Chilbo


26
Apr 16

Super Name: Fleep

An Oldie but a Goodie – Jane McGonigal

I had occasion this evening to revisit Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk from 2010, and it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

Okay, so these are four superpowers that add up to one thing: Gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals. These are people who believe that they are individually capable of changing the world. And the only problem is, they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worlds and not the real world.That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve.
– Jane McGonigal

 

I wrote about my experience playing the Superstruct game back then (and posted a fun video dispatch), and reading that post led me to dig up the profile I created on the Superstruct site, where I imagined my (avatar) self in 2019:

Super Name: Fleep

Profile Cohabitation
I and the gatos live in a small farm house on the outskirts of town. We don’t need much space, but have a large garden and work to contribute our share to the local food economy.

Profile Communities
I founded the Chilbo Community in 2006 and remain a life-long member, in addition to my local community in terra. I’m also a member of the Screaming 3D Bootstrappers Superstruct, the SLED Community, the Velks, and many other professional associations related to higher education and the grid.

Profile Skills
Human network resource management, education and community building in the metaverse, connectivism, and I grow a mean tomato.

Profile Profession
I am the founder of Chilbo and work most days either in the Chilbo Town Hall or elsewhere in the Metaverse. I have offices and projects scattered all over the grid and pop in to wherever I’m needed when I’m needed. I also serve on the Board of Trustees for GlobalGrid University, one of the original virtual-land-grant research universities created by the United Nations in 2012. GGU serves an international learning network of over 200 million learners through GGU Nodes of Excellence on the grid.

Profile Location
The Chilbo Community is a global village in the Metaverse, made up of artists, musicians, writers, teachers, students, creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, and those who are interested in contributing to the public good.

Profile Experience
As the Chilbo Community reached its second anniversary in 2008, and I spent more time traveling and learning in terra and on the grid, I began to better understand the rapid speed with which the Metaverse was developing. I was fortunate to stumble into an emergent network of highly motivated and brilliant nodes all over the globe and it quite literally transformed my life. In the ensuing decade, our network has grown tremendously, as has our capacity to collaborate and locate the resources we need as we need them. We continue to work to teach others these important skills even as we make our own contributions to projects and endeavors that inspire us.

Profiles Ideals
Increasing access to education, research, knowledge, and learning throughout the grid and finding ecologically sound and sustainable ways to live.

Super Name
Fleep

Super Id
6428

History

Member for
5 years 20 weeks


24
Aug 12

Why Anyone Who Cares About the Metaverse Needs to Move Beyond Second Life; Now, Not Later

tl;dr:  If we want to see the metaverse happen in our lifetime, we need to invest our time, money, creativity, and resources into making it happen.  It isn’t going to come from Second Life or Linden Lab, and the metaverse can’t wait.

Five or six years ago, you could not have found a more enthusiastic and engaged supporter of the Second Life platform than me. Like many, I was inspired by the technology itself and especially by the vision of a company who promised us a new world built from our imaginations. Back then, the leadership of Second Life actually said things like “I’m not building a game. I’m building a new country.” (I love that Gwyn keeps that quote from Philip Rosedale in her sig line.) While I was always skeptical about that “new country” bit, I was completely and passionately in love with the idea that we were creating a new world – a new KIND of world – that exploded with possibilities and opportunities for those who were open to learning how to use them.

I’d read Snow Crash too, of course, and it wasn’t just the idea of Second Life itself that excited me, but rather the idea that Second Life was a seed, a prototype, a very rough but crucially important first step towards the creation of an open metaverse. Even back then, my imagination supplied me with a thrilling vision of what the metaverse could become. I could see it in my mind’s eye, this online incredibly complex 3D universe of people, places, and things, of not just one new world, but many new worlds, connected to one another, traversable with our digital bodies, varied and wonderful and full of commerce, educational opportunities, entertainment, creativity, and all the magical things that we could collectively unleash from our imaginations. The metaverse would be the next iteration of the net and the web, moving from flat, mostly static, two dimensional pages to dynamic, live, and action oriented 3D online places.

Most exciting to me, this digital variation of our physical universe would not be limited by so many things that constrain us in the physical world – lack of capital, limits on consumable resources, the difficulties of physical distance, and the incredibly stale and inflexible institutions and legal structures that are cracking and groaning and failing to adapt even to the exigencies of the real world, forget being able to address the digital world.  It wouldn’t take millions of dollars to build a company headquarters in the metaverse, no need for lumber and concrete either – pixels are limitless. And it wouldn’t matter if your colleagues lived in Dubai or Dublin or Dallas, you could still work together side by side in a virtual space and collaborate on a shared design in real time, in some ways better even than you could in the real world. And maybe, just maybe, all that plasticity and the ability to visualize things in new ways would help us discover new angles to solving intractable old real world problems, too.

I became absolutely convinced that those of us pioneering these new digital worlds would have the opportunity to do better in the virtual worlds we create than has been done in the real world we inherited, and that we could learn from our experiences in virtual worlds to make the real world a better place, too.

And in those early days, forget the technology or the company or the leadership at the helm, the most wonderful thing about Second Life back then is that I kept meeting people who were thinking the same thing. Logging into Second Life was like mainlining a drug, everywhere you teleported, you might just bump into someone brilliant, thoughtful, someone as excited about the possibilities as you were. Everywhere you looked were fascinating projects: scientists playing with visualizing data, artists creating experiences that were just not possible in real life, regular everyday people starting new businesses and finding financial success, professors and educators holding classes in the clouds and building a community of practice that made even the most isolated innovator in some corner of the physical world feel like they had finally found the colleagues and collaborators of their dreams.

Everywhere you looked was innovation.
Everyone you met was experimenting, trying new things, pushing new boundaries.
Anything seemed possible.  Maybe even probable.

I became so inspired, so excited by the possibilities that it quite literally changed my life. Trying to understand this prototype of the metaverse, and figuring out how to achieve those goals became the focus of my career.  I was travelling all over the US speaking about Second Life and the metaverse at conferences and lectures, and I was deeply engaged in my own projects in-world, too. Learning not just how to twist a pile of prims into something beautiful, but how that pile of prims could be used to facilitate a community like Chilbo, a classroom at my university, or bring people together for a conference like SLBPE or SLCC. The more I learned, the more sure I became that great things were possible because this rough little prototype of the metaverse had already enriched and changed my life for the better – I was quite certain it could change other people’s lives for the better, too.

I had a vision of the future and I worked very damned hard to help bring it to life, not in isolation, but with thousands of other people who were working hard to do the same thing. And the most wonderful part was that we had found each other, from all corners of the physical world, we discovered in each other a passion for making the metaverse a reality.

It was an exciting, heady time. I miss those days. And if you were one of those people, I bet you do, too.

That Was Then, This is Now

The road from there to here has been an interesting one. I was incredibly lucky that my personal circumstances and the university where I work gave me the space, time, and resources to dive deep into the topic. I spent the next several years fully engaged in the work, the space, the people, the projects, the platforms. I’ve read hundreds of academic articles, thousands of blog posts and news stories and editorials. I’ve had the opportunity to work on so many fantastically interesting projects, I’ve organized conferences and participated in scores of events to bring people who share this passion together in real life and virtually, and I’ve explored as many worlds and spaces as time has allowed to see what others are doing too.

And while there will always be someone more technically gifted than me, more knowledgeable, more connected.. I think it is fair to say I’ve developed some expertise in this topic, some genuine experience in understanding how and when a virtual world application makes sense and when it doesn’t, what the challenges and opportunities are, and some inklings of what the future may hold now that I’m not just wide-eyed with wonder, but seasoned by the trials and tribulations of not just starting projects in the fledgling metaverse, but leading them, staffing them, maintaining them, supporting them, marketing them, and finishing them. To be sure, some of my youthful naivete has departed, but I’d like to think it’s left some wisdom in its place, and here is what the view looks like to me now.

It would be fair to say that no single company or single platform could ever have lived up to the kinds of expectations that I described in the beginning of this post. Linden Lab and Second Life could never be all things to all people, and I give them credit for even trying to address the needs of so many diverse use cases and such a passionately vocal and creative userbase. And I do believe that they tried. For a very long time, I think they did try, sincerely and genuinely, to help bring the visions of Second Life’s residents to life. I personally worked with many folks from the Lab who were as passionate and committed as I was, and who tried their best to facilitate the projects and events that I worked on.

