Thursday, May 22, 2008

Second Life et al

Right at the outset, let me say that I have yet to be in an environment with enough bandwidth to be able to make Second Life a viable option for me. I have also yet to meet a client with the appetite for a solution which might involve delivery via SL.

That doesn't change the fact that I am deeply curious as to where it might go. and what it might have to offer. These thoughts bubbled up again today after I read Mick's post.

As I said in my comment on his post, it is important to grasp that SL is not a “computer game”. It’s a platform. People who go there and expect exciting things to happen are missing the point. After all, you don’t go to town and then sit around there waiting for things to happen. Nor do you go and drift aimlessly wondering what the point is of being there. You go because you have some fixed objectives in mind.

When the same is true of SL, it makes more sense. If you’re attending a meeting, visting an art gallery, attending a seminar, etc. you have a goal and a purpose and SL becomes the platform by which you achieve it.

Having said that, I see no point in using this new wineskin for old wine. Why use SL to deliver a traditional classroom-based, teacher-led, chalk-and-talk session? Instead, you could have a dispersed team from around the world carrying out a project together and learning as they go. You could have simulated scenarios that can’t be recreated in the physical world for whatever reason, and use those for learning. I have been told that there is a teaching hospital in SL, where patients with predetermined conditions await treatment by student doctors and nurses. Obviously, in the physical world, there is the risk of patients dying or suing. This risk is mitigated in a virtual environment.

I suspect that what people tend to do is to say: "This is what we've always done, let's do it via Second Life, because that will be sexy." Instead, I suggest we should be saying "This is what we want to achieve, is there some functionality in Second Life that will help us get there?"

And, yes, Second Life has been around for a while, now, but it is still a fairly fledgling technology. There are teething problems. The direction these technologies develop in can be dictated by their users. If we start making demands of it, start pushing the envelope in this or that direction, it will have to evolve to keep up.

Think about it this way: we can have a say in what virtual worlds become by dint of the magic words "I want..." This is what I suspect is happening with the Wii.


Anonymous said...

Karyn, Second Life is sufficiently varied that for some it is a game. (For others, it's a digital singles bar; for still others, it's 3-D paper dolls.) But that's similar to the way in which for some Manhattan is just a place to buy expensive shoes, or get mugged.

The "go to a town" analogy is apt -- or perhaps it's more like "go to a new country." I might have a couple of ideas what South Africa is like, but the closest I've gotten to there is Aix-en-Provence. Not only may I not have a good picture, I may be imagining the wrong photostream.

I haven't seen much in the way of non-academic training/learning in SL. I suspect one reason is that many organizations trying it out do so in a more controlled environment -- a private, invitation-only locale, rather than somewhere that six-foot raccoons, flying zombies, or fairy princesses won't simply wander in.

There's also a high learning curve for first-timers, especially if they haven't been in virtual worlds before. It's distracting (if not distressing) to learn to control your avatar, sort out the many stimuli, find where and how to go.

All that is simply to agree with your 'growing pains' comment.

I did see an intriguing demonstration of training for hospital emergency-room personnel; one instructor controlled a patient's avatar, and the learners had to ask questions, do some diagnosis, and select appropriate measures. Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

I agree Dave, we are in version 1 of this stuff. The learning curve is very steep for (sorry Karyn, I actually do agree with you on this one but I'll use the term anyway) digital immigrants, and many digital natives.

Speaking from a corporate perspective your assumption about concerns of random fairy tale characters flying in is on the money. If we're going to have our brand on it we want to make sure we have some control over how we are presented, just as if we were conducting an event in real life.

I think Karyn is right, we need to think of it as another tool in the toolkit, that can be pulled out when an appropriate need arises, rather than straining our brains to work out what we can do with it.