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 capableof changing the world.And the only problem is,they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worldsand not the real world.That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve.
– Jane McGonigal
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.
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.
Human network resource management, education and community building in the metaverse, connectivism, and I grow a mean tomato.
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.
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.
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.
Increasing access to education, research, knowledge, and learning throughout the grid and finding ecologically sound and sustainable ways to live.
Blogging became too time-consuming. Â Formatting, linking, embedding, bad copy pasta that has to be fixed. Â But I’ll try again, because my network continues to inspire me so much, I feel I should make the effort as they do. Â Bless their hearts, what would I read in the morning if they got lazy like me?
And, I remain forever amazed atÂ how wonderful tripping, linking, chasing, stumbling through others’ thoughts on the internets can be, and how sharing our thoughts can further other people’s trips in (hopefully) meaningful ways.
Here’s my latest trip to go with your morning coffee.
Badges and evidence, the “reputation economy”, and data used to make decisions
Scanning past Stephen’sÂ blurb about the VWBPE keynote, somehowÂ I came across Alan Levine’s (@cogdog) recent post “Seeking Evidence of Badge Evidence“, wherein he explores the usefulness of gamified badging systems if they don’t link to actual evidence that the badge was earned. Â Metadata about the evidence isn’t the same as linking to the evidence itself, right? Â Right.
This sparked a memory of an older post of mine, Twitter and the Reputation Economy in 2014, wherein I mused about how to measure “reputation” and suggested that Twitter Lists provide a non-obvious measure of something. Â Alan subsequently pointed out that a Twitter list wordcloud may be anÂ indicator,Â but it is not aÂ measure. Â Good point.
My tweet about Alan’s post sparked D’Arcy Norman (@dlnorman) to point to Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) recent post about what a terrible currency reputation would be.
My tweetÂ also sparked Alan to go down a deep, technically complicated but fascinating rabbit-hole of what my Twitter list wordcloud means, whether it’s useful, and how to generate one using docker, which I still don’t really understand.
At the end of all that chain, I summed up my current take-aways about data used for decision-makingÂ on a comment to his post:
1) measurements and indicators are not the same thing, important point.
2) reliability is key, whether of a measure or indicator.
3) the use-case (type of decision youâ€™re making) should drive the type of data used to make your measurement or indicator.
4) a measurement or indicator created for one use case may not transfer to a different use case.
Metaverse Vocabulary Words – Metaxis, Liminality, Stygmergy
Somewhere in checking out that tweet stream, I also came across Mark Childs’ (@markchilds) recent post exploring words that describe transitions, edges, limits, and perceptions of spaces, or places, or feelings of being present in a space or multiple spaces even. Â
..the video of which relates to Midas’ golden touch played out in Minecraft, and that perfectly captures and visualizes the idea ofÂ stygmergy,Â a word I came to know and love through Sarah Robbins (@intellagirl) years ago when she was exploingÂ using virtual worlds for teaching. Â See her “Using a Faceted Classification Scheme to Predict the Future of Virtual Worlds”. Â (I should link to her dissertation, but I can’t find a good link.)
After clicking through all that, I went back to Leon’s Twitter page to make sure I was following him (I am), and saw that he referenced the above tweet and forwarded Mark Child’s postÂ on to Martin Robinson (@surrealanarchy), who apparently has changed his main Twitter account to @trivium21cÂ (I followed that account, too).
Back in 2009 when Twitter Lists first came out, I had a little epiphany about the reputation economy. Â It isn’t just what you say about yourself online, but what others say and post about you in the aggregate, and all the associated metadata of your online life, that can define “who you are” in the Metaverse. Â That only seems to be more true as time has gone on, and despite the over-hype of the “reputation economy” buzzword, I still find it interesting and potentially meaningful, but only if the measures of reputation are accurate. Â We’re definitely not there yet, and I’m not sure we’re really any further than we were in 2009, either.
It’s hard to do an analysis of accuracy for anyone but myself, but if I had to say which system seems to currently have the best measure of “who I am” based on what others say about me, I’d have to say it’s not Klout, or LinkedIn Endorsements or any of those obvious attempts to measure reputation. Â The best measure as far as I can tell is actually Twitter. Â What Twitter Lists people have placed me in, which isn’t obvious at all, and isn’t even something Twitter seems to explicitly leverage as a measure of reputation, is actually a pretty good measure!
[A brief aside, I’m sad that Twitter seems to have buried Lists and made them almost non-obvious, since as far as I’m concerned, Lists are a crucial component of making Twitter useful at all. Â Many folks who joined Twitter after Lists came out don’t even seem to know they exist! Â If you happen to be one of those unfortunate souls, get thee to your Twitter page > Me > Lists > Create List and start categorizing people. Â Or click “Member of” to see what lists others have added to you to. Â I bet you’ll find some of them very surprising, hopefully in a good way. Â And after you’ve made some lists, tools like TweetDeck will suddenly make a LOT more sense to you, and your Twitter stream will become much more meaningful, relevant and less.. ephemeral.]
