Thursday, October 18, 2007

Greetings from Sunny Vancouver

OK, so it's not sunny, and I am not feeling very cheery. I'm having some Internet challenges here. For some reason, my laptop is not behaving with the wireless at the conference, and things were really spotty in my hotel room (had to sit on the floor near the door to pick up the connection). I got in last night at 1:30am (and that's Pacific time). Now, I am in a computer lab here at the conference, schlepping on a Dell. Yuck.

So, let's move on. At least I am in contact once again. The only thing I have attended so far has been the Keynote from John Lester of Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life. It was a very interesting presentation, makes me think I need to get out there, to at least assess the potential. Lester emphasized throughout the presentation that we, as researchers, need to be studying SL. Of course, LL would love the PR and the attention, but there are some valid research questions. He did some stage-setting at the beginning of the pres, stating that SL simulates 375 square miles of physical space, and they use 15,000 CPUs (servers) running 24/7 to host it. He was careful to point out that SL is not a game, although people do play games in it. But, there are other applications for business, education, health, entertainment, support.

In terms of demographics, SL skews older than other social networks or massively multiplayer environments, average age is 35, but is fairly gender neutral. He didn't talk about ethnicities represented, but I am not sure that people are required to identify themselves that way.

Their main purpose is to provide the platform and the tools so that the users can create the experience. So, it is similar to Facebook or MySpace in that it doesn't actually create any content. He said a couple of times "We build something cool for users, then get the hell out of the way." From what I was able to glean, there are developer types who can handle the scripting to make cool things, and there are regular users that might want to buy these things. So, that is similar to the open source development model that we have been discussing regarding Facebook. He did not discuss other ad models, other than commercial entities setting up shop in SL.

He said that the reason the graphics look like something from the 1990s is that it is much more difficult (in terms of bandwidth) to stream a virtual world than when it is running on a computer. But, they are working on it. And, others are creating applications that have improved on the graphic environment.

Lester said that the world that people are creating is something between reality and fantasy, what he called an oasis of the surreal. So, you see a hybrid of real world things alongside things that are completely made up. He showed Vassar College's simulation of the Sistine Chapel, but then showed how people could fly up and hang out on ledges (which you could not do in the real chapel).

I found his section on health support in SL to be the most applicable. People with physical disabilities are using it to explore mobility that they do not have. And other disorders are assisted, such as Asperger's Syndrome, stroke survivors, depression support, cerebral palsy. These implications are fascinating.

I am starting to get the sense that SL is really just the next generation of browser. If Facebook adds a social aspect to browsing, SL adds a 3D aspect. Is this the future?

I wish that Lester had shown an actual demo of SL, rather than his simple presentation with still photos. I feel I still need to get into the environment to actually comprehend. And, now I wish I had added some questions specifically about SL on my survey. I will have to see if anyone talked about SL in the Other or Comment fields.

I'll probably write more later, because now I am hungry and must seek lunch.


anna said...

Second Life: or, I still don't get it.

How can it help people with disabilities? Why would people walk around a virtual mall when they could shop online (faster and easier) or *gasp!* actually go into a real store?

I still feel like I'm missing something. Maybe I should just try it and find out.

Cindy Royal said...

I totally agree with your last paragraph. During the last session I was in, I thought that we might try it as a class. What do you think?

anna said...

Why not? I wanna be able to fly...