Virtual World Watch: past, present and future

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A summary of Virtual World Watch activities, midway through the first year of funded service activity.

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  • Okay; some slides on Virtual World Watch - how we got here, who we are, and where we are going.
  • The way things have emerged, VWW is going to be a five year (minimum) arc of virtual world reporting, and other activities. This five year arc is split into three phases.
  • First phase; how it all kicked off.
  • Myself (John Kirriemuir) and Andy Powell go waaaay back. Here we are, as part of the “Bright young things” team working at UKOLN (www.ukoln.ac.uk) in the mid 1990.
    After a few more jobs, I got bored of attending meetings in universities and went self-employed, while Andy went to run the Eduserv Foundation, the research offshoot of Eduserv (www.eduserv.org.uk).
    There’s a lesson here, wannabe self-employed people: never burn your bridges. And also keep your old contacts.
  • In late 2006 and the spring of 2007 Andy was having a look at Second Life in relation to research work funding at Eduserv.
    I kept hearing about Second Life, but a few brief forays inside were just meh. I then met up with Aleks Krotoski (journalist, PhD student, TV games presenter, unbelievably cool person) who showed me the stuff she had created in Second Life. That was my “Aha!” moment.
  • Andy and Pete at the Eduserv Foundation, and myself discussed SL. We couldn’t get a handle on who was doing what in UK academia, or the extent of activities.
    The Foundation paid me to go and find things and do a small report on it. Finding UK academic stuff proved to be very difficult at first, but it came together (eventually). And lo, the first snapshot was born.
    The reaction was unexpected. It turned out that academics who wanted to do things in Second Life, but were being obstructed within their institution, were using the snapshot to prove that things were happening elsewhere.
    So we did an update of the first snapshot, which became snapshot 2, and another one the following spring. In between, the Foundation hosted an online meeting to try and nail the issue of how to measure how “useful” Second Life was in education.
  • The Eduserv Foundation got heavily into this. They held a symposium (pictured), held in Second Life and the Real World, which was over-subscribed and generated a tremendous amount of backchat in SL.
    They also put out funding calls which resulted in astonishing numbers of applications from UK academia, further proving that there was a lot of interest in virtual world activities in the sector. The foundation accepted funding bids in either the real world ... or second life.
    They were also great to work with. No overpresriptive procedures, fast payment by BACS, and above all no pointless meetings. Any meets we did have were done online and in-world. Very cheap, convenient, and we helped save the polar bears or something by not jetting to each other.
  • The Eduserv Foundation and I talked a lot more, and they decided to fund Virtual World Watch for a year from October 15th 2008 to October 14th 2008. So this is phase two.
    This is not a fantastically expensive service; it’s just me, doing stuff part time. But yay for funding anyway! And thanks, Eduserv Foundation.
  • From hundreds of email conversations, phone calls, survey responses et al, it boils down to eight things which UK academic virtual world developers want or need.
    Virtual World Watch can’t do most of them. But what it can do in this phase is provide some evidence and proof, point academics to various other things, and put academics in contact with each other.
  • The backbone of Virtual World Watch remains the snapshots, of which five are planned for during the year. The timescales have shifted slightly, but the dates on this slide should be accurate.
  • It’s not just the snapshots. In this phase, the VWW service is committed to a few other reports. All reports will be available from the website.
  • There’s a website to make all this stuff accessible from one place. The issue of how to disseminate VWW activities turned out to be a major one. Monolithic reports are good for people who like stuff in the “traditional” way, but maybe not so good for some academics who have more focused, fragmented, needs.
  • So many ways to disseminate ... so little time. And deciding on the best method to disseminate (To whom? And what do they want to know?) is a recurring issue. An emerging roadshow of conferences and events meant that VWW get or got to speak to four UK audiences in the Spring of 2009.
    Other media such as Flickr, Twitter and a Facebook group have been set up, but not used to a significant degree yet.
  • Almost as an afterthought, VWW started doing a weekly podcast. Despite having zero experience of doing this (and it shows in the sound quality of early episodes), it’s become a staple of the service audience. Interviews are kept short, are informal, and are with UK academics doing stuff in virtual worlds.
  • On the VWW website you’ll see a resources directory. It’s currently empty, apart from the podcasts. Over the next few months, VWW will start to fill it with annotated links to various media of interest, and use, to UK academic virtual world developers.
    This will hopefully give them easier access to “stuff” that makes their life easier, especially academics still having to build a case for doing things in virtual worlds.
  • Doing all these snapshots means that lots of data has been accumulated. Unfortunately, it’s in a hodge podge of formats. But, it’s still all there and is usable. So an extra task will be to extract evidence-based trends from the data pile.
  • Funding from the Eduserv Foundation ends on October 14th 2009. So what happens in the the next phase, a planned two and a half years of the five year arc.
  • Why am I committing to this for another quarter of a decade, especially with no absolute sources of funding in place?
  • Currently, VWW is mulling over getting some virtual land. This will give an extra dimension to the dissemination of content, and provide some more experience of actually building “stuff” in virtual worlds. This is currently at the planning stage and will appear later in 2009.
  • More snapshots, but spaced out to be six months apart. These will still form the backbone of the output of the VWW service. It is possible that the focus will gradually become more on virtual worlds in general and less on Second Life, but that depends on take-up in academia.
  • There are quite a few uncertainties, not just with virtual worlds, but in associated technologies that can move quite quickly. These will affect what gets researched, and how the research results are disseminated. There’s three years to go in the five year arc; looking back three years ago from now - had you heard of Twitter?
  • Ah, funding. How’s this going to pay for itself? I have to put food on the table, clothes on my avatar, tunes in my iPhone, so where will the income come from?
  • It will be a mixed funding model; part of what will make VWW interesting is seeing how a service can best fund itself.
    One thing VWW won’t do is get itself welded to an income source which restricts what issues it can investigate, or has to compromise on the work for fear of upsetting a funder.
  • It’s either a brave person or a fool who will try and predict the state of technology, especially in education, three years from now. So I’m not going to. Aren’t we all supposed to be living on giant spaceships orbiting Mars by then, or something, anyway?
  • Pictures used in these slides. My thanks to the picture owners.
  • And some more pictures. And that’s it!
  • Virtual World Watch: past, present and future

