I have never been a big fan of Second Life. I have discussed this before, here on the blog and in various conferences and events, such as the JISC Online Conference. I have been to Second Life and I am actually in this screenshot from the 2008 JISC Online Conference.
Many proponents of Second Life have been saying for a fair few years now how “next year” will be the year of Second Life.
However this year they may well be right.
This is the time for Second Life to make that breakthrough that it needs to be accepted as a mainstream technology for learning.
If it doesn’t do it now, in my opinion it will never do it.
So what is making the difference this year?
Well first the bad news, Linden Labs the people behind Second Life are laying off 30% of their staff in a restructuring. This includes closing the UK office.
These cuts are possible as Linden are going to take Second Life in a new direction, one I think gives Second Life the potential that has been talked about for years.
Linden is going to work on making the virtual world accessible from a web browser. In the past you have needed to download software, install it and open various ports.
As the press release says:
First, the company aims to create a browser-based virtual world experience, eliminating the need to download software.
Now installing software was always a barrier, especially if you were trying to do so in an institutional environment with IT departments often wary or unwilling to install the software. The other major barrier was the technical requirements for Second Life, most of the cheap beige boxes (ideal for word processing and spreadsheets) were pretty useless for wonderful 3D environments. There are still possible issues if the browser rendering requirements are high, though at this time we just don’t know.
If Linden are successful they may also move into mobile browsers and this will open up more possibilities.
I am less sure about the following though.
Secondly, Linden Lab will look to extend the Second Life experience into popular social networks.
Read “popular social networks” as Facebook. Other companies have tried to “move” into Facebook, some with success like Farmville, but others less so. Similarily can you see how Second Life and Twitter work together! Tweets abounding in a Second Life environment perhaps.
However back the browser, by making Second Life more accessible, this is the one opportunity that Second Life has in becoming a core learning technology that many people use day to day, rather than where we are at this moment, with many people having tried it, or more likely attempted to try it and some keen enthusiasts. If a browser based Second Life doesn’t take off, I can’t see it ever taking off.
This new direction from Linden will provide many opportunities for practitioners and learners to experience and use Second Life on a more regular basis and as a result come up with useful and exciting ways to use it to enhance and enrich learning….
…or will they just build virtual classrooms!