AAAARRRHHHH!!!!!!!! – My bookcase is floating!

16 May, 2008

I was lucky enough to attend a 1 day training session, exploring Second Life on Monday. I am totally bewildered when it comes to second life, I really don’t get it. Nonetheless the opportunity came up to go to the session run by Kathryn Greenhill from Murdoch uni in Perth. I like Kathryn’s blog and the idea of spending a day out of the office learning to play a computer game was pretty appealing, so I went in ready to be convinced of Second Life’s value to the modern organisation.

It’s fair to say I still don’t get it. That is no slight on Kathryn’s session, it was great! She gave us loads of time to play and explore, and I had lots fun learning to fly and to make the bookcase I built, float and spin above the ground.

The thing I can’t work out is, what benefits SL can offer to knowledge workers? I can see the value in manual training such as occupational health and safety hazard assessment but sitting watching an animated person like me talk to another animated person just doesn’t seem to be that much better than a phone call, video conference or webinar.

Below I have listed my “Challenges that must be overcome to make SL (or similar) revolutionary”

  • I found it quite difficult to navigate around, this concerns me as I would rate myself as very computer literate, this was also observed by Joe Sanchez’ Amazing Race students.
  • We found it to be pretty unreliable. During the day I had to restart the second life app around 8 times. Kathryn was able to tweak the settings a little to make it use less bandwidth and thus run a little more reliably, but I had a similar experience on my Mac at home, so I worry about non technical users with hardware that is not cutting edge.
  • Big chunky computers are required and you need to download and install an application. Once we can run this in a browser it will open up access to a much broader audience.
  • Getting in to SL takes ages! You need to register, create your avatar, customise your avatar… it’s pretty fiddly.
  • If using it internally, we could create a group of ‘stock avatars’, but if conducting a meeting or training session in SL we’ll need a cheat sheet to work out who is who! (Avatar names appear in SL – not real ones).
  • We need to decide why virtual worlds are substantially better than other communication options. They take more effort so they need to provide value for that effort.

All of that said we are going to continue with our plans to experiment with SL at an upcoming conference. I really do support  this. Kathryn made the point that Virtual Worlds are not yet a mature technology (demonstrated by the number of times the app crashed during the day). There is a lot of evolving to occur before the broader population is ready to communicate  regularly via this medium.

That is why it is worth continuing to experiment, these tools will get easier to use and become more stable, so we might as well learn about them now. The question is will our customer base embrace this? We are throwing a lot of stuff at them this year blogs, wikis and  social networks, will this be overload?


19 Responses to “AAAARRRHHHH!!!!!!!! – My bookcase is floating!”

  1. Mick

    I’ve got the same view as you with Second Life – it’s all wander here, wander there, nobody there, can’t go here. Its largest business application seems to be conferences and spaces for people to get together and ‘do stuff’.

    John Campbell from the CoE did have one conference where you could attend in person or via second life – you got the video presentations and powerpoint slides in Second Life.

    But I’ve had a couple of really good goes with Second Life, and it still seems kind of, well, boring and pointless. I discussed this in a presentation last year:

    Thanks: Micheal Axelsen

  2. micktl Says:


    Agree – for the level difficulty associated with it, there really isn’t the value.

    The thing that sealed it for me was wandering around ABC Island and noticing that I was the only person on there in the middle of the day… That does not feel like critical mass to me.

    I will be very interested to see how these tools unfold over the next couple of years. Linden Labs opening up their code may be the kick in the pants second life needs….

  3. Hi Mick,

    Glad you aren’t convinced – would be really worried if someone walked out of one of my sessions convinced that SL is useful right now for everyone. 🙂

    I wish I’d asked you to all leave your bookshelves out, instead of going around and returning them at the end of the day. That way I could have come back to the island and made a little movie of them and put it on YouTube so you could show other people your masterpieces.

    I think the benefits to knowledge workers are in getting an understanding of a new metaphor for displaying/transferring knowledge. A unilinear piece of paper, or a website with branches determined by a webmaster, is very different to an environment where the informational path is determined by social factors as well as traditional information organisation.

    Bit like new “social operating systems” as mentioned in the Horizon Report 2008 – but with personal profiles that jump out of the environment. Profiles that can talk to you and interact with objects and their environment using a spatial metaphor. Profiles that can even gossip behind your back while they stand in the same space as you.

    I think that there won’t be large scale adoption of online virtual worlds for everyday communication unless they can compete with texting on a mobile. I think the key to adoption will lie in interoperability between online virtual worlds, so you can take your avatar from one to another. I can imagine something like ClaimID evolving to be some kind of avatar that then accesses what are now flat websites (like twitter, facebook, youtube, our libraries etc.) that are arranged in some kind of spatial, landscape kind of browser model.

    I’m pretty sure the future of online virtual worlds isn’t Second Life, just like the golfball typewriter wasn’t the future of word processing.

    Or, maybe it will all fizzle out and we’ll wonder how we could have been so attracted and taken in 🙂

  4. Mace Says:

    By navigation do you mean basic avatar movement? Or do you mean finding features in the SL user interface?

