Ebbe Linden (Altberg) has given his opening speech for the VWBPE (Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education) meet up. Daniel Voyager has a summary of the speech with a number of quotes. See: Ebbe Linden talks about education. See it for a quick summary by bullet points.
I’m going to do a bit of analysis and express my thinking rather than try cove his speech point by point. I am going to arrange my writing by subject into different posts. I normally follow the delivery sequence in a speech. But, that doesn’t work for me in this case.
If you want the word-for-word, watch the video. 1 hour 9 minutes. Ebbe reviews what has been happening in Second Life and then changes to talking about the future at about the 23 minute mark.
Next Generation Platform
We need to get some terms right. Second Life is our current virtual world (VW). For Americans the application of the VW acronym has multiple levels of significance.
Ebbe does not refer to the new virtual world they are building as Second Life 2.0. That creates too many associations and indicates a level of relationships that doesn’t exist between the two. While the Lab has an internal code name for the new project, they expect it to change and this one and the next are not for public dissemination. The fear seems to be the temporary names would taint or shift our expectation in unfavorable ways.
So, in public they call the project: The Next Generation Platform. (NGP) Very generic and accurate without out really saying anything about the project.
This is an important area for many and I think for SL over all. Apple long ago figured out that getting to kids in school and exposing them to Apple would tend to make them life time Apple users. To some extent that worked. The same is likely true for virtual worlds. Humans have a tendency to go with what they know.
Ebbe clearly expresses his commitment to the educational demographic in this speech. This past year he and staff have been reaching out and listening to the educational communities. He plans to hire a person to be the Lab’s educational liaison in the near future. So, there is more at work than just lip service.
Ebbe is aware there are cost issues and that mistakes have been made in the past regarding how educational discounts were handled. He assures the community those discounts are not going away. He is also committed to avoiding any price increases in Second Life.
In the NGP he is looking at reducing the user cost. Exactly how that will work is not completely decided. Ebbe uses the analogy of sales tax. Instead of charging a lot for land they will charge less. The financial model will be based more on taking a percentage of transactions, a sales tax. But, nothing is well defined, yet.
In Second Life and NGP they are looking at providing education groups more control over their experience. The Experience Tools project in SL will be a big part of that effort. On the NGP side they are taking it farther.
Ebbe says there are 300+ educational organizations operating in Second Life now. In the past it was more. The lab is looking to build those numbers back to previous levels and exceed them. They plan to do that by making NGP a more desirable place for educational institutions.
Ebbe says he and the staff get excited about the user case stories they receive from those working in the educational field. They shape the Lab’s plans for NGP to some extent. Ebbe would like to hear more of the success stories.
Ebbe says he hopes to partner with high quality content creators to provide and preserve high quality content in Second Life and NGP. The ideas is that when high quality content is created to avoid losing it over cost issues. His idea is that they could have on-demand regions in NPG. So making it so regions could be saved to disk when no one is visiting is one idea. They could be brought online when someone wants to visit. That should make for a very low cost way to preserve some of the amazing builds we have seen in SL.
We see this kind of scalability on high demand web sites. In OpenSim we see on-demand regions offered by some hosting companies. I’m guessing he’s thinking something like that for NGP and maybe SL. Whatever the case, it sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
With NGP another aspect being added is access control. The idea is to allow region or experience managers more control over who comes into a region. For educators control over who comes into a class. Also, to make it easier to bring users into a specific region/location/experience. The current SLURL use is somewhat a twisted path.
One of the issues they’re working on in Second Life is the problem of all the viewers trying to update when students are coming into a class. That can eat up a teacher’s time. Oz Linden is currently looking at that problem. Oz will be speaking to the VWBPE on Friday.
Another issue to be solved is discoverability. As it is now people can only discover experiences and classes from within Second Life. With NGP the idea is to make experiences and classes discoverable from outside NPG. I’ve written about the need to be able to find things inside virtual world from search engines like Google. It sounds like there is at least some idea of doing that with NPG.
Also, in both Second Life and NGP there’s the problem of scalability. As it is now we need about 20 to 40 people in a region. To present large events, like for instance VWBBE, where there are 200 or so people attending it’s a big deal to pull off. In NGP that should be a trivial process. They hope to allow 10,000 or more people to gather for an event.
Ebbe also uses the Texas A&M classroom for chemistry as an example. As it is now they can have about 20 students in the classroom. When they’re not using the classroom it goes unused and occupies an empty region that incurs cost. In NGP they hope to have something like the classroom easily be reproducible. The Texas A&M people could then sell the classroom to others and make some money.
These future changes are not all targeted at NGP. Some of the changes are hoped to appear in Second Life. More on that later.
Listing to Ebbe I get the clear impression he is sincerely committed to supporting the educational community.