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IEET > Vision > Virtuality > Directors > Giulio Prisco

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Telepresence Education for a Smarter World


Giulio Prisco
Giulio Prisco
Giulio Prisco

Posted: May 30, 2010

(co-authored with J. Simone Riccardi)  There can be no doubt that the explosion of Internet technology started in the 90s has had a huge impact on our culture. For the first time in history, geographically distributed large groups of people have been able to interact in near-real time. Usenet groups and mailing lists, and then the Web, message boards, blogs, social networks, IP voice and video conferencing, have enabled and empowered global communities held together by common interests and world-views instead of geographical proximity.

This has permitted a very significant acceleration in nearly all fields of culture and human endeavor: our society has, in a very measurable sense, become smarter. Of course, since Information Technology professionals and skilled amateurs are themselves among the most passionate and active users of the Internet, powerful feedback loops have enormously accelerated the development of Internet technology itself, which has arguably been the fastest developing technology sector in the last two decades. In the last few years, much of the action has been on Web 2.0 and social networking: a much more interactive Web centered on live interaction between people. Everyone loves Facebook and Twitter because they permit a much more immediate and deep, “immersive”, interaction with others.

New even more immersive online collaboration technologies such as VoIP, IPTV, videoconferencing, online sensor networks (IoT, Internet of Things), 3D Virtual Reality (VR) technologies developed by the gaming industry, and Augmented Reality, are converging to create powerful telepresence platforms. Wikipedia (another wildly popular Internet success story) defines telepresence as “a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect, at a location other than their true location.” Telepresence systems offer a very high degree of immersion and give an impression of “being there” so powerful to permit users suspending disbelief and becoming fully engaged in the online experience. The telepresence term is often used in a slightly more specific sense, but we use it in a general sense to include immersive 3D virtual environments.

The user interface, which had not changed much in the last two decades, is now beginning to undergo some important paradigm shifts. Touch-based devices such as Iphones, Ipads, Android phones and tablets, and large screens driven by touch or gestures, offer new and more immediate human-machine interfacing options. 3D visualization options, both stereoscopic vision and virtual reality, and 3D input options such as head tracking goggles and haptic devices, once confined to specialized niches such as high end video gaming, are becoming mainstream and can be found in more and more applications. And finally, there is the first generation of neural interface devices such as the EEG-driven Epoc. These new interface options will all contribute to making telepresence more and more immersive and “real”.

In the 90s, the explosive growth of the Internet changed the world, and made it a better place. In the 10s, an explosive growth of telepresence technology will change the world even more, and make it an even better place. We wish we could make more explicit predictions but, as we all well know, making short term prediction is difficult. Making longer term predictions is easier, because we can average turbulent fluctuations out and follow the main trends. So, while we cannot predict which platforms will lead the emerging telepresence industry in 2012, we can confidently predict that telepresence will be an important part of our online lives in 2020.

What does this mean for education?

A few months ago at a conference on emerging technologies in a big world city, we were talking to a reporter who at some point enthusiastically said something like “this is a gathering of the smartest persons on the planet”. Flattering for the audience, but untrue. Elementary statistics show that most smartest persons on the planet can probably be found in remote rural areas or in developing regions, far from the big world cities, and they do not know they are among the potentially smartest persons of the planet because they never had access to appropriate education. The human capital, which in our developing knowledge society is the most important type of capital, represented by these persons, is lost to themselves and to others.

Even in the developed world, people may be unable to receive quality education because of lack of time, or money. And in the developed world we also have the specific problem that many jobs, for example in manufacturing sectors, are irreversibly migrating offshore, leaving many workers unemployed if they cannot participate in a knowledge-based economy by receiving appropriate education. Which in this case must no longer be only institutional education, but also professional education, and lifelong education. In all cases, most people cannot afford studying full time, or moving elsewhere to receive education.

All these problems can be solved, of course, by making education flexible enough to reach all those who need it. To do this, we need to ensure that: a) students (institutional, professional and lifelong students) can receive quality education independently of their geographical location; b) students can freely choose their own study time, which in turn requires a carefully chosen balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning time; c) students can feel fully engaged in the educational experience, which requires deep personal interaction with teachers and fellow students; d) teachers and instructors can monitor and evaluate the progress of remote students.

