#vw2008 : A Users Perspective

One of the sessions at Virtual Worlds 2008 was entitled, "Why Virtual Worlds Are The New Saturday Morning TV". Well, it is Saturday morning. I am home after recuperating from the show and Fiona, my six-year-old daughter, is watching Growing Up Creepy on Discovery Kids. Virtual worlds haven’t completely overtaken Saturday morning comics form my little digital native in generation avatar, but they are close. For while she can’t read well enough to do quests in Runescape or chat with other players, her total level there is already 249, with special strengths in woodcutting, firemaking, fishing, and cooking.

As I sit with her in Runescape from time to time, I use it as an opportunity to work on her reading. As messages appear on the screen we work on sounding out the words. The text seems much more compelling than stories about Tom, Dick or Jane.

She is very excited about the Habbo pillow that I brought home from the show, but she knows that it belongs to her, and her sisters, and I expect there may be battles over it.

When I explained the show, she wasn’t sure what I meant by Virtual Worlds, but she sure knew about Runescape, Neopets, Webkins, and many other virtual destinations. She offered the following commentary, which fits pretty nicely with what the folks at VW2008 were talking about:

If you get a chance to talk to them again, tell them that what kids really like is fun games. Like in Webkins, they’ve got a whole big arcade in their world, and there’s all kinds of different games, like the cooking game.

I remember it because it is like a competition and the judge will test it and see who wins. It’s really fun.

You can create a room. In Webkins you can create your own room, a whole house. You can create a bathroom. Isn’t that cool?

You have to make food for Neopets for dinner and lunch, like our world. It’s really cool. I think you can even make them have a shower or bath.

I also think you can, like, hmm, I don’t know how to say this, you earn money from those games I told you about. You have to buy stuff with it. I’m not sure, but I think you can buy clothes for the Neopets.

I really think you might be able to put some nice clothes and nice stuff for your Neopets, like in their whole room, a whole house.

That’s really all. That’s a lot, isn’t it. Oh, and one more thing, thanks for having time with me.

I’ve often felt that it is about time for Fiona to start her own blog. She can provide great political commentary, and she is now expanding into talking about marketing of emerging technology. Look out, world, at what happens when these generation avatar, digital natives start entering the workforce.

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Blogger's Notebook #vw2008

There is so much interesting stuff at Virtual Worlds 2008. I need to find some time to sit down and write about all of it in a good format. I also need to find a chance to rest a little. I was up late late night and early this morning. On top of that, I don't want to miss anything. The keynotes, panels and discussions are fascinating.

So, quick thoughts that I hope to get back to: 3DConnection, the 3D mouse by Logitech. Very cool. Needs a little work in a few areas. Has some very interesting potential for some sort of vMTV, Guitar Hero, DDR, machinima mashup. I wanna play with that.

Qwak. When I first got here, someone asked if anyone really uses it. They have a booth here and I learned a little bit about people using it. Then, I was at a panel where a guy talked about great success with Qwak as a gateway drug to harder core virtual worlds. Yup. Qwak is another one to keep an eye on.

Barbie Girls, Neopets, Virtual MTV, and the coming VLES. Generation Avatar. These folks get virtual worlds in a way that Linden Lab just doesn't. Linden Lab needs to find someone they can steal from one of those groups if they want to make Second Life into what it can and should be. Meanwhile, all the educators in Second Life, they need to connect with the folks at the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME). I don't know how much ACME is looking at Virtual Worlds, but it is an area that needs a lot of focus.

Plenty of other notes. A discussion with Pathfinder Linden, folks from VastPark, and others.

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#VW2008 - The train trip in

I leave one virtual world as I sit to write about my trip to Virtual Worlds 2008 conference in New York City. The virtual world I have left is Clarissa Dalloway's London. It is a text based virtual world, not computer mediated, yet it is as compelling and immersive, no, even more compelling and immersive as so many of the three dimensional computer mediated worlds I frequently inhabit. A phrase comes to my mind, something like, "This was London. The war..." but the phrase I was looking for comes from a favorite poem of mine by Denise Levertov about reading Checkov on West Heath. For Mrs. Dalloway, "The war was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft..."

I look at my fellow passengers. A few read, a couple fidget, holding their coffee cups, half full of high test coffee, yet most sit with vacant stares or eyes closed. It is early in the morning. In London, Big Ben would be chiming eleven in the morning right now. For those in Connecticut, that means it is only six in the morning. To the northwest, the sky covered with the darkness of night, but to the southeast a rim of pink edges the lightening blue. I want to write right now, reading Virgina Woolf does that to me, yet I have not slept well recently and perhaps I should join the vacant eyed and rest. It will be a long day.

For some, Virtual Worlds is about this longing to write, to create. In the old text based virtual worlds like LambdaMOO, people used words to create wonderful spaces to explore their own imaginations. With the move to three dimensions the space for creativity expanded to include visual artists. Yet for many others, virtual worlds are a place to hang out, the new millennium's replacement for Saturday morning cartoons, which were themselves a replacement for the imaginative play of yesteryear. To others, it is a place to market, to sell toys and sex and avatar shapes. It is a place where you need to worry about the legal issues surrounding virtual currencies and intellectual property. I worry that the petty commerce will soon over take the beautiful creativity, just as it does when the shops move in to a community where artists had fled in search of cheap space.

