News of the Worlds

Taken in an OpenSim sim.

The ANGEL Learning Management Suite (LMS) is to be integrated with Second Life to establish a secure means for students to submit coursework created within Second Life.

Eric Reuters interviews Linden Lab VP Joe Miller, breaking through the barriers created by Lewis PR, to find out how Linden Lab plans to alter their revenue model to face the challenges created by OpenSim and other emerging virtual worlds.

Robert Bloomfield ponders our future intellectual property rights; is it true, that you can’t take it with you?

News Of the Worlds

See ak's CLINIC before you die.

Zha Ewry exposits: the first steps have been taken, where to now for interoperability?

justincc wonders: why are there so many Second Life clients based on the original Linden Lab code? Where are all the clients built without it?

Virtual worlds, real skills. Perhaps, as with the telephone, people will realize that along with real, transferable skills, there are real people having real interactions in virtual worlds.

“Today we’re going to talk about building bridges. We’ve never built a bridge, nor have we talked to anyone who has; however, we are going to talk to a visually impaired chap who’s seen a picture of one …” Apparently, Second Life is dead.

News of the Worlds

IBM Green Business Centre and surrounds.

Damning Google’s Lively with faint praise; M Linden’s (Mark Kingdon, Linden Lab CEO) second post.

Tateru Nino’s reactions to M Linden’s post. Also read Gwyneth Llewelyn’s comments concerning the possible demise of the metaverse following Lively’s release.

Zee Linden gets the quarterly figures out in a timely fashion.

Linden Lab announces success with the interoperability projectone month after the fact.

Lively – not a rival; still a challenge.

Will Lively supplant Second Life? Is it a rival, a match for, or a strong competitor to Second Life? Will we all someday have left Second Life and made the transition to Lively instead?

Living Lively in front of the TV.

Not likely.

Is this an issue?

Not really.

Lively is a pretty-looking mashup – it has taken multiple ideas and technologies from various places and smushed them together into something reasonably useable and useful. Sure, the camera controls are hard to handle, even if you come direct from Second Life, or from Blender, the open source animation package. Similarly, the avatars are difficult to move. Moving also requires that you have some control over the camera. Putting these considerations aside, I found the thing that worked extremely well – the TV, one of the furniture options in Lively, allowed me to seamlessly and effortlessly display YouTube material.

It was an awesome experience to be able to view a YouTube video with a room full of friends who could not be physically present. I wished that I could view the screen of the TV better, but the viewing quality was adequate. As I watched and chatted with the folks who had joined in for the Beta, my main thought was, “Hey, Linden Lab? See this? This is cool! I’d like some in Second Life!”
Second Life of course has various provisions for allowing video, but none are as sleek or as easy as Lively makes it.

Kicking back and sharing experiences in Lively.

I feel that Lively is a useful innovation for two reasons.

First, it brings people together in such a way that they can share web-browsing experiences (until now an activity made cumbersome by the restrictions of sharing links via instant messages or email), without getting weighed down by the choices that the ability to create content brings.

Second, it challenges existing and prototypical virtual worlds to keep pace and offer similar experiences to their residents. It is a challenge not in the sense that the whole concept of one world is challenging to the very existance of another, but in the sense that it sparks new ideas and desires in the minds of all virtual world users. I think all extant virtual worlds could learn from the slick way that Lively presents YouTube material.

The background information for Lively suggests that there is a lot more to come, particularly in regard to mashups with existing technologies. There is excellent potential for those mashups to be done extremely well. To my mind though, there isn’t even a question of whether Lively will rival Second Life, no matter how far it changes or evolves. I don’t believe it was designed to and I strongly feel that during their lifetimes, Lively and Second Life can co-exist happily, feeding ideas into each other.

Are you a Virtual World Whore? Virtual Addiction, Part 1

Do you crave the fun, excitement, and pleasure of virtual worlds to the detriment of the rest of your life? Would you do anything, give anything, just to be able to spend another couple of uninterrupted hours in a virtual space, Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE) or gaming environment?

Smoking - one of the legal addictions.

You have a problem. You are a virtual world addict.

What does it mean to be “addicted”?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) uses the term “dependency”. The upcoming DSM-V will use the term “addiction” once again to describe the condition, since “dependency” has other connotations that confuse the issue. “Addiction” is the term used by many physicians and most lay people.

