Monday, November 2, 2009

A Bubble Option For Avatars: Um, No.

Bubbles or Avatars?
Location: Outside the Bubble

On the SLED list, I ran across an interested reference to this post by deepsemaphore. The claim at play here is that a bubble with a video-conferencing stream, rather than an avatar, could do a better job than a virtual world for certain types of interactions:
In my view, the virtual environment of the NEAR future will be desktop based, point and trigger and provide the space to contain 3d audio conferencing+ video conferencing (as ‘video bubbles or some variants of that) + information sharing (basically document/web sharing).
One of the SLED respondents was fascinated; he feels that business users, wary of avatars, might use:
Video bubbles would permit retaining all the advantages of a shared 3D environment while offering a representation that would be perceived as more “serious” or “businesslike” (you know what I mean) by many. Also, at this moment we cannot precisely control avatars but we can and do control our faces and hands.
I'll grant the limitations of avatars as they currently exist. Anyone past noob status has encountered the limitations that virtual-world avatars possess. They don't gesture normally or use facial expressions well. They cannot hold up real-life objects as quickly as one might during a video-stream.

I'm less certain that we can feel "there" in a virtual world if our representation is a stream in a bubble. Having used video conferencing in a few forms, it seems that while the technology permits some interesting ways to communicate, it leads most participants to be observers and stay quiet while a presenter presents. Conferencing is an augmentationist technology, not immersive in the way that Gwyneth Llewelyn explains (note the ever-present wink on her page--do that in a bubble and you get fired by the HR Department).

Bubbles may suit the needs of top-down business organizations where Mr. Quimby expounds the virtues of the cornflower-blue icon for the next wonderful spreadsheet widget that is about to roll out to the masses.

But, as I once taunted Prokofy Neva in saying, virtual worlds can let us cavort like young gods. We make things and then we can walk through and interact with our creations. I'm a Promethean at heart. Bubbles won't permit the joy of discovery that I had interacting with others at Burning Life or with the Story of Uncle D at The Virtual Worlds Story Project.

So I'll take my embodiment and minor-deity status, thank you. If not Prometheus, think the tricksters Loki or Coyote. But let's put the Suits in bubbles; they've been there for years in the US, at least until recently, when their bubble-bound thinking led them to pop the Big Bubble of the global economy.

As Tyler Durden put it, time to get out of the bubble:

Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don't you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can't think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? . . . .Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you're alive (from "Fight Club").

Anyone got a needle or a pin? POP!

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