With every Exodus comes Expansion: Educators and Non-profits in Second Life

As you may have noticed, I haven’t blogged for about a month. I was also quiet on Twitter. The primary reason for this was a nasty bug that knocked me off my feet for a few weeks, and while I recovered I took the time to pretty much unplug from the online world.

Occasionally decoupling from the endless flow of online information gives me a chance to focus on new things without interruption. I spent my offline time reading books on various subjects and deeply immersing myself in the narrative of a couple video games.

While my illness bug is happily gone, my writing bug has happily returned. My next few blog posts will be about some insights I had into the nature of engagement in virtual worlds, games, and immersive stories. But for now, I’ll share some thoughts about the current situation with educators and non-profits in Second Life.

Linden Lab recently announced an end to discounts for educators and non-profits in Second Life.  Effective January 1st 2011, educators and non-profits will no longer get a 50% reduction in monthly rental fees for private regions.

When I worked at Linden Lab, I did my best to internally wave the flag for educators and non-profits.  I felt the discount was a key way to cultivate growth in those markets.  Perhaps even more important,  I felt it sent a crystal clear message that those communities were really valued.  Actions speak louder than words, especially actions that positively affect one’s wallet.

I’m happy the discount lasted as long as it did.  As for the reasoning behind this new decision by Linden Lab, I have no idea and I’m not interested in speculating.  What I’m interested in is the future of educators and non-profits in virtual worlds in general.

Education and non-profit markets affect many things.  They are deeply interconnected with academic collaboration, consumer innovation, healthcare support, organized activism, and the arts.  So any change in the plans of large groups of educators and non-profits will have far-reaching community implications.

This change in pricing is naturally causing many educators and non-profits to reevaluate their plans in Second Life. And if you read the comments on Linden Lab’s blog post, it is clear that many of them are now seriously considering exploring other virtual world platforms.

Will there be a massive exodus of educators and non-profits from Second Life?  Time will tell.  But I think the more important thing to focus on will be the growth of educators and non-profits in other virtual worlds.

Personally, I think OpenSim offers interesting opportunities right now.  It’s still a nascent platform, but nothing drives rapid platform development like a big influx of eager users.

Just like the webservers, folks can install and run OpenSim on their own hardware or choose to pay a hosting provider to handle things.  Some of these OpenSim hosting providers are also specifically courting educators and non-profits.  And evolving hypergrid functionality offers the ability for users to teleport between different OpenSim grids, no matter where they exist.

People are reaching out to each other, too.  You can already see the creation of focused guides for educators and non-profits seeking to explore OpenSim for the first time, like this excellent one by Maria Korolov.  There’s even a new and very active #OSMigrate Twitter hashtag with more useful information.

For a variety of reasons, pioneers move from one place to another.  And when they do, they have two options.

They can keep thinking about their reasons for leaving a place, both the positive and negative.  They can wax nostalgic about what they’ve done in the past.  They can ruminate on how they wished things had turned out differently, often focusing on things over which they had no control.

Or they can put all those things into a “lessons learned” folder, file it away, and focus carefully about the things they can control.  They can embrace a new destination and carefully hone their plans to explore it.  They can pull together to create and leverage collective knowledge about this new destination, developing new communities of practice that will grow into the future.

Successful pioneers always choose the second option.  And educators and non-profits are some of the most innovative and successful pioneering communities I’ve ever met.

So to all the educators and non-profits who are making tough decisions right now, my heart goes out to you.  But I have the utmost confidence in your ability to succeed in whatever new virtual worlds your communities choose to explore.  You’re pioneers.  Don’t ever forget that.

I’ll be closely following all of this in the months ahead.  If you know of new resources for educators and non-profits exploring OpenSim, please let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to the body of this post to help get the word out.  I’d also love to visit and learn about any new projects in new virtual worlds, so please feel free to ping me at john.e.lester@gmail.com.

Take care.

-John “Pathfinder” Lester

ADDENDUM: I spoke on a MetaverseTV/MBC News panel about Linden Lab’s revoking of discounts for educators in Second Life.  You can watch the video here.

30 thoughts on “With every Exodus comes Expansion: Educators and Non-profits in Second Life

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention With every Exodus comes Expansion: Educators and Non-profits in Second Life | Be Cunning and Full of Tricks -- Topsy.com

  2. Thank you! Myself, I have been getting flashes of us as young birds nudged out of the nest so that we can discover that we have learned how to fly.

    • The knowledge and lessons learned by educators and non-profits in Second Life are very portable. Like how to best design virtual world spaces that facilitate learning and collaboration, how to create engaging content, or how to cultivate online communities. I think folks will be pleasantly surprised at how much transfers immediately to other virtual world platforms like OpenSim and others.

      Kind of like a bird realizing she can fly in Europe just as well as she can fly in the US. 😉

  3. OK, It is obviously time for me to look into the OpenSim grid.
    But pointing my viewer to that grid does not work unless I register. Can someone point me to the right site?

    • Each grid has it’s own initial signup system. You just have to pick a specific grid to start.

