Zonja Capalini

SL vs. WebEx: The myth of Second Life as a platform for education [Update 2]

Surprisingly, Opensim fares quite better than SL in that respect

[See the list of updates at the end of the article]

Introduction

A Google Buzz by Mo Hax alerted me of the existence of an article in PC Pro containing yet another interview to M Linden. M explains there that SL is being used for “meetings”, as a “virtual collaboration tool”, and that it provides “incredible savings”. This is not new. If you google for “Second Life Education”, the second hit leads you to “How Education Enterprises Use Virtual Worlds“, a page by LL detailing how great is SL for educators. Similarly, the Second Life Blogs are full of references to SL as a tool for educators. For example, in a one year old article, As Seen on CNBC: New IBM Case Study Showcases Value of Meeting Inworld, Amanda Linden compares Second Life to Webex and says that Second Life “creates a [more] immersive experience”.

Does really “immersion” provide an advantage for online meetings? Is “immersion” something that can be asked of somebody, a student or an employee, for example? What is the cost of being able to offer “immersion”, and how does it relate to the supposed benefits? Are Second Life/Opensim and other tools, like Webex, comparable? If yes, how do Second Life and Opensim fare when compared to them?

In this post I will try to address these questions. To do so, I will use two strategies: on the one hand, I will make a product comparison between SL, Opensim and Webex, comparing features, price, quality of technical support, etc: on the other hand, I will resort to my own experience: I have been working for companies that have used Second Life and Opensim for education and meetings for more than two years, and I’ll share some of the things I have observed.

Product comparison

1. Features

                       | Second Life | Opensim+Skype | WebEx

Voice | Builtin | Builtin(Skype)| Builtin Slide shows | Complicated | Complicated | Builtin Whiteboards | -- | -- | Builtin App/Desktop sharing | -- | -- | Builtin Real-time video | Third-party | Third-party | Builtin Mixing it all  | Bad | Better | Builtin

The needs for educators and for people wanting to hold online meetings are quite similar and very clear. First of all, they need some form of voice conferencing system. In most cases, there is a need to present slideshows (ideally, Powerpoint presentations); a form of shared black- or whiteboard is also very useful; the possibility of sharing an application or the full desktop comes also very handy; and having some form of real-time video streaming is also very desirable, so that “remote” people can see the teacher or the person who’s currently speaking.

For our feature comparison we will use three scenarios: Second Life, an Opensim grid with voice over Skype, and WebEx.

Voice

Voice is a built-in feature of both Second Life and WebEx, and can be implemented using Skype in Opensim grids (there’s also an Opensim solution for voice, Freeswitch, but I haven’t used it and I can’t comment about it). Both Skype and WebEx have excellent dynamic noise and coupling cancellation algorithms — many participants won’t need to mute their microphone while not speaking because of these algorithms. On the other hand, Second Life voice algorithms are much more sensitive to noise and coupling, and this implies that everybody has to be very careful to mute their microphone when not speaking, and that you’ll have coupling problems in mixed reality scenarios in the RL end of the meeting.

Slideshows

Slideshows are directly supported in WebEx — you can directly share a Powerpoint presentation, or, if you are using a different application for your presentation, you can share that application. In Second Life/Opensim, on the other hand, even such a simple task is painful and unreliable. You can capture all your slides as images, for example using a screen capture program, upload these images (which costs some additional money in Second Life, but not in most Opensim grids), and then build a slide presentation tool (or buy one) and put all the textures inside the tool. The textures get rescaled to a maximum of 1024×1024, which can be a nuisance in some cases, and when you change textures there’s a good chance that some of the clients don’t load the texture in time, so that they see a gray screen or a partially rezzed texture (there are some ways to overcome this problem, but they imply extra work and they vary between releases).

Another possibility is to create some web pages that contain your presentation, and either write a small program that interacts with the parcel media to show these pages in a screen or manually change the displayed page. In all cases, you have to play with the texture so that it fits the screen and your presentation is not cut or has ugly extra margins, which is tedious and wastes some time.

It should be noted here that while Second Life forces you to choose between showing a web-based presentation or a video stream, this is not the case with Opensim: you can use the OsSetDynamicTextureURL function to load a presentation from the web into a prim while still showing video via the parcel media.

Whiteboards

WebEx has a built-in whiteboard, and you can decide with whom to share it. Of course it’s not very comfortable to use, but no softwate whiteboard is. In Second Life or Opensim there is simply no way to implement a whiteboard.

Application or desktop sharing

WebEx has builtin support for application and desktop sharing — if in the middle of a class or a meeting you realize you’d like to show a web page to your attendees, for example, you can open that page in a web browser and share the browser, so that everybody can see the page. Second Life or Opensim do not implement any form of application or desktop sharing. There have been some experiments done with a plugin for VNC, but it’s not still something usable by the general public. Much before the tests with Second Life, RealXtend (an Opensim derivative) allowed VNC sharing on a prim.

Real-time video streaming

WebEx has built-in support for up to six simultaneous video streams. Image quality depends a lot on bandwidth and is generally webcam-like, but the synchronization with audio is perfect, and you experience no delay. Second Life or Opensim do not act as stream broadcasters, so that you have to buy a separate solution for video streaming (like Veodia) that meets the specifications of streams for Second Life (for example, if your streaming provider sends Windows Media or Flash streams you’re out of luck). Then you have to configure Second Life so that the parcel media displays the streamed video, which is not complicated in itself but requires some skills (while the WebEx solution works out of the box). Of course you can only have one video stream, not six like in WebEx.

Mixing it all

Of course in a real class of meeting you’ll want to mix all these elements dynamically following the needs of the meeting. For example, you may want to switch from your presentation to a whiteboard or a web page, and then get back to your presentation; or you might want to enlarge the video signal of somebody who’s making a long speech and then get back to your slideshow, etc. With WebEx all of this is very simple and can be performed with some few clicks; with Second Life, some things can not be done, and others are painful and disruptive to the meeting or class. For example, you can interrupt a web-based presentation and connect a video channel instead, but this takes some programming or complicated manual intervention, during which the class is interrupted, and then you have to wait for the video to buffer — very disruptive.

Opensim and its derivatives fare slightly better that Second Life in that respect: as noted, Opensim allows to texture a prim from a URL, which SL does not, and this can allow for simultaneous web-based presentations and video streams; RealXtend implements some support for VNC desktop sharing and also allows to have several video streams in the same parcel, etc.

2. Costs

                       | Second Life   |  WebEx
                       | Min    Avg    |  Min    Avg

| ------ ------ | ------ ------ Setup fee | 1,000 1,000 | 0 300 Avatar setup | 0 481 | N/A N/A Streaming video/mo | 0 84 | 0 0 Monthly fees (1 sim) | 295 295 | 42 81 Monthly cost (-setup)| 295 379 | 42 81 Yearly cost (+setup)| 4,540 6,029 | 504 1,272

[Legend: This is a cost comparison for 25 avatars. We have estimated an average of L$ 5000 per avatar to make them look decent. We have converted L$ to US$ assuming a 260 conversion rate. Streaming video costs are calculated assuming a yearly cost of US$ 1000. All numbers are expressed in US$ and rounded to the nearest integer.]

All considered, it’s clear that Second Life/Opensim cannot be compared to WebEx in terms of features and ease of use. Let’s examine now costs.

Second Life

To be able to have complete control of your experience, you’ll need a private island — if you rent a homestead from a land baron, you risk having your land confiscated at any time without reason or warning and lose all your work and money, and you’ll not be able to do anything about it; things like this are happening every day in Second Life. A full sim has a setup fee of US$ 1000 and a monthly fee of US$ 295. Then you’ll have to invest money in buying the tools you need or develop them yourself. If you want your executives, employees, students etc to look good, you have to spend between L$ 5000 to L$ 10000 per user, and lose time buying clothes, skins, hair, etc — this can be a lot of time if you don’t want to end up with an army of clones. Finally, if you need video, you have to shop for a suitable streaming video provider and pay for the service, which can cost you around US$ 1000 per year.

Opensim

Opensim in itself is not a service, as Second Life and WebEx are, and this the reason why I have not included Opensim in the above comparison (it does not make sense to speak of “the cost of Opensim”, but of the cost of a determinate solution using Opensim, and there’s no sensible way to determine what’s “minimum” or “average” in this context). Opensim software is in itself is free, and, therefore, depending on your existing infrastructure, costs may start at US$ 0, and add as you need to hire services from third parties (i.e., video, a hosting provider, etc).

WebEx

WebEx has a small one-time setup fee (something like €200 in Spain, this should be around US$ 300 — I’m not sure this applies to the USA), and a monthly cost of US$ 42 (we pay more in Spain, € 54, which should something like US$ 81).

3. Support

Webex offers email-based and phone-based technical support. If a user has problems with her connection, you can send them to WebEx support and they help them. With WebEx, you have a single point of support, and it works acceptably well.

On the other hand, although technical support people from Second Life are very polite, helpful and nice (at least at the concierge level), getting effective support there is always a mess, and in some cases plainly impossible. Since Linden Lab only sells you “the platform” and you have to buy your tools elsewhere (for example, a scripted screen for presentations), if that tool fails you can’t call the Lindens for help — you have to contact the author of the tool instead. Most merchants in SL are fine people and are very helpful, but in case they are not, you don’t have a place to complain. The same is true when you want to solve a problem with video streaming: the Lindens can’t help, because they are only selling “the platform”; the video provider will say that you have a problem with your ISP, and your ISP that you have a problem with your streaming provider. To summarize, in a typical setup you may have 10-20 points of support, and this is clearly a mess and not efective at all.

