Travel


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.


1
Nov 09

Twitter Lists, Google Wave, & Verizon’s Droid Phone

Twitter Lists

Twitter recently added the ability to categorize the people you follow into “Lists”, with quick links on your right sidebar to the status updates of all the people in that category.  Your lists can be public or private, with private lists only visible to you, and other people can follow your lists en masse or see the individual people you’ve added.

You can check out my Twitter lists to see if any of them interest you (though I’m not done adding people yet!).

TheNextWeb has a “how-to” guide if you’re not sure how Twitter Lists work, and so far it seems like it’s working out pretty well for me, despite the fact I’ve only got some small percentage of the people I follow categorized. Wow, talk about tedious work to add people!  New twitter users won’t have this problem since they can add folks to lists as they go along, but for those of us who have been around a while, this is a major chore.  I’m trying to do a few more each time I sit down at the PC, but it’s kind of slow going.

Still, the functionality seems worth the effort, since this gives you an easy way to “check in” with different categories or communities of people you follow, much like we’ve been able to do with 3rd party apps like Groups on TweetDeck.  As I posted to Twitter, I’m creating lists based on what’s most useful for _me_, not with the intention of creating a great list for someone else to follow, though if someone else finds a list of mine useful, more power to them.

Besides the obvious, I see a few other good or interesting uses for Twitter Lists:

  • Vanity list checking: It may be completely vain on my part, but I’m finding it interesting to see how people categorize my tweets and what tags they use to describe me when they put me on a list.  Many of them are obvious like “secondlife” or “education” but some of them have been surprising.  It’s also another example of how YOU are not always in control of your “brand” or your identity on the web.  What if someone put me on a list called “totaljerks” or something?
  • Making lists for your followers, instead of for yourself. I’ve seen some folks making lists called “recommended” or “moversandshakers” where it seems like people are aggregating lists less for their own consumption and more to help their followers find OTHERS to follow.  If that makes sense.  I definitely would be more judicious in my choices if I made a “recommended tweeters” list than I have been with the lists I’ve created so far, so perhaps curating a good list will become a useful Twitter skill.  I think I might try that once I get through the first phase of adding folks to lists.
  • Lists as another metric of quality. I don’t think this is very useful yet, as most established twitterers are probably, like me, still in the process of getting all their followers categorized.  But once lists are being used ubiquitously (and I think they will be), this feature adds a new metric to judge the quality of a tweeter before you add them.  Now, in addition to their profile and number of people they follow/follow them, you can also see how many people took the time to add them to a list, and what kinds of tags they use to describe them.   Hopefully this will be a less game-able metric than sheer numbers of followers, but I guess we’ll see.
  • Lists will be great for newbie Twitterers. I hope lists will help people new to Twitter get engaged with communities of interest more quickly than before.  If I introduce someone to Twitter and I know they also dig Second Life, I can point to that list as a great starting point.   They can either follow the whole list, or sort through it to pick and choose individual people to follow.
  • As a corollary, raiding your friends’ lists for new people to follow just got a whole lot easier since you can follow people only from the communities you’re most interested in.

My biggest complaint, other than not having an easy way to add multiple people to a list quickly, is that Twitter perversely orders your lists in the REVERSE order you created them, so my most frequently used lists are at the bottom rather than the top.  I hope they fix that little issue quickly.

Also, has anyone come across any iPod/iPhone apps that include list functionality yet?  It looks like Tweetie2, my favorite Twitter app, doesn’t do that yet.

Other than those complaints, I’d say Twitter Lists is two thumbs up.  Yay for tools that help break big info streams down into more manageable chunks!

Google Wave

Wish I could offer the same enthusiasm about Google Wave, touted as an alternative to email, but I must say my initial experience is “less than impressed”.  (And no, I don’t have any invites to give yet, I’ll let you know as soon as I do!)

I know this is still a beta service (what google service isn’t in perpetual beta?) but I guess I expected something more.. intuitive? easy? fast? useful?    At least on my machine, Google Wave is very slow to load everything – contact lists, inbox, and especially the content of the wave.   I even get such terrible typing lag when I try to make a reply that it sometimes takes 3 or 4 seconds for what I’ve typed to show up on the screen.  Reminds me of the 1200 baud modem days, waiting for things to appear.

Other sundry complaints:   Navigating through a wave is kind of tedious, I can’t tell what I’ve already seen and what’s new.  The scroll bar dealie on the right confuses me, the arrows at the top and bottom don’t actually jump you to the top or bottom of the wave.  Playback on a big wave either doesn’t work at all or goes very slowly and I can’t figure out how to speed it up (plus it seems to crash FF from time to time).  In general, I just can’t figure out why I would use this instead of email..?

I’ll give it some time and keep playing.   As I said, I know it’s early days for Wave, so perhaps I’ll see more utility when it’s more useable from a lag/organization standpoint.  But first impressions can be tough to shake and my first impression of Wave is it’s doing the opposite of Twitter Lists, instead of making big info streams more manageable, it seems to turn manageable email chunks into one big info stream.  Not a fan yet.

Verizon’s Droid Phone

Ok, I lied, I haven’t actually gotten my hands on one yet, even though @tom_streeter had one in the office last week, I was too darned busy at work to pester him about it.

For those of us who are on Verizon’s network, and thus unable to get an iPhone (insert major annoyance here), we’ve been waiting and waiting for a smartphone alternative to the iPhone and the web chatter says the Motorola Droid is Verizon’s first possible competitor.    CNet has the best review I’ve seen so far, and several Cincinnati area tweeters were given a first look through a Verizon promotion #droiddoescincy so you can see some real people reviews.

Me, I’m definitely keep an eye on it, but I don’t want “the next best thing” to an iPhone.  I want something equal to or better than an iPhone, otherwise, I think I’ve got most bases covered between my current phone and the iPod Touch I recently picked up.

So, uh, Tom, if you still have it next week, can I take a peek?  🙂


10
Jan 09

2008: The Year of Limits

I started writing this post in 2008 but didn’t get it finished before the year ended, even with the extra second. In light of the subject, perhaps that is quite apropos.