And while they were of course always working for Linden Lab and had to keep the company’s interests in mind, there were hints that some of the folks at Linden Lab also shared our passion for the metaverse itself, beyond Second Life. For a time, there seemed to be at least the possibility that Linden Lab might grow into a larger role, not just serving as a provider of a world called Second Life, but maybe they could become a steward of that burgeoning metaverse, sharing their technology with others in service of that broader goal in a “rising tide lifts all boats” kind of way. Before so many brilliant engineers and thinkers left the Lab, they took concrete steps in that direction, even – they open sourced the viewer code, they participated in research with IBM to test inter-world teleports, and when Philip spoke to us, the residents, he painted that kind of picture. This was not a game. This was about changing the world, real and virtual.

That was Linden Lab then. That is not Linden Lab now.

The Metaverse Will Not Come From Linden Lab or Second Life

I still see the Second Life platform as that first crucial step towards the metaverse, but anyone with two eyes in her head can see that it’s been many years and many changes in management since there was even a hope that Second Life itself would be anything but one world whose sole purpose is to make one company a profit. Linden Lab isn’t even a publicly traded company, for that matter, so we who have invested countless hours, poured thousands and thousands of dollars, staked our reputations and careers, and devoted our creativity and passions to the Second Life platform – we who made Second Life what it is – we can’t even see into the black box a tiny little bit. In truth, we don’t own even a tiny piece of this thing that we helped create.

It has always been that way, of course, even back in the beginning. But back then I also had some.. let’s call it faith, that the people in charge at Linden Lab shared at least some small part of the same vision that I had. Even if they went about it differently than I would do, or chose to prioritize different things than I would have chosen, I had some faith that both we the residents and Linden Lab the company were in some way working in concert with one another. At times it was discordant, and cacophonous, and certainly chaotic, but what complicated and pioneering endeavor isn’t?

And don’t forget, I was seeing these people, in person, at events and conferences all over the country.  I could look into their eyes and see my own passions reflected in them, and that sustained me even when I disagreed, sometimes vehemently, with their decisions and choices. They were good people making a good faith effort to do something good, and I was willing to endure all manner of inconveniences, indignities, and even embarrassingly horrible failures in the middle of important-to-my-career presentations, all because I felt that good faith effort deserved my patience and my loyalty.

I do not feel that way anymore. You shouldn’t either. It’s not because Linden Lab has become Evil or something silly like that (though I’ve long and often thought the dictionary definition of “mismanagement” should include their company logo), but simply because their priorities are no longer our priorities – not even close. If there was any question, the recent announcement about adding Second Life to Steam should put that doubt to rest. Linden Lab is pivoting, as they like to say in start-up land, and they’re pivoting to gamers. They’re no more interested in expanding or creating the metaverse than EA or Blizzard is, the only world changing thing they are aiming for now is better monetization of the entertainment and virtual goods sector.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with gaming – I am a gamer myself, and unlike Prokofy, I don’t think all gamers are idiots or griefers. I have a Steam account and play lots of games on there, and right this moment, I’m anxiously anticipating this weekend’s release of Guild Wars 2 like I haven’t looked forward to a new game in a long time (I’m going to start a guild if I can’t find one, come join me!). And a bit ironically given my last professional experience with Linden Lab, I actually like what I’ve seen of Rod Humble the person; he seems genuine and thoughtful and deeply knowledgeable about the game industry. I look forward to seeing what the newly re-focused Linden Lab comes up with, and I hope it is entertaining and interesting and successful. I’ll even hope that it continues to push the envelope technologically.

But game worlds are not the metaverse. They don’t want to be the metaverse, or participate in the metaverse, or have anything to do with an online universe where people can travel freely, create freely, start their own companies, or do their own thing. Game worlds are about sucking us into someone else’s world, where they endeavor to create an entertainment experience that is so enthralling that we willingly fork over cash to keep experiencing it. Which is great, sometimes really great, and fun and addicting and all that good stuff. But any game experience, no matter how thrilling, pales in comparison to what we who have lived in the fledgling metaverse know is possible, what we know could be possible if the kinds of resources, talent, technology, and effort that currently gets invested in game worlds were to be invested in the metaverse instead.

The thing is, once you’ve made your own world, you can never go back to being satisfied only playing in other people’s worlds. Or at least that’s the way it is for me.

Now someone out there is going to argue that it’s not like Linden Lab is going to turn Second Life into WoW or something, that they are at least trying to pivot to something of a hybrid between game worlds and virtual worlds. That seems to be what Gwyn thinks, and I’ll agree that there’s truth to that, but it’s important to remember that virtual worlds are not the metaverse either. Virtual worlds are some step before the metaverse, before we figure out how to connect everything up. It’s another intermediary step, and while we’re working on learning how do that, we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Whatever hybrid Linden Lab intends to make, they’ve signaled very strongly that they are simply not interested in having their virtual world participate in any of this metaverse stuff at all.

Which means for those of us who want to see the metaverse become a reality in our lifetimes, their goals are not our goals. Their priorities are not our priorities. The metaverse is not going to grow out of Linden Lab or Second Life, it’s that simple.

But I Can’t Leave My Inventory!  And My Friends!  And My Awesome Builds!

Does this mean you have to leave Second Life? No of course not, even I haven’t done that. I still have projects for work in Second Life and though Chilbo has changed to a mostly private landowner model, we’re still there and I still have a strong connection to my friends, colleagues, and communities in Second Life.

But I have tiered down, way down, and I have begun to invest my time and money largely elsewhere – in Opensim, in Unity, in exploring other nascent platforms and technologies that might be a step in the metaverse direction. I think if you care at all about making the metaverse a reality, that’s what you should do, too, and there are several reasons why:

The first reason is that Second Life is not a safe place or a good place to store your work. At some point, maybe not this year, maybe not even next year, but at some point you will have the epiphany that you have poured your creativity into a very, very fragile jar that is held by someone who does not give one hoot that they hold your most precious efforts in their hands. Worse, you will also realize that you have paid a ridiculously high price to have your creativity held in a jar owned by someone else. Worse still, it will break your heart when they drop the jar and all your effort shatters into a million pieces that you can’t easily pick up, if at all. (Ask the educational community, they will tell you.)

Imagine you are writing that novel you’ve always dreamed of writing, the novel that will change the world. And it’s early on in the development of software for writing novels, so there are only one or two platforms that allow you to even do it. One of the downsides of these early platforms is, you can only ever work on your novel on their servers, and the only copy that exists of your novel only exists on their servers. But hey, there aren’t any other good options out there, so you dive in, pouring your heart and soul into writing the best novel you can.

The more you add to your novel, as the years pass, the more attached you become, until one day something terrible happens. You lose your job, or you get sick, or the stock market crashes, whatever the reason, suddenly you can’t afford to pay for access to your novel. And just like that, all that work, all that effort, gone in a blink. Or one day the company changes its mind and decides it doesn’t even want to host novels anymore, novels are not their target market now, who needs these novel writing people! And just like that, all that work, all that effort, gone in a blink.

How many writers would choose to write their novel on a platform like that? None. NO ONE. Only someone insane would choose to do that. Only someone deluded would choose to do that and pay through the nose for the privilege once there were other options available.

Unfortunately, you sometimes pay a really high price for being an early adopter. Back then, Second Life was the only virtual world game in town, and you didn’t have any choices. That is no longer the case.  Linden Lab should allow you to make a copy of your work, but they don’t. And to continue the analogy, they don’t want to give you a copy of your novel because they need you to keep paying the hostage fees to access it.

My advice is: Stop being a hostage. Or at least stop being blind to it. And think about what it means for Linden Lab to decide for you, for us, whether we can have a copy of our own stories.

The second reason you need to shift your focus elsewhere is because other platforms need your passion and your creativity and your help. We all benefit when there are choices, when there are options, and when there is a healthy ecosystem of competition. Five years ago I would have guessed there would be many platform choices by now, but there aren’t, and it’s my fault. And your fault. We’ve remained so focused on one platform that we’ve allowed the virtual world ecosystem to atrophy to the point where you could hardly even say there is an ecosystem at all. And that’s bad – for businesses, for educators, for artists, it’s bad for virtual worlds, and it’s bad for the metaverse to come.

