Why Second Life and other virtual worlds will never be relevant

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There’s a lot of hype about Second Life in libraryland, and I have to be quite honest: I’ve never understood it. Sure, it’s fun, but it isn’t very interesting other than in a “Hey-amusing-computer-game -where-I-can-chat-with-people-pretty-much-like-I-would-in-a-chat-room kind of way. Woo. Actually, it’s less interesting than that — I don’t have a “rockin” graphics card, and I don’t have great bandwidth so, it’s a rather-less-than-impressive computer game with chat. (I like the ability to change your appearance and — being totally self-obsessed — I could do that for days on end.) My feeling though is that libraries shouldn’t spend too much time and energy on Second Life for a number of reasons.

The first thing is that Second Life is only one virtual world; one take on the concept. It’s one of the more impressive virtual worlds, but the others have different concepts that make them attractive to different groups. I respect the people I know that build extensive presences in Second Life; these are great people who are at the bleeding edge of their work. The problem is that the interface in Second Life isn’t good enough; it’s clumsy, it is far from intuitive and it really requires a lot of skill, patience and interest to get the hand of. I’m afraid that this will keep Second Life in the realm of special interest forever. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Second Life presents a lot of interesting possibilities and concepts, I just don’t think that it has caught on, and is catching on with the all-important 15-20 age group.

That’s Second Life in particular, but the factor that all virtual worlds have in common is that they are cut off from our real lives; that shouldn’t come as a shock — probably the reason that virtual worlds are popular is exactly this: you aren’t “you”, you’re the person you want to be (yes female librarian, you can have wings). It’s much easier to project the qualities you want to identify with when you’re out of your own environment. This kind of thing “frees your mind” of the shackles of gravity and all the mundane stuff that you’re immersed in on a day-to-day basis. Certain psychologists and other reactionaries will no doubt claim that all this is very harmful, etc., but they’re just trying to earn a crust.

In truth, there’s no problem with escapism of this kind, except if it starts affecting your health due to sleep deprivation, RSI and the associated ills of modern computer living. The problem of escapism does however mean that virtual worlds have no real use for libraries.

To explain this, I think that it’s necessary to understand the role of libraries and other sources of information: they are real-world necessities. In a virtual world, everyone will project themselves as omniscient and omnipotent. Why would a god need to go to the library? The other thing is that the libraries we know aren’t likely to store the kind of information the typical virtual world inhabitant is looking for (how to modify their appearance, the best places to hang out, etc.) These kinds of information are baked into the subsystems of the virtual worlds, leaving no space for the real-world-type library. Do people want to search Google from Second Life? (Does Google have a presence in Second Life?) This goes some way to explaining why library resources aren’t relevant in virtual worlds, but it doesn’t explain what people will be doing instead (and why virtual worlds will remain nothing more than glorified computer games).

I keep on banging on in other posts about how I believe that mobile is the next big thing (I’ve even started developing apps for mobile devices — so I must be taking this seriously) and this being the case, I’d like to know why and how we’d like to downgrade to a paltry “if you stand here, you can search for information”, when we’ve got the world in our pocket? When you can search pretty much anywhere, cheaply, using your mobile device, you’re hardly going to accept the kind of things that are currently possible in Second Life or any other virtual world as being even worth stopping to look at. I mean does this stuff work on iPhone?

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16 Responses to “Why Second Life and other virtual worlds will never be relevant”

  1. dusanwriter Says:

    I’m not familiar with your blog, however I’d like to append a few thoughts if I can on this particular entry.

    First, you bring up an interesting point about escape. There’s a much discussed debate in Second Life and elsewhere about whether there are in fact two camps in virtual worlds – the augmentationists and immersionists. The first group uses virtual worlds as pure extensions of the “real”. They hold or attend classes, meet business colleagues, collaborate on projects, but there is little separating their avatar from the person behind the avatar. The second group are those who believe that being in a virtual world offers an opportunity to explore concepts of self, identity, and culture by taking on a persona that’s different from their normal modes of living.