I can’t comment on the level of support for Opensim hosting providers, since I have never tried one. Anyway, if you are using Opensim you’re supposed to have a good technical level, since Opensim is alpha software. And the Opensim community is very enthusiastic and helpful. In any case, at the moment Opensim is not for amateurs.

Immersion

A theoretical approach

We saw that Second Life/Opensim do not compare to WebEx in terms or features or ease of use, and we have just seen that it doesn’t compare either in terms of costs or support. Since many people insist on the interest and even superiority of Second Life as a platform for meetings and education, and this superiority cannot be attributed to the features, ease of use, costs or support, there must exist a different factor which is exclusive to Second Life/Opensim (or where Second Life/Opensim excels) and which compensates for the inferiority of the product in other areas. But the only candidate for such a factor is immersion.

Contrary to “features”, “cost” or “support”, which are objective qualities of a product, “immersion” is a psychological quality of experience, and therefore a subjective factor and ultimately something which cannot be attributed to a product, but to the way users experience it — and this will vary wildly from one user to another, as such is the prerrogative of everything subjective. Defining “immersion”, as with everything subjective, is difficult. If you ask somebody who has experienced immersion whether they know how to define it, they will reply “yes, for sure” — but when actually confronted to the task of defining it, they will begin to hesitate — this is due to a very common fact: mistaking the certainty of having experienced something with one’s ability to define what one has experienced.

Thus, we will not attempt to define what immersion is — this would be a task for an essay, not a blog post. What we will do is to look at how the term is used, what are its most usual synonyms, and proceed from there — this will be enough for the purposes of this post.

“Immersion” is usually used as “the feeling of being there”. When used in this way, the argument of those defending immersion runs as follows: products like WebEx (or even more sophisticated teleconferencing systems) don’t provide the feeling of “actually being there”, because you are permanently confronted to a screen which gives you, at most, an abstraction of what’s going on “in the other side” — immersion, however, makes you feel “present” in that other side, and therefore somehow abolishes the separation between “your place” and “the other side”. The argument starts to falter when you ask why that feeling of “presence” or “immersion” should be benefical for attending a meetings or a class. Indeed here the argument mistakes “being there” in the physical sense for “being there” in the intellectual sense. What is needed for a successful meeting or class is not “the feeling of being there”, which is something psychological and ultimately cannot be evaluated, but the actual fact of being involved in the conversation and participating in it, which is something objective, can be evaluated, and does not depend on “feeling that you are there”. In fact, the actual surroundings are of no importance when you are actually involved in a conversation — this explains why some people close their eyes when concentrating: surroundings are distracting, a nuisance — be them “there” or “here”.

Actual experiences

“Immersion” is therefore a state of the mind. It always involves some dose of roleplaying: you have to pretend that you are your avatar, you have to act as if the other avatars actually “are” other people, you have to behave as if “you” are sitting when your avatar “sits”, “you” are actually shaking hands to other people when your avatar shakes hands with another avatar, and so on.

The fact is that not everybody experiences immersion. See for example what Eric Krangel, reporter for Reuters in Second Life, had to say in an interview for the Silicon Valley Insider: “As part of walking my ‘beat,’ I’d get invited by sources to virtual nightclubs, where I’d right-click the dancefloor to send my avatar gyrating as I sat at home at my computer. It was about as fun as watching paint dry.” You could argue that Mr. Krangel was somehow immersion-impaired, and that Reuters could well have chosen somebody with better feelings towards the product — but the fact is that my experiences with other people are very similar to Mr. Krangel’s experiences.

Now I hear the legions of immersionist fanatics starting to organize a lynch mob in which I would be the unwilling star. Stop it. I’m an immersive avatar, I enjoyed immersion since my first second in Second Life, I have an active and wonderful social life in Second Life, and I’m myself in love with virtual worlds. I even host an Opensim-based micro-grid. Go check my Flickr, my YouTube or this blog for details. It’s not about me that I’m speaking, but about what’s happening to most people.

For example: In the companies I worked for, I personally trained 20+ people: executives, teachers and advanced students. I showed them how the client worked, accompanied them to buy nice skins and clothes, taught them how to use the tools needed to manage a meeting or a class, etc. Of these 20+ people only three (3!) found the experience interesting enough that they devoted some of their free time to explore the world, socialize, etc. Other people ranged from a sudden and immediate loss of interest (i.e., they never used it except when it was needed for their work) to a clear phobia to use the system: they said that they felt “ridiculous using that game”, that they felt that their avie was “a sinister puppet”, and they could never go beyond the feeling that they were being forced to use a game that was distracting them from the tasks they had to perform.

Horrors of (non) immersion – a sample case

Here’s a case I followed closely: classes were held in a mixed-reality scenario; some of the students attended the class in RL, while others came via Second Life. An image of the SL class was projected in the RL class, and a real-time video of the RL class was shown in SL. The audio system was configured in such a way that what was being said in RL was channeled to the audio stream of SL, and when somebody from SL spoke, their woice was heard in RL through the speakers.

Cool, no?

Well, in reality it was not cool at all. Let’s see what happened:

SL side

In the SL side, things got pretty boring after the first minutes. The sitting animations are mostly static, and animations for teachers are dull and repetitive. After taking a peek at their fellow students and at the classroom, the interest of people participating in the class via SL faded quickly — the only visual element that could show any novelty was the video stream, which had a delay of 5+ second with respect to the voice channel and therefore gave a somehow creepy impression. Most people ceased to look at their screens or opened another application (to sort out their spam in the meanwhile, for example). This had the unwanted side effect to make them fall in the “away” state rather quickly. Since many of them had absolutely refused to spend a cent in bettering their appearance, they were not precisely nice looking. And they were away. Very depressing :-)

RL side

In the RL side things were not much better. Since most RL students were not aware of the existence or meaning of virtual worlds, projecting an SL image in the RL class gave them the impression they were being shown a video game. SL has glicthes and SL students weren’t very skilled at managing the product, so that they ended up sitting in the head of some fellow student, sitting on a table, suddenly unsitted and started to fly, etc, which was extremely distracting for everybody, real or virtual, and interrupted the class. Spatial voice is a disaster for classes; when a student that was sitting far away from the camera spoke, the RL teacher had to quickly move the camera so that she could be heard. Changing web-based slides was a mess and interrupted the class, and so on.

The immersive people

I’ve already mentioned that some few people had immersive avatars. You could quickly identify them because their avatars were much more beautiful, they took the time to change outfits for each meeting, etc. They explained that they spent most of the time looking at themselves and at their immersive fellow students (as everybody does in SL, by the way). After some minutes, they also got bored and started some other application while listening at what the teacher had to say.

So, is immersion absolutely useless?

Please notice that I’m not saying that immersion is completely useless for education. To the contrary, I’m convinced that there are scenarios where it is a wonderful tool — for example, real-time collaboration in 3D modelling. What I am saying is that, in the general case of meetings and classes, the use of virtual worlds is presently useless.

Of course one could argue that this is due to the current imperfections of the technology. Better technology, goes the argument, would eliminate all the current pitfails of SL as a tool for meetings: the user interface will be more intuitive and less intrusive; animations will reflect accurately what the user is doing, and so they will stop being dull; avatars will automatically resemble their humans (if their humans so desire), and they’ll even show facial emotions (like in James Cameron’s film), etc. All of this might happen, and I for one would be very happy if it happened as soon as possible; but unfortunately this speaks of some possible future products and platforms, not of what we have today.

Wishful thinking, collective delusion, or a marketing strategy?

Since it appears clearly that it cannot be rationally claimed that virtual world technologies are useful, in a general sense, for business meetings and classes, we can ask ourselves why so many people are insisting that this is the case. It could be that the people making these claims were victims of some form of wishful thinking; it could also be the case that they were victims of a collective form of delusion; finally, it could also be that they were making these claims as some form of marketing strategy. My personal impression is that these three factors operate simultaneously.

Wishful thinking

It’s human to mistake one’s own desires for reality. It’s happened to me, it’s happened to you, it happens to everybody, daily. When I entered SL, I immediately experienced immersion. Since I was experiencing it, I didn’t understand how it could be that other people weren’t experiencing it. I attributed this fact to several factors: they were not so good with computers as I am, the technology was too new and they needed some time to adapt, they were future-shocked, etc. It took me several months to realize the truth: they weren’t experiencing immersion because they were not interested in experiencing it; they simply didn’t want to “be” an avatar. I call my self-delusion “wishful thinking” because at the time I really desired that everybody had an avatar. One could do so many nice things if everybody had one and experienced immersion as I did! But, as time has teached me, my wishes and how things are in reality are completely different things.

Collective delusion

Sometimes I think about Linden Lab. I don’t know the company from inside, but I can imagine it — a big company, formed by enthusiasts of virtual worlds. At least this was surely so at the beginning. Now the have hired new people, but it’s a dogma that they all must pretend to be very immersive and enjoy their virtual lifes very much — else LL would risk enraging the residents because they’ve put somebody who’s not “one of us”, who “understands nothing”, to manage a certain part of the company.

