Some nice feedback over at ClioAudio on my plans for a virtual excavation in Second Life –
“In my head till now Second Life has been next door to Doom, Quake and Half-Life, but not as compelling due to the lack of gore. The archaeological models I’ve seen have been painstakingly created, but they’ve always seemed unrealistic. Partly because of the limitations of technology, but also because they tend to be re-creations of monuments and artefacts in pristine condition. Between them Shawn and Eric have shown Second Life could be much more interesting if you take another approach and try and build a virtual excavation.”
Alun raises an important point when he expresses reservations about the fact that this is in Second Life.
“Really it’s the fact it’s in Second Life which is my concern. Is it possible to export the information out from Second Life and make it accessible to other programs? If not then you would seem to be at the mercy of one company. Which is why I should go back and see what you can and cannot do in Second Life.”
It is in fact possible to export information out of Second Life – the Sloodle project for instance has been working very hard to integrate the Moodle learning management system with learning activities carried out in Second Life. I’ve used some of the tools that they’ve developed to post directly from Second Life into the blog part of a Moodle course area, for instance. I can imagine recording information from the virtual excavation directly in this way… but sometimes the easiest way to export information from one system or world is to do it in your head. If I have Nabonidus and Second Life both open at the same time on a computer, I can just switch from one to the other…
People with whom I chat about things like Second Life express reservations about my project being on just the one platform, owned by a commercial company. At the current moment, there’s not much I can do about that. Part of me wants to say, ‘but do you object to writing your papers using MS Word?’. The analogy isn’t exact. Were Microsoft to go under, your copy of Word would still work. If Linden Labs goes under, Second Life might cease to exist altogether. This is a very real concern. Other virtual worlds (proper games) have gone *ppphhht* as their parent companies pull the plug (The Economist did an article, ‘The End is Virtually Nigh’ on one such). New projects, such as the Multiverse project, would allow you to set up your own world independent of a commercial company (see also this article). But really, how many of us archaeologists have the kind of skill sets necessary to get something like that up and running?
This was the initial genius of Second Life – it promised to let anybody (with a broadband connection), build their own virtual reality. Now in truth it’s not so simple, but as the first to really roll that out on a grand scale, it has been a success. I fully expect, if I am able to get this virtual excavation to work as I imagine it, that someday I’ll have to migrate it to a different world or platform. It probably won’t be a straight one-to-one transfer. But having done it once, and understanding what is involved, it’ll be much easier to do a second time.