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).


Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Loss of the Teen Grid to Education

So now its official and time is moving by quickly. Second Life's Teen Grid will be shutting down at the end of this year, so if you have an island there then you will be moved to the main grid and your kids will most likely be thrown out.

Not shedding a tear
Alas I am not. The UK was always stuck with the problem that our kids mostly stay in at School until they are 18 then go straight to university. Many of the Schools we look after are 6th Form Colleges and virtual worlds gave them the possibilities to have fashion shows, art shows, all showing off their students skills. But most 6th formers are 16-19 and as such couldn't use the teen grid (well some could, some couldn't).

So we would always encourage our schools to use OpenSim. Lets be honest they things we can configure for OpenSim (Swear word filter, Timed uptime, logs of every conversation) are all now a basic minimum for kids using the internet.

Also thanks to the wonderful people at OpenSim Development Team and our own In House team I would like to announce the launch of two new packages, much reduced in price and for Education Establishments ONLY!

The Content Grid - Village/Town/City (foreign and home)
The Content Grid is a web front end that plugs into your OpenSim Virtual World. It will allow you to not only host your own world but it allows you to dynamically add islands (via the web page marketplace) when you require. And not just islands you have created yourself, you can create islands and upload them for other schools to use (either for free or charge them through our web market place).

So you could have a class studying GCSE English Literature so you enable the World War 1 English Lit. Island and allow your kids to instantly walk around the trenches of the Western Front, or you could create your own island and pack it away when your finished.

So imagine 6 classes each with their own island and you just open and close them when required, so you don't have to worry about hosting 6 islands all at once.

The Content Grid can also be configured to work within your already present VLE (we have integrated it with GLOW and Moodle) so the kids and teachers have 1 login for all systems.

Our 3 Servers are detailed below:-


25Gb HD
1024RAM (burstable to 2048)
unmetered Traffic
100Mb Bandwidth

50Gb HD
2048 RAM (burstable to 4096)
unmetered Traffic
100Mb Bandwidth

50Gb HD
3072 RAM (burstable to 6144)
unmetered Traffic
100Mb Bandwidth

All come with OpenSim version 0.7.x
OpenSimManager (so you log in via a web page)
ContentGrid Manager (so you can dynamiclly add and remove islands)
Branded Client Software (based upon Second Life Version 2 viewer)
Your own Domain either transferred or a Brand New Domain created for you.

Foreign and Home relates to the servers hosting location. Some schools require to host the server themselves due to security concerns with firewalls etc. Our system will still allow you to upload and download islands as per normal but everything hosted behind your own firewall (HOME). Normally we host the servers ourselves for our clients at a state of the art data centre in London, UK (Foreign).

Until the end of 2010 the prices for these packages are:-

Village £2,292.87
Town £2,402.87
City £2,512.87
Per annum.
(for a calendar monthly cost divide the above by 11). All Servers hosted by Second Places (if you wish to host the servers localily please contact us directly).

OpenSim in a BOX
This is a simple installation of OpenSim version 0.7.x with a non branded Second Life Version 2 software client and web interface for adding user, removing users, forum and log in.

Like The Content Grid it comes in the 3 flavours depending on the same specification as per the content grid hardware.
Village £600
Town £900
City £1300
Per annum.
(for a calendar monthly cost divide the above by 11).

If any of these prices are of interest, or if you need to configure your server slightly different then drop me a mail @

Please note these prices are for EDUCATION establishments only. All prices exclude UK VAT (which goes up at the end of the year as well).

Monday, 30 August 2010

Kids have imagination, Let them loose.

Imagination, oh how I miss thee

Its not something you notice is missing until its gone, and when its gone you can't remember what it was that is now missing.

Over the past 2 years I have been blessed working in a pioneering industry in Virtual Worlds and no where grasps it as close as Education, Learning and Simulation.

But I want to talk about the meetings I have with the kids (young adults, youths) call them what you will but they are so much better at my job than I could ever dream to be.

