Friday, February 3, 2012

Notes from the Trough of Disillusionment

Location: Down in the Valley So Low

Next Friday, I agreed to give a short presentation to faculty colleagues in a learning community focusing on new technologies.

My topic: "3d Virtual Worlds: Down in Gartner's Trough of Disillusionment"

Here are a few notes from a Blackboard page I created to guide our discussion. I do plan to log into Second Life and OpenSim during our meeting, as well. At least two of the group tried SL and were not impressed with the platform, for one or more reasons I'll list as detrimental to the spread of virtual worlds.

Readers, what am I missing? I'd love to hear your perspectives on this. My notes follow, except for links to content in SL and other grids worth seeing (from Virtual Ability and Genome Islands to the WW I Poetry Sim and my Usher Project).

All links below will open in new tabs/windows.

The sector for public 3D virtual worlds has fallen into the Gartner "trough of disillusionment" since Fall 2008, just as the global economy teetered on the brink of total collapse. In what follows, I offer some reasons and resources, based on my five years of work in Second Life and OpenSimulator virtual worlds.

Here is their 2009 "Hype Cycle" snapshot:

In 2011, while other technologies advanced, the Gartner authors concluded that "virtual worlds remain entrenched in the trough after peaking in 2007."

For Second Life in particular, several factors hurt:

  • High pricing for content-hosting without offline backups. Linden Lab, SL's maker, ended 50% discounts for education and non-profit customers in October 2010, at which point Richmond left SL.
  • A competing open-source alternative, OpenSimulator (or OpenSim), often hosted locally on campus servers and capable of URL-type linking to other campuses or corporate projects through a technology called Hypergrid.
  • The difficulty of the SL user interface and the steep hardware requirements of the client.
  • The stability of the virtual world and the need for frequent client upgrades (both largely resolved today).
  • The relatively slow pace of empirical evidence for teaching effectiveness in immersive 3D environments. Ironically, this has emerged in 2010 and 2011, but by them many campuses had decided to focus more on mobile technologies and social networking for teaching. Many with an investment in virtual worlds moved to OpenSim instead.
  • A perception that the environment was too "gamelike" for serious learning. SL is more of a "sandbox" that permits user-generated content, including games. One can more easily make the case for using SL in education than, say, World of Warcraft. Ironically, "gamification" is a buzzword for emerging educational technologies in 2012. Was SL too early?
The SL brand's reputation for social and adult-rated usage did hurt, but this proved the least of the problems for my classes. My students encountered SL's X-rated culture and giggled. I made them sign waivers to avoid adult content unless 1) it was after class and 2) they were not representing themselves as members of the UR community. One or two students did research on "relationships" in SL, but they age-verified to be able to go to adult-zoned parts of the virtual world.

What Virtual Worlds still offer, despite their learning curve:
  • A way to build simulations at low cost. I could not make a ruined Victorian mansion appear on campus for my House of Usher simulation (see below).
  • A way to interact for virtual conferences in an embodied way. I do not find teleconferencing and 2D applications such as Elluminate as engaging for participants. SL encourages all participants to become active, in my experience from the weekly Virtual Worlds Roundtable and the annual conference, Virtual Worlds: Best Practices in Education.


Cecil Hirvi said...

Hey Chief,

Being on the cutting-edge and a pioneer is a lonely, lonely endeavor. Accept it, embrace it. The important thing is that you think this is important. Time will catch up.

The other day, I heard a Stanford Professor, who is an "expert" in new media, present something she said was "new", but was really shit I was doing 15 years ago. Back then, I remember being stonewalled trying to convince others of the new media techniques I was "pioneering".

So don't let those other educational clucks bogart your belief in something. Fight the good fight.

Iggy O said...

See my recent shaving post, Cecil. I guess we all get cut out on that edge.

And nary a drop of Aqua-Velva in sight!

Still, in OpenSim I recapture some of the wonder. Today in SL I tried a roadtrip (again) and had a bit of success, to be reported in a forthcoming post here.

Sadly, though the ride went well, despite the crappy sim-crossings, where did I find other avatars, those elusive green dots? At a gambling parlor with some bot-like denizens, and at a pole-dancing club by the Linden roadside.

Nothing has changed since 2007, except the desperation with which this lack of creativity gets ground out, like a frat party that never ends.