The Future of Virtual Worlds: No Fate but What We Make

In the movie Terminator 2, there is a memorable scene where Sarah Connor carves some words into a park bench.

I think those words hold a special meaning for those of us interested in the future of virtual worlds like Second Life, OpenSim, and whatever new worlds will come.

And I believe it’s a very bright future.  For everyone.

This past week, I visited Turku, Finland to speak at and attend a conference at Åbo Akademi University on “The Prospects of Learning in Second Life.”  The conference was organized by Kim Holmberg (SL: Kim Zwiers) and Isto Huvila (SL: Ab Marvin), both of whom were the very first university teachers to use Second Life in education in Finland.

I gave the opening keynote on “Innovative Learning in Second Life and Beyond.”  My presentation was not recorded, but you can get the gist of my talk from my online slides.  I discussed the importance of Second Life projects that focus on building community and connectivity, and the importance of adopting a broad perspective on virtual worlds.  How Second Life fits into a “multi-grid” strategy that includes platforms like OpenSim, how the connections between these different platforms is critical to long-term success, and how we should all be excited about the future possibilities of virtual worlds for learning.  To conclude my presentation, I gave a live demo of OpenSim on a USB key as well as an exploration of jokaydiaGRID and a visit to other grids via Hypergrid teleporting.

It was a wonderful international conference full of pioneering educators.  I think we all walked away with new ideas for learning in virtual worlds, new plans for future projects, and new opportunities for collaboration around the world.

As I sat on the airplane returning home, I felt rejuvenated.  I’ve always been an optimist about the future of virtual worlds in general.  And this conference reignited my belief that educators will play an important role in paving the successful future of virtual worlds.

But the role of educators is just one part of the puzzle.

The evolution and growth of virtual worlds involves many different communities.  It involves communities of developers and programmers working on the technical infrastructure of virtual worlds.  It involves companies that spring up to create different platforms to explore.  And it involves all the people who use virtual worlds to create communities that reflect the whole spectrum of human interest and dreams.

At the intersection of all these communities is where the future lies.  No single company or community holds the keys to this future.  The keys to the future are in many different hands.  And it’s how those hands work together that will determine the success of virtual worlds for everyone.

At this moment in history, people are facing a great deal of change and uncertainty around the future of virtual worlds.  In particular, people with a vested interest in Second Life are understandably concerned about the future of the platform, unsure of what Linden Lab has planned for the future.  Only time will tell what Linden Lab chooses to do.  My own personal hope is that Linden Lab will continue to improve Second Life for the benefit of all its users, and that Second Life will evolve into a platform that can eventually interconnect with other virtual world platforms.  I see connectivity as the key factor for any specific virtual world’s long-term success, which is why my attention is so focused on the current work involving OpenSim and Hypergrid these days.

But one thing for certain is that the future of virtual worlds hinges on much more than the decisions of any specific company or a single virtual world platform.  The past has shown us that virtual world platforms inevitably change over time.  Sometimes they evolve into places that offer new opportunities, and sometimes they simply disappear.  But the communities of people involved in their creation and creative use always remains.  And it’s how these communities work together to adapt to change that determines their ultimate success or failure.

We have amazing resources at our disposal to create a bright future for virtual worlds.  Our resources are a global community of pioneers that encompasses virtual world companies, open source developers, educators, content creators, entrepreneurs, artists, community organizers, and dreamers.

Our own individual future and the future of virtual worlds will be what we all choose to make, working together.  The future does not depend on fate.  It depends on our critical planning and collaboration.

There is no fate but what we make.

So if you are a virtual world pioneer feeling overcome by storms at sea and such things beyond your control, take a moment to sit down and carve those words on a picnic table.  Or on prim or virtual T-shirt, if you’re feeling particularly creative.

Take a long hard look at those words, and think about all the things you can control.  Think about the communities you belong to that can help you.  Think about how you can help others.

Then stand up, crack your knuckles, and get to work making your own future.

-John “Pathfinder” Lester

28 thoughts on “The Future of Virtual Worlds: No Fate but What We Make

  1. Pingback: Meanwhile, in Finland | Be Cunning and Full of Tricks

  2. “But the communities of people involved in their creation and creative use always remains”

    simply not true…. digital virtualities are tribal in nature. once the strong leader is gone, the “communities members” break back up to follow others.

    plus the artifacts are easily and by design, wiped.

    this allows for the “new” meta communties to be formed around a leader suggesting the “new start’ or “new shiny” as the kids say today.

    yes fate is what we make of it…. but from a 20 year virtuality cycle, fate, it looks pretty much like a 80s movie, being “rebooted” every 5 years.

