define goals first, then adopt virtual worlds

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i really am fascinated with the questions on LinkedIn regarding virtual worlds. i think it is because there seems to be a bit of a similar fervor to “virtual worlds” as there was to Second Life in 2006. back then, Second Life was the thing to do. corporations just knew they had to be in there and that this was the next dot com success thing

well, as corporations spent tons of money (like $80+K to have one sim built) and then later asked themselves what they were getting from it, we then saw these companies leave SL and SL growth slowed down

it seems that there is a little of this going around with the term “virtual worlds” and maybe this is because of the open source nature of OpenSim. it’s like two years ago with social media. every one saw these free tools and jumped into facebook and twitter without a plan, but just knew they had to be in there. again, many companies then learned that without a purpose, social media did nothing for them

like anything, it’s about the idea, the content, and your goals – don’t just do it because it seems cool!

have a purpose that needs virtual worlds, don’t try to make virtual worlds fit your needs

here is the vague question from a LinkedIn group:

Does anyone have any recommendations for getting started with Virtual World Development? Given a limited budget, what tools would you recommend? Are there any guides/handbooks/blogs/etc. that might be able to provide guidance? We are specifically looking to develop a virtual world for educational applications, if that makes a difference.

so in this question there is no specific goal – “educational applications” is pretty nebulous. when i read a question like that, my internal interpreter is reading it as “how can i make money with this with as little effort and investment as possible?”

as you very well know, doing anything in virtual worlds does indeed take time and effort. even with sim-on-stick, it takes time to make anything. even if you go out and get freebie buildings and furniture, it takes time to find them and to set them up

  • what is your timeline for implementation?
  • what are your goals?
  • who is your audience?
  • are virtual worlds the best way to meet your goals?

i asked about timeline because, to me, it seems that you need to have spent some serious time in virtual worlds to understand what they can do, understand their limitations, understand access issues, and so on

i personally think someone needs to spend at least 40 hours as an avatar to start getting a feel for virtual worlds. experiencing lag and crashes is important. if you don’t have 40 hours to spend exploring virtual worlds, then for sure you don’t have the time to build any educational applications with them. subQuark spoke at several conferences back in 2007 and 2008 to corporate eLearning developers – they were all very excited about Second Life but did not want to spend any personal time in them and so, they never were adopted by them

virtual worlds are great but that in itself does not mean you should implement them. defining your goals is obvious but often overlooked

anyone thinking that adopting virtual worlds for educational purposes will mean success is tantamount to thinking that installing Scribus on your computer will mean you will be a successful author (Scribus -> open source desktop publishing software)

i suggested they first try OpenSim by doing so on a stick. you can mess with it and see what your experience is like. if you fire up sim-on-a-stick and are faced with a totally empty world, are you still excited? does an empty world fill your mind with endless possibilities? or are you overwhelmed by the emptiness? are you an “experience” builder and content creator? if so, then an empty palette will excite you

the nice thing with OpenSim is that anything you build on the stick can be imported into any OpenSim deployment you do. playing around with the stick version will help you define and understand what you can and can’t do

defining your goals, such as “increase student engagement”, “bring fun into the classroom”, “low cost technology”, and so on will help define is something like OpenSim fits those goals

part of those goals should be looking at your audience – can they access your virtual world, do they have hardware capable of having a decent experience, does there need to be security in place, et cetera

the best OpenSim builds won’t mean a good experience if the hardware does not support it – both server and client side

if you like virtual worlds and they seem to fit with your goals, then you can explore deployment options. the most control is on your own server. so if you have existing servers, this might be the way to go

if you don’t have your own server, leasing one in a data centre may make sense. and you can either load OpenSim yourself, hire a one time consultant to do it for you, or go through a hosting company like we do

but getting a grid first is like putting the cart before the horse – clear goals and plans are vital

what advice would you have for someone like in the question above? =)

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written by Ener Hax

March 20th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

posted in OpenSim,virtual worlds

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  1. You are 100% correct. As with any platform, in order to use it effectively you need to have a few things, the first of those being an application which warrants use of the platform.


    21 Mar 11 at 6:12 am

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