The photo above was taken at last night's TechSoup Mixed Reality Event. The live video feed was being streamed from the Netsquared gathering in San Francisco happening at the same time as the virtual gatherng in Second Life. Jeska Linden, Community Manager for Linden Labs, has the mike in her hand, while her avatar is behind the podium in Second Life. In-world speakers from nonprofits who spoke about their work included Evonne Heyning from Camp Darfur, Barry Joseph from Global Kids, Lori Bell from the Library Alliance, and Marc Sirkin from LLS.
TechSoup's Virtual Office space was pretty busy last night, hosting an earlier mixed reality event in Cambridge and SL, featuring Pathfinder Linden, head of educational activities for SL. Pathfinder gave a presentation to a small group in Cambridge, while his audio (some of the time) was streamed into Second Life along with his Powerpoint Slides.
Both events had their share of clunkiness ... that didn't last long or ruin the event. These moments when the audio stream was dropping in and out, a video and audio lag time between the 2 worlds of 15-45 seconds (adding some confusion), feedback and distorted sound quality, and a chaotic chat stream. Last night's event brought back memories for me - of what it was like 13 years ago doing demonstrations at nonprofit conferences about online communities for arts organizations. You're not going to have perfection when it is a experiment! Well, I guess I just can't resist a pioneer's spirit, what can I say? Here's a few reflections from people in the room.
Second Life requires a significant time investment to appreciate the potential. A time investment of more than a few hours .... And, it helps to be guided or you will ask what's the point? As Jeska Linden, Community Manager, for Linden Labs, said in her recent interview with me, "This isn't for all nonprofits."
What has been going on here is experimentation to understand the possibilities and potential of virtual worlds as an educational, instructional, therapeutic, marketing, and/or collaboration medium. There are approximately 320 individuals on the Second World Education list as well as 20 colleges/universities that have built virtual campuses (including Harvard's Berkman Center), and are offering educational activities in world, most notablely the New Media Consortium. The educators are asking and researching, "What does the extra effort of working in this immersive environment get you, concretely, in learning outcomes?"
It's a variation on that question that pioneering nonprofits will ask and answer too. There are approximately 20 plus organizations with a presence in SL and many individuals from nonprofits doing some exploration. (Based on the TechSoup Second Life Group stats). A Museum group is also forming to discuss and explore what museum's can do in SL.
So back to last night's events. Prior to attending a mixed-reality event, I experienced several exclusively "in-world" events. The first was lecture and discussion at the Berkman Center's virtual island on Avatar Marketing based on the article written by a HBS professor. I found it more engaging than participating in a hosted chat discussion and watching text stream across the screen. One of the things that produces cognitive overload for me in SL, is the chat screen and the typing sound -- and this was avoided by asking people to IM their questions and not to "chat" during the presentations. I also turned off my audio.
The next event I attended was a poster session at the New Media Consortium where you view project posters in the virtual world. If you clicked on the poster, you could view a web page or receive a text document describing the project (these were educational technology projects such as "Using Wikis To Promote Student Learning.") I walked around the space and chatted with the avatar who was the human involved in the project. I've been able to connect with well-known people in the educational tech field and have a conversation with them ..
After the session, I toured the Aho Museum, an exhibit created as an experiment by the Aho Museum, juxaposing real world art with second life where I got to climb onto a Caulder scuplture. And, finally I attended a session with in-world documentary filmmakers who screened some of their works, and discussed filmmaking techniques, another fascinating moderated chat sesson.
Getting back to the Mixed Reality Events -- while there was the coolness factor -- and I was behind the scenes on a group skype call providing directions to the speakers and synching with the moderator of the Real Life Event -- there needs to be ways to make the back and forth discussion smoother. The speakers presentations should also be available in the web or as text files or have someone who can hear the audio stream clearly type in a transcript as is done for backchannels for blogger conferences. Also, we should ask people not to take photos or chat during the presentations as the sound of cameras snapping made the audio hard to hear.
In summary, I feel strongly that there is a lot of potential here and worth exploring. Susan Tenby has written up her observations about the event and places to improve. And, if you have a pioneering spirit like me, you won't be able to resist! I can wait to see what comes out of these experiments. So, join us at the next in-world meeting.