Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Second life? Whatsdatnow?

Last week I was reading this article about abandoned campuses on Second Life - you know the virtual world that took the educational world by storm back in 2008(ish) and is now more or less synonymous with major flops and misdirects in educational technology.

For the past few days I've been looking like a madman through old backups of screenshots I had taken when I was more active in second life; to be able to showcase my tall, skiny, blasé, goth avatar with black wings (specifically sitting with his feet on a conference room table).  After looking through my computers, and through some backup hard drives, I ended up with nothing.  There probably is something there, but I didn't really want to invest too much time in finding that specific picture of Milo Vuckovic (the avatar). Luckily I had one photo of my Flickr account with his name tagged.  For a brief moment  I did entertain the thought of downloading the SL client and seeing if my university's Island is still there so I can re-create the pose...and then I laughed out loud ;-)

Milo is not afraid of Ninja
So, a little trip down memory lane.  Back in 2008, having finished my second Master's degree, I embarked on my third and fourth Master's degrees simultaneously.  I was looking at jobs as an educational technologists, but without a degree in instructional design people would not look at my resume.  Too bad.  Anyway, the instructional design program I joined also had a new director at the time who was hired partly because of her work with second life. In the introduction to instructional design course I ended up spending time exploring the world of second life (and wondering why we've made such an investment in it).

Back then the university system spent $25,000 to get this up and running for our five campuses. Specifically the Teotihuacan project at UMass Dartmouth was all the buzz, and I get a sense that our campus was pushing people to "be innovative" with second life, not to be bested by our sister campus. Specifically the UMass Dartmouth project focused on a recreation of the architectural monument, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, as well as a full-size replica of the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl for students to study and explore (from that link).  This was an interesting idea, but I think that there is something lost when re-creating this in a virtual world.  I wonder if the temple, and the island, is up and running.

Even back then the island, and second life, was pretty dead.  As much as I was interested in trying out building things in SL my main hurdle was the closed, proprietary, nature of everything.  Unlike the world wide web, I could not setup my own server, run the SL equivalent of Apache, and get my own virtual world up and running.  With this pay to create model I was pretty much turned off.  Also, when you stopped playing the maintenance fees your stuff would go away (I did not see a way to download backups at the time).  Seemed like wasted effort at the time.  I think the fact that anyone can install their own minecraft server has made it much more popular as compared to SL.

Another problem I saw with SL at the time was this needless repetition of real world in SL. Designers were not thinking outside of the box in terms os what could be done, and in terms of heuristics.  So professors would have their students join a virtual class in Second Life only to sit down in a a virtual seat to be lectured at.  M'eh?  I can do that with WebEx and it will take up fewer computing resources than SL ;-)

It seems to me that people drank their own kool aid.  In several articles and interviews I saw "working with real world objects"  as a benefit of second life.  To me, working with real world objects means working with real world object (or at least 3D printed replicas).  A virtual world, even with virtual reality gear such as the oculus,  still means you are missing important tactile information. You are still to keyboard, mouse, and/or a joypad for navigation.  I think that virtual worlds do have a space, for example replicating actual living cities that don't exist anymore, such as Pompeii, but you still need to design for immersion. Something that, for me, SL lacked.


Where is everyone? (image from article)

What about you? Do you still think of second life?  What do you think?
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