Sep 022014

VHA Building

Episode 22 of The Drax Files World Makers – Virtual Health Adventures, has caught me somewhat by surprise as I thought the final edit was being published today, with the actual episode going live tomorrow. This is all my own fault as we can see from the blog post from Linden Lab, sponsors of the series and from the excellent review of the episode from Inara Pey, others understood that the final edit meant it would be published today! I’ll embed the video at the end of the post.

This episode deals with usage of virtual worlds, why their immersive nature can be far more productive than a traditional website and it even exemplifies people using The Oculus Rift for even greater immersion. Pay careful attention to that because you’ll see how that issue of where the keyboard is, is a very real issue when you’re using The Oculus Rift. However also pay attention to how important the immersive environment is to this episode and of course The Oculus Rift can help to make an environment even more immersive. The main theme however is one that people probably don’t associate with a virtual world such as Second Life, that theme is working with amputees to assist them to overcome emotional trauma.

Sandra L. Winkler, assistant professor at NOVA University in Florida, who teaches occupational therapy says :

“Second Life is the perfect place for amputees to overcome emotional trauma by sharing stories and realizing they are not alone!” 

Dr Winkler, who unlike her namesake Henry, hasn’t yet jumped the shark, is working on a three year study funded by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That study is roughly halfway through its three years and whereas Dr Winkler admits that at this stage it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions from their current work, she does feel that the virtual world environment combined with new technology is a significant next step in tele-healthcare.

Dr Winkler’s research is aided in Second Life by the development work in virtual worlds of Virtual Ability Inc. who have long had a presence in Second Life.

Admiring Scenery

In the episode we see amputees embracing the virtual world and going through exercises as well as putting a virtual wheelchair into a virtual car. There is scientific evidence that this sort of process does indeed help people to be able to transfer these skills to the real world and this was something we also saw in The Drax Files: World Makers Episode 13: Creations for Parkinson’s.

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Aug 282014

I’ve recently suggested that Second Life Should Cut The Facebook Cord due to the fact that Facebook is not Second Life avatar friendly. Back in July I suggested that Linden Lab Should Embrace Google+. This was based on the fact that Google + had changed their naming policy to one where people can now use any name they like. Prior to that Google + required you to use a name you were known as, which did allow Second Life avatars to have a presence of sorts, but was still a grey area. There’s no real grey area with Facebook, they want people to use their real name only for accounts.

A good way for Linden Lab to encourage people to embrace the better fit of Google + would be for them to include their Google + page in their connect with us or follow us sections on their website. The Google + page isn’t as popular as the official Facebook page but has had over 4 million views, which is none too shabby.

However like Second Life in virtual world terms, Facebook is where it’s at in terms of social networking. Personally I’m not a fan, I mean I’m really really not a fan. However I do have a Facebook Page. Why do I have a Facebook page? Well because it’s not a breach of Facebook’s terms of service to do so, whereas using my Second Life name as a Facebook account is a breach of the Facebook TOS.

Many Second Life users have tried to use Facebook under their Second Life name and many have found themselves having their accounts deleted, due to that TOS breach. So if you absolutely must use Facebook with your Second Life name, then create a Facebook page for your avatar.

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Aug 172014

Facebook has never been a good fit for Second Life users, whereas other social networks such as Twitter and now Google + have no objection to people having accounts with their Second Life names, Facebook has stuck rigidly to it’s real name policy. Obviously this policy is somewhat flawed in as much as there’s no real authentication of those real names, but it remains a poor fit.

Yes there are plenty of people who are happy to use their real name Facebook accounts and link them to their Second Life accounts, but it remains a Second Life unfriendly domain. Now comes news that Facebook have donated $10,000 to a politician who is fighting gay marriage.

