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The Second Life for Virtual Worlds: Vertical Solutions

September 11, 2011

Introduction

In 2007, Gartner predicted that “by the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a ‘second life’, but not necessarily in Second Life.”

As we approach the end of 2011, it’s safe to say that we’re far short of the 80 percent mark, as far as 3D avatars (in virtual worlds) go. It does seem clear, however, that the 80 percent figure is quite accurate if you consider the “second life” to be social networks. In fact, I then think the prediction turns out to be perfect.

Virtual Worlds: Where We’re Headed

3D virtual worlds (Second Life being the most prominent) never caught on in a mass market, the way that Facebook and Twitter have. I think social networks will see continued growth in adoption and usage, while the use of general-purpose, “open use” 3D virtual worlds continues to diminish.

I think “worlds” are dead. The future is all about self-contained solutions. And the future is now.

FountainBlue Virtual Worlds Panel

On September 30, 2011, I’ll be moderating the following panel for this FountainBlue event:

FountainBlue’s Third Annual Virtual Worlds Annual Conference

Topic: Virtual Worlds: Where We Were, Where We’re Going, What Does It Mean to YOU?

Date & time: Friday, September 30, from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m.

Location: EMC, 2831 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara, in their San Francisco Conference Room on the Third Floor

Cost: $22 members, $32 partners, $42 general

Facilitator Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing, INXPO
Panelist Andrea Leggett, Senior Product Marketing Manager, EMC
Presenting Entrepreneur Parvati Dev, President, Innovation in Learning
Presenting Entrepreneur Raj Raheja, Founder and CEO, Heartwood Studios

For more information and to register, visit http://www.svvirtualworlds.com.

My Premise: It’s All About Vertical Solutions

I’ll plan to float my premise to our panel and invite them to share their thoughts. The premise, of course, is that the “worlds” in “virtual worlds” is dead and the path to success (and profit) is to build focused solutions that directly solve business problems. Consumer-based virtual worlds told us that you can’t be all things to all people.

Consider the vertical approach that two panelists’ companies are taking:

Innovation in Learning: Solutions (Healthcare)

  1. CliniSpace™ – Virtual Hospitals and Clinics
  2. DynaPatients™ – Virtual Patients

Heartwoord Studios: Solutions (Military)

  1. Virtual Training
  2. Handheld and Mobile Apps
  3. Immersive Marketing
  4. Augmented Reality
  5. Simulation Ready Modeling

Conclusion

Do you have thoughts to share on this topic? Feel free to join us in Santa Clara, CA on September 30th. The event is meant for “Entrepreneurs, Intrapreneurs and Investors only. No service providers please.” In addition, I invite you to use the comments section below to share your thoughts on my premise.

 

 

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A Look at The Future of Online Instruction

July 9, 2011

Photo credit: abbynormy on flickr.

Note: This is a collaborative blog posting made possible by PBworks. The concept behind this posting began with an innocent tweet from a few weeks back, in which I noted that my daughter asked me for knitting instruction.

Introduction

Want to learn how to knit, but don’t have an instructor available? The first place you’d probably turn is your preferred search engine. And after a search or two, you’d likely come across KnittingHelp.com.

On this site, you can find written content, a forum and a collection of excellent how-to videos. And while the content and videos are quite good, what if you wanted a little more hand-holding?

For instance, elementary or middle school students looking to knit for the first time may not know where to start. They’d prefer an after-school class or private instruction to get them started. Let’s consider a few web-based solutions that could address these aspiring knitters.

Real-Time Video Instruction

Instead of “on-demand videos” (the KnittingHelp.com model), a student could connect with an instructor over a real-time video conference, using systems such as Skype or Facetime.

A flexible webcam would work best, one that can seamlessly alternate between two angles: (a) a view of the participant’s face and (b) a view of the knitting needles. This way, the session can begin with instructor and student seeing each other face to face, which is important to establishing a comfort level with one another.

Then, with both webcams focused on their respective knitting needles, the instructor could perform a few steps, while watching the student follow along. Real-time video (and audio) allows the instructor to provide constant and immediate feedback, which can facilitate more productive learning.