    1. 1. VViirrttuuaall WWoorrlldd WWaattcchh Past, present and future
    2. 2. Why this? April 15th 2009 marks the halfway point in the one year funding of Virtual World Watch by Eduserv. But what has been done? And what will be done? And what’s the future for Virtual World Watch...
    3. 3. The five year arc Seeing Virtual World Watch as a five year arc from Spring 2007 to Spring 2012. Virtual world use in UK HE and FE. Trend tracking. Practice and proof dissemination. Issues-based lobbying.
    4. 4. PPrree--OOccttoobbeerr ’’0088
    5. 5. UUKKOOLLNN 11999977 John (3rd, back row), Andy (6th, back row).
    6. 6. Checking out SL Andy: Taking a look, seeing the educational potential. John: Occasional games researcher and open-minded sceptic. Shown round SL by Aleks Krotoski (right); “Aha!” moment.
    7. 7. Reports, event logs Snapshot 1: July ’07. Snapshot 2: Sept ’07. Measuring the impact of SL: March ’08. Snapshot 3: May ’08.
    8. 8. Eduserv Foundation Put out several calls for research funding proposals, which led to many UK HE applications. Held split-world very busy symposium on SL matters. Great people to work with. No meetings, informal, quick payment by BACS.
    9. 9. OOccttoobbeerr ’’0088 -- ’’0099
    10. 10. What academics want IT services making it work. Easier access to proof. (Paid) work time to build stuff, not 1 in the morning. Free “stuff” they can use to quickly build their “stuff”. Contact with other academics doing the same. Greater control, autonomy, security of what they do. Integration with other tools and services.
    11. 11. Snapshots Snapshot 4: October ’08. Snapshot 5: February ’09. Snapshot 6: May ’09. Snapshot 7: August ’09. Snapshot 8: October ’09.
    12. 12. Other reports Second Life and alternative virtual worlds (1): May ’09. Virtual world research themes: August ’09. Second Life and alternative virtual worlds (2): Oct ’09.
    13. 13. Website www.virtualworldwatch.net Placeholder for snapshots, past, present and future. And other reports. And ... stuff. Constantly being defined.
    14. 14. Podcasts Started in January ’09. “Start the Week” every monday morning. Mainly UK academic developers. Quality improving with technology and experience. Strange cult following.
    15. 15. Resource directory To try and answer the “Easier access” request from academics. Annotated gateway to resources (retro!). Rolling out over the next few months, then keeping up to date.
    16. 16. We haz data LOL! Side benefit of snapshots. An increasing pile of data, albeit in different formats and unmapped. Humming and haa-ing about what to do with it. And how to extract trends.
    17. 17. OOcctt ’’0099 -- AApprr ’’1122
    18. 18. Why 2.5 years more? Virtual worlds aren’t going to go away. The perfect storm: Broadband is getting faster, more ubiquitous. PC / Mac specifications are getting better; virtual worlds are getting better. More uses, success stories, in education. Lots of data already in the bag. More data = more analysis. Complex contact network built up; shame to waste it. Experiments in running a service virtually.
    19. 19. Planning an island Experimentations in dissemination. More experience in design. Convenient place to interview, chat to academics. Not cheap, are they? Have to make it worthwhile.
    20. 20. Further snapshots Need to keep quality control high for credibility. Snapshot 9: April ’10. Snapshot 10: October ’10. Snapshot 11: April ’11. Snapshot 12: October ’11. Snapshot 13: April ’12.
    21. 21. Issue based work Aspects of virtual world use in the UK academic sector. Further investigations, resulting ephemera. Dissemination. Lobbying - media, funding bodies, academic bodies.
    22. 22. Uncertainties Emerging technologies for virtual world integration, communication, for dissemination (re: rapid rise of Twitter). Which virtual worlds will wax and wane in UK academia.
    23. 23. “Congratulations on your funding! So what’s your exit strategy?” Chris Rusbridge, eLib project managers workshop, Warwick, 1997
    24. 24. Mixed funding model Research funding (cheap; I haz no institutional overheads LOL). e-book sales. Donations. Affiliate streams. Experiments in real, virtual income generation.
    25. 25. Then what? (Shrug) dunno. Who knows what kind of a world(s) we will be in by Spring 2012? Will decide around the start of 2012.
    26. 26. Pictures Art Fossett at Annabeth’s Art Gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/artfossett/2599132625/ Eduserv Foundation Symposium: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rooreynolds/493815619/ Aleks Krotoski: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toastkid/3391152920/ Discussion table: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23396182@N00/2477569686/ Manchester Business School: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24220989@N03/3368033094/ University of Ulster SLOODLE: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33422226@N04/3401027735/ Communicating results: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23396182@N00/2422280603/
    27. 27. More pictures Eduserv Symposium: http://www.flickr.com/photos/silversprite/492317408/ Eduserv island meeting pod: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andypowe11/353671431/ Annabeth’s oceanside apartment: http://www.flickr.com/photos/annamorphic/3104565954/ The Collective - student work: http://www.flickr.com/photos/annamorphic/2628106914/ Art Dollar: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andypowe11/1142157613/ George the whale: http://www.flickr.com/photos/annamorphic/2703783936/

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