Like most of you, I’ve been reading all of the end-of-year retrospectives and predictions posts, and scrolling through the “year in photos” or video clips or whatever, caught up in refreshing my memory about just how many things happened in 2008. Wars, elections, economic meltdowns, media shifts, massive natural and man-made disasters, and that’s not even including all my personal stuff. It was a crazy year no matter how you slice it!

And though it is.. overwhelming to absorb this barrage of our collective memories on the net, I do think there’s value to the tradition of reflecting on the year just past and the year ahead. If it’s honest reflection, and you or someone else learns from it, then there can never be too much of it so I refuse to apologize for the length of this post. =)

2008: The Year of Limits

In reflecting on 2008, my experience was one of recognizing “limits”. Some of them are absolute limits, but some of them are just current limitations that I know will change in the future. Some of them are artificial limits, too, and those seem to deserve special attention since it’s easy to make bad choices if you’re working with falsehoods.

The list below describes some of the limits I ran into in 2008…

1. The limits of American-style “free-market” capitalism

Wall Street I won’t belabor the point, we’ve all heard plenty of analysis and finger-pointing, but I will repeat the headline from my initial blog post at the beginning of the end of the beginning of the crisis:

Privatizing Gains, Socializing Losses

On the days when I feel most pessimistic, I think the TARP bailout is nothing more than a wholesale absconsion of our national treasury with perhaps more on the way. So far at least, the US government seems to be much more concerned about the troubles of our corporate citizens than the troubles of our human citizens. On my optimistic days.. I have the teensiest bit of hope that _someone_ _somewhere_ will have the will and the power to do what’s best for the people, not just what’s best for the corporations.

The economic problems have limited the options for many people I know – friends and relatives laid off, retirement nest eggs shrunk to nothing, people unable to sell or buy houses and get on with life. On a personal level, I haven’t felt this economically pinched in a long time. My modest university salary isn’t keeping up with the rate of change very well and in 2008 I began to really hit the limit of my budget in ways that cause me to question what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and how much I can scale back.

Of course, many people are in tight situations right now, that’s why they call it a recession! But it’s what choices you make when you start to hit those limits that define who you are as a person and as a people.  The government (of the people, by the people, for the people) has choices, too. I guess we’ll see in 2009 what choices we all make in light of these new limits and I hope for all of our sakes that they turn out to be good choices.

2. The limits of American racism

Change

Of all the limits on my list, this one felt really good to bump up against. I can’t say how immensely proud I am of my country for the results of the 2008 presidential election. I am relieved to know that the president-elect’s middle name is Hussein and his last name sounds like Osama, and he’s black, and spent some time living in a Muslim country, and grew up in a non “2 parent/2.1 kids” houseshold, and that none of these things kept him from being elected. Not that racism has ended by any means, but this was an example of its limits and it really does give me hope.

On the personal side, my 74 year old grandpa who still refers to people as “colored” from time to time, and who has been a staunch Republican voter all of his life, actually voted for a black Democrat. Yes Virginia, hell really did freeze over! I can’t take 100% credit for this change of course, but we had a lot of downright difficult and uncomfortable conversations about race, so this year’s election felt like a personal victory as much as a national milestone.

3. The limits of the American educational system and limits to learning online

It’s possible I am living in a concrete-reinforced, super-duper-thick, no-sound-enters-or-escapes echo chamber, but it seems that everywhere I turn, everyone from _everyone_ is convinced that the American educational system is in desperate need of a massive, major overhaul. In my own neck of the woods, Ohio is in the process of implementing a state-wide university system, several education related organizations that are funded by the state are being abolished or merged, and a couple of universities including my own are switching from quarter systems to semesters (not as simple as it may sound and more expensive than you might think).

So change is happening already in a pretty big way, but I’m not sure how much these changes will address some of the underlying problems. One of which, I am convinced, is a staggering lack of understanding about the power of current IT/web/net based technologies. There is increasing curiosity at all levels – thank goodness or I wouldn’t have a job! But from administrators to faculty to staff, I’m perpetually shocked by how little others use the web even for basic things,like as a reference system. Everyone now uses email, of course, and LMS adoption has increased tremendously in both breadth and depth of use, and the core university business and billing systems are state of the art, but the social media/personal empowerment side of the web doesn’t seem to have penetrated academia very much yet at all. You might be surprised how many faculty don’t know about using quotes in google searching, for example, or who don’t read the blogs of their peers from other institutions.

I find that pretty distressing for a lot of different reasons, not least of which because this lack of understanding really limits my choices as a student (or potential customer, if you prefer).

The first problem is that the thing I want to study not only doesn’t have its own discipline or recognized curriculum, most people aren’t even aware it exists! My area of study is the metaverse and I spend far more time trying to demonstrate that it is “real” (ie has real impact) and justifying why we should be studying it than anything else. What time I do get to spend on actual research doesn’t count towards tenure, and unfortunately, most of my output is in blog posts and wikis and PDFs and Second Life builds, and none of these things will get me a degree either. They aren’t “accredited” kinds of output.

The second problem is that even if I could find a good fit in a program, then what? Will I be able to bear sitting in a classroom with a bad teacher who regurgitates the text book and wants me to regurgitate it too? Will I be able to keep my trap shut when we all hand in our papers to the prof and learn nothing from each other instead of sharing them so we all learn more?

When I think of it, I tend to tell myself and others that I can’t find the time or money to go back to grad school right now (artifical limit, I’m sure I COULD if I were willing to radically alter my life), but the truth is something different: I can’t bear the thought of fitting my learning style back into that crummy old model when I’ve found something 1000000 times better – the entire web is my school, my laboratory, and my teacher. I would guess that in 2008 I read more reports, white papers, and peer-reviewed journal articles (and thousands of blog posts and news articles), attended more lectures by more world-class thinkers and teachers (and talked to them, individually!), and had more hands-on, active and engaging learning experiences than I have ever had in any other year of my entire life – in school or out. I also spent a heck of a lot of time reflecting on what I learned, sharing it with others, collaborating on shared learning experiences, and had a few pretty nice milestone publications of my own.

