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.