Archives for January 2010

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. CNET (USA) – How ‘Avatar’ may predict the future of virtual worlds. “Since the release of his massive hit “Avatar,” director James Cameron has gotten plenty of deserved attention for his filmmaking innovations, having invented a camera system that captured live footage of his actors and integrated it immediately into fleshed-out scenes from his fictional world of Pandora. But movies may not be the only medium Cameron’s innovation is pushing toward the future. In fact, the technology he and his visual effects partners built for the record breaking film may also provide our first real glimpse of the future of 3D virtual worlds.”

2. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Business virtual needs. “When most people compare virtual worlds, they do so from a technical perspective — how many concurrent users, what kind of interface is being used, what data standards are supported. Too often, however, general business requirements are overlooked. This is a pity, because from a technical perspective there are few differences between the various virtual world platforms, and the differences that do exist are likely to vanish over time as users demand these features and vendors add them to their offerings.”

3. Inc. (USA) – Should You Stake Your Claim in a Virtual World? “A basic but sturdy tenet of social media is to go where the people are. So if virtual worlds like Second Life have lost some cultural cache to the likes of Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook what’s the point of getting involved? In short, setting up your own avatar, or even an in-world space for your company can save you money and maybe even get that eyeball play your marketing team has been gunning for. For starters, just because virtual worlds are no longer a media darling doesn’t mean they emptied out overnight. “I think it’s trending slowly but inexorably upward,” says Michael Wilson CEO of Makena Technologies, which runs the virtual world There, when asked about the number of people using virtual worlds.”

4. Computerworld (USA) – Augmented reality: Pure hype or Next Big Thing in mobile? “Augmented reality technology is getting a lot of attention these days — particularly the use of AR with smartphones. The idea is that by using certain software, you can turn your iPhone, Droid or other smartphone into a virtual heads-up display. Aim your phone’s camera at a shop, restaurant or landmark, and information about the place, such as hours of operation, reviews or directions, appears on the device’s screen as graphics floating over the image of the place. Dozens of developers of mobile augmented reality apps are banking on AR becoming the Next Big Thing in the mobile market. Indeed, a recent Juniper Research report predicted that annual revenues from mobile AR apps will reach $732 million by 2014, up from less than $1 million in 2009.”

5. Macworld (USA) – Onverse offers free-to-download social MMO. “If you thought there could be no social network more time-consuming than Facebook, you were wrong. Onverse, launched in beta last June, brings social networking into 3D, then spices it up with avatars, interior decorating, and mini games you can play against your friends. Best of all, it’s completely free for Mac users to download. Designer Steve Pierce, a Sony Online Entertainment design manager behind EverQuest II, brought Onverse to life with four other artists and engineers on a “shoe-string budget”, creating a virtual world that he describes as “much more of a game environment than many of our chat-only competitors.”

6. The Christian Science Monitor (USA) – ‘Avatar’ reality: It’s just a show, people. “In my continuing quest to remain slightly behind the times, I saw “Avatar” in 3-D several weeks after its release. Don’t worry: You won’t hear me breathlessly reporting that it is really cool. Half the planet already knows that. Nor am I going to get into its meaning or metaphysics. Yeah, I was bothered by the villainous former marines. I have marines in my family and respect them. The noble savage, white savior, and eco-worship were also a bit much, but most plays and movies are controversial if you choose to see them that way. I mean, “Mary Poppins” was about a nanny with magical powers who was blown in on the West Wind. Did anyone check her immigration status? Fairies and love potions figured prominently in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Just saying.”

7. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Facebook Credits Coming Soon To FarmVille. “Players of Zynga’s smash hit social game FarmVille will soon have the option to pay for virtual goods with Facebook Credits, according to sources close to TBI. The new payment option may debut in FarmVille as early as this week. With many other virtual worlds, including Habbo, spreading to Facebook, the roll out of Facebook Credits could present a lucrative new monetization option.”

8. News Observer (USA) – Virtual looks and feels almost real. “As Mushtaqur Rahman floated to the rafters of Duke Chapel, it was easy to forget that he was neither in a church nor off the ground. “Feeling rather angelic right now?” asked Rahman’s colleague, William Rice II, as both men peered through oversize 3-D goggles at the virtual chapel being projected above, below and all around them. Rahman and Rice are engineers with Parsons Brinkerhoff, one of the world’s largest civil engineering firms. They had come to Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering on a recent morning to experience a cube-shaped virtual reality theater called the Dive, or Duke immersive virtual environment.”

