What humans do is create spaces. We create spaces and we have people come together in those spaces, and then we communicate and socialize within those spaces. —Ebbe Altberg
Remember Second Life? Earlier this year Business Insider reported its membership as “stable” at nearly one million active users per month. With little media coverage in the last 10 years the numbers haven’t changed much, but virtual reality is about to make the Second Life experience more relevant than ever.
Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Second Life developer Linden Lab, says “the world is waking up again”, referring to immersive virtual reality, the hotbed of emerging tech that’s set to literally transform the virtual workplace:
Linden Lab is marshaling its expertise and experience in building immersive, functional virtual worlds to make a proper successor to the Second Life platform and take advantage of the bold new world of immersive VR. Specifically, Linden sees a huge opportunity in making it easier for people to build and share cool virtual reality experiences. It has workplace applications too: San Francisco-based nonprofit TechSoup hosts its [weekly] all-hands meetings in Second Life, where as many as 50 people meet in the virtual world — tools like Skype are too unwieldy for them at that scale, Altberg says, and it provides a way for them to be in the same room even when they’re not.
Now Altberg is planning the next phase of SL, codenamed Project Sansar. And High Fidelity (a project of SL’s original inventor Philip Rosedale) will offer a similar “upgraded” experience where people can travel an interconnected landscape filled with “convincingly real-world interactions in VR”. With Oculus set to storm the world with a new brand of virtual innovation, the way we meet for work and play may look a lot like the Nonprofit Commons, where geography and gender take a back seat to the actual act of communicating.
This morning at 9:30am Eastern I teleported to Second Life Island for the first time. There I met with interactive designer Joyce Bettencourt, aka Rhiannon Chatnoir, to lay the framework for a discussion on the future of the TechSoup Global community forum, and how increased interactivity might help create a conceptual wormhole between these two worlds.
TechSoup Global’s Nonprofit Commons first convened on Second Life eight years ago. Rhiannon, who co-leads the meetings, helped me acclimate to my new body and learn the controls — the “life support” needed to comfortably navigate this new Second Life.
Despite being new to the “physical” world of the metaverse, I’ve done some hard research on MUDs and MOOs and their social implications, thanks to pioneer cyber-academics like Sherry Turkle and Annette Markham. When I meet with the Nonprofit Commons next month I’ll experience Second Life for myself — a new territory that excites the bejesus out of me, if only for the fact that I might finally catch up to my tween-aged nephew, whose vast knowledge of Minecraft and similar virtual spaces puts me to shame.
As time and trend ebb and flow, collaborating across sectors and borders will benefit from remote interactions in virtual spaces fashioned after real ones. At that moment, we’ll be creating and collaborating on the frontier of future-present worlds, where a new set of social expectations and etiquette will affect the way we interact in the corporeal here-and-now.