2 years ago Second Places started construction upon CANVAS (Children's art and the national arena of Scotland). A place where kids art from all over Scotland could be showcased. We came up with the concept design, a replica of the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Not an exact replica but the similar idea, large stair case, wings off a central area, you know the type, the normal Victorian build of an art gallery or museum.

We were excited by our design, I was very much looking forward to the build. However in a workshop with the kids from Auchterarder Community School it became very clear that I was OLD.

Here was a world (virtual) where gravity was not a problem, where it never rains and the limits of this rather sad world we live in can be simply ignored. And I came to a bunch of kids to say, "We should have it like buildings that already exist!".

Luckily the Teachers knew better and let the kids come up with the design. A massive ream of paper with kids on both sides just doodling. Their designs were just amazing, it really put me and my team to shame.

"There is no gravity, so why not build up the way?", "Does it need a roof?", "Why walk when you could use a turbo lift?". The questions just came from innocence and enthusiasm.

The final design of CANVAS shows 32 art pods floating the sky, each containing 30 unique pieces of art.

CANVAS is now live and kicking and last week at another consultation with kids every pupil doing Art and Design knew about CANVAS and what it could do.

Last week I had 8 Consultations with kids from all over a region in Scotland. What an experience! We had some groups who were shy, glazed looks with not a scooby what I was talking about, while we had others who could see virtual worlds as their way to try new skills, find skills they didn't even know existed.

It was my role to get them involved from this early stage.

Their new virtual world would be based upon the ideas from these kids. I'm currently writing up the consultation now, but we had kids wanting to run for mayor, run as police commissioner, setup up community groups, help create content, stream their band into their own club. Allow them to hang out and compare stuff with other kids from all over the region.

In total I spoke to over 40 kids about virtual worlds and what was possible and the majority just embraced it like ducks to water. I left one group sorting out roles to create a shoe making business.

I stressed to them that making something was only a very small part of the experience. I used my own company to explain. "I have the best product in the world, its quite simply light years ahead, however I have no marketing skills, I have no sales skills and I have no interpersonal skills, so my idea will fail unless I find people who have these skills to help me!".

The kids just loved that! Here was a way for a group of people to work together, find what they are good at and use it.

Another group was more into the politics of the world. Everyone was told that there was always "GOD" in the virtual world, the person who can over ride government (lets be honest the kids also had some ideas that had to be closed down quickly), but they wanted a recall process for the mayor of the world (who would be a kid) we even had a debate about the voting system.

And there was real enthusiasm, you could see them getting passionate about something that would require hens teeth in the real world. Their imagination just ran riot and it got them learning so much more than listening to me preach to them.

Reading my notes we covered politics, economics, law and order, citizenship, freedom of speech, freedom of movement I bet we spoke about "boring" stuff in an exciting and engaging way in that 1 hour slot than most of these kids had spoken about in their past year.

Kids are great, lets get them using virtual worlds, let them enjoy using it with as much freedom as we can give them. Let them learn skills they didn't even know they were learning.

Second Places can help you with consultation as well as create your very own Virtual World. Secure and safe and as locked down as you "GOD" see fit!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Internet = Knowledge = Do!

A great piece from the BBC about the Web being used to download walks and the number of people doing it! The information is coming from the English Natural Trust.

800 on Average Downloads per Day!

Second Places held at stand at the Museums Association Conference in London last year. To say the event was a waste of money was an understatement. I had never come across a more "conservative" (not political) anti-change group in my existence in Virtual Worlds or digital media.

They had a whiteboard up where people could put ideas and ticks beside it to get a feeling on what the conference attendees were thinking. And the largest ticked box was "Digital is not the way forward for us!"

I was flabbergasted. The only industry in the WORLD who could not see the advantages of digital media. I was peeked and I started asking why they were different?

"It is all about feet through the door" was the most common reply. "We only get funding when we can prove the local populace use it!" was another.

I was shocked and, to be honest, quite angry. No one I spoke to thought about other ways to get money than funding grants!

We are very, very lucky in this country that most of our museums are free. Its rare in the continent, even rarer in the States. And I do admit I don't like to see tourists from outside the UK walk past the donation box with a look and a shuffle the other way. I always put in a fiver and I pay my taxes already.

