VR news roundup: increasing competition for Oculus

Some rather important news about virtual reality developments: it seems Oculus is getting some serious competition.

-Playstation 4 VR Headset Project Morpheus could come to market in the second half of 2016. (Roadtovr)

– Valve and HTC unveiled a very impressive system at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona. This stuff is expected to ship to developers in Spring 2015. TechCrunch John Biggs has a glowing report on it.

– A Secret team at Google is working on new version of Android for virtual reality, so Rolfe Winkler announces on The Wall Street Journal.

– So what is Oculus doing? No hard announcements yet for the launch of a consumer version of their headset. However, Gear VR, the Samsung mobile headset powered by Oculus, would get a full launch with Samsung’s next cycle – probably this Fall (TechCrunch).

I updated the VR wiki mindmap accordingly. 

The Augmentationist Weekly: Broken Education, Social Media and Emotions

augmentationist_logoThe Augmentationist with links about education, social media and – yes! – augmentation. You can read The Augmentationist here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site.

Peak Education

Futurist Bryan Alexander wonders whether the United States is experiencing peak education. After two generations of growth, American higher education has reached its upper bound. The student population seems to decline and families are not increasing higher education spending. The number of tenure-track faculty conducting research could very well top off. Of course, it’s not clear at all whether this is a temporary situation or a more durable trend. Be sure to have a look at the interesting discussion in the comments section.

Innovation and private investment in education

Education expert George Siemens attended an Education Innovation Summit and gives his impressions in a long post. It’s all about broken education, start-up entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and corporations wanting to innovate radically. Strangely enough, while wanting to revolutionize education, they seem rather conservative in accepting standardized tests. While Siemens is pro business and innovation, he’s clearly worried about the learners and society and uneasy about gatherings where everyone agrees on anything.

Social media making kids smarter?

Twitter and social media in general could very well make children better writers and thinkers. It seems students nowadays write longer, more intellectually complex papers. Is there a causal relationship, Freakonomics wonders.

Social media making people angrier?

Which emotion tends to go most viral? As most participants or readers of comment sections and social media realize, it’s anger, not sadness, joy or disgust. James Vincent at The Independent reports about research coming to the same conclusion.

Social Media Issues

At Stanford University the Social Media Issues course, facilitated by Howard Rheingold, started. One can comment on the blogs and participate in the Fishbowl forum. I read an excellent post aboutblogging and learning in public, in which a new article by Clive Thompson, Thinking Out Loud,  was quoted:

“But focusing on the individual writers and thinkers misses the point. The fact that so many of us are writing — sharing our ideas, good and bad, for the world to see — has changed the way we think. Just as we now live in public, so do we think in public. And that is accelerating the creation of new ideas and the advancement of global knowledge.”

Google Glass and iOS7

Don’t worry: I won’t start product reviews here – but this week I not only installed iOS7, I also experienced Google Glass (for a full fifteen minutes). Glass is all about integrating the power of the internet and computers in the natural flow of your life – it almost integrates the internet in your body. While starting to use iOS7 and going back an forth between an Android device and an iPhone, I realized this is the big battlefield: which operating system and manufacturer will be the best to augment us? In the meantime, Google not only wants to augment us, but also to make us live longer and better. Behind all this I guess there must be some philosophy which is as worth studying as the thinking of the Renaissance intellectuals.

Existential questions about virtual worlds

It has been interesting to be away from virtual worlds stuff for a few weeks. I had some catching up to do, but at first sight it seems not much has changed.

There is another famous Linden Lab employee leaving the company, Jack Linden. Other virtual worlds are presenting themselves as alternatives for Second Life, such as OpenSim. Blue Mars continues to promote is’s nice graphics and Twinity it’s mirror worlds.

But looking at all this from a distance, it seems the momentum of those projects and companies is lost, at least for now. Outside the feverishly working communities of those virtual places, nobody seems to care. What’s hot right now is Zynga, Facebook, Twitter, the iPad and the epic struggle between Android and Apple, and of course there is Microsoft’s Kinect. People wonder constantly whether Second Life is still around, and as far as Blue Mars, OpenSim or Twinity is concerned, well even most accomplished geeks won’t know what you’re talking about unless they happen to be members of those tiny niche-communities.