We need there to be a million laboratories and experiments happening, we need to have different options for different use cases, and we need to continue to grow the virtual worlds and metaverse “space” even if it isn’t the hot media darling it once was. In fact, we need to do it especially because it is not the hot media darling it once was. All those VCs and angel investors looking to drop a few million bucks on the hot new thing are so wrapped up in mobile and tablets and whatnot that the metaverse doesn’t stand a chance in hell of getting attention from anyone but the people who passionately believe in it. That’s us.

And what we lack in monetary capital we make up for in intellectual capital and the patience and perseverance to click through fifty bazillion checkboxes if that’s what it takes to figure out how to do something. We are not deterred by horrible user interfaces and inconvenient re-starts, by constant patching and broken viewers. We have put up with more trials and tribulations to make our visions a reality in Second Life than obviously most sane people were willing to do – so what is holding us back from moving beyond Second Life to continue to grow the space? I can’t believe it’s because it’s too hard, SECOND LIFE IS TOO HARD, for god’s sake.  Still!  After all these years, it still takes a ridiculous amount of effort to do anything in Second Life. So I don’t buy the difficulty argument, or the lack of features argument. That’s baloney.

No, other things are holding us back, and mostly I think it is that we’ve forgotten the vision. Well, remember it. Think back, remember what you hoped for, and let that sustain you as you move beyond Second Life to explore and help create new worlds that desperately need people like us to invest our time and talents into growing the virtual worlds and metaverse of tomorrow.

My advice: The single easiest thing for you to do is to begin with Opensim. Forget what you’ve heard or read about Opensim, forget all the frothing over content theft and copybots, and forget whatever experience you had with Opensim a few years ago. Opensim (and by extension OSGrid)  is the closest thing to what Second Life should have become, could have become if the Cory Ondrejka’s of the Lab hadn’t left. The only thing it doesn’t have is the monetary capital that Linden Lab has squandered in bad management and bad decisions, and the intellectual capital required to hit that tipping point of adoption necessary for there to be “enough” people using it to find the collaborators, content, and creativity that you need for your projects.

I’ll save a big treatise on Opensim for another day. It isn’t perfect, and it has its own set of issues, but it is actually more stable and more feature rich than Second Life in many ways, and any excuses that it’s too hard or too confusing fall upon my deaf ears. It isn’t. Stop making excuses. If you care about virtual worlds and the metaverse, you need to be taking at least some portion of your time, money, and efforts from Second Life and investing it in Opensim instead. You’ll be able to put all the years you’ve spent learning Second Life to good use, since it’s not like learning a completely different platform from the ground up, and you’ll be contributing to a community of people who deeply care about the future of the metaverse. Heck, you need to get into Opensim if for no other reason than you will learn more about Second Life than you ever have in all your years on the main grid.

Most importantly, Opensim’s whole raison d’etre is about growing the virtual worlds and metaverse space. Unlike Linden Lab, who have chosen to keep their one world for their profit, Opensim is all about your world, your imagination – quite literally, you can run your own world. (And you should, even as just a learning exercise. I’ll help you personally if you want to try, and if you haven’t, go visit my little personal world FleepGrid.)  I think you might be amazed at what you find, especially in the open hypergrid personal worlds rather than the InWorldz and SpotOn3D closed worlds, who, just like Second Life, want to be one world for their own profit*. Skip those and seek out the smaller grids and open grids and find your passion for the metaverse rekindled.

(* I can already hear Prokofy’s rebuttal ringing in my ears. I am not saying that for-profit projects or motivations are bad, in fact I think they can be good, and they are definitely necessary. I’m merely pointing out that some people are motivated by things other than profit, and I’m primarily addressing the audience of readers who, like me, are in that group. Call us naive do-gooders, or copyleft crazies, but we also contribute many good and meaningful things to the space and have a right to seek out like-minded projects and people.)

The third, and most important reason, you need to move beyond Second Life is because we’re getting old, and the metaverse can’t wait. Some time ago I came across an interview with Philip Rosedale where he said something about how he’d spent his 30’s doing Second Life and it was time to move on. It struck me because, while I’m a little younger than he is, I’ve now spent the majority of my 30’s working in this space, too, and in that time I’ve developed both a better understanding of just how long it can take for a technology to mature and just how intractable some of the technical and social barriers we face are.  Making the Metaverse might not be rocket science, but it isn’t easy either, and we still have a ton of work to do.  We have a lot of technical problems to solve, for sure, but we also have a lot of cultural work to do, and in my opinion, the cultural and social stuff is actually harder.  I can teach anyone how to click through a menu, it’s much more difficult to teach them why they should want to.

It’s going on 20 years since I discovered this thing called the internet, and from those very early days, I’ve always felt my personal talents lie in the ability to bridge gaps between different groups of technology users – to play the role of a translator.  Back in the 90’s when my role was primarily tech-support, I translated programmers’ intentions to end-users, and end-users’ needs to programmers.  Then in the early 2000’s when I was teaching workshops about using technology in education, I translated Gen-X/Y students’ behaviors for Baby Boomer faculty, and vice-versa.  These days, I find myself trying to translate to those living with today’s technology what we who have lived with tomorrow’s technology have learned, and at times it’s an immensely frustrating experience.  But equally frustrating is the stagnation I see even among those I admire and respect, who seem to have lost a little bit of that edge, that desire, to see more, much more, than mesh, and pathfinding, and whatever new shiny thing Linden Lab has bolted onto the same old broken chassis.

When I think back to where I started, I would have predicted we’d be much, much further along the road to the metaverse today than we actually are.  I’d have expected not just incremental improvements in tools, but whole new revolutions in how we translate our visions into pixels.  That hasn’t happened as much as I’d have liked.  I’d have thought that culturally, more people would be able to see and appreciate the benefits that virtual reality provides and would have embraced the opportunity to take advantage of it.  Surprisingly, people’s imaginations are more limited than I’d have guessed (including my own), and while we have seen things like Facebook and Twitter adopted more broadly, those are still flat, largely textual pages, not places to explore and experience together.  They are just iterations of the first webpage I saw back in the early 90s, not the revolution that Second Life once was, not the revolution that the metaverse needs to be.

Which brings me back to the whole game thing.  Back when Philip ran the Lab, Second Life was not a game. Under Rod’s leadership, a game is exactly what he’s trying to turn it into.

My advice is:  If you want to see the metaverse we imagined, then stop playing the perpetual hoping and waiting game that Second Life is.  Because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that the metaverse won’t spring forth from hoping and waiting.

 

Update:  I had a super busy week at work, so I’m still stewing and thinking about all of the comments.  In the meantime, I wanted to add links to the various responses and side discussions that were posted elsewhere both for myself and for other interested readers.  Many thanks to all for the food for thought!  (Please let me know if I missed any, too!)


20
Aug 10

SLCC10: Thoughts on the Other Side

“Are you crazy?”  That was pretty much the sentiment when I told friends in April that I’d decided to help try to pull something, anything, together for this year’s Second Life Community Convention.  The timing, the workload, the politics – for all sorts of reasons it felt like a terrifying commitment.  I’d not attended SLCC in 2009, my grandpa had passed away a few months prior and I didn’t have the heart for it, and my experience as part of the organizing team in Tampa 2008 hadn’t been exactly positive.  But when the phone call came…

Stuffing bags and folding tshirts on Thursday…
Image courtsey Sitearm

The hardest part of organizing something in such a short time frame wasn’t the sleepless nights or ignoring the house cleaning (and friends and family) for weeks on end,  it was the fear that it would all be for nothing.  That no one would show up, that no one would come, or worse that the people who had paid to come would ultimately feel it had been a waste of their time and money.  We stressed about the budget, the program, the venue, the logistics, and all the things that every event planner worries about going wrong, and perhaps even moreso given the shortened time line to nail down all the details.

Conversation the night before the convention over drinks.
What’s Wiz Nordberg saying?  Image courtesy DirkMcKeenan

But more than the logistics, and venue, and schedules, and updating the website and all that .. stuff that goes into making a convention, we were far more worried about something less tangible.  Something invisible that it’s harder to put your finger on, that’s hard to even describe – that amorphous “community spirit” that threads through a diverse group of individual people to weave a sense of belonging together, an identity separate from one’s own that makes you feel a part of something larger.   Was the “community” still out there?  Did they still want to come together in person, and especially after such a difficult roller coaster ride of a year for the platform?