But back to the topic. Â So what does my Twitter network say about me? Â Some pretty good stuff, actually:
When I boiled the List Names down, I got 191 unique terms and, though I modified the frequency to make the word cloud readable (if I hadn’t, all you would see is: Second Life, Virtual Worlds, Education, Immersive, Cincinnati, which were the top 5 list names), I’d say that’s a really accurate representation of my online life. Â It accurately reflects my professional and geeky interests, and if you dig in there a bit, it tells you my gender, where I live, what I do for a living, some of the books I’ve read, games I’ve played, conferences I’ve attended, that I’m old enough to be on someone’s BBS list, and if I can say it humbly, that overall people have a pretty positive opinion of me. Â Â
I am of course quite biased, but I think I have a pretty awesome network of super intelligent people who love digging into the future of technology and education, and who like to think about what all this emerging tech will mean for the future of society, so it’s all the more interesting to see what kinds of categories they create for themselves and where they place me within that context. Â (I confess to having some warm fuzzies after seeing how the word cloud came out, so thanks Twitter peeps!)
LinkedIn’s Endorsements are another interesting measure, though of a slightly different sort. Â I’d say it’s also fairly accurate, but it pretty much capturesÂ only my professional interests and misses all the personal, quirky, or other interests I have.
Some folks I know have also complained that they get endorsements for skills from people who aren’t even in a position to know whether or not they have any expertise in that topic, and that happens to me, too. Â But in general, I’d say LinkedIn Endorsements are less a measure of what you areÂ actually skilled at doing and more a measure of what peopleÂ think you are skilled at doing. Â They aren’t the same thing, but both are interesting and useful measures.
By comparison, I would say Klout is theÂ least representative of the various “reputation economy” or influence measures about me. Â I don’t know how they weight stuff, but it looks like the Klout list was probably fairly accurate about 5 years ago, but as my focus, interests, and activities have changed, Klout hasn’t seemed to have kept up. Â It captures the same top 5 categories as Twitter Lists, but that’s about it. Â None of the nuance, history, and none of the topics I’ve become interested in since.. what, their initial calculations? Â I’m not sure.
I should also admit some bias here, I became very aggravated with Klout when they sent me what seemed like an email every few days to tell me my Klout score was going down, when at the time I was helping take care of my grandpa who was dying of cancer. Â The insensitivity of it really struck a nerve, like I should really give a hoot about my Klout score at a time like that? Â And how meaningful a measure could it possibly be if I’m less influential because I’m offline doing something important?
No matter what Klout says, I know my network values human life and knows what is and isn’t truly important. Â In fact, my guess is that my network would probably rank my reputationÂ higher for having been a dedicated caregiver, not lower.
And of course that’s the big problem with all of these reputation or influence measures – the algorithms can’t yet measure what’s REALLY important: trustworthiness, competence, honesty, reliability, compassion, dedication, clarity, ability to synthesize and make meaning from complexity. Â These are the measures I really want to know about someone, and as far as I can tell, there’s nothing out there like that yet.
The Twitter List names that people create for themselves, some of which touch onÂ values not just buzzwords, are the closest I’ve seen to anything like those kinds of measures, which for me makes Twitter a potentially overlooked but pretty important tool in the reputation and influence measure toolkit in 2014.
Recently The Guardian published an interesting critique of the TED Talks series by Benjamin Bratton that I’ve been thinking about since I read it. Â The piece asks what good does it do for TED to take extremely complex topics and boil them down into 20 minute presentations, which are viewed as infotainment by a certain segment of people, and then not much gets done about the issues being discussed. Â I think it’s an interesting critique, and as someone who organizes technology conferences, I often worry that if we all just come and do a lot of talking and not much afterwards, what purpose has the conference really served? Â I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts.
Beyond the critique of TED Talks, however, there were two lines in particular that really struck me:
Because, if a problem is in fact endemic to a system, then the exponential effects ofÂ Moore’s lawÂ also serve to amplify what’s broken.
And the concept of not just innovating but also “immunizing” society:
The potential for these technologies are both wonderful and horrifyingÂ at the same time, and to make them serve good futures, design as “innovation” just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself. We need to talk more about design as “immunisation,” actively preventing certain potential “innovations” that we do not want from happening.
Regarding the exponential effects of Moore’s Law, I’ve written before that I think our public institutions (government, academia, social structures) aren’t just failing to keep pace with changes in technology, but that the technology itself is amplifying their (our) failures. Â Wherever a gap existed before the information age, now it’s becoming a gulf (think income disparity, socio-economic mobility, access to real political power).
