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August 03, 2007

Second Life's digital desert

There is a good article over at Wired on the corporate colonization of Second Life. But some of the criticisms here are highly relevant to education, and its own "land grab".

The key observations come at the end of the article:

..."The simple model they all grew up with" - the 30-second spot, delivered through the mass reach of television - "is no longer working. And there are two types of people out there: a small group that's experimenting thoughtfully, and a large group that's trying the next thing to come through the door." Second Life appeals to the latter...

and:

For people who've grown up in analog, Second Life is not that hard to understand," says Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo, a consulting arm of the global ad giant Publicis Groupe. "I have a store in the real world; I have a store in the virtual world." In contrast, the kind of digital marketing that actually works requires a conceptual leap [...] Building a corporate pavilion in Second Life doesn't require any of these things. It's simple and it's obvious.

I have a concern that these two excerpts describe all too well the sudden surge of educator interests - and projects - in SL. Its easier to understand than the complicated interconnectedness of the web. SL users can only visit one "site" at a time, and progress around it at analog speed, rather than go sifting a hundred feeds or zip between social networks and blogs. Where the web today encourages a mode of work and play which is massively parallel and digital, SL is sequential and analog.

Its very limitations - artificially imposed from its metaphor and some lazy software architecture - are what are appealling, not what it possibly extends.

I'm not against educators and researchers experimenting in SL, but I would encourage a more thoughtful approach. For example, a serious understanding of social software, feeds, and learning 2.0 technology is harder to achieve than grokking SL, but I think its important to do this before looking into SL. Then maybe we'll see less of this nonsense of 3D avatars sitting on virtual chairs in virtual lecture theatres.

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