9. The Wall Street Journal (USA) – Zachary Quinto Has No Time for Tomfoolery. But For Those Who Do, There’s Star Trek Online. “With the success of World of Warcraft, videogame publishers have been looking for new virtual worlds to offer to videogame players. Next week, there’s a new option with the release of Star Trek Online. Developed by Cryptic Studios, the game will allow fans be the head of their own starship as they travel the universe and battle rival ships and seek out new civilizations. Zachary Quinto, whose role as Spock in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” movie received a shout-out during this week’s iPad presentation, serves as one of the voices in the game.”

10. Computerworld (USA) – Apple iPad: Will it run Second Life? “As a Second Life enthusiast, I really want the iPad to run Second Life. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. As my friend Wagner James Au points out on the blog New World Notes, the iPhone already has a couple of rich, text-only Second Life clients, and the iPad now has the horsepower and screen size to support Second Life graphics. Moreover, as a Second Life enthusiast I want to see more people use the service. The existing software client is a major barrier to widespread Second Life adoption: It’s hard to learn. And it only runs well on desktops or powerful notebooks, while the world is adopting smartphones instead. The iPad has the potential to solve both those problems: Touching and tilting the iPad would provide an easier interface for Second Life than mousing and keyboarding. And iPads and other tablet-netbooks are going to become very popular pretty soon, as Apple sells iPads by the millions and competitors jump in to grab some of that action.”

Weekend Whimsy

1. Dreams of frost CHAPTER 1

2. Second Life WEEKEND PARTY 2010

3. Motley Crue Dr. Feelgood – Second Life

Hockey in Boston

Two boys are playing hockey on the pond on Boston Common, when one is attacked by a vicious dog.

Thinking quickly, the other boy took his hockey stick and managed to wedge it down the dog’s collar and twist, luckily breaking the dog’s neck and stopping its attack.

A reporter who was strolling by sees the incident, and rushes over to interview the boy.

“Young Bruins Fan Saves Friend From Vicious Animal…”
He starts writing in his notebook.

“But, I’m not a Bruins fan ,” the little hero replied.

“Sorry, since we’re in Boston, I just assumed you were,” said the reporter and starts again.

“Red Sox Fan Rescues Friend From Horrific attack…”
He continued writing in his notebook.

“I’m not A Red Sox fan either!” The boy said.

“I assumed everyone in Boston was either for the Bruins or the Red Sox.”

“So, what team do you root for?” The reporter asked.

“I’m a Yankees fan!” The child beamed.

The reporter starts a new sheet in his notebook and writes:

“Little Bastard From New York Kills Beloved Family Pet .”

Identity: Linden Lab change of heart?

Your identity is defined in part by which pieces of identification you choose to share with a person or group. Every person you know does not have the same information about you as everyone else. What you share with your mother, your boss at work, your bank manager, is different to what you share with your lovers (unless there is some overlap there).

You are identified by the identifications you share with those people. You create an aspect of your identity (or one of multiple identities, depending on how you like to look at it) each time you use a subset of your identifications to identify yourself; all those aspects, or different identities, all point back to you, the unique mind or being behind it all.

After centuries of discussion and thought, the only thing we can say for sure about identity is that it points to something that is both unique and somewhat fluid.

“Identity is an umbrella term used throughout the social sciences to describe an individual’s comprehension of him or herself as a discrete, separate entity.” ~ Wikipedia, Identity (social sciences)

“An online identity, internet identity, or internet persona is a social identity that an Internet user establishes in online communities and websites. Although some people prefer to use their real names online, some internet users prefer to be anonymous, identifying themselves by means of pseudonyms, which reveal varying amounts of personally identifiable information.”  ~ Wikipedia, Online Identity

“As other users interact with an established online identity, it acquires a reputation, which enables them to decide whether the identity is worthy of trust.”~ Wikipedia, Online Identity

There are some pieces of identification that hold the promise of telling us all we need to know about a person’s identity. Their name, for example. Or, at least, a name that, when we communicate with them, that they respond to. That’s really as close as you can get – there’s no such thing as a person’s “one true name”. People may have names given at birth, names changed at the time of marriage, names changed by choice by deed poll, nicknames by which they are commonly known, stage names, a nom de plume, a nom de guerre, a gaming handle, a user name, or one of the other many types of pseudonym. All of which can be valid, legal, usable name types, and of which people will often have more than one – and each of which is an identifier for an aspect of identity.  Actors in particular commonly choose stage names; these names are often chosen to reflect a different ethnicity to the one they were born with and named for. It means they often get more work, less discrimination, less chance of being beaten (for example) for having the wrong background. Additionally, a stage name can be chosen to be more memorable than one’s given names, easier to pronounce, easier to spell.