    LL is very up front about the computing power necessary to run SL. That being said, most off the shelf e-machines today have the basic reqs to run SL with little issues. However there are other factors to consider, like your bandwidth and your personal user settings. SL has been buggy lately too, give it another go in a bit.

    You will never be able to run SL in a browser as we currently know them. It will require a totally different approach to web interface and design. They may hit that mark but don’t look for it soon.

    Are you looking for a quick fix? LL provides stock avatars, that is part of the initial sign in process. I am not seeing where you are coming from on this one. Maybe this isn’t the platform for you if you are looking for something that someone can log into with a generic appearance and just run to a meeting. But when i first logged in i don’t recall the processing taking more than 10 or 15 minutes. There is a method of display what ever name you wish to display, it is called a titler and essentially is a transparent prim with a bit of floating text over it. Normally they attach to an ear or a nose or something so everyone can see your title/name.

    Virtual Worlds are NOT better options they are inclusive options. It’s not an either or situation. Yes you can run a webinar (i hate that word) and show your power point presentation of the building your architectural firm just finished OR you can do that AND take people ona virtual tour of the building. VW is an addition to your toolbox, not a substitution. It has awesome marketing uses too as Pontiac recently showed us. They created a space, decked it out and invited people to come take a survey in exchange for some L$. People showed up in droves. When Pontiac had their info they packed up and left. Neat and clean and effective.

    I think you should explore a little bit more, I am certain that many of the issues you raise have solutions if you just look a bit more.

  5. micktl Says:

    Hey Katherine

    The collection of spinning bookcases was quite a sight! I think you are on the money on the interoperability front, moving between flat pages and virtual worlds with the one group of friends or contacts will really open all of these tools up. As you said on the day, this is a first generation tool, it will be interesting to watch this and other emerging tools (or worlds) evolve and see how they fit into the corporate world.

    Thanks for stopping by Mace

    Thanks for the tip re titler. We’re going to play with SL a bit more around the office, so knowing that we can change the name will be helpful.

    Certainly to the initiated SL is pretty easy to move around and if you have bought your PC in the last couple of years you should not have any dramas running it. My discussion was more in response to the idea that virtual worlds have a place in corporate learning strategies today, (probably should have linked to a couple of those arguments).

    I agree that its best use is in the marketing and branding area, the Pontiac example you described sounds great. This is the main reason we are exploring SL.

    My hesitation is that unless you are confident playing games and have the right hardware there are some significant barriers to widespread adoption. I agree with Katherine, that there won’t be broad use of virtual worlds for learning or communications until it becomes much easier.

    As the level of difficulty and effort required decreases (10 – 15 mins to get signed up seems to me like a long time for your average internet / email user) we may see more people starting to make use of the immersive nature of a virtual world for every day communications such as meetings, but I think it is unlikely to move out of the ‘enthusiast’ category in the immediate future.

  6. maxelsen Says:


    Interesting debate. As a result of the debate, I went back to Second Life and took another look. There seems to be some good stuff there, outside looking in, but everywhere I go is still a ghost town for an event that happened weeks ago.

    Any suggestions of a good place to go to see the potential of second life? ‘Cos you know, I’d like to see it be useful (which maybe marketing & branding does come into, but that’s communication – how about doing stuff?) , but for the life of me I can’t quite get enough of a grip on it to see a cut-and-dried road-to-Damascus, join-the-flag-wavers business reason.

    Queensland Island looked like it was good once, but it was all about the virtual youf.

    I want it to be good, I really do, but if I find it confusing, it isn’t going to go past toy stage as far as business is concerned (until, perhaps, GenY is in senior management).

    Thanks: MSA

  7. micktl Says:

    Hey Michael,

    Not sure where to go in SL either, I had a similar experience.

    I’ve posted a question on the Learning Town ( Virtual Worlds group. I’ll reply with any responses I get.


  8. micktl Says:

    I’ve had one response to my question so here is the hit list:

    “First of all, educators should be plugged into “SLED” . Join the group “real life education in SL” and you’ll get into regular discussions and meetings germain to LearningTown.

    Also check out the official list of educators in SL.

    Monday at 7pm SLT “when worlds collide” with Cypress Rosewood ( is where a large number of interesting people meet to talk in RL and SL about whats up and new. Many regulars from the space settlement sims, the international space museum are there often.

    Attend linden office hours too! I go to Zero Linden’s office hours on tuesday afternoon and thursday morning to talk about the state of the art in the backend/architecture. All welcome!

    Ina Centaur is running regular meetings with SLLiterary group, often hosting real world authors to discuss their books. Ina also runs the Shakespeare Society who have been and will be regularly performing live plays in SL. Ive been to a couple of them, really impressive! Check out for more info.

    Paisley Beebe hosts an in world television show that is also broadcast in Austrailia on local television.

    Every sunday at 2pm SLT is the SL humanism meetings, always a “spirited” discussion! The SL Buddhists meet regularly. Theres an Evangelical Christian group that meets regularly on “truth island”.”