      Here’s a good one. jokay Wollongong is a very talented educator, and has been using both Second Life and OpenSim for educational projects for a long time. jokaydiaGrid runs on OpenSim and hosted by ReactionGrid. Her website is very helpful and clear on how to get started. Here’s the signup page.

  4. Moving to OpenSim can be scary at first – you are going from a place you have thousands of items and purchases in your inventory to nothing. But it actually is a good thing. You get to start over with all the knowledge you obtained over the years. You have a reason to remake your virtual office and your virtual world making it fresh and fun again. I had a ball starting over with Jokay on the new Grid.

    The good thing is you are moving to an environment of like people, who are will to help out and give advice if it is needed. Plus it can be controlled to protect students from those annoying griefers or people you would rather not have your student in contact with. I crash more in SL than I ever do in OS. While it may not be perfect…it is so much more enjoyable than on the SL Grid.

    I don’t think anyone will look back a year from now and regret the jumping from SL to OS.

  5. Ah yes, the seasonal plague… glad you are feeling better too!

    Besides your comments re: expanding into other grids (the hypergrid) and pioneering, which I firmly believe in and cheerlead/urge (see my blog posts regarding this and my upcoming Burn2 build ‘House of Cards: The History of Social Networking Considered As A House of Cards’), I was interested in your comment “… deeply immersing myself in the narrative of a couple video games.”

    I do not understand why video games are given short shrift in the grids/VW. Along with picking up the torch of 3D development when the VRML worlds crashed, some of the more successful games and MMORPGs have several valuable lessons to teach online communities.

    Narrative… this is what I feel is lacking lately in LL’s approach and treatment of SL. It does not have to be extant; an internal narrative would do as well as a focal point and underlying cohesive touchstone. If ‘every picture tells a story’ and gives context and meaning to what is seen or displayed, LL would do well to recondense it’s vaporous internal narrative and refocus on its’ core strategy/story.

    That is… if this is not a stock/value-pumping move precursing a sale/dissolution…

    Magic 8-Ball says: “Reply hazy; try again later”

    ps – what games? I’m interested😀

    • Thanks Miso. And I’m totally with you on the lessons that successful games and MMORPGs can teach online communities. That will be the focus of many of my future blog posts. I’m finishing up some drafts right now.

      As for the 2 games I explored in depth recently, they were “Fallout 3” and “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” 😀

  6. Path, thank you for the reference to Maria’s post. I’ll send it to all the educators who keep fuming on the SLED list about how hard it can be to get an idea of what OpenSim offers.

    It’s better than simply fuming, which is how I spent my day.

    • My pleasure. Maria’s article is wonderful, and her entire Hypergrid Business blog is a goldmine of information for folks exploring a wide range of virtual worlds. I read it regularly.

      You’re definitely not the only educator who is fuming right now. I think some venting is good for the soul, and I’ve been enjoying your own recent blog posts.😉 I’m sure once the dust settles, you’ll continue to focus on constructive projects and get to work on exploring possibilities in new virtual worlds. I’ll definitely be following your blog to see what’s new!

      • I sure will. In fact, the brilliant Viv Trafalgar and I are laying plans today for an OpenSim rebuild of Richmond’s “House of Usher” immersive simulation. Tier costs will lead to our SL island closing in January 2011.

        Let’s see if we can make the new Usher better. It certainly will have fewer prims this time🙂

  7. We have begun to explore using ReactionGrid to run Private Regions as a partial alternative to Second Life. Here are a few observations. I like the ReactionGrid team a lot. They are very supportive. Having access to the back end server is great. I don’t know how I lived without it before, and we are learning how to exploit this ability. The in world OpenSim experience is a little less refined than SL. My avatar does strange things sometimes, and doesn’t interact with builds as well. Scripting is mostly there with a few glitches, and I think I’m going to like c#. Its harder to find good objects, terrains, etc. And the good stuff is way more expensive. I think this is because the supply of developers is small. Most SL builders will not let you export even if you have full permissions because they cannot control their rights as easily. I don’t think this will change any time soon. I’ve had trouble with IAR files, OAR files are easy, but maybe that is me still learning.

  8. Thanks for the words of encouragement to educators an other like comunities Pathfinder. OpenSim indeed is a good avenue to explore and the cooperative community of debs and users is a very good base to move forward, with new and more collaboration orientated features and a more modular structure well supported.

    The problem with the LL price change is how sudden and large the amount is. Anyone thinking educators can double their fees in one year is not living in RL🙂 We had nice open areas in SL and room to allow innovative projects space to try things out. We will simply have to close up and use less space to keep costs down… And look at ways to only use SL where we want a public face. Then point people at the exact clone of the regions we already have in Opensim on our own hosted regions and a point of presence on two regiosns on the OpenSim based New World Grid run by a non-profit organisation in France.

    Where the waste comes in the time such moves and builds take.. It diverts us all from real USES of these facilities, and makes us waste time on just the infrastructure and platform level.