Whatever minor systemic failures or bureaucratic quagmires that crept in during the industrial age are turning into full-blown catastrophic disasters in the information age. See the US Congress or our public education system for stark examples, both represent not just a failure to adapt to a changing world, but technology is also amplifying the ills inherent in those systems with truly catastrophic results – a congress that has gone from dysfunctional to not functional at all, and a public school system that is failing the very students it was designed to help – the poor, the underserved, the first-generation students.
We talk and read about “disruptive innovation” every day in the tech and business press, but often its in the context of “creative destruction” as some new business model or product displaces an old one, and in general that’s seen as a positive outcome in a “free” market system. Â But for public systems and institutions, those public goods that have no profit or market incentive, this amplification of the broken is really very scary to me and I am not at all convinced that privatization of public systems is the answer (which is why I don’t support charter schools or for-profit education businesses, no matter how innovative they promise to be – MOOCx blah blah blah).
The most important things in life can’t be quantified in dollars and we can’t “innovate” a business model or technology solution that changes that basic fact.
So where does that leave us? Â I’m not sure, but I’m intrigued by Bratton’s concept of “immunizing” society against the futures we don’t want, and I’m wondering just how we might go about doing that. Â Bratton says:
Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true. Â “Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.
.. and I’m inclined to agree. Â I think those of us who consider ourselves technology evangelists and futurists need to think long and hard about these questions.
As a practical step, perhaps one way to help “immunize” society against the technology futures we don’t want would be to make sure that every talk we give, every presentation, every slide deck (or Prezi or whatever), every workshop has a section about possible NEGATIVE outcomes of the technology we’re talking about, and what we could or should do to avoid it? Â If we’re going to spread the word about new tech, don’t we have a responsibility to also discuss the possible negative effects?Â Perhaps as conference organizers and workshop planners, we need to include not just positive visioning, activities, and keynotes, but Â sessions that specifically talk about the possible negative outcomes?
I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m thinking about and want to keep in mind.
Getting ready for OSCC, my avatar in a nice snapshotÂ from Joyce.
A little more than a year ago, I wrote a blog post entitled Why Anyone Who Cares About the Metaverse Needs to Move Beyond Second Life; Now, Not Later. Â The tl;dr version said, “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. ItÂ isn’tÂ going to come from Second Life or Linden Lab, and the metaverse canâ€™t wait.”Â Â Shockingly to me, that post generated over a hundred comments, a bunch of blog posts, and a huge discussion that ultimately had more impact than even the act of writing the post itself.
It was the first time I’d publicly acknowledged my decision to mostly leave Second Life behind, and it may have been the first time I really crystallized even in my own mind why I felt that was the right thing to do. Â It was not an easy decision to make, as anyone who has known me in real life or virtually over the last 7 or 8 years can attest. Â It’s difficult to walk away from something you’ve made such a deep commitment and investment in, and it took many years and many disappointments, and the terribly hard (and sad)Â decision to stop organizing the Second Life Community Convention, before I was even capable of stepping back enough to get a little perspective.
I won’t rehash that post here, you should go read it if you’re interested, but by the fall of 2012 I had finally reached the conclusion that the metaverse I wanted to see would not grow out of Second Life. Â And I resolved to take my own advice and start finding ways to invest my time and energy into other technologies, platforms, and people who share the same passion and vision for making the metaverse a reality that I have. Â I felt the need to put my money where my mouth was, so to speak, and to not just talk about what we should do differently, but to actually startÂ doing differently.
So that’s the context and history of where I was when a few months later I began to broach the topic of an OpenSimulator focused virtual conference with the board of AvaCon and with members of the Overte team. Â The members of AvaCon had been involved with organizing SLCC for many, many years, even before AvaCon itself came into existence, and we had a wealth of experience organizing large scale real and virtual events. Â And it seemed to me that the OpenSimulator platform was progressing and maturing in ever faster and more stable iterations over the past few years, so perhaps the time was right for AvaCon to take the energy and experience we’d previously brought to Second Life focused community events and try to offer that to the OpenSimulator community, if there was any interest…
Â Organizing people & organizing code aren’t the same thing, but they both have to work really well for a completely virtual conference to be successful.
Now it’s a funny thing when you bring together a group of community builders who tend to be very people focused and a group of programmers and developers who tend to be very code focused. Â That isn’t to say that either group didn’t know or care about the other side of the equation, of course we did, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that initially AvaCon and Overte were coming from very different perspectives and cultures and ways of thinking about and doing things, and those first meetings were really all about trying to come to a meeting of the minds about what we hoped to accomplish if we were going to collaborate with one another to organize an event.
The OSCC Conference Planning Team at a meeting on the conference grid.
For any of you who have been working in the metaverse for a while, you know how tentative those first steps of working with a new group of people you’ve never met in-person can be. Â Even in real world projects, there’s always that period where the initial enthusiasm for a new project or idea starts to wear off, when you begin to get down into the nitty gritty of making something happen, and suddenly you’re not quite sure if you’re going to be able to pull it off. Â And that’s only exacerbated when you’re working with people entirely virtually and you’ve never met face to face and you can’t look into each other’s eyes and read the body language and all the unspoken messages we send. Â Â For all the advancements in virtual world technology we’ve seen come to pass in the last decade, that’s an area where the technology is still woefully, woefully inadequate.