Isn’t that a perfect field for collective delusion? People from Linden Lab always explain how much they meet in Second Life, how they save considerably by doing so, and so on. If you think of it, it’s no surprise — it’s as if you asked people who attended a party in SL whether they believed they had attended a party: of course all of them would reply they had.

What I’m arguing here is that Linden Lab is not a good example of the composition of your average company or your average school. What they say they are experiencing must be true for them, but it cannot be generalized to other collectives. So that they must be suffering of some form of collective delusion, believing that what is good for them can be immediately extrapolated to other businesses.

Marketing strategy

We could also be a little more cynical and think that some Lindens are not under any form of delusion, but that they are speaking about the superiority of Second Life as a tool for companies and educational institutions as a form or marketing strategy. Saying so would give them part of the market, and in the meanwhile they could invest to better the platform, so that in a short time it would not be such an inferior beast, but more comparable to WebEx and the rest of the competition. They could also be hoping that virtual worlds would “go mainstream” (M Linden actually says so in many places, including the interview cited at the beginning of this post), etc.

The problem with such an strategy is that it is very risky. What’s happened to the companies I’ve been working for is happening now to a big number of other companies, and will happen in the near future to still more companies. And Linden Lab will have burnt these customers. As Adam Frisby says about a related topic (tele-workers), this risks provoking “yet-another-media ‘Are virtual worlds over-hyped?’ rush.”

Conclusion

Virtual world platforms like Second Life and Opensim are today not developed enough to be of use, in the general case, for companies wanting to hold meetings and for educational institutions. This does not mean that it’s false that, as the homepage for Opensim says, “many people are doing exciting things with it”. Promoting the use of Second Life or Opensim as a tool for enterprises and educators, without adding big warnings or disclaimers, is the best way to actually delay adoption of the technology for several years: early adopters will get burned and start a backslash against the technology.

I will end this post citing part of a comment by At0m0 Beerbaum in an article by the Second Life Alphaville Herald about my Openspace Fiasco article. It’s a comment that made me think a lot, and, seen in perspective, I have to say that I tend to agree with everything he says.

However, I said this months ago, SL is not a platform to do business on, it’s more of the spider enticing the fly into its web. Linden Labs has no interest in actually providing enterprise support, they just want to push out a half-assed system, claim it has business potential because it can play embedded video and has voice, and profit from it with lots of feel good sales speak.

Hell, they havent even properly implemented shadows in their mainstream client, nor did they go anywhere with windlight.

You can easily go with a cisco conferencing solution or any other video conferencing solution, and pay much less overall than what Linden Labs wants to charge for zero support, and small pieces of server space.

SL is an entertainment platform, aka, a game. If you want to conduct real business, go with a company that has experience in this field. Otherwise if you just want a time waster and some eye candy, or a marketing hook, then look into getting a sim.

Update 1: There was an error in the calculation of costs for Opensim which has now been corrected. Given the variety of uses and configurations for Opensim, it’s very difficult to estimate meaningful “minimum” and “average” values for the cost calculation. I’ve opted to set the minimum value to zero, assuming an intranet use where all services (voice, streaming video, etc) are provided by the intranet, and set the “average” value to the cost of a well-known provider + the cost for streaming video.

Update 2: I received some comments that made me realize that including Opensim in the cost table was not a good idea after all. Opensim is not a service (as Second Life and WebEx are), and therefore it doesn’t make sense to speak of “minimum” or “average” costs “for Opensim”. It would make sense if we chosed a determinate Opensim hosting provider, but again in this case there’s no clear “average”: OSGrid is free (if you can host your own sims), for example.

February 21, 2010 - Posted by | OpenSim, Product Comparison, Second Life, WebEx | , , ,

55 Comments »

  1. A long but very good post, reflecting a lot of my own thoughts on the subject. As I mentioned on various comments before, I work in a high tech software company, and the idea of our execs and partner company execs doing meetings in a virtual world is ridiculous. In my company, even Webexes are considered a waste of time – and if we do them, it is one presenter and a number of listeners. No whiteboard action at all. Yet we are the leader in our niche.

    I DO see the use of SL in the immersive aspect, and again, your classroom example shows a typical failure. Why do I need to experience a classroom?

    What I CAN experience in an immersive way is… a nuclear reactor. A submarine. A space station. A magnetic field. A toxic waste dump. An automated car factory. An earthquake. A djungle. Antarctica. The Himalaya.

    When I was in school, the highlights were when we got shown educational videos. I would hope for todays kids the highlights will be when the enter the virtual world to explore Schliemann’s Troy.

    Comment by Peter Stindberg | February 21, 2010

  2. “there’s also an Opensim solution for voice, Freeswitch, but I haven’t used it and I can’t comment about it”

    FreeSwitch integration is working really good. Ok, you have to setup a FreeSwitch server with some additional configuration, but that is no problem for an average admin. The same is for setting up the config in OpenSimulator.

    And after that you have a fully viewer integrated VoiceChat that works with the SL-Viewer and the Hippo-Viewer. No 3D-Voice or distance clipping tough, but really good enough for normal everyday usage.

    Come to http://open-neuland.talentraspel.de if you want to see it in action on real high performance servers. We just celebrated first birthday with about 20 people in the same chat – no problem at all, if setup the right way.

    Comment by Kai Ludwig | February 21, 2010

  3. I agree in that one has to be careful when early adopting new technology that is still in alpha status. But the early bird also catches the worm and there have to be some brave peeople that try technology out first to push its limits.

    From my personal experience OpenSimulator is good enough to start projects with it that have a development period of 6-12 month anyway. This way the projects will come out with a matured plattform just in time.

    BTW:

    Slideshows: SLoodle integration (is working for OpenSimualtor too), makes a bunch of educational tools already available in SL/OpenSimulator.
    Whiteboards: Online collaborate a Desktop Whiteboard, Screencam it to a Video Stream, cast that via DSS back to the OpenSimulator Clients. Sounds complicated but works fine. We use this technology also for our Grid-O-Scope http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/30/30640/1.html. And the VNX on prims solution http://www.cybertechnews.org/?p=1343 is also running very fine.
    Application or desktop sharing: See Whiteboards.
    Real-time video streaming: See Whiteboards.

    Comment by Kai Ludwig | February 21, 2010

  4. I first visited Second life purely to assess it as an educational platform and it’s potential usability in the corporate training world. (I stayed for the shopping and the creating :P)

    It offers some things – but the key point that would turn any of my clients off from investing in it for training purposes is simply that it will not run well – if at all – on the majority of corporate computers. These are typically fairly low-end integrated graphics business machines across most of the average organisation.

    This is the biggest barrier I can see to the Linden plan for global domination :P

    Comment by Katiya Rhode | February 21, 2010

  5. Immersion can generally be held to be synonymous with attention or focus for most practical purposes. Immersion is what makes meetings successful in the office, or lessons successful in the classroom.

    Comment by Tateru Nino | February 21, 2010

  6. Zonja —

    Great post — always love reading everything you write.

    You missed one aspect of immersion however. It may not be relevant for many business users, but this is what got met hooked into virtual worlds after dismissing them as “games” for years: the ability to schmooze.

    Late last spring, I attended a conference held by IBM in Second Life. At the conference, I was able to rub elbows with the other attendees and presenters and do the usual chit chat — water cooler talk — “Nice weather today, ha ha!” or “Nice suit. Where do you like to go shopping?” or “Can you believe that guy who showed up dressed as a dog? This is a business meeting!” Nothing bonds people faster than gossip.

    WebEx meetings, by comparison, tend to have a single speaker (or group of speakers, in the case of an earnings conference call), and a mass of listeners. The listeners may occasionally be allowed to ask a question (usually moderated through a queue of some kind). But there is no schmoozing going on between attendees and presenters, or between attendees and each other. No exchanging business cards, no industry gossip, no chit chat about what was said at the event.

    For me, a business journalist, that IBM conference was a real eye-opener. Since then I’ve both attended and organized a number of networking events in virtual worlds (both Second Life and OpenSim) and find that the “shmoozing” aspect of immersion continues to bring benefits in the form of creating an informal way to build business relationships and exchange information.

    The value of schmoozing and chit chat is extremely hard to quantify, however. In fact, I’m sure there are business managers out there who would see schmoozing as a disadvantage, and not a benefit, of virtual worlds. Maybe you could track follow-up contacts between attendees?

    — Maria Korolov
    Editor, Hypergrid Business
    http://www.hypergridbusiness.com

    Comment by Maria Korolov | February 22, 2010

  7. Your cost number comparisons are dubious because you’re comparing SimHost and not OpenSimulator. Replace OpenSim with SimHost and you’ll be ok.

    Comment by DOliva | February 22, 2010

  8. @DOliva: You’re of course right. It’s difficult to say what are the “minimum” and “average” cases for Opensim, as the number of possible configurations is virtually endless. I’ve changed my table to assume a cost of zero as a minimum (assuming that you’re using audio and video infrastructure from elsewhere, for example an intranet) and I’ve kept SimHost as the measure for the “average”. Of course having streaming video from an external provider adds US$ 1,000 to the total, which is > 50%. Maybe if I created two tables instead of one, one with video and another without, it would be better?

