Blurred Vision

Vision can be blurry because something is interfering actively or because the focus has not yet resolved. When I look at the future and virtual worlds, my vision blurs from both causes. This post was triggered by my reaction to Gwyneth Llewelyn‘s post “Innovation, yes, but wrong turn“. Gwyneth is one of my favorite bloggers. I find her comments to be sound and well-supported, and her tone is always equable.

I still believe that all of us will have an avatar in virtual worlds in the fairly near future. I believe that more and more business meetings and collaborations will take place virtually. There will always be a need for face-to-face. But the workplace is global and for short-duration meetings and conferences, unless we have a major breakthrough in transportation costs (“Beam me up, Scotty!”), the most cost and time efficient solution will remain electronic. I no longer believe, however, that SecondLife/OpenSim will be that virtual means. And therefore my vision is blurred from the unshed tears in my eyes. I am still unable to articulate why my SL avatar resonates so strongly for me. I am unable to identify which particular aspects make the experience so powerful. I have tried to bring friends and coworkers into SL. I’ve failed. I introduce them to friends. To live music. To building. To the ability to hold business meetings simply. Many many things. (No, I didn’t try introducing them to Zindra. Was that the problem?) But to date I have failed to convince anyone to see it as I do.

I think that not only is there something in my eyes, but I think the view-finder has not yet been turned to the correct focus. At the moment the virtual world is beset by a storm about anonymity, pseudonymity and “real identity”. I tend toward seeing the pessimistic future and I fear that we, advocates for pseudonymity and anonymity, are going to lose this argument. But moving beyond this moment, I think that the business world has still not identified why it needs virtual worlds. Because of that lack of vision – the WHY – virtual worlds still lack the WHAT. I think we have the “HOW” – we can get there. Once we are there, however, there’s little to do. There’s no “HOW”. We need TOOLS in the virtual worlds. Those tools are coming. But not fast enough and not “sexy” enough. We need tools that allow our avatars to do that which our organic bodies do: easy note taking, modify the same objects (think whiteboards, sketching). Picture yourself in an organic conference room in a brainstorming, problem-solving session. Now, imagine your avatar doing the same thing. The trick here is that all of those tasks that are seamless in the organic world need to be as seamless in the virtual. So yes, there are whiteboard tools and there are ways to modify the same object, etc. But they are not seamless to the avatar experience. The business world and LL only thought to the point of getting people IN.

Not only are we lacking the tools, but there are not enough people being encouraged and supported to envision. I state quite clearly – I am NOT a visionary. I am the person who can get your vision done. But we NEED the people who will look at the conference room I described, will look at the work being done, look at virtual worlds, and make the leap that says: ah, because we are freed from the constraints of the physical world, we can visualize the problem THUSLY. I had the good fortune to work on a project with people who ARE visionaries. We began work on such a business application tool. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the backing (substitute “funding”) to keep working so that they had time to learn the virtual worlds sufficiently to make that quantum leap into hyperspace.

In her article, Gwyneth Llewelyn says:
However, I still think that LL (and not only Rod; he’s just starting to think like the rest) is working from a totally wrong assumption: that virtual worlds with user-generated content are somehow a mainstream product, if only “done right”, and that the trick is how to figure out to “do them right”. To be very honest — and you can check it up on my blog — I used to think like that as well. But the more time passes, the less likely I believe this is going to happen.
… I’m quite convinced these days that Second Life (and these days there is nothing else that compares with SL; I’m considering OpenSim to be just a variant of SL running under open source software, of course) is simply a niche product.

I’m sad to say that to a great extent, I agree. I think that SL/OpenSim is a tool, an environment. Now take that tool and customize it to what you need. Businesses need specific business tools, specific ways of manipulating data. Businesses need specific ways of interacting. Like the government, corporations have specific concerns that drive innovation. Think of how many inventions and every-day appliances we now have due to the government needing a tool. If business took virtual worlds seriously, used them, put the energy into adding tools and applications and seamless integration, virtual worlds would have a bigger niche. I believe that once such tools are there, other people will take them, bend them shake them and leap them into the future. As that happens, the niche expands to a mainstream product.


6 Responses to “Blurred Vision”

  1. 1 Chestnut Rau August 25, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Some people see an avatar on the screen and connect viscerally with the experience. Some people see a cartoon on the screen and don’t connect with that image at all. I have reluctantly concluded that mass adoption is not going to happen, and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.

  2. 2 ahuva18 August 25, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    @Chestnut – In many respects I would be much happier if SL stayed out of the mainstream. I think that Gwyneth is straight on when she says that LL should focus on being a niche market. But I want the CONCEPT to become mainstream. I believe that interacting in virtual worlds via avatars can be positive, efficient, productive, healthy. Throw some more upbeat words in there. I regret that there is such potential in SL and that potential is not being explored as well as it might. I want others to discover SL so that it has the needed influx of fresh ideas, vision, funding.

  3. 3 Jo Grant August 26, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Usability. This is what I think it comes down to.
    Most people are focusing on the usability of the viewer. Yeah, sure, that’s important. But it’s not where I’m going.
    I had the good fortune to work with a top-knotch usability designer in my current project. She was in charge of usability design in Sametime and Notes and we were lucky to get a little bit of her time to advise on our tools. It’s really amazing what a difference that can make. She had a whole arsenal of good ideas to turn awkward data entry problems into simple, discoverable smooth processes.
    I’ve needed a mentor for years. I had been working up the nerve to ask her to be my mentor. The way we do that in IBM is that your mentor is supposed to help you in some skill that is used for doing your job, but it should not, specifically, be part of either your job or their job. My thought was to ask her to mentor me in usability design, but for 3D worlds. I need to learn about usability, and 3D is not something she’d done before, and it would stretch both of us.
    This is the key sentence from your post: “We need tools that allow our avatars to do that which our organic bodies do”. I had hoped to crank out my 2D -> 3D presentation generator and top it out and make it easy to use with her skills. Given how much of modern business meetings revolve around presentations, THAT could possibly change things.
    But why am I using the past tense? She announced this week she is leaving IBM.

  4. 4 Juanita Deharo August 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I do think there has been a change in attitude and understanding that has brought virtual worlds more into the mainstream.
    Six years ago people’s eyes glazed over with total incomprehension and disinterest when I talked about my avatar and virtual worlds. Now they are much more likely to know what I’m talking about, to be interested, and to see virtual worlds as a valid part of the spectrum of possibilities.
    Even in my small community virtual worlds are being used for a variety of purposes – from designing(real world) theatre sets to curating (real world) exhibtions and involving the community in designing whole precincts. (You are right about the tools- someone designed the tools and presto!)
    The other thing I note is the general acceptance of the idea of an avatar. I’ve done quite a few rw presentations and projects, and while my audinece may not yet feel ready for their own avatar they have certainly become attached to mine, and have a sense of recognition, ownership and delight in her existence.

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