" But is it Art ? "

The Future of Virtual Worlds


Before I answer my rhetorical question let me describe how I came to this new world. In 1999 I had suggested to my then Head of Department the idea of presenting a History of Photography seminar in the online 3D world Active Worlds. After seeking advice he told me the message from on high was that "They had other ideas for online education".

Consequently I let the idea go until the summer of 2008 when I learned that Sun Microsytems had launched "Project Wonderland" a 3D online world for it's employees. Sun' initiative resulted from internal research which had revealed that 60% of Sun's employees worked remotely, that is they did not have an actual office.

Although their employees had e-mail, mobile phones, MSN, Facebook, Twitter etc they still felt isolated, employees said they missed the "water cooler effect" - also known as just standing around chatting with colleagues over coffee. This was where they said they generated their best ideas. Sun's solution was to create an artificial 'water cooler' an online 3D world of virtual offices where employees represented by their avatar* could meet up and chat.

During the frustrating days I spent researching and visiting Sun's test environment, where I never met any one else, I accidentally found another online world - Second Life. I had no idea what to expect of this world but what surprised me most when I first visited was that there were already more than 60,000 people online and working in this virtual world, this I thought could well be the biggest classroom on the planet.

*Avatar is a term derived from Sanskrit where it describes an expression or aspect of the personality of Vishnu when the deity is repesented in human form for a particular mission or activity.


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