AvaCon: A Brief Introduction

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AvaCon is another virtual world company that is notable for its work in organizing and hosting real-world conferences in the past. They run an OpenSim grid called AvaCon Grid, and they appear to have hosted a series of real-world Avatar Meetups:

AvaCon hosts and produces a series of educational lectures and community gathering meet-upsthat reach approximately 15 to 40 attendees per event and take place in various regional cities such as Austin, Boston, New York and San Francisco.

These meetups feature a single panel discussion, presentation, artistic or musical performance, or community event to foster knowledge sharing and social networking among attendees who are interested in broad technical, scholarly, scientific and creative uses of virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces.

These meetings appear to have stopped in 2014, however. Their news page hasn’t been updated since October 2017, and I notice a lot of somewhat dated content on their blog, which leads me to believe that AvaCon is not nearly as active at the moment.

I was surprised to discover that AvaCon produced the Second Life Community Conventions of 2010 and 2011. (There hasn’t been an SL Convention since then. I guess people just lost interest, or maybe the organizers got burned out. Organizing a convention is a lot of hard work!)

More recently, AvaCon was a co-host of the 2017 OpenSimulator Community Conference, so it would appear that they are still at least somewhat active in OpenSim projects.

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LearnBrite: A Brief Introduction

LearnBrite is similar to many other products which I have already covered in this blog, such as Apertus VR, Engage, Edorble, Rumii, and NeosVR, in that it offers tools for people wanting to build virtual worlds for educational purposes. LearnBrite bills itself “The only VR-Ready authoring tool designed with Trainers in Mind”:

With LearnBrite, you simply author once in the VR-Ready Workflow and it automatically brings your micro-learning and instructor led training to life on mobile, tablet, desktop and VR/AR without writing a single line of code.

That means you can create immersive 3D (for flat screens like mobile & desktop) or AR/VR experiences that put your learner right in the middle of the action to fully engage their senses as they PLAY through your scenarios.

This is your opportunity to design active learning modules that will help solve performance issues & behavioral challenges in a fun & engaging way vs the “point, click, quiz” method that has most learners “checked out” after the 1st slide.

Here’s an example of LearnBrite in use at Curtin University, where it was used to help train students on how to do a home visit on an elderly woman that aims to provide support to allow her to continue to live at home:

What’s surprising to me about LearnBrite is how expensive it is:

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Obviously, they are targeting customers with large budgets! And they do seem to have a rather impressive list of customers:

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They also outline what they call “premium complimentary” services available at each price point:

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That line of fine print along the bottom reads, “Because of the high demand for these services, we can only guarantee availability for the next 20 subscribers.” Which, of course, is a standard sales technique: “Act now, supplies are limited!”

What I find odd is that most other platforms provide “built-in conferencing” for free, as a part of the platform (hence the term “built-in”), so why is LearnBrite charging for it, and why are they limiting it to only a certain number of hours per month?

Here’s a quick list of features and a look at their avatars:

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Hmmm…sure sounds (and looks) an awful lot like Second Life to me, which has had educators using it for teaching purposes for well over a decade now (here’s a list of resources from their wiki and they even have an Educator’s Portal set up).

If you’re interested in building educational virtual worlds and social VR experiences, you might want to take a look at LearnBrite, but you might also wish to consider other, potentially cheaper alternatives like Engage and (of course) Second Life.

The Rise and Fall of Library Use of Second Life: What Happened to All the Libraries That Used to Be in Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds?

Back in 2008, a book was published covering the then-exciting new world of libraries usage of virtual worlds in general, and Second Life in particular.

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The book, which was titled Virtual Worlds, Real Libraries, and which perfectly captured the zeitgeist of that time, has chapter titles such as “Library, Education, and Museum Applications of Virtual Worlds for Child, Tween, and Teen Projects”, and “Rocky in Wonderland: A Librarian’s Journey Down the Second Life Rabbit Hole”.

It was truly a heady time to be a librarian involved with virtual worlds. I was one of the many librarian volunteers who worked shifts at the virtual reference desk at Info Island, fielding questions from whoever teleported in. There were dozens of public and academic libraries operating sims and providing various services for their own users and for the general public.

The Virtual Worlds, Real Libraries book also had a colour picture section that included one photo of my librarian avatar (named Notecard Writer) attending a Virtual World Conference:

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According to a chapter in the book Teaching and Learning in Virtual Environments: Archives, Museums, and Libraries, published in 2016:

When virtual reality via virtual worlds first began trending the hype was immense and librarians flocked to Second Life (SL) and other virtual worlds to explore the potential for outreach to patrons and for education. Libraries with real-world counterparts blossomed in this virtual world, and Community Virtual Library (CVL), then known as Second Life Library 2.0, opened as the first entirely virtual working library to serve the residents of SL.

