Instructional Technology Program
Department of Leadership & Educational Studies
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC – U.S.A.
Scienze della Comunicazione
Facoltà di Scienze della Formazione
Università degli Studi di Cagliari
Cagliari - Italy
Avatars: a new life is growing on the Net
A project from the group 3
Avatar History Timeline
Classification of Avatars
Technologies to manage Avatars
Avatars in elearning
The future of Avatars
An avatar (अवतार, from the Sanskrit word for "a form of self", commonly used in many Indian
languages) is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego, whether in the form
of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon (picture) used on
Internet forums and other communities, or a text construct found on early systems such as MUDs.
It is an “object” representing the embodiment of the user. The term "avatar" can also refer to the
personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user.
In the daily experience using the net, on artificial worlds, social networks, online games, discussion
forums, instant messaging system etc. (in this document we’ll call them environments”) we
develop a set of “properties” (we can call them parameters, characteristics, information) to
describe ourselves. These properties are a set of images, nicknames, quotes, descriptions, links,
emoticons, status flags, tags, anthropomorphic images etc. The sum of these properties is our
Each single Avatar can be a part of one or more sets (for example a Gilda in role games, groups on
social networks, usertype in discussion forums etc.) and, thanks to them, the Avatar is linked to
different networks. Sometimes one or more properties overlap in virtual worlds, on the internet
and in real life. This concept is called “internet of things”.
We’ll try to answer to the following questions:
• How many (and which) different properties can define an Avatar?
• In how many different ways an Avatar can be delineated, according with the different
environments, without losing its (or his/her) origin?
• Can we make a classifications of the Avatars?
• Can we use the Avatar to work and study in business or eLearning experiences?
• Can we make some predictions about what will happen with our avatar in 5, 10, 20 years?
Thanks to Artificial intelligence technologies, can they become a copy of our personality
and live them own lives? Will they become older with us? Will they live longer than we?
Avatar History Timeline
Derived from the Sanskrit avatra, meaning “descent,” avatar first appeared in English in 1784 to
mean an incarnation or human appearance of a deity, particularly Vishnu.
"Avatar" derives from the Sanskrit word Avatara, which literally translates as "descent,"
specifically, a deliberate descent by a god into the land of mortals, usually for the purpose of
destroying evil or leading the righteous down the right path. In Hinduism, an avatar is the bodily
manifestation of Immortal Beings or "The Supreme Being."
Emily Dickinson's Poetry as a child: The earliest surviving verse by the poet's hand was
embroidered on a sampler when she was 15. Its interest lies chiefly in its relation to her later
religious development. It begins "Jesus Permit Thy Gracious Name to stand/ As the First efforts of
an infants hand" and ends with the prayer that He may write His name upon her heart. Many of
her late religious poems treat Jesus, whom her father called the divine Son of God, as an avatar
and validator who taught the difficulty and necessity of faith and "endorsed the sheen" of life.
They suggest that in the end, after all her doubts, His name was written on her heart.
Waggoner, Hyatt H. "Dikinson, Emily (1830–1886)." Encyclopedia Americana. 2009. Grolier Online. 12 Nov. 2009
In the early 1970's, two gameaholics named Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw created a role
playing game through early multi user domains. Many of these games were accessed by a Telnet
service. In the early days of text based MUD’s (multi-user dungeons) you were represented by
your tag, or nickname. This grouping of characters expressed your virtual identity in the online
Meridian 59 was released in 1996 and created a massive following. While it was one of the first
internet games, it actually allowed users to pay a subscription fee, rather than pay by the hour.
This change in gaming made thousands of people switch to this form of MMORPG.