Real-Time Immersive Knitting

Next, imagine a 3D immersive environment, in which the instructor’s avatar meets the student’s avatar. Using mouse or keyboard controls to manipulate the knitting needles and yarn, the instructor and student can take turns with “immersive knitting.”

Much like an online meeting in which the presenter “passes the ball,” the instructor can “pass the needle” to the student to take control and practice knitting. While the immersiveness can be useful to visualize the proper knitting procedure, it’s not as effective as handling the needles and yarn with one’s own hands.

(A comment from Jim Reilly [Twitter])

“I see this as having little value – why use a new language (using computer keys) to knit, so that you then have to translate back to the original language (knitting needles) when you actually want to learn the skill and create something real?

I would also suggest including an example of how this technology could be employed so the motions detected through the motion sensors could be translated, through a modified knitting machine (substitute potter’s wheel for another of your examples) to deliver a product, almost in real-time, on the other side of the world.

The possibilities for physically disabled people to use the immersive environment and associated tools to create art and functional items is also worthy of note.”

Real-Time Immersive Knitting with Motion Detection

This scenario can be thought of as “3D immersive environment meets Microsoft Kinect.” Imagine the same 3D immersive environment, but using a motion-sensing device such as Microsoft’s Kinect.

Now, you can handle virtual knitting needles and watch the resulting scarf and sweater on the screen.  A Kinect device on the instructor’s workstation allows her to “take control” of the knitting. Together, instructor and student can knit collaboratively – imagine the interesting sweaters and garments they could create and then sell in Second Life or IMVU!

Alternatively, imagine a “real” (physical) ball of yarn, with “real” (physical) needles, working in conjunction with a motion detection system. As the student knits, the instructor sees a digital representation of the yarn/needles and can provide instruction based on the student’s knitting motions.

But Can Knitting Students “Really” Learn this Way?

(The following segment was contributed by Heidi Thorne [website] [Twitter])

When I was about 9, I learned to knit from my dad (yes, my dad!). That was in the physical “real” space. When I didn’t know how to do something, I could ask OR I referred to books. My how things have changed! It would have been so helpful to have a KnittingHelp.com resource around.

Interestingly, I didn’t learn to do the stitches (English) exactly as shown in the video. It looks somewhat awkward. But I think it points to an important aspect of online instruction, whether it be online video, real-time immersive, or with motion detection: It standardizes the way things are done, detail by detail.

Old-time (like 40-50 years ago) books would show here’s what the work looks like at step 1, then what it should look like at step 2, and the part between step 1 and 2 was somewhat of a mystery. It’s really difficult to turn mystery into mastery! So in that sense, yes, I think these new virtual learning models have incredible potential.

As noted earlier, knitting, like many other tactile arts, is difficult to translate into mouse and keyboard controls. So the real-time immersive knitting, without motion detection, has limited utility in this case. A 3D immersive environment which uses Microsoft Kinect type technology presents possibilities.

But, again, learning to deal with the tactile sensation of fibers, which can be uniquely uneven by default or design, is missing. It’s similar to driver’s ed simulators. Yes, you can drive along perfectly and the virtual traffic behaves. In the real world, well, traffic is less polite.

In sum, I believe that these technologies are excellent for early learning experiences since they take away some of the bumps and bruises that go with it, creating confidence through success on a small scale and at a faster pace.

“Hands-On” Practice

(The following segment was contributed by Jenise Fryatt [website] [Twitter])

I believe there is great value in methods of teaching that actually give you practice while using your hands. I believe there is research that shows that using your hands actually helps the brain to think better. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/hand.htm

I also believe that when the mind experiences the sensation of doing something, whether it be flying a plane in a simulation or laughing at failure in an improv game, the same neural pathways are created as are created in real life. Thus games and simulations can be amazingly effective teaching tools. I don’t think we’ve even begun to explore all they may be capable of accomplishing.

Conclusion

In addition to knitting instruction, the technology models we’ve outlined (above) could also apply to guitar instruction, pottery, painting and more. With technologies such as video, 3D immersion and motion detection, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

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The Future Will See You Now

February 2, 2011

The following is a guest post by Pooky Amsterdam (@PookyMedia).