Under the DSM-IV, “substance dependency”, the condition from which the diagnostic criteria for behavioural conditions was extrapolated, is paraphrased as follows:

  1. The substance is required for normal functioning, and withdrawal, a physical and psychological reaction, occurs when the substance is suddenly withdrawn. Additionally, any adverse consequences, be they physical, psychosocial, financial, etc, are endured for the sake of getting and taking the substance.
  2. The substance initially causes pleasure, euphoria and/or feelings of well-being, though this experience diminishes in intensity over time, so that more of the substance must be taken in to experience the same effect. This is known as tolerance.
  3. Any substance in which a person indulges in uncontrollably is addictive.
  4. A “reward circuit” is set up by substance dependency, in the brain; that is, taking the substance leads to a reward, and the brain undergoes a neuro-plastic change, so that the brain is then primed to desire the reward again.

What does it mean to have a behavioural addiction?

Being addicted to a particular behaviour bears a strong resemblance to substance dependency or addiction. The difference is the behaviour is carried out, in place of a substance being taken. The following items hold true:

  1. The behaviour needs to be carried out to maintain normal functioning, and withdrawal occurs if it is not.
  2. The behaviour induces pleasure; tolerance is built up over time, so that the behaviour must be carried out more or more often in order to achieve the same level of pleasure.
  3. Any behaviour in which a person indulges in uncontrollably is addictive.
  4. Changes in the brain occur in response to the repeated pleasure and withdrawal pattern.

“It's a compulsive behavior, and it doesn't matter if it's Everquest, Second Life, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Internet porn or gambling.

How is “Internet” addiction different, new, or special? (For “Internet”, read browsing, email, Instant Messaging, online porn, online gaming, and participating in MUVEs).

Short answer: very little. The specifics of the type of pleasure engendered, the type of withdrawal experienced, and the consequences of enacting the behavior differ from other addictions as other addictions differ from each other – otherwise there would be no point in having a different classification for each. The basics, though, are identical to the basics for all behavioral addictions.

“It’s a compulsive behavior, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Everquest, Second Life, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Internet porn or gambling,” states Tateru Nino. The sufferer “could not find balance.”

The essential problem seems to be that people mistake the medium for the message. When they hear that folks are “addicted to the Internet”, they blame the Internet, the medium, for the problem, whereas the Internet is simply provides a new source of behaviors for people who would have had behavioral addictions anyway. By extension, it’s not the fault of virtual worlds that people become virtual world addicts.

In the next article, On Being a Virtual World Whore – Virtual Addition, Part 2, we investigate the ins and outs of suffering from virtual world addiction: what are the specific classifications for this addiction, what are the withdrawal symptoms, and what are the consequences?

Twinity – what is it good for?

Twinity – the virtual world that mashes up the real with the virtual world”, proclaims their website. However, Twinity is no more of a mashup of the real and virtual worlds than any other virtual world. It’s a world of real people meeting other real people, filled with real digital content, all set against a backdrop of digital representations of real places and places that could exist in real life. What’s new here, if anything, and where might Twinity fit in the greater scheme of things?

Chad says,"I don't understand this game at all."

Like many mashups, the main justification for their existence is convenience: bringing together multiple ideas, and associating them in a useful and time-saving manner. Twinity takes pre-existing concepts, makes a light, fluffy interface to access them, and uses what is currently a slow and buggy system to serve up the result. It doesn’t sound too good so far, but to be fair the whole system is still in Beta. However, only the flakiness of the system looks set to change, as the feature-set does not seem to be destined to change radically.

So what would make a potential user pick Twinity over another virtual world, or choose to use it despite the mass of more accessible options available for entertainment purposes?

Eye-watering green cubes turn out to be spaces for Users to express themselves artistically.

1. Lightweight interface: there’s less to learn about interacting with the world than in other virtual worlds. However, this means that the Users’ options are limited when it comes to interacting with the world (where “User” is Twinity jargon term referring to the real person at the keyboard).

2. Convenience: it puts a whole bunch of people together with some digital diversions, in a place where they can interact with other people who have an interest in the same digital material. The entertainment types are quite limited at this point and it does not look as though that is going to change substantively in the near future.

How does Twinity overlap other virtual worlds?

1. Virtual physical presence: unlike text-based solutions, Twinity gives Users visual cues from the people around them, from simply knowing who is in the room to being able to get some measure of personality from appearance.

2. Eclectic encounter-based mechanic: Users can bump into other Users and interact with them. Interactions which might never have occurred in the real world are common-place and informal in a virtual world.

