I just discovered VastPark. Their Team Blog lists rules for the virtual web that I found quite thought provoking. While they give a thanks to Virtual Worlds like Second Life, they are positioning themselves as the next direction for VWs. Instead of all the VWs interconnecting, they propose an opposite approach. They think we should all create our own worlds which we can then provide access to for others as we wish. We would hold control over the world and what is allowed to happen in there. This has huge advantages for corporations as well as educational institutions. A company can create a world headquarters in virtual space and, especially if they have a distributed workforce, they can meet and conduct training in their private space. Institutions of Higher Learning can create their own college or university, and conduct classes without fears of what students may be subjected to content-wise, such as inappropriate sexuality for example. The users would also retain control over security and who is allowed in. I think this solves a lot of problems we encounter with places like Second Life.

Virtual Worlds are still a new experience for us. We seem to want to connect with each other, we just don’t know how we want to do that yet. Using the WWW as an example, even though websites can be accessed through a common browser, each site is independent and under creative control by its owner. Even so, we have an interconnected net of sites that can interact through a browser. It seems that this approach is what VastPark is proposing.

Why an Avatar?

October 19, 2007

I had to read some articles for my class this week that dealt with marketing in Second Life. It was suggested that alot of the big companies have gotten in and are using it for branding and special promotions with at least some success in that respect. But all concede that marketing in the 3-D virtual worlds has to be different. For instance, setting up a billboard in SL is more likely to irritate neighbors than get the attention of the non-existent motorists on any of the virtual roads there. Selling representations of real world clothing has limited value too; there are already scores of in-world designers producing attractive clothing in-world. The real life companies end up trying to compete with established entities. Unless they can differentiate their products, they are not likely to have success.

What I find most compelling is the thought that marketing to an avatar comes with its own psychological set. The avatar is a projection of the (usually) idealized self of it’s real-life counterpart. So one ends up selling “dreams” to the avatar, and those in real life business think they can also convince the real world counterpart to buy real life products. I’d like to think this is possible. My experience of being in-world is one that I want to be left alone by real life companies. I like dealing in-world with native businesses and talents. I don’t know how pervasive this sentiment is, but I would think I’m not alone in that.

To market effectively to an avatar in-world, the product or service would have to meet one or all of several criteria related to the avatar’s in-world experiences. The three most important areas one would have to address are: helping with the person’s creative expression in either production or aesthetic appreciation; it would have to provide, or contribute to the experience of fun; it would have to enhance the appearance by making the avatar more attractive, or at least enhance the “cool” factor.

Overall, I think everyone is missing the point here. The world of Second Life is a self-contained, user-created environment, and should probably not be confused by too much co-mingling with real life. People are in there to pursue things they would not in real life, or use it as a platform to try things out. I don’t think there is inherent real world marketing value there, even if it is a real life person behind the avatar. I think there are many utilitarian uses: for instance, I’d love to do “catalog” shopping in world rather than actually handle a conventional print catalog. It would be interactive, you could see it in three dimensions, and maybe even try it out. But if I am considering buying a new Toyota, I’m going to go to my local car dealer.

What I think virtual worlds like Second Life represent is a self contained environment, which it should remain, with one exception: I think this is likely to become the browser of the 3-D internet of the future. It is a platform, and will be an interface for the already highly functional internet we have now. When the net is more 3-D integrated, the uniqueness of places like Second Life will dissolve, and it will be integrated into other things we do in our virtual internet connected world.

Machinima Impossible

October 16, 2007

This is a movie made in Second Life for a class project. While it may not be award-winning, it does show the possibilities of movie-making in virtual worlds.

Ok, so I should probably create an eclectic music blog. In the meantime I’ll continue to intersperse my intellectual musings with these posts.

I’ve been involved in Second Life for over a year now. While I mostly utilize it for the social value, meeting and spending time with friends, I also tend to use it as a creative outlet.

There are of course many other ways SL is being used. Selling virtual goods for profit is a very visible use. Corporations are establishing a presence there mainly as a marketing vehicle, and to expand their “cool” factor. An area I find most interesting is education.

While it is fun to visit a virtual campus, which may have limited value to an admissions person, actually conducting classes in SL is really a key to exploring the limits of education there.

I am currently taking a class that meets in SL weekly. I decided that jumping in as a student was the best way to evaluate the value of an in-world class. So far my impression is mixed. I find having avatars sitting around in a circle typing to each other to be highly inefficient, boring and frustrating. We did try voice, but due to the fact that the virtual class was synchronous, we had quite a few members sitting in a classroom talking at the same time. There is a delay in the voice that caused us to hear repeats of what was said, like an echo of sorts. This was very disturbing and distracting. We went bac to typing. Boring. We have traveled to sites as a group which was always some sort of chaotic. Getting everyone to a location was a challenge, as well as getting around in the location. Another thing we tried was attending a talk on what would have been an interesting subject in person, but proved to be quite boring in the venue of SL. The main value here is in bringing together a dispersed group of people for a synchronous event.

What I’ve come to realize is that SL is essentially an interactive environment. Observation only doesn’t work here. Even the observation of a beautiful scene isn’t passive, avatars tend to walk, fly, take balloon rides and such through the beautiful areas. To listen to a talk or to be stationary typing here is not active enough.

So how do we present courses in this environment? Well, we can certainly use it for simulations and demonstrations, but for the presentation of pedantic material education has to be re-invented to be interactive and interesting.

One good example I’ve seen of an interactive environment in SL is the Ivory Tower of Prim. This is a building tutorial done in an interactive format. Information is displayed in various ways, then you have to build or alter something to practice what you just read. As you progress along, your avatar moves through the space, and even has to teleport to different levels to continue the training. So you get bytes of information interspersed with activity in building, then the movement through space. This is very interactive and engaging. It seems that it will be difficult to design an academic program in this way, but therin lies the challenge to the instructional designers who will be developing the courses for use in SL. These early adopters face the greatest challenge, but then they get to shape the future of education in virtual environments