Second Life, the Holodeck, and You

Do you remember Second Life? It was kind of like chat on steroids — you logged in, designed yourself an avatar, then wandered from place to place, meeting other avatars so you could interact with them in who knows what way. You could also buy and sell goods or property, or even, ahem, yourself. There was this whole virtual economy in place. To everyone out there buying swords in MMORPGs, this no doubt sounds familiar.

When Second Life was gaining popularity, a number of corporations jumped in to adapt some of their real-world tactics into virtual world tactics. IBM experimented with different types of team collaboration. Cisco showed off routers and held user group meetings. The late great Sun Microsystems held chats on Java.

When you take the idea of Second Life and combine it with more powerful computing — the kind that allows online games to nip at the heels of consoles in terms of user experience — you have to start thinking about whether virtual worlds for their own sake are going to make a comeback. I’m talking here about worlds that are built around the idea of interaction, as opposed to competition.

I suspect they will, but not in a way that will attract mainstream companies. As we’ve seen in games, virtual worlds are great for role-playing and such. But when it comes to business or social applications where you want to be your real self, the increasing quality of video services like Skype or social video apps like Givit are bound to take over. Combining your actual video and voice with the venues of a Second Life-style universe lends itself to hosting career fairs, or meetings, or trade shows. It’s more difficult to imagine people using such set ups for storming castles — or to picture brand names diving into worlds where things could get, well, let’s say, “dark.” Bottom line: Virtual worlds will be for play, video worlds for things closely tied to real life. (Airtime, anyone?)

At least for a while. When I first saw the original, dial-up AOL, I could only imagine a Second Life. Today, I’m sure someone out there’s working on a holodeck. Wait’ll that comes out. Deckard’s gonna have nothing on me.

No Responses to “Second Life, the Holodeck, and You”

  1. Tim Hayes

    Actually, Second Life still exists, and people still use it. The company I work for owns a private island they have set up to use for doing online training. I’ve actually done two multi day training classes in it.

    I will agree I don’t see something like SL being mainstream any time soon, there is potential for virtual environments that have practical business purposes.

  2. DARPA already has prototypes of tactile feedback suits they’ve designed for drone pilots so they can sense direction and gravity. Once someone figures out how to combine that with the correct peripherals to the right body parts and you’ll have a high demand for places like Second Life. An entire online economy will be born overnight.

  3. Wow, that’s a ton o’ topics! I couldn’t touch on all of them with such brevity. So excuse the lengths you have probably grown accustomed to groaning at editing… 😉
    It is no secret I have been part of an online community since the late 90s, and my take is that in order to build a solid, surviving one (even though mine is minuscule), one needs to set up the community as a co-operative and not a competitive environment. Sure the graphics are crude, but the connections with people are real. It is not high speed connections nor 32-bit, 120FPS 3D glasses pumping a pixels directly into your retina that area smaller than your rods and cones. It is human interaction, pure and simple that is the real draw to all but the gamers. A pretty game is a pretty game, but ultimately bad play mechanics or weak story lines can easily sink a multi-million dollar game franchise. Duke Nuke Em Forever, anyone? 10 Billion microseconds in the making but with the memorability of a millisecond.
    Alvin Toffler predicted the fluidity and transience of social connections decades before the Internet became the next big thing. In truth all these forms, whether virtual or textual or real are just the same product in different packages: human interaction. Will Virtual Worlds catch on? Well in the 90s we had 3D goggle rigs with positioning joysticks. They were a blast to play and Ender’s Game tactics worked incredible well in a Jetpack combat simulator I got to play with an old host of C|Net, but that’s another story. Eventually, when making a video/3D world call to 15 of your closest “netifriends” is as simple as picking up an old land line analog phone, sure they probably will. But until then the barriers are the stratification of competing technologies.
    In my view from inside and outside large organizations, they really have no idea how to get to the virtual world that Neil Stephenson wrote about in Snow Crash. Hell, we barely have anything close to The Book in the Diamond Age.
    But that’s not for lack of trying, as it is a lack of a fundamental understanding of what is important and what is a gimmick with no real substance. Learn to separate the style from the substance and then streamline the style to augment the substance and you will have people beating down your garage door for an IPO.
    Video and 3d Worlds are just 2 sides of the same telepresence coin. Hell, why not 3D world chats that overlay your realtime video face on a 3D avatar that uses cameras in your TV to capture your movement and translate that directly into your avatar’s movement? See, suddenly we have all the nuances of body language given enough articulation points in the 3D model AND voice and facial expressions. Now that is the Virtual World you think a replicant (arguable!) will have nothing on. The replicant will not be bound to one place in the future, and it could spawn as many processes as need to communicate with an many other entities as needed. Virtual customer service will put everyone at McD’s out of a job by then.

  4. danny honeycutt

    Microsoft has released the Kinect for Windows, and being an expert in the use of Windows 3D modeling/animation, I have been working on an architecture to combine the use of these technologies. The end result I am working towards will allow anyone to virtually enter an avatar world and actually interact with the programming. An example: Imagine being able to sit at your desk and operate equipment in a remote virtual/real world environment by simply reaching and moving one’s arms or body. No more joy stick or mouse clicks… By interacting virtually, one can take advantage of the physics of movement, say the amount of force or direction of movement, not just on/off static changes.

  5. dennishfieldman

    I imagined great things for SecondLife, and jumped in enthusiastically after I retired from my company in 2007.
    I saw great promise in marketing and education and really thought Graphics and network advances would bring about a widening acceptance and use. I bought a Region and made an effort to stimulate creativity in virtual experiences beyond dance, chat, and performances. Though I sold it after 8 months (small profit!).

    The Graphics and network technologies have skyrocketed, blossomed, gushed, since 2007. I pop into SecondLife periodically, and the platform and advancements are materially improved, but nowhere do I see any embrace of consequence by business, education, politics.

    Some crossroads of technology breakthroughs may forge a new path for the adoption of Virtual Worlds like SecondLife. There’s a lot to offer. It may be as simple as a rethink of Avatar creation.

    Or it may be a compelling attraction like Mars-One.

  6. Dessler

    I think Entropia Universe by Mindark needs to be mentioned here, as they have a banking license, and is the new “Second Life” in my opinion. They seem to be going after business ventures similar to what is talked about in this article, but with better graphics, economy, and real world value.

  7. I have been building, deploying, and helping organizations use private 3D virtual worlds to deliver counseling services to clients who have challenges with physical access to facilities (due to distance, physical handicaps, social phobias, or just personal preference) since 2008. Security and confidentiality is high due to hosting structure and programmatic policies.

    I expect the growth of this methodology to continue and it will take off when payers like insurance companies, and federal and state agencies who currently fund “land based” services recognize both the inherent cost savings potential, and the excellent results which are being obtained by pilot projects.