Hanging out with Tomkin Euler, fellow Chilbo resident, and Amulius Lioncourt,
one of the 11th hour in-world builders who did an amazing job.

I can only speak for myself, but I am so thankful that the answer to both questions was “yes” – a resounding, boisterous, defiance in the face of all challenges yes.  Yes, the people who discovered something new about themselves and found each other through this platform called Second Life are still out there, and though many could not come due to timing, cost, or circumstance, enough of us made our way to Boston and engaged in the annual ritual of baring our real life avatars for a weekend of fun, laughter, hopefully some learning, and lots of passionate discussion and debate about the future of the metaverse.  I was too busy to engage in much of it myself, but watching it unfold was a beautiful thing to see..

Stopping by to chat with Olivia Hotshot and AJ Brooks at lunch.
Image courtesy OliviaHotshot

The question I heard so many times over the last few months as we planned the convention is why, if the virtual world is so powerful, do people want to come together in person in the first place?  The answer isn’t so simple, but it has something to do with the fact that those of us living simultaneously in the metaverse and the physical world are living complicated lives.   Life itself has no guidebook, but virtual life has even less of one, and there is something inordinately powerful about being in the presence of hundreds of other pioneers in this space who know on a deep level some of the challenges you yourself have faced.

Laughing hysterically with Beyers Sellers..
Image courtesy Imjsthere4fun

Second Life is a platform, a technology, a tool.   But it gave us a glimpse of the future, and in one way or another has forced all of us who have immersed ourselves deeply to ask fundamental questions with a new perspective – Who am I?  Who is Fleep?  Who do I want to be if I can be anything?  What is real?   What is virtual?  What do all these technological changes mean for the future – for me, for society?  And where is this all going, anyway, this platform called Second Life, and this concept we call the metaverse?  Is it stalling?  Is the vision we shared breaking apart or are we just hitting some stumbling blocks?

AvaCon board meeting at PF Chang’s on Thursday…
Fleep Tuque, Misty Rhodes, Peter Imari, Rhiannon Chatnoir

My personal goal for SLCC was to provide a space for that conversation to take place.  Nothing more, nothing less.  All we needed was a place to sleep, a place to eat, and a place to talk.  It didn’t have to be fancy or out of the box, indeed there wasn’t time for that, and the end result was a very conventional convention with some very unconventionally wonderful people.  I think for this year, that was enough, for us to see each other in the flesh, to know that these deeper questions that drive us to put up with the lag and the deficiencies of the platform are not the result of some madness unique to ourselves, but a madness shared by many to understand what the future holds and hopefully to help shape it.

Hugs from Dirk McKeenan at the Avatar Ball.
Image courtesy Debi Latte

And for all those who helped make the conversation possible this year, in world or in Boston, on the web and in Twitter, I hope you feel as I do on the other side of SLCC10:

The community is as strong as ever.  Second Life, and the people who make it meaningful, aren’t dead by a long shot.

The vagaries of a particular platform are like the vagaries of the weather, something we must deal with but that doesn’t control our destiny unless we let it.

The future of the metaverse is as exciting today as it was five, ten years ago.

I can’t even think too much of next year right now, I’m too tired.  🙂   But I hope we can do an even better job facilitating that conversation in 2011.  Thank you to everyone who made it possible and I hope you’ll join us next time around.


4
May 10

On Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe

Back on April 15th, I was a guest on Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe to speak about governance in virtual worlds and the Chilbo Community that I help run in Second Life.   Paisley is a wonderful host and it was terrific meeting the other guests, thought I’d post the video since it’s up on Treet.tv now.



27
Mar 10

Governance in Virtual Worlds

On Friday, March 26th, I participated in the Governance in Virtual Worlds 2010 conference sponsored by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and World2Worlds.  The conference description:

Virtual worlds and online games are used by millions of people around the world for recreation, corporate and academic conferencing, formal education, research, training and charitable work. These worlds have given rise to public-policy issues, both ancient and cutting edge. Governance in Virtual Worlds will provide an exploration of these issues by professors, journalists, corporate managers and community activists. Learn what it means to be an active citizen, a creative producer, and a savvy customer, and meet the people shaping policy for the worlds of the future.

Now, I’ve attended a LOT of conferences, conversations, symposia, discussions, and other such things revolving around virtual worlds, but I must commend John Carter McKnight, Adjunct Professor of Law at  Arizona State University for putting together a truly excellent group of panels.  (And I’m not just saying that because I was on two of them!)   Though the conference was plagued with technical issues at the beginning, which happens sometimes, the panels sparked good conversations (and sometimes heated debate)  and it was the first time in a while I heard some new ideas that made me stop in my tracks and think, “Oh, yeah.  Why aren’t we talking about that?”

John Lester (formerly Pathfinder Linden) Gives Keynote Opening Address

For long time SL peeps, one of the highlights of the conference was John Lester‘s keynote opening address.  Formerly known as Pathfinder Linden, who did much to promote the education and health care communities in world, John appeared as his original avatar from the SL beta (the first one!) days, Count Zeeman.  John’s keynote was unfortunately one of the ones marred by the technical challenges, but he talked about the biological responses that humans have to our virtual experiences.  He gave an example of a teacher who brings her students in world and right off the bat has them jump off a mountain.  The students feel fear, vertigo, and all these physical reactions, they don’t know if they’re (their avatar) is going to die, they don’t know what to expect.  The physical reactions we experience in virtual spaces are due to our brains having evolved to think in, navigate in, and respond to 3D data, we have entirely natural responses to 3D cues, it activates our lymbic system just as if we were standing on a physical mountain.  Ok maybe to a lesser degree, still.  🙂

Of course, we’re missing key components of physicality in virtual worlds, particularly the non-verbal cues of body language, posture, etc.  John reminded us Snow Crash fans that in Stephenson’s novel, the thing that made the metaverse take off was when it incorporated the natural body language of those who were jacked in, so we’re not yet at a point where I yawn in real life and my avatar yawns as well, but that’s where we’re headed.

I’m not sure if this was just my take or John’s, but there was some conversation that augmented reality is likely to top into the mainstream before virtual worlds, since handheld devices are already ubiquitous and the super-smart-phone genre like Droids and iPhones are becoming more commonplace and affordable.  John mentioned the augmented reality windshield GM prototyped that I tweeted about the other day (woe the day our windshields get hacked!) and we talked about a future where our HUDs were not just on the screen but in our contact lenses.  Good stuff!

In terms of governance of virtual spaces, the issue is that our current system of laws and courts are processes that move so exquisitely slowly, and yet the pace of technological change is accelerating at an ever faster pace.  How are we to govern spaces that our current systems are not even remotely equipped to understand, let alone arbitrate?  And that, of course, was the key question of the conference.  It was great to see John and despite the audio glitches, it was great to see him in world again.

Keynote Panel:  The Politics of Virtual Engagement

Next up was the keynote panel, which also had a rocky start on the technical end (again, not the fault of the conference organizers!) and I didn’t get to show my slides so I’ll embed them here:

I’d hoped to talk about how we can look at the small scale governance issues already cropping up at the institutional level, like in higher education, and then extrapolate how those issues will affect the larger ecosystem of institutions participating in virtual world spaces, but the tech issues got our timing and things off to a rocky start, so I’m not sure how much came through.   In any case, the “Politics of Virtual Engagement” at my university are just one example of many, but I think there are lessons to be learned.  For example, virtual world evangelists and people like me trying to introduce the concept of virtual worlds to academia have to have a deep knowledge of our institutional culture.  The needs of our student population are different than the needs of faculty, which are again different from the needs of administrators and staff.   The trick is trying to weave those needs together into virtual spaces and experiences that tap into what can only be done in virtual worlds or that virtual worlds do better than other platforms. People have to see how this technology meets their needs before it can scale up.  This is as much true for every other domain – business, non-profits, online communities – as it is for higher education.

And the questions and issues raised by the students, faculty, and staff at the University of Cincinnati are likely to be echoed across the spectrum of institutions who move into virtual worlds.    This technology forces us to renegotiate long standing and entrenched boundaries that DO exist in the physical world, but are highly permeable in the virtual world.   What can we learn from early adopters who are already negotiating these shifting boundaries to make it easier for the early majority?

