A virtual world in your browser
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.
A virtual world in your browser. There are numerous legitimate reasons for using standard web browsers for access to virtual worlds. The first of these is that the processing power, particularly of a graphics card, required to run a virtual world viewer is beyond the capacity of the technology available to many people, and particularly of institutions. Secondly, the bureaucratic hurdles many practitioners face when requiring additional software to be downloaded and installed preclude the use of virtual worlds in many institutions, suffering as they do from the obstructive policies of their IT departments. Finally, enabling virtual worlds to be viewable from within a web browser means that the practice of accessing virtual worlds can be easily integrated into the majority of people’s normal internet usage, and so potentially widen the demographic of users. The initial effort required to begin using them in an educational situation would consequently be reduced.
It would be reasonable to anticipate that these factors would lead to the usage of virtual worlds becoming much more widespread. Making virtual worlds viewable through the web should have been very successful, in effect though, Lively only lasted for the second half of 2008. Newer virtual worlds, such as Kitely, although trying to widen the demographic of potential users by offering other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for access, have returned to the use of the viewer-based technology rather than be browser-based.
The reasons for the failure of Lively are still being discussed. The direct experience of those contributing to this chapter, however, is that reducing the functionality of the virtual world in order to enable it to work within a browser removed the elements that made a virtual world worth pursuing. The sense of immersion was reduced, the opportunities to create and interact with virtual artefacts within the world were lessened, and consequently the rapid adoption by the marketplace, needed for the survival of any social medium, did not materialise. Lively disappeared before many people realised it had been launched, and new web-based viewers have not emerged to take its place.
Prescience Factor: 0/10. A total overestimation of the versatility and processing power of browsers now.