Lori Bell of Alliance Library Systems in Illinois saw the potential for libraries in virtual environments early on and founded Second Life Library 2.0 in 2006. This library has served a global public as a hybrid public, academic, and special library with no real- world library as a counterpart. Alliance Library Systems funded the early years of exploration and growth and received grants and great recognition as early adopters. Second Life Library 2.0, now known as CVL, operates solely on the contributions of patrons and through volunteer staffing. In our 10 years of serving the residents of SL we have ridden the rise and fall of the economy and of public opinion to the gradual leveling of the parabolic curve of the {Gartner] Hype Cycle, all the while bringing resources and services to the residents of SL.

A brief history will be helpful in fully understanding the function and evolution of CVL. After the founding of Second Life Library 2.0 in 2006, changes to SL’s terms of use disallowed the use of “Second Life” in any group or organization not connected to their organization, and the library’s name became Alliance Virtual Library (AVL). AVL grew from a small rental space for a single library to a complete sim with multiple sections. A sim, or simulator, is an area of virtual real estate equaling 16 acres. This was a time of great library interest in virtual worlds, and AVL experienced rapid growth in the next few years due to grants and partnerships.

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The Community Virtual Library in Second Life

Now, a decade on, libraries have a greatly diminished presence in Second Life. Indeed, it’s hard to find any libraries in SL at all, except for the infrequently-visited Community Virtual Library. What happened?

With the economic downturn during 2007–2009, many libraries with real-world counter parts began to withdraw due to tightened budgets and personnel reassignments. In 2010 the continuing economic downturn resulted in the defunding of Alliance Library System and the loss of financial support for the AVL library archipelago. AVL transferred owner ship of several sims, such as Health Info Island, Virtual Abilities, and Renaissance Island, to individual groups. Samantha Thompson, known in SL as Hypatia Dejvu; Bill Sowers, known in SL as Rocky Vallejo; and Rhonda Trueman, known in SL as Abbey Zenith formed CVL as a nonprofit educational entity in order to continue operation of the three main library islands. The CVL organization, composed of the former AVL volunteers, sustained three library sims—Info Island, Imagination Island, and Cybrary Island—through donations and rentals.

In 2011 Linden Lab discontinued the nonprofit and educational discount, essentially doubling the cost of maintaining a sim, which resulted in many nonprofits, libraries, and education institutions leaving SL.

CVL responded to the loss of the discount by downsizing to two sims and then to a single sim that combined common, multiuse spaces and rental parcels for community members. The rental covered between 40 percent and 50 percent of the sim expense. The single sim gave CVL space for a reference desk and library, social and event space, and common spaces that included two exhibit spaces and several meeting spaces. In 2014 Linden Lab restored the discount for nonprofits and educational virtual property owners, easing the need for CVL to continually raise funds. We continued with the single sim for two years, but library interest in virtual worlds had waned, and we still found the space difficult to manage with a dwindling volunteer base. CVL’s latest move is to a half- sim space on Bradley University’s sim. This is an ideal location between two long- time educational sims: Bradley University and San José State University (SJSU). This last move allowed CVL to give up management of rentals, a source of income but a drain on human resources, while retaining enough space for the library, reference, exhibits, events, and social and meeting space and still provide room for our partner group Seanchai operated by Judy Cullen, known in SL as Caledonia Skytower and by SL avatar Shandon Loring.

The ability to find, train, and keep volunteers motivated is an ongoing issue in both real- life organizations and virtual organizations. When Second Life was brand new, there was a large component of librarians from around the world who were interested in seeing how library services could be offered in this new frontier. Librarians were eager to stretch the limits of this new environment. The thrill of building immersive learning environments outweighed the effort required to become proficient in this new 3D world. Finding the time to acquire the skills to successfully navigate and explore SL and to take advantage of all of their offerings can be difficult.

There is no lack of ideas or projects, but finding people who can commit the time and energy to see those projects through can be difficult. The level of enthusiasm and dedication of those coming into SL during the glory days is hard to match. Although a small group of volunteers has been with us from the beginning, nine years is a long time to maintain the time and effort of sustaining volunteer duties. Over the years, some volunteers developed outside interests and became successful in the commercial aspects of SL or with other nonprofits. Some simply withdrew due to the economic downturn and its effects on libraries and have not returned.