I digress, and really don't want to go down the road of funding. But what this BBC story says is that here is a way for the English National Trust to say to their governance, "Hey, we got 800 people a day using this service for free, and its costing us not very much after the initial funding!". And I'm sure you could charge 10p (why 10p and not £1) no reason, just people will not care about 10p, maybe a quid is noticeable. Sell 800 a day thats £30k per year for nothing more than a map and a bit of information (they even have their own paper)!

But I can imagine the idea being brought up to the people at the museum conference. "Oh no! people need to come to our shop to pick up one for free so we know how many people take it!"

Its time the Museum and Galleries of this world looked at digital media, not just in side their buildings, but making their buildings open to the world. Spread their knowledge world wide, allow for donations or even CHARGE for things like talks, debates anything that can bring in revenue!

There is 1.1 BILLION people on the internet, grab just 1% that is 11Million people, if just 1% of them donated a fiver for their visit that is over half a MILLION pounds!

COME ON PEOPLE, the new media gives you new opportunity, how would you love to talk to kids from Africa about your local castle, or kids from Iraq about your ideas on the reformation.

Knowledge and understanding is just not about profit, it can even stop these misunderstandings between peoples!

Peace and Profit... not a bad thing to wish for and all easy and possible with Virtual Worlds from Second Places.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Would you host an event in a Virtual World?

Buying a car from a second hand car sales man

OK not every second hand car salesman is bad, and I'm sure they sell great cars but we playing with sterotypes here. As I'm sure not every "virtual" event is not an utter failure.

Again, for safety of the internet lawyers, I'm not going to name names of the event, or hosts or company doing the hosting. I will however say it was in Second Life and it was to be a well attended event with a mix of Second Life veterns and Second Life newbies, with just a hint of business.

And of course it failed.

The sim became a juddering wreck. The company hosting the event had a wonderful build, with scripted doors, particle fireworks.. EVERYTHING you shouldn't have at an event when you have no guarentee that the other person you share your sever with is not hosting a nightclub or , and I hope not, a similar event.

For those not in the know Second Life share computer power and its dynamic. Which is great if yoru lucky. You get all the resources, however the person you share with then gets very little.

So here we have an event and its heavy resource wise already and then people arrive, and every person that arrives the island gets slower and slower, more and more unresponsive.

And of course, people leave.. Disillusioned with most of the new people will never touch virtual worlds again becuase of this first bad experience.

We "veterans" are sick of seeing events hosting in Second Life and failing. You have no agreement with Linden Lab that your event will be looked after!

Use opensim, use a company like Second Places who can use a Cloud so that you could have the power of a small super computer passing information to everyone at t1 speeds.

Every time a newbie company looking at virtual worlds goes to an event that fails.. We have to spend even more time to persuade them that the technology is great its just you wouldn't host a real life event in a building where there is constant fires and the building collaspes all the time!

We got burnt bad by Second Lifes lack of SLA 2 years ago. So please take this as words from the wise.

OpenSim is cheaper, scaleable and if your happy to pay you can get EXACTLY what you need. Its not god, it does crash, all computer stuff can. But at least you know it won't be because your sharing a CPU with a sex club who's doing discounts that night!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Why we don't do grids or Hyperlinking

Its not a choice - Its a demand

The internet is only over a couple of decades old. So people in the top jobs likely started their careers without the use of wiki, IMing and email. So its understandable their reluctance to embrace even newer technologies like virtual worlds.

And in Education they have even greater concerns. The anonymity of the internet brings in even more problems than the solution the technology gives.

When Second Places started over 2 years ago we worked in Second Life, and had 5 or so schools operating in the teen grid. It wasn't easy to get schools to use Second Life in the first place. Kids could not use their own names, teachers had to jump through hoops to gain access and all in all it was a rather terrible space.