Everywhere I look, I’m butting up against limits. Limits of the existing system, limits to people’s understanding about what it is I want to study, limits in program and curriculum choices, personal limitations (financial, practical, selfishly wanting to learn MY way instead of THEIR way)..

Furthermore, despite the free and wonderful education I received from the intarnets this year, I also learned that there are limits here too. There are limits to how much information I can process, how many connections I can form, and how many channels of communication I can keep up with. There are absolutely, most definitely limits to how many emails I can process in a day. There are limits to how much I can learn on my own unaided by others. I often have questions, need help, need guidance, need mentoring, need direction. I know without a doubt my work and output would improve if I had a better foundational understanding of both the technology that makes the metaverse possible and the research that already exists about human behavior in online environments. I don’t for a second believe I can “master” this material all on my own, even with the tremendous resources the web offers.

And of all my learning experiences online this year, I’m perhaps most grateful for my experience with the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge MOOC (Massively Open Online Course), because it _broke_ some (artificial) limits in my understanding about what a “class” is and could be, reinforced some limits I was aware of (how much info/connections/channels I could keep up with), and gave an example of how universities might overcome limits in how many students they reach.

Without a doubt, these limits are frustrating, but not altogether discouraging. It just means there’s much work to be done, and I sincerely hope decision makers at the institutional level are paying attention to technology, but at the same time, I also hope that those of us using and evangelizing technology are being honest about its limits even as we explore its promises.

And speaking of technology evangelism…

4. The limits of personal evangelism

My suitcases are tattered from so many cross-country flights here there and everywhere talking about Second Life, Web 2.0, and the emerging metaverse. I gave talks at conferences and workshops and lunches, to teachers, professors, administrators, instructional designers, businesses, entrepreneurs, laywers, government employees.. so many different sectors of society. What I’ve taken from all my days on the road is that there’s a real lack of perceived value and ROI. 1) People need to see more evidence that this technology is useful for accomplishing their goals before they will be willing to invest the time and resources it takes to get to successful implementation. 2) The technology itself must become cheaper and easier to use.

This is not revolutionary news, I know. But I’m reminding myself because as I mentioned above, I genuinely hope to do more research into those areas so that the next time I spend all day flying across the country just to give a two hour talk, I feel like it was really and truly worth the trip for me and the audience and the university that paid for me to do it.

I guess this means my “zealot phase” (and hopefully “self-righteous jerk phase”) is over for the moment. That isn’t to say that I’ve given up, but rather that I’ve learned the limits of what I, Fleep can do alone. I need to start leveraging my networks better and work in collaboration with more people instead of running myself ragged trying to do too much alone.

5. Limits of the Second Life platform and our current Metaverse

Of course, the job of evangelizing would be a lot easier if the thing itself were easier. Alas, we face some tough issues. The metaverse as a concept is mind-boggling for many, the best iteration of it at the moment (Second Life) is hard to use and has serious limitations, and everything else out on the horizon is still in alpha/beta phase.

I really can’t stress enough what an obstacle our current lack of.. vocabulary is. What is a virtual world? What is the metaverse? What the heck is Castranova talking about with all this synthetic stuff?

Earlier this year when I was struggling with the Looking to the Future: Higher Education in the Metaverse piece, the hardest part was explaining what the metaverse currently IS, nevermind what it might be in the future. Here’s what I wrote:

In its current context, the metaverse is a complex concept. For the purposes of this article, the definition in the Metaverse Roadmap will suffice: “In recent years, the term has grown beyond Stephenson’s 1992 vision of an immersive 3D virtual world, to include aspects of the physical world objects, actors, interfaces, and networks that construct and interact with virtual environments. . . . The Metaverse is the convergence of 1) virtually-enhanced physical reality and 2) physically persistent virtual space. It is a fusion of both, while allowing users to experience it as either.”

In short, we can imagine multiple and myriad digital mirrors of the real world existing alongside multiple and myriad digital worlds that do not represent the real world, all used for a variety of purposes, tied into a variety of communication methods, and populated by any user with Internet access, as well as a steady stream of data originating from objects and devices in the real world.

That’s awful! A mouthful of confusing stuff and I feel very disappointed in myself that I couldn’t find a better way to communicate it. That’s a limitation I (we) must break through in the coming years.

Beyond the limits of our terminology, there are serious limits with existing platform(s) that can’t be ignored either. I still believe that anyone interested in the metaverse must be in or at least paying attention to Second Life – Linden Lab’s platform and the OpenSim derivatives are the most promising metaverse project on the horizon, and perhaps more importantly, the people using, working, and playing in Second Life simply _are_ the vanguard.

But Linden Lab’s Second Life, and the alpha-stage OpenSim grids, are still extremely limited in their enterprise use. Whether the intention is to use it as a social or collaboration space, or as a modeling and prototyping space, or to explore the new frontiers of music and art made possible in these worlds – the platforms need a LOT of work across the board, from the GUI to reliability to providing access to other digital content. Sadly, after 5 years of being out of beta, Second Life’s group IMs still don’t work reliably.  I can’t show a flash or .wmv movie in Second Life, can’t collaboratively access webpages and documents with others easily, and it takes forever and 50 steps to do something as simple as making a prim clickable to launch a webpage.

And those are the simplest technical limitations that need to be overcome. That’s not even getting into the wet, squishy world of legal, philosophical, and social questions: content creator rights, intellectual properly, who has jurisdiction, who governs these spaces, code as law, what’s happening with all of the data we generate from “living” in these spaces and how can we protect ourselves from its misuse, what are the social implications for communities moving to the metaverse, and on and on and on..

In other words, we have a LOT of work to do.

6. The limits of Will Wright

Yes, I’m sorry, this one gets a whole bullet point of its own. Do you have ANY IDEA how long I waited, and with how much _anticipation_ I waited for the release of Spore? (Many many years, and a lot, respectively.)

Others have done a much better job than I in analyzing just why it was such a rotten egg, but I think that might be my biggest (most trivial) disappointment of the year.   I don’t know where it all went so wrong, Will, but dude, you really let us down.

(Sorry, needed a little levity before tackling #7..)