    I suppose there’s another group, which are people who can do things in virtual worlds that they can’t in the real. For people who are differently abled, the opportunity to fly, interact with others, and move about can be very empowering. If you’re interested, I can refer you to a myriad of sources and examples of this.

    Regarding mobile as the counterpoint to virtual worlds, there’s no question that ‘wireless’ is the big thing. A few points, however. One, Second Life is currently available through wireless networks and can be accessed by cell phone. Samsung recently came out with a phone in which a Second Life browser is embedded, for example, and there are other open source options.

    But the broader point I think is that one view of the Internet says that the metaverse will arise in four quadrants. This is per the Metaverse Roadmap. The four quadrants include immersive environments (games, MMORPGS, etc.), lifelogging, augmented reality and mirror worlds.

    Just as a library contains different sections, so too the Metaverse.

    If I’m planning a trip I might want factual guides and information. Google earth, mirror worlds, and information overlays using GPS and location information might be the equivalent.

    But maybe I want to explore a different culture. Diversity training, for example, is a growing area in Second Life and other environments. Or how about exploring concepts in physics by viewing 3D interactive models?

    And finally, maybe I just want to read a good yarn. I call Second Life a story box, although it’s also a platform for collaboration (have a look at what architects did in designing a health center for Nepal), amongst other things.

    Interesting points you’ve made, but I think you take a bit of a narrow lens. 400 universities plus are participating in Second Life. They’re doing it because it offers deep potential for collaboration and education. You don’t escape reality when you go to an online class….you participate using a different modality for identity and presence, and access a different tool set than you have with a cell phone or even the current versions of Google earth.

    By the way, Second Life is powered by Google, although I think they have a lot of work to do, there’s still no consensus on how to tag 3D objects although thankfully some very smart librarians are working on that.

    And finally, yes, it does work on an iPhone.

    http://dusanwriter.wordpress.com/2008/03/22/the-story-box-second-life-magic/

    http://archsl.wordpress.com/2008/03/05/the-final-design-wikitecture-30%e2%80%a6-thank-you/

  2. Anna C. Says:

    “the factor that all virtual worlds have in common is that they are cut off from our real lives”
    Twinity is the virtual / real world mashup that connects your life to the virtual world.
    http://www.twinity.com – Join the Beta! mail me for an invitation.

  3. brinxmat Says:

    @dusan writer: Hey, thanks for commenting! You make some really good points here,and this is certainly relevant. I’d like to know whether you attribute the absence of activity at the various library sites to anything other than a lack of interest in this kind of stuff in SL. I really am unconvinced. I agree that SL is very interesting, but it is interesting in and of itself, not because of the content provided by, for example, libraries.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that I’ve seen anything that I can call innovative on the library front in SL — the information we distribute is often text-based and I’m afraid that I don’t think that SL has got text down to a point that I think works.

    PS. My library will probably be present in SL in the near future — mostly because it is good PR, and an innovative platform. We’re not sure that it is a true way forward though.

  4. The Grid Live » Second Life Events for April 20, 2008 Says:

    [...] Infonatives Why Second Life and other virtual worlds will never be relevant Quote from the site – There’s a lot of hype about Second Life in libraryland, and I have to be [...]

  5. Ric Mollor Says:

    It’s my understanding that though Second Life has been *demoed* on various mobile platforms there currently isn’t a turnkey solution for mobile access. The Samsung demo appeared to be the closest to production as the iPhone version was only streaming the video from a 2nd computer which was running Second Life.

    The biggest problem with Second Life at the moment is that it’s a proprietary solution. Perhaps in there near future there will be a 3D synthetic world product that isn’t tied to the fortunes of a particular company. Currently the OpenSim product looks promising but until there is a browser that will allow switching from ‘world’ to ‘world’ as easily as going from one web page to another it will have trouble gaining widespread popularity.

  6. Ann Otoole Says:

    The author of this article is a clueless nerd with no real life that has no understanding of psychology nor has any right to go around telling lies.