I also think virtual worlds expose the limits of our creativity and imagination in ways that are.. somehow less obvious in the physical world.  Give a teacher the freedom to work in any kind of learning environment they can imagine rather than a traditional classroom, and you’re bound to get some blank stares.   And who can blame them!  They aren’t accustomed to having that kind of freedom and flexibility, and conceptualizing the actual SPACE in which learning takes place is not in their knowledge domain because in the physical world, someone else designs the classrooms.  And it isn’t just teachers, students, staff – it’s also me!  The plasticity of virtual worlds gives us tremendous freedom to create settings and experiences that can’t be replicated in the real world, but our imaginations are not yet caught up to the possibilities this technology makes possible.

I feel that way even after participating in virtual environments for over 15 years at this point.  Every day something new shakes my world and hints at possibilities I hadn’t even considered.  It’s fascinating stuff.   And I think in the long term, all the other issues – who owns your data, privacy issues, conflicts over copyright and IP – these issues don’t have simple black and white answers, the inter-relationships forming between individuals and individuals, and individuals with institutions, and institutions with institutions, and scaling all the way up to encompass the global digital community and ecosystem, these things are so complex, and emerging and evolving so quickly, I just can’t imagine that our existing institutions will survive in anything resembling their current forms.   I guess we’ll see!

Real Laws in Virtual Space

There were two speakers in the next panel who made a lasting impression on my overwhelmed brain.  Joshua Fairfield, Associate Prof of Law at Washington and Lee School of Law, and Gregory Lastowka, Professor at Rutgers School of Law.   This post is already getting long, so I’ll sum up quickly.  Joshua’s main point was that we are spending an awful lot of brain cycles worrying about how RL law is going to impact virtual worlds, and not enough time thinking about how the rules of virtual worlds would be horrific if implemented in RL. Good point!  From my quickly jotted notes as he was speaking:

Imagine IP licenses embedded in our toaster, our clothing, our cars, as we do have constraints on our use of virtual property. What then?   On privacy, we all know from the Bragg case sued Linden Lab, LL has ALL communications from people in world, all IMs, they were able to pull up IMs from years before.. All of those convos can be sometimes must be made available without a search warrant, no probably cause required. The essential irony – we go to escape and are under constant surveillance. Cell phoen tracks you through GPS whereever you go.  So the question is, are we losing our personhood?  Personhood, once property and privacy are in trouble, personhood will follow. We are a social network in our selves, the social networks we use are coming to OWN that tangle of connections that we are. We will hand over our personhood when all aspects of our behavior, posessions, creations, and communications are owned by .. someone else.

Gregory Lastowska’s talk was also good, again my raw notes:

Virtual Worlds as a separate jurisdiction.. virtual law as separate rules of physical jurisdiction. Play spaces are governed by a separate set of rules, we can look at different human societies, say the rules pertaining to education, religion, or family, they are sort of “special spheres” of human interaction, so there may be some precedent for game worlds, but that isn’t the trend we’re seeing, the courts are treating them just like web sites, so not seen as separate sites of jurisdiction which may not always be the right way. David Post, Jefferson’s Moose, hypothesize different laws for cyberspace. If we were to look at the internet and copyright law, we never would have developed our copyright law as we did because much of it doesn’t WORK as applied to the internet, the net is constant copying, every microsecond there are violations, and when it comes to financial importance, lawsuits, Napster etc. you see the general trend is to limit the growth of the technology in order to serve the copyright law, and that seems ,.. not good.

SO – if this were a separate space, what kind of law would we have?

Second the point on augmented reality, separate from VW issues? We will see some issues from VW will also be issues with augmented reality, primarily the difference between the customer/client and the owner/server operators, as we move towards cloud computing, balance between tech and law, Lessig’s Code..

Got interrupted, work phone call.  Then a meeting and I missed some of the next panels.  Bummer.  🙁

Virtual Self Governance

The last panel was about how communities existing in virtual worlds govern themselves, and I was really excited to talk about my own virtual community, Chilbo, in this setting.   Here are my slides from that presentation:


Now strangely, it seemed that one of the other panelists was upset that I had slides, that I talked specifically about how the Chilbo Community formed and was governed, and especially that my last slide invited people to visit and explore our town.  Frankly, I thought that’s what everyone on the panel was going to do, per the instructions I received from the conference organizers, so I’m not sure exactly where the miscommunication occurred.   If I wasn’t supposed to talk specifically about Chilbo, then I’m not sure what the point of the panel was!  Further, the other panelist also seemed to disbelieve my statements about our experience.  I didn’t expect any of the content I presented to be .. inflammatory or controversial, rather I thought the point of the discussion was to talk about some of the specifics of how different in world communities form, govern themselves, and use the tools and platforms to self-organize.

Perhaps I misread the tone of the other panelist, but I felt distinctly defensive after a bit.  As hard as it may be to believe, yes, we do actually mostly govern by consensus and no, acrimony, arguments, and strife are not very common – in fact, it’s quite rare.  That isn’t to say there are never any disagreements, just that differences of opinion or conflicting interests seem to be resolved with little fanfare and few fireworks.  I confess, I know very little about the inner-workings of CDS.  I’ve very pointedly made an effort to let the structure and processes of governing Chilbo evolve out of our specific culture, community, and needs, rather than trying to emulate or model it after something else – because in some sense, though human communities are obviously not new, the thing that IS new is the who’s, why’s, and how’s of how we have all come to be together in this particular virtual world, in this particular region, at this particular time.   Though as Rose Springvale said, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel (a good point!), I think we also have to give ourselves the freedom to imagine new ways of self-governing to break out of systems of governance that were developed in a pre-digital age.

In any case, I’m not suggesting that the Chilbo model is perfect for everyone and maybe wouldn’t work for any community but our own, and it isn’t even as if I understand exactly how or why it seems to be as successful as it is at constraining the discord that often appears in online communities, but for whatever reason, it seems to be working for us on a lot of levels, and so my goal was to share about our experience.  That really shouldn’t have offended anyone’s sensibilities, I don’t think.

Overall, I felt it was a great conference and I was sorry to have missed a couple of the panels, but I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did and many thanks to all the folks who organized, attended, and participated.


7
Jul 09

Reconnecting with Connectivism (CCK09)

Sign Up for Connectivism & Connective Knowledge 2009!

Faithful readers may remember a series of posts last year about a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) I took called Connectivism & Connective Knowledge, taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes through the University of Manitoba’s Extended Education program.

George and Stephen are offering the course again this year, and just like last year, it is completely free and open access to any and all who want to participate.   Here’s a brief course description blurb:

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge is a twelve week course that will explore the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explore their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning. It will outline a connectivist understanding of educational systems of the future.  The course will begin on September 14, 2009.

I highly recommend the experience to anyone involved in education in any capacity.   George and Stephen utilize the web, RSS, blogs, wikis, podcasts, tagging, and crowd sourced teaching and learning in a way I’ve never experienced in any other course I’ve ever taken, and the experience last year had a tremendous impact on my understanding of what a “course” is, is not, and what it CAN be in the future.  Sign up here to receive course information in preparation for this year’s course!

Connectivism Cohort in Second Life

Last year I facilitated the Connectivism Cohort in Second Life, an experience that also taught me quite a lot about using virtual worlds as a site for meeting, discussing, sharing, and building in the context of a MOOC like Connectivism & Connective Knowledge.  You can read more about my conclusions and experience as a facilitator (in addition to some stats about participation) in this post from last year CCK08 – Off the Wagon, But Not Off My Mind.

While I won’t have the time to be a main facilitator for a Second Life Cohort of the class this year, if someone is interested in taking this on, the Chilbo Community in Second Life can host the cohort’s meetings and work in the re-purposed Education Village.   The Connectivism Reading Room is still available for holding discussions, and the sandbox and houses/offices can be used again this year for anyone who wants to participate.

Interested in facilitating or using Second Life as part of the CCK09 class?  Let me know at fleep.tuque@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to help!


15
Dec 08

Public Twitter Station in Second Life: The “Presence” Problem

Concepts like “place” and “presence” can get really mushed up when you’re working in the metaverse. I’ve been puzzling about these concepts so intently over the last couple of weeks that I was actually motivated to do some (*gasp*) scripting to see if I could mediate that “sense of presence” in Second Life. Let me explain.