And so it was with Overte and AvaCon. Â I wouldn’t say things started off distrustfully, but rather that I think we were just trying to feel each other out, both on an organizational level and on a personal level. Â Who were the individual people and what were their motivations and goals? Â What kinds of processes did Overte use to get things done and how would that mesh with how we at AvaCon did things? Â And we discovered that there were some culture.. clashes, for want of a better word, or maybe just different perspectives and approaches.
Open source projects tend to value action over talk (let me see your code) and the issues being resolved in software development tend to be a little more clear cut. There may be more than one path to reach the desired destination, but something either technically works or it doesn’t – you can either log in or you can’t, the packet got sent or it didn’t – there’s less mushy middle. Â And by their very nature, open source software development projects are fairly decentralized and count on individuals taking the initiative to make contributions when and where they can, often asynchronously, and perhaps with little coordination with others beyond some comments in the code.
Conference organizing, on the other hand, is a beast of a very a different nature. Â It’s an extremely communication-intensive process that requires much advance planning and centralized decision-making. Â The right hand really must know what the left hand is doing, otherwise people get confused and processes get all tangled up and before you know it your event has a bad reputation before it even gets off the ground. Â It also involves a lot of softer, mushy, people-n-politics type negotiation that isn’t always as clear cut as solving a technical problem. Â What’s fair? Â What’s just? Â What’s the best way to resolve a dispute? Â What are people feeling and what do we want them to feel when they attend the conference? Â How do we want people to behave, and what happens if they don’t? Â Those things come up when you’re organizing an event with and for many hundreds of people and they involve making intuitive, moral, and ethical decisions as much as process or technical decisions.
For sure, organizing people and organizing code often requires different skill-sets, and in an event like OSCC where we needed both to mesh together well to have a good experience – the grid had to perform well and the people attending needed to know where to go and what to do and how to do it – I think it challenged us all to figure out the best way to make that happen.
How developers & users communicate with each other matters – a lot!
I mention these things not to highlight the differences between AvaCon and Overte. Â In fact, I think we all came to very deeply respect each other and the tremendous skills, commitment, and passion everyone contributed to make the event a success. Â But rather because I think there’s a nugget of something important in the experience both groups had in learning to work with each other, in learning to respect the strengths and weaknesses of our different approaches for organizing code and organizing people, that is relevant to the broader topic of technology platforms and the communities of developers and users that grow up around them.
The Developer & Open Source track was heavily attended, this image is of Mic Bowman, Justin Clark-Casey, and Crista Lopes talking about the future of the Hypergrid.
There’s often this feeling of disconnect between the developers who write the software and the user communities of any platform you care to think of, that I think has something to do with those different mindsets, different skills, different approaches. And I think there’s some critically important .. ingredient.. in how those groups communicate with each other that makes all the difference between a healthy, growing, vibrant technology or platform, and a technology or platform that has an unhealthy community dynamic, or begins to stagnate, or fails to meet the needs of a critical mass of users.
It has something to do with the people involved being willing or able to negotiate through some of those different approaches, of being willing to have at least a little bit of good faith that the other party has good intentions, of being willing to extend a little trust. Â I’m not exactly sure when that got broken in Second Life, but it definitely did, and after that, trying to organize a community event in an atmosphere of anger and distrust and resentment was a stressful, hellish experience, at least for me, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on what made things so different.
It wasn’t that the people who presented at SLCC weren’t as knowledgeable or insightful as the presenters at OSCC, they totally were. Â It wasn’t that SLCC volunteers didn’t work as crazy hard as the volunteers at OSCC, they totally did. Â It wasn’t even that the vast majority of SLCC attendees weren’t as passionate about Second Life as OSCC attendees were about OpenSimulator, they totally are. Â But somehow, the communication and dynamic between the developers and the community wasn’t good, and it left an undercurrent running through SLCC that no amount of good organization could overcome. Â As I wrote then about SLCC: Â “These kinds of community events require many things to be successful – but a company and a community that is actually supportive instead of antagonistic is essential.”
Fortunately, the experience of organizing OSCC was refreshingly different. Â I won’t say it was any less stressful on some level, or that it required any less hard work, but the outcome is so amazingly, amazingly different when you have developers who want to brainstorm with users and each other, when you have a community who wantsÂ to talk with one another, when people come to the event with the anticipation of sharing, exploring, and networking instead of complaining, griping, and arguing. Â There’s just no comparison. Â It renewed my faith that there’s something valuable and important in bringing together the people who write the code and the people who use the code that, if done well, can have a tremendously positive impact on not just the technology or platform itself, but in inspiring people to keep trying, to keep creating, and to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.