Second LIfe will become the new Soho and the neo-bohemians will move on to other virtual worlds. OpenSim? Qwak? Something that hasn't been dreamed up yet? We shall see.

The train stops briefly in Westport and fills up even more. If I'm going to rest at all before this long day, I should save this document and try to close my eyes briefly.

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SLNN and the Washington Post

Today, Dana Milbank wrote this column about yesterday's hearing on Capitol Hill about Second Life. He had a very different perspective than I did, and I wrote this comment on his column:

As the business editor for the Second Life News Network, I also attended the hearings of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, or at least I assume it was the same hearing. You can read my coverage about it at SLNN.COM

The hearing I attended addressed issues of businesses like IBM and Chevrolet using Second Life. It talked about government agencies like NOAA and NASA. It talked about non-profit groups like the American Cancer Society and the autistics.org.

Issues about consumer protection, child protection and terrorism were addressed. Since this was a hearing of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet issues of broadband penetration, the digital divide and net neutrality were also key.

The witnesses that I saw were not goofy characters. They included an executive from one of the most successful companies in the emerging virtual worlds market, as well as a vice president of research at IBM. Half of the witnesses had Ph.Ds.

People have suggested that if you want serious news and meaningful explorations of the issues you should read at the Washington Post. If you want goofy characters you should read the media produced by people in Second Life. Looking at this article and my article, I would like to suggest that perhaps this is backwards.

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Job Application

Today, I applied for a part time blogging job. It is with an interesting group and the money would certainly help. I made it through the first cut, and was asked to submit three sample blog posts to them related to their blog. I wrote the blog posts and I kind of liked them, so I thought I would post modified versions here.

In addition, I spent a couple hours on the phone talking with a researcher about technology in Gov. Dean’s 2004 Presidential bid. This discussion fed into my thoughts for the first blog post.

The Invitation to Innovate

As the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign continues, candidates seek to learn from the experiences of Gov. Dean’s 2004 Presidential bid. They have build some powerful tools, but it seems like they are missing the most important tool, the invitation to innovate.

During the summer of 2003, I worked with a bunch of dedicated volunteers trying to help create DeanSpace, an online social networking tool aim at increasing citizen involvement in the electoral process. Campaigns today have taken some of the best ideas from DeanSpace and used them for their own campaigns, but what was most important was the feeling that many of us had of being heard, of being encouraged to participate in new ways.

Now, as Blogger in Chief, I hope to talk about many great new ideas around technology and science to make our world a better place. Yet it is the invitation to innovate that is the core idea that I bring with me.

So, let me offer this invitation to you. What are the best new ideas you have heard? What can we do to spread these innovations? Let’s innovate together.

Virtual World Accessibility

Recently, I’ve been learning a lot about accessibility issues in virtual worlds. People with disabilities can connect to places like Second Life, and be free of their wheelchairs. They can dance, go down waterslides and even fly. They get the opportunity to visit with other people that they can’t easily do in real life because of mobility issues. It is a powerful tool. That is, of course, if they can connect to Second Life in the first place.

My brother visits Second Life. So does my nephew. My mother, on the other hand is elderly. She has essential tremors and finds moving a mouse or typing on a keyboard incredibly difficult. Yet people are exploring new interfaces to facilitate using computers.

Two such tools have caught my interest recently. One is the Neural Impulse Actuator which has recently begun shipping. It monitors impulses on your forehead and can be used to control videogames or computers. Could this become an interface that would help my mother?

The other is the 3D Camera. This is a video camera that captures three-dimensional information and is being tested as a control device for virtual worlds. Raise your left arm to do one thing, raise your right arm for a different action.

Both of these tools were designed primarily for able bodied gamers, but they provide an interesting illustration of the principal of universal design, the idea that if you design things well, they can make life easier for everyone, no matter what their ability levels are.

My mother worries that as her tremors progress, she will lose more and more of her ability to communicate. I hope that accessibility tools like these will help her remain able to communicate far longer.

Right to Dry

Sometimes, the best ideas aren’t about how to take advantage of the latest technological innovations. Sometimes, the best ideas are about how to get people take make better use of tried and true technology. Right to Dry laws are a great example.

Outdoor Passive Solar Clothes Driers, commonly referred to as clotheslines have been in use for ages. However, gas and electric powered indoor clothes driers have become more and more popular over time due. According to Project Laundry List, Electric dryers use five to ten percent of residential electricity in the United States. Getting more people to use clotheslines is a simple way to help battle global warming.

Unfortunately, in many places community covenants, landlord prohibitions, and zoning laws prohibit people from using clotheslines. Project Laundry List, along with other Right to Dry activists are working hard to make it easier for people to hang out their clothes. At the same time, their efforts are raising awareness about the benefits of returning to the clothesline.

So what bright ideas do you have to use either new, or old technology to help make our world a better place?

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