A Second life (SL) account name is likewise a chosen name, albeit with some restrictions on what can be chosen. The behaviours associated with that account name are associated with an identity or identities, depending on how many people use the same account. No matter whether you inject your own personality, wrist, vocabulary, or what have you, or whether you imagine all the behaviours you create for that account, you are still the one creating those identifiers. There’s not some imaginary being making this up for you – this is part of you. As stated in the introductory paragraph, not every person knows everything about you – with an SL account, you may choose to share very few of the identifiers from your offline world with the people you meet there, and very few of your SL identifiers with people who are not a part of SL.

Every person limits how many identifiers other people and groups have about them – it’s what I would call “privacy”, being able to choose the amount and type of information you share. When you are forced to share things you do not wish to, privacy is broken. The bank manager does not need to know your shoe size, the passport office does not need to know your banking details, your mother does not want to know if you’re kinky in bed. We give each person or group only enough identifiers to specify us as an individual, so that they can eliminate all the other candidates. My gender (female) eliminates the 40% of physically male candidates present in the world, my address narrows the field to 2 potential people, my name eliminates the other person, if we were to carry out the testing in that order. Some people and groups do more testing to ensure the likelihood that they have arrived at the correct individual – Social Security, for example, is very keen to make sure that they get the right unique person, as are the police.

Why do we require privacy? Mostly, to prevent other from doing harm to us. Someone who knows your physical whereabouts has the chance to do physical harm to you or your property. Someone who knows how to access you online may be able to do mental harm, or even financial harm, depending on the identification they hold for us. People are judged by their identity – identity is comprised of names, locations, sexuality, ethnicity, preferences, what you choose to wear, what you have for breakfast, and many more such things – and people are quite willing to harm other people who they have decided deserve it.

When does privacy seem like less of a good thing? When it’s difficult to pin-point one person as the individual in question, therefore making it difficult to make them accountable for their actions. It’s where anonymity, or the semblance of it, encourages people to think that they can get away with harmful actions without consequences – because we cannot identify the correct individual to hold accountable.


Residents are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy with regard to their Second Life experience. Sharing personal information about a fellow Resident –including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, and real-world location beyond what is provided by the Resident in the First Life page of their Resident profile is a violation of that Resident’s privacy. Remotely monitoring conversations, posting conversation logs, or sharing conversation logs without consent are all prohibited in Second Life and on the Second Life Forums.” ~ direct from the Second Life Community Standards

There’s no way to know (bar leaks) whether Linden Lab plan to diverge from this standard and either provide “opt-in” ways for us to connect our SL and our other identities or to force us to do so if we wish to continue using their service. Certainly Wallace Linden’s blog post does not give me the impression that they are about to present it as a fait accompli. Unfortunately, we must remember that people who have not signed up to SL greatly outnumber those who have – Linden Lab can afford to throw away every user they have at the moment and, as long as they find a way to appeal to those who are not yet in SL, still come out ahead and profitable.

Will the Real You Please Stand Up: precedence in communications

The precedent that has been set by most of the employees permitted to post on the Linden Lab main blog is this: that the issues addressed in the post are close to final or finalised already. The posts are presented as though those commenting on the posts could still have some input, however it’s usually in vain – decisions have already been made. Indeed, often the item in question is ready for launch within hours or days of the post being made.

I do rather hope that Wallace Linden’s first substantive post is a departure from that state of affairs. It seems to me that what Wallace has presented here is a timely topic. Perhaps it has been discussed internally at Linden Lab, perhaps not; nonetheless, what the post contains is Wallace’s own ideas about aspects of identity and identification management, followed by an elicitation for comments from Second Life users about how they would like to be able to manage their identifications, on and offline.