It is evident that telepresence technologies can provide good answers and facilitate meeting these requirements, and we can conclude that in 2020 the educational system will have been radically changed by the new evolutionary wave of the Internet, based on telepresence. And then things will advance even further, leading to science-fiction like scenarios. In a chapter of the book “Online Worlds: Convergence of the Real and the Virtual”, Springer 2010, one of the authors wrote: “[Virtual worlds] can already be used as a telepresence and telecollaboration option much better, and much more immersive, than videoconferencing or other traditional forms of remote collaboration.If videoconferencing is one step below a critical threshold for suspension of disbelief, Second Life is already one step above. The evolution of VR will provide next generation telework platforms, which will really enable, and empower, global communities. Thus, its social and political importance will be huge. Further evolution of VR and other emerging technologies will result in science-fiction-like scenarios, from instant telepathic communication to full transcendence of biological constrains…”

However, it is important to find out how to get there from here.

First, we must advocate open and affordable high bandwidth Internet access for all. As it has been said at Google I/O 2010, “web access is one of the human rights of our century”. This does not depend on technology alone but on specific political choices.

Second, we must start developing compelling educational experiences, working methodologies, best practices and success stories by using the technologies that we have today. Of course in 10 years we will have much better technologies, but these will be a result of the work we do today with existing technologies.

What are the main features and tools of a telepresence educational platform? Screen sharing, file sharing, application sharing, real-time, simultaneous multi-access audio/video connections, 3D physical presence through avatars. All these features are found (or implementable) in the virtual worlds platforms described below. Furthermore, these system have already existing or planned versions suitable for mobile devices, which will unfold new ways of use, many of them still unknown.

World of Warcraft is the most popular massively multiuser 3D virtual world, or metaverse. WoW (a frequently used shorthand) is our kids’ favorite videogame, but it has been used also for other purposes. National Science Foundation sociologist William Sims Bainbridge has recently published a book on “The Warcraft Civilization” (MIT Press, 2010) where he discusses, among other things, the first scientific conference in WoW, in which we had the pleasure and the honor to participate.

Second Life is probably the most popular non-gaming metaverse. The press has not been overly SL-friendly in the last few years, but the same press had hailed SL as the Next Big Thing in 2007, and dismissed the web as useless in 1995. Second Life is often criticized for its “porn & gambling” image. But porn and gambling are among the things that people do, and any platform will be invaded by them once it becomes popular. Also, the sex and gambling industries have always been early adopters of new technologies (what was the first commercial application of web video? Yeah, right).

The truth about Second Life is: it is a very advanced metaverse platform, it has great technology, and a large community of very passionate users. Since SL is not a videogame with fixed goals but an open ended metaverse limited only by the imagination of its users, everything can be found in SL: as we said, fake sex and real gambling, but also music shows and dance clubs, art exhibitions, book presentations, poetry readings, business meetings and real job interviews. And education. The popular mailing list “SL Educators (The SLED List)” has thousands of members and is one of the most active communities dedicated to educational technologies. Surfing the SLED list shows that hundreds of colleges, universities and schools, worldwide, are using SL to prototype new forms of online learning. Some prestigious universities use SL as a parallel campus in virtual reality.

We have a long experience in helping educational institutions to design and deploy educational initiatives in virtual reality, beginning in SL in 2006 and then adding other platforms. Our portfolio includes many professional education projects often based on accurate simulations of workplace situations and actual machinery with realistic behaviors, many universities and learning organizations, and some large global companies using SL as a virtual campus for staff meetings and training. Our best known customer is probably the Cervantes Institute, the largest educational organization of the Spanish speaking world, which has been using SL for language learning and cultural presentations.

One of the authors (JSR) is an architect who has taught architectural design in several courses through virtual worlds and discovered a great potential, related not only to the 3D platform itself, but also to the way of creating new designs in real-time in a multiuser collaborative online space. This permits sharing the knowledge not only through formal theoretical schemes but also, more directly, in a virtual building site. In addition, students can create their own projects within these platforms, sharing them with their colleagues, and revisions can be made directly in the virtual environment. If a student has commuting problems, (s)he can connect from home and get a full revision of the work as in a class.

From our experience we can conclude that virtual worlds, even with today’s technologies which will seem very primitive seen from 2020, already permit designing and deploying strongly interactive and immersive learning projects. Current best practice examples make full use of all techniques and media types supported by the platform: suggestive 3D scenarios relevant to the project’s objective (for example, NASA has produced full models of the surface of Mars complete with atmospheric phenomena for space education), 3D sketches often developed on-the-fly by students and instructors, Power Point presentations, white-boards, recorded and real time streaming video, and integration with Learning Management Systems such as Moodle. In Second Life, the recent introduction of a new generation of the client software (Viewer 2.0) with much more advanced media handling features enables more ambitious educational projects.