    Aliens vs Terminators anyone?.:)

    • I both agree and disagree.

      When a virtual world provider decides to pull the plug on a virtual world, there is both a diaspora and a loss of artifacts (content). We’ve seen such things before, most recently with the closing of Lively and

      But the communities of people in those lost worlds do not suddenly cease to exist. They are still out there, and often still in communication with each other through various other social networking platforms (e.g. Twitter, FaceBook, forums). They find new places to inhabit, and while their artifacts from the lost world are gone, they still have their creative talent to recreate things in new platforms.

      Yes, such diasporas are destabilizing and challenging. But they often drive people to rebuild in amazing ways. I remember working at Linden Lab when a bunch of people from Lively came to Second Life to rebuild their world anew. It was very inspiring.

      Yes, the loss of content is tragic in these situations. But, in my opinion, the most important thing about virtual worlds is not things. It’s the people. And people find a way to rebuild, bringing their experience and wisdom to new platforms that give them new opportunities beyond whatever platform they used in the past.

      • i founded the NYVMLSIG in 95 and the SFWEB3D in 2001.
        both had many members..visitors etc. they were in many ways even more open than the SL platform specific crowd. “communities” is a strong word, and frankley i dont see any “raw media type” creating one…. even HOLLYWOOD ( film as media) is a false community. and that HAS had many successes to keep its illusion alive for decades. – games industry is on the verge, but look how its already gutted by OUTSOURCING and trend speed of monetary interests..
        yes, talented specific folk “still” have interest/and some still work in vr relatd web3d…but most left as the tech and the requests for a set of tools to do web3d/vr never truly materialized beyond the “loudest” meta makers app of the moment…just like LLs/ SL…..

        lively to SL was a matter of weeks of still having interest for a few, lets go back to this discussion in 5 years..or 10. and see “where they are now” for the “community” youre suggesting is.

        is nostalgia a basis for community?… high school reunions offer that truth….as well as facebook relinking us to many who we hadent seen or heard of for a decade plus…. im not sure what to call these “new linking” relations…. not parasocial, but mybe they are, replacing the soap stars no longer affordable on commercial daytime tv.

        back on topic… i think its clear that pop tech creates pop associations…and calling that a community is OK, but i think its a shallower definition, and it certainly dosent include offspring and sustainablity in the definition.

        but again, yes fate is what we make of it… I just no longer see how virtuality centric memes offer any better fate. I did have that delusion for a short time in the late 80s-early90s– but experience and time have I hope weakened that delusion.

        virtual worlds will keep on being “reinvented” and resold as new and shiny…and each time, they will be used to make us, more like them, coded.
        unless we value them less than their users. but thats a set of values that seem to elude the vr worlds makers systems over and over again.

  3. You wrote ” No single company or community holds the keys to this future. The keys to the future are in many different hands. And it’s how those hands work together that will determine the success of virtual worlds for everyone.”

    I think you’re right on! The evolution of technology has never been the product of any particular entity and virtual worlds won’t be the exception.

    That said, although we would have light bulbs today if it weren’t for Edison and mass produced cars if it weren’t for Henry Ford, individual people and companies do play key roles in the way a technology is introduced and its initial emergence into society/the marketplace. So in the short run, particular companies can have a tremendous impact (like Apple and the iPad).

    Nevertheless, I think your consul to turn from focusing on Linden Lab as the key-holder of our destiny and rather to focus on our collective potential to create change is also right on target and will hasten the movement to a more integrated and open virtual world environment.

    • Thanks for those thoughts, Botgirl. You’re very right that particular companies can have a tremendous impact. I totally agree. I like to think of “evolution” as that amazing thing that happens *between* such impacts. 😉

      I really hope all the companies and organizations behind different virtual worlds will realize that an interconnected world is the way of the future. It really is in their own best interest. And in the best interest for the future of virtual worlds as a whole.

    • I’m not lihugang at anyone or pointing fingers. My focus is on thinking about the future of the bigger picture, where companies like Linden Lab and platforms like Second Life exist within an ecosystem of other platforms both commercial and open source-based. If done right, everybody can win. So please refrain from attacking LL. Feel free to do so on your own blog if you wish, but not mine.