Worlds Chat was the very first three-dimensional avatar world to become widely available on the
EverQuest, often shortened to EQ, is a 3D fantasy-themed massively multiplayer online roleplaying
game (MMORPG) that was released on the 16th of March, 1999. EverQuest's development is
ongoing, and the 16th expansion, "The Underfoot," was announced at the 2009 Las Vegas Fan
Linden Lab™ announced today the name of its interactive service, Second Life™. A new form of
shared 3D entertainment, Second Life presents a remarkably immersive and self-expressive world
to its online residents. Users who want the opportunity to enter Second Life can register and begin
their new life with the beta program at www.lindenlab.com.
Each resident begins Second Life by designing their avatar, or character, starting with a fully
textured high-resolution figure, and creating a unique representation of themselves. Users
customize their hair, face and body shape, and clothing, using morphing tools that allow for an
infinite variety of identities. Users can then collaborate with each other to shape the world around
The base game, titled Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided, was released on 26 June 2003 in the
USA and on 7 November, 2003 in Europe
Second Life is launched.
February 27, 2007 — Linden Lab®, creator of virtual world Second Life®, has announced that it will
be adding voice capabilities to the Second Life Grid, as part of its ongoing drive toward creating a
richer, more immersive virtual environment.
September 3, 2008 — Linden Lab®, creator of 3D virtual world Second Life®, has announced a new
voice and instant messaging client that will enable Second Life Residents to connect and
communicate with their Second Life contacts whether or not they are actually inworld
January 20, 2009 - Linden Lab®, creator of the virtual world Second Life®, today announced a key
milestone in its expansion of the Second Life platform: acquiring two Web-based marketplaces for
virtual goods, Xstreet SL and OnRez. These acquisitions join several other recent strategic
initiatives, including enhancements to the experience for new users, which will enable Linden Lab
to reach a broader global audience for Second Life in 2009. Linden Lab is consolidating the two
marketplaces on the Xstreet SL platform, offering one online shopping experience for customers
and merchants. This will make it easier for Second Life Residents to find virtual goods to purchase
and will provide merchants broader channels to sell their products.
Future with super computers on your desktop
With the future of multi-core computing and combined 3D worlds, realistic avatars, artificial
intelligence, access to real-time data via the network, voice recognition, voice generation, and lip
synching a computer generated person that is custom-built to be your best friend can be created.
This single digital buddy will be the person who greets you when you come home: asks what you
think about last night’s football game; tells you that there is a club meeting at the local
steakhouse; discusses your views on current events; and listens to everything you want to say,
while giving you the kind of feedback you have programmed it for.
Research Technology Management, Supercomputing on Your Desktop by Roger Smith, MAR/April, Vol 52 Issue 2, p9-14.
Classification of Avatars
How can we recognize and classify an Avatar?
Information we enter that describes ourselves on the net is a part of our avatar. A single person
can have one or more than one Avatars according to the environment where the Avatar lives.
In a technical environment (i.e. a technical forum) Avatars are made from a nick name, an image
and a quote that describe the topic of interest. The following example is the avatar of the user
“Impulse” with the title “Hardness Supreme”, chatting on a forum about “PC modding” and
his/her avatar describes the configuration of his PC.
09-26-2004, 12:58 AM
Impulse [H]ardness Supreme, 8.7 Years
Hey, there's actually an upside to living in this horrid humidity? Who would've thought... But seriously
now, good write up, a heads up for many I'm sure.
C2Q Q6600 @ 3.XGHz | 1.XXv :: ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 :: ASUS P5Q Pro | BIOS XXXX
2GB x2 G.Skill Pi Black @ XXXMHz | X-X-X-X | 1.XXv :: Corsiar HX520W :: XFX GTX 260 @XXX/XXXX
Intel X25-M G2 80GB :: WD6401AALS 640GB :: Venus DS | Seagate 7200.10 500GB :: Thermaltake M9
Samsung 2243BWX 24" LCD + 955DF 19" CRT :: SB X-Fi Ti :: Samson StudioDock 3i :: JVC HA-RX700
Acer Aspire One A150 | 6-cell batt.