Facebook made the donation in May to Utah attorney general Sean Reyes and have defended their decision, in a statement to the Huffington Post they said :

Facebook has a strong record on LGBT issues and that will not change, but we make decisions about which candidates to support based on the entire portfolio of issues important to our business, not just one. A contribution to a candidate does not mean that we agree with every policy or position that candidate takes. We made this donation for the same reason we’ve donated to Attorneys General on the opposite side of this issue — because they are committed to fostering innovation and an open Internet.

There is some merit in that statement, many of us will vote for political parties with whom we disagree with on certain issues. However gay marriage is quite a big ticket item to be overlooking in favour of a so called open internet. Facebook’s defence of their support is extremely mealy mouthed and does them very little credit.

However the wider point is that Linden Lab should be promoting Second Life on networks that are more Second Life friendly than Facebook. Indeed Linden Lab have their own outlets such as the blog and Second Life profiles in which they should be communicating with Second Life users.

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Jul 212014

Book Island Landing Zone

Book Island isn’t new to Second Life, it has been around since 2007 and claims to be the oldest dedicated literary sim in Second Life. They’ve recently welcomed back a renter by the name of V.L. Dreyer who is the author of The Survivors series of books.

The sim exemplifies what virtual worlds do well, community, it’s clear that there’s community work here with events advertised for a 500 word writing challenge, Open Mic where you or one of the regulars can read in voice, live literature where one of Second Life’s regular live performers reads.

Then there are events aimed at writers, such as an Improv writers challenge and writers chat. There’s also something called Promptly Erotic, which you will have to ask Freda Frostbite about!

I’ve seen communities such as this inside and outside of Second Life. Earlier in the year I took a trip to Opensim to look at the Hypergrid Stories Project. Indeed this community were so nice that even though Second Life isn’t part of the Hypergrid, it was included in the Hypergrid stories project!

One of the reasons for that is of course related to Second Life having an audience that it worth engaging with. This point arose recently in my blog post about Seanchai’s discussion of Second Life and Kitely. The discussion in the comments is quite interesting as we see that authors in particular are not happy with Linden Lab’s TOS but they still want to engage with Second Life.

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Jul 162014

The big news of course is the change of the Second Life Terms of Service, particularly the section regarding user generated content in section 2.3 : Updates to Section 2.3 of the Terms of Service. However I already have plans for blog posts today so that’s going to have to wait!

Instead I’m going to take a look at a positive change Google+ have announced that users will now be able to use any name they like on the service .. as long as it’s a first name last name combination, isn’t full of profanity and isn’t an obvious attempt to impersonate someone else. The post states :

Over the years, as Google+ grew and its community became established, we steadily opened up this policy, from allowing +Page owners to use any name of their choosing to letting YouTube users bring their usernames into Google+. Today, we are taking the last step: there are no more restrictions on what name you can use.

This is a very sensible move, albeit a few years late but it also provides the creators of virtual worlds, such as Linden Lab, a platform on which they can advertise their wares and their users can engage with them, without fear of having their accounts deleted for running foul of a real name policy, such as Facebook have.

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Jul 032014

When Flickr launched their new awesome last May I was far from impressed, indeed I pondered at one point whether Yahoo/Flickr were trolling their members. I wasn’t alone in this sort of view, as the official feedback demonstrated.

After this Flickr made more changes, changed groups, changed the layout of the photostream, changed colours, moved things around and generally seemed to be going out of their way to annoy me with their totally unnecessary bandwidth hogging designs and practices.  As someone who is used to the Second Life experience and realises how unnecessary bandwidth hogging textures can undermine the user experience I was somewhat befuddled as to why Flickr were abandoning the thumbnail.

Putting this in Second Life terms, think of the initial rollout of viewer 2 and you may start to understand the horror I experienced. The big difference has been that Linden Lab were far more responsive than Flickr in terms of trying to get back on track.