But it wasn't the technical problems that stopped most schools. It was the legal problems. These are actually comments made to me when promoting a virtual world to education:-

  • We need the kids to have their own name so we can see what is happening
  • We are liable if the kids use the computers to communicate with each other. Like organizing a bullying event through a communication tool like IM or Virtual World.
  • There is no way to stop them typing in swear words
  • We will never allow them to speak (voice or text) to anyone anywhere, anytime who is not approved by the school to be talking to kids.
  • We can't have kids parents in world with the ability to talk to other kids (see above)
  • We need a record of every word ever said to anyone
  • They can not change their avatar
  • They should only be able to use avatars, clothes approved by the school
The list was endless. I'm sure there is a world somewhere that kids are trusted, but more importantly the kids don't need trusting and adults see kids as innocents and would never dream doing anything to child that shouldn't be done.

However we don't live in that world. Kids will be kids, and as a parent, I would expect the school to make sure that when i hand my son over they will do EVERYTHING to make sure he's safe physically as well as emotionally.

I always pointed out that I could never see a child log into a virtual world to meet his friend (he is likely sitting beside in class) to arrange a bullying event. However I understood the problem.

Schools have a responsibility and with this anything new that could weaken their way of protecting the child was looked upon as a danger.

We understood this but as Second Life was not ours, there was nothing we could do.

Again we were saved by OpenSim.

We could answer their questions all in the affirmative.

Kids could use their own names, in fact with OpenSim we could have the kids logging in with the same username and password as they used for other in school systems. Wasn't easy for some, shibboleth became a dirty word for us here in Second Places, but it did mean a much easier access for the school.

Schools could turn off and on text and audio chat through a web interface. So if there was a teacher present in world, they could flip a switch and kids could verbally or text chat.

This allowed kids to show their parents their work and the school not worried that the parent could speak to anyone (you don't know if wee Jimmys dad is a good guy or not I guess).

We had a swear word filter, even better it was dynamic, so as a "new" word came out the school could just type it into a web page and that word would be displayed as hashes and an alarm would be sent to the school to say "Jimmy X said XYZ @ 10:52 location 123,142,30". No one around him would hear the word.

Every chat, verbal or text could be recorded and stored.

We modified the client so the kids client would not allow them to "take off" clothing, or upload images or create any clothes. So we locked down the world, but if they school wanted the kids to build and make stuff, they had access (in school only) to the normal client that did everything normally, but only used when a teacher was present.

It was done, all the worry from Schools was answered. It wasn't easy and we spent a lot of time on it. But it was a locked down, secure and customizable world that schools could be happy in the knowledge their children were as safe as possible, even safer than real world.

So the question, why we don't do grid or hyperlinking? Its all said above. For education in the UK (and I assume everywhere else) it has to be locked down, and that means cut off from the rest of the world.

But alas that is a heck of a shame. We want content to be shared. Its expensive to create content for virtual worlds and not share it (even charge back for it).

So we created the content grid, a web based virtual world island market when schools could create islands and upload them to marketplace. Sell or give them away to other schools.

These islands could be anything, Looking at the market place now we have trenches of world war 1 for GCSE English Lit., we have a working hydro dam, a replica of a radio telescope and much more, walking through a mayan temple, an art gallery, a cat walk.

Any school signed up to The Content Grid can access and upload the market place. So you can still share content, approve it before your kids can see it. And its still all locked down tight.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Nebraska is dead, Long live OpenSim

Its "kinda" official

The much expected death of Linden Labs "Nebraska" their "behind" firewall solution was sort of announced at SLCC last week. Along with the death of the teen grid.

So first let me talk about Nebraska. Great concept, in fact Second Places were in the running with one of our clients to be in the beta running. However the cost for a beta product and what was and wasn't possible made us run a mile, and I'm sure we were not the only ones.

Again I KNOW there were development companies who after the launch of the beta still persuaded their clients to shell out 50,000 USD even though a good developer would look at the problems (locked down database, buy the actual hardware, etc) and know it had a finite shelf life.

Again I hope the companies that did purchase it and likely spent many, many more thousands on the developers are not now totally allergic to Virtual Worlds having been bitten REAL baddly. But I bet they won't be in a rush to use it again.