Avatars used in Fan groups are made usually with pictures of famous people integrated with some
artistic homemade images. Other information can be the activity in the group (i.e. 578 posts on a
forum) the geographic position and the date of joining the group.
One Twisted Evilette
Join Date: May 2005
Location: 36.5 N / 94.3 W
With the advent of WEB 2.0, the desire to personalize avatars with unique images made Avatar
Editors very popular. Some of these editors generate famous “styles” such as Southpark or the
Simpsons, or generate 2d images in manga style. These Avatars can be used in environments that
allow traditional 2d images.
Avatars used in social networks, business networks and dating website are similar among them,
usually they consist of a name, a photo of the person, a list of interests and personal backgrouds.
Of course in different environments although simmilar the different information is given with the
proper Avatar. E.g. the business network demands more information connecting to the field of
work, whereas in the dating website the apperance and hobbies are emphesised.
The Simpson Avatar Editor http://www.myavatareditor.com
www.avimator.com (for second life) http://tektek.org
Fashon Avatar www.faceyourmanga.it
For 3d enviroments as second life, MS Xbox 360, Sony Home the Avatars are even more
sophisticated with 3d bodies that can be customized with antropomorphic parameters, clothes
Classification grid for Avatars
Parameters that compose the Web Spaces
Social Online Forum Dating Business Blog Fan site & Elearning
Avatar Network games website Network News
example Facebook WoW Big- Match Plaxo Blog.com Too many Babbel
Myspace Secnd Life boards Meetic LinkedIn wordpres ☺ Best-tuts
Hi5 Ultima virttourist s ehow
2d Avatar image
Picture of other person
3d Avatar image
True life informations
True “Enanced” life informations
Groups of interests
List of informations
(links, blog post, bookshelf, )
(Friend list, school class, social group)
Status note and emoticons
Private technical Informations
Technologies to manage Avatars
The technologies that allow us to interact with Avatars can be divided in two families:
a) We can interact with Avatars world
It’s a technology which allows a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment,
whether that environment is a simulation of the real world or an imaginary world. Most
current virtual reality environments are primarily visual experiences, displayed either on a
computer screen or through special or stereoscopic displays, but some simulations include
additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers or headphones. Some
advanced, haptic systems now include tactile information, generally known as force
feedback, in medical and gaming applications. Users can interact with a virtual
environment or a virtual artifact either through the use of standard input devices such as a
keyboard and mouse, or through multimodal devices such as a wired glove, the Polhemus
boom arm, and omnidirectional treadmill. The simulated environment can be similar to the
real world, for example, simulations for pilot or combat training, or it can differ significantly
from reality, as in VR games. In practice, it is currently very difficult to create a high-fidelity
virtual reality experience, due largely to technical limitations on processing power, image
resolution and communication bandwidth. However, those limitations are expected to
eventually be overcome as processor, imaging and data communication technologies
become more powerful and cost-effective over time.
Michael Heim identifies seven different concepts of Virtual Reality: simulation, interaction,
artificiality, immersion, telepresence, full-body immersion, and network communication.
The definition still has a certain futuristic romanticism attached. People often identify VR
with Head Mounted Displays and Data Suits.
Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world
environment whose elements are merged with (or augmented by) virtual computer-
generated imagery - creating a mixed reality. The augmentation is conventionally in real-
time and in semantic context with environmental elements, such as sports scores on TV
during a match. With the help of advanced AR technology (e.g. adding computer vision and
object recognition) the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes
interactive and digitally usable. Artificial information about the environment and the
objects in it can be stored and retrieved as an information layer on top of the real world
view. The term augmented reality is believed to have been coined in 1990 by Thomas
Caudell, an employee of Boeing at the time.