Introduction

It was Joannis Kepleri in 1634 that first wrote of weightlessness in his book Somnium, or Dream. About a hundred years later, Jonathan Swift would write of two moons of Mars (which would take another 150 years to discover) and Laputa, an island where residents have geometric modeling and knowledge engines.

Jules Verne wrote of rockets, propulsion, undersea mining and a raft of creations too numerous to list. Science Fiction writers have contributed to future ideas and innovation since the genre was invented. Writers from HG Wells, whose babel machine presaged television, to Gene Rodenberry, whose Star Trek imagined so much, have infused our minds with imaginary and fantastic invention.

The Creative Process

And these ideas are taken further, and form the seeds of reality as it will come to be.  Such is the creative process, it must begin somewhere. Paper and pencil allows for anything to be “made,” after being seen in the mind’s eye. You can use words to create anything, then use paper to draw how it looks in two dimensions. What if you can go right to a 3D world, and build futuristic cities, design outfits for the year 3011, and actually design the people who would wear them?

Today you could make those visions and drawings reality in an expensive CGI kind of way, or you could use a graphic novel kind of approach to tell your story while showing vivid creations.  The mind is not now nor has it ever been limited to contemporary tools for story telling or fantastic creations.  Words have sufficed to ensnare the imagination, and immerse the audience since the first campfire. Now we are living and socializing around a virtual campfire, but it glows just as brightly when we gaze into it.

The Virtual World

As it has been said that we didn’t create the universe, so we can not fully understand it. Yet we have created the virtual world, in which we can create anything imaginable. This is done with what are free building tools, in the 3D world of Second Life. While much is recreated to reflect the outworld reality of the residents’ lives, there are opportunities for fantasy, science fiction and historic role-play which are met.  Enthusiastically talented, the creators of Second Life’s vast and stunning array of virtual goods and content contribute much.

The legacy of science fiction has inspired many people to carve out tracks of the grid for space bases, futuristic cities and to sell everything from starships to transporters. All while wearing the latest 2520 fashion. While books give much for our mind’s eye to describe, it is thought out before us. Being able to immerse in a 3D world with other people provides a level of visual storytelling which is unique to us. And that can be unique every day.

A number of traditional media programs have spawned new virtual worlds like the upcoming BattleStar Gallactica, Star Trek, and Star Wars – Clone Wars. What Second Life provides is a way to create a new vision and interpretation, not just re-create and role-play within it. There is a pool of resources within people’s minds that can and is crafted into being. That they can also be sold as an incentive and this encourages a new way of manifesting the future. There are designers and builders in Second Life creating assets and adventures which reflect the same design traditions of classic sci-fi, yet made out of prims.

A New Episode

They also provide a great backdrop and wealth for films. The Future will See You Now is the title of a new episode in our ongoing webseries, Time Travelers, for iHelpLoan and SLFC. Films can not be made without sets, costumes, props and all that makes for great visual story-telling. I feel lucky to be part of this kind of creative world which inspires.

Related Links

  1. Our web site: http://www.pookymediafilms.com/
  2. Our YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RR_xohMrvU

 


It’s All Virtual Turns Two

December 12, 2010

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

It all started two years ago today.  The first blog post was made on December 12, 2008.  Since that time, I’ve covered virtual trade shows, hybrid events, virtual worlds, Second Life, social media and many other topics.  It’s been a fun ride to date, but I’m even more excited about what the next 2 or 5 years will bring.  For now, let’s take a look back at five selected posts from the past two years.

What Started It All


My first post, from December 2008, looked ahead to 2009.  It was titled “2009: The Year We Go Virtual“.  I was mostly on target with this post, except for that innocent comment where I noted that face-to-face event producers would struggle to survive.  I should have known that physical events would never go away – and, I hadn’t considered what would follow in 2009/2010, the hybrid event.  Whoops.

Lenovo’s 3D World, Powered by web.alive


This posting, from January 2009, remains today the top grossing piece on this blog.  Lenovo launched a 3D world to promote their Thinkpad notebooks.  It used the web.alive 3D platform from Nortel (and is now part of Avaya, via Avaya’s acquisition of Nortel).  While touring the environment, I met Nic Sauriol, the Venture Lead for the project and he took  me on a personal tour.  Read more: “Review: Lenovo’s eLounge Virtual World“.