    This author clearly has spent no time an any “virtual worlds” and is attacking them while promoting archaic outmoded communication techniques such as telephones you carry and hold in your hand.

    Therefore my guess is this article was paid for by a phone company and should be deranked in google along with the rest of this author'[s spewings and rants about that which the author has no clue.

    WoW, EQ, SL, and many other metaverse systems have millions and millions of participants all paying 15 bucks a month or more who don’t have any interest in telephones because skype and teamspeak work better than telephones. Therefore the obsolete phone companies must fight back by paying bloggers to spout garbage as though it were based on facts.

    Blogs are garbage. Spend your time reading real information. Not reading the rants of nobodies that live out fantasies of having some sort of import on the world by writing fiction in blogs and falsely stating it is the truth.

  7. brinxmat Says:

    @Anne Otoole

    I’ll ignore the personal abuse…you’re obviously quite upset, let’s see if we can’t do something to remedy that. Good call on the ‘phone company employment front. I wish. However, if we’re talking commercial interests, how many Linden$, do I need to pay for a Evening gown?

    First things first, this is a blog aimed at people who work in libraries, and has specific thematic relevance for this group, so does the article (it says so in the text). Secondly, this is an opinion piece, which should be amply apparent by the frequent use of statements that present what is said as being from my point of view (rather than “fact” as you state).

    Funnily enough, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in virtual worlds; it’s part of my job to evaluate different channels for communication. I entered into these societies with the specific aim of evaluating them for library purposes. The article states that I struggle to see how virtual worlds are relevant to libraries.

    Regarding what you term ‘phones, I am talking about mobile devices, i.e. things like iPhone and Android handsets. I’m talking about what I think we’ll mostly be using instead of “computers” in five or ten years.

    As you see, from the text, I have a high opinion of SL, I do no dissing here — not even as regards psychology of the individuals using SL. You on the other hand seem to think that it’s a worthwhile pursuit dissing others. Why are you (not) reading, and commenting if you have such a low opinion of blogs?

  8. Funny Second Life response « Infonatives Says:

    [...] I wrote an admittedly silly, sensationalist piece on Second Life and other virtual worlds entitled Why Second Life and other virtual worlds will never be relevant, which got picked up by the community over at SL Exchange. The responses to the article I wrote [...]

  9. Jacob Cagney Says:

    From reading your “opinion” I see that you do not spend much time actually looking for books in world.

    The first thing I do with every new house I put up is put in a library. I spend time looking for books and magazines in world that I can add to my in world collection.

    This collections is also open to the public so that anyone who visits my land can also partake and read through the books that I have, or take “notecard” stories that they get to keep to add to their own collection.

    I have been given free books as a “thank you” for helping others. Even without them knowing how much I enjoy building my “virtual” library.

    I think you are denigrating a medium that would best be explored instead of demeaned.

    How many places can you go on line and be instantly connected to thousands of people from around the world?

    Instead of talking about how much virtual worlds are worthless to libraries, why not find others bibliophiles who are interested in starting a group where they can buy a piece of land and create a world wide library in world?

    I think you are too near sighted in your opinion. You are paying too much attention to how things are “now” instead of looking at how you can take advantage of a growing medium to expand the desire and benefits of having “virtual” libraries.

  10. brinxmat Says:

    @Jacob Cagney.

    Please re-read the text without assuming that I am hating on SL! Read the positive as well as the things you disagree with.

    Admittedly, I gave up looking for books after realizing the limitations of the text as image and notecard formats, but maybe there’s something I’m missing here — heavens forbid ;).

    Please make us all aware of the locations of your libraries so that we can take a look at them. If you read the other replies to the comments, you’ll see that we might do some work on SL.

    Do people read text in context?

  11. Nulflux Negulesco Says:

    You mention that there are other virtual worlds, yet you fail to name one. Second Life is not just a limited set of activities – Second Life is a world that is constantly evolving into something bigger and better. It’s not about what Second Life is at any point in time that matters, it’s what you can make with it.

