Friday, 24 December 2010

Museums need to enter the 21st Century

Museums in the 18th Century and Before

I'm not a museum expert, I love the things, I never miss the opportunity to enter one and gaze at the exhibits and the stories behind them. Always using my imagination to think about what it was like for the people back then, what would they think of our world just now.

But when the Museum industry started to take off it was for the express purpose of bring the exhibits to the people. Allowing the people to use their imagination and learn about not just the past, but the past that effected all of us.

The most famous and large museums were, of course, found in the capital cities of all the major countries. People would flock to them, well when I say people I mean those either living in these cities or who could afford to get there and more importantly people who wanted to see them.

Countries "borrowed" relics from other countries. Take the Elgin Marbles, its fair to say without Lord Elgin taking them the world may have lost an amazing part of its history, however now Greece is a 21st C entry Country, should they not have them back? We'll I'm not caring either way, I just want to point out at the start of the Museum craze it was the big boy stole from the little boy.

So we now have Museums all over the world with relics from all over the world. Sometimes they put them in exhibits with other relics from the same area, to give us a feel of the place they were taken from.

Museums move into the 20th and 21st Centuries

I was in New York recently where, of course, I headed to the New York Met. I seen some of the most amazing art pieces in the world. Then I came home and spoke to my son about it. I spoke long (I could tell cause he looked bored) about the Egyptian temple/tomb they had taken from Egypt and rebuilt inside a lovely modern glass structure.

I found it amazing, yet he pointed out that wouldn't it have looked better to leave it where it was, surrounded by the real pyramids, the sand and the Nile. I thought to my self, need to watch what I say here, don't want my son growing up hating Museums.

I said that people couldn't get to Egypt, and thus it would not be seen by as many people. So more people see it, more people love it.

And the imagination of a child, "The do it on the computer?".

Its true, and simple. I don't want to PAY (yes I mean pay, I mean my taxes) for a museum in London with Egyptian art which I may have seen once in my lifetime, my son has never. I want it accessible to me here, at home. And I want it better!

Museums 21st Century and Beyond

Museums need to use technology or they will be left behind. I see more an more museums using technology within their walls, well that's great! For those lucky enough to get to that museum. I see the Science Museum has all these wonderful interactive experiments. That is great for those kids that can get there, but if you look a the science museums web site its like watching paint dry. Boring and set up like a School.

No kid is ever going to say, "hey joe, when we get home from school lets go in the Science Museums web site!"

Web sites need to be interactive, social, immerse and educational. More educational that the actual museum could ever be. Here are some examples:-

You have created the best exhibit possible with your limited budget and limited size. Forget that, build exhibits as large as a city, as safe as a kids bedroom, Let your imagination RUN. If your an adult and you've thought "mmm it would be better if I had...X Y or Z" then think what it must be like for a child. They still have their imagination on full power, they are likely thinking "This is boring, I want to play my PS3!".

Whats the chances of you taking every kids from a class to Egypt and teach them in front of the great Pryamid? Slim to Zero? Well what about you taking the class to a Virtual Egypt as it was 3000 years before, walk round the Great Pyramid AS ITS BEING BUILT. With a class of 20 kids from all over the world. As you walk you tell them to look at X and explain all about it! Now you can't tell me kids wouldn't love that... and LEARN from it!

Virtual worlds opens up so much to Museums, but in the present climate I understand the financial problems. But here is a way to make more money. Some examples.

You could have areas where only subscribers could access, or charge access by the minute. Have your experts do lectures and presentations to hundreds of people without the cost of them going anywhere.

The limits for Museums is their imagination.

Monday, 20 December 2010

So what have you been working on Mark?

Yes I know my readers want to know.

Well like many SME companies we go through cycles. We create, then sell, then create then sell and at this moment we are about to come out of our create part.

We have been working on something (can't go into too much detail just yet) that we hope will put all our technical problems (Firewalls, Voice, Hosting) behind us. Allowing much more easier access to virtual worlds and hence more use.