7. The limits of life itself

In late 2007, we learned that my Dad (grandpa, actually, but my dad in all other ways)  had stage-4 metastatic lung cancer that had already spread to his adrenal glands. By mid-2008, it had spread to his spine.  Helping to take care of him through this battle with cancer has been excruciating and it affected every single day of the year for me.

I know that death is a part of life. I know that death is inevitable. I know that I am neither the first nor the last person to lose a parent or to lose a loved one to cancer. I know that some day I will die. I know all of these things, but I’ve never _felt_ them until now.  In my heart, I know it’s a minor miracle that he’s survived more than a year past the initial diagnosis, and it’s a gift that we’ve had all this time to say goodbye, share memories, and adjust to the hard reality. But it has also irrevocably changed my sense of time. I see the limits it imposes on us all in the starkest of terms now.

This experience has also made me wonder how on earth people without families or support networks manage in the face of serious illness (something we’re all bound to face) because without a doubt, I have finally seen the limits of the American health-care system up close and personal.

Wow, what a wreck. I don’t even know where to begin. The absurdities of insurance claims and Medicare, Part-D and doughnut holes, hospital staff that don’t even put on clean gloves unless you ask them too, different doctors with different charts and lab results and patient information systems that don’t talk to each other, medication regimens that require a PhD and 50 gazillion bottles, refills, and dosages to keep up with, doctors prescribing medications that conflict with pre-existing orders… the list goes on and on and on and on. It’s insane. INSANE.

Our family care-team is made up of four intelligent, literate, capable people and we can’t really keep track of it all. The hoops are simply ridiculous, the cracks in the system are more like black holes, and for all the mistakes or near-mistakes we’ve caught, I fear to think of all the ones we didn’t. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my deep bitterness that the _only_ part of the American health-care system that appears to be using IT efficiently is the damned billing systems. Sharing information about the patient to improve care? That’s a spaghetti mess, but they can sure share information about how much it all costs!

Perhaps my viewing the year 2008 from this prism of limitations is all the result of Dad’s cancer; maybe it’s colored my view so much that limits are all I see at the moment. But I don’t really think so. When I look at what’s happening in a broader context, I see that the American economic, education, and health care systems aren’t the only large-scale systems and institutions that appear to be feeling the strain.

For one, the financial/economic crisis is definitely a global one. It’s not an indivual experience, or a national experience, it’s a global one. Even those who haven’t felt the pinch yet have certainly felt the fear.

For another, I believe wars and violence result when political systems fail. Mumbai. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Palestine, Georgia, and many more places besides, deaths caused by people killing other people, caused by the limits of our existing political institutions.

Human activity in combination with completely “natural” weather and geological phenomena are rapidly, and I mean RAPIDLY changing our environment. The very finite resources of the planet and the real consequences of natural disasters are absolute limits that we simply can’t afford to ignore. The earthquake in Sichuan, China killed almost 70,000 people. The Nargis cyclone in Myanmar killed almost 135,000 people. Predictions seem to indicate that more trouble is on the way, and for the most part, our individual, national, and global responses to these challenges have seem limited by disorganization, misinformation, and a terrible refusal to plan for the reality we all know is coming. It’s absurd. And frightening.

I should probably stop there, this post already turned into something of a monster and I could go on in this vein for quite a while. But the lingering question I have at the end of all this reflection is this:

Have we reached the limits of our patience with behaviors and systems that just plain don’t work anymore?

I sure hope so, because the upside, the real benefit to recognizing these limits, is the ability to leap into the paradigm-shift – and leap we must.

The parameters aren’t what you thought they were.

The rules of the game are changing.

The world of the 21st century is different than the world of the 20th.

The sooner we come to terms with it, the sooner we can start dealing with it. These limits – even the artificial ones – really need to, can, and must be addressed.

I don’t know if I’m up for all the challenges I see looming in the days ahead, with my work, my personal circumstances, with Dad’s cancer. I don’t know how to best prepare, either, but if I’m sure of anything after 2008, it’s that I don’t have a choice about it anymore. The changes are already coming too thick and too fast to ignore, best get with it, buckle down, and get ready.

(And 10 days after the new year, I finally get this posted.  Hooray.)

Continue reading →


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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9
Sep 08

SLCC & SLEDcc 2008: Thank You!

The Second Life Community Convention 2008 and Second Life Education Community Conference 2008 wrapped up in Tampa, FL and in Second Life on Sunday afternoon, two days ago, but it is only now that I am relaxed and awake enough to write about it. I think the things that affect us most profoundly are the hardest to put into words, but I’m gonna take a stab at it.


Last educators standing for the final panel on SL media at SLCC07 in Chicago.

My first SLCC was last year, in Chicago, and I remember driving up with such a feeling of.. trepidation and worry. I remember wondering if all those people I’d met and worked with during the organizing of the Second Life Best Practices in Education 2007 conference would like me in Real Life, worried what the dress code would be, worried I’d not feel as comfortable with people in person as I was in our virtual spaces. I ended up having a really good time, met so many great people, and spent the next year strengthening those friendships through all of our online interactions and at other educational conferences throughout the year.


Intellagirl, Fleep, Typewriter, and Decka at Emory’s Virtual Worlds conference, Feb 2008. Image courtesy Decka Mah.

This year leading up to SLCC, I didn’t have time to be nervous. Organizing the SLEDcc component of the conference was a staggering amount of work! (At some point, I really should write about the differences in organizing a real world conference that served some 4-600 people and organizing a virtual world conference that served 1300 people. With NO QUESTION, the virtual conference served more for far less work, money, time, and effort. Holy smokes. But that’s another post for another time…)


Wainbrave, Frans, Rhiannon, Fleep, Armath, and Jeremy Braver outside the hotel in Tampa.

No, this year I didn’t have time to worry or be self-conscious, there wasn’t any time for it, and when I flew in on Wednesday, got unpacked, my only thoughts were of details and things to do and being anxious to see all of my friends. Looking back on it from the other side now, all I can say is that it felt like the most excellent of family reunions – there truly is nothing better in life than spending good time with great friends.


Jeremy Koester and Sarah Robbins hanging out in the hotel lobby at SLCC08.

