SL making headlines again

Once again the press criticizes SL – this time around it’s the Australian IT with an article entitled Second Life a virtual failure.

I don’t know if it still is silly season down under, but I hope so .. . Otherwise I’m troubled by the journalistic level. Not so much because of the content, but because of the presentation of the apparent facts.

The journalist refers to a qualitative study made by a postgraduate student at Queensland University, Kim MacKenzie. Her study focused on 20 international corporations, such as Intel, AOL and Coca Cola, that were conducting business in SL – most of which (doesn’t say how many) have closed their “sites” now.

MacKenzie is quoted for saying:

The actual Second Life setting is going to require either an adaptation or a new commercial virtual marketplace controlled by commercial parameters that you need for safe and secure business activity to happen on the internet (…) Once the right setting is there, it will explode.

And she concludes by saying, that the right commercial setting must be backed by an awareness campaign to get users on board.

At this point nothing in the article justifies the sensational headline, and even more surprising the article ends by referring to one of the first Australian companies entering SL, Telstra that has BigPond in-world. According to spokesman, Peter Habib BigPond’s Second Life site had hosted its own registration process and continues to experience growth, since it was set up in March 2007. And that’s it …

I wouldn’t term SL as neither a site nor as a virtual reality program, but that’s just a minor detail. What’s far more worrying is the press’ constant need to create headlines on false claims. This and other critical articles usually confirm, what many regular residents already know, namely that there has been a lack of imagination on the part of many SLusers, who simply haven’t had the strategy, the creativity, the skills and perhaps the patience to explore and utilize SL’s potential.

As many virtual world fans know, the esteemed technology research and advisory company, Gartner Inc. last year predicted that 80% of internet users would have a “second life” by 2011 (Not necessarily in Second Life). In May 2008 Gartner, Inc. did however renounce a bit on this by saying that 90 % of corporate virtual world projects will fail within 18 months – here is some food for thought from that article, which as well could apply for the educational sector;

Focusing on the technology rather than understanding user requirements is one of the key reasons for failure.

They need to realise that virtual worlds mark the transition from web pages to web places and a successful virtual presence starts with people, not physics.

A benefit of virtual worlds is the rich collaboration experience they offer by adding a real-time visual dimension via avatars, so interactions can include emotional information in the “conversations” between individuals, setting them apart from simpler networking applications. They also differentiate themselves from web-based interactions (which can be asynchronous) by requiring both parties to be present at the same time.

Companies need to start thinking what their virtual world strategy is, incorporate it into their internet strategy and merge their two-dimensional web pages to support a “3D web place”. Virtual world presence is not to replace the “2D world” but to supplement it.

/Mariis

Alive and kicking!

First of all this title refers to me personally. Unfortunately both I and my family have been struck with serious illness, and I’ve had to prioritize between activities. However, now everything seems to work out for the better and I’m trying to get back on the blog :-)

Secondly, the title actually refers to SL. On Friday July 11th Danish National Media pronounced the death of Second Life in both an article and a TV-clip.

Bad news travel fast! (Poster at Wonderful Denmark)

These are the main arguments from the article;

1) According to chief editor, Jens Nielsen of the Danish online magazine ComeOn, SL is too far from reality and there’s no real use. Nielsen compares SL with Facebook, and states that we use the latter for creating networks, where as SL is too “cartoonish”.

2) According to PhD candidate Simon Ostenfeld Pedersen, Aarhus University SL hasn’t come up with anything really new, the added value of using SL instead of other media is unclear, and in general it’s boring to visit remediated places in SL. Pedersen concludes that the potentials of the media hasn’t been fully utilized and that’s SL’s problem.

3) According to Nordic Analytical Director of IDC, Per Andersen SL is dead seen from a business perspective, but something else will arise in the ashes of SL.

The journalist of the article, Jes Højen Nielsen, speculates that this might be Google’s “Lively”.

Well, a part from the fact that one should always be careful when interpreting people who have been interviewed by the press; I do have the following comments:

To me SL cannot be too far from reality – it is part of reality!
Avatar-mediated communication is just another way of communicating. According to Bolter & Grusin (1999) all types of mediation can be seen as remediation, and remediation can be carried out via 2 different strategies; 1) respectfully or 2) radically. In SL we find countless examples of both strategies. SL has been hugely criticized because of the many examples of respectful remediation – it’s boring and there’s no added value. I don’t think it’s that simple. Respectful remediation serves an important purpose of letting especially newbies feel at home, and in some instances respectful remediation is needed in order to role-play and test real-life situations, which for many reasons can’t be tested real-life.

Many of the above mentioned arguments against SL are seen from a business perspective, which isn’t my area of expertise. I do however think that some of the critique could apply for the educational area as well. But I don’t think that SL as a medium solely is to blame for the lack of what we may call radical remediation. It’s true that the learning curve in SL is quite steep, and I’m sure this has had the consequences that both many newbies have failed to return and also that many less technical oriented users have failed to exploit the full potentials of the media. As for the steep learning curve, it’s my impression that Linden Lab has eased the procedures for newbies and many new OI (also national) have arisen. But I still feel that the users (and not the media itself) have the main responsibility for the way SL is used.

It’s my impression that many new users both from the business and the educational area went into SL without any clear strategy of why, what, when and where. The motto of SL is “Your world – your imagination” – this means that it’s your own responsibility as a resident to at least co-create in-world. Nothing really happens in real life neither if you don’t initiate it yourself.

Facebook can be used for networking – well, so can SL. I personally find the networking part of SL to be one of the major strengths of SL. I’ve never been in an educational environment which made it so easy to connect and collaborate with colleagues from all over the world – it’s simply amazing :-)

It is however true that the popularity of Facebook is quite immense compared to SL, but so what? To me Facebook is just an extended way of sending e-mails – I really don’t find it that interesting, and I certainly do not see the same added value, as I do with SL when it comes to educational usage – especially distance education. Like many of my colleagues, I see SL as a sort of experimentarium where we can explore the many possibilities of 3D-mediated communication, creation and connectivity.

On a personal level I really don’t care what Danish National Media thinks of SL, but the constant negative press makes it so much harder to convince people of the actual potential of media like SL, and it is quite disrespectful to the +50.000 residents who meet, socialize, teach, learn, and try to do business in-world on a daily basis!

As a consequence some of my avi relations arranged a Ghost Party on Research Island Friday night, and avatar Heidi Ballinger, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in-person at The Metaverse-U conference in February, has started a lively debate on her blog about this. I’m confident the last lines about this haven’t been written ..

best
/Mariis

Bolter, J. & Grusin, R. (1999): Remediation – Understanding New Media. The MIT Press.