    Reading your article leads me to believe that you haven’t really gotten involved with Second Life. If all you have done is pimped your avatar and used it as a virtual chat line then you’ve completely missed the point of Second Life.

    *btw* I’m sorry to be the one to drop this bombshell on you but the internet is making (physical) libraries obsolete. The reason we all act like know it all prodigy super geniuses is because the internet gives us the power to do so. We no longer need to trek to a library and dig through a pile of books to find the answer – it’s at our fingertips in the blink an eye. If you want the rest of us, who are ‘disconnected from the real world’ to read library books you better start digitizing.

    You cannot escape the technology of our time. It is everywhere, it IS the relevant source of information.

  12. brinxmat Says:

    @Nulflux Negulesco

    Hi, thanks for commenting! You have a good point about the not mentioning of any other VWs. The reason I focus on SL is that this seems to be the only relevant option for a library — in terms of possibilities and infrastructure.

    If I’ve missed the point of SL, then I’d be rather glad to be made aware of what the point is…this isn’t, I think, apparent to many people, because they seem to be doing exactly what you say — pimping their avatars, and using it as a virtual chatline. On the other hand, I am interested in both scripting and building things in SL and have played with this. In this sense, I hope that I have tried out some of the more advanced functions; have I understood the point? Probably not. But hey, it’s a learning world.

    I’ve already commented on having mobile devices that connect to the internet, this is what I mean when I talk about having “the world in our pocket”. I think that this equates quite nicely with your point about why you appear to be a genius. I really do believe that the net is so important that we need to carry it with us. The funny thing is that this blog is generally about things like using the internet and deep web effectively as a search platform. As you say, you’re not familiar with this blog. Fair enough.

    About the death of the physical library — hmm, I’m not sure that I know what I think. In many ways, I suppose that I think you’re probably right, the traditional uses of the library are rapidly evaporating…I work at a physical library, but over 90% of our literature budget is spent on electronic resources, I very rarely touch a physical book, and spend most of my time helping people to find the information that they need to do their work in various ways. The systems we use to find information — whether it’s electronic or physical — are all electronic. On the other hand, the library where I work has increasing numbers of users, mostly because we’ve taken over the role traditionally occupied by study rooms and computer rooms. The users aren’t using SL, they’re all in Facebook, which is possibly a really great platform for libraries — though I’m not so sure about this either (it’s great fun though).

    The funny thing about technology is that some things are useful out of the box for libraries (databases and XML are good examples), other technologies are less good for libraries; these require adjustment, development and improvement in order to be viable for libraries to use: I personally think that SL falls into this latter category, and I wonder if I’m not right in my thoughts about SL in general. When you say that you use the internet to find information, I wonder if you mean that you use it via the SL interface?

    My point is that, for example, internet search via SL has no added value in relation to the normal internet version. Added value is all important, since we’re not going to attract people to use our services — which are as I said above entirely online — unless they offer something over and above what is offered elsewhere (elsewhere is typically conceptualized as Google!)

    BTW: If you’re wondering why I mention iPhone specifically, this is because iPhone OS — I should be more specific — is the most widespread touch sensitive mobile device. It als accounted for a large volume of searches in Google performed from mobile devices (I still think that Andriod is a better platform, though).

  13. brinxmat Says:

    @SL Exchange users

    Do the SL Exchange forums have an SL interface, or do you have to post from RL?

  14. Second Life…igjen « Infonatives Says:

    [...] Det har gått vært en del diskusjon att og frem angående en post om Second Life her på bloggen, diskusjonen har foregått både her og der, men har ikke vært så veldig konstruktivt for det [...]

  15. Game over för Second Life? « Peter Alsbjers blogg Says:

    [...] Game over för Second Life? Iaf enligt Danmarks Radio: Second Life har dött. Det verkar som om Brinxmat på norska Infonatives-bloggen hade rätt! [...]

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