I think in any large scale event like this, you come into contact with so many people so rapidly, things begin to blur together, for me in just a general warm happy feeling. But I want to be sure to acknowledge, personally, the people who really made this a terrific experience for me, and I think for the whole of the SL community.


Carol Tucker and Scott Merrick, leaders of “The Stream Supreme Team” made the cross-world connection with those in Second Life possible. Image courtesy Scott Merrick

My personal heroes, the ones who I worked with and was helped by, and who gave so selflessly of their time, their equipment, their expertise, and their passion for Second Life that I simply must call them by name are Jonathon Richter, Jennifer Ragan-Fore, Scott Merrick, Carol Tucker, Suzie Medders, Jeremy Kemp, Daniel Livingstone, AJ Kelton, Anthony Fontana, Bonnie Mitchell, Sarah Robbins, Mark Bell, and Jeremy Koester.


AJ Kelton and others live blogging, twittering, and supporting SLEDcc sessions. Image courtesy http://flickr.com/photos/nkellett/

In one way or another, their contribution to the SLEDcc in Tampa was crucial to its success – they were the ones who answered the call when something absolutely needed to be done and could only happen if someone with a big heart jumped in to do it. I hope you guys know the depth of my affection and appreciation. Thank you so very much. <3 <3 <3


Fleep and Joyce trying to get the programs and sponsor stuff situated.

If I thought it would really convey the awe I feel for all of the presenters and volunteers, I’d list every one of them by name too -it seems like I never really got to sit down and hear all the presentations or thank each person who was working behind the scenes because I was on the go running from place to place myself, but every time I looked into a room, I saw passionate people giving great talks about things they worked on, believed in, and wanted to share with others, helped by great volunteers who were on stand by to solve problems, gopher supplies, stuff bags, and more.


Jeremy Koester manning the SLEDcc Game Control table. 7 of diamonds ftw!

I saw the products of their work in smooth sessions, great handouts and resources, terrific machinima and reports, and the collective and growing wisdom of the educational community in Second Life – I saw the pioneers of this field in person, I got to meet them and hug them and share meals with them, and I feel so tremendously lucky to be in such good company. As colleagues, as friends, the people who share their Second Life work with others are what make SLED special, no matter our other affiliations. Thank you one and all for your terrific work.


Peter freaking out on day 1 of the SLCC! Image courtesy Nexeus Fatale.

It was in Tampa, too, that I finally got to meet the voices on the phone from The Future United. Peter, Leo, Misty, and Joyce, through all those many months of stressing over the details and logistics, were a joy to work with. It’s easy for those of us in the education community to stay engrossed in our work, but SLCC really makes you look up and see all of the diversity in Second Life, and that’s what these guys did for me.


Nexeus working even during the party! Image courtesy Nexeus Fatale.

When they talk about “the community”, they are inclusive of everyone, and they taught me to see more than just the needs of educators in planning a celebration of all of Second Life’s residents. After working with them in person in Tampa, I came away thinking that we have a lot of work to do for 2009, and I can’t wait to get started.


Fleep with Robert Bloomfield of Metanomics fame.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a big thank you note, but it seems to be coming out that way. I guess it’s because SLCC this year was such a gift for me. As some may know, my grandfather has been very ill and these past few months have been grueling and hard trying to keep up with work and still spend as much time as I can with him. I’d reached such a state of utter exhaustion leading up to SLCC, I almost didn’t come at all. I worried about spending the time away from my family at such a difficult time, I worried I wouldn’t be able to handle all the pressure of pulling things off.. I didn’t even realize what a huge and wonderful support network of friends I had behind me.


Peggy Sheehy, Sarah Robbins, Mark Bell, Carol Tucker, and Scott Merrick at the streaming table.

Sitting here even now, it really makes me teary to think of all the people who gave me a hug and told me they were thinking of and praying for me and my family. I had no idea how much joy and respite it would give me to spend a few days with such warm, caring people, my good friends. Instead of coming back feeling drained and exhausted, I’ve come back feeling rejuvenated and reminded what it is that we’re all working for – a better life, real and virtual, for ourselves, our friends, our families, our communities, and our world. I’ve come back feeling rested and recharged, inspired anew in my passion for Second Life and the people that create it.


SLEDcc folks doing a late tour of the facilities in preparation for the start of SLEDcc!

And I guess in the end that’s what makes SLCC so special. When people gripe about the ticket cost (which is really unfair because the planners do everything they can to make it as absolutely affordable as possible and still put on a good, high quality show) or wonder why anyone would bother coming to the Second Life Community Convention, I wish I could explain what makes it special. They ask, isn’t it just a big geek meet with weird laptop toting people?


Sloodle and Rockcliffe U at SLCC08.

The answer is yes and no, we’re all weird in our own ways, and you’re sure to spot a laptop or a geek around every corner, but of all of the conferences, conventions, and meet ups I attend throughout the year, SLCC is special. For whatever reason, Second Life inspires a kind of creativity and diversity and range of passions in people that when we come together in person, it feels as much like a festival and a celebration of life itself as it does a convention or a conference about a technology.


Bonnie Mitchell, Steven Hornik, and Ken Hudson at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center social mixer.

As I look at all the pictures on Flickr, and see all of those happy, smiling faces, I feel blessed, lucky, and privileged to have been a part of it. My only regret is the time I didn’t get to spend with sooo many people who I really wanted to be with and just couldn’t, but was glad that I at least had a few snatched moments to meet and hug in person – Cybergrrl, Crap, Draxtor, Bjorlyn, Harper, Bevin, geez I could go on for days. And for all the people who weren’t there this year, whose presence was sorely missed (Randy, Prokofy, Dizzy, Douglas, KJ, Joanna, Chilbo, I’m talking to you!), I can only hope to see you at SLCC next year. It was a spectacularly great time.


Jonathon and I finally taking a break!

To Jonathon and all my personal friends at SLCC, Velks and all, I don’t think I need to say anything else other than thank you. I love you guys and I can’t wait until we see each other again. xoxo.

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12
Aug 08

Metanomics: Fleep “On the Spot” About SLEDcc 2008

On Monday, Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield (SL: Beyers Sellers) put Education Correspondent Fleep Tuque “On the Spot” about the upcoming Second Life Education Community Conference 2008 (SLEDcc), part of the official Second Life Community Convention in Tampa, FL from September 5 – 7th.