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  5. Thanks Pathfinder; I’ve been trying to get this message to people for at least 15 years. Not spamming, but if you could make it to my Burn2 build, House of Cards, you’d see these same thoughts in architecture. Check my blog for SLurl.

  6. Your spot on about the interconnect with friends . When a world or environment fails or falls apart those friends do stay connected. Not only with Friendbook & Gibber but Skype, email, and the range of IM platforms.
    As there are so many new or established virtual environments to explore for a new home that task is split and the experiences shared via those means. Till a location that suits the collectives aspirations and expectations where we can start to build and enjoy again.

    Keep spreading the good word

  7. I just read this post, and your earlier

    These posts were very heartening and useful as I: personally, as head of ISM (International Spaceflight Museum) inSL, and as a SciLands member, am having numerous overlapping discussions as to what to do and where to go as groups and individuals. Thank you!

    Interop will be the main requirement, I believe.


  8. Nice to see someone is apparently going to be able to cash in on SL even after it’s imminent demise. Good for you “Pathfinder”. (Isn’t it time you dropped that alias?)

    People like me are facing the loss of years and many thousands of dollars on materials that cannot be taken from SL to other grids. We are so screwed. All of this was for nothing. We can’t list SL on resumes because of it’s extremely bad reputation. We are a laughing stock. Yet you go on the lecture circuit. Odd how that works out.

    When SL is shuttered I am much more inclined to believe that will be the end of the entire so-called metaverse thing except as a not commonly used niche technology here and there or infrequently spoken of example of an utter business failure that screwed thousands of hapless people, unable to get jobs because of their appearance or other factors, that should have saved their money or used it for job training in areas that actually have value.

    The rich guys don’t care about poor fools. All they wanted was money. So much for concern about or interest in improving the human condition.

    • I guess I’m just more of an optimist than you are, Ann. I’ve been speaking lately at meetings of educators simply because they have invited me, and because they are interested in discussing the long-term opportunities for virtual worlds in education and learning. The future of the metaverse involves much more than any single platform’s reputation. And with groups of very clever open source developers donating their time to work on virtual worlds, that gives me a lot of hope that the future of all this will not be solely driven by any particular company’s commercial interests.

      Hope (optimism and critical planning) or Despair (seeing negative motives in every shadow and focusing on things beyond one’s control), both are a choice.

      Choose wisely.

      • You collected a full paycheck to play with SL. You cannot judge what is happening to the people that built it. You have no idea. This was an investment. The investment management company that you were a member of mismanaged it. And now the investment is evaporating. And you and the others just laugh and point at the idiots that paid your salaries. Sorry but I have a different viewpoint and the FTC needs to investigate LL and make sure no linden past or present can ever repeat this process.

      • I’m not laughing at anyone or pointing fingers. My focus is on thinking about the future of the bigger picture, where companies like Linden Lab and platforms like Second Life exist within an ecosystem of other platforms both commercial and open source-based. If done right, everybody can win.

        So please refrain from attacking LL. Feel free to do so on your own blog if you wish, but not mine.

  9. “And with groups of very clever open source developers donating their time to work on virtual worlds, that gives me a lot of hope that the future of all this will not be solely driven by any particular company’s commercial interests.”

    lol …how very vrml/x3d circa 1996 or 2003 of you:)

    but i do remember a few from those times suggesting how this all really works…

    until we have tools we own, open standard of formats, and IP values being set by the creators, not agrigators, all media – and expecially “creative media” for humans- is a dead end on an open web/net.

    3drt emdia will always be the last media…encompassing 2d/audio/and video. becuase by nature it CAN… but it will also be the kicking boy of “networked media” since its the most costly to produce, and that cost is what the ” nature of the net”- abhores;) which is why the closest 3dvr mediaverse we got- was the SL slave farm-plantation.

    “choose wisely”.-yes. but from the same 80s movie genre years.. “remember”

  10. “No single company or community holds the keys to this future. The keys to the future are in many different hands. And it’s how those hands work together that will determine the success of virtual worlds for everyone.”