“And as Web and mobile services continue to work their way into all corners of our lives, these aspects will continue to proliferate — and as they do, we’ll start facing important questions about how we handle these collections of selves.” ~ Wallace Linden

“The question we now face, both as people and as organizations, is how we handle these connections, how we handle these collections of selves.” ~ Wallace Linden

Unfortunately, Wallace has not satisfactorily expressed the intentions of the post. The evidence? The many, many comments from Second Life users who have failed to understand what Wallace was driving at.

“One question that’s interesting to contemplate is whether your avatars will share that digital identity card.” ~ Wallace Linden

“The interesting conversations here will be about what kind of value we’re looking for, and what kind of tools we need. The answers won’t be the same for everyone, of course, but they will be important to everyone as the various digital contexts we inhabit continue to converge.” ~ Wallace Linden

I believe that the above statements, combined with years of precedence of blog posts made too late, got people jumping to the wrong conclusions. They are seeing some sort of linkage between Second Life account names and other identifications, and have gotten the impression that such a thing has already come to pass, launch date to be announced within days.

I see that Wallace, however badly he has performed expectation management, however poorly he has expressed his intention, is genuinely looking to elicit responses about what Second Life users want with regards to what identifications they do and do not want to share. I see him looking at tools that will assist us in both creating links, and in suppressing such links, between our different aspects of identity.

“I get a lot of benefit, both personal and professional, out of being the same person in many different online contexts.” ~ Wallace Linden

“But you shouldn’t necessarily be forced to make the same associations I do. If you ask most people, making those connections should be opt-in. Not everyone sees the same value in such links.” ~ Wallace Linden

Wallace, when many people get the wrong impression about something, you have not successfully communicated your ideas. Communication has failed.

As a counterpoint to this blog post, I’ll point you to Diary of a Paranoid Mysql Upgrade by Charity Linden, and anything written by FJ Linden. Clear and concise, with good expectation management and intent stated clearly and upfront, their posts are a joy and a relief to read. Hey, Charity, could they pay you enough for you to take the post as communications Linden?

Photo: Von Cellar School

Why the iPad is a game-changer for virtual environments

In the past couple of hours, the official announcement of the Apple iPad has finally been made. As with all these announcements, the rumors have been partly right, but there’s still been a fair share of surprises.

I won’t go into the technical specifics of the iPad here: publications like Australian Macworld * have all that. What I do want to discuss, with as little fanboyishness as possible, is how I see the iPad being a real landmark in the ongoing growth of virtual words:

1. The App Store and Social Worlds = Gold

In the less than 18 months of the App Store’s existence, more than three billion applications have been downloaded. Expect that to continue to grow exponentially on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Add the iPad to the mix and there’s even more fuel in the fire. The real success of the Apple App Store has been its simplicity in installing applications – that’s now migrated to a larger form-factor, with applications developed to make the best of it.

Apple know the appeal of social gaming and games like Zynga’s Farmville and Cafe World are some of the leaders. Facebook and embedded games like Farmville are ideally suited to a tablet-sized screen. As are the thousands of alternatives that’ll follow suit over the coming year. The ones that make good money will need to ensure a satisfying experience for users in the longer term, which means more engaging environments in order to maintain market leadership. With Zynga’s titles being Flash-based, there may actually be some serious challenges for them on the iPad given the lack of Flash support to date on the iPhone. Some will say that’s far from a bad thing.

2. The iPad as Virtual Trojan Horse

Arguably one of the key barriers to widespread adoption of virtual worlds has been their perception as niche, with significant technical and bandwidth requirements. The niche aspect is slowly being broken down, mostly thanks to the ‘Facebook’ games discussed above. What the iPad will do over time is overcome the technical issues for a new user. It’s hard to imagine it’ll be too many months before someone develops effective iPad applications for Second Life, OpenSim, Blue Mars, Frenzoo and so on. When you have those applications able to be downloaded as easy as Farmville, then the iPad has truly become the Trojan Horse that’s smuggled in the heavy hitters in virtual environments.

On the cautionary side, tablet PCs are a very small proportion of the market at present – this announcement might change that but it’ll take more than a few months to do so. The announced prices aren’t exorbitant for the feature set (starting at US $499 for the Wi-Fi Only version), so although there’s not likely to be a stampede, the price is cheap enough to ensure some big sales numbers over coming months.