3. Virtual physical proximity: Users have something immediate to talk about that they can share. Proximity to objects and entertainment sources gives Users a shared experience that can form the basis of their interactions.

4. User-created items: This is common to many virtual worlds, to a greater or lesser extent. This capacity has not yet been added to Twinity, but is expected in the near future, certainly before the product exits the Beta phase.

In which ways does Twinity not compare well with other virtual worlds?

Signs are difficult to read in Twinity unless you have your head stuck in them.

1. Broad cross-section of User backgrounds: Users are attracted to virtual worlds for a variety of reasons, and these differing reasons ensures that Users will be different from each other in some ways. However, a world with as many restrictions as Twinity is likely to filter out a number of potential Users because of the limitations on experiences and expression.

2. In-world creation tools: No in-world tools for content have been announced.

3. Limited movement and camera control options: This may be seen as a benefit by some, and a lack by others. Movement is orthogonal and diagonal only and camera controls are heavily simplified.

4. No geography: Twinity is essentially a set of rooms linked by teleportation. Outdoor spaces provide a semblance of geography, but really they are no more extensive than sound stages.

5. Windows-only client: Mac and Linux users are simply not catered for.

The lightweight simplicity of the interface may be sufficient to attract a large contingent of Users to the platform, however that very simplicity is likely to turn off users of people who have used other, more sophisticated worlds previously. In short, the platform is appropriate for people looking specifically for a lightweight chatting and entertainment solution – but don’t expect more than that.

Australian Educational Institutions: what are they thinking now?

Things are moving slowly in the education sector.It’s no secret that Australian educational institutions are getting involved in Second Life, much like their counterparts overseas, but who is involved now and what is the purpose of their respective virtual presences within the Australian educational community?

It’s been some time since the last wrap-up post concerning Australian education in Second Life; “First in, best dressed – is SL worth it for Aussie Universities?” was presented in March 15, 2007 so I thought it was time for a fresher look.

I located the sites and the names of groups created by each institution. This list represents the information we gathered from using the Search function in Second Life, the Google search engine on the web, plus information from past Metaverse Journal posts. URLs are for locations within Second Life:

Australian Film and Television School (AFTRS)
University of Southern Queensland (USQ)
Victoria University
La Trobe University
Griffith University
Murdoch University
Gippsland TAFE (unreachable location)
Swinburne University (unreachable location)
Monash University (unreachable locations, and several groups)
Kangan Batman TAFE (group only)
Hobart College (group only)

Also definitely worth mentioning is Jokaydia. It is an educational project developed and run by Jo Kay, a resident of Australia (jokay Wollongong in Second Life). Jokaydia is also home to projects run for TAFE NSW. Jo is also responsible for at least the Swinburne build and several of the groups.

"Edusquare" in the Jokaydia Region

For the most part, these presences all have one thing in common: they are very difficult to comment on, either because they are not open to the public, or because they do not seem to be designed for public usage.

Jokaydia and the AFTRS presences are the exceptions: attractively presented, packed with useful information pertinent to their field of study, well sign-posted and equipped with maps and teleporters. These places seem to have been put together with the intention that the public have easy and informed access to them. The USQ, too, has put some thought into these factors, having clearly marked areas for shopping, career and educational information, and gatherings.

Of the remaining sites which are accessible by Second Life residents, the RMIT site alone seems to have been presented for the public to peruse, however sign-posting and information about the projects on display is sparse at best. The presentation is also quite haphazard, making the whole thing quite unnavigable. The rest appear to be representations of real-world sites, however they have little or information about either education or the build itself, and there is little that is interactive. Thus, they are broadly unsuitable for the general public.

what relevence do these have for Second Life residents?

Of course, there is very little information available at present about the not-for-public sites. With so little general information being available for each of these places or groups, it is also very difficult to determine their usefulness and suitability for the populations that they have presumably been designed for: the students and educators of each individual establishment.

While it is obviously early days, and the virtual worlds platform is a relatively new medium for education in Australia, I would prefer to see more information about education and more support for education of the general public. Take for example the excellent work seen at Harvard Law School’s island in Second Life. More information concerning the institutions and the courses and classes being offered by them, ideally with a focus on interaction, would potentially be beneficial, as would some sign that the spaces are actually in use.

With that in mind, I would like to contact the site owners and users to more fully explore how each individual institution has chosen to leverage the virtual worlds platform for the purposes of modern education.

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