However a few iterations later and Flickr seem to be showing signs of seeing a limited degree of sense with regards to their new Photo page. The new photo experience, or NPE as it is being dubbed, has been very warmly received. Flickr staff explained some of the thinking behind this latest change :

Because of the feedback from you, we’re moving the photo page in a direction that more closely resembles previous iterations of the product, but with contemporary design and the new framework that delivers photos so much faster than before.

These are the most important issues we have fixed from your feedback:
*Moving too much information to the right rail on the side of the photo.
*The narrow space for comments on photos that have lots of comments makes it hard to scroll and read them.
*The white text on black background makes it hard to read.

Now not everyone will like the changes, just as there were some people who liked the Flickr changes last May … I suspect these people may well be gluttons for punishment or members of the Flickr FIC (Yes it does exist), but some people liked the changes. The new photo page offers a fresher look, has comments below the photo and they are easy to read, the flow of photo, discussion, information all seems to fit together better with this design.

This is all very encouraging but Flickr is still a lot more annoying to use than it was prior to the changes of last May.

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Jun 182014

In my previous blog post I bemoaned the fact that Linden Lab’s SL11B competition was exclusive to Facebook. Pete Linden (AKA Gray Of The Lab from San Francisco) has very kindly explained some of the reasoning behind the decision, and he didn’t even use the telegram system to send the message :

We realize that a number of Second Life users have reservations about using Facebook and other platforms. In this case, we chose to run the contest through our Facebook page simply because we have a tool on our page that facilitates running a contest with all of the legal stuff (technical term) we need in place to run something like this, and we thought it would be of interest to the more than 366,000 followers of the official Second Life page. Our aim certainly isn’t to discourage participation, and we’ll certainly explore alternative ways to run similar contests in the future.

I’ve commented elsewhere that I don’t actually object to Linden Lab running competitions exclusively on Facebook, I just don’t think that a birthday competition should be exclusive to Facebook. However I went through all that in my previous post, so it’s probably best not to go over that ground again.

Now to be fair to The Lab here, there are legal issues surrounding competitions and submissions. This is why there are a few Second Life group pools on Flickr. An official one was setup because the other main one, didn’t quite give Linden Lab the terms and conditions that they wanted for their promotional aims. This was the right thing to do for all parties involved in the Flickr pools.

Facebook offers the facilities for LL to run a competition easily, we can agree or disagree with their decision to use Facebook but there is some logic in this decision.

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Jun 172014

Linden Lab have been doing a lot right lately in terms of community engagement and they deserve much credit for that. However it is inevitable that at some point they’re going to miss the mark at some point and so it turns out with Second Life’s 11th Birthday: Celebrating Your Second Life L$10,000 Contest.

A 10,000 Linden Dollar prize is not bad for a snapshot contest, but there’s a hitch and the hitch comes with the method of entry :

Participation is easy – submit your celebratory snapshots from inworld to the contest page on our Official Second Life Facebook Page. Click the contest tab, review the contest information and rules and start sharing. This year you will be able to submit up to one snapshot a day for the duration of the contest. Full rules, submission and voting dates, and details are all on the Facebook page.

Facebook, really? I’ve made no secret in the past that I’m not a big fan of Facebook. This is largely due to their absurd policies regarding pseudonyms and that really gets emphasised here because people who know others by their Second Life username may not know them by their real name, and why should they? They are different circles.

Facebook has a history of deleting accounts that use their Second Life user name, as Hamlet Au over at New World Notes reported back in May 2011. This is Facebook’s call as using your Second Life account name as a Facebook account (rather than Facebook page) is a breach of the Facebook TOS. No real argument from me about that, Facebook’s rules. Personally I think it’s a silly rule that dilutes social networking opportunities, but it’s Facebook’s call to do this.

Facebook can play a part in promoting a platform and I don’t blame Linden Lab for embracing Facebook, promoting Second Life on non Second Life properties is a very sensible idea but it’s really not the place to be running a community wide 11th birthday competition.