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 22, 2010

  9. @Peter: Love your examples of immersion. That was the main point of my article: if you promote SL/Opensim indiscriminately as “a platform for meetings and educators”, you’ll end up burning many customers and in the end burning the technology — which is a pity, because it’s a wonderful technology that I’d love very much to see developping and succeed (otherwise I wouldn’t be putting so much work and effort in it). In this sense, I think that Linden Lab should modulate their propaganda — otherwise, and paradoxically, they will end up being responsible for the lack of or slow adoption of the technology.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 22, 2010

  10. @Kai: Many thanks for the pointers — many of these I’ve not had time to try myself; information from somebody who has and can speak about them is much appreciated.

    I can’t but agree about your “early bird” comments — I myself run a small Opensim grid, Condensation Land, I’m doing a bunch of nice things there, and it’s wonderfully stable. But as I already mentioned in my reply to Peter, my main point was that selling Second Life as a platform for business and educators, as if it was a finished and competitive product, is a very risky strategy. Of course determined people with enough knowledge and desire will always be able to make experimental configurations run. But one thing is to say “hey, this is alpha software, but if you work hard enough and combine 10 different technologies you’ll get pretty nice results” and another one is to say (as goes the SL propaganda) “this is the best product for meetings and educators”. At least Opensim people are honest and they say “this is alpha software” :-P

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 22, 2010

  11. @Katiya: My experience is similar to yours, with the difference that we had to learn the hard way, losing tons of time and money and illusion in the process. I’m also staying for the shopping, the social life, the creativity, and, in my case, because I’m a techie and I love to play with Opensim.

    Re: Old corporate computers — yup, and: new netbooks are also a problem. When you were still able to but a netbook with XP home it was still possible to log in and do something, but now that we’re being forced to swallow Windows 7 (of course for our own good :P) the user experience is simply horrible :-(

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 22, 2010

  12. @Tareru: Thanks for commenting :)

    I find your definition a little too vague — if “immersion is what makes meetings successful in the office, or lessons successful in the classroom.”, then of course everybody would like to have immersion, since it’s “what makes [whatever you’re doing] successful”. As to focus, I doubt that being an avatar in a simulated classroom betters your attention level — not that you’re saying it, I know.

    The Wikipedia offers a quite more convoluted definition: “Immersion is the state of consciousness where an immersant’s awareness of physical self is diminished or lost by being surrounded in an engrossing total environment; often artificial” — not that I agree with it myself.

    Indeed “immersion”, in the SL world, is also contaminated by the immersionist/augmentationist debate. It’s instructive to follow the comment thread and see how everybody seems to be using a somewhat different meaning for “immersion”.

    Most people use the word “immersion” as something you experience — either you experience immersion, or you don’t. That’s why I used this approach in my post. But of course one could start an infinite discussion about this…

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 22, 2010

  13. @Maria: Thanks for your kind words! :-)

    You make a very good point. I myself attended virtually the “II Congreso sobre Metaversos, Web 3d y redes sociales en mundos virtuales” (here‘s a video about it). It was, as you say, a fantastic experience. I met a number of previously unknown people who told me they were following my blog, or my Flickr or YouTube, I made a number of new friends, and indeed I’d say that in many sense it was a far better experience than attending in the flesh would have been — being able to sustain several IM chats at once, interchange notecards, detach your camera from your body, teleport, fly, film at the same time you experience the situation… wow! As it’s quite noticeable, I don’t need to be sold the technology — I’ve already bought it :-)

    But… there’s a big BUT here. Let me tell you another of my experiences. One of the companies I worked for built a very nice campus. We decided that a campus should have a bar, so that people could socialize, before or after the classes (or both), like they normally do in RL. So that we built a nice bar, with a barman, chairs, a coke machine and everything. All very beautiful, you could sit and look at the sea while interchanging with your fellow students.

    The surprise came when we discovered that nobody was actually using the bar. Not even the immersive avatars. We never found out why, really. My guess is that people who were not immersive were not willing to stand “still another stupid roleplaying scene” (i.e., they didn’t see the cartoon bar as a real bar). As to the immersive avies, maybe the fact that in reality you don’t need immersion to attend a class was making them feel ridiculous to roleplay as bar customers — dunno, really.

    So that, in the end, I always come to the following, quite tautological, conclusion: immersion is great… for the people who already experiment immersion :-) And not everybody is able to or is willing to try immersion.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 22, 2010

  14. @Zonja Well, usually when something has the quality of immersion (that something is ‘immersive’) means that it encourages or encourages focus. That is, you want to pay attention and in so doing you ignore distractions. That’s immersivity.

    The use of the word in the badly named immersion/augmentation debate however has a different meaning: immediacy (antonym: hypermediacy). Immediacy is the sense of being in another place, or of connectivity to a remote scene. Television news works hard to engender a sense of immediacy, for example. I’m pretty sure you can’t have immediacy without at least some level of immersion, however.

    Comment by Tateru Nino | February 22, 2010

  15. Thanks for a very detailed article. I’ve written my thoughts on immersion before here http://blog.knowsense.co.uk/blog/_archives/2009/11/5/4371505.html.
    I think it may be wrong to compare an application (WebEx) with a platform (OpenSim and to some extent Second Life). Anyone suggesting that Second Life is the perfect ‘product’ for Enterprise Collaboration would be wrong and you make that point forcefully. But if you layer the right tools on top of that platform then you start to have much better proposition. There are already slide presenters in SL / OpenSim that are as easy to use as WebEx (http://www.vcommpresenter.com for example), I’ve been playing pictionary using javascript-based shared whiteboard in SL for over a year. I also have a totally shared web browser in SL – when I scroll it everyone sees it scroll. I also have the ability to display web content on an arbitrary number of panels at the same time, in both SL and OpenSim. The key though is that to create a useful environment here involves lots of steps and a fair bit of integration. The value is in what get’s built on top of the platform. If you can make the entry into the environment (launching of a meeting) easy, the tools well integrated and everything intuitive then you have something of real value. Don’t want to feel immersed? Fine – click a button and make the presentation screen ‘full screen’, let those who do ‘feel’ the immersion get some value from it.

    Comment by Neil Canham | February 22, 2010

  16. Great post, Zonja! It’s really important that these marketing memes are bombed with critical analysis every once in a while.

    Comment by Diva Canto | February 22, 2010

  17. […] SL vs. WebEx: The myth of Second Life as a platform for education « Zonja Capalini Partager : […]

    Pingback by links for 2010-02-22 | Metaverse3d.com | February 23, 2010

  18. Thanks Zonja for that great article!

    Your experiences very much match with what my partners, offering services in OpenSim, tell me. My partners mainly offer sales training and virtual working environments for large corporations, while my company Dreamland Metaverse provides the professional OpenSim hosting services they need (http://www.3dmetaverse.com/).

    Immersion is the key that provides added value in the educational sector and for corporations using OpenSim for online meetings and training. But this new virtual environment also requires that users first get used to it.

    Especially for corporate users it is essential that they do not have to spend much time to learn an user interface. Moving the avatar arround with the arrow keys is OK, but already having to learn the standard camera controls is too much for normal business users. Simple huds and mostly automated tasks (by using scripts) can help simplify usage very much. Experiences did show that in such cases meeting attendees already feel comfortable after a short 15 to 20 minutes introduction.

    There are tools like the vComm Presenter, that can be used to show powerpoint presentations in-world. The conversion of the slides is automatically done when you upload the presentation. In-world you can flip through the charts like in RL.

    Concerning the ability to schmooze, that Marie did bring into discussion, I also think that this is an important aspect of virtual world environments. But for this it is necessary that some kind of meeting culture is developed over time. At the beginning corporate customers are very focused and want to get lead through the training process or the meeting. It takes a while until they feel comfortable to do things that were not planned.

    For many users an informal discussion with collegues in a virtual feels strange, although they do the same in RL in the coffee corner. But the more the users see the virtual world as a natural environment to meet collegues, the more they start to also use it for informal information exchange after official meetings. It’s just another step of immersion they have to take before they start to use virtual worlds also for unplanned meetings.

    When I see how many standalone OpenSim regions are used for such professional services already and when I hear about the upcoming projects, I also have the impression, that OpenSim will be very successful in cases where an immersive environment adds value. – That is mainly the case when attendees are very much distributed geographically or where additional in-world tools support the working or learning process.

    Comment by Snoopy Pfeffer | February 23, 2010

  19. I have to agree with Maria’s point as regards ‘schmoozing’. my eureka moment with virtual worlds was last year at the VWBPE conference when I was having a casual chat with a colleague towards the front of the seating area after one of the presentations when one of the presenters, who was still on stage, threw some playfully sarcastic remarks at me for my dated looking avatar. I retorted and we got talking and a few months later we met for the first time in RL.

    My point is I could never imagine this happening with WebEx or similar product. I attended a huge Elluminate webinar last week and felt like I was pretty much listening to the radio – there was no feeling of being in the same place as my fellow ‘attendees’. Whereas in the case of the VWBPE above that conversation would have never kicked off were it not for the strong sense of immersion, presence and proximity. And of course the embodiment of an avatar.

    Virtual worlds facilitate the serendipity that we experience all the time in RL and rarely if ever experience (in my case at least) in WebEx et al.