(Click the image to view video)

Fleep discussed the genesis of the SLEDcc name and gave an overview of the six conference strands and upcoming sessions in Tampa. She also talked about the SLEDcc Working Groups, a new component of this year’s program, that will bring participants together to address four topics to generate useful resources for members of the Second Life education community. Educators are invited to contribute to the SLEDcc Working Group discussions in the SLEDcc08 group on RezEd prior to the conference:

SLEDcc will also have a full program in-world, with streamed sessions from Tampa and an exciting schedule of tours, socials, poster sessions, and presentations. Register for the in-world SLEDcc here!

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12
Jun 08

SLEDcc 2008 – Update

Cross-posting from various listservs..

The Second Life Education Community Conference 2008 planning team has been hard at work and we have several important updates for you:

The main SLEDcc 2008 website is now available at:
http://sledcc.wikispaces.com. This will be your one-stop-shop for important information about the SLEDcc conference, in Tampa or in Second Life. Please note: SLEDcc is part of the official Second Life Community Convention (http://slconvention.org). Registration fees cover both the SLEDcc and SLCC events! Conference registration and fees only apply to those going to SLEDcc/SLCC in Tampa, in-world only participants do not need to register or pay any fees.

The Call for Proposals deadline has been extended to June 17, 2008. See the CFP below or view the complete details on the website. Don’t want to do a big paper presentation? No problem! The SLED Sparks and Speed Mentoring formats are designed for rapid information sharing. Can’t go to Tampa? No problem! SLEDcc will have presentations in Second Life as well as real life. You’d really rather show off a great build or project than do a presentation? No problem! “The Sleddies” award competition might be just the thing for you. See the CFP below or the website for more details.

There are many low overhead ways that you can help with the conference, from putting a link/logo to the SLEDcc website from your own blog or webpage, to volunteering for a few hours in Tampa or in Second Life – we can use your help! See the Volunteer Opportunities page and the SLEDcc Social Media page on the website to find out how you can join the team.

In addition to these updates, the website also has more information about “The Sleddies” Award competition, sponsorship information, and much more. Please take a few moments to have a look around and if you have any feedback, let us know.

Thanks for your continued support and we look forward to seeing you in Tampa or in SL this September!

Sincerely,

Chris Collins (SL: Fleep Tuque)
Hilary Mason (SL: Ann Enigma)
Jonathon Richter (SL: Wainbrave Bernal)

Co-Chairs, Second Life Education Community Conference 2008
Member of the Second Life Community Convention 2008
September 5 – 7, 2008 in Tampa, FL and in Second Life
http://sledcc.wikispaces.com
sledcc08@googlegroups.com


19
Apr 08

Testing a Google Map – Virtual/Real Travel

Testing embed code for a Google map I created that shows the real life locations that I have visited to give presentations or learn more about Second Life, virtual worlds, and Web 2.0, and social media. (Hint, they’re all the same thing.) The lighter blue markers are places I traveled to “virtually” to attend or present.


View Larger Map

Does it work?

Update: Ok looks like that worked. The map makes a couple of points clear to me. First, the stereotypical perception that everyone heavily involved in Second Life or virtual worlds or web stuff is a closet shut in geek who never leaves the house clearly isn’t true. I do leave the house, lately more than I’d like to. Which leads me to the second point, that I’m feeling rather unhappy about doing so much flying and driving to talk about virtual world and web based technologies with people face to face. It just doesn’t scale, for one thing, it’s exhausting for another, and even though I’m very grateful my employer sponsors my work related travel, it’s also expensive. Don’t think I can pull a Christian Renaud from Cisco, who told us at the Dr. Dobbs Life 2.0 Summit that he would no longer be giving presentations in the flesh to cut down on needless travel, but I’d definitely like to travel less and still reach my audience. Hm.

Last point maybe the most important though, and that is, if I think back over all the things I’ve attended or presented at, virtually or in person, I think in terms of _content learned_, being on task and not just socializing, but learning about the topic we all reportedly gathered to discuss, the virtual events win hands down. The social networking at real conferences is just as crucial, I think, to one’s professional development and success, but in terms of actual _learning_, I seem to retain more, pay closer attention, and stay on task when attending a virtual conference session as opposed to a real one. Maybe that’s just me, but an interesting thought anyway.

I hope to show this map on Monday when I and some colleagues give another Second Life Bootcamp workshop at the US Distance Learning Association Conference in St. Louis. I think it demonstrates how crucial the discussions about Second Life and other web based technologies have been to my professional development over the last year.

Update2: Last edit, I swear. This is missing a ton of events I’ve attended with real world location counterparts, and another ton that only happened in a virtual world, no idea how to map those. You also have to zoom out to see the ones on other continents. I feel so.. virtual worldly. 😉


13
Apr 08

Virtual Worlds 2008 – A Very Mixed Bag

As promised, I finally got my photos from Virtual Worlds 2008 uploaded to Flickr, better late than never, right?

As I went through the images, I tried to remember exactly what about the event left me so.. cold. It wasn’t really the people, I was thrilled to see many friends again, Aldon Huffhines from the Orient Lodge, Dave Elchoness from the Association of Virtual Worlds, Grace McDunnough of Phasing Grace, Kenny Hubble from Loyalist College, and Prokofy Neva of Second Thoughts were welcome sights indeed. No amount of virtual interaction ever replaces real hugs and shared drinks and these are people who inspire me, whose blogs I read and events I attend because I have enormous respect for their intelligence and insights. I’m quite annoyed with myself that I forgot my camera and got no pictures of these friends except for Ken the next day.

Virtual Worlds 2008 - Ken Hudson on the left
Ken Hudson (SL: Kenny Hubble) on the left.

It was also good to see some folks from Linden Lab in the flesh again, Pathfinder with his ferocious energy and unflagging support of education in Second Life, Betsy who I’d met recently in world, and Ian who does a very wonderful elevator pitch of the Second Life grid branding strategy.