We have learned many lessons, but the most important one is that a successful online educational project in virtual worlds needs the full commitment of the host organization management, the teachers and instructors who participate in the project, and the students. The latter is usually very easy to achieve: students, especially those familiar with computer games, feel immediately at home, love the game-like experience and participate actively and creatively. The same applies to the teachers and instructors more familiar with and passionate about new computer technologies, who often choose evangelist roles in their institutions. Teachers less familiar with modern computer technologies, on the contrary, can be more difficult to persuade because they can be scared of new computer technologies and not feel able to perform their role in a unfamiliar online environment. This is one of those situations, more and more common, where teachers must also learn from students. Management can be reluctant to commit resources and give visibility to experimental projects based on innovative technologies and, in some cases, can be scared of potential image problems (“wasting taxpayers’ money and students’ time on videogames…”). These problems can be solved, but experience shows that a successful project must deeply involve management, senior faculty and teachers since the very beginning.

These issues apply to telepresence platforms other than SL as well, but the (perceived) negative image problems (“Porn & Gambling”) are more often associated to SL than to other platforms suitable to ediucation. Another SL-specific problem is the fact that many users are very jealous and protective of the early “SL culture”, strongly centered on pseudonymity and non-disclosure of real life information, and tend to vocally resist all technical innovations which could facilitate the intrusion of reality into their “magic circle”. When voice communication was introduced in SL in 2007, it caused an intense debate that still continues today. After the launch of the Viewer 2.0 a few months ago, with many significant innovations in media handling, many “immersionists” (see the well known “Immersion vs. Augmentation” article by Henrik Bennetsen) have complained after realizing that the new features open the door to easy videoconferencing in SL. Today’s SL can be used as a suitable telepresence platform with all the technical features needed for immersive education… but the locals may resist.

There are, of course, alternatives to SL equally or even more suitable to educational needs. For example the OpenSim project is developing an open source equivalent, partly interoperable with SL. OpenSim is one of the virtual platforms recommended by the Immersive Education Initiative, together with other two platforms: Open Wonderland and Open Cobalt. The Wonderland project, developed by Sun Microsystems and orphaned after the acquisition by Oracle, has resurfaced as the open source Open Wonderland project. Open Cobalt is another very promising open source P2P telepresence platform, perhaps the most innovative, based on extremely interesting technology previously developed by the Open Croquet project. Despite being very promising, these three open source projects are still in beta or even alpha, very interesting for hackers and IT experts but not yet suitable for large scale operational deployment for education. However, all three platforms are advancing, and in particular OpenSim is making some very rapid advances that may soon differentiate it from the model SL platform.

A few years ago, while doing a consulting project for an educational foundation, we stumbled upon one of our current favorite platforms: Teleplace is a fully operational, value added implementation of the technologies developed by the open source Croquet and Cobalt projects. It is a telepresence platform which includes 3D virtual environments, full audio and videoconferencing for multiple users, desktop screen sharing, shared text editors and white-boards, and the possibility to easily import Office documents for collaborative editing via the built-in Open Office application. Teleplace also has a built-in collaborative browser, the possibility to easily import images, 3D models and video, and last but not least a tool to video record and/or webcast sessions. These features, and the fact that Teleplace is very easy to use, make it one of the most suitable platforms for telepresence education. Teleplace has been chosen to implement the teleXLR8 project, a “telepresence community for cultural acceleration” focused on science and technology education, currently in closed beta, which will offer public seminars for “citizen-scientists” as well as specific e-learning courses.

The Teleplace Enterprise Server, and also the open source OpenSim, Open Wonderland and Open Cobalt, can be installed on any server with the required features and performance. Until a few months ago this was not the case of Second Life, which was only available as a service run by Linden Lab, with no possibility to install it on other servers, and no easy options to back up data. After the launch of Second Life Enterprise, Linden Lab is now offering a self-hosted version of the Second Life server software.

The two operational platforms which we have identified, Second Life and Teleplace, are more and more frequently used for innovative educational projects by high profile institutions. The Oxford University, the UK Open University, the Imperial College, the JISC funded PREVIEW project based on the PIVOTE virtual learning sisyem, the Play2Train project, the New Media Consortium and the National University of Singapore have very active projects in SL, and other important institutions such as Princeton and Harvard, and the Cervantes Institute of Spain, use SL for specific educational projects. Teleplace is used by many high profile universities such as the Project Based Learning (PBL) Lab at Stanford University, which recently won a 21st Century Award for Best Practices in Distance Learning Distinction recognizing its Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) Global Teamwork course, which uses Teleplace to enable global, cross-university teams to collaborate virtually. It is also extensively used for civilian and military government projects in the US (see for example the vGov site). Both platforms are used also by global firms for internal professional and lifelong training.