The Presence Problem

Right now I am sitting at my desk in my office at home physically, and at least nominally I’m also sitting at my desk in the Chilbo Town Hall virtually (which is where I park my avatar to let people know I’m probably off in another window instead of paying attention at that moment), AND I’m also “on” Twitter and IM. So, if you wanted to get in touch with me for a synchronous conversation or “visit” with me, you could come to my house in Cincinnati and ring the doorbell, but a) that would probably freak me out unless you’re a really good friend and b) being an internet peep, you’re more likely to send me an @fleep or DM on Twitter, or if we’re good friends you’ll poke me on Gtalk or AIM or send me an SMS on my cell, or if you’re a Second Life resident, you’ll log in and look for me in the Town Hall.

So many places I’m in at once, and that’s just trying to keep things simple – we’re not even including all the asynchronous options. But if you asked me “Where are you right now?” the answer I’m likely to give depends on context – if you called me on the telephone or sent me an SMS I’d say I was at home, but if you IMd me the same question in Second Life, I’d say I was in Chilbo, and if you asked me on Gtalk or AIM or Twitter, I don’t even know which way I’d answer. BUT, the truth is, I’m am in all those places and locations and “mental spaces” simultaneously – and yet it’s not REALLY simultaneous because my attention can only be focused on one “space” at a time.. Or is that really true?

And forget about me for a moment, “where” are all my friends right now? What are they up to and if I have a question or want to visit with them, “where” do I go to find them? With so many options and each relationship/friend connected to me in different ways through different media (some are on Twitter, some aren’t; some are in Second Life, some aren’t, etc.) it gets to be quite complicated not only figuring out where _I_ “am” but also where my friends “are” too.

This is probably a round-about way of approaching this issue, but that’s how the question/problem presented itself to me a few weeks ago when I was crunching numbers from the Chilbo Community census data and saw many comments that Chilbo often felt “empty” and that the residents of Chilbo didn’t know as many other residents as they’d like. I was a bit surprised by that finding, since the traffic reports show Chilbo gets pretty steady traffic, between 700-900 visitors per week, and because I am connected to so many Chilbo folks on so many different platforms, Chilbo rarely feels “empty” to me because even if a Chilbo resident’s avatar isn’t in the sim at that particular moment – I still “hear” what they are up to on Twitter and can still contact them any time through Second Life IM or Gtalk or wherever. I have a sense of where people are from all these other tools and that tenuous connection is enough to convey their “presence” to me that it doesn’t matter that they are not physically in the room with me or virtually in the sim with me. But are others having that experience?

If you’re not on Twitter or other web places, does Chilbo seem even more “empty” or disconnected than if you are? And could that be mediated with some way to “blend” these spaces?

Shopping at Ordinal Enterprises

That was my question. And so I embarked on trying to modify Ordinal Malaprop‘s fantastic TwitterBox script to see if I could attempt to blend two different “spaces” together – the virtual location of the Chilbo sim and the .. “mental space” of Twitter (and if you use Twitter and SMS on cell phones, you know Twitter can be used on the go just about anywhere you are physically).

Now I should note, despite taking a programming class (I got a B+ and was thrilled), I remain stubbornly obtuse when it comes to understanding all of the logic involved in scripting. The lines of code, the variables, the repetition, the test-fail-test-fail all to no avail.. I find it incredibly frustrating. And, it turns out that in my ignorance, I attempted to modify the wrong script – instead of working on the basic one Ordinal gave me, I began with the more complicated one, so this probably took me many many many hours longer than it should have, and I was determined to try to figure it out myself and not bug one of my coder friends to help me, so it was an even longer time before I realized I’d taken the hard path. Doh. However, I am very pleased to report that THIS “Fleep Tries to Program” story has a happy ending! I eventually had to ask for help, but I learned much more about the Linden Scripting Language than I probably have in ages, and I have a working prototype going in-world, so I think all the torture and 3AM nights was worth it.

Chilbo Public Twitter Station - Instructions Poster

So what does this thing do? Considering all the effort it took, it sadly does not do your dishes or laundry. What it does do is a) imports tweets from the Chilbo Twitter account and all the people that account “follows” and reports them back out into the Chilbo sim in Second Life by printing the line in local chat and b) allows anyone in the Chilbo sim and within local chat range to send a tweet OUT of Second Life to the web world (through the Chilbo account).

So, if you’re walking down the street in Chilbo and happen to be near a Twitter station, you might hear a little birdie tweeting sound and see text appear on your screen that says “fleep: I’m waiting in line at the grocery store” and a few steps further down the road one that says “malburns: I’m visiting this cool sim in Second Life” or whatever our tweets might say. If you know Fleep and you know Malburns, even if they are not there in Chilbo with you, might you feel that Chilbo is less empty if you have some sense of what Chilbo people are up to at any given moment? Does it change your sense of presence if in some ways Second Life and Twitter are blended together so that your attention does not have to be focused on one OR the other, but can engage with people in both spaces at the same time?

Chilbo Public Twitter Stations disguised as birdbaths..

Will it change the sense of “community” and “connectedness” the residents of Chilbo feel with each other if they can send and see communications to and from Second Life even without being logged into Second Life, or for that matter, even if they don’t have personal Twitter accounts?

I don’t know, but that’s what I’ve been working on lately. I guess we’ll see how it works out. I’m still tinkering with the script, but if you’d like a copy in progress just let me know..


21
Nov 08

CCK08 – Off The Wagon, But Not Off My Mind

CCK08 Bandwagon goes on without me

Between the crazy workload for Fall Quarter, being out of town for conferences, and a bout with the Martian Death Flu, I confess to having fallen completely off the CCK08 and CCK08SL bandwagon. I didn’t just fall off, I think it ran me over on its way out of town. =)

Today is the first day in I can’t recall how long that I’ve had a moment to just sit down and think about CCK08 – and how woefully sad I am that I’ve ended up missing most of it. The first few weeks were a little overwhelming, but also very exciting, and the conversations we had at the synchronous meetings in Second Life were some of the best.. deep thinking I think I’ve ever truly done about “education” as a knowledge domain – what does it mean to “learn” something? What ways do we “learn”? How do we know when something is “known”? How do we “learn” best? Through the materials and readings in the course, the discussions and videos and podcasts, and the dialogue with colleagues and facilitators, I really enjoyed the experience.

Then life got in the way and the CCK08 bandwagon rolled on without me.

But it didn’t leave before leaving me with lots of interesting concepts, thoughts, conversations, and resources to think about and revisit. In spare moments making the rounds to check for litter in the Connectivism Village in Chilbo, I’ve stopped into the reading room and clicked the little TV screens or radios to listen to a recording of a session I didn’t get to attend. Or when triaging my ever-overflowing email, I take a second to scan The Daily newsletter to get a sense of what the wagon is talking about now.

And thinking about it, I really.. appreciate and admire the work and effort that has gone into this experiment. Even when my life is so truly busy that I don’t know which end is up, I am still “connected”. The technology implemented purposefully, in addition to the technology used and resources created ad hoc by the various participants, really enables you to “hook in” to this network in a multitude of different ways so that even when you aren’t paying attention – the currency of the web – you still are connected to these people, media, places, conversations, and readings. You have access to subject matter experts, a cohort to discuss and work with, and wide-ranging library of resources created by not just the instructors, but the participants themselves. You have peer review and feedback built into the system – every single time I contributed to CCK08 in any way, I _always_ got a response from another person – someone friending me back, or following me on Twitter, or leaving a comment on my blog, or responding to an email or question. I certainly did a lot of _CONNECTING_ when taking this class.

But I’ve been thinking it’s a real shame that I had such a hard time managing all of my other responsibilities and couldn’t fully participate, because it seems like under normal circumstances, this would be an almost perfect learning environment for me. When I did have the time, I wasn’t just “engaged” in that clinical sense (the “engagement” buzzword is starting to wear on me), I was really _into it_. It felt like learning, but it was _fun_. It was interesting, and thought provoking, and though I don’t know how much I “learned” if I had to take some standardized test about the course material, I can tell you I learned a heck of a lot.

CCK08 discussion in the Connectivism Reading Room

And in realizing that 1) I’m still connected to the people I formed bonds with in the beginning of the course (I’m imagining the lines between the boxes on my social network graph, and realizing that it wouldn’t work to model those lines with, say, thickness as an indicator of the strength of the bond, because in reality, the bond is mutable – at times I have weaker ties with nodes in my network, and when they become relevant, or needed, or reach out to me in some say, those ties become stronger – so the “lines” should be modeled more like energy flowing, with ebbs and tides), 2) I still have access to all of the archives, media, and readings from the course, and 3) I actually learned a tremendous amount of skills, information, concepts, technical tools, and other people in an extremely short period of time…

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not so ashamed to have fallen off the wagon, after all, because the metaphor of the wagon is all wrong.