The concept of a behind firewall solution was only part of the problem. Businesses didn't want ANOTHER log in, or the inability to modify the back end to fit with their already in place software. But alas who ever advised Linden Labs just said "You know what business want? They want Second Life and they want to host it themselves!". They (and they know who they are) were just wrong!

When Nebraska was going into Alpha/Beta stage Second Life was already the hated love child of the internet, in the eyes of the media. Companies had spent millions and now most were waving their hands as they couldn't get what they wanted. They wanted proof that their investment was not just money to an advertising firm but money to an advertising firm that could prove people were influenced. All businesses got was, "there were 500 people on your island today! Isn't that great?", the business looked excited "Yeah that is awesome, where were they from? What age were they? " and the developer would look glum and say " well, we don't have that information!". The business would start to look depressed, "oh well that is kind of key to what we wanted, but you can tell us how long each person stayed!", by this point the developer is looking out the window for the next chump, sorry customer.

The above is why certain companies target certain TV shows. Beer companies love sports shows as they know the demographics of who watch sports is the demographics they want to promote to. They know when a new advertising campaign starts and they know how it has effected sales. With Second Life it was just publicity, and like your very own 15 minutes of fame, once its over its over, keep flogging it and you will become a laughing stock!.

So Linden Labs released a product that was just something that was already dead for the marketers. But it could have still be useful for what we seen as core market to Virtual Worlds:-
  • Collaboration,
  • Education,
  • Simulation.
But by not allowing us access to the database we couldn't modify the back end to fit into the customers VLE (Virtual Learning Environments - nothing VIRTUAL about them, they just web pages). So we advised our clients not to use it.

Other developers embraced it with full hands open. Even had a "partnerships" with Linden Labs. This was the point when I decided that Second Places was going to persuade all our clients to move to another platform.

Linden had always been hands off with developers, happy to promote but were always at arms distance. With the launch of Nebraska they embraced a single developer, both shared the key note at one of the "Virtual World" conferences. And we were made to look like a second class company as we were now competing with a Linden partner.

So we quickly moved to OpenSim.

OpenSim is a product where we can pass information easily from any 3rd party application into a virtual world instantly. We can move avatars around using RFI tags from real life peoples locations. We can do everything that Second Life could do. But most of all, we could offer Service Level agreements. And the customers came running.

So as OpenSim takes off even more, Expect a new blog about our new "deal" for school who are on the Teen Grid soon, Linden have withdrawn from the Secondary Education Level (11-18) and have withdrawn from the Private Virtual World market and so they should, they have a great product in the Public Virtual World market, and good luck to them in that.

But OpenSim has the private virtual worlds all sown up.

So its Goodbye Nebraska, good idea, badly advised setup and cost. Goodbye Teen Grid, bad for educators as it was too restrictive.

And its hello FUTURE!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Second Places - Real Virtual Worlds

Its been a while, not cause I didn't want to blog but what I wanted to blog about was maybe a bit over the top and a bit radical.

Second Places has been going over 2 years now. Each year doubling turnover however what we are getting is larger projects but the actually number of new customers remains constant.

This is always a concern but over the past 3 months I've been too busy to find out why (will be blogging on these projects as well real soon). However as the build cycle is coming to an end I've been talking to prospective clients and trying to get them to sign on the dotted line.

Some, are keen but don't have the budget, some are just not interested. However some companies can see the benefits but are put off from virtual worlds!

Its these people I want to talk about. I'm not going to name names or companies as I really don't want to go down the blame game (unless I'm actually being nice about them) so I will be as open as I dare.

Virtual World Guru's / Technical Evangelists

There are many, many people out there who claim to be Evangelists. These people usually have contacts in a certain industry and they setup a club in Second Life.

So they quit their job and start out a career as an Evangelist. I just watched "click" on Sky news where they interviewed an "Evangelist" and a "Video Blogger" and they were talking about Google and the death of the internet.

I cast my mind back to the Banking Crisis.

When all the banks were not lending they never got the bloke from the Halifax adverts to debate with some pensioner who uses a bank for their savings. That is the equivalent in my eyes to the Evangelist and Blogger. (Yeah I can see the irony I'm blogging but that's the thing.. ANYONE CAN I'm not pretending to be an expert).