    Comment by James Corbett | February 24, 2010

  20. @Neil: Thanks for the link to your article, it makes a very interesting read. The comparison between WebEx and SL was made by Amanda Linden, not me :-) I understand that Opensim is not a service like WebEx or SL are, but there’s also much buzz going on about how Opensim is great for educators — I myself cooperated to this some months ago, until I realized it was a dangerous thing to say. Of course SL + app1 + … + appn *may* work as desired, but then you have n+1 points of support and zero support for your customers (unless they are all premium, which adds to the cost). And agree with the idea of making immersion optional — but in that case, as it has already been said in the comments, you’re requiring each participant to install a heavy client, that many machines cannot run, just to detach a WebEx-like screen…

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 24, 2010

  21. @Diva: Thanks for your comment! :-) Marketing memes they are indeed. My fear is that they work against the technology instead of in its favour…

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 24, 2010

  22. @Snoopy: Many thanks for your comment. The main point is whether people will end up using the technology or not, given that many people don’t like it. There’s a very interesting discussion about that going on in the buzz linked at the top of this post. Otoh, it’s interesting to notice how many comments are of the form “SL/OS works wonderfully IF you add A and B and C and…” — which is *not* what the marketing meme says: “SL is wonderful for education”…

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 24, 2010

  23. @James: I can’t but agree with you, please see my reply to Maria’s comment for a sample of my own experience. It can be said that “Virtual worlds are great to meet people”, but not that they are great for education, in the general case, at least while the technology is as it is today. In my experience, it’s more distracting than anything else.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 24, 2010

  24. Yeah, I agree SL/OpenSim alone, even with the media integration (Flash and such now) in v2 isn’t enough all by itself. Some day perhaps though. I have a real hard time forcing online students to get into Second Life just to answer questions in a Flash-on-a-prim assessment they could use directly in Google docs, Ning or something.

    I do think virtual worlds, SL and OS today, are fundamental skills needed as much as how to use email or blog today and will become more so in coming years. For that reason alone, encouraging, even forcing, ‘immersion haters’ to get over it and learn to use it seems in their best interest even if they don’t think so. Of course this all rests on the premise that virtual worlds skills are indeed fundamentals to success in today and tomorrow’s digital world. VRML certainly wasn’t. But SL and OS have more substantiated successes today than VRML and similar tech did before.

    I suggest people include this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education as well (although I think it could have been better researched and presented.) The thread of comments is similar to this.

    http://chronicle.com/article/After-Frustrations-in-Second/64137

    Comment by Mo Hax | February 24, 2010

  25. @Mo: I think the main problem with “encouraging, even forcing” is that you can do that at the enterprise level (if a company decides so), but you *can’t* do that if you’re a business selling classes to your customers — customers don’t like to be forced :-) But of course if the enterprise world adopts VW technologies everybody will follow, eventually…

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 24, 2010

  26. If we flash forward 3-6 months, where OpenSim has been updated to support the backend for the new shared media features, how will that change your post? I think a holy grail from this point is to see interactive web/flash etc in OpenSim. It’s a big game changer, ya?

    Comment by Daniel Smith | February 25, 2010

  27. Well HTML parcel media hasn’t worked in OpenSim ever, and the reason is simply that the mime type of the media isn’t being preserved/distributed. The fact that it didn’t get fixed suggested to me that there wasn’t much appetite for displaying web content in OpenSim. If it had been fixed, my working SL based shared web browser based on parcel media would have been immediately usable in OpenSim. My C# is not great, but I might have to start having a look now, see what is involved in getting this new texture-based media working :-)

    Comment by Neil Canham | February 25, 2010

  28. @Daniel: It’s obviously a big step forward for people that need/enjoy SL/OS. But most of the criticisms I make still hold: immersion is essentially useless to attend a class, most people don’t want to have an avatar, the fat client is overkill, you have to pay for two services (say, SL + WebEx = US$ 337/mo) instead of one (WebEx: US$ 42/mo), etc. Otoh, for Opensim it’s great news, as it will automatically make the software much more useful :-)

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 25, 2010

  29. Thank you for your post.

    3D is still in it’s infancy and should be nurtured and understood better before too much criticism is attached. I can remember a time when video on the web was not possible and many criticised the failings, now it’s everywhere.

    I find that when you enter a 3D environment your senses are stimulated in a different way in comparison to, a some what personality deficient 2D experience. In 2D there is no real sensation of being in the same place at the same time. It can also be difficult to coordinate activities especially realistic role playing.

    3D creates the possibility for learners to become immersed. Whether they actually become immersed is dependant upon a number factors ie. the learner, the environment, the stability of the technology and to a greater extent the teacher/trainer/coach or facilitator.

    Emotions are regarded as key factors in learning. 2D environments are often boring, how many times have people referenced email checking, looking at another screen, logging onto ebay etc. 3D creates engagement that is why people love playing games! It could also be compared to concept that occurs when you read a great book, you may cry or laugh – that is immersion and engagement.

    In 3D you have to get it somehow, you have to become involved. I also teach scuba diving, and I’ve often had a nervous student look over the side of the boat and feel totally overwhelmed to the point of panic. In this situation the skilled instructor often helps to remove the fear and replace it with calmness and a sense of fun (doesn’t always work :-) Once the ‘immersed’ student has returned from the depths 95% want to go back, often immediately. The theory in class they understood, the practice is something altogether different, alone many would not make it, working together with skilled and caring people allow the difficult to becomes possible and then easy.

    In 3D it should not be the instructional designers (ID) concept to put a learner in a classroom. If you are learning a language for example in 3D and the topic is booking a hotel room is it not better to visit a hotel reception and converse in contextual way. That is a big benefit. Think of it like a flight simulator – you get to learn RL skills in a close to RL situation with no risk of failure or damage.

    Knowing which tools are the most effective for which type of learning is key to selecting the platform. One thing to note is that the mix of tools incorporated should be the choice of an experienced group of specialists. This team must create the playground, then the playground can be officially opened and people can play. The company’s role is to pay to keep the playground safe and in good working order. The only additional responsibility the company has is to ensure the mix of activities and tools are sufficient for the cause based on the advice of the specialists. Once this is completed it should be left up to the learner to decide how to play. How boring is it when you are told how to play – and what is often the result…? Correct! I don’t want to play any more. Great!

    Having an instructional strategy and using specialists to construct the playground ensures that a powerful learning environment is created where learning has the best chance to occur. The companies role (to reiterate) is to allow creation, give permission and maintain the service, more not. The reality is that you cannot force people to learn. (even in 3D)

    One of the major benefits of 3D learning, when done well, is the retention and recall of knowledge. As many recent studies into social (informal) learning confirm, tapping into tacit knowledge is of vital importance and a major resource available to the company, should they be lucky enough to access it. Another benefit as mentioned above is the “Schmoozing” factor(@Maria). It is not possible in 2D, but it is in 3D, so let it happen and benefit from it.

    Finally, the content of a scenario or situation is what codes the knowledge into us; keep it real, exciting, challenging and very creative in design. Achieve this and the learner will return to play in the playground very often and feel gratitude towards the company for a important business resource that they now need. Keep the playground clean, safe, tidy and well maintained.

    SL’s viewer and the possibility to use media of all forms is a game changing announcement without a doubt. But it’s very early days and there are other parts of SL that need work in order for this to be a real success, at least from a serious business perspective. I’m personally not quite ready to decide which platform to promote (and invest into), but I really like the way things are shaping up.

    Best wishes – keep up the good work,

    Paul Simbeck-Hampson
    Learnscape Architect & Gardener

    Comment by Paul Simbeck-Hampson | February 25, 2010

  30. A fantastic post Zonja – as always thoughtful, intelligent and provocative. I can respect the obvious experience that went into it. I’m currently developing a team collaboration environment for my employer in OS which will serve to bring members together more frequently. This is very important as they are working virtually from all over the planet yet hardly know each other. A virtual office and playground is going to give them the opportunity to immerse themselves in our company to an extent simply impossible without this technology.

    I recently came back from a very large in house meeting for about 80 people. Even with just flights, hotels and food – that’s over $100k, and much much more when you consider the lost productivity and time of people traveling in from all over the world. That meeting is held only once every two years currently precisely because of this. Now imagine if you could do one of those a month? Augmented by a ning – type site and correctly (community) managed – we see a giant potential and are about to go live with our first distributed team meetings.

    On education – I am also developing the system to provide standard lecture type training as a direct port over of our current RL training sessions. These are highly specialized, expensive pieces of knowledge transfer in a highly competitive market. Typically – participants have to commit to four week long sessions on site at a central location in the USA. Person to person interaction is critical in those sessions as they learn how to role-play scenarios. Using this system, the value proposition is just too compelling for large corporations to ignore, and to encourage them to spend many $ on developing the systems.

    I started conducting executive coaching sessions in SL a couple of years ago with some clients. The immersive nature of the environment helped greatly in developing the more intimate surroundings where empathy can be shared in developing trust relationships so essential to thorough coaching and exploration.

    I was very surprised to find such a small reference to IBM in your article though. Obviously the 800lb gorilla in this space – they have been instrumental in blazing the trail for others, resulting in their (opensim based) sametime 3D product. A quick google search reveals details of many other companies also using virtual worlds to host meetings and collaborate.

    All in all – I’d like to see debate on how we can overcome a lot of the deficiencies you mention. As more people and corporations adopt OpenSim based virtual worlds – there will be more effort placed on development of tools and mechanisms to solve these issues.