And more importantly take the next step in virtual worlds.

To give an idea we are putting the final tweaks to "modifying your avatar", "voice communication", "Marketplace" and much much more.

But the most Wonderful thing is the graphics. The image at the top is just a very small snippet (still trying to hide as much as we can) of what is possible.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

OpenSim, IT and Firewalls - The BANE of my existance

Sorry all, I've been away, well I mean dug in deep in a development cycle.

I want to talk, again about a problem, a problem that does not exist, however it is a problem and its stopping the spread of Virtual Worlds.

This problem is corporate IT.

I've worked in IT for 12 years, I've been IT Manager of a SME and have worked in IT departments with 100+ staff. IT has and always will be looked upon as the servant of the company, the poor ginger step child that no one wants. Yet! Without IT your company would be dead and you would all be poorer.

To the IT Manager, you will always be the ginger step child, that will never change. I had to accept it (I was the only head of department not invited to the CEO's meetings) I bet there are meetings you think you should be at, but are not, it won't change.. you have to accept it.

So there you have it. IT you are a service, IT you have to accept that.

But alas, it doesn't always work like that.

CEO > "IT Manager, I've seen this wonderful virtual world system, it could make us millions! But I can't access it, I've spoken to those wonderful people at Second Places and they inform me that our firewall is restricting access, would you be so kind to open the firewall."

IT Manager > "I'm sorry boss, but opening the firewall port in question would leave us open to attack. And that attack could cause the company major financial problems!"

CEO > "Oh my, Second Places never mentioned that! The swines that they are, let me speak to them!".

10 minutes pass

CEO > "IT Manager, I've spoken to Second Places. The system only needs opening to one IP address, and if we are using decent firewalls we can even set it up so the port is opened from the inside and only when in use! Is that not wonderful, so when can I have it opened?"

IT Manager > "oh sorry boss, but that is a lot of work, it will take us months and I don't have the man power to do it!"

CEO > "Months? Oh my, those swines in Second Places said it was easy! Let me speak to them."

10 minutes pass

CEO > "IT Manager, they insist it is easy, in fact they will send one of their own people down and if you supply them the firewall password "

IT Manager "Boss, let me stop you there. Give a third party our firewall password, never! that will allow them access to everything!".

All the while when this is happening, idiot Joe in accounts is accidentally deleting all the accounts files for the past 10 years, while hacker Mick from America is hitting the firewall's port 25 (which is always opened for email) with a DoS attack and some ex-prince from Nigeria is sending an email to the head of HR asking for his bank account numbers, which he freely gives!

The worse example was after 3 months of debate with the IT Manager, we go in to open the port only to find the FTP port open with a server allowing anonymous user access to upload and download.

So I always say to the IT Manager, "hey mate, I know it sucks, and no one loves you, but just open the firewall ports, please! Our clients range from BP to Dominos Pizza UK, each will likely have much, much more to hide, are much, much more likely to be targeted by hackers and have opened their firewall ports without a thought."

You are special, your company is special but firewalls ports are not there to stop hackers, and (like Accees and Amazon this week) its the firewall themselves that is the target, opening certain ports in the high 9000's is NOT going to help a hacker, they are not going to search for a open firewall port up there when they know port 25 is open, port 80 is open and port 443 is open.

So there you have it, until there is a virtual world MMO that does not need a firewall port open, then come on Boys and Girls of IT, stop scaring the boss and open those ports PLEASE! x

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Another nail in the SL Education Coffin

Serious Games learning group; Most likely abandoning SL; Looking at options Open Sim, Unity 3D, Open Cobal

I'm not sure who the Seriuos Games Learning Group are, but really I'm still shocked by the number of people still promoting Second Life as an Education Platform.

I had a client on the phone today (in fact had 2 for 2 different reasons).

He was being sold Second Life for their Academy, I had met him a few months back but we were too expensive (this was before our wonderful discounted TCG for Schools). He was being told that Second Life was the best place for kids to learn and travel around. There was no mention of the Teen Grid closing, no mention of "funny name" brigade. All he was being told was Second Life is BACK and its better than ever!

