I met Stungthumbz when I was working on There.com, the now defunct general population virtual world. One of the most exciting projects, just getting off the ground as I left, was the University of There, a virtual campus, with growing numbers of students, classes, and affiliated institutions. Both Celia and I became big fans of Stung via his work there and with the Uru community.
When There closed, the UOT was left in the lurch. There are a number of topics that might be discussed from here, but I asked Stung to share some of his investigations into alternatives for the UOT, and for some of his very deep thinking about the future of the virtual world.
Here's his response:
The recent collapse of There instantly created a special class of refugee, the virtual university, which was developed and run by volunteers over the past six years. UOT and its staff have absolutely no intention of quitting, but they are a little wiser now.
The following are extracts from some of the posts and mails recently written by Stungthumbz, the Dean of UOT, which is currently meeting on alternate Tuesdays in MOUL and alternate Thursdays in Twinity.
I am consistently amazed at the past and present proliferation of virtual worlds. Betsy Book writes about Virtual Worlds 2008:
My own list of 2010 virtual worlds which I have reviewed includes:
www.SecondLife.com (possibly best for designers who want to sell stuff)
www.Teen.SecondLife.com (your call)
www.BlueMars.com (interesting, but primitive compared to MOUL)
www.DDO.com (Dungeons & Dragons)
http://www.ryzom.com/en/ (This just went open source. This one has to be tried to believe.)
In addition, there are two this week, which I haven’t tried yet, ProjectX and Teleplace.
Also, we have some open source projects, namely Ahra Pahts (for open source MOUL), and some open source worlds such as Real Life Plus, Metaverse, and Multiverse.
Here are some links to other ventures, mostly efforts to sell something to early adapters in the Education field. Some of these are … uh… you decide. I did not find anything I wanted (or could afford) to live in. Many thanks to Think Balm and Erica Driver for these:
I have now looked through a variety of virtual worlds (and re-visited some) in the past weeks and have settled on MOUL (Myst Online, Uru Live), Twinity, Second Life, and a world yet to be created.
In MOUL, we have a neighborhood (bevin), "UOT in MOUL", which has a classroom and conference hall. Current classes include Fiction Writing by our published author, in UOT in MOUL on Saturday afternoons. Contactloriendil@yahoo.com to sign up. Yes they do have voice. (tab key) although, for some strange traditional reason, few use it. The link is: http://mystonline.com/en/ Be advised, the download is 1.2 Gigabytes.
My reasons for choosing the MOUL venue were:
1. Nice people (and not naked, either) This is the most important. A virtual world is people, all else is pixels.
2. Best graphics
3. Good voice (although few use it, for some strange reason)
4. Great potential (the world is about to go open source with Python)
5. Nothing is trying to eat, kill or enslave me.
Having now lived through 5 "ends of the world" (MOUL twice, Black Friday in There, There final end and Olive), I am extremely comfortable in a world where one does not have to buy anything.
In addition to the MOUL site, UOT is active in Twinity (beta) http://www.twinity.com/en . This world, while somewhat more adult than I am comfortable with, has excellent potential as a teaching environment. Any world which has re-creation of the Globe Theater in London as a priority has got to be OK.
Finally, the world yet to be created, (but coming soon, so I am advised) which has all the following characteristics needed by UOT:
1. "G" Rating (Family, not unsupervised children)
2. Excellent voice and good UI, including private messages and group chat boxes.
3. Multimedia windows in world, filtered to eliminate porn, but usable for slide shows.
4. Ability to decorate and play music for social events (student dances)
5. Interactive objects and quest kits to use as teaching tools and "Show and Tell"
6. Aircraft and Flight (preferably 3 axis) for the UOT School of Flight
7. Ability to create 3D and Painter (clothing) objects and for students to sell them.
8. In world machinima (at least to the level of FRAPS) for the film school.
9. In world shoutcast for broadcasting classes.
10. World support for volunteer educational institutions like UOT.
11. Bunny slippers and a roller coaster.
It was suggested that viability is a primary issue, and that of all current worlds, perhaps Second life has the best statistics. Further, there is a real risk in hanging my hat on a world as yet not operational. Agreed to both, with some reservations.
I answered that financial and long term viability IS one of my primary considerations, and it always has been. Both There and Olive had pretty good stats, by the way.
However, I would have to think very carefully about a choice between eternal life in a one room flat, bombarded by soap operas 24/7, or a year long cruise to Tahiti and the Pacific islands, followed by immediate extinction in a humane way.
So far, I have looked seriously at 13 virtual worlds of my predicted "2010 Top 30", (including the now defunct Olive and There). I have not yet looked at 14 and 15 (Project X and Teleplace). I still predict most of them will fail by 2011, and largely for the same reason that most Western ghost towns "failed" (were abandoned, actually) when the company quit making a profit.
There is another reason worlds are failing. At a certain point, every community, real or virtual, starts to run it's owners, and no entrepreneur will ever be comfortable with that.
Another nugget of information: I was listening to our County Sheriff the other day, and he said: "NO neighborhood which conducts street prostitution will prosper. Nobody wants to do business there. It is a blight on the community." This was a law enforcement, not a moral perspective, and I happen to agree with it.
In my opinion, there is NO financially stable virtual world in existence at this time. Second Life appears to have the best possible chance of survival, largely due to its Corporate structure, highly aggressive marketing department and it's highly adult and adaptive content. There is nothing wrong with World of Warcraft either, unless one objects to being eaten or hacked to flinders while trying to attend class.
For this reason, Second Life is still on the "Menu" for UOT and Artemesia has offered to host classes there. On the other hand, we have to deal in the "now" and to be honest, I find NO current virtual world that meets basic UOT standards.
Twinity(beta) is a reasonable choice for the near term, and we have the plus of having Mike and Kaylea (UOT Staff) in that world and willing to help there.
Ahra Pahts (an example of what can be done in MOUL open source) is a good choice for the longer term and we can also meet in MOUL until the necessary links to MOUL open source are completed. For this reason, we now meet alternate weeks in MOUL and Twinity. (and will do summer classes and perhaps fall classes in both places, backed up with Second Life.) Tuesday in MOUL and Thursday in Twinity for staff meetings, shifting to monthly in both places this Summer. This will likely hold for the rest of this year.
Yes, we will likely loose floods of people in many different directions. That's OK. What goes out can come back, just as easily. (Is there ANY of us who is active in only ONE virtual world?)
I am focused on a future world because it is the ONLY world where I think we have a chance in the near future, of meeting ALL the UOT criteria. On the other hand, let's face it, the ONLY worlds we have now, "up and running" and supported (functional for us) TODAY are MOUL, Twinity and Second Life. So, TODAY, that is what we will use, unless we find a better place. The only unacceptable alternative is to do nothing, and tomorrow is another day.