    Finally – it has to be said that there are people out there who will never get virtual worlds, will feel viscerally opposed to the concept of “playing with cartoon puppets” and see no value whatsoever in the whole exercise. Those with any gaming experience typically have very little problem becoming functional. This is NOT age dependent by the way. I have colleagues close to retirement age who revel in their avatars and collaboration, and some younger folks who despise it. That’s human nature. When training people for their first forays into a virtual world, I always stress time and again to “keep your mind open”. Once past the initial 30 minutes from hell – when they’re comfortable enough moving around – I see a good 70% starting to have fun and get beyond the platform and into the expression of themselves and their ideas as avatars in a business framework. It is real, it is happening – now.

    Zonja – am always in awe of the detail you put into these things and am painfully aware of the time and effort that takes. Thank you for doing this – I look forward to continued debate.

    Comment by Lee Oldrich | February 26, 2010

  31. @Paul: Thanks for a very detailed comment! :-)

    “3D is still in it’s infancy and should be nurtured and understood better before too much criticism is attached. I can remember a time when video on the web was not possible and many criticised the failings, now it’s everywhere.” My intention when writing this post was just that, to care about the technology and cut thru the hype. It’s not good for 3D that things are said like “3D is excellent as a platform for education” (and I myself have been a victim of this prejudice), without attaching a lot of disclaimers and warnings to that statement — it induces educational institutions to try it, they get burned, this in turns burns the technology, and you have a backslash against it and ultimately this delays the adoption of the technology.

    Be assured that *I* am a fan of 3D. Schmoozing is great, I’ve experienced it many times. The point is a) that many people don’t want to “be” an avie, b) that not all computers can run SL or are able to provide a decent user experience, and c) that for many scenarios immersion is actually distracting, not something which adds value.

    As to the much hyped SL Shared Media, it’s of course a very nice addition to the client, but it also opens a can of worms of security problems. My friend and fellow blogger Peter Stindberg has a very nice article about this topic here: http://stindberg.blogspot.com/2010/02/shared-media-poses-huge-privacy-risk.html

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 27, 2010

  32. @Lee: Thanks for your thoughful comments. I can’t discuss the savings for enterprises, as I pointed out in my reply to Mo above I can see forced adoption by the enterprise as a model of spreading the technology. The original buzz from Mo, http://www.google.com/buzz/imohax/gjBqGQM14kq/CEO-of-Second-Life-again-makes-point-it-isnt-about , has grown into a very interesting thread about this topic.

    About IBM, I don’t want to sound negative, but I’ve worked with them and their products since a lot of years, and they have a large story of dropping their own products and customers: think of CMS (from VM/CMS), REXX or OS/2 as examples. Having IBM bet on 3D offers no guarantee of its success.

    Regarding age, my comment to Mo was about how children seem to accept very naturally the possibility of being virtual. I don’t have enough data to make a sociological study about how 3D technology is used by different age sectors, but I do have some pointers. As you well point out, many old people embrace happily the technology and are immediately big fans of it. Maybe one factor contributing to that fact is that old people can be again young, strong and beautiful when being virtual, and they appreciate this fact a lot. Another factor is the creativity that a 3D platform allows. My personal impression after being in Flickr for more than 2 years is that most of my Flickr friends are > 50 years old in RL. As to young people I’ve seen many people in the 20-30 years old range to be very reluctant to use the technology. A temptative guess as to why this is so is that they are too busy at that age building their RL avie to be able to care about a SL one. But of course all that would need a serious and in-depth study to come to universally valid conclusions.

    Finally, in my experience many people don’t get the feeling of it even after having spent many hours in-world, having attended social meetings (parties, exhibs, etc). Some people simply don’t want to be virtual, they have other priorities.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | February 27, 2010

  33. A fascinating article, and many good points with which I don’t disagree; however fundamentally I think you’re comparing apples and oranges, and while the points you make on strength and weakness are good, you have assumed that it is either normal or desirable to try to do exactly the same thing in both environments – and that in both cases this means replicating a traditional local teaching or meeting setup.

    Of course there are plenty of face-to-face meetings that consist of one-to-many presentations using Powerpoint et al, and certainly distance versions of these will be best handled in WebEx or similar tools in the distance learning or business environments.

    But to consider the educational environment as one in which you simply sit the students down in front of a screen and squirt Powerpoint presentations at them is I think a travesty of what education is – or at least what it ought to be. And even though many more business meetings than classes may be characterised in this way, even there, we’re talking lowest-common-denominator stuff.

    My idea of education is to get the students doing things, interacting with each other and not just with me. It’s a many-to-many environment in which everyone needs to be able to participate equally.

    A virtual world environment offers a great deal here, which is simply not addressed by positing a one-to-many “Powerpoint at a distance” experience.

    Indeed, one could look at the issue from the other end and say: What? You gave me an entire virtual environment to create and co-create, relate, chat, shmooze (Maria Korolov is spot on here), confer, collaborate, experience, play, and learn in, and all you want to do with it is to show me a Powerpoint presentation? I respectfully suggest that this is rather missing the point.

    If you want to show your class a Powerpoint, then obviously you don’t need a virtual world – indeed I’d expect a virtual world to get in the way, as you found in your research.

    But I would suggest this is asking the question the wrong way round. The real question is, Given the possibilities of virtual worlds, how can we exploit those possibilities effectively and fully in education (for example)? One thing that it isn’t is sitting them down in a faux classroom and showing them a Powerpoint presentation.

    Now of course, the 2.0 Viewer looks like a real game-changer in terms of being able to do interactive video, whiteboards and stuff in Second Life – but really, given all those other possibilities, do you honestly simply want to replicate a bad classroom, badly?

    Comment by Elrik Merlin | February 27, 2010

  34. Educators need much more than just voice and slideshows.

    Just plain talking and image showing is the worse teaching practice possible. Students need to be engaged in a task-based and problem solving paradigm. Second Life provides a platform to do that. The advantage is that it triggers the same brain areas that are stimulated when individuals interact in presence. That’s the main reason to use Second Life or any similar 3D virtual world. And that is also what immersion means: to trick the brain, leading it to understand information the same way as in the physical world.

    But using this trick to show video or listen to the teacher is an evidence of poor lesson design.

    Comment by Ricardo Cruz | February 28, 2010

  35. Zonja

    Thanks a lot for your article. I am sure it reflects the experience of many who have tried to use SL or OS as a training platform. However, I have made different experiences with my customers and I would like to share some of them here.

    I think there are two crucial points that in general are addressed in the wrong way:

    1. SL and OS are no finished products, but mere platforms:

    In order to be usable, they must be enhanced so that they can be operated like a finished product. They must be embedded in the corporte systems with single sign on or user database synchronisation, room reservation systems, presentation tools (ex. http://www.vcommpresenter.com), learning management systems and so on. It must be possible to schedule a training session and when entering the session just hit a button and you are where you need to be. The new Flash and other new media features in the clint are of no use for professional use if not wrapped into usable one-click tools. You don’t need a grid for that. You can operate with standalone regions (like for example offered by Dreamland Metaverse).

    2. Immersion must be used correctly:

    Talking over the phone you actually speak to a piece of plastic. In order to speak with a person the brain runs a permanent process of “imagining” the other participant. It practically builds an own virtual world. This takes some “processing resources” expressing it in technical words. When speaking to more than one person, this secondary process has a very exhausting effect. Everyone doing serious group work in telcos knows that afer 30 min to an hour people are heavily lacking concentration (doing email for example). The same happens with WebEx. Now, if you give the brain a “sufficiently” realistic environment in a 3D world, it does not need this process anymore (and “sufficiently” needs not include shadows or photorealistic avatars). The participants can hold the attention during a longer time interval. Therefore it makes sense to use virtual worlds in situations that today are NOT possible or very difficult with WebEx or telcos.

    So, if you compare virtual worlds with WebEx you automatically compare with situations where virtual worlds don’t make sense. It is like trying to say that a truck is useless compared to a Ferrari becuase it does not make 200 mph.

    Use a truck where you must transport 20 tons of goods and use virtual worlds where you need real immersion. Ideal fields for that are group trainings for sales simulations, behavioral trainings, trainings for intercultural negotiations, and so on.

    So far my experience. I am conviced that learning how to effectively use these platform, we can make a big leap forward in online training an collaboration.

    Comment by Volker Gaessler | March 1, 2010

  36. This is a copy of my blog at http://zakajek.ning.com/profiles/blogs/immersion-in-sl.

    The title of her post says it all: it’s openly and wholely negative with respect to SL’s educational potential. This is not new, of course, neither is the somewhat twisted logic of some of the arguments, as well as, the obvious misinformation about some aspects of SL functioning in the pedagogical context (such as immersion). Many of these weaknesses were pointed out in the comments appearing under her post, which is one good reason to read them, even if it takes a lot of time :-). In the following I’ll restrict myself to some very brief reaction to what I perceive as the most misinformed parts of her argumentation.

    The needs for educators and for people wanting to hold online meetings are quite similar and very clear. First of all, they need some form of voice conferencing system. In most cases, there is a need to present slideshows (ideally, Powerpoint presentations); a form of shared black- or whiteboard is also very useful; the possibility of sharing an application or the full desktop comes also very handy; and having some form of real-time video streaming is also very desirable, so that “remote” people can see the teacher or the person who’s currently speaking.