Virtual Worlds 2008 - Second Life Grid Booth

I even spied Philip having a sit down chat with someone in the front of the room (before the Open Source panel, which I’ll talk about later) and he looked more tired than the last time I saw him, but well all the same. It’s a good reminder that the folks at the Lab aren’t all knowing gods, despite what residents would like them to be, but flesh and blood people who get tired and overworked like the rest of us.

Virtual Worlds 2008 - Philip having a chat

Good too to see the folks from Metaversatility, a name that seemed more apt than ever given the number of platforms, worlds, and offerings on display at the expo.

Virtual Worlds 2008 - Metaversatility Booth

And great to talk with the folks at VastPark, who actually remembered me from the beta test of a few weeks prior, and who were quite enthusiastic about their plans for open beta and new parks for us to explore. I met some of them later at the SLCN.tv party in the New Yorker hotel and that was quite a bit of fun.

Virtual Worlds 2008 - VastPark Booth

So why then did I eventually leave Virtual Worlds 2008 with a colder heart than I had when arrived? I can’t quite put my finger on it. A couple of years ago I would have been thrilled to think of a room full of booths offering a variety of platforms, services, and tools for virtual worlds users. Back then, I was one of those evangelizing educators that Gwynneth Llewelyn mentions in her latest post, excited by the possibilities, fighting to get Second Life recognized as a legitimate place for educators to explore, research, and teach in, and I’ve since brought literally thousands of educators, students, and friends into the world and continue to do so. But for the first time since my wild ride with Second Life began, I feel.. hesitant. I’m still giving the talks and workshops and bootcamps, I’m still the driving force behind the SL project at my university, and working to increase collaboration in SL among educators in the state of Ohio, but after returning from NYC, I have a heavy sense of foreboding.

The first chill came when I was talking with Grace about the fact that Interoperability was no where to be seen on the agenda. As I explore each new world and work to recreate yet another Fleep (if the name isn’t taken, the internet suddenly seems to have more Fleeps than when I was born), I’m reminded of how _tedious_ it is that I cannot take my avatar from place to place, that I have to re-brand and re-create in each location, re-buy clothes to project the right image (in case I want to demo it at work, these teen worlds seem full of inappropriate for work clothes too), re-build my home, apartment, space.. I do not have the time for all of this duplication of effort. Interoperability is KEY to the success of the metaverse, everyone agrees.

But wait! Sibley from Electric Sheep was there at Virtual Worlds 2008 to tell us that the Metaverse is.. well not dead exactly, but it ain’t going to be here any time soon. More depressing chill. If you’re a fellow VW traveler, philosopher, and junkie like I am, then be sure to check out his slides from the presentation and subscribe to his blog, he promised at the conference that there would be more to come there soon as he continues to think out loud about the future of virtual worlds.

Virtual Worlds 2008 - Sibley from Electric Sheep Company

The long and short of his talk, though, was that the steps needed to make the metaverse a reality is extremely messy stuff. The technical hurdles alone are complex and complicated, but the _social_ changes are perhaps even more challenging. The Electric Sheep Company is without a doubt a leader on the cutting bleeding edge, and much of what he said had the ring of truth to it. The bring you back to earth, stop being such an idealistic Pollyana, cold hard reality ring of truth. Thanks, Sibley, for ripping the rose colored glasses from my face. 😉

But truly, all I had to do was look around the room to see the truth of what he was saying. Here I was in Manhattan, attending an event that darn near broke my travel budget bank, surrounded by suits and hawk nosed business types talking about the “compulsion cycle” by which a developer can keep a users eyes glued to the screen, becoming ever more brand loyal, and always buying more stuff – virtual or otherwise.

Virtual Worlds 2008 - Sign board

Grace called Interoperability the belle of the last Virtual Worlds ball, but this year’s belle sounded an awful lot like “exploiting kids” to me. Nickelodeon, MTV, and Mattel talked about how to get past moms as gatekeepers (a fellow from Whyville spoke up and said in his experience, there ARE no gatekeepers, parents using PCs as baby sitters aren’t even aware of what their kids are doing in Whyville unless the KID brings the parents into contact with it – remember when you liked your parents and wanted them to come play with you?), talked about how to capitalize on the fact that parents think ANYTHING interactive must be more educational than sitting in front of the boob-tube (an assumption that I think needs some serious examining), and how best to advertise all of their many many “properties” – virtual and real, television and toys, games and brands to these young consumers, how to get the parents’ credit cards linked, how to monetize and exploit this dream (delusion?) I’ve been working so hard to build.

The lawyers were there too, to advise developers, not users. Benjamin Duranske of the Virtually Blind blog about legal issues in virtual worlds was there, looking young, smart, chic, and passionate. While I thought his presentation was actually pretty balanced in terms of developers vs users rights, his theme like the other virtual law sessions I attended boiled down to developers protecting themselves. Questions like, do developers have a responsibility to try to prevent fraud? Should users have rights to their creations in these worlds? Should players who cheat in game worlds be prosecuted? Should companies settle disputes between users or residents? Overall the answer appeared to be that the more a developer interferes in the virtual world, the greater their liability, therefore best to act like a phone company or ISP to better protect oneself from litigation. Very little talk of self governance mechanisms, very little talk of protecting users rights, very little talk of the implications these decisions have on community, on creativity and innovation, on the future of the metaverse.

Education was entirely absent from the Virtual Worlds 2008 roster. I ran into some fellow academic types like Kenny Hubble, but we had no place on the agenda. In one of the kids worlds panels, I heard one woman talk about the educational content of some of these games, but I think that was it other than the Second Life folks talking about the success of education in their world. No where in the kids worlds sessions did I hear about how to incorporate education into all those hours they hope to replace the Saturday morning cartoon with, I didn’t meet any educators working with these developers, I didn’t see any evidence that any of the companies there plan to incorporate any social good beyond being better consumers into their products – sorry, “experiences”. Where on earth were the colleges and universities, the professors and researchers, at Virtual Worlds 2008? Where were the philosophers and those interested in issues of self governance and user rights and non-profit uses and activists and all the people working to extend the positive social benefits of virtual worlds to the real world? Other than the folks I mentioned at the outset, I didn’t see them.

