I don’t know how the marketing of SecondLife works exactly, but the buzz is not going away, it’s building. At present there are educator orientated communities bumping into each other as they clamour to organise tours of the 3d graphical world and attempt to analyse how it might be utilised to support educational community purposes. I’ve endeavoured to tag along myself a few times, albeit hindered by technical and timezone problems. The sheer number of people who want to book their place on the tourbus is proof in itself of some kind of excitement being generated, even if it’s only by the prospect of some free tuition in an unknown environment with free registration. But these organised large groups have proved problematic, while providing some individuals with worthwhile learning experiences.
* There’s the communication problem. In-world text chat takes up screen space and includes anybody within a certain distance while skype conferences can leave a bunch of zombie avatars doing nothing, with their owners just talking about it from afar.
* Then there’s the problem of bandwidth lags, freezing action and waiting for the scenery to refresh, which to my understanding logically seem to get worse when increasing numbers of dynamic objects, avatars, are gathered in one area.
* Different operational skill levels make it hard to orchestrate a learning session, with new arrivals asking questions which are time consuming to resolve whilst relative veterans get bored.
* There’s a strong sense that all of this is missing the point!
Perhaps the immersive 3d environment is designed to be explored and experienced by individuals, encountering others tangentially to interacting with the environment itself. In our working lives, we tend to meet people whilst we are doing other things, or because we have a purpose. We don’t just stand in a room and start demanding to be told who is supposed to be the tour leader, well not unless we are on a package holiday to China.
So some people are coming to early conclusions that while Secondlife can provide an exciting and possibly addictive experience for some, it doesn’t have much to offer for groups or leaders who wish to use it as a tool for supplementing their community building communications channels. And they may be right.
But what can it offer over and above the normal asynchronous social software tools such as listserves and web conferences? Personally I think I’ve had the best experiences through encountering small groups of two or three people in one location where I will return on the rare occasions these days that I launch the SL application. But there can be long gaps equivalent to watching the paint dry in between times. If there’s nobody else at all on that particular island, I’ll mooch about for a while then maybe try somewhere else or give up. The places with more than a handful of avatars present always seem to increase the probability of trouble though.
I’m reminded of one of the four dichotomies which emerged from my research into current thinking about distributed communities of practice last year.
Technology as tools for communities to use – as opposed to technology as environments in which new communities may evolve.
Secondlife seems to me to lend itself much more to the environment end of the spectrum.
So my ideal scenario would be to be able to drop in to a regular hanging out spot, and have a reasonable chance of meeting somebody I know, or a friend of a friend, and then most usefully random people who are attracted to the in world geographical location through having common interests, facilitated by the various related communities which used that location as a starting off point. The place in question is called Boracay Island, perhaps I’ll catch you online there sometime.
( “photo” by Nick Noakes )
Meanwhile, here’s a quote which I think begins to give an idea of the type of casual
encounter which I think points towards the unique advantage which 3d graphical environments may eventually offer.
From Cool News:
Sure, you can shop on Amazon but you have no idea how many other people are there, shopping with you. “There’s no way to notice if you and another shopper are looking at the same product, and start up a conversation about it.” What Second Life might do is provide an alternative, browser-free entry point to the Amazon store, and enable you to interact with shoppers and clerks.
One more thing. Is it just me being a bloke or is a lot of the appeal really just about dressing up and shopping?