Â Conferences can be great catalysts, but only with the right ingredients.
Even though I’ve been organizing conferences for many years, the experience of organizing OSCC helped me better understand what it takes for a conference to be a true catalyst for something beyond the event. Every conference gives you a due date, a framework for a community to focus their energies on a specific goal, and that in and of itself can be an important catalyst. Â I think it was in terms of the improvements made to the OpenSimulator software, for example. Â The developers and load testers worked week after week to discover the bugs and issues that would cause problems for the conference, and it had to be fixed by x date. All that effort led to over 1000+ code commits to the software that resulted in new features and better overall stability. (Be sure to check out the 0.7.6 Release to get all these great changes on your grid!)
But it takes more than just setting a date and having a goal, and it takes more than just having a good organizational structure or technology platform, too.
I’m absolutely certain that the work we put into the organization of the conference and to making changes to the platform were only the necessary-but-not-sufficient foundation, especially if I think about the differences between OSCC and SLCC. Â We used many of the same organizational processes for OSCC that we used for SLCC. The website content was similar. Â The schedule was similar. Â The track topics were similar. Â The technology, obviously, is very similar. Â When you get right down to the heart of it, it wasn’t the conference infrastructure or the specific platform that made the difference at all, it was the people. It was every planning committee member, every speaker, every sponsor, every volunteer, every attendee who came to the table with the right attitude. Â It was not just those of us doing the organizational work, but every person who put a little bit of their own hard work and passion and creativity into sharing and learning and discussing that made it one of the best conferences I’ve ever helped organize.
We really did have a great team of very dedicated and hardworking volunteer staff, and that definitely made a big difference in how smoothly the conference ran.
It was the very best example of a damned good pot of stone soup. Â And it’s those many contributions by many people who are there for the right reasons that is the secret ingredient necessaryÂ to turn a conference experience into something transformative. Â And in that regard,Â OSCC exceeded even my most optimistic hopes.
For future events, I want to put more time and effort into figuring out what those right reasons are and how to amplify that message. Â Maybe it’s about setting the stage properly (metaphorically speaking, though Crista was right that there’s some element of paying attention to the interaction design that matters, too). Â Maybe it’s about managing expectations. Â I definitely think there was something about starting a brand new conference that meant people weren’t sure what to expect and that perhaps made them more open to having a positive experience than a conference like SLCC which had been going on for years and at times hadn’t been well managed. Â Maybe it had something to do with the way the planning team communicated with the broader community. Â Maybe it was just a serendipitous collision of all those things and good timing, I’m not quite sure.
But I think it matters. Â I think these kinds of community building experiences and all the conversations they generate and information sharing that happens is critical to the long term goal of not just a better OpenSimulator but a better metaverse experience.
That’s not to say there weren’t things we could have done better, of course we made some mistakes, but in general the conference itself worked. Â All those functional things came together; the grid stayed up, we largely stuck to the schedule, the presentations mostly went off without a hitch, and we had a terrific group of volunteers committed to making the event a success. Â But it’s those intangible, harder to put your finger on things that really made it memorable, exciting, Â and inspiring.
Keeping the momentum between conferences is the real key to making the Metaverse.
That spirit, that willingness to extend a little trust, to contribute to a larger effort, is what it will take for the metaverse to grow into what so many of us want it to be. Â We need to keep tweaking our stone soup recipes, and finding ways to bridge those differences in approaches, and adapting the technology, as we did very deliberately with OSCC, to enable theÂ humanÂ experiences we want the technology to facilitate. Â It doesn’t just require good code or good people, it takes both, and those long, deep conversations, and the patience and perseverance to keep testing, and failing, and trying again, that we must do to keep figuring out new and better ways to translate our human needs and desires into code that better serves us.
The trick for this conference, for OpenSimulator, and for the metaverse at large will be to keep that momentum going. Â To not lose touch with each other except at the annual conference, to continue to collaborate with one another, to keep the lines of communication open, to keep sharing and discussing.
How do we keep the momentum going between conferences?
Image: Â One of the landing zones at OSCC13, by Zuza Ritt.
As I said to someone recently in an email, if I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that it is so very easy to get lost in the weeds of Â your own work and your own projects, but when we’re all doing that, we miss opportunities to collaborate and scale our efforts. Â We end up all individually recreating the wheel. Â OSCC reaffirmed for me that the value in an open source platform like OpenSimulator isn’t just the difference between the walled garden or not, the ability to archive or save content or not, the availability of this or that feature or not, but rather that the free flowing sharing of ideas and content with the right group of people with the right attitude has the potential to be an exponentially positive catalyst for growth.
That’s the main lesson I took home from OSCC13 and that’s the energy and focus I hope AvaCon will continue to foster as we move forward with our plans to develop better ways to support the people making the metaverse happen. Â (Take the survey if you’re interested in providing feedback.)