When the banks were going down it was the "Head of Financial Services" from Barclay's or some other title. A title I could see and say to my self... "Oh he's done well in banks, I think I'll listen to him".

With the internet its anyone who says they are good, and the media believe them. Where is the proof! "I have had 2 Million hits on my youtube channel!", well bully for you old chap, but most of the people's comments are something to do with spherical objects! And I'm still not convinced Rick Astley sings the best song ever, but it gets a LOT of hits (thanks 4Chan).

The problem is business people are not computer geeks. They listen to these no bodies. They pay them to come in, they come in, sprout some rubbish and the company spends a fortune on it, all for it to land flat bang and out the window.

The business person has learned his lesson and will avoid that technology for a LONG time. However the next thing comes out and low and behold the dance repeats.

So I BEG companies, business people ask the question .. "What have you done lately?". And get names and figures, a company or person can have the BEST web site in the world but is just wee Joe sitting in his moms basement and you've just given them 10k 2 week project during the second week he gets bored rushes the job and you get something not worth 1 pence.

Everyone has to start somewhere so I know new companies have to break through, but do what I did, start small, get larger and don't talk about something you know nothing about!

If your looking for a virtual world company, look at the portfolio, see if they have case studies. Don't fall for the "Worked for a fortune 500 company", yeah worked so well you haven't even the guys to name them!

Come on Business stop wasting money. Talk to a good company (I will even name competitor Reaction Grid but mostly us at Second Places) get something that will work, give you a return and spend more money in virtual worlds in the future.


Thursday, 21 January 2010

BETT 2010 - London

Its always a worry for small companies that spend most of your marketing budget on one event. However BETT 2010 was very successful for Second Places.

We have channeled most of our R&D into our new system, "The Content Grid (TCG)" over the past 3 months. And this was our chance to launch it. Without fanfare or ticker tape we launched on the Wednesday at a very quiet BETT (due to snow in London). But by the Saturday word of mouth had gotten out and people were entering the stand to look at TCG without us standing on the main route dragging them in.

It was exactly what I had hoped. Teachers and Principles were saying the exact same thing, "We want to work in a virtual world, we want the fun in education, the collaboration, project planning, the chance to break stuff without massive costs. But public virtual worlds was no use for UK (or euro) schools as the PC (political correctness) brigade and media would have a field day with the idea of kids and adults "sharing" a world. Where there would be no traceability, the old problem of animity and the problem of kids going where they shouldn't.

Someone one showed me a quote from Twitter where someone had posted on visiting of a public virtual grid "Just watched a class of 10 year olds being shown around an island their school had just purchased. I asked them how they liked it and was told they loved it!", next tweet was along the lines of "This shows how virtual worlds and schools can work together".

Now the last part is bang on, Schools and Students can have a whale of a time in a virtual world while learning at the same time. However the first statement is enough for every head teacher, every director of learning at a LA (local authority) to put the shutters up and use it as a way never to look at Virtual Worlds.... "Who was this person?", "Talking to kids? You have got to be kidding", etc etc etc.

I am not saying these people are not blowing a massive storm out of a coastal breeze but on the other hand, how do I know this person on Twitter (who has some silly name I can't remember) but had a picture of a middle age male was not a pedophile? By laws of probability I can be fairly sure he isn't but those in positions of responsibility know that probability now is not an excuse.

It would only take one story and that grid would have the media down on it like a tonne of bricks, making things up, seeing things that were not there. Remember Second Life? The Children being "groomed" even though you required a credit card to access, not many 10 years olds have credit cards (although may explain the credit crunch).

TCG takes away that problem. Its hosted in the school or in our own data center. Only those given access by the school can access the school grid. All our staff have been through the disclosure systems in both Scotland and England (Scotland is allot more strict). Its not a lot of money (£60) however even with that we have to give the school notice we are going to be in world and staff are on strict instructions to say nothing to anyone. The "BUSY" sign helps.

So every teacher who we spoke to, demoed and let loose in TCG knew we had by passed this problem.

Breaking another barrier between Students and Virtual Worlds.