    Here here Path. I wholeheartedly agree. Moreover I want to encourage each of us to find and pursue what gives us joy and fuels our passion in virtual space. Doing so will make Second Life, and any other virtual world we choose to explore, meaningful. If there is one thing SL has taught me is that I am responsible for making it the best life I can – that it is MY world. While I too get annoyed at the problems we all experience with SL I don’t necessarily think the solution is to jump ship. Will I explore other worlds, yes. Will I completely abandon SL, no. In each of these places a part of myself has been nurtured and grown. Second Life is part of who I am in all worlds now. My goals going forward are to continue to learn from and with my fellow travelers and to push the envelope of what we believe is possible. Thanks for the thoughtful post Path. – jenaia

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  12. Pathfinder, I am moved to add this note of thanks to you for remaining an optimistic voice in the face of viscous attacks from those who try to crap on LL on every blog they can. I, too, have spent thousands of personal real dollars on Ll at full undiscounted rate and don’t regret one penny of it. I have done it for four years for the feeling of fulfillment, the gratification of artistic creation, the personal wellbeing gained from helping others, the reward of teaching newbies many of whom have been my own university students, and not at all for a financial return. The search for new knowledge through experiential learning drives me and those gains sustain me in the storms of hatred some shower on anything and everything LL. I’m sure the same must be true for you.

  13. Pingback: Die Zukunft virtueller Welten « Das Philoblog

  14. Pingback: Jeff Barr’s Blog » Links for Sunday, October 24, 2010

  15. It’s amazing to me that people rant and rail about “their investment” in SL and “all the time and money they’ve lost.” I mean, “all the things we made we can’t take to other grids.”

    So far I have had absolutely no problem taking things I have created to other grids, using SI or some other tool. Everything comes over just fine (except mostly sculpties being rotated 90 degrees off-axis *shrug*) If someone has truly created a texture, primset, script, animation, sound byte… I don’t see the problem in transferring assets.

    However, I was no land-farmer or assembler-of-others-raw-creative-materials; I was no person that came into SL with a “business plan” modeled on some archaic 19-century model. I did not “invest” my time and effort into a stock portfolio. I invested my time and effort, as I did in 1996 and before, in a community of folks assembling the future (and yeah, I had email before many of you were born, and I couldn’t explain it to you until like 1999) and counting on a future return of all that energy in some form.

    That is, I believed in the tech, the community that had come together before and was doing so again and my own talent, which has already shown a drastic return in skill, self-confidence and connecting with people. This is Business 101, despite the twisting and distorting that passes for the current business du monde.

    The problem I have with that common, complaining, business-venture/vulture capitalist stance is that it is monomaniacal and nearsighted; like trying to say the ocean is only good for sailing in this one bay and not perhaps to far-away countries, for swimming, fishing, painting, floating or any of the other myriad ways the burgeouning multiverse is happening.

    It particularly reminds me of the railings of the buggy-whip industry when the infernal auto-mo-bile was beginning to be widely and affordably available, or perhaps the robber barons of the 19th century who tried to monopolize the railroads because all they could see was commerce (when the rails carried culture, art, technology, opened the Great Plains to casual travel, carried diseases also…). At least they didn’t have the foolishness to proclaim that the railways were only about ferrying sacks of wheat from one store to another.

    I have been known to critique LL from time to time on my own blog, but my issues with them are technical and business conduct (having experience with both). I do not view SL and the Grids as a living, although my life as an artist probably colors that view. Frankly, I have been astonished that I could make enough Ls to pay my *very modest on purpose* land tier/server space and my year-fee (system maintenance). I paid a lot more than this for BBS fees and teleconnects for a long, long time and I paid it happily, because I was using services that cost money and I believed in the medium (or at least enjoyed it).

    I believe in the community, separate from all platforms. I’ve been leaping platforms since I first saw the Hayes AT command set glyphs scroll across my screen, heard the handshake and saw the wonder of “Welcome, guest! Please log in” on my own little screen at home. They have changed much; they got sidetracked/sabotaged in 1999 (MS/vrml) and at this point, as Pathfinder has been pointing out in this series of articles, you have the capability to run your own sim on your own server, or even a USB memory key. This is what we dreamed of in 1981.

    There is nothing that ties anyone irrevocably to LL; if someone has entered and learned to love this world, it isn’t “Second Life” that they are in love with; it is the future and the network and the possibilities, and I urge them to explore any horizons, ventures, dreams, callings or space-time continuum vortices.

    SL is an experience, I do not know of a single person who would argue that. As in all such engrossing, absorbing and pioneering efforts, its true worth is in what it has said to you, taught you, shared and made you realize about yourself and the world.

  16. Pingback: What the Tea Party can’t teach us about moving virtual worlds forward | The Burbclave

  17. Pingback: Hypergrid Adventurers Club meet #5: Exploring collaborative art and history education on ReactionGrid | Be Cunning and Full of Tricks

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