The future for virtual worlds

posted in: education, elearning, virtual world | 1

Virtual worlds are experiencing rapid growth due to several factors and their future is being defined now.

The first, and most important, are the availability of alternatives to Second Life. There have been, and are, other virtual worlds out there, but with the ease of in-world building tools, Second Life has enjoyed widespread adoption.

Secondly, the cost of the alternatives. The finest OpenSim hosting is a fraction the cost of Second Life. While we have 16 “sims”, in reality we have four SL-equivalent sims when measured by hardware. This results in about $40 per sim versus $295.

A third reason for OpenSim growth is adoption. As more people try it out and report their successes (like Ener Hax at, more people venture out from Second Life or venture into virtual worlds for the first time as true users.

When OpenSim becomes as common place as Apache then it may become a “one-click install” much like WordPress and MOODLE are through GoDaddy, HostGator, and many hosting companies.

OpenSim is relatively new; it takes a few years for technologies to become the “latest thing”. Twitter was started in 2006 but was not saturated with media coverage until 2008 and 2009. OpenSim also has the burden to overcome some of Linden Lab’s stigma.

Currently, Second Life is a closed system requiring an account specific to it for access. It is natural for others to use this same model for OpenSim. After all, Second Life enjoyed over a hundred million user hours in the last year; not a bad model to want to emulate.

However, to quote Mitch Wagner today: “Second Life is not successful“; so perhaps emulating that model may not be the most prudent approach. It is easy to think that in running your own commercial grid you will not make the same mistakes that Linden Lab has. However, running a grid with 100 concurrent users is vastly different than 80,000.

In my opinion, which is admittedly biased, creating a community grid that is “better than Second Life” will always tie you to a Second Life comparison and inhibit innovation. Placing the same people in the same roles using the same model yields the same results.

“Community” grids have their place of course, just like blogger or Ning, but they lack the flexibility and freedom of self-hosted solutions. In the end, the abillity to host OpenSim on your own server will prevail, much like today’s internet and intranets.

OpenSim grids will, and do, have firewalled intranet-like portions and also external hypergrid-enabled parts.  After all, universities have their websites hosted by their own IT departments in their own data centres, why would they choose a third-party community grid to host their virtual worlds? True communities will emerge from hypergrid technology just as Justin Clark-Casey presented in his Oxford Masters dissertation.

There will always be individuals who choose to be part of communities just like being part of a Farmville group or LinkedIn, but for educational or business use, OpenSim will be on your own turf.

OpenSim will have “arrived” when it is no longer the focus as it is now; when it becomes a part of standard server software and easily implementable by corporate and institutional IT departments, and even individuals like myself who use it for eLearning and education.

Virtual worlds are still novel but will eventually become another tool to communicate with, just like the many technologies that make up today’s web.

the one & only Ener Hax

If you looked at Second Life during the media frenzy a few years ago but could not overcome obstacles to adopt it, it may be time to explore OpenSim. You can even set it up for free and build real content that you can use for eLearning like I have spoken about for the eLearning Guild. In fact, the techniques I presented work very well on a USB deployed version of OpenSim!

I have gone to exclusively using “sim-on-stick” for my eLearning endeavors because I don’t need to hurdle our corporate firewall to obtain access to the proper ports. For educational use, we use SimHost as our solution provider because our grid needs to be accessible by students.

Using SimHost is analogous to using a website host and they offer the most hardware for the dollar and are run by a core OpenSim developer and an OSGrid administrator.

There is no time like the present and it is a very exciting time for virtual worlds.

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