Musings on Physical Events & Virtual Events

(Photo courtesy of “ExhibitPeople” on flickr)

Physical events have been around for a long time.  So I decided to write about what we like at physical events and consider how those “features” could work in a virtual event.  I didn’t expect it at the time, but this turned out to be one of the most popular postings this year.  For more: “Bringing The Physical Event Experience To Virtual Events“.

Whose Platform Do I Use?

Once you’ve decided to do a virtual event, one of the key steps is finding the right virtual event platform.  In my Virtual Events 101 series, the most popular posting was this one: “Virtual Events 101: Tips For Selecting A Virtual Event Platform“.  For me, it comes down to the 6 P”s – People, Platform, Production, Price, Process and Partners.

Branching Out A Bit

Branching out from virtual events, I shared some thoughts on the topics of social gaming, location-based services, “gamification” and loyalty programs.  In the coming 1-3 years, gamification, location services and virtual events will come together (via API’s and integration).  On the gamification front, it’s noteworthy that San Francisco will be home to the Gamification Summit in January 2011.  For the full post: “The Name Of The Game Is Engagement“.

Conclusion

It’s been a great two years.  It’s hard to imagine what the (virtual) “world” will look like in another two years.  There’s one thing for sure: I’ll be blogging about it.  Come along for the journey and subscribe to regularly receive my posts.  Until next time!


Re-Thinking 3D Virtual Worlds Development

November 6, 2010

Introduction

Scratch is a programming language developed by Mitchel Resnick’s research group at MIT Media Lab.  Scratch “makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web.”  Scratch was designed for youngsters, to encourage them to build applications and games without having to learn the ins and outs of conventional programming languages.

Scratch programmers use their mouse to snap together blocks to form “stacks”.  The stacks embed actions.  For instance, some blocks allow players to control characters via keystrokes.  Programmers sequence their blocks to create animations and games.  Let’s consider how the concepts behind Scratch could be applied to 3D virtual worlds.

Virtual World Evolution

Previously, I wrote about the evolution of virtual worlds from self-expression to marketing to monetization.  With the concepts behind Scratch, however, I wonder whether a similar framework for 3D virtual worlds can re-ignite the Self-Expression stage.

Wider Adoption via Easier Development Tools

Scratch was created to empower youngsters by making it easier to build computer applications.  A similar approach may be needed to empower creators of 3D virtual worlds.  Let’s face it, creating a virtual world is not easy – it requires specialized skills.  Those who can afford it (e.g. corporations) often outsource 3D virtual world creation to agencies or development shops.

What results is a classic “chicken and egg” problem – the barrier for creation results in less supply (e.g. fewer interesting 3D worlds), which depresses demand (e.g. less people interested in visiting virtual worlds), which keeps the supply low (e.g. less interest to create them, since no one will visit).

This phenomenon may explain why IMVU is thriving, while other services (e.g. There.com, Google Lively, Vivaty) have folded.  IMVU brings the world to you – that is, the self-expression is focused around your avatar, rather than building worlds.  It’s easy to customize your avatar – and, if you’re so inclined, you can design virtual clothing and accessories, that are then made available to other users within IMVU.

Importance of Feedback Mechanisms

Scratch has two feedback mechanisms that are central to its success.  First, users can see the result of their work (in real-time) as they’re building the application.  The conventional cycle of computer programming is “code, run, debug” – with Scratch, you don’t debug, so much as you adjust your application as you go.

The second feedback mechanism comes from the Scratch community. Users can upload their application and have others post comments and suggestions.  This gives programmers the positive reinforcement behind their work (e.g. there’s an audience for my creation), which creates more incentives to create more applications and be part of an active community.

Both mechanisms could be effective in 3D virtual world creation.  The community aspect, in fact, addresses the chicken and egg problem, as the developers create an audience for each other – and can encourage their network of friends and colleagues to visit virtual worlds that they’ve found and reviewed.

Open Sourcing, Sharing and Remixing

The name “Scratch” is derived from the way disc jockeys scratch records to re-mix existing songs into new creations.  Community members can view the code for any uploaded Scratch application and are free to re-mix and modify existing applications.