I know I’ve said it before in other places, but truly, thanks to the team at Overte, to the entire Planning Committee and all the wonderful, wonderful volunteers, to all the load testers, to the student builders, to the OpenSimulator community and the developers who submitted a zillion bug fixes, to the viewer developers, to all the companies and individual people who sponsored the conference, to every single keynote speaker and presenter who gave us so many great things to talk and think about, to every single attendee who came to the conference and had patience and understanding for our imperfections, to everyone involved. Â It was truly a community effort that reminded me why I got into doing this conference organizing stuff to begin with.
The concept of “Life as a Game” is certainly not a new one, when I was a kid, the game of Life was my favorite board game of all time.Â I still remember the thrill of filling up my little car with boy and girl babies I imagined I’d haveÂ at some point in the far off future, or the crushing defeat of bankruptcy, a term I didn’t really understand, but in that context basically meant “Game Over.”Â Spin the dial – what does the game of Life bring you next?
And it’s not as if I’m not a big fan of video and online games – I cut my teeth on the Atari 2600/5200, hand drew maps in colored pencil to find Princess Zelda, played Ultima on a Commodore 64, still have an account on the Medievia MUD that goes back to 1994, have an 80 level holy spec priest on WoW (they nerfed holy spec, don’t get me started), and most recently celebrated the completion of my horse stable on Farmville.
I grew up on games – the first generation to grow up playing video games – I was a “Girl Gamer” back when we were a pretty rare breed and I’m still playing now that “gaming” in its various forms is so common that the Pew Research Center reports that, “Game playing is ubiquitous among Americans teenagers. Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls report playing video games.” They also report, “More than half – 53% – of all American adults play video games of some kind.”
We are increasingly (already?) a nation of gamers.
And yet, despite the fact that virtually all young people game, and over half the adults in the US game, there still appears to be a very finite line between “gaming” and .. everything else.Â We still delineate “real life” (RL) as separate from game spaces – even when the space isn’t actually a game space, as in Second Life.Â The skepticism and often openly hostile reaction of scorn/pity that Second Life residents get from non-SL peeps is almost remarkable considering that the very people delivering that heaping dish of disdain turn right around and log in to WoW or EVE or Farmville.
Just yesterday, in a debate about a topic wholly unrelated to gaming, someone I was arguing with bolstered his point with the concluding line:
“I think of you as less of a person for using Second Life, and for no other reason.”
Now, to be fair, we were engaged in a sort of theatrical debate where the low blow is not only acceptable but expected, and it was all said in good fun and humor, but.. like with many kinds of humor, it was funny because it had the faint ring of truth.Â Many people actually DO think less of me as a person for using Second Life, just as a decade ago they thought less of me as a person for playing EverQuest, just as a decade before that they thought I was not only insane but maybe dangerously insane for talking to strangers on the internet through those weird BBSs and MUDs full of D&D playing soon-to-be-axe-murderers.
Ahhhh how times have changed.Â The internet, she vindicated me. And ahhh how times of changed, now half the adults in the US play WoW or some other game and it’s not so crazy anymore.Â Â Alas, I’m still waiting for virtual worlds to vindicate me, but having gone through this combo-pity-scorn routine a few times, I’m not shaken by the current state of attitudes about virtual worlds, augmented reality (why would you want to look at DATA on top of the REAL WORLD on your PHONE, what’s wrong with you?!), or most of the other technologies I use that cause people to look at me askance and with wary eyes. (Twitter????Â Whaaa???)
What DOES cause me great concern, however, is that these Ludic Luddites have no clue about what’s coming.
Barry Joseph delivers the SLEDcc 2008 keynote address.
His keynote talk, Living La Vida Ludic: Why Second Life Can’t Tip, is worth watching, and it’s one of those talks that sticks in your mind like a burr, at the time it didn’t quite penetrate (I was one of the conference organizers, so my brain was on 50,000 other things) but it stuck with me, and in the years since, the message he delivered only resonates more strongly with time.
Loosely translated, it’s about living a playful life.Â It’s about combining the adventurousness, fun, openness, exploration, and all of the other joyful aspects of our game play into our “real life”.Â Â The central thesis of his keynote was that virtual worlds and other platforms like Second Life can’t and won’t tip, until the broader culture of “living la vida ludic” tips.Â One must come before the other, and back in 2008, he made it clear that the title of his talk could be taken in two ways – first, that virtual worlds like Second Life would NEVER tip – or that something was holding Second Life back from tipping into the mainstream.Â He left the question about which interpretation was right for the audience to decide, but I thought then as I do now that the answer was the latter.Â There are forces at work holding back virtual worlds, Second Life, AND the ability for us to live a ludic life as openly and as joyously as we wish we could.
Those who don’t understand not only feel scorn and pity, they feel fear.
Yes Virginia, NASA scientists say the earthquake in Chile may actually have knocked the earth's axis. It's not just your perception, the world has actually shifted.