It’s really puzzling to take a course about the course, that is to say, learning about connectivism and connective knowledge by putting into practice the theory of connectivism and connective knowledge. I can’t separate out in my mind which of my .. reactions, for want of a better word, are related to the course material – the theory – and which are related to the experience of taking the course – the implementation. I think for the moment I’ve given up worrying about it. In the end, I realized that I’d been thinking of this “course” as a “course”. And when I could no longer participate in the “class”, then it felt as if I’d dropped out, and the group traveled on without me. But I think what this class taught me most of all, is that my concept of what makes a “course” completely clouded my thinking about the experience. I don’t think I failed the course, nor do I think the course failed me. This was a voluntary effort, and when I had the spare brain cycles to attend to it, I learned one heckuva lot.

So now, all these weeks later, I’m finally getting around to writing my first paper about/for the course, even if the synchronous component of it is nearly over. And I hope that all the plethora of resources that people created will remain for as long as they can, so if others fell off the wagon, or want to refer back to them as they continue on with their learning, they will be available to everyone who comes after. I thank @arieliondotcom for bringing this to my attention.

CCK08 - Building in the sandbox

I did fail, however, in fulfilling my role as a _facilitator_ of the Second Life cohort, and I DO feel guilty about that. I apologize to all those who showed an interest in exploring how learning about Connectivism might be enhanced by using a virtual world. I did my best to provide the space, the tools, the initiative, the original organizing force to help make it happen, but I didn’t have the time to really _facilitate_ its use. I’m not sure what – other than time and personal attention – I could have done to improve making the tools available to whoever wanted to participate. If anyone has suggestions, I’m all ears. Here is what I did try:

– I created a web form so that anyone with an interest in exploring the SL cohort could sign up

– I created a central information page about the SL cohort, on a wiki, that anyone who requested access got it, and included a few frame work pages to store transcripts, a place to plan activities, and a space to share cohort members’ web links (blogs, twitter, whatever) so we could connect with each other outside of SL.

– I created a CCK08SL Googlegroup and added everyone who signed up on the webform, so we could communicate asynchronously via email with each other

– I created a space in Second Life, with informational rooms linking back out to web resources (to provide a visual component to digital resources), offered anyone new to Second Life a personal home/office space, offered kiosk space for experienced SL participants to share their other work/projects in SL with members of the cohort, and left as large a blank canvass sandbox space for people to play with building/creation as much room as Chilbo could afford to provide (land costs money there too!). I tried to add some “fun” or “interactive” elements like an automated bike tour and visually pleasing spaces to make the SL component as attractive and functional as I could.

CCK08 - Connectivism Village in SL

Here are some stats on the results, as of November 20, 2008:

133 people initially signed up for the Second Life cohort on the web form.

94 of those people responded to the very first email inviting them to join the SL Cohort Googlegroup (email list)

46 people responded to an email and expressed a time preference for synchronous meetings on Doodle

– There were 72 messages posted to the email list (only members could post, 69 web views of the discussion (anyone/public could view)

16 people responded to the invitation to create an account on the wiki to edit it, and 4 people took the time to make any edits (highest rate of participation was those who responded in email or added their blog to the wiki:

SL Cohort Blogs

* BarDil Joyce: Dilip Barad’s Weblog http://dilipbarad.blogspot.com
* Claude Desmoulins An Education and Technology Blog http://connecteded.wordpress.com
* Fleep Tuque: Fleep’s Deep Thoughts – http://fleeptuque.com
* Graham Mills: TidalBlog – http://tidalblog.blogspot.com/
* Sia Vogel: World Wide Wiser – http://siavogel.edublogs.org
* WainBrave Bernal: Technology, Education, & the Future – http://hothousestrategies.com/tefblog/
* Yvonne Anthony: Making Connections http://fass.edublogs.org/

I’ve subscribed to them and thank those who made the effort to share.)

It generated 88 emails, IMs, tweets, or messages from Second Life that I would classify as “support requests” – these were not on one of the lists, they were personal messages to me asking for assistance. (I think I answered all of them, though sometimes not as quickly as I would have liked.)

In Second Life, a total of 808 unique avatars visited the Connectivism Village. These 808 visitors spent a total 14,652 minutes there. (244 hours total, a half an hour per person averaged across all 808 unique visitors, but my intuitive sense from getting a daily traffic report is that about 30 people spent the vast majority of time there, coming back repeatedly week over week. I have the data if anyone is crazy to do more analysis, but it’s in plain text form, a separate text file for each date.)

– The highest number of visitors together at the Connectivism village at the same time, throughout the whole period, was a max of 14 simultaneous avatars.

7 people in the “experienced SL’er” category created a kiosk to share info about their other SL projects.

5 people in the “new to SL” category took advantage of the free home/office and personalized their space.

8 people contributed some kind of object, build, or project in the cohort sandbox.

CCK08 - Sandbox

So. Coming out on the other side of my part in this experience, here are some things I think I’ve learned:

Facilitating a MOOC or even just a small part of one took an enormous investment of time. Ultimately, I couldn’t sustain it at this particular time in my life (crazy busy time at work, very ill family member requiring lots of care, up to my eyeballs in other volunteer projects/efforts). If I had more _time_, however, the mechanisms I used to communicate, get information, and share information, seemed to work pretty darn well for me on my side of the facilitation equation. The googledoc sign up form worked perfectly, the googlegroup invitations were kind of a pain, but once it got going, it worked with no additional tinkering. It is definitely possible to organize larger-scale coordination using free or nearly free web-based tools with a moderate level of tech savvy-ness. It wasn’t the technology implementation that required so much time, but rather the _social_ investment required. I could have increased or sustained more participation, I think, if I had spent more time poking, prodding, emailing, twittering, meeting, asking for help, teaching.

Wikis, in this experience, and with other projects I work on, continue to be one of the hardest tools to get people to use. I don’t know why this is, but people who otherwise sign up, contribute, join.. they really fall off the wiki wagon quickly. Maybe it’s because I don’t know how to facilitate wiki participation, but I must be missing a really big clue bus on this one, cause I’ve tried everything, and participation on wikis (vs blogs, email lists, even SL itself!) is always lowest.

Virtual worlds platforms offer two really key affordances to education – 1) the sense of co-presence that enriches synchronous interactions (the sensation that you are really “there” and the other people you’re with are also really “there” and you are all “there” together) and 2) the ability to model, create, simulate, build, share, and collaborate on projects, environments, symbols, data visualization, and other elements that make up the shared environment. In my judgment, except for in the beginning, and even then by a smaller number of participants than I anticipated (only 14 at the height of it), the Connectivism Cohort in Second Life failed to really leverage either. That isn’t to say that those who did participate didn’t get some value out of it, but out of 133 people who originally signed up, I would guess that maybe 20-some people out of the SL Cohort got _some_ substantial value out of their participation (either talking with other class members, or creating something in the space, or learning more about Second Life/virtual worlds).

We simply didn’t have enough participation with enough skilled SL content creators to really explore the medium together in a substantive way, particularly in how a virtual world platform could be used most effectively for _this specific course_. I imagined people collaboratively building together, modeling things we read about or saw in the course content in a 3D form, exploring how concepts might be best represented in 3D versus text, video, image, or 2D. Except with a few minor exceptions, that just didn’t happen. We were more successful in leveraging affordance #1 – I don’t think I am the only one who came away from our synchronous discussions feeling that it had been a very valuable way to spend my time, and that I learned a lot from them – but these remained very small discussions, usually with between 3 – 6 participants.

CCK08 - Fleep and Arielion discussing the readings

As I said, I think I made some mistakes along the way, in how I framed the cohort, or implemented the various technologies I used. For example, we scheduled the synchronous meetings at several different times to accommodate different time zones, but I think having many different meeting times just diluted the initial momentum and fractured what could have been a stronger, more connected group. Now I’m thinking, if you’re going to commit to the synchronous participation of using a virtual world, then you have to really commit and pick a day and a time and stick with it – unless you have a much larger starting group, more passionate participants, or more people to facilitate the meetings. It seemed like as soon as I stopped being able to make the synchronous meetings, everyone stopped going, even though I had hoped people would just continue on without me, as I’d tried to “crowd source” all the tools needed to do so.