Augmented reality research explores the application of computer-generated imagery in
live-video streams as a way to expand the real world. Advanced research includes use of
head-mounted displays and virtual retinal displays for visualization purposes, and
construction of controlled environments containing any number of sensors and actuators.
b) Avatars can interact with us
Internet of things
Internet of Things refers to a network of objects, such as household appliances. It is often a
self-configuring wireless network.The idea is as simple as its application is difficult. If all
cans, books, shoes or parts of cars are equipped with minuscule identifying devices, daily
life on our planet will undergo a transformation.
If all objects of daily life, from yogurt to an airplane, are equipped with radio tags, they can
be identified and managed by computers in the same way humans can. The next
generation of Internet applications (IPv6 protocol) would be able to identify more objects
than IPv4, which is currently in use. This system would therefore be able to instantaneously
identify any kind of object.
The Internet of objects should encode 50 to 100,000 billion objects and follow the
movement of those objects. Every human being is surrounded by 1,000 to 5,000 objects.
Ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) is a post-desktop model of human-computer interaction
in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and
activities. In the course of ordinary activities, someone "using" ubiquitous computing
engages many computational devices and systems simultaneously, and may not necessarily
even be aware that they are doing so. This model is usually considered an advancement
from the desktop paradigm. This paradigm is also described as pervasive computing,
All models of ubiquitous computing share a vision of small, inexpensive, robust networked
processing devices, distributed at all scales throughout everyday life and generally turned
to distinctly common-place ends. For example, a domestic ubiquitous computing
environment might interconnect lighting and environmental controls with personal
biometric monitors woven into clothing so that illumination and heating conditions in a
room might be modulated, continuously and imperceptibly.
A robot is a virtual or mechanical artificial agent. In practice, it is usually an electro-
mechanical machine which is guided by computer or electronic programming, and is thus
able to do tasks on its own. Another common characteristic is that by its appearance or
movements, a robot often conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own.
The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software agents, but the latter
are usually referred to as bots. There is no consensus on which machines qualify as robots,
but there is general agreement among experts and the public that robots tend to do some
or all of the following: move around, operate a mechanical limb, sense and manipulate
their environment, and exhibit intelligent behavior, especially behavior which mimics
humans or other animals.
A gynoid, or robot designed to TOPIO, a humanoid robot A U.S. Marine Corps technician prepares to
resemble a woman, can appear developed by TOSY that can play use a telerobot to detonate a buried
comforting to some people and ping-pong improvised explosive device
disturbing to others
What can we expect from the future? A world where humans and avatars interact using
different technologies in different environments. We’ll work, study, live, buy, play (even
make love ?) connected with electronic devices that enhance our reality and give us the
opportunity to interact with “reality” made from a mix of humans, artificial intelligences
and automatic models.
List of Virtual Worlds platforms
Delta 3D http://www.delta3d.org
The Metaverse Project http://metaverse.sourceforge.net
Paperworld 3D http://paperworld3d.com
Project Darkstar http://projectdarkstar.com
Proprietary - These are products which must be purchased or licensed
Blink 3-D http://www.pelicancrossing.com
ESP: Microsoft ESP http://www.microsoft.com/esp
Virtual Worlds Online (collected from http://vworld.fas.org/wiki/Category:Virtual_Worlds)
A Tale in the Desert HiPiHi Resilient Planet
A World of My Own IMVU Rohan Online
ALFY IP Runescape
AWEDU ISTE Island SchMOOze University
Abyss Museum of Ocean Science InfoIsland, Librarians in Second Life Sciland Virtual Continent
Activeworlds International Schools Island Second Life
AdventureQuest Worlds International Spaceport Museum Second earth
