Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Netscape 1995

My sabbatical basically ends this week. I plan to do two more blog entries, this one and then a wrap up at the end of the week (or Monday).

One of the primary benefits that I've found with exploring Second Life is that of professional development, both in the sense of online conferences as well as more informal though periodic discussion groups.

For example, this last couple weeks, I've participated in five different discussion groups:

SL Educators Roundtable

Community Colleges in SL

Virtual Worlds Research Group

Epoch Institute discussions on virtual worlds (from a social science perspective)

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Portal at InfoIsland

Oops, forgot to take a picture. Well, you'll just have to trust me that I was there. I did, though, also stop by West of Ireland for a reading of Washington Irving:

I'm not going to summarize the discussions, though they were often rich and intriguing. My point for this blog is that in the space of two weeks, I've had conversations with other professors, instructors, high school teachers, students from all over the US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Portugal, Holland, England and so on. Yes, such can happen through listservs, MOOs, blogs, Twitter, wikis. But the sense of presence and space one experiences in SL adds a dimension to online interaction that I find significant, a sense that increases the more I explore its use.

But again, as I've mentioned before, and has come up in a number of places in world, SL is on the bleeding edge of technology. At a conference I attended the last couple days that took place in San Jose (Program for the Future) and also took place in SL, one of the RL participants whined about how difficult SL was to download and operate, that one needed a high-end computer even to operate in the virtual world, that a grandmother in Kansas would never be able to do it.

I made the comment in world that my children's grandmother (my mother) had no problem downloading and exploring SL (quite enjoyed the quilt exhibit at University of Kansas library). But the bigger issue is that many of the same complaints that are made about SL were made in 1995 about browsing the web. I remember using Netscape on my son's first computer and waiting 15 minutes for a page with still images to download!

And I'm sure we all remember searching for stuff on the web in the mid-nineties: nine times out of ten you'd just find crap. Yet, in just a couple years, we could find magazine articles, research from universities, rudimentary video clips and such that made it much more useful, not to mention the beginnings of interactive usage as we began to explore with online classes in 1997.

And today, the exponential increase of content that one finds with resources online is truly staggering. My wife, just the other day mentioned that in the last six months she's noticed a marked increase in quality of sources she pulls up when searching online.

Second Life is Netscape in 1995, or maybe a little further along, say 96 or 97. But in the next couple years, it seems to me that the richness of interaction and content will explode.

However, Second Life may also be the Netscape of 1995 for another reason. How many of you today use Netscape? That's what I thought. As we all know, Netscape got squashed by Internet Explorer and leapt over by Firefox. Will the same happen to Second Life? Will Google resurrect Lively or release something much more powerful? Will open source virtual worlds like OpenSim or Project Wonderland leap over SL's success? Who knows. But as mentioned in the Metaverse Roadmap, in the next 5-10 years, 3D immersive environments will be a significant part of our web experience. And I expect it will be the primary platform for online learning.

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