Business in Virtual Worlds, Collaboration, Events, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Mitch Kapor’s Moving Pieces

Mitch Kapor closed out the SL5B birthday celebrations today to a packed sim breathlessly awaiting Philip’s new hair, or at least details of how to be a disruptive platform and win a prize.

I somehow picture this group out in California that gets together over vegetarian sushi and compares vitamin regimens, all of them hoping to hang on just long enough to witness the Singularity.

Mitch is one of those folks who moves his chess pieces around the board, or around the boards – sitting on them, forming them, and acting as both a formal and informal mentor to the kids who wanna grow up to be just like him.

So when Mitch speaks, you wonder how he’s putting all the little pieces together across platforms and domain insight, between devices and code, 3D cameras and hard wiring virtual worlds to your eyeballs or brainwaves.

The Future Extending from the Past

Mitch painted a picture of the future by first calling it disruptive innovation because it will force the innovation of existing social and economic social patterns. The Internet will change irrevocably as it goes 3D, overcoming as well the tyranny of geography.

In painting a picture of the future of Second Life and 3D worlds, Mitch reminded us of the idealism that was the foundation of SL, and that Philip’s idealism in forming the platform was greeted with initial skepticism by everyone other than the residents.

“We bring all of ourselves to it, we bring the good, the bad and the ugly. What we choose to do with the possibilities is extremely important.”

Mitch pointed out the growth in the use of Second Life for a wider number of uses, for example in education, architecture (city planners, integration with real life), work with brain waves in Japan, and music.

He particularly highlighted the use of Second Life for social causes and not-for-profit: the use of SL by the disabled, awareness-building and fund-raising activities, (for example cystic fibrosis and the non-profit commons), and protests and activism.

Life on the frontier however is challenging, he pointed out.

“When we have a new technology platform and new techno ecosystem it always starts out in a frontier condition…My experience is that it brings out both the most and the least noble in us. My point about the frontier condition however is that…there’s nothing fundamentally new about this condition.”

For example, in 1994, the Internet had been available just to researchers and then government began opening it up. This gave rise to stereotyping and prejudice. The technical ecosystems was at a stage when dreams are played out yet which gave rise to stereotypes. The same has happened to Second Life, he maintained. He then encouraged residents to, well, basically to stop whining and start acting like the grown-ups that the platform has become.

We are no longer on the frontier
The pioneer era in SL is beginning to draw to a close, he said. We’re at the beginning of a transition. The early adopters were outsiders, people with nothing left to lose with a dream – those were the ones who settled the west, and it’s the way Second Life has been settled.

Mitch points out that pioneers find themselves in an arduous environment. In fact, it’s too difficult for most people, only the hardy will survive. It’s unavoidable that there would be a high attrition rate in the early years. Those who stay do so because they bond. This gives the environment its charm and its character. But charm and character are yesteryear concepts. Because charm and character are eroded as people bring pragmatism to virtual worlds.

Pragmatic adoption will be fueled not just by business but by all kinds of other sectors, whether in education, architecture, or not-for-profit. It is simply valuable for these groups to use a virtual world, which will cause a challenge for those who feel that there is less novelty, and in some senses less freedom.

“It is always an uneasy transition for the pioneers, and I think we’re going to go through that again. It has to be opened up it has to be made easier to use. There are some things which have to happen. There are some things that Linden Lab has to do….to allow the potential of the platform to unfold…to improve ease of use, ease of learning.”

Changes to the technical platform and governance needs to evolve and move to a more decentralized structure. Announcements of this decentralization will come from Linden Lab in the coming days, weeks and months.

Increasing Emotional Bandwidth

Mitch’s personal interest is on increasing the emotional bandwidth. The addition of voice to Second Life, for example, increased emotional bandwidth. Mitch believes that the next stage is in increasing avatar expression.

The first new development Mitch highlighted was the creation of realistic avatars based on photographs. The ability to take 2D photos and turn them into realistic 3D models.

Mitch then previewed his 3D camera, positioning it as a cheap-and-ready motion capture system which I previously covered. There was nothing new to this – he played the same video that’s been running on youTube for some time. In Mitch’s view, the ability to cross real expression with virtual expression will bring a new range and depth to Second Life and virtual worlds.

Mitch showed snippets of the following video in world:

As I’ve said earlier, it’s not the viewer or the world that will drive the next frontier of innovation, it’s the devices.

The Big Announcement

Mitch announced the creation of an annual award for achievement which exemplifies the mission of Second Life. The prize will be $10,000, with judges drawn from a cross-section of communities including residents. This annual prize has as its motivation a desire to draw attention to ways in which Second Life is being used to improve the human condition.

Mitch was silent, however, on the topic of Philip’s hair.


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