    This is care of Ryan Cameron – Thanks Ryan!

  9. Karyn Romeis Says:

    Being under the cosh a bit, timewise, I confess that I haven’t read everyone’s comments on this post, so I might be rehashing old ground.

    First SL is not a “computer game” (although I guess your tongue might have been wedged into your cheek when you used that term). It’s a platform. People who go there and expect exciting things to happen are missing the point. After all, you don’t go to town and then sit around there waiting for things to happen. Nor do you go and drift aimlessly wondering what the point is of being there. You go because you have some fixed objectives in mind.

    When the same is true of SL, it makes more sense. If you’re attending a meeting, visting an art gallery, attending a seminar, etc. you have a goal and a purpose and SL becomes the platform by which you achieve it.

    Having said that, I see no point in using this new wineskin for old wine. Why use SL to deliver an old fashioned classroom-based, teacher-led, chalk-and-talk session? Instead, you could have a dispersed team from around the world carrying out a project together and learning as they go. You could have simulated scenarios that can’t be recreated in the physical world for whatever reason, and use those for learning. I have been told that there is a teaching hospital in SL, where patients with predetermined conditions await treatment by student doctors and nurses.

    What we should be exploring is how we can use this platform to introduce new teaching and learning opportunities and approaches.

  10. micktl Says:

    Hey Karyn,

    I was kinda tongue in cheek, while us edu-types put it into the communication tool basket, there are many users out there who simply to treat it as a game, it might not be win or loose but it is a place to ‘play’.

    I think the play factor was what I enjoyed, it was fun to fly around and look at the ‘sights’ (the titanic is quite cool).

    The thing I am looking for is the purpose, the objective that I will have when I walk in there. I guess the other factor is I am not in a ‘training’ role at the moment, I am looking at driving collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst finance people, with that audience in mind I don’t think it is quite there yet.

    That is not to say it could not be useful now, as I said in my main post you could make a way cool OHS training session in SL, it’d be much more interesting than the video I used to make my new starters sit through when I was a call center trainer. (Note: It was NOT my idea to make them sit through it!!)

  11. My notion is that most people move from the specific to the eneral, rather than the reverse. What that means in SL terms, I think:

    Newcomers think of SL in terms of their real-world experience. That explains building with walls and doors (and roofs) in a place where it doesn’t really rain and when you can force the sun to be at noon whenever you want.

    That explains auditoriums with chairs, and avatars for the most part politely sitting in the chairs.

    That explains the ubiquitous dancing: it gives your avatar something to do while you’re chatting to others.

    If you’ve been in other virtual worlds (World of Warcraft, D&D, what have you), then you’ve got another set of personal experiences from which to extrapolate. But if you haven’t been, you don’t. The stuff that more experienced people take for granted (like turning avatar titles on or off) is not usually intuitive (try finding where to shut off the bouncing-hands typing animation). Even trying to frame your question is hard, like someone who doesn’t speak French thinking that librarie means “libary” (it’s “bookstore”).

    Kathryn’s analogy (the IBM Selectric typewriter versus a word processor) is apt. The clunkiness of early software (I learned on WordStar) combined with a whole new infrastructure (formatting codes, file names) imposed significant barriers — as did, I suspect, the introduction of the telephone. (“If I got one of these, who would I talk to? I don’t know anyone with a phone.”)

    None of this is to write off the concept of virtual worlds. SL is probably as good an intro as any. As with the early days of online computer-based training, though, stuff isn’t good because it’s in SL. The chicken/egg problem is on the one hand seeing your training/learning challenges and on the other learning enough about a virtual world to find a creative and effective way to combine the two, the way Alan Levine suggested here.

  12. micktl Says:

    Hey Dave,

    It seems like we’re on the same wave length here, there is much exploring to do before the full potential of virtual worlds is realised. No doubt in no time at all, uses will be developed that we have not yet even imagined!

  13. […] have been able to find a way to come at a Big Question, so seeing as this is a bit different to my discussion of a couple of weeks ago I’ll give it a go! That conversation focused on uses in my own work […]

  14. […] have been able to find a way to come at a Big Question, so seeing as this is a bit different to my discussion of a couple of weeks ago I’ll give it a go! That conversation focused on uses in my own work […]

  15. […] Leydon’s blog stirred up a lively debate on the merits or otherwise of second life (see here) so I thought I’d try a bit of a vlog and comment on such […]

  16. Deprecation Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Deprecation.

  17. Andrew Mitchell Says:

    I suggest you check out the blog called Dove Lane by Kaye Vivian.

    She blogs regularly on the business value of virtual worlds. You still may not be convinced but it is interesting reading.

  18. Mick Leyden Says:

    @Andrew, Cheers Will check it out.

    @Depectiation, If you have missed the point of SL I’m right there with you! However I do think there is a point in the discussion. Like it or not we will see more of these product in years to come.


  19. […] where does this leave my thoughts on Second Life? I’ve made it clear before (here and here) that I reckon it is a technology with potential and that I think it will take quite some time for […]

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