Or perhaps I incorporated _too many_ technologies in trying to empower the crowd. Maybe if I’d just had people sign up for the cohort and then invited them to the group in Second Life and done ALL of the communication through Second Life, maybe more people would have participated… I’m skeptical, though, since SL’s built in communication tools are suboptimal and often don’t work. I dunno.

I’m not entirely sure what all I could or should have done differently, and I do regret “falling off the wagon” – but I don’t regret for one second any of the time I spent on this endeavor. I feel like I got quite a lot out of the experience, and I hope that at least some of what I contributed made the experience better for others taking the class. It was an active, engaging learning experience for me, and I think I will continue to ponder over and learn about connectivism and connective knowledge well into the future, helped by the multitude of resources created by others and shared with me.

So, in conclusion, my thanks to everyone who participated, helped, encouraged, or otherwise took part. My apologies to anyone I let down by not being there enough. I hope this information is helpful to you in some way, even if the rest of it was not. And mega-great thanks to George Siemens and Stephen Downes, who did their own part to encourage me and the SL Cohort, and who gave us all the opportunity to learn together through the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course. It was one of the singularly most interesting classes I’ve ever taken and I hope I’ll get a pass. =)

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12
Nov 08

Superstruct: Inventing the Future – 2019

Screaming 3D Bootstrapper Csven Concord had been pinging me for weeks about the Superstruct game organized by the Institute for the Future. I finally got a few hours to take a look at it and was stopped cold at the very first mission of the game: describe yourself in the year 2019. Not a fantasy you, but you you, where you think you might actually be. It took me three days just to accomplish mission #1 to make my profile.

My efforts to get into the Superstruct mindset were somewhat hampered by the technology being used. Not sure if it’s just my PC or that I’m using the FF3 browser, but I continually have to relog into the site over and over just to navigate around (is it not tracking cookies properly or what?) and the framing they use makes it hard to grab direct links to specific content. With some trial and error, I finally got to Cven’s Screaming 3D Bootstrappers Superstruct page, and managed to add myself to the S3DBers wiki page, and saw a call for help under the heading “Young Farmer’s Outreach”:

Request: “we need 3d VR environments that mimic the reality of a farm/ranch so that our young farmers can share their skills”

So the idea is that it is the year 2019, and five major superthreats are having devastating effects on human populations. To play the game, you create or join Superstructs (groups) to address one or any of these threats by using your unique talents, resources, and perspective to generate ideas, stories, videos, websites, pictures, or anything else that helps us imagine how life would really be in that situation and what solutions might really work to address the problems we face in this fictional reality of 2019.

In my imaginary 2019, the Chilbo Community has grown tremendously into a large, global community in the metaverse. To deal with the Ravenous superthreat – where major disruptions in the global food supply chain threatens the world with starvation and lack of healthy, nutritious food – the Chilbo Community has established a virtual garden to allow farmers and scientists from anywhere in the world to help people learn to grow their own gardens. In this fictional world of 2019, Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ReDS) has also forced many cities and populations into Quarantine, so the Chilbo Community Garden might be especially useful for those stuck in quarantine zones where access to food supplies may be dwindling. By using virtual world technologies to connect people who cannot visit one another in real life, we can spread information about sustainable farming to a larger audience, use the 3D modeling capabilities of virtual worlds to create roleplay scenarios, display equipment and demonstrate techniques, and reach populations who are isolated because of possible contagion.

To flesh out this idea, I worked with some Chilbo residents to actually build out this garden in the Chilbo Nature Preserve in Second Life, and recorded a machinima clip to “report” on our progress in the year 2019. This is only the second machinima I’ve ever made, so pardon the amateur execution.

When I think about the future of education, I wonder why we don’t spend more time doing THIS kind of work. I wonder if we’re teaching students the skills they need to really evaluate information on the web in context. For example, in the process of “playing” this game, I came across the ReDSNet Project website. Now, this website is so well done, so realistic, it would be easy to think ReDSNet was real. How many students would have the skills to read for content AND context and eventually discover that this is a fictional website? How many students would have the creativity or skillset to create a fictional website that was so convincing? How can we use these types of .. roleplay scenarios to build digital literacy skills that really WILL be useful in the year 2019?

I wish I’d had more time to spend on the Superstruct game/concept. It was really a fascinating, thought provoking exercise. And even if the machinima still doesn’t make any sense to anyone but me, I enjoyed the experience, I spent some time seriously thinking about my own future and where I _want_ to be in 11 years, I got an excuse to practice my machinima skills, and I strengthened some bonds in my network, personal and professional. Quite an accomplishment for some crazy collaborative game on the intarnets that I only had a few hours to play.


19
Oct 08

Conferences and Projects and Articles – Oh My!

Since the start of school in September, it’s been a whirlwind of activity! Like Dorothy, I’m trying hard to stay on the yellow brick road, but the poor blog suffers when I get too busy. Here’s a quick update though on a number of exciting things..

University of Cincinnati Galapagos Islands Project

Progress continues on the Galapagos Islands project, and I have to give all due credit to my student assistant Ferggo Pickles for his truly excellent work in creating the sculpted animal models! News of our project is spreading and we’ve gotten very kind mentions in EDUCAUSE Review, the Chronicle, and even Virtual World News! Another blogger discussed our work too, but I wasn’t sure if it was positive or negative considering we don’t have any plans for visitors to pull the tails of lizards. =)

Chilbo Community

Incredibly, the Chilbo Community marks its two-year anniversary this month! We held a Chilbo Town Hall Meeting this afternoon, and I managed to complete the 2008 CCBP Annual Land Census and am preparing to distribute the 2008 Resident Census in the next few weeks. A note to any Chilbo residents reading this – you’ll have to complete the survey to keep your house or store in Chilbo, so be sure to read that email when it comes! Aside from all of the professional opportunities I’ve had because of Second Life, I must say Chilbo – the place and the people – is my favorite spot in the Metaverse. Whatever serendipity led me to meet such great people, I’ll never know, but I continue to be grateful that I did.

Connectivism Course

The Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course continues into Week 7, and I have fallen woefully behind on the readings, and even missed the last couple of meetings in Second Life! Still, the Connectivism Village continues to receive a high amount of foot traffic and I keep getting emails that people really enjoy the resources we’ve provided there, so I’m hopeful that the sometimes asynchronous nature of our connections in online networks doesn’t dilute the usefulness of the space. I hope things will be a little calmer this week and that I’ll get to attend the next Second Life cohort sessions!

EDUCAUSE 2008

I have the privilege of working with AJ Kelton (SL: AJ Brooks) from Montclair State University and Joe Essid (SL: Ignatius Onomatopoeia) from Richmond University again this year to stream in the EDUCAUSE 2008 Virtual World Constituent Group Annual Meeting into Second Life in a few weeks. How often do you get to work in an evening gown! Looking forward to the conference itself, and the Second Life interaction. Are you coming to EDUCAUSE this year? Leave a comment and let’s meet up!

What: EDUCAUSE 2008 Virtual World Constituent Group
When: Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
Time: 4:55pm to 6:10pm EST (1:55pm to 3:10pm SLT)
Where: Orlando, FL and in Second Life
SLurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Montclair%20State%20CHSSSouth/129/158/22

Learning, Libraries, & Technology 2009

Another symptom of the “too busy!” syndrome – I almost missed the opportunity to put in a proposal for the Learning, Libraries, and Technology 2009 conference! Formerly called the Ohio Digital Commons for Education, the new name didn’t ring a bell when I saw the Call for Proposals in my in-box – doh! Thankfully, my good friend Brenda Boyd (SL: Stargazer Blazer) at Miami U gave me a poke with a sharp stick about submitting something – thanks Brenda! This is without a doubt one of the best educational technology conferences I attend all year. Ohio educators especially should go to meet and network with great colleagues, learn about what’s happening in the state, and to get new ideas to bring back to your home institution. In the years that I’ve attended, I don’t think I’ve ever come away from it without learning something new and immediately useful. Will cross my fingers on the proposals!

I’m sure there’s something else I’m forgetting, but that’s it for today’s updates. Hope everyone else is having a great quarter or semester so far, and maybe doing a better job of keeping up with everything than I am!

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