As I said to a good friend of mine the other day, I’m struggling with this.. feeling I have, that all of the meta-narrative that stood at the very foundation of my understanding of the world – how the world works, where it’s going, where I fit into it, what I’m supposed to be doing – the meta-narrative from my childhood seems to not make much sense anymore.
The world seems off kilter.Â It’s changing so quickly, I don’t know anyone who feels like they can keep up with the pace of change.Â And so many major systems that underpin our society and culture appear to be, frankly, broken.Â On the rocks.Â Our government. Our banking and finance system. Our ecosystems.Â Our healthcare system.Â Our system of education.Â None of these systems and institutions appear to be meeting the needs of our society as we experience it TODAY.Â They all seem to be failing us.
Why?Â It’s a no brainer, of course, and not an original thought at all.Â It’s simple – the systems and institutions built to address the needs of a pre-digital-society don’t work to address the needs of a society that can get, transmit, and transform information as quickly as we can today.
And boy is that causing a lot of fear.
I feel it, don’t you?
Fortunately, the nation’s best teachers have some advice
(well, mostly the nation’s best male teachers, but that topic is for another post)
Chris Lehman at TEDxNYED explaining that changing education necessarily means changing the world. Photo credit WayneKLin.
Perhaps most importantly, the subtext of the conference was that the issues teachers and educators are facing aren’t just confined to the “educational system” – as if it’s some discrete thing disconnected from the society and culture at large – and indeed, as George Siemens said, considering that society dumps every ill and issue at the doorstep of education to solve, it’s amazing the system functions as well as it does.Â But take out the word “education” from these TEDxNYED Talks, and they are talking about what society at large needs to do to adapt to our changing circumstances.Â (The videos aren’t up yet, but they’ll be available on YouTube soon.)
At least for the purposes of this post, I think the first important piece of advice came from Michael Wesch.Â Which is simply this:
When a game changing technology enters a society or culture, you don’t have the option to opt-out.Â It changes everything.
All those Ludic Luddites, who fear the technology, avoid the technology, feel that the current systems of getting things done would work just fine if only they could better regulate, standardize, and enforce them, are just plain wrong.Â The world has shifted and there’s no turning back now.
What does this have to do with gaming?
Slide from Dan Meyers' talk at TEDxNYED - quests anyone? Photo credit kjarrett.
Well, I’m getting round to that.
As I watched these presentations and suggestions from teachers about ways to improve (society) education, I couldn’t help but see game elements – and the ludic life – infused throughout their talks.
When Dan Meyer talked about changing math curriculum to stop asking kids to give the answers, but instead help them figure out what the important questions are, itlooked like creating good game quests to me.
When Lessig and Jenkins talked about mashup culture and how destructive it is to limit the creativity unleashed when you put tools in the hands of individuals, it reminded me an awful lot of how content gets created in virtual worlds like Second Life and OpenSim.
George Siemens at TEDxNYED. Image credit WayneKLin.
The solutions we need to address societies biggest problems â€“ (global) warming, population growth, poverty â€“ will be found through serendipity, through chaotic connections, through unexpected connections. Complex networks with mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions provide the needed cognitive capacity to address these problems.
Sounds like the serendipitous, chaotic, and unexpected connections you form in WoW, or EVE, or any other game world, and “mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions” is just fancy talk for good class balance.Â Can’t have too many tanks and not enough healers or the whole thing comes crashing down.
Ok.Â And one more, also from George:
The big battles of history around democracy, individual rights, fairness, and equality are now being fought in the digital world. Technology is philosophy. Technology is ideology. The choices programmers make in software, or legislators make in copyright, give boundaries to permissible connection.
This is, of course, the perennial battle between the game players and the game gods. Except wait, what?Â The whole story of the birth of the US is all about us being our own game gods.Â Hm.
In any case, the point here is, I think the Ludic Life is starting to tip.
We haven’t hit it just quite yet, but the elements of game play that Barry talked about in 2008 are starting to show up in the oddest of places.Â The World Bank is funding an Alternative/Augmented Reality Game called EVOKE that has thousands of people, from school kids to adults, and from all over the world, playing a “game” that promises to teach us how to address major global issues and respond to global crisis.Â Oh, and you might win scholarships, grants, or seed funding from the World Bank if you have a good idea.Â Put that on your resume!
What happens when game devs (working for corporations?) become our primary social engineers instead of the nominally elected politicians?
Naturally,Â I’m interested in the ways that game mechanics, game culture, game concepts, and game design filter out and influence RL.Â And though I work in higher education, my undergrad degree is in Political Science and my not-so-secret passion is sort of the nexus where the emerging metaverse and game culture is changing “real life” society and culture, which of course includes education but goes beyond edu, too.
I know I’m not the first guild master to think that herding this bunch of cats is way more complicated than many RL jobs, or to realize the skills I learned adventuring with my guildies often had applicability to real life situations. I’d like to think I learned something about teamwork, diplomacy, compromise, and all sorts of organizational, strategic, tactical, and political skills through my journeys in worlds that only exist in bits and bytes.
