted Feb 28, 2008 12:48:00 AM | link

Nicholas Chambers says:

Google Docs is actually alright for smaller things with only few people using them. If you really are looking for a professional (and expensive) solution, set up a MS Exchange Server with MS Sharepoint. That's what it was made for. SL certainly wasn't.

Posted Feb 28, 2008 6:26:43 PM | link

Peter Dunkley says:

This is an interesting area - and a very useful post. There are certainly, responding to Nicholas' point, whole suites of programs providing different flavours of collaboration tools - my view is that virtual environments provide a 'place' for collaboration and do not really compete with Google Docs (which we use), Sharepoint or Notes. In fact we have experimented with integrating these tools into virtual workplaces, which can be pretty useful.

Our experience has been that virtual worlds improve the social cohesion of the team and actually increase productivity.

Posted Mar 2, 2008 6:00:44 AM | link

Morris Cox says: is a free, open source presentation suite for Second Life. At least watch the Youtube video showing how to use it.

Posted Mar 5, 2008 5:49:05 PM | link

Suya says:

FYI : - If you don't know, now you know...

Posted Mar 8, 2008 4:01:17 AM | link

Suya says:

FYI : - If you don't know, now you know...

Posted Mar 8, 2008 4:02:02 AM | link

Daniel Livingstone says:

wee typo there Andrew... the Sloodle site moved a while ago to .org:

Posted Mar 12, 2008 8:30:25 AM | link

Daniel Livingstone says:

(oops... markup typo in my own comment...)

Wee typo there Andrew... the Sloodle site moved a while ago to .org:

With my own students I'm currently using Google Docs, Moodle, Blogs, Second Life and anything and everything else that seems useful for *our* purposes.

To say that Google Docs is a good tool for collaboration but a contructionist 3D virtual world is not (or vice versa) is demonstrating a rather restricted view of things, IMHO

After all there are different ways to collaborate, and many different purposes and reasons to collaborate too...

Posted Mar 12, 2008 8:31:47 AM | link