I was not surprised at all reading Botgirl’s post about Pew research which points in the same direction:

According to the latest Pew Generations Report, virtual worlds have less participants than any other online niche surveyed and are experiencing no growth. It’s pretty pathetic. Virtual worlds were not just trounced by social networks and multimedia viewing, but even by religious information sites and online auctions. After seven years in the public eye, it’s clear that neither incremental technology improvements nor new ad campaigns are going to dramatically increase the virtual world market in the foreseeable future.

I couldn’t agree more with Botgirl’s solution:

After reading the report, I’m more convinced than ever that browser-based access to virtual worlds in conjunction with social network integration is the most credible light at the end of the tunnel. The way to move virtual worlds from their current isolated backwater into the integrated mainstream is by making them as seamlessly accessible and usable as every other category in the Pew Report. This will also require mobile-compatible clients, since mobile internet use will surpass computer-based use within the next few years.

Wagner James Au at the New World Notes has been suggesting this Facebook Connect option for quite some time now, but in his post discussing Botgirl’s article he says he’s “starting to think there’s an even better way to make 3D virtual worlds more mass market: Integration with Kinect and Xbox Live.”

So I went to watch the latest Metanomics video for inspiration in times of crisis in virtual worlds. As usual there were distinguished guests such as Larry Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of the New Media Consortium, Brian Kaihoi of the Mayo Clinic and Terry Beaubois, Professor of the College of Architecture and Director of the Creative Research Lab (CRLab) at Montana State University, being interviewed by Robert Bloomfield, Professor of Accounting at the Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management.

All these people invested lots of time and money in Second Life projects, at one point they really believed this was an important part of the future (I do not exclude some of them still do believe that). Now they are still very active, but they admit times are different now. The financial crisis made institutions look hard to save costs, but there is more than that. The Gartner Cycle of Hype was mentioned and I confess, being a slightly cynical journalist, to me that sounds like “yes, we completely lost traction, but hey, fancy consultants tell us that it’s nothing to worry about: after the Disillusionment will come the Slope of Enlightenment and we’ll get to the Plateau of Productivity.” Yeah, right. Maybe. Or maybe not.

So is this some convoluted way of saying that I lost all hope virtual worlds will have a bright future after all? Well, it’s convoluted because it’s a complicated matter. As the folks at the Metanomics show said, there is the technology (and the business), but there’s also the community. It remains true that the Second Life community is awesome: highly creative, inspiring people, not just using new technologies but actually living technology.

It’s also true that there’s a lot to be learned in “social technology”, such as using text backchat during live shows, ways to produce chat shows, to integrate live events with video, chat, social streams etc. I actually apply stuff I learned in Second Life in the context of my newsroom, facilitating a virtual community, organizing chat sessions etc. But I don’t use Second Life, because of just too many practical hurdles and a cost/benefit which I cannot justify.

As some of the panel guests said, Second Life and similar environments are a “third place” where you “go” to actually meet other people. But then again, a CoverItLive chat box is also such a third place where people meet each other. I do know the arguments explaining why virtual environments are more intense: the representation by a virtual body means that people actually apply real world principles while meeting each other (maintaining a certain “physical” distance, for instance), implying that what goes on is somewhere in between “just chat” and “actually meeting”. But maybe people just want to attend an online chat event without any hassle, and they’ll use forums to connect with others…

All of which means, for my practice, that I’d love to have a lite version of Second Life or a similar world, very scalable, browser based, and yes, also allowing for using mobile devices. Also, in some way we’ll see further down the road Augmented Reality applications combining the physical and virtual worlds, and maybe the Kinect can facilitate a revolution as far as interfaces are concerned – all of which means that Second Life as we know it will have been a useful stepping stone on the road to somewhere very different.