    1. The needs of teachers and businesspeople are not the same, or similar.
    2. PowerPointing in SL has been persuasively argued to be the worst pedagogical method to use (like in RL).
    3. There’s no (pedagogical) need to see a realistic rendition of the teacher in SL. There’s a need for realistic gestures or lip synching, but this can be done with the avatar (in the future, as this is indeed an SL weakness waiting to be put right, at least from the perspective of FLT teachers).

    If you want your executives, employees, students etc to look good, you have to spend between L$ 5000 to L$ 10000 per user, and lose time buying clothes, skins, hair, etc — this can be a lot of time if you don’t want to end up with an army of clones.

    Not true. There’re many free skins, shapes and clothes.

    Since many people insist on the interest and even superiority of Second Life as a platform for meetings and education, and this superiority cannot be attributed to the features, ease of use, costs or support, there must exist a different factor which is exclusive to Second Life/Opensim (or where Second Life/Opensim excels) and which compensates for the inferiority of the product in other areas. But the only candidate for such a factor is immersion.

    Immersion is not the only candidate for such a feature, even if we agree (for the sake of discussion, not because it is true) that SL fails on all those accounts mentioned above. The building/scripting affordances of SL are often mentioned in this context, its rich 3d environment (whether or not one actually gets immersed in it), the potential for liberally understood creativity, for thinking laterally (“outside the box”), the potential for social bonding, etc. So, first the author sets up immersion as the only possible advantage of SL, and then makes it her whipping boy… A clever eristic trick it certainly is, but little beyond that, because, as shown by some of the post discussants on the original website, immersion is one of the critical factors in the educational effectiveness of SL, provided it is seen as a rich VLE, rather than a virtual classroom where students sit down and PowerPoint is beamed at them – the sad picture painted by Zonja Capalini. So I’ll not repeat those pro-immersionist arguments here. That immersion is not universally experienced by SL residents is of course true. It’d help to find out why not, and what can be done to boost the immersionists’ percentage a bit, for the sake of education at least, but this is not what is offered in the post (or in the ensuing discussion).

    Since it appears clearly that it cannot be rationally claimed that virtual world technologies are useful, in a general sense, for business meetings and classes.

    This has definitely NOT been proved in the post, at least as far as education is concerned. Actually, with loads of available research to the contrary, this could probably simply NOT be proved scientifically (rather than by fiat).

    Comment by Włodzimierz Sobkowiak | March 1, 2010

  37. UMmmm … isn’t comparing a Webinar Platform and a 3D Virtual World platform a little like comparing oranges and Apples?

    and ….

    The release of the new Second Life viewer just last week is not just an upgrade but a real game changer as it allows easier media sharing through a webpage on a prim … which is now completely interactive.

    So the full collaborative capability of Web 2.0 webpages is now available in-world.

    Quite amazing

    Comment by Shamblesguru | March 1, 2010

  38. Nice post, and really appreciate the details, but as Shamblesguru and Volker and others point out, you are comparing apples and oranges. WebEx is an application/solution, and, as you say, Second Life and Opensim are platforms upon which you can built an application/solution. So why are you comparing WebEx to Second Life or Opensim? Why aren’t you comparing it to IBM’s Sametime 3D, or Protosphere or other virtual world applications for business collaboration. For example, you mention difficulty and complicated process for putting slides in world, but we have been offering (as I know others do as well) a solution which includes a user-friendly web-based way of loading slides and presenting PPT, word, excel and PDF files in0world. You say that in Second Life and Opensim there is ‘no way’ to do whiteboarding, but Sametime 3D has a whiteboard as part of the basic offering that everyone can use in world (see video here- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBfnUPgkfBk). More importantly, you have to look at other collaborative features in these applications that can’t easily be replicated in a web based environment (or if they can, they haven’t been!). In Sametime 3D, for example – a brainstorming board with creation/editing/import/export/voting of virtual “sticky notes”- by all participants simultaneouse, an interactive polling tool where avatars “vote with their feet”, virtual flip charts with export etc. And, of course, the notion of a persistent space, where you can put some things up on the wall, and come back later (or have teams from different time zones at different times) and add to the content.

    The challenge of getting users to use virtual worlds for business or education, IMHO, is that we have to give them high value capabilities that are not offered to them with existing 2D/web tools. Coming in-world to watch presentations and text chat with each other is just not compelling- I can do that in WebEx, LotusLive and many other tools. Without incremental value, they will not see the reason to invest in learning how to walk and talk all over again! That is why our team chose to focus on things that couldn’t be done with existing tools… things that are easy to do if you are really in a room together, but harder to accomplish when the team is remote.

    Comment by Karen Keeter | March 4, 2010

  39. @Elrik: Thanks for a detailed and thoughtful reply.

    Please note that nowhere in my article I say that I “consider the educational environment as one in which you simply sit the students down in front of a screen and squirt Powerpoint presentations at them”. I said nothing about how the companies I work for conduct their classes (but I can assure that their pedagogical methods are excellent and they are leaders in the areas in which they operate), and that for a very simple reason: my article was about the inconvenience of unrestricted promoting of Second Life alone as a tool for education, i.e., against certain forms of marketing, not about what’s the best method for holding an educational of business meeting :-)

    You yourself concede that “there are plenty of face-to-face meetings that consist of one-to-many presentations using Powerpoint et al, and certainly distance versions of these will be best handled in WebEx or similar tools in the distance learning or business environments”. Then we are agreeing after all. Please note that I was very careful with my wording, I said that it cannot be claimed that, in the general case (and I boldfaced that), SL is the best tool for education. We can consider it sad or not that most meetings are indeed handled with a Powerpoint presentation (and therefore best handled with WebEx instead of SL) — in some cases this will be due to inefficient methods; in some other cases, there will exist good reasons for the meetings being held in that way. My point (and, again, the main point of my article) is that for these people WebEx is better, and consequently it’s a risky marketing strategy to try to lure these people into SL because it’s something that will backfire.

    Please rest assured that I’m an enthusiast of virtual worlds, and I understand their potential. My post gives several details about that. I even host a micro-grid, based in Opensim, in which I do a lot of things that are pretty cool but give me a lot of work and headaches and nothing in return, if it weren’t for the appreciation of my fellow virtualites, since I don’t get a buck from that (to the contrary, I have to invest some money every month to pay keep it running).

    I think I addressed all the points in your reply. Thanks again for contributing to the debate. Virtual worlds technologies are super-cool, but they need to evolve before they can become mainstream (and can be sold to everybody saying things like “it’s better than WebEx”) — and as somebody said in Twitter (sorry, I lost the link; will post it if I find it), “how can we change these things [i.e., the current pitfails] if we can’t speak about them?” :-)

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | March 6, 2010

  40. @Ricardo: “Educators need much more than just voice and slideshows.” No sir, there are many examples of classes in which voice and an eventual slideshow is more than enough. In some cases you don’t even need a slideshow. Consider for example a philosophy class — this normally only needs voice (and maybe in some few cases a blackboard). Or a class about set theory — you are done with voice and some slides.

    Again, as I said in my previous reply, my article is not about teaching practices — it’s about marketing strategies. “Interacting in presence” sounds very cool — pity that it’s currently impossible to do that in Second Life. You can roleplay that you “interact in presence”, but unfortunately the avatars and the avatar representations are too poor to reflect the true psychological state of the real persons behind, and therefore it’s useless for giving the RL teacher (and the eventual RL fellow students) usable feedback to be able to speak of real “presence”. Then, if everybody are roleplayers, it’s great. But what you get is not presence — it’s roleplayed presence. If that is what works for you, I have nothing to say. But SL cannot be sold, in its current incarnation, as a tool for everybody.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | March 6, 2010

  41. @Volker: Thanks for your comments, and for sharing your experiences.

    1) I did enhance SL and Opensim for my customers — I built a nice campus with nice gardens, lakes and all, set up a bar so that people could socialize, trained the personnel and the remote students to use the system, and made sure that people logged in at their home position and that this home position was set in the class. Once trained, they only had to open a preconfigured Hippo client, and they would be in the class. I was not using vcommpresenter, but the version of SL/Opensim we were using allowed us to place a copy of the textures in a “hidden” place, so that the transition between slides was smooth anyway.

    Now the problem is: if you have to add $ to the cost of SL (or the cost of learning how to deploy Opensim and effectively deploying it), the total amount of money you have to invest is quite high. And you’re using several products, so that you have several points of service when something goes wrong. Given that the cost is higher and the service is more complicated (and in some aspect worse), what you get in return has to more than compensate what you’re losing. My point is that it cannot be claimed that this is so, in the general case.

    2) Immersion is great when a) You’re already immersive, for whatever reason, or b) the task at hand involves a lot of “physical” interaction, be it between people (for example, playing virtual football) or with other virtual objects (for example, visiting a chemical molecule “from inside”). But in most cases there’s practically no interaction (as some pointed out in previous comments, this can be due to bad practices; as I pointed out, there are legitimate cases where this is so; in any case, that’s how things are today, like it or not). And in these cases the “as fun as watching paint dry” comment of Mr. Krangel fully applies.

