December 18, 2006

@LeWeb3: SecondLife or NoLife?

322047966_1f9397320f_m Glenn Fisher, the Marketing Director at Linden Lab, talked about how SecondLife's 3D world helps create stronger communities than those of the traditional 2D variety, but his talk has turned me 180 degrees in my own hopes of using SecondLife as an educational tool.

He quoted some research that showed the distances avatars (people's online 3D images) stood apart in SecondLife was identical to the distances humans stood apart in real life. This made people more likely, he suggested, to create a genuine community, a genuine market and economy, where individuals could create goods for sale - this includes the kids we teach, in theory.

This month marks the 2 millionth SecondLifer with over 10 million objects created in the world, and around 900 events held there every day, including university classes and rock concerts. There are over 7000 companies plying their wares there, too, turning over around $87 million dollars this year. 43% of Second Life members are women but the median age is 32 - not exactly the younger end of the internet market, is it?

But don't let these figures tempt you into believing that SecondLife is the next place we as educators should concentrate our efforts. Of those 2 million only about a third, it would appear, will have interacted in the past week. For me, that's not highly sticky and certainly not as sticky as podcasting production, say, is for our kids. Or sharing photostories, films, animations, blog posts, opinions... the stuff some of us have been doing for years.

So far the offerings in SecondLife, which crashes in the simplest of scenarios, even when it's the Marketing Director having a play around, are nothing short of an inefficient mirror of what we have at reasonably good quality and download speed on the web.

As some educators seem to get excited about being able to view blogs, YouTube videos and PDFs in a jerky, boxy environment, I just want to get hold of that information quickly, assess its usefulness, bookmark it or throw it away. If SecondLife is going to be nothing but a really slow filing cabinet that often falls over, then please, no, take it away...

Better still, if I want to play a  game I'll go online and find that or, better still, use my xBox to play with folk from around the world without jerking around every time I want to move. At a push, the one big difference between SecondLife and World of Warcraft is that I'd probably be more likely to go for fun and play in WoW than SL. In WoW I am playing a game with real human interactions and the presence of a learning environment is happily missing ;-) Kids get stuck on WoW because they can, as Jonas says, allow them to be someone they are not - and how many kids wish they could be something else than the 'pain in the neck', the 'weak learner' or 'quiet child' of the classroom?

While I have been advocating that we need to appreciate changing viewpoints of the worlds we live in (virtual and offline) and consolidate these viewpoints in the way we teach and learn, I'm not sure SecondLife is yet in that vocabulary as a specific platform. I would love to hear more about what Wim Veen had to say about SecondLife in particular in his talk on the matter last week.

In the meantime, Jonas sums up why SecondLife as an educational tool is perhaps more out of place than we have first thought. I've paraphrased - read all of his post:

  • Second Life is not a game in that it does not have environmental challenges and progress within its ecosystem.

  • which follows - Second Life can not and won’t have the retention and draw games like Halo2, World of Warcraft, DaoC, and others have. Frankly, I believe for a glorified 3D chat system with build-your-own backend, SL isn’t all that bad.

  • Second Life lacks internal rules and controls which will come back to bite Linden and its users in the hiney. Already we see issues of disappearing (expensive) virtual property and Linden Labs disclaiming any and all responsibility to preserve or restore such property, citing the “we just run the servers” excuse.

  • which introduces a host of legal issues with regards to property, ownership, and liability.

More over on the blog of Jonas Luster - cool guy, policeman, blogger, gamer

Comments

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I was going to write a comment but it got too long, so it's here instead:

http://digitalkatie.typepad.com/blog/2006/12/response_to_sl_.html

You're welcome. I find it quite interesting how you mingle technique and education. I'd wish some of my teachers at school, at the time I had to attend it, have had such creative potential. I got in contact with your blog via the Le Web 3 scandal, as one can call it like that. But I will come back now and read more regularly because of the educationals topics which I am very interested in.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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