Then the next call was from Corporate IT for a local autority, who has been asked by a school to allow them access to Second Life. They also have TCG and was asking for that access too. So this IT bloke was going on about openning 20000+ ports so people could use Second Life and Second Places.

I had to correct him that to use the TCG its 1 static IP address and open 10 ports, all of which can be configured to open on after an internal request to a Cisco router. Within 5 minutes this nice IT person had opened the ports to TCG and tested, all connecting instantly.

He started asking me questions about Second Life and I just stopped him. We are Second Places, we don't do much in Second Life and we would never encourage a corporation or education establishment to use Second Life any more. I explained that this conversation was one we had many many times with corporate IT and one we gave up arguing against over 3 years ago.

As Second Places moves forward with Unity 3D as well as OpenSim for Education. We want everyone to be successful, but please.. Stop promoting Second Life as a platform for business/education. Linden have made it clear in the past couple of months, Second Life is a SOCIAL NETWORK site. That is why I started in Second Life over 6 years ago. I even still have my beta first land on the mainland grid. I still like to hang out with old friends there. But its not for business!


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Unity verses OpenSim

Over the past couple of months Second Places has been looking at using Unity rather than OpenSim for a few of our clients.

We've always favored OpenSim, lets be honest, its free and wonderful tool.

However it has many "problems" and I do mean problems with quotation marks around it. These problems are not really problems per say but barriers.

Never once have I met a IT Manager after the boss has said "OpenSim" who has just gone, "I'll away and open the firewall ports just now!". As an X IT Manager I know the crap that gets put on their plate. I remember the power being cut and the CEO coming into my office demanding to get his emails (these were the days before remote working and iphones) he was serious.

So its in-bred that when ever a job lands on the IT Managers desk s/he will go out of their way to point out the security issues, the possible loss of data, and so on. Even though any one with half a decent firewall (really any Cisco) knows that you can only the ports if communication has been started from inside.

So if I were a hacker, I would need to break in to the network, log in to one of their machines, run the software, that would open the port to that computer, leave the computer running, leave the building and then I could hack the system!

But wait! I'm already in the system why in gods name would I then leave?

But as soon as the boss hears "Security" and the famous "I can't be held responsible" the boss falls in line with the IT Manger and its game over for OpenSim.

I can list nearly 30 companies that have been so keen to use it, but alas their IT says no and they lose their virtual world.

So Unity comes along. Well not just Unity, there has been other game engines out there we have looked at, but we have finally cracked Unity.

The graphics are much much better than OpenSim, it uses port 80 (apart from voice which is what we are working on now, /me waves at Olli). And it installs just a plug in for the browser.

So Mr IT Manager has no need to worry, you still get a virtual world (in fact an even better one) the only thing lacking is the ability for people to build easily.

I'm going to do a table to compare what we can do (for sure and we think we can) with OpenSim and Unity and hopefully those 30 or so companies who were put off by their IT Manager can come back to the Virtual World table.

I know were not the first OpenSim developer to look at using Unity, and I don't think we'll be the last. And I'm very impressed with what Reaction Grid are offering. And I think we're looking at two different markets now, which is also a relief.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Confused with all the "Groups!"

Its not hard to confuse me

It really isn't. I'm married, with an 8 year old, I am Managing Director for what I think is the largest OpenSim/Virtual World supplier in the UK, I look after 4 full time "employed" staff and report to a board. Two offices in Aberdeen, Scotland and Manchester, England. We do nothing but Virtual Worlds.

We have over 20 active "business" clients (clients that have paid more than 10k) we have 100's of smaller "personnel" clients and developers. Our clients range from BP to Learning and Teaching Scotland (Scottish Government's Education) from Domino's Pizza UK to EMAP.

But we suck at publicity. I see smaller companies doing things that we wouldn't dream of doing, we see Marketing companies call themselves virtual world companies, and I see people stand up and say "listen to me, I am a virtual world evangelist".