Generally speaking, my career, my work, this blog, everything I’ve been doing for the last 10 years is about bringing this technology to people who don’t have it/know about it/use it yet.
But watching that video gives me the willies.
First, because I don’t think it is as far off in time as some think it might be.Â Second, because I don’t think it’s that far fetched in terms of what could actually come to pass.Â And third, because I’ve been a lowly peon player in the game god universes/metaverses for a really really long time.Â On an old BBS I’m still using, I’m one of the “moderators”.Â And you know what we say?Â This ain’t a democracy.Â Don’t like our rules, don’t play.
Furthermore, my post the other day about Stickybits demonstrates just how quickly the barriers to privacy are falling.Â I posted that barcode just to figure out how the service worked, and before I knew it, I was collecting the home addresses of my blog readers without even realizing what I’d done.
Want me to know your home address?Â Go ahead, download the app to your smartphone and scan that barcode.Â I’ll get an email within a minute or so letting me know you scanned it, and where you were on the planet when you did, right down to the address and a lovely Google Map pinpointing your exact geo-location.
And I guess I should award you 5 points if you scan it.Â Redeemable for..Â I don’t know what yet.Â An hour long private tour of Second Life, I guess.
And now I’ve broken the #1 rule of the 140 character metaverse, which is to make a really really long post and get to the end and not have any answers.
I don’t know exactly what train we’re on here, but the train seems to be moving ever faster and faster.Â And I worry more and more about who’s driving the train, and I have a sort of sick feeling that about half of the passengers have no clue that they are even on THIS train – I think they think they’re on a different train entirely, and that they’re driving it.Â But they aren’t.
As much as I love gaming, and I do love it, I’m not so sure I want Crest giving me points for brushing my teeth.Â I think I’ll have to come back to this.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far, and if you have any thoughts, I’m all ears.
Considering I’ve been working there pretty much full time the last few years, I didn’t know it was dead.Â 😉
OK that’s not fair, the hype cycle of 2007-08 came and went and it’s had a palpable effect to be sure, but those kinds of posts always make me vaguely defensive even though I have my own criticisms of the platform and the company running it.
I started to write a response in his comments, but I lost my text twice (I think it’s Chrome’s fault) so finally I said heck with it, I’ll put it here instead:
Whatever the failings of the platform or LL’s specific implementation of it, they were hugely successful at introducing the concept of a non-game-based virtual world to millions of people, and most importantly IMO, a world created by the users rather than the company.Â User generated content and crowd-sourcing is practically passe now, but back in the day, those were still very untried, untested concepts.Â The idea that an immersive 3D space could be populated with content using the same community/random user model as Wikipedia was definitely not a given.Â That it succeeded at all in Second Life still seems miraculous to me, especially given the technical skill required and the dreadful interface.
As it stands now, Linden Lab’s biggest advantages are 1) that enough of us who saw the potential in those early years have managed to stick it out and continued to populate the world with experiments, interesting use cases, and compelling content, and 2) they got a very lucky reprieve, just when things started to not just plateau but decrease, the economic crisis dried up a lot of funding for potential competitors.Â Anyone professionally interested in the future of the metaverse has little choice at the moment BUT Second Life (or its cousin OpenSim).
Hopefully it will give them enough time to fix what’s broken, especially with the interface and new user experience, but just as importantly with the scalability issues and lack of APIs that have hindered integration with other platforms and enterprise data systems – it’s the latter holding back increased institutional adoption more than the former.
Either way, whether Second Life as a platform (or Linden Lab as a company) endures through the ages is less interesting to me than seeing where the concept of the metaverse goes from here.Â I still think robust competition from some wholly different conception of a virtual world will be the best medicine for Linden Lab, but I worry that they’ve got such a corner on the still relatively small market that currently exists that it’s actually stifling innovation in other directions. It wouldn’t be so troubling if I saw more evidence that they could continue to innovate, but the Second Life we use today is not _markedly_ different than the Second Life I logged into in 2003.
Perhaps whatever they’re going to announce will prove that statement wrong, but if my long experience in Second Life has taught me anything, it’s not to get my hopes up too high.
Having said all that, I still give them all due credit for what they’ve accomplished, and for what they’ve made possible for people who have had the patience and foresight to understand that this is still very, very early days for the metaverse indeed.
Scoble promises an announcement tomorrow at Building43, I plan to tune in and see what’s got him so excited.
Be sure to set up your Tivo/DVR to record the PBS premier of digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier this Tuesday, 2/2 at 9PM EST.Â Besides knowing some of the people in the show, I’ve been watching the submissions and postings on their website for a good while and I think it’s going to be interesting.Â I couldn’t get the nerve to submit a video myself, but I look forward to seeing other Second Life residents in the mix!