The Metaverse Lives
In 2013 I wrote the concluding chapter for Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds (edited by me and Greg Withnail). I predicted what would happen in the development of virtual worlds over the following five years. I made six different predictions. The best I did was I got one of them half-right. The rest were almost entirely wrong.
This year, I’m developing a course on Educational Futures in which I’m looking at what makes an effective, or a poor, prediction. Rather than make someone else look like an idiot, I’m looking at the predictions I made. The idea is for students to look at the text and work out how I got it so badly wrong in most of the cases.
The following is not entirely the text from the book, but I’ve only tweaked it so it will work on its own rather than as part of a concluding chapter. I’ve also added a prescience factor at the end, to sum up how well I did.
The metaverse lives. Of the chapters in the book, four chapters use Second Life , one uses OpenSim, one World of Warcraft, one uses a 2D multimedia website and one began with Second Life and then, due to the price increases imposed by Linden Lab, moved to OpenSim. From this (admittedly small) sample, it appears that Second Life is still the strongest contender for a platform to host virtual world activity, but that educators are more becoming more likely to consider alternative, though similar, platforms, with OpenSim leading the way.
Educators’ dissatisfaction with, and the expense of, Second Life is beginning to cause fragmentation of the virtual world community. Whereas before it was almost guaranteed that educators would share a single grid, increasingly they are becoming spread across a range of different platforms. One saving grace of this diaspora is that many of the most popular of these virtual worlds use the same viewer. Whether one uses the Second Life viewer, Imprudence, Phoenix or Firestorm or any of a number of others, once a user has learned to interact with the world using that particular interface, then it is of little difficulty to switch to another one. This is particularly important with virtual world as a technology (moreso than, for example, with a word-processing package, or an online forum); since what is required for an effective learning opportunity is immediacy of experience rather than hypermediacy; any changes in the interface are extremely disruptive, since this makes the technology more visible and reduces the transparent nature of the interaction.
However, although they are operated in the same manner, the grids remain separate. The step that will reintegrate this fragmented community, and enable educators to once again easily share and visit their educational resources will be the successful employment of hypergridding. Hypergridding is the connecting of these separate virtual worlds to create a collection of linked worlds, an example of Stephenson’s metaverse. Once it becomes possible to move not only avatars, but also their inventories, from world to world, then these separate grids will perform as a single platform; so, for example, objects purchased from within Second Life (which has a thriving creators’ market) could be employed within OpenSim (which gives institutions greater control over privacy and ownership of the space). This would greatly expand the choices, and the flexibility of using virtual worlds for educators, and to a large extent enable far more effective collaboration. Simple and effective hypergridding is close to deployment, but, as of writing in 2012, has not been realised.
Prescience factor 0/10. Hypergridding is not a thing.