One of the authors (JSR) has developed many architectural design courses in the open source metaverse of OpenSim, independently built and completely free. Being OpenSim a fully configurable system, we might think to make a special version for PCs with a low computing power.  We could eliminate the most spectacular photo-realistic effects, aiming at 3d graphics less complex but more effective for those who can’t afford a last generation PC. In this way new opportunities can bloom also for those who still have limited computing resources, but will inevitably be reached by Internet in few years. However, OpenSim is not yet mature to sustain complex projects with sufficient operational stability. At the moment, the available operational telepresence platforms suitable for educational applications are Teleplace and Second Life. The first, more business oriented and targeted at professional applications, the second more creative and focused on user expression. We recommend to educational projects to experiment with both to develop their own approach. Organizations with technical know-how should also experiment with one or more of the open source development projects mentioned above.

Nowhere is the “cultural difference” between Teleplace and Second Life more evident than in the choice of avatars. In Second Life, users build or buy wildly creative avatars, and these are often the real attention catcher in SL events. On the contrary Teleplace has a set of standard avatars to choose from, in business-like, professional or moderately casual attire. But most Teleplace users prefer the default “Simple Shape” avatar: a very simple stylized, vaguely humanoid shape meant for wearing a picture or a webcam video feed of the user on the “face”, and a corporate badge on the chest. These features are very useful in meetings. Even more useful is the fact that many user inputs, such as moving a cursor over a document, are color-coded with the color of the user (If I am wearing a blue avatar, others will see a blue cursor when I move my cursor over a document). These simple avatars make it easier to focus on a task by not stealing attention from it. Most first time Teleplace users who already know Second Life find Teleplace a simpler and more operational platform for telepresence meetings and education, but many miss the wild creativity, imagination and fun of the best SL environments and communities.

REFERENCES

The Warcraft Civilization, by William Sims Bainbridge, MIT Press 2010
http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=12056

First Scientific Conference in WoW
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/320/5883/1592c

Future Evolution of Virtual World as Communication Environments, by Giulio Prisco, in Online Worlds: Convergence of the Real and the Virtual, Springer 2010
http://giulioprisco.blogspot.com/2010/02/online-worlds-convergence-of-real-and.html

NASA CoLab
http://colab.arc.nasa.gov/virtual

Immersion vs. Augmentation article by Henrik Bennetsen
http://slcreativity.org/wiki/index.php?title=Augmentation_vs_Immersion

Immersive Education Initiative
http://immersiveeducation.org/

OpenSim
http://opensimulator.org/wiki/Main_Page

Open Wonderland
http://openwonderland.org/

Open Cobalt
http://www.opencobalt.org/

Open Croquet
http://www.opencroquet.org/index.php/Main_Page

Teleplace
http://www.teleplace.com/

teleXLR8
http://telexlr8.wordpress.com/

Oxford University’s Virtual Simulation in Second Life
http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/secondlife

Stanford PBL Lab
http://pbl.stanford.edu/

Open University’s Open Life: Teaching and Learning in Second Life
http://www.open.ac.uk/colmsct/activities/details/detail.php?itemId=478b5caf2c3f7

Imperial College’s e-learning site
http://www.elearningimperial.com/

PREVIEW project
http://www.elu.sgul.ac.uk/preview/blog/

PIVOTE
http://pivote.info/

Play2Train project
http://play2train.us/wordpress/

Instituto Cervantes in Second Life
http://secondlife.cervantes.es/es/default.htm

National University of Singapore in Second Life
https://u.nus.edu.sg/secondlife/default.aspx

New Media Consortium
http://www.nmc.org/

Virtual Government (vGov)
http://www.ocio.usda.gov/vgov/


Giulio Prisco is a physicist and computer scientist, and former senior manager in the European space administration. Giulio works as a consultant and contributes to several science and technology magazines. In 2002-2008 he served on the Board of Directors of Humanity Plus, of which he was Executive Director, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Italian Transhumanist Association. He is often in Hungary, Italy and Spain. You can find more about Giulio at his Turing Church, RSS feed and skefi'a science/fiction, RSS feed.
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COMMENTS


As a longtime SL user, I often made similar cases about SL and other VR worlds. I do think SL will likely either become, or be absorbed into the primary “Cyberspace” of the future, with the highly customizable features it allows. Businesses, which require more “conformity” will play a large part as well, but not as part of the widely accessible publicly connected common spaces. Businesses don’t really have much need for random avatars wandering in and out during a meeting after all.

