Why My Third Grader Loves Second Life

February 8, 2012

Introduction

Did I just let my third grader select an avatar, then navigate the unchartered waters of Linden Labs’ Second Life virtual world? Well, not quite. Recently, however, I visited The Tech Museum in Silicon Valley. There, my daughter discovered a set of desktop computers running a custom version of the Second Life software.

At The Tech Museum

The custom version of Second Life was geared towards youngsters. Once you “login,” it guides you through the selection of an avatar and clothing.

You can find more photos of The Tech Museum’s exhibit here: http://thetechopensource.thetech.org/forums/second-life-museum-exhibit-floor

Once you’ve made those selections, users can learn about the basic features of the application, including how to get around. I noticed that many of the stations were occupied by students of a similar age as my daughter. Here’s why they enjoyed it so much.

1) Self expression.

Third graders have reached an age where they’ve begun to assert some independence. They pick out their own clothes in the morning, have clear opinions on what they like and dislike and have completely developed a sense of “self.” Selecting an avatar and outfitting it with a tricked-up outfit feeds directly into this notion of “self” and more importantly, self expression.

2) Presence indication.

Kids who play Club Penguin know about presence indication. But for others, Second Life was their first exposure to a “massively multi-player online game” (MMOG). They found it fascinating that not only could they walk through a space, but they might come across boys and girls sitting to their left or right. My daughter saw another avatar and shouted to her friend, “Hey Sarah, I found you!” Wait till they found out that they can also find and interact with avatars (other people) halfway across the globe.

3) Usability.

Second Life has taken its share of “hits” from the user community. Many have voiced concerns about the complexity, especially for the ability of new users to get acclimated and started. My daughter and her friends, however, found the custom version of Second Life intuitive and easy to get started. Perhaps software makers ought to design for the elementary school user first! After all, who’s smarter than a fifth grader?

Second Life for Primary Education

While I don’t believe virtual worlds can (or should) ever replace face-to-face instruction and interaction, I do think the technology can play a part in primary (and secondary) education. Two scenarios come to mind.

Access and Reach.

In rural areas, the elementary school may be 50 (or more) miles away. Assuming the availability of “access” (i.e. perhaps a mobile device with adequate computing facilities), teachers can convene a virtual classroom setting for a given day’s lesson. In metropolitan areas, this arrangement would work quite well during “snow days.”

Complementary Teaching Tool.

Introducing virtual classrooms could be an interesting way to complement the teaching environment of the conventional classroom. In addition, students would get a head start in learning the conventions and etiquette for online behavior and familiarize themselves with technological tools that will surely become a significant part of their adult lives.

Conclusion

Thank you, The Tech Museum and Linden Labs for introducing kids to the virtual world. My daughter identified it as the most enjoyable aspect of her museum visit. Her friends love it, too, which tells me that technology and primary education may be a match made in … a virtual world.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


The Future Of Newspapers: Online, Interactive Communities

February 14, 2009

NYTimes.com

Source: NYTimes.com

There’s been much discussion about the future of newspapers.  Some have shuttered, others are struggling for their survival.  Business analysts and bloggers have even speculated on the future of The New York Times.  NYTimes.com had 14 million unique visitors in August 2008 (according to this Wikipedia entry).  Many web-centric businesses have been able to build large market capitalizations off a base of 14+M users.  So how can NYTimes.com monetize their users beyond display advertising?

Let’s see.  How about creating a community around these 14+M readers – and creating an interactive, real-time newspaper?  That’s right, folks.  I’m proposing that NYTimes.com be powered by a virtual event platform.  I’m NOT proposing a 3D environment with avatars.  Instead, I’m proposing a 2D “tradeshow-like” platform that would enable a business that’s rich in content (and, deep in Editorial talent) to best monetize their resources.

So let’s break down what this might look like:

  1. The newspaper’s main sections each map to “booths” within the platform – Of course, we’re not going to call these booths – I’m just drawing a parallel to the virtual tradeshow (VTS) model.  But, the functions and features here are the same that power a VTS booth.  So for NYTimes.com, there are “booths” labeled World, U.S., Politics, Business, Sports, etc. – you get the idea.
  2. The booth is the central holding place for that section’s content – Just like a newspaper has a front page – in a booth, the day’s content is rendered prominently as you enter – and, Editors swap out stale content (into the booth’s archive) for fresh content.
  3. Editors staff the booth and connect with readers – To me, this is the real game changer with this concept.  Editors (when time permits) can login to the environment and interact in real-time with readers.  What better a way to find out what your readers are interested in?  And, what better a way to find and connect with sources for you and your reporters?
  4. Readers interact with other readers – Another game changer here, as the platform would allow readers to tap into social networking to interact with other readers, all in the context of your content.  Valuable interactions keep those readers coming back in for more, creating site loyalty.

So imagine I enter the NYTimes.com Sports Booth – and I see this:

NYTimes.com

Source: NYTimes.com

I can click on Harvey Araton’s profile and read about Harvey’s interests and specialties.  If Harvey is online, perhaps I initiate a chat session with him – or, I drop him an in-show email to tell him I read his articles.  This provides a benefit for both of us – I feel directly connected with NYTimes.com – and, Harvey is able to efficiently connect directly with his readers.

Now granted, with 14+M people, it may be quite a challenge for Times Editors to spend time in an online community, juggling between user-initiated chats and their “real job”.  However, what if each attendee of this environment was a paying member?  Perhaps that changes the equation a bit.  So let’s talk about monetization opportunities:

  1. Advertising – NYTimes can sell “run of booth” or “run of platform” ads – and also offer up specific areas of the environnment for sponsorship (e.g. Networking Lounge sponsored by American Express).
  2. Direct Response – The platform (using a pay per click model) could house placements of advertiser content and drive clicks to advertiser web sites
  3. Subscription – Start off with a freemium model – anyone can access the environment at no cost, but certain features (e.g. access to premium content, ability to chat 1-on-1 with a Times Editor, ability to participate in real-time Q&A sessions, etc.) require a paid subscription
  4. A la carte content monetization – Why not create “booths” that house the entire archive of New York Times content.  Staff these booths with digital archivists, who can search through the virtual microfilm and find you the article you need.  Only premium (paid) members get access to these booths – and, you pay for each article that’s delivered from the archive.
NYTimes.com

Source: NYTimes.com

Now, let’s talk about the social media angle.  The Times could support the “Talk to the Newsroom” feature (above) via a real-time, text-based grroup chat!  They could even have the host be visible via a webcam, if so desired.  Here are some possibilities:

  1. Scheduled chat sessions with Editors, Publishers, executives, etc. (e.g. “Talk to the Newsroom”)
  2. Columnist and subscriber blogs – Published directly within the environment, with support for comments
  3. Forums around the paper’s main topics
  4. Presence indication – Provides readers with the feeling that they’re part of a global community. Reading the newspaper (which used to be a somewhat private experience) now becomes a communal one, where you’re reading, you’re sharing and you’re interacting – with other interested parties from around the world
  5. Real-time briefing rooms or crisis centers – Recall how quickly Twitter spread the news about the Mumbai terrorist attacks.  Why not have ad-hoc briefing rooms where NYTimes.com readers can engage around breaking news and current events?  In this scenario, the “daily newspaper” transforms into a real-time, 7×24 “always on” environment.

So some day, when I get my morning coffee and sit down with NYTimes.com, I’m hoping I’ll see you “there”.


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