Well… I’ve been in and out of Opensim now for over a month. I’ve presented on it and had some pretty serious discussions with different folks about running projects with it. I’ve installed the server on XP and Ubuntu and Debian, I’ve connected to the server from XP, Linux and Mac. Truth is… I’ve installed it (if you count the upgrades) about 40 times.
I like it very much.
But it’s time for a little more serious evaluation. The project is still in alpha, the folks who are devoting their free time to developing it are saying time and time again “I wouldn’t really depend on your stuff being there from day to day.” There is no formal organization currently backing the community, nor is it super clear to the newcomer how they might get involved or what they might do to get started if they don’t know what svn is or what it means to “just run it on mono.” The current instructions on the website are not particularly designed for the newcomer… nor are they really intended to help the technologically transient. They are specific notes for those who are fairly familiar with a server or know how to create a .bat file in a folder (a surprisingly small number of people know that last one right off… i didn’t). I had to learn a bunch of things before i was comfortable working with it… and i’ve had my nose pretty seriously stuffed into servers for the last year or two… (I eventually decided that I needed to be able to control the means of production surrounding all this social software in order to evaluate it for people’s needs. I’m glad that learning part is over 😛 )
Opensim – What is it?
It is the BSD licensed server part of a Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE) that works using the recently ‘open-sourced’ version of the Second Life client. I heard something in the IRC chat recently that they have a little over 100 of the 300+ functionalities that currently run in Linden Lab’s secondlife. There are two kinds of opensim… the ‘stand alone’ version and the ‘grid’ version. The standalone version allows you to control your own folks in your own ‘island’ or combination of islands. The grid version allows you to take it a step further… it allows you to connect your own ‘sims’ to other sims that other folks have made somewhere else.
Why should I care?
A few reasons. One of John Schinker’s students, on being asked about whether he was interested in working in an MUVE responded by saying that “he had some concerns about it if it was a public environment.” bless him. Opensim allows you to completely control the environment by limiting access to the people that you choose. On the other hand, to respond to some of the critique levelled against this kind of pedagogy it does no ‘FORCE’ you to restrict access. You could put a registration page on your website and let anyone into your grid. What it does, is offer you the choice.
The most interesting option is the opportunity to do both. You could (soon, the technology is not quite there yet), create some of your world off your desktop in your own classroom and, when you felt like it, connect to edugrids, and meet with other students. You could then turn that off and return to the security of your own classroom. Best of both worlds, nice private place to work, nice public place to go and meet folks and show them your island.
Right now, Edugrids is a concept. I’ve currently been approached by two teachers who are interested in working alongside the project that we have going on here in PEI. They want to be able to bring their kids in to our opensim world and have them play along with other students. Nice safe environment, nice controlled access, but enough kids participating to have some community type stuff happen. Not a difficult concept really, but potentially very interesting… and very powerful.
How do I get involved
Give us a month or two. We’re still trying to figure out how this is going to work. We’ll get some kind of website up so that people can get a sense of what our goals are… and what they can and can’t do. To give people updates on where the software is and stuff. I’m just kinda fishing around right now trying to get the sense if this is the next personallearningspace or not. we’ll see.