Feb 22, 2009

Second Life - Detail - Escapism or KM Tool ?

Is Second Life just for fun, a joke or does it have educative/collaborative aspects & corporate business applications, compared with WOW – World of Warcraft? Can its simulation capabilities be exploited for training programs ? Is it an escapist’s fantasy, blurring reality and virtual worlds ? How does it compare with Pixar’s 2008 hit “Wall-E” – when Captain McCre is forced into reality? (More).

So where is Second Life travelling ? Is it also being hit by the global financial crunch?
Virtual Tourism in Second Life was touted as a really big future trend in 2007 - personally I prefer the reality over the virtual when it comes to travel. And some of those hot virtual travel sites in Second Life in 2007 seem to have vanished, along with the Victorian government presence. But should it be dismissed as a fad ?

Consider the mid 1990’s and the Internet. I recall back in 1997, I was just back from a family trip to the Daintree, all researched and arranged over the fledgling Internet. Enthusiastically I advised the local Tourism Authority head honcho’s in Wollongong that they should be starting to get into Tourism Internet Marketing. They looked at me very strangely and shook their heads.

Ten years on, so much has changed. Which tourism operator hasn’t got an internet presence? Who doesn’t check on travel details and book itineraries over the Internet ? This disruptive technology cut a swathe through the travel agency business, with DIY travel. And then we uploaded pics onto Flickr or Facebook to share around. Or emailed the family back home - potentially very helpful, if you manage to get injured in a vehicle smash on the other side of the world.

Second Life is in reality a game predicated on a capitalist corporatist model – but then wasn’t Monopoly also a capitalist game? This cuts to the heart of the criticism – a single controlling corporate – considered to be a more pervasive situation. Unlike, say the Internet, where there are many corporates and creative commons. Quite a few companies set up in Second Life, some departing when it did not turn out to be the expected money spinner. This smacks of those who naively entered into the Internet world and got badly burnt. An internet presence needed more sophisticated approaches, than the sort of shopping catalogues shoved into your letterbox.

Education applications reportedly are powering on. Boston based Tony O’Driscoll, discussed the possibilities in his 2007 paper, and Boise Uni had a course in 2007 on Teaching and Learning in Second Life. There seem to be a number of wiki entries on Second Life in Education applications, eg Sim Teach

CNN reported in 2006” The classroom of the future isn't on a college campus. It's in the virtual world of "Second Life." In "Second Life," virtual residents -- cartoonish-looking characters controlled via keyboard and mouse -- create anything their hearts desire. Also known as avatars, the residents start up businesses, stage their own concerts, sell real estate and design fashion lines.

Reuters news agency even has a correspondent based in the cyber community. A growing number of educators are getting caught up in the wave. More than 60 schools and educational organizations have set up shop in the virtual world and are exploring ways it can be used to promote learning.

The three-dimensional virtual world makes it possible for students taking a distance course to develop a real sense of community, said Rebecca Nesson, who leads a class jointly offered by Harvard Law School and Harvard Extension School in the world of "Second Life."

It was a first year Nanotechnology student in 2007 who awakened me to the possibilities of Second Life for
collaboration amongst the technology research community in areas such as Nanotech, Rockets & Astronomy eg with NASA and MIT (also used for student orientation). It almost seemed too incredible that a first year student from the University of Wollongong could be networking with these research scientists. Science News reported that Scientists were talking via Second Life in 2008.

In the USA a
Web2.0 in Government Discussion group has been set up in Second Life – "[Second Life] is definitely more dynamic than getting together on a conference call. We have the ability to share documents and items in real time, that we wouldn't otherwise," he said. Other government groups have used it to network on best practices.

I find the
Virtual Earth aspects intriguing. However I noted that the Life 2.0 conference on Dr Dobbs Island could only handle 40 virtual attendees (aka avatars) selected via a lottery (the others in their thousands listened through a special website). Forty attendees seems a “boutique” conference size to me.

In Australia ABC established its
ABC Island – which was vandalised in 2007, it was joined by the CSIRO and Telstra’s Big Pond Island. In 2008, Stephen Powell, a Telstra tech compared it with Webex & Live Meeting – “You don’t really get the sense of sharing the experience with others - like you do in Second Life. Now I am not unique in recognising this possibility. Organisations like Cisco, IBM, NASA[6], ABC[7] and others regularly host similar sessions. Often its about the convenience of attending a meeting while sitting at your desk, but in a post September 11 world it also about running sessions without the security hassles. It marks an interesting change on Second Life as some users eschew the fantasy aspects of this virtual world and blatantly provide details of their real life identity”.

Gartner has pointed out that there are some governance and risk issues that need to be dealt with to avoid huge headaches, eg IT security, confidentiality. More on this subject.

McKinsey in 2008 warned companies to ignore Second Life at their peril. And so Accenture was recruiting via Second Life and so was EMC ; whilst Candidates for the position of President of France all had Second Life presences. Other high profile corporates include IBM - set up a sales centre in Second Life in 2007. Then in 2008 IBM claimed product launch virtual events in Second Life cost 1/3 of real events. Dell and Cisco had also established presences. Toyota was promoting its Scion brand and Peugot was there too. To save costs a number of organizations are holding conferences in Second Life, eg Intel, and Sun Microsystems – which has a dress code.

The use of avatars instead of photos seems to be an issue for some commentators. But hey, has anyone got a teenager who's into Japanese Manga .... seems that they're all online with their avatars ...why do those avatars all seem to be such science fantasy like characters ? Then there's http://www.taste.com.au/ - my favourite cooking website ... yep I found it peculiar at first that most of the forum participants had avatars not photo's .... And Nintendo’s WII game – more avatars. Why is this so ?? -probably a whole field of study in itself ...

Maybe Second Life, as a capitalist game needs competition, but its demise is probably exaggerated.

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