Linden Lab ‘s 2011 decision to remove the nonprofit and educational discount, without any advance warning, was a particularly boneheaded move that forced many educational institutions to suspend their sims, and the decision ultimately backfired on Linden Lab and cost them a key business market they couldn’t really afford to lose. (Some institutions moved to OpenSim in response.) Linden Lab re-established the discount three years later, but the damage was done, and relatively few educational institutions have bothered to come back into Second Life. At a time of tightening budgets, virtual worlds were seen as a frill few institutions could afford.

One of the biggest problems that many libraries encountered was that (after the initial excitement and novelty wore off) these virtual library services were not terribly heavily used by Second Life avatars. Most were in SL to do things other than peruse and use libraries, thus the actual use of in-world libraries declined. The target audience wasn’t really there.

Another problem was the relatively steep learning curve to Second Life (as mentioned in the quote above), which meant that the people who were most likely to use library services were unlikely to download and install the client software, and spend 30-60 minutes learning how to navigate and teleport, simply to ask a simple reference question or read an ebook. The cost of admission was simply too high.

So, in times of ever-tightening budgets, and having gained some hard-earned experience on what does and doesn’t work in virtual worlds (mostly the latter), public and academic libraries are unlikely to jump whole-heartedly into the newer virtual worlds such s High Fidelity, Sinespace, and Sansar. There simply isn’t the money (or the time) nowadays to expand library services to platforms where there is still too steep a learning curve to participate, and still too small an audience, especially compared to the 2-billion-plus people on social media like Facebook.

It’s been somewhat sad to seem the rise and fall of library use of Second Life, but it has been instructive to participate in the cycle and learn from it. Who knows, maybe sometime in the next few decades, libraries will return to social VR and virtual worlds as the technology improves and user acceptance grows.

What Do You Do When You Can’t Log In to Second Life?

Every so often, you get the dreaded message:

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So, what do you do when you can’t log in to Second Life?

  • Keep retrying?
  • Keep rechecking the status page?
  • Hang out on one or more of the many Second Life Facebook groups or Google+ communities?
  • Write a blog post? 😉
  • Go somewhere else (e.g. OpenSim)?
  • Do something else (ohhh, like maybe clean your kitchen?)

What do you do when you are jonesing for your SL fix, and cannot get in? Please leave a comment and tell me how you cope when you can’t log in, thanks!

Atlas Hopping, Episode 50!

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Mini Golf (a view from the airship)

Can you believe that we’re already at fifty episodes of Atlas Hopping? It’s been an amazing run for the popular and fun livestreamed show, hosted by Draxtor Despres and Strawberry Singh. (Drax has announced that Strawberry will be stepping away from her co-hosting duties for the forseeable future. I am very sorry to see her go, and I will miss her.)

Today’s theme is games, and we are visiting the following five Sansar experiences:

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Another aerial view of the Mini Golf island
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Tabletop Chess

Here’s Drax’s livestream of the event:

Help Me Choose a Logo for the Upcoming New Show Metaverse Newscast: Pick One of These Eight Designs

Things are coming along nicely for the new pre-taped show about social VR, virtual worlds and the metaverse I am working on with Andrew, my producer, and Carlos, my cameraman. We have two interviews in the can and a third one should take place next week. But I’m having a little trouble choosing a logo design for my upcoming show, titled Metaverse Newscast, and here’s where you can help me out!

Here are 8 possible designs of logos for the Metaverse Newscast. Please comment on this blogpost, telling me which one(s) you prefer. Please refer to the number of each logo design in your response, which is underneath each image, thanks!

MetaverseNewscast (4)
Design 1
Security Agency
Design 2

 

MetaverseNewscast (3)
Design 3
MetaverseNewscast (2)
Design 4
MetaverseNewscast (1)
Design 5
MetaverseNewscast
Design 6
M (1)
Design 7
M
Design 8

Which one(s) do you like? Please leave a comment to let me know, thanks!

I’ve Added a Definitions Section to the RyanSchultz.com Blog

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I have added a Definitions page to the RyanSchultz.com blog (available on the left-hand side menu in desktop view, and from the three-bars menu button in the upper-right hand corner in tablet/smartphone view).

On this page, I will provide definitions of commonly-used terms in this blog, such as:

  • virtual world
  • metaverse
  • avatar
  • virtual reality
  • augmented reality
  • social VR

If you come across a term that I use in this blog that you don’t understand, send me a message and I will consider adding it to this list, thanks!