Virtual Worlds Year in Review

January 6, 2010

I’ll start by saying I’m hardly the first blogger to write about the state of Virtual Worlds in learning. Many have gone before me—in fact, Karl Kapp has summarized it nicely in his own year-in-review post. It’s a great place to start reading about what the blogosphere has to say about the topic. But, of course, the fact that other people have their opinions will not prevent me from sharing mine! So here are the trends and changes I’ve seen in the space this year:

Virtual Worlds have become more mainstream—primarily with kids and gamers. And that’s a good thing. One of the biggest barriers to changing the way we think about online collaborative media is having a relevant point of reference. I’m surprised when I talk to people about Virtual Worlds that their main point of reference is not Second Life, but kid-oriented sites like Club Penguin or Tootsville. Children are wonderful innovators, because they have no idea they’re innovating. The other thing they’re doing is teaching mom and dad about the power of immersive environments in a way that bloggers can’t ever hope to do!

Corporate America is still behind the curve: While there is an uptick in corporate users of virtual worlds, we still haven’t seen broad acceptance of the platform in corporate America. Part of this is the natural Hype Cycle. But another part of it is that virtual environments are still perceived as the purview of gamers, not “serious adults” (who are these serious adults, anyway?) And those who have adopted virtual worlds still are using perhaps 1/10 of 1% of the potential, still perpetuating the “WebEx on Steroids” model of chairs and whiteboards, instead of taking advantage of three dimensions, a collaborative environment, and persistent space. Perhaps we can get them to read more blogs?

Second Life continues to be a leader: It’s rare that the early entrants get to remain major players, but Linden Labs has demonstrated the ability grow and rethink. Second Life’s main grid grew up a little by requiring age verification to access the adult content that defined SL to a lot of people. But of course, the big news is Second Life Enterprise, Linden Labs’ corporate-oriented behind-the-firewall solution. The robustness of Second Life still impresses; let’s see if big business is buying.

Browser-based worlds make it easier: Corporate IT departments hate downloads, so it’s can be tough for corporate folks to even get a good look at the possibilities. Browser-based worlds make it easier. Virtual Conference Centers like Venuegen may be the gateway experience that helps corporate America “get it”; they can use it for single events with a minimal technology investment, and begin to understand the value. Venugen apparently also lets you create avatars that look just like you… which is a little scary. My Second Life avatar apparently spends a lot more time at the gym than I do..

Onward to 2010!

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