Agape World Fellowship Island of Svarga Shores of Hazeron
Age of Conan Ivory Tower of Prims Silk Road Online
Age of Reckoning Jo Jo Fit Slenz Project
Ai Sp@ce Jokaydia Sloodle project
Alien Adoption Agency Kaneva Smartycard
Barbie Girls Kids world Sociolotron
Beanie Babies 2.0 Kidscom Sociotown
Bella Sara Kingsage Spineworld
Biointeractive Lineage II SportsBLOX
Blue Mars Literature Alive Star Trek Online
Build-a-Bearville Lively Stardoll
Chaos Online Maple Story Taatu
Citypixel Matrix Online Tapped In
Club BK MeetMe Terra Incognita
Club Penguin Metaplace The Imaging Place
Creating Music Millsberry The Lord of the Rings Online
Cybertown MinyanLand The Manor
DDM collective in Second Life Mokitown The Palace
Digital perfection Moo Canada Eh? The Saga of Ryzom
Discovery Education Network in SL Moove The exploratorium
Dizzywood Moshi Monsters There
Dofus Multiverse Timeline of Earth
Dubit MyMiniLife Toontown
EVE Online MyNOGGIN Tower Chat
Edusim NOAA Island Twinity
Eeko World Neopets UC Davis Virtual Hallucination Facility
English Village New Media Consortium Campus UWorld
Entropia Universe Nicktropolis VPChat
Etopia Village OGame VSide
EverQuest I OSGrid Virtual Alamo
EverQuest II Ohio University Second Life Campus Virtual Family Kingdom
Fantage OpenCroquet Virtual Milano
Final Fantasy XI OpenLife Virtual Morocco
Flyff OurWorld Virtual Philadelphia
Fould Whispering, Strange Matters Pandanda Vizwoz
Free Realms Panfu Weather Channel
Freggers Pixie Hollow Webkinz
GTown Playdo Weblo
Gaia Online PolyU Resort Island WeeWorld
Genome Island Poptropica Why Robbie Rocks
Global Kids on the Main Grid Project Wonderland Whyville
Guild Wars Quest Atlantis Wirtland
Habbo Hotel RIDEMAKERZ Hybrid World World of Warcraft
Handipoints Ragnarok Online Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates
HealthInfo Island Rainbow MOO Zookazoo
Hello Kitty Online Reactiongrid Zwinktopia
Avatars in elearning
Avatars can be used by classroom teachers when designing digital stories or delivering content.
Avatars can be tour guides to explain travels, or represent real life characters like Mark Twain to
give a lecture. Most avatars are known as “bots” and are powered by Natural Language
Processing. Some avatars like Crazy Talk allows users to record natural voiceovers along with
secondary sound recording like music. Avatars like MASH (Microsoft Agent Scripting Helper) allow
the user to program characters within a lesson. They can be used to define terms, give directions
to an activity or reinforce content. Avatars can also be integrated into PowerPoint presentations
and whiteboard lessons.
Virtual Teachers, educational presenters and tutors can have a new face, available 24 hours a day,
365 days of the year, with the same happy disposition, virtual, animated, delivering content in
context. Virtual Teachers can be available in different forms, ages, sexes and even fantasy. The
flexibility is endless. Education creators can concentrate on the subject matter and choose the
ideal Virtual Tutor to assist in the process.
When information is available on the student’s schedule and accommodates the student’s needs,
we know that retention is improved, and "lean back" education can be effortlessly absorbed.
There is nothing more powerful than the spoken word when it comes to delivering complex ideas
or facts. Literature assignment can be delivered in context and even brain teasing science and
math education can become more precise when you have the help of a virtual tutor that has the
power of "voice". Un-attended education across the web or operated locally makes virtual
education delivery highly effective and manageable.
Many training and formal educational environment incorporate media within their presentations
and educational content, and it's not by accident. The ability to concentrate on content and its
compelling and memorable delivery is the reason that Virtual Teachers and Tutors are common
place in the corporate stratosphere and junior schools alike, because compelling, animated virtual
teachers can give results in a planned and precise manner, and achievements can be accelerated
at all learning levels. A standard PowerPoint presentation with graphs, facts, and images is nice
enough, but add a virtual teacher to the mix and you now have a new breed of educational
Learning with Avatars and http://egl-microsoft.spaces.live.com/
Digital Learning Objects
Create your own avatar! http://www.zwinky.com/
Professor Avatar http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/10/16/conway
The future of Avatars – Transmit or create the thought?