Truly, it was so chilling.

All was not lost, though, the very last session I attended end up being in many ways the highlight of the conference for me. The Open Source Virtual Worlds panel had representatives from Qwaq, Sun’s Project Wonderland, and three fellows working on Open Sim projects.

Virtual Worlds 2008 - Open Souce Panel

Qwaq and Sun are both focusing on a business and educational market, and I was glad to hear _someone_ talking about the kinds of things I came to hear, like technical implementations that might help enhance collaboration in virtual worlds. The Sun demo was particularly interesting, it seems they’ve done quite a bit of work on how to effectively integrate audio and voice (SL Voice users know how dicey it is), and we saw how a meeting taking place in the virtual world could “call out” to someone on a cell phone and bring them into the conversation. The phone user was represented by an orb that could be “picked up” and carried by another person in world – effectively transferring the call from the group conference to a private conversation – and then “dropped off” on another user in world, again transferring the call to another person. This visual representation (quasi-avatar?) of a phone-based participant in a virtual world conference/meeting opens up interesting possibilities, and it made me quite anxious to check out the Wonderland project.

But more importantly than the demos, it was the conversation that erupted in the middle of the Open Source panel that saved the Virtual Worlds 2008 expo experience for me. Jani Pirkola from realXtend began talking about the work they are doing to make avatar movement more natural, animations that actually detect the doorknob, etc. when from behind me Philip Rosedale of Linden Lab piped up and praised Jani for the work they are doing, since avatar animation is an especially tricky technical problem.

Philip’s mere presence and the substance of what he said seemed to have an electric effect upon the room, suddenly everyone was perked up and at attention. The panel format suddenly turned into a dialogue as audience members jumped in with thoughts and challenges. Zha Ewry of the Architectural Working Group joined a sometimes heated and _competitive_ conversation with Philip and Adam Frisby of OpenSim and Deep Grid about the future of the open source projects, how they will effect virtual economies, and protecting virtual assets.

Funny enough, I actually have a short video of some of this. Somehow the camera got switched to movie mode instead of picture mode, so I inadvertently captured about 50 seconds of the Virtual Worlds 2008 – Open Source Virtual Worlds panel as I fumbled about trying to figure out why the darn flash wasn’t going off. The first segment is part of the demo of Sun’s Project Wonderland, unidentified speaker #2, Philip Rosedale of Linden Lab is speaker #3, Zha Ewry of the Architectural Working Group is #4 (I think), and Adam Frisby of Open Sim is speaker #5.

I don’t know if you can tell by those clips how much energy was in that conversation, but it was the only time outside of the private conversations with friends that the trip to New York felt _worth it_ to me. It was exciting to hear evidence of the debates that must be raging between all these developers, enthusiasts, professionals, and geeks about how exactly these virtual worlds will be implemented. One step at a time for each project, but so many projects and worlds being developed simultaneously, that it’s hard to wrap your mind around just how much work is taking place behind the scenes already, and we’re just in the first few seconds of this Brave New World.

But even then, in the bit of excitement and hope and positive energy I felt at the end, there was reason to feel the Big Chill that permeated the expo for me. Prokofy has often spoken of the dangers we face in these early days of virtual worlds and metaverse dreams and in the excited voices of these boys and men, I heard the architects of my worlds talking of code that is literally transformed into law WITHIN the worlds regardless of what the law might say OUTSIDE the world – I can not give someone a no copy, no transfer object in Second Life under any circumstance because the law of the code prevents me from doing so – and I wondered who was talking with them about the _social and cultural_ implications of their decisions. Even I, one who has just spent the last two years almost entirely devoted to exploring virtual worlds, could barely follow the conversation and technical jargon to grasp at what the outcome of their debate might mean to me, or to a professor, or a university.

In the end I’m not sure what to make of it all. I was very very glad to see my friends and there were bright spots in those few days, but I came back to overflowing inboxes with seemingly hundreds of requests for information or speaking engagements or workshops about Second Life and I can’t help but see them all in a new, far more cynical light. I think Virtual Worlds 2008 ended my Virtual Worlds Honeymoon, and that makes me sad indeed. I already feel that I’ve been working my tail off but I guess now is the time when we must really roll up our sleeves, figure out how to make these virtual worlds work, technically and socially, smush them into the Metaverse we dreamt of, still lead a balanced Real Life, make it financially worthwhile without selling out our souls to MTV, and continue to work on figuring out how these virtual worlds can make our real one a better place, for ourselves AND our kids, who hopefully will be learning more than just better brand loyalty in the worlds we create.

We have a _lot_ of work to do.


10
Apr 08

Sustainable digital living?

I’m poking my head up like Punxsutawney Phil after a week of troubled connectivity due to travel, power supply and video card problems, office relocation, and general chaos following a trip out of town. I’m still about 400 some messages behind on email, most of which aren’t spam per se, and the to-do list appears to be miles long.

Virtual Worlds 2008 was interesting – not fantastic, not exciting – but interesting, and I have pictures and notes and all sorts of things I keep thinking I’ll post about when I catch my breath, and I don’t have time at the moment so I’ll leave it for now. But the last week has me thinking about how absolutely overwhelming all of this digital connection can be. I’m definitely not the first to post about this by a long shot, I know, but I think it’s been a while since I let so much pile up without attending to the daily maintenance and now that I’m trying to dive back in.. good heavens.

Beyond the sheer volume of things I need to click and type and drag and drop and upload and convert and format, I’m also reminded of the sometime tenuous nature of all of this technology. Travel for a few days and be stuck with really flaky and intermittent net access and it’s like being crippled. Power supply fan and video card fan both die on your main box and poof, that’s more like having a limb severed, or at least a chunk of your brain out commission.

After 9 days of limited access, I suddenly came face to face with how much maintenance work all these sites, services, networks, and worlds really are – and though it mostly feels like good, honest work that engages me and enriches my life, I wonder if it’s really sustainable? Is it reasonable? Balanced?

It’s like a treadmill, you’re fine until you miss a step and then, buddy, look out.

This is me stumbling to catch up. Mass apologies if I haven’t responded or replied to something yet, I’m getting there. =)