Thursday, August 23, 2007

A goldmine of information about Second Life and Education

This came to me via Kathy Kyzer at ITS-Teaching and Learning, who have done wonderful work on Second Life (visit the UNC island sometime).

These are the proceedings of 2007 Second Life Education Workshop (PDF warning), lots of information about experiments and experience using Second Life in an educational setting.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The realities of virtual worlds for corporate sites

There has been a swirl of hype, and anti-hype around the idea of 'Serious Virtual Worlds'. Of note were the Wired article, as well as a blog posting by Chris Anderson that generated a lively exchange. Even more recent was a Gartner report cautioning corporate America about the risks of doing business in Second Life.

Metaversed, yesterday, held a really nice event in the SAP space on Silicon Island on Corporate Challanges in Virtual Worlds. The panel was:

Here's a shot...hardly a 'ghost town' for tech firms in Second Life!

The panel seemed to be in agreement that much of the recent coverage of virtual business was uninformed, or based on misconceptions. As an example, Gartner cautioned that corporations could not control access to their virtual sites. Expectation plays a big part here too. I think it is true that corporations that expect to build a virtual commercial for a product will be disappointed because nobody showed up. Second Life seems driven by events and gatherings, and is very much a socially driven animal around small networks. Increasingly, real life blogs, and things like Twitter are playing the same role in virtual space as they do in real life, acting as an alert system for happenings, and reporting events later to a wider audience.

The virtual medium has characteristics that distinguish it from the web. Instead of an ad that is encountered for a brief few seconds by a wide audience, virtual interactions involve deeper contacts with customers or contributors in small groups. It was pointed out that surveying a corporate office and seeing it empty can be misleading. The vendors represented pointed out the fact that one must understand the point of a particular build, it could be used for various events, could host customers for private exchanges and training, and also has ripple effects in the 2D media that must be counted in any calculation.

This was alluded to by one of the presenters, but I think about trucking out to the Airport Sheraton for Oracle Tech Days, or similar, vendor-driven events. In those cases, vendors ship out their employees, arrange conference space, and put on an all-day show to a small group. How is this any different from the corporate uses described by the panelists? Not very!

Anyhow, the Metaversed podcast carries the content. I continue to be impressed with the richness of these experiences in virtual space, including all of the networking that occurs before and after these presentations, which in itself demonstrates one of the true, unique properties of the 3D web.

I took a tram into the fourth dimension
Cos I had the blues, the blues of throwing it all away
Just gimme a Tequila, I'll slam it the 4-D way
And when I got there you know it had certain similarities

Like no smoking anywhere
And hiding in the khazi to avoid paying the fare
4-D Tequila anyone
And dont think we didn't dance to records by the Fifth Dimension

-Joe Strummer

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Interesting SL Event Today...

I picked this up from Metaversed...this is at 12PM SL time today. People from Sun, Amazon, Xerox, etc...

There's been a lot of negativity in the press of late over the marketing failures of corporations in the virtual world of Second Life. Analyst firm Gartner have even warned companies away from public worlds recently. With all of that in mind, Metaversed has put together a panel of active real life firms in Second Life to discuss their experiences, and lessons learned from being part of the community. The debate will no doubt prove useful to others and be of great interest to anyone involved in the business side of virtual worlds.

Monday, August 6, 2007

JADE, RMI error running JADE Gateway using Glassfish

Nothing comes up on Google, so I'll throw this out for reference. I was trying to use the new Glassfish server to run a JADE GatewayAgent, on localhost, connecting to a main container on the localhost. Anyhow, it blows off with a MalformedURLException: no protocol yadda yadda yadda when trying to add the child node, blowing off in the RMIMTPManager$PlatformManagerAdapter.addNode method.

This looks like an incompatability with the RMI implementation on Glassfish. In the short term, I punted to Tomcat 5.5 and all is right with the world again.

I'm on J2SE 1.6_02, btw.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A bit part on virtual worlds last nite

NC-17 news did a piece on virtual worlds last night. See if you can spot the nerd. Link to video here.

I'm working on JADE agents today. I'm somewhat suprised that agent frameworks like JADE are not applied more, especially in this 'come to me web' era. As we get an excess of computer cycles in our individual 'infrastructures', and as we become more mobile, there certainly seems to be a niche that agent computing could fill.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

IT Conversations: Faculty Summit Opening Panel

This week's Technometria features the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit's opening panel, moderated by Ed Lazowska and including a number of leading academics and Microsoft researchers.

IT Conversations: Faculty Summit Opening Panel

Real Agents working with virtual spaces

It's been a while since I looked at agents, but I was happy to see that Jade 3.5 had been released. That's actually old news for some. I'm working on a project that embeds a physical space within a virtual 'building', and utilizing the JADE agent framework to tie the virtual and the physical worlds together seems like the ticket.

Anyhow, the things that jumped out at me about 3.5 were the ability to communicate between agents using a pub-sub topic model, and a re-working of the web services integration gateway.

In a previous post, I had talked about a small framework to tie virtual space (in this case Second Life) to external applications. The framework uses sensors (and I'm looking at other means) to detect and inventory objects in the virtual space, and gives the facility to pipe messages to those objects from outside. Yesterday, I used that to create a control panel GUI that can run on a small tablet. This control panel uses the framework to send information into the virtual space, causing alterations to the environment.

Over the weekend, I added the facility to push events out of the virtual space to subscribing listeners. Objects in SL can generate events for touch, creation (on_rez), collision, and so forth. By dropping a script in an object, the framework can trap these events and communicate them to a hub. The hub takes these events and sends them to the framework. Here's a pic where the 'pyramid' is the event generator, and the sphere is the hub. I simply 'touch' the pyramid, and the hub is messaged, sending the event to the framework for dispatching to subscribed listeners.

Below is a shot of the 'touch' event in the framework. There is a facility that inspects events coming out of the virtual space, and compares it to subscribers. A subscriber picks the 'region', or island, the object name, and the desired event. The subscriber also sets up a callback, and receives the paramaters associated with each event. I want to add a more flexible subscription, using regular expressions, etc., but that's more than I need right now. It might also be cool to add the ability to specify a script to run when an event is encountered, but for now it can just callback to a subscriber at a given url. Here's the basics of the event as it arrived to the framework. What's not shown is a generic 'payload' field, where I plan on pushing in the variables associated with each SL event.

At any rate, the 'control panel' I wrote for the tablet uses the ability to push messages into the sim by using a known region and object name. The new addition of the ability to push events out of the virtual space to subscribers is next on the plate, hence the interest in using agents on the 'real life' side. I think topic-based subscriptions on the agent side will help me figure out cool things to do given that I can hook into virtual events, plus it is just plain geek-fun.

The first task will be to have an avatar push a doorbell button in the sim, pick up that event, push it to the agent, and have the agent kick off a real-life doorbell chime. A stupid pet-trick, true, but the point will be to exercise this thing end-to-end, and then I'll have established a workable 2-way bridge to interesting things later. So far, the scripting/framework approach works out. Time will tell how well it scales, how lag-inducing it can be, etc. I've gone the approach of using conservative ping and sense rates, and it's been pretty smooth and stable so far.

Something whack that would be a fun side-project would be to wrap virtual devices with Jini, and have discoverable virtual services under a framework like that. This gets back to an idea I had a while back, using virtual spaces, virtual sensors, virtual actuators, and virtual people, to develop and prototype smart, ambient computing services. Given the collaborative nature of these environments, it might make sense!