3. It’s about relaxation

For those of us that spend a lot of time online, sitting at a computer or juggling a laptop is second nature. For the vast majority that spend time online, it’s a necessary evil> The ability to have a portable device that’s large enough to view comfortably but small enough to accommodate most people’s sitting (or lying) poses has got to increase its likelihood of use. Where a casual user may have previously checked their email, read their Facebook timeline and perhaps browsed a website or two, with devices like the iPad they may spend an extra ten minutes chatting in IMVU or grinding through Cafe World.

It’s far from certain, but if a Second Life or OpenSim application is developed that has a feature-set close to as good as the current viewers, then there may also be a spike in use of those more complex environments. For those who use voice in Second Life, a iPad application will be of particular value as the need to type is so much less, although the decision by Apple to offer a physical keyboard as an iPad accessory is a sensible one. Hell, I’ll put my neck on the line and say that a near full-featured Second Life or OpenSim viewer will have been announced and maybe even delivered by the end of this year.

The Sum Up

Today’s announcement isn’t earth-shattering in the scheme of things, but it’s certainly a significant event in a virtual worlds context. The landscape isn’t going to change immediately and perhaps not radically. What is going to happen over time, is an even greater level of growth of virtual worlds users / players / residents as it becomes a less time consuming and technical task to interact with your avatar and the people you enjoy spending time with online. The potential growth may be somewhat under the radar initially, as people focus on the iPad’s abilities as a media reader and ultra-portable ‘productivity enhancer’.

Those potential new virtual world inhabitants won’t necessarily be using a iPad – you can stake your life on clones surfacing in coming months, but like the iPod and iPhone before it, this is a device that has broken some new ground.

For those wanting to discuss the announcement further, Mitch Wagner is holding a discussion this weekend in Second Life – all the details here.

Now over to you: do you see the iPad as a game-changer of just more Apple-driven hype?

* Disclosure: I’m a paid contributing writer for Australian Macworld

Photo courtesy of Gizmodo

Discussion on internet filter on Tonight Live is… live!

As mentioned previously, I had the pleasure of appearing on Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe. The topic of discussion was the Commonwealth Government’s proposed internet filtering legislation and its potential impact on virtual worlds.

Paisley asked some incisive questions that helped set the scene for both the challenges and opportunities the legislation may provide. As I say in the interview, I’m confident environments like Second Life won’t be heavily impacted by the legislation, assuming those of us affected ensure the government understands the issue.

Aside from that discussion, there’s some great music from Frets Nirvana and an interesting discussion on virtual pets with Sapphira Laval. Here’s the full show for you to view:

A big thanks to Paisley for the invitation to appear and to Bliss Windlow and AutumnFoxx Sutherland for their assistance in the lead-up. If you haven’t already, do check out the enormous stable of shows that Treet.TV offer: they are an Australian success story to say the least.

Review: Fantage

fantage front page

Fantage” is a contraction of the words “Fantastic Age”, with dual meanings: that the target audience is 7 – 14 year olds, which is presumably a pretty neat age to be, and that the virtual environment itself is fantastic.

I was not overly impressed by Fantage, having previously encountered “Super Secret“, though a good friend of mine, who is within the age range for which the environment is intended, found Fantage to be fun and interesting. Fantage has been around since 2007, and their 40+ servers are often packed to capacity; it would seem that despite my personal misgivings, it is a very popular place to go.


The registration process is quick and simple, getting you into the virtual environment with a minimum of fuss. You get to choose the gender of your avatar, and do a little customisation of hair and outfit. Choosing a user name with a number in it is typical – when I was online, every avatar except mine had a number in the user name.

Premium Membership

The Premium Membership price compares favourably with that of Club Penguin. A membership confers some advantages: you have much greater choice in what you can buy, you get access to luxury rooms to entertain guests in, and you are given 1000 stars when you first join. At USD$5.99 per month (less for more months paid for at a time), memberships cost little more than a pocket money allowance for that age.

Overall Look and Feel

“Eye candy” is the term that comes to mind in describing the overall look of Fantage. Eye-wateringly bright colours and pretty pastels coat the surface of all buildings, and exterior and interior landscapes. Everything that can be shiny has been made shiny. Everything is smoothed and simplified in shape, like a baby’s stuffed cube. It’s all a bit reminiscent of a child’s TV program, more than of a child’s painting or drawing. It all seems much more geared towards the tastes of girls rather than boys, though there were no shortage of male avatars present online each time I was there: everything is super cutesy.