    I completely agree with you that these technologies have a lot potential, and that we have to learn how to use them. I also think that they need to better a lot before they can be used by everybody. That’s why I think it’s a risk to promote them too much until they have bettered.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | March 6, 2010

  42. @Wlodzimierz: Thanks for taking the time to reply.

    “The title of her post says it all: it’s openly and wholely negative with respect to SL’s educational potential.” — please read the article again, this time without thinking that a title can say it all :-), and you’ll see that I’m indeed a defender of the potential of virtual worlds for education.

    “The needs of teachers and businesspeople are not the same, or similar.” — Maybe not, but the feature set I presented is common, and this is what could be inferred as the meaning of my statement, since it’s followed by a colon.

    “PowerPointing in SL has been persuasively argued to be the worst pedagogical method to use (like in RL).” — irrelevant, and false, as I explained in the previous comments.

    “There’s no (pedagogical) need to see a realistic rendition of the teacher in SL. There’s a need for realistic gestures or lip synching, but this can be done with the avatar (in the future, as this is indeed an SL weakness waiting to be put right, at least from the perspective of FLT teachers).” — I was very careful to say that I was speaking of current technology, not of vaporware or future products.

    “There’re many free skins, shapes and clothes.” — Of course there are, but 1) most are crap, 2) many of the rest are stolen, and 3) it takes so much time to collect and review a decent set of freebies for a big group of people (so that they all look good and different) that it’s in effect *cheaper* to go and spend some thousand L$, unless your personnel is underpaid or works pro bono (and in that case an economic analysis is not applicable).

    Regarding your comment about my use of immersion in the argument: it’s not me, but SL marketers (like Amanda Linden in the blog post I linked at the beginning of the post) who say that “immersion” is the diferentiating feature of SL when compared to things like WebEx — all the time I was attacking a marketing strategy, which should be clear enough by simply reading the post.

    I’ve always been conviced that immersive environments have a lot of potential and a lot of use cases that can be enjoyed today. But it’s not a solution for everybody. It’s not mainstream. And it still needs a lot of changes to be able to be mainstream. Most of the “available research” speak of happy uses cases. And nowhere in my article it’s said that there are no nice use cases. To be able to say that SL/Opensim are “good for meetings” or “good for education”, without additional caveats, we’ll have to wait more time.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | March 6, 2010

  43. @Shamblesguru:

    Ask Amanda Linden, not me: “To that point, I believe that the only good alternative to virtual meetings is a face-to-face meeting. It would be a hard to argue the teleconference calls or WebEx can create as immersive an experience. I mean, how many wasted hours have we all spent staring at a Polycom or ‘multi-tasking’ (i.e. barely tuning into the meeting) during a WebEx presentation? Don’t remind me.” (from https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/workinginworld/blog/2009/02, and this is only an example — there are many, many more).

    Re the much overhyped Shared Media of SL 2.0, I’ve already replied in comments that precede yours, but I understand that it’s a lot of stuff to read, so I’ll repeat it here:

    Of course Shared Media is an improvement, but my argument still holds, with a few inessential changes, after the introduction of Shared Media. You still need to buy a solution somewhere else, e.g. WebEx, Veodia, etc. You still have to pay for SL + for all these extra solutions. You still have several points of support, which means worse support.

    You still have to fight people that don’t want immersion and force them to use an avatar. You still have to clothe these avatars. You will still have people that won’t like it at all to be virtual, and will be ugly at get “away”.

    And you still have a lot of use cases in which SL is overkill. For example opening SL just to look at a WebEx screen inside SL.

    There’s a tsunami of hype around SM and SL 2.0. But it’s not much more than that: hype. SL continues to be an inferior product, in many scenarios, even with rich media around. A product with potential, yes, but inferior. For some uses it can be great, that I gladly admit. But it’s not a product for everybody. Maintaning otherwise is false, or plainly a deceiving marketing lie.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | March 6, 2010

  44. @Karen: Thanks for your reply.

    I won’t repeat what I’ve already said in my previous replies, and therefore I will only address the specific points of your contribution.

    I know little about Sametime 3D apart from having read the press release you link to in your name, and its impact in the blogosphere when it was first released. Anyway, when the Lindens compare Second Life to WebEx (see the quote in my previous comment), they are giving the false impression that SL and WebEx can be compared, and this is what I was criticizing. Of course SL + a lot of add-ons can be useful, but then you have to either buy a prepackaged solution like Sametime 3D (which I assume is quite costly, but I might be wrong about that) or you have to engage in a time-consuming and expensive hunt for tools and services, be it in the SL market jungle, or in the web.

    I can’t but agree with you when you say that virtual environments have to offer something compelling to be made attractive to their users. And, as you well say, having voice and looking at some slides is not compelling. That’s why in this case SL is not a good solution. And why it cannot be claimed that it is “good for education”. Of course with efforts like yours and others these platforms will better, and then, maybe, it will be possible to say “SL is good for education”, or that “Opensim is good for education”. For the moment, though, we’ll have to wait — or change the statement, and say, for example, “Sametime 3D (not Opensim) is good for such and such (not ‘for meetings’, or ‘for education’)”.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | March 6, 2010

  45. Your originaal article was detailed and a worthwhile read, even if some of us disagreed with it. It is great to see someone write a blog post that tries to back up it’s points. However the more this thread goes on the worse it gets. You point now begins to sound very much like “Windows is inferior for education or meetings. It is hopeless and needs extra packages and support to be useful for education. Microsoft should stop marketing computers to education or business. Don’t get me wrong I love PCs and use them a lot. They just have a long way to go”

    Comment by Neil Canham | March 6, 2010

  46. Personally if you ask me, the Entire education system as we know it is a failure.. There is nothing that any web based training system will do for a system that does not work in the 1st place.. You can compare apples and oranges all you want, the fact is the entire fruit basket is a rotting away and smells funny.

    Comment by Nebadon Izumi | March 21, 2010

  47. Thank-you Zonja. Looks interesting, I’m trying to see why folk are actually using environments like SL, and hence I found this blog entry. Not quite what I was looking for, but might also be interesting to do some more extensive research at some point; it seems “media richness” and or “social presence subjectivity” might be away to explain why we like to use SL and other MUVEs ?

    Nauman Saeed ,Yun Yang , Suku Sinnappan 2008 . Media richness and user acceptance of Second Life, accessed April 2010 here: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne08/procs/saeed.pdf

    Benjamin Kehrwald 2010, Being online: social presence as subjectivity in online learning, London Review of Education, Vol. 8, No. 1, March 2010, 39–50.

    By the way I have thought of and tried using streaming video into SL v1 for “live” interaction at a workshop – this approach just can not work if you expect people to communicate via the stream between RL or SL – as you mentioned the stream takes time, 4 seconds delay. But I have found that live synchronous interaction via the 3D environment using avatars and voice works extremely well. And I have run a “LIVE” audio music performance into SL via streaming. By listening to the stream in SL I ran the performer’s avatar in synch with the live music, while the live band was busy playing 20 seconds ahead of the SL event :-) , it worked a treat. The musicians enjoyed the feedback, via avatars , and the folk at the concert using SL had a wonderful time – its all in knowing that behind every avatar there is a great person!

    Comment by Todd Cochrane | April 5, 2010

  48. […] 26, 2010 · 1 Comment Zonja Capalini has a new post arguing that Opensim is a better platform for education in comparison to Second […]

    Pingback by Opensim Better Than Second Life? « | June 29, 2010

  49. […] Capalini is blogging about “The myth of Second Life as a platform for education” which has sparked a series of rebuttals etc. I’m ambivalent about this, I think Second […]

    Pingback by Cornucopia! « Flexible Learning Initiative @ Lincoln | August 20, 2010

  50. […] are explained in detail here. Shortly after writing this article, the company I was working for decided that virtual world technology was not adequate for their needs and started using WebEx. The initial founders of Condensation Land (Ludmilla Writer, Favio Piek and myself) decided to keep […]

    Pingback by Condensation Land: A status report « Zonja Capalini | August 25, 2010

  51. you don´t know abaut Second life, it is all false…umm,in Universyty of mexico used sl perfectly , or at European universities

    Comment by froilan | November 27, 2010

  52. I know thi is from over a year ago, but its been showing up in my circles now. There is so much information here for business cases and use I have to come back and review your post. A few friends from Empire Ave are getting me into Second Life and have actually used it as a collaboration/meeting space! Glad I found your post.

    Comment by Nakeva | June 12, 2011

  53. […] Surprisingly, Opensim fares quite better than SL in that respect [See the list of updates at the end of the article] Introduction A Google Buzz by Mo Hax alerted me of the existence of an article in PC Pro containing yet another interview to M Linden. M explains there that SL is being used for "meetings", as a "virtual collaboration tool", and that it provides "incredible savings". This is not new. If you google for "Second Life Education", the s … Read More […]

    Pingback by SL vs. WebEx: The myth of Second Life as a platform for education [Update 2] (via Zonja Capalini) | Nakeva’s Weblog | June 12, 2011

  54. @Nakeva: Thank you! :-)

    Comment by Zonja Capalini | June 13, 2011

  55. Yeah, WebEx is decent and is definitely easy to use. But as much as I liked these tools, I still traded up when I discovered RHUB’s solution for web conferencing, remote access and support. It gives me everything I need in one device. Plus, it’s only a one-time cost.

    Comment by Allan roger | February 5, 2014


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