Starting with the juxtaposition between pre- and post-darwinism, the link between these opposite
thesis can be represented from the “ability to produce thoughts”. In that way we define (reducing
it only apparently) our analysis.
In that way we define a precise property (intelligence) that is the ability to modify, adapting itself
the correct way, to the cognitive environment in which it interacts. This is true for humans, not-
humans and machines.
Post-Humanism transcends Darwinism and speculates on hybridization between humans and
machines (or rather between biological organisms and cybernetic devices) that eventually
assumes a supremacy of the technological machine over humans (in 2001 Odyssey in the space
“HAl 9000” has as an important a task as the other members of the crew, even if limited in his final
Starting from a web search, analyzing the information of Shannon and Weaver (independence of
the information from the real transport medium), across the Turing test (simulation from the
machine of human behavior based on a computational model), we arrive at the conclusion that if
the mind in only information (a configuration of bit), it must be possible to move it from a physical
support to another one. The idea of transferring our mind into a computer is similar to the one of
Norbert Wiener, one of the fathers of cybernetics, that in 1950 imagined the possibility to send a
person using a telegraph.
This dream is part of the techno-optimistic theories called posthumans or transhumans. They
imagine the transformation of the humanity in trans- or post-humanity, in accordance with the
development of biotechnologies and nanotechnologies, looking at the human species as the first
step of a new era in the evolution post-darwinism, derived from the human species as well: “a sort
of continuing consciousness to the cyborg”.
The work of Katherine Hayles, We Became Posthuman (1999) is interesting because the cybernetic
techno-optimistic concepts are not far from the dual body-mind concept of the rational modern
tradition and she proposes them as technological transcendence.
Hayles confirms the separation between support and information, developing his thoughts from
classic cybernetics (centered on the concept of homeostasis) and then analyzing cybernetics
centered on autopoietic systems (according with the theories of Humberto R. Maturana and
Francisco J. Varela). This work demostrates how in virtual realms, consciousness is a property of
complex systems and that computer software is designed to develop autonomously that way.
In this perspective, Hayles defend the corporeality of humans, supporting the idea that the human
consciousness it's different form the one that can be obtained from thinking machines because is
not possible to leave aside the embodiment.
Previously we wrote about “2001 odissey in the space”, as an example of anticipation and a new
kind of cinematographic vision. A brand new movie actually in the cinema is:
AVATAR by James Cameron, 20th Century fox,USA, 2009
PLOT OF AVATAR: The story’s protagonist, Jake Sully is a former Marine who was wounded
and paralyzed from the waist down in combat on Earth. Jake is selected to participate in the
Avatar program, which will enable him to walk. Jake travels to Pandora, a lush jungle-covered
extraterrestrial moon filled with incredible life forms, some beautiful, many terrifying. Pandora
is also home to the Navi, a sentient humanoid race that are more physically capable than
humans, although considered primitive. Standing three meters tall, with tails and sparkling blue
skin, the Navi live in harmony with their unspoiled world. As humans encroach deeper into
Pandora's forests in search of valuable minerals, the Navi unleash their formidable warrior
abilities to defend their threatened existence. Jake has unwittingly been recruited to become
part of this encroachment. Since humans are unable to breathe the air on Pandora, they have
created genetically-bred human-Navi hybrids known as Avatars. The Avatars are living,
breathing bodies that are controlled by a human "driver" through a technology that links the
driver's mind to their Avatar body. On Pandora, through his Avatar body, Jake can be whole
once again. Jake finds himself caught between the military-industrial forces of Earth, and the
Navi, forcing him to choose sides in an epic battle that will decide the fate of an entire world.
Actually Avatars are not only a way to identify ourselves in a rolegame but true extensions of our
personality that soon will live an independent life from us, them creators.