Avatars are tiny; in anime or manga terms, super-deformed, with overly large heads, huge eyes, and tiny bodies. It makes for a very cute, though entirely unrealistic, appearance.

When the servers are heavily loaded, there is an amazingly large amount of lag. You can wait minutes to be able to move from one place to another, or have huge pauses in the middle of mini-games that make them unplayable.

Navigation and Movement

Navigation of the world of Fantage is accomplished via the world map. There are several places to access, including Uptown, Downtown, and the Carnival. You mouse over a location to bring up the title of the area and a listing of which games and places can be found there, and left click to travel there.

For the most part, movement in Fantage is by left mouse click; you just click on the location you want to travel to. Every avatar owns a skateboard, and floats from one location to another within each local map. Therefore, there’s also no walking animation: avatars never get off their skateboards. There are however animations for gestures, like waving, or jumping, for example.

Purchase of Goods

fantage starries

“Stars” are the currency of Fantage. Stars can be earned by playing mini-games; you also get an initial payout of stars when you begin a premium membership. Considering how difficult it can be to make hair and outfits for avatars of this size and shape, there’s a surprising range of goods available.

Hair, clothing, shoes, accessories, and skateboards, are available for purchase, as you might expect, however there are also extravagant costumes, phone accessories, and furniture on offer as well.

For the most part, you need to be a premium member to be able to purchase items. While each shop is packed full of things to look at, the only thing you can do once you have entered the store is to look at the store catalogue and interact with that.

Meeting People and having Friends

As with other “tween” oriented virtual environments, there’s not a whole lot of communication action to be seen. Possibly on the days when there are lots of people online, they are just IMing each other, instead of chatting out loud. I didn’t manage to have any contact with anyone else while I was online.

You get a buddy list which will hold up to 200 names.


The mini-games have two purposes: to entertain, and to allow the player to earn stars to spend on items.

The mini-games are essentially casual, with low entry requirements. The rules are simple, and are usually encapsulated in a sentence or two of explanation. Most of the mini-games are single player, though there are at least a couple of multi-player games. The mini-games in Fantage cross a fair spectrum of game types, some requiring good hand-eye coordination, others needing good estimation skills, yet others requiring good pattern-matching skills.

Despite these benefits, I found the games to be unsatisfactory. The games failed to engage me, being either far too simple, or too difficult. The difficulty often did not ramp up well either, in games where the difficulty was variable. I found there to be an insufficient number of games; if you were drawn only to one type of game, likely there’d only be one or two available for you to choose from.


fantage missions

Missions lump together several mini-games not otherwise available into a theme-consistent whole with a storyline.

I didn’t find the mission itself to be all that attractive, but, despite some grammatical and punctuation errors, the interplay between yourself and some of the characters is decidedly amusing and entertaining.

Missions are probably the best part about Fantage.

The Sum-Up

Overall, Fantage is a pretty good environment, but not outstanding. It would be a nice, safe place for a child to start learning about virtual environments, however I think that most children would grow out of it quickly.

Internet filtering and virtual worlds: Tonight Live discussion

I’m really pleased to be a guest on tomorrow’s Tonight Live With Paisley Beebe. Paisley is an Australian singer and broadcaster we’ve profiled before, and Tonight Live is arguably one of the most popular virtual worlds TV shows around.

Paisley and I will be discussing the background and potential impact of the internet filtering legislation proposed by the Commonwealth Government as well as some 2010 predictions and more. The show is live from 6pm SLT on the 24th January (1pm Monday 25th January AEDT).

If you want to take part, here’s the location of the show, or you can watch it live on the web or anytime afterwards via the Treet TV archive.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Mashable (USA) – What’s Up With Virtual Worlds? “From 2005 up through 2008, virtual worlds seemed like the hottest ticket in tech, but we’ve heard less about them in recent months. We imagined the people of Earth leading double lives in alternate realities. It was the stuff of science fiction, like flying cars and robot butlers, and unlike those things, it actually looked like it could become reality. Except it hasn’t. What happened? Are people still using virtual worlds? Let’s look at the latest developments in two of the most hyped virtual world platforms for insights into where (if anywhere) the alternate reality trend is headed.”

