Monday, 21 December 2009

The Slope of Enlightenment to the Plateau of Productivity

So Virtual Worlds has had its Peak of Inflated Expectations,is now well past its Trough of Disillusionment and we are finally able to show business and educators the return on their investment. The "hype" cycle of Virtual Worlds has now become the steady completion of projects that may not get the media interested but does show the REAL uses of Virtual Worlds.

When Second Life hit the media spotlight everyone ran in talking about its wonders and uses. This led large multi national companies to join Second Life and start setting up. However, this inflated expectations. People expected that virtual worlds would take over from the information overloaded internet and attract communication with people from all over the world. And it did!

The problem was that Second Life gave people from all over the world anonymity. And when you give people anonymity real world social etiquette goes out of the door. We have all heard of the stories of "internet bravado" where normal mild mannered people, who can hide behind their computer, become the biggest idiots the world has ever seen. Companies were setting up shop and being told hundreds of people were visiting their island, however they had no way of getting the information they cared about. They also had to watch that people were not “picketing” their island sprouting uncouth language and down talking their products, everything that is possible in the real world. However our own manners wouldn’t let us do it for fear of embarrassment, personal reactions or any other number of reasons why we just write a complaint and never "picket" the local shop when something goes wrong.

With an internet page you are able to record (roughly) how many people have visited, how long they stayed and where they were from. The businesses could use that information for marketing and seeing what people were searching for. However with Second Life the anonymity meant that businesses had no traceability and as such could not see a return on investment. They quickly folded up their islands and went back to web 1.0.

Second Places knew that Virtual Worlds was still the future, but it was never a replacement to the Internet. It was to be more specialised towards certain markets. There are two major markets that Second Places has concentrated upon. Education and Simulation.

Second Life was not an ideal solution to these markets. With one of our clients (BP) they wanted to talk to people using their real names and every meeting started with 10 minutes of everyone saying who they were in real life and the confusion when someone would address them as their avatar’s name rather than real name. With education, secondary schools could not get 17 year olds to mix with 18 year olds even if they were in the same class due to the "teengrid"

We waited for Linden Lab to produce the behind fire wall solution "Nebraska". However, when it came out, it was far too restrictive and far too costly.

We went on to use Active Worlds, THERE and a few others. However we then started researching OpenSim. As I say during my sales speech, "it looks like Second Life, it acts like Second Life, in fact it even smells like Second Life but we can control it!"

This was an awesome product, sure it was still in alpha mode, but open source software like this will never be anything but "use at your own risk". We have spent time testing what is and what is not possible. We have our technology officer now an active member of the community. And we have nothing but 100% trust in this product.

So we have gone to all our clients to speak of the virtue of OpenSim. And most have been happy to move to this platform. It gives everything that educators want.

  • Branding
  • Security
  • The Ability to do everything they could do in SL
  • Allow the use of real names
  • No age restrictions (we had a sixth form college whose ages are 16-19, no use for either teen or main SL grid).
  • The ability to setup word filters, location filters, allow parents in at certain times while banning public so there is never any kid – adult interaction (even child parent) unless it's a teacher.

However we still had one problem. Content! We had schools interested but the content they wanted to see was always expensive to recreate for each school. Experiments we did for some schools would cost up to £10,000 and that was very much cost restrictive. They may only use these experiments 4 or 5 times in a school year.

Although many people dream of virtual worlds where you can leave one and enter another the practicality of this for secure and safe browsing, especially for children will put educators off. So we have to figure out a way to bring the content to the schools own grid, easily and automatically when the school, class, teacher or even student wants it.

So that leads us to where we are now.

The Content Grid

On the 4th of December 2009 Second Places will open live beta testing of "The Content Grid". Based upon the OpenSim platform where schools can sign up automatically to gain their own private island and then gain access to a web based marketplace, where they can rent or purchase other islands that can be automatically added on to their own island creating a grid of islands with content specific to what that school wants. All within the secure schools environment where they will have even more security options.

We will allow schools and other developers the ability to create more content islands and enter them on to the content grids marketplace. Setting up price to allow other schools to purchase or rent islands. All transactions will be real world transactions. When an island is purchased or rented it will automatically appear on the school’s grid and if an island is rented for a period of time at the end of the time the island will just vanish from that school's grid.

Developers will be able to upgrade their islands so schools can gain access to more and more content from more and more developers as more schools request it. To create new content you will require a SDK (software development kit) that will allow your island to fit into the content grid marketplace and the school’s own grid. There is no restriction on the price developers wish to charge schools.

We have been working with a few educators to come up with this product. Schools are very interested in paying developers to create content that won't be as expensive, as the developer now has the ability to sell the content to more than one school.

The Content Grid Module

"The Content Grid" is not just for primary and secondary educators. The ability for companies to have their own grid and allow developers to develop content to sell to these companies opens up a massive opportunity to small developers who do not have the infrastructure or resources to market their wares in OpenSim.

Each grid will be private to the client, so access to it will be secure and use their login principles they use currently (CANVAS is the first island that will be able to use the content grid and it currently has 350,000 users who do not require a new password or user names as it integrates with the LTS GLOW learning portal).

We are looking for beta testing developers who would be willing to transfer their content from Second Life to the SDK or create brand new content. We already have plenty of schools signed up for the beta. If you think you have content that you would like to showcase as part of the beta (real money transactions will not be switched on for beta) then please contact Mark Duffy (

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