This is a tried and true way to learn computer programming – take someone’s existing program, study the source code, then add some pieces to it.  Once you’ve done that a few times, you’re ready to write your own program from scratch (pun intended).

Sharing and re-mixing makes it easier to get started, will encourage wider adoption and is sure to generate interesting creations.  Imagine if a similar framework existed for 3D virtual worlds.

Conclusion

One of the prominent barriers to 3D virtual world adoption is the lack of easy creation tools.  Let’s learn from what MIT Media Lab has created with Scratch and see if we can apply their concepts to 3D virtual worlds.  How about it?

Related Links

  1. August 2008, NewScientist, “Creating your own computer game is child’s play
  2. March 2009, Wired, “Scratch Lowers Resistance to Programming
  3. May 2008, American Libraries, “Minds at Play

Virtual Mingle Rooms: Show Them What You’re Talking About

November 1, 2010

The following is a guest post by Daniel Ruscigno of Mingleverse.

Introduction

Mingleverse is a new service offering browser-based virtual rooms where 2 to 50 people can get together to talk using 3D audio while watching various types of media together (pictures, presentations, videos, webcam, screen broadcasting, etc).

Although predominantly a consumer-facing service, Mingleverse is used not only by friends and family in Facebook, but also by teachers and trainers, and small businesses.  However, the most interesting adoption has been with authors and athletes who are using their Mingle Room to mingle live with their fans.

Use Cases

For example, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell had a live virtual mingle with 25 of his fans, where they were all able to ask him questions about his books and his future writing plans.  Gladwell mingled from the comfort of his New York apartment and came into the room via webcam for all of the fans to see.  He commented afterwards that it really did feel like meeting 25 new people, and the fans were ecstatic that they got to meet their favorite author.

The Vancouver Canucks NHL team have also taken advantage of Mingleverse’s virtual Mingle Rooms by embedding one directly on their website.  After each home game the Canucks invite their fans to join the Mingle Room to talk about the night’s game, watch live post game interviews and press conferences together, and watch highlights streamed directly from YouTube.

There are now several professional sports teams who are looking to be the leaders in live fan interaction and are excited about providing fans the opportunity to mingle live with players and coaches.

Conclusion

As Mingleverse has shown, virtual world technologies allow us to become more interactive with people from all over the world and can afford us new opportunities not regularly available in our daily physical lives.  As we adopt these new technologies, perhaps our celebrity idols will ask you to meet them in their Mingle Room in their next tweet!

You can try Mingleverse for free at http://mingleverse.com or through the Mingleverse Facebook Application.

Related: Mingleverse picks up $1.4M in seed funding for video conferencing with cardboard cutouts (from VentureBeat, Dec 2010)


“It’s All Virtual” On Virtual Worlds

October 3, 2010

Introduction

Given Microsoft’s rumored interest in acquiring Linden Lab (developers of Second Life), I thought I’d assemble some recent virtual worlds content.

Related: “Microsoft Buys Vivaty For New Project, May Be Looking For More,” from Virtual Worlds News

Virtual worlds have taken a hit, as Twitter, Facebook and other services have become media darlings.  And while I love social networks as much as anyone, I do think the market is under-considering (if that’s a word) the potential of virtual worlds technologies.

At A Crossroads: Where Does Second Life Go From Here?

I analyzed different directions that Linden Lab could take Second Life.  Of course, one that I did not cover was an exit – if the rumored exit (Microsoft) were to happen, I’m very curious to see how and where Microsoft folds the Second Life technology into its business.

On a slightly related topic, I wrote about how virtual worlds can be more like Twitter and Facebook – that is, more social and more open to the rest of the web.

Related: Guest Post from Pooky Amsterdam, “The Business Benefits of Second Life.”

Conference Coverage: FountainBlue Virtual Worlds (September 2010)

  1. 3 Virtual Worlds Technologies To Watch
  2. Trends In The Virtual Worlds Industry
  3. Hear From A Panel Of Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs

Conference Coverage: Stanford Media X Virtual Worlds (August 2010)

  1. Stanford Media X Event: Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs Show The Way
  2. Stanford Media X Event: IMVU’s Online Community

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