To understand the resistance of SL oldtimers to “business oriented” innovations, you need to understand why most of us are drawn to SL to begin with. Our “Avatars” are not just expressions of creativity and individuality. They ARE *US*.  The *US* that we would be given the choice. As such, it should be easy to understand the resistance to being “conformed” to the business corporate cookie cutter ethic.





Hi valkyrie,

I think SL is a technically very advanced platform, more powerful and flexible than most of the others, and I think it could evolve in the future Cyberspace, or Metaverse, as you say.

But this will not happen if mainstream business and educational institutions don’t use SL and support its evolution. What will happen in this case, is that other platforms will become the Metaverse, and SL will remain a niche playground for few passionate users.

As I say in the article, SL does, or can easily, support all the features needed for business collaboration and e-learning. To boost its mainstream adoption, we need to replace the “Porn & Gambling” image with a less threatening one. This will take some time, but we should start now. This is what Linden Lab has been trying to do with the launch of SL Enterprise: the same technology that powers SL, adapted to business needs.

As far as cultural and psychological issues are concerned, I think the Metaverse is, or should be, big enough to accommodate all sorts of usage patterns.





Wholeheartedly agreed. I know several people who actually use SL for “telecommuting”.  I do think that a balance will be struck, but 2 things really need to happen to make SL work for both cultures.

One, the interface needs to become a lot more intuitive. I can’t tell you how often I have had to spend a few hours explaining how the GUI for SL works to new comers. The learning curve is quite steep. To be honest, if Linden Labs would just use the movement interface from WoW, it would make things ENORMOUSLY easier for new comers. It’s a case where too much initial complexity makes it hard to become comfortable in SL before a lot of users give up.

And two, SL needs to find some way to improve the speed in world.  The single most common complaint is lag.

Those two steps alone would make SL ideal not only for telepresence use, but enable more people who are not coming to SL primarily for “other” reasons to acclimatize easier.  As it is most people have to strongly desire those social “extras” that are unavailable IRL to make it worth learning the GUI. Once more “mainstream” people could use SL, like RL the “Porn and Gambling” would become less visible.

Another good feature would be a “PG” filter, which could be activated to on a per client basis, one which basically would overlay a non removable underwear layer between the skin and the normal clothing layers, and a script added to all non PG objects that allows a pg client to simply not render them. This would allow individual control at the end user, instead of forcing compliance on a region by region basis.





Valkyrie, we are on the same page here. Even with the viewer 2.0, the Second Life interface is just too difficult to master quickly.

As a result, only those with a very strong motivation to be in SL, for example those who really want to use SL for creative expression and as a means to build alternate identities and (like the oldtimers that you mention in your first comment) take the time to master the interface. Others, like many more casual users that might be interested in SL for telecommuting and e-learning, don’t get the interface and give up after a few visits.





Interesting article and points raised. You might find our definition of 3D Web = synthetic space+interactive+social to be useful. More details here on site http://rezzable.net and you should also look at our OpenSim grid for Heritage-key.com . You might find that things have move on from the negative aspects of virtual worlds into something more appealing to mainstream users.





@ Giulio: I actually find the 2.0 interface far more counterintuitive. If they switched to the WoW movement interface and camera rotation, with a separate camera control that came up only when needed, it would be far more useful and less aggravating to use than the current one. I understand it is assumed that most people will be immobile, using a prim animation, while the camera will actually be moved around, but compared to the standard movement interface common to many MMO’s, a lot of casual users come, get frustrated, and never return.

However, I am aware of a existing program integrating the emotiv Epoc with SL, which not only allowed the Avatar to mimic speech and facial expressions, but which allowed thought controlled movement as well, which is a extremely useful, especially if it allows otherwise disabled people to interact more easily with the virtual world.

My main hope is that a variant of OpenSim which has more intuitive movement controls will eventually become a common “shared ground” between all MMO’s and business oriented VR settings, basically a virtual web equivalent of facebook, where you can create and store your Avatars basic form and appearance, maybe even wardrobe and inventory as well, for common access in any VR world, so that my SL Avatar could be used in WoW, or any other MMO.

Have you read my articles on VR over at H+ Magazine? R.U. Sirius published the 3 part article in the Editors blog earlier this year.