And I see all these "groups" being formed, groups about File Formats, Social Interaction, Education, groups looking at things way beyond my head.

And I see other companies engaging and getting publicity. And I need to know how they can do it?

The only time I've been famous is (about 2 months ago) one of our clients was tracked along coals for spending tax payers money on something that would have saved them money, but wasn't allowed to finish. But thats the media for you. And of course the Jimmy Carr gig 3 years ago.

We give the client all the IP on all our builds so its them that get the publicity, as it should be (imho). You don't design a web site and then you hark on about it, its the client who should get the publicity, you just have it in your portfolio to show off to new clients.

I just don't have the time to pursue all these groups, go to all these meetings. My priority is to my clients and new business. They have my mobile number and they know how to use it.

Yet I feel bad, I'm using Open Source technology. I'm the first to bitch about things going wrong or something dropping in the list to be developed. My CTO does his best but hes also busy.

So this blog is to everyone out there making virtual worlds better

"THANKS! Keep up the good work" with one question... Anyone want to help with our publicity?


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

You are going to have to change!

The world is about to turn nasty

Thankfully I don't mean the world is about to turn nasty on you, but its going to be a much harder world to do business in. As you are no doubt aware the world faced the worst "depression"/"recession" since the great crash of the 30's. So as a solution the Governments of the world met in London and agreed to spend their way out. And it WORKED!

I'm not here to say if they were right or wrong, but they saved us ALL from a full blown deeper than deep depression AKA 1930's.

But then the bill arrived at everyone's table, "Emmm excuse me Mr General Public, sir, your bill is slightly larger than we expected!". And when I say everyone, I mean everyone apart from the US which is still spending (again if that's correct or not, I don't know, all I know is the US public will have to pay for it sometime).

So Governments have a choice.
1) Increase Taxes
2) Cut spending
3) A bit of both.

Again I don't want to comment on which is right but these things have to happen.

And everyone know this... And yet its the hope "it won't be me!", but I think I'm safe in saying, "It likely will!".

So what will you do about it?

Again I don't want to say what you WILL do to "persuade" your Government it should not be you but we can already see what is the likely outcome...


Greece already is as close to a shutdown country as is possible, France is just about to undertake a 24 hours NATIONAL strike, Scotland's public sector staff have been "FORCED" to agree to a 0% increase this year, next year and 0.5% the year after, so they are going to strike, the list is endless.

"But wait!" I hear you cry, "your not a political blogger, you talk about Virtual Worlds!"

You are, as always, so right. And here is where Virtual Worlds could save you millions!

Travel across Europe is going to be near impossible during this strike in France. All Aircraft will have to detour round France to fly, they don't fly over France to get to Rome from London by choice, its kind of the cheapest way there. So prices will go up and travel will become even more restrictive!

I think its fair to say these strikes will not get better soon. Governments really have no money and I'm not spending just now as I think they could raise taxes (UK 20% VAT already agreed).

So I'm overjoyed to see a global conference held on a virtual world.

Slightly less overjoyed to see it on Second Life (with Lindens documented problems, the last experience of an event that went horribly wrong, see my earlier blog, and the problem of not knowing who I am talking to, I will be Texas Arizona, and trust me its not just a clever name ).

But I am going to subscribe and looking forward to it, I pray with my whole heart that the SGI boys and girls have spoken to Linden Labs, have said, "oi, don't let us down here boys! this could be the way conferences are held in the future".

So lets hope in 6 months from now I can attend BETT or the Museums Association Conference without worrying about BA strikes, French Truck Drivers or anything else. Where I can log in 2 minutes before the talk I want to attend, ask questions, give feedback and be in the office as soon as its finished - WOULD BE BLISS!

Although really, it would have been EASIER and slightly more safer to use OpenSim, but I pray for a good day! And look forward to using my "elevator pitch" I have just learned at the MIT Business School training in a virtual world (/me gets my handshake gesture ready).