    For our SL and OpenSim facilities and current maps (you will see they look rather similar) see

    http://vue.ed.ac.uk/
    http://vue.ed.ac.uk/openvue/

  9. It is interesting now to see where the education and non-profit groups will move to. Actually it will be easier for some of them since they bring in their own audience while museums, libraries and such places need to go where the people are or be otherwise reachable for people.
    But in general it is good that it all spreads out like this. At least I think it is even when the reasons are far form anything I wished to see. Those groups should grow out of SL and not be forced out like this. They will for sure make the best of the situation but some will not so while I welcome the idea of groups spreading around the … to describe all the different worlds outthere … metaverse and maybe bring a feeling of connectivity between all those places they might enter, I still think of it as sad that this is the result of such a decision by LL and that this will leave a few of those groups with no choice but to stop their operations.

  10. Ending the land discount for nonprofits is consistent with LL’s pattern of incubating desirable elements in SL and then tossing them up to fly unaided. Unfortunately it is also consistent with LL’s pattern of irregular, aimless support and bad timing that fail to maximize the benefits of those communities or grow them fully-fledged before kicking them out of the nest.

    LL has done this with SL schools, with the Mentors, with the Burning Life artistic community, with RL educators, and now with nonprofit and educational landowners.

  11. Pingback: A Virtual World in my Hands: Running OpenSim and Imprudence on a USB Key | Be Cunning and Full of Tricks

  12. Thanks for this great post, Pathfinder. While this price hike has thrown plans and peace of mind into the air for many, it is an expansion. Tools.Jam meets every Tuesday in Second Life and this past week we agreed that it is the community that we fear will be lost. As a result, we talked about what we could use to extend our network beyond the walls of an individual platform and how we might ensure notices of meetings and events are available no matter what the location of your work. The Web offers many chances for this and what struck me yet again was that while we may be annoyed and even traumatized by the sudden changes, we are learning and adapting. This has been the inspiration for a great deal of wonderful gadgetry and a great deal of comraderie developing between those who were previously strangers.
    We parted feeling that in the very near future we might maintain multiple avatars capable of attending meetings on any of several platforms. Yes, it complicates our lives, but irritation is how you make pearls and something tells me that we are all on the verge of a growth spurt. (We also like the Sim on a USB, thanks to you, Peter and Ener for sharing that.)

  13. Great article Pathfinder, and great comments.

    I think it is evident that Second Life is collapsing. I left it a couple of months ago and I don’t think I will ever be back. SL without Pathfinder and the education community is not the SL of old. I miss the discussions on the SLED list: I am still following the list but I don’t post anymore because advocating _only_ alternative solutions on a SL list does not sound fair.

    I have accounts on most public OpenSim grids, and I will certainly partcipate in OpenSim more actively. Yet, I endorse Darius’ suggestion that OpenCobalt may be a better choice. I believe Open Cobalt technology is much more solid and conceptually advanced. It is not yet, however, sufficiently easy for casual users. This can be corrected with a project to develop an operational and user friendly hosted instance of Open Cobalt.

    Educators with funded and to-be-funded projects should also look at Teleplace as an operational, powerful and very easy to use implementation of the same baseline technologies.

    More in my article Telepresence Education for a Smarter World and comments. The last comments are especially relevant:
    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/3979

  14. Hello,

    Thanks for a great post that has made the issues clear to me…someone who is not particularly immersed in SL and the surrounding politics.

    I have had a love-hate relationship with SL over the last 3 years because I have found it difficult to engage with personally, and have been unable to use it in my role of educator because of issues such as Internet bandwidth and institutional firewalls. The cost of developing resources in SL are already prohibitive for me as an educator, so this move by LL has put the final nail in the coffin as far as I am concerned. As for moving to another virtual world such as OpenSim…I don’t know if I have the time and energy to start learning new skills. So it may be that I give VWs a miss until such a time as they are a lot easier to use and far more accessible to students, especially those who have low band width Internet access. cheers Sarah

  15. Pingback: Landpreise 2011 -Seite 3 - SLinfo.de - Second Life Forum

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  18. Pingback: Oct 7 2010: Special Guest: Jokay Wollongong — Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable

  19. To my way of thinking the hardest thing to let go of is the feeling of being “trapped” in any particular 3D environment. The fact is, they all have their pros and cons, but we are not nailed to any one grid … we can travel freely from one to the other.

    Personally I’m not (yet) a “total opensim” advocate with everyone hypergridding thither and yon, the security and copyright risks are too great at present. I like restrictions and protections that keep thievery and griefing at bay, and I like pay-to-play because it discourages the bored hoards from hanging out in the hood.

    But you don’t have to lose everything by moving your home or base of operations from an overpriced grid to a more reasonably priced (and better supported!!) one, or a private one of your own. You can still go use your tools for building or scripting or particle creation or whatever on the grid where they are forced to stay, then export the products to your hard drive and upload them to your new home. Easy peasy.

    No grid is the final destination; they are all just “towns” on an infinite road. Live in one, go find entertainment and amusement in another, go work in yet another. Gosh, just like the physical world. 😉

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