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Moving to the Second Classroom

Teaching in virtual environments can be very productive, says Bill Thompson.

Although it's common to hear technology entrepreneurs and investors express concern about the possibility that Google will move into their market niche and take away their business, the reality is that neither Google nor anyone else is guaranteed success in a new area.

Google's social network, Orkut, has not challenged MySpace or Facebook, online calendar services like 30boxes are still doing well despite Google's Calendar offering, and the recently-launched voice and video add-on to Gmail is unlikely to supersede Skype as a business tool.

Last week Google announced the closure of Lively, the web-based virtual environment it launched in July, in order to 'prioritise our resources and focus more on our core search, ads and apps business', as the announcement puts it.

Lively was only ever available as a plug-in for Windows users, and looked more like a 3-D chatroom than a serious challenge to more established virtual worlds such as Second Life, so it is unlikely to be missed.

But its demise should comfort anyone who thinks that large, rich companies can simply move in on their businesses.

In online tech journal The Register, the closure of Lively was greeted as another example of the failure of virtual worlds, with Chris Williams asking, "Could it be there isn't a pot of gold at the end of the Sadville rainbow?" "Sadville" is the dismissive name the site has used for Second Life in a series of articles describing its failures, defects and inadequacies.

Second Life may get much less press attention than it used to - Reuters has withdrawn its much-trumpeted Second Life correspondent - but it is still being used by many people as a space for socialising, experimentation and, of course, cartoon-like sexual encounters.

It is also the most popular virtual world for teachers and education researchers, perhaps because there are fewer orcs than you typically encounter in World of Warcraft or the more quest-oriented worlds.

More at BBC news

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