@Valkyrie: of course I have read and enjoyed your articles on the (almost late lamented) H+ Magazine.

I also find the 2.0 SL interface counterintuitive, but probably because I was used to the old interface. For newcomers, I think 2.0 it is not less intuitive and easy than 1.0, and perhaps more.

I think that, however, user interfaces must become _much_ easier and more intuitive to attract new users. Here, I find developments like web viewers based on Unity3D (which will also run natively in the Chrome browser without the Unity plugin) very interesting and promising:

http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2010/05/opensim-to-chrome.html
http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2010/05/opensim-unity.html

More in the answer to Jon (the Unity3D viewer is a Rezzable project).





@Jon: I was aware of the excellent work you guys do at Rezzable, but thanks for the reminder.

The Heritage-key project looks great. I will start exploring it now, my HK avatar is Giulio Perhaps like in SL**. I also find interesting and promising your development of web viewers based on Unity3D (which will also run natively in the Chrome browser without the Unity plugin):
http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2010/05/opensim-unity.html

I see this as a first step toward the development of what I like to call onion interfaces: a first interface layer designed in such a way as to be extremely easy to use for newcomers, and more layers with more advanced options hidden inside.

Could I get access to the Unity3D web viewer for HK to play with it and give feedback? I am quite familiar with Unity3D.

** Note: the HK viewer cannot connect atm, I will try again later.





More @Jon:

I am sure you are aware of the Unity3D based Moondus technology developed by my good friend Bruno Cerboni and his team:
http://moondus.com/

I follow the development of OpenSim with interest. I think a real killer app would be a collaboration module like in Teleplace, with:
1) Easy multiuser webcam videoconferencing
2) Easy import of documents in standard formats (MS Office, Open Office) and collaborative editing (or, simple and stable access to Google Apps)
These features permit _real_ meetings in VR.





I like the term Onion Interface Giulio. It’s perfectly descriptive. A simple initial UI, which has various levels of complexity as needed based on user needs and competence.

In a sense, SL uses such an interface with the object creation system. It’s the basic navigation system that needs significant simplification





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you need to understand why most of us are drawn to SL to begin with. Our “Avatars” are not just expressions of creativity and individuality. They ARE *US*. The *US* that we would be given the choice.square peg web





@Valkyrie re “To understand the resistance of SL oldtimers to “business oriented” innovations, you need to understand why most of us are drawn to SL to begin with. Our “Avatars” are not just expressions of creativity and individuality. They ARE *US*. The *US* that we would be given the choice. As such, it should be easy to understand the resistance to being “conformed” to the business corporate cookie cutter ethic.

A few months after writing this article I wish to answer the first comment of Valkyrie (copied by the spammer in the comment above this - note to admins, please delete the two spam comments above this).

I do understand your point, and I think I have answered it with “the Metaverse is, or should be, big enough to accommodate all sorts of usage patterns.” In other words, immersionist oldtimers go this way, business corporate cookie cutters go this way, and we all wish each other the best.

But the resistance of SL oldtimers to “business oriented” innovations has just driven business out of SL to other more business friendly online communication platforms. What is left in SL does not have a critical mass to be taken seriously by business and education, and it is unfortunately easy to predict the future of this platform.

You may be aware that I have recently left SL, because I felt I was wasting my time. My impression is that SL is slowly and painfully dying… killed by its more zealous and passionate users. I believe there are a few lessons to learn here.





Actually, Guilio, I see SL “dying” because LL has made a slew of horrendous business and tech decisions. One of the latest is the merger of the Adult and Teen grids.

People, NOT BUSINESSES, but PEOPLE, need the kind of freedom and flexibility that SL offers, but businesses hate “Not having total control” I worked for SONY, remember? I know all too well it’s not about giving people what they want, it’s about TELLING THEM WHAT THEY WANT based on what the company wants. Tech support was a joke. It existed solely to get peoples personal info for marketing purposes, and SCREW ACTUALLY FIXING PROBLEMS.

SL has fallen into that same trap. At this point, my only hope is that someone will soon make a migration tool that will allow me to save all my work in SL, but if not, sooner or later I will take up residence somewhere else and start all over. Sick as I am of having to do that over and over, I’ve done it before.