2. Business Daily (Kenya) – The benefits of a virtual world. “Slowly, companies are leaving the physical world behind to cut costs, improve communication, and find new ways to collaborate. Scores of virtual platforms exist on the Internet and are used for everything from entertainment to business to socialising. An estimated 300 million people worldwide have registered for participation in some form of this activity, according to Kzero, a virtual world marketing and development company. In 2008, according to trade group Virtual Worlds Management, venture capitalists and other investors bet nearly US$600 million on more than 60 software producers involved in this fledgling technology.”

3. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Four Youth Virtual Worlds Raise Money For Haiti Relief. “In addition to previously covered the efforts by Sony Online Entertainment and MyYearbook to raise money for survivors of the Haitian earthquake through sales of virtual goods, Sanrio Digital, Gaia Online, Wiglington and Wenks, and Xeko (formerly Elf Island) have launched their own campaigns.”

4. VentureBeat (USA) – Rixty lets young users without credit cards make buys online. “Rixty, maker of a payment app that lets people buy entertainment online even if they don’t have credit cards, has brought in $1.24 million in a seed round of funding. The San Francisco company, which lets people turn cash into online currency, is part of a slew of companies expanding the customer base for virtual goods, virtual worlds, and social networking purchases — particularly adding many younger users who don’t have bank accounts yet.”

5. Escapist Magazine (USA) – A Look Back at Metaplace. “Raph Koster’s Metaplace was an original idea to tie user-created content together – but as it closed down at the turn of the New Year, was it ahead of its time? It’s hard to say that Raph Koster didn’t have a vision when he created Metaplace back in the distant wilds of 2007. One of the original architects of games like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, Koster championed the cause of user-created content in his games, and he envisioned Metaplace as a glorious utopia of user content that could be linked together – a network of virtual worlds. In a way, it was Koster’s Meta-MMOG. But sadly, it did not connect with people in the way that Koster and his employees had hoped, and the service shut down at the beginning of the year. But what had the aim been in the first place?”

6. Metro News (Canada) – ‘Real life’ avatars moving into the workplace. “In real life Byron Reeves is a bald academic. But Reeves also conducts research using his avatar, a strapping man with hair. “Lots of companies already use avatars,” explains Reeves, a psychology professor at Stanford University. “Using avatars, you can conduct meetings, meet clients and have brainstorming sessions without having to travel. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the building. And you don’t risk getting swine flu from shaking hands with an avatar.” Reeves, who specializes in human interaction with avatars, is the author of Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the Way People Work and Businesses Compete.”

7. The Guardian (UK) – What I can’t find on zubworld, FourSquare or Gowalla: any point in taking part. “Every so often a story pops up in the national press about a company or person selling plots of land on the moon (here’s one from 2006). Or, sometimes, on Mars. I’ve written about it enough times that it’s wearily familiar: the people involved say that they’ve got a perfect right to sell the land, which is true enough if you can find someone stup… eager enough to buy it. Sometimes it’s “buying” stars and naming them, which is the sort of thing that’s not going to sit well in astronomers’ tables – which is why astronomers ignore them. (And who knows what astrologers feel about them?) I realised today, when the PR on behalf of a company called zubworld got in touch, that it’s this “let’s make money from something that’s not got any implicit or explicit value to the people handing over the cash” approach which turns me off location-based “games” such as Foursquare and Gowalla. And particularly zubworld, who won’t of course be happy to hear that.”

8. East Bay Business Times (USA) – ‘Second Life’ creator Linden Lab hires new CFO. “Linden Lab, the business that runs virtual world Second Life, hired Bob Komin as chief financial officer. John Zdanowski, the company’s previous CFO, left in March 2009. In December, he was reported to be working for Avatar Reality Inc. in Honolulu, another business developing a virtual world.”

9. Massively (USA) – That’s not the Second Life economy! “This week Linden Lab published a set of economic data for Q4 2009, and for 2009 as a whole. After going through the data in detail, and discovering at least one important typo and one important calculation error, it looked like we were going to have to recheck every figure before presenting them. That’s a lot of work, especially as the data published in the quarterly/annual reports doesn’t follow the same definitions as the ongoing statistical feeds or is not represented in them.”

10. CrunchGear (USA) – The World of Warcraft movie is *so* early in development. “More white-hot World of Warcraft movie news to share with y’all. Did you know that it’s in production? Of course you did; you have a pulse. But did you know what stage of production it’s in? Hmm, did ya, smart guy? Eh, you probably knew that, too. For you see, the World of Warcraft movie is in the earliest stage of development, the part where the writers are still coming up with a basic story.”

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