Here at Betterverse Central, we have been reviewing some of the highlights of the past year. It's been an "interesting" twelve months for sure, with Linden Lab rescinding the discount for nonprofits, Egyptian avatars protesting for democracy, and lots of still-in-beta efforts to integrate virtual worlds with the web.
Here's a quick recap of some of the major virtual world developments that were relevant for nonprofits and education in 2011.
Linden Lab Policy Changes: End of the Nonprofit Discount, In with the Teens
The year 2011 got off to strange start with Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, rescinding the long-standing discount on virtual land for educators and nonprofit organizations. The repercussions from these changes in policy are still being felt across the metaverse as groups that were suddenly priced out of Second Life moving on to other platforms like OpenSim or JIBE, or simply closing up shop. Worthwhile efforts like virtual PTSD therapy and an avatar-ized Shakespearean troupe had to de-rez due to increased land costs they could not afford, for example.
Another sea-change was the merger of the "teen grid" of Second Life with the main grid. For many teens, this meant the loss of their own separate space where they could play, explore, build, create businesses and learn. For adults in SL, this meant a bit more concern about newbie avatars, who are more likely to be minors than before. Since the merger, we have not heard much about teens in Second Life, but the departure of the one Linden Lab staffer responsible for the teens, Terrene Linden, does not bode well.
Web Integration Expands
Getting new folks into virtual worlds continues to be a big challenge as hefty client downloads and broadband requirements have kept many potential customers away. A number of companies launched their own web-based or web-integrated virtual environments in 2011. These included:
- Reaction Grid's JIBE virtual platform, built on Unity 3D
- Kitely's "virtual world on demand" service
- Tipodean's Builtby.me web viewer for Second Life or OpenSim worlds
- The Spoton3D web viewer
- The "Shaker" virtual hangout for Facebook which received $15 million in venture funding
Almost all of these are still very much still in beta, but show promise for how getting into a virtual space might be as simple as clicking a web link or joining a FaceBook group. Sadly, Linden Lab's and Blue Mars' web-integration efforts appear to have stalled out or died.
Funds for Japan and Cancer Research
Fundraising continued to be an important application of virtual worlds in 2011, with many fund appeals, drives and "thons" for various causes happening throughout the year. The American Cancer Society's virtual Relay for Life was again one of the most successful fund appeals of the year, raising $375K with over 3,000 avatars participating at some level. That brings their total take-in from Second Life at more than $1 million dollars over the history of the virtual relay.
Another notable fundraising effort across multiple worlds was for earthquake relief to Japan, after thedevastating quake in March, with various Second Life groups, Eve Online and Zynga launching different fund drives and events. As impressive as the funds raised were the expressions of grief, support and wishes for a speedy recovery sent from around the world to the Japanese people.
Rockcliffe U and Nonprofit Commons Celebrate Milestones
Despite the increase in land-fees, several nonprofit and educational efforts continued to survive and even thrive in Second Life. The Rockcliffe University Consortium recently celebrated five years as a nonprofit educational institution in Second Life. Rockcliffe has been offering free classes in Second Life, as well as OpenSim, Spoton3D, VenueGen and even World of WarCraft for years.
The Nonprofit Commons in Second Life also marked a milestone in September, feting their four years as the largest nonprofit community in the virtual world. The NPC has been providing free office space for more than 150 nonprofit institutions from around the world and hosting a popular Friday morning meetup on their virtual amphitheater.
NASA, World Bank and More Launch Projects in Virtual World
The virtual world continued to attract a number of major public institutions, who launched projects in 2011, including:
- The World Bank Institute has been exploring how Second Life can be used for professional development training, alongside other more traditional training methods and technologies
- The Mayo Clinic has been offering credited medical classes in Second Life on their virtual island
- NASA launched a new education center in Second Life, augmenting their already impressive virtual exhibits and meeting spaces
- The Library of Birmingham opened a virtual version of their planned new complex to allow the public to virtual visit the new space, comment on it, and interact with library staff
- Rutgers University used three different virtual platforms to publicly display their new business school complex to the public, leveraging the strengths of Second Life, OpenSim and Unity
Virtual Protests for Democracy in Arab World and Wall Street
As TIME Magazine proclaimed, 2011 was the "year of the protester." While there were not as many virtual protests as real ones, there were a number of interesting demonstrations and political gatherings in the metaverse in 2011. In February, coinciding with the "Arab Spring" protests in Egypt, avatars were gathering in Second Life to demonstrate for democracy in the Arab world, complete with colorful signs, elaborate avatars, conversations in multiple languages, and protest songs and chants.
Then in the Fall, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement swept the United States and cities around the world. Activists in Second Life gathered under the "OccupySL" group, sharing information and news, and launching their own virtual protest at the CapEx sim. They were very soon ejected and re-gathered on Linden Lands for more protest and celebration.
Documentaries Focus on the Virtual Life
In 2011 a number of documentaries examined la vie virtuelle including some of the public good applications of virtual worlds. Notably, the German documentary film "Login 2 Life" premiered in September, telling the affecting stories of of six individuals whose lives are deeply impacted by different virtual worlds and online games. My friend Gentle Heron was one of the individuals profiled on how Second Life has enabled her to be an activist for the disability community despite her own physical limitations.
Another documentary called "When Strangers Click" premiered, appropriately enough, on Valentines Day on HBO. The short film tells poignant and often funny stories about how different couples met online, including one Second Life musician in Sweden who unexpectedly found love and a family.
Finally I should mention that the film "Deep Down," a documentary about the coal mining industry in America, was nominated for an Emmy for its virtual world corollary called the "Virtual Mine."
So those are our highlights from the year. Did we miss anything that was big news or a major development? Please tell us in the comments.
As we close out the year, I want to thank my readers, collaborators and friends who have made Betterverse such a rewarding project. Hopefully our stories and news and commentary have been informative and helpful to you in your individual pursuits. If there is anything you would like us to focus more on, we'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading and have a joyous holiday and a happy new year!