What has to be done is find a compromise. I understand VR needs business investment, but IT WILL NEVER BECOME A BUSINESS MODEL IF NO-ONE WANTS TO DEAL WITH “BUSINESS ONLY” CORPORATE BULLSHIT “CONTROL FREAKS”

There HAS to be a middle kingdom Giulio. The problem is LL is refusing to meet that “middle ground” and providing services that work for both the immersionists, and the cookie cutters. They’ve started treating their “core demographic” as undesirables, raping “island” renters with constantly raised rates, and creating pretty USELESS “upgrades” that put a few pretty bells and whistles on the UI WITHOUT ACTUALLY FIXING ANY OF THE REAL USABILITY ISSUES.

The question, Giulio, is where is there a place for me, Khannea, and Extropia in the “Cookie Cutter Corporate” VR world?

Answer. There isn’t. Because we aren’t DRONES. We aren’t perfectly grey little clones, which is all the corporations want from VR.

But we exist nonetheless, and we need a world where we can be ourselves. I understand you feel SL is a dead end. I agree. But I hope that you will continue to support the creation of a metaverse that has a place for us, instead of creating one that only has room for cardboard cutouts instead of actual PEOPLE.





Thanks for replying Valkyrie,

The question, Giulio, is where is there a place for me, Khannea, and Extropia in the “Cookie Cutter Corporate” VR world?

No. But one of my points is that there should not be ONE VR World. There must be MANY VR WorldS, catering for different demographics including yours. Of course, the many VR WorldS (the metaverse) can use common technologies.

Of course I support the creation of a metaverse that has a place for everyone. But you understand metaverse cannot belong to a single company that can shut it off anytime. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket that others control.

Read this on Khannea’s blog:
http://khanneasuntzu.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/dear-citizen-please-report-to-termination-room-101/

My advice to those who have developed a strong emotional attachment to SL is, get the hell out of SL NOW: SL is going to fold, and you are going to be hurt. Reserve your emotional attachment to the PERSONS you love in SL, not to the platform itself, and let’s build an open source, distributed metaverse for everyone, one that nobody can shut down. You know the Diaspora story - start a kickstarter now, and let’s get busy.





I’ve always seen SL as a starting point, and figured that either it would continue to develop and grow into the “shared common ground” or it would be absorbed into whichever platform did. my sole attachment to SL itself is my various Avatars.  Like Khannea says, I could find the tools to completely unlock my inventory, but not only would that violate the TOS (which I won’t do just yet because I have freinds on SL and wish to remain until it is simply not worthwhile anymore) but I have no place to go to with my SL AVs and inventory when I do. I’ve never been all that “attached” to SL itself.

My worry is that no-one gives a damn about the need for a world for non-business interests.

I have no wish to lose my work, and want to move out of sl with my “self” intact, though I am resigned to the possibility that it might not be possible. But if ONLY businesses have their way, there will be no place for me to go when SL finally goes down.

I would love to help make an open source world with the freedom of SL which also provides the cookie cutters their “control fetish” I simply have no programming skills, limited 3d design skills, and while I am extremely creative and artistic, I have no idea how my writing skills, drawing skills, communication skills, and creativity could help in making that open source world a reality. I want to help, but I need a way that I can actually contribute.

If you have any ideas, let me know. VR is far too important to everyone to allow it to only be the playground of limited business interests.





Come on Valkyrie. Your clothes and stuff are not your “self”. Your self is the beautiful things you say, for which your friends love you. If you lose your things… it is like losing your clothes and car in real life, plus maybe getting a haircut. Annoying, bit no big deal.

I see that OpenSim is the way most SL refugees are going, but as a software expert I have never been too impressed with it.

I mentioned Diaspora because it is meant to be an open source, distributed, P2P alternative to Facebook. You know that they asked for 10k bucks on kickstarter and received 200k, so the demand was there.

There IS an open source toolkit for a distributed, P2P metaverse. It is called Open Cobalt. It is still very alpha but believe me, it can really kick ass once it is more developed.
http://www.opencobalt.org/ see also in the article above.

I am sure you have seen the videos of our talks and workshops in Teleplace:
http://telexlr8.wordpress.com/

Well, Teleplace is operational and just works, and very efficiently, because it is based on great technology… which is the same technology on which Open Cobalt is based. Both are derived from Open Croquet, the brainchild of Alan Kay himself, intended as a 3D operating system for the metaverse.

My point is that the baseline technology for an open source, distributed, P2P metaverse exists. If it is developed operationally it will become Stephenson’s metaverse. Nobody will be able to shut off your part of the metaverse because it will be under your control, and networked with your friends’ areas.

I mean it: start a kickstarter fundraiser and try to get the money to develop an open, distributed P2P metaverse project with Open Cobalt. I cannot do it because kickstarter is only open to US residents atm, otherwise I would do it now.