Linden Lab could allow entries on my Second Life or their Flickr page (you have to be signed in to Flickr to view that for some reason), or their own forums, Tumblr,  Google + too. Hey they may even want to allow entries on Facebook, but it should not be the only place to enter the contest.

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Apr 172014

Metareality Podcast has returned to the airwaves … well it returned in March but I’ve only just noticed! The third episode in the return was released on April 11th. The good news here is that now we can get an Anchorman style fight between Metareality Podcast and The Drax Files, although as Metareality Podcast has a three person team they won’t be allowed to use William Reed Seal-Foss whom I strongly suspect is really Dr Octopus, which would make the fight unfair anyway!

Also they possibly should do transfers between the presenters. Drax has been on Metareality before, so maybe Jo Yardley could go on Metareality and Qarl could do a guest spot on The Drax Files. Reed would have to stay on Metareality, as I’ve already explained, being Dr Octopus comes with complications.

There’s certainly room in the market for both of these podcasts, particularly as they cover different subjects, obviously they also cover similar subjects but the styles of the two shows are different enough to mean that listening to them both covers enough different ground for them to be worthwhile.

One of the interesting discussions in the latest Metareality podcast is a discussion about the character creation in Black Dragon Online :

This does look quite interesting and character creation is an issue for virtual worlds, but I’ve always found too much choice to be a pain too, sometimes you just want to get on with it.

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Apr 042014

Oculus VR like Valve employees so much that they are getting into the habit of making them ex Valve employees. They’ve recently added Aaron Nicholls to the team, who will apparently be working out of Bellevue R&D with Atman Binstock, who used to work for Valve and became Oculus VR chief architecht in March. A year earlier and Tom Forsyth had started the trend of being ex Valve, now Oculus.

Then of course there is Michael Abrash, who is the new Oculus VR chief scientist and used to work for Valve. In the blog post welcoming Michael Abrash to Oculus VR Michael gets more than a little excited about the possibilities of the future of virtual reality. A little too excited to be honest, but you’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you going to have a dream come true. The problem of course about dreams about virtual reality is that in traditional fiction and film, they are more like nightmares than dreams.

In the blog post Michael says :

Sometime in 1993 or 1994, I read Snow Crash, and for the first time thought something like the Metaverse might be possible in my lifetime.

The good thing about the blog post is that it attempts to move the discussion away from the murky acquisition and back to the concept of virtual reality. This is a noble and important move because the technology trumps the controversy. Michael says:

You get the idea. We’re on the cusp of what I think is not The Next Big Platform, but rather simply The Final Platform – the platform to end all platforms – and the path here has been so improbable that I can only shake my head.

I have to say he sounds a little too excited there, the platform will evolve and so will the technology, the holodeck is not just around the corner and there are going to be many swings and roundabouts before people are able to truly immerse themselves in virtual worlds. However, the excitement in Michael’s post is most definitely to be welcomed, this is after all a technology people have been hoping and waiting for.

There are problems ahead, Hamlet Au over at New World Notes recently highlighted a potential problem : Does Virtual Reality Literally Make Most Women Sick? That post links to a post from Danah Boyd : Is the Oculus Rift sexist? The issue is nausea and this isn’t an off the cuff post from Danah Boyd, there’s real research there. Danah concludes that more research is needed, which is hopefully where funds for VR projects will come into play.

However with Oculus VR, there’s the Facebook angle. In most VR type stories and films, Facebook would be “The Corporation”. They wouldn’t be the good guys, they’d be the guys with power, the ones who know everyone’s secrets and use them for power and influence, so when Michael Abrash says :

That’s why I’ve written before that VR wouldn’t become truly great until some company stepped up and invested the considerable capital to build the right hardware – and that it wouldn’t be clear that it made sense to spend that capital until VR was truly great. I was afraid that that Catch-22 would cause VR to fail to achieve liftoff.

That worry is now gone. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR – and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can.

This is where the alarm bells start ringing.

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