*giggle* Clothes were not at all what I was talking about hun. I have a completely custom made Avatar for myself, as well as over a dozen highly customized unique avatars I wear regularly. The clothes are always replaceable, My personal avatars will be much harder to replace since I lack the skills to make many of them myself. That’s the big issue.

I’ll have to check out the links when I have more time, I’m in the middle of trying to get moved into a new apartment atm.





@Valkyrie - avatars are also replaceable. I am sure as soon as any VR platform becomes popular there will be a lot of avatar templates and a lot of customization options.

But why are we so obsessed with avatars? When I was a SL user I wanted a spherical avatar without humanoid features, which I find uninteresting and distracting. I never understood why others dedicate so much time to their avatars.

There is an interesting paradox here. Some transhumanists accused of body-loathing in RL become obsessed with pixel bodies in VR.

If you do not identify with your meat body in RL, why should you identify with a pixel body in VR? VR bodies are meant to be convenient representations to be used and discarded, and I hope meat bodies will also become so.





I just submitted this post to the Open Cobalt mailing list:

Kickstarter fundraiser for an open source, distributed, P2P worldlet based on OC

Remember the Diaspora story: they proposed to build en open source,
distributed, P2P social network and asked for 10.000 $ on kickstarter.
They got more than 200.000 $, which means there was a demand for
something like Diaspora.

Now with the impending collapse of Second Life many passionate
metaverse dwellers are voicing their distress all over the
blogosphere. See for example the last few comments to my article
Telepresence Education for a Smarter World:
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/3979

There is, I believe, a clear need for an open source, distributed, P2P
metaverse, and I think Open Cobalt could be the best technology ti
implement it. At this moment Second Life refugees are rather flocking
to Open Sim, but I believe Open Cobalt technology is much more solid
and conceptually advanced. It is not yet, however, sufficiently easy
for casual users.

This can be corrected with a project to develop an operational and
user friendly hosted instance of Open Cobalt, open to everyone, with
support and sufficient server resources and bandwidth. The idea is now
discussed at http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/3979.

I suggest that somebody starts a kickstarter fundraiser for this
project at http://www.kickstarter.com/. I cannot start it myself
because I am not based in the US, but I am certainly willing to pledge
some money and to contribute.





@Giulio

The failure to communicate here is that to you, a body is just a “distraction”, to me, it’s an expression of my art. I AM A PINUP ARTIST, and my Avatars are my artwork. While I will be able to remake avatars, the effort and work I put into my art will be lost, and I absolutely HATE LOSING MY ARTWORK.  I’ve given away a pet before for destroying an entire portfolio of my art.

To try and explain, how do you think Michaelangelo would have liked it if David had been destroyed right after he finished carving it? My Avatars are my art. Yes I CAN remake them, BUT THEY WILL NOT BE THE SAME PIECES OF ART.

That’s the difference between an MMO and SL. In a MMO, I am just using SOMEONE ELSES ART. It’s not MINE. Even those Avatars which I have that I purchased I have customized, modified, rebuilt and fine tuned to be expressions of my artistic values. That’s MUCH harder to part with than a generic avatar that is identical to a million others.

AS for kickstart, once I get settled into the new place, I would indeed like to look into it and setting up a “wild” virtual world. I will be talking to you about this again soon.





Valkyrie, there is no failure to communicate. I understand what is important to you, and you understand what is important to me. I am sure both of us can understand the other’s point of view without sharing it.

And of course, for those who share our live and let live worldview, the universe is a good place if and only if everyone can do what is important to them.

Technologies to build an open, distributed, P2P metaverse suitable for both wild creativity and business meetings, where everyone can develop and manage their own corner of virtual reality, are available. We just have to design and build this system. Of course this will take a lot of time and money, and this is where a kickstarter fundraiser could help.





what is current status of telexlr8? website tells:

The teleXLR8 project has been running as a free, invitation-only beta from March to November 2010. It is not currently open to new participants, and no new events are foreseen at this moment.

when do you restart again?

great videos! grin





@virtual hero: the teleXLR8 project has restarted in August 2011 based on OpenQwaq, a new fully open source implementation of Teleplace technology.

Suzanne Gildert gave the opening talk of the new season on “Hack the Multiverse!” on Sunday August 21, 2011, in OpenQwaq. She outlined the basics of Quantum Computing, described the the D-Wave One quantum computer, and explained how to program it:

http://telexlr8.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/suzanne-gildert-on-hack-the-multiverse-openqwaq-august-21-2011/





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