Global Executive Presentation on Disruptive Technology

Last week I had the great pleasure of presenting a one day seminar on the Transformational Role of Emerging Internet Technologies on Business Innovation to our – now graduated (Congratulations!) – Global Executive MBA class. Many who attended asked for access to charts and any media that went along with the presentation. This post, I hope, fulfills that request.

Back in June, I was asked to present at an Eduverse mixed reality symposium where the primary audience was located in Holland at University of Utrecht where I presented via Skype and where other participants met at the Eduverse center in Second Life. Rob Sheppard is a wonderful host and, IMHO, puts on an excellent symposium with a very thoughtful mix of technologies that makes it work. In this case it it truly was a “Medium is the Message” moment for me. Be sure to check out other symposium presenters if you have interest in Virtual Worlds.

For those of you who attended the GEMBA session, this 23 minute video gets as much of what we discussed in terms of how emerging technology is enabling entrepreneurs to bypass institutional command and control by embedding collaboration and coordination into the workflow rather than trying to intuit and plan it in advance institutionally. Clay Shirky’s example of how, now that we have cell phones, we just say “I’ll call you when I get there” rather than having to laboriously plan a meeting location and time with backup plans in advance should come to mind. I also talk a bit more about the lessons from our leadership study that was published in HBR here earlier this year.

I hope you find this video to be of value in helping resurface some of the main themes we discussed.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I have also uploaded the handouts to Slideshare for you to view:

Congratulations again, and best of luck to you all as you lead your respective organizations to new heights in the coming years.

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Doh…I got the number of employees wrong at Wikipedia

Yesterday I had a lot of fun at my breakout session. I got on a riff comparing Wikipedia to Britannica on a number of fronts. Three years ago when I was at one of IBM’s GIO 2.0 meetings I had the pleasure of meeting Jean Baptiste Souffron, who was the attorney at Wikipedia. At that time,he told me it was just “Him and Jimmy” as official employees.

So as I riffed yesterday I talked about how Wikipedia only had two employees which I assumed would be a lot less that Britannica. Later that day Elliott was interviewing Sue and she mentioned that the ranks of Wikipedia have swelled to a MASSIVE 22 full time employees. Still not bad considering that they run the fourth most used site on the web.

The larger point here is that social media principles are rapidly diffusing into the enterprise space and new models of organization where orchestration and coordination of talent and passion around endeavor is trumping command and control of employees around projects they are not energized about is starting to pervade.

None of us is as smart as all of us and we need to start thinking of human capital as a network of talented and capable people who can be tuned to an issue or opportunity at the moment of inspiration or need.

Over and out from Orlando as I ready to hear from one of my true heroes, Kevin Kelly.

V-Business Expo Day 1

Currently in Forterra’s Olive Platform listening to Steve Prentice speak on virtual worlds. Here is the agenda. I will be keynoting this event tomorrow and talking about the 3Di web singularity.

Here is my real-time capture of Steve’s insights:

Virtual worlds are all about people not technology. Function is as an environment for people to interact. Basic premise underpinning is presence in concurrent space. If it is about interaction, is Myspace or Facebook a virtual world in its own right even without Vivaty. Are MMORPGs virtual worlds? Presence based interaction would say yes even though they are more deterministic than virtual worlds.

The real truth on the future of virtual worlds is very hard to predict. But his famous 80% quote was to wake up CIOs to the reality. 300M registered users in virtual worlds according to KZero.

Huge gulf between registrants is huge. So counting registrations is easy but not accurate. On average ratio is 12:1 in terms of registrants to users. For instance, Habbo is 90M registrants to 9M active users for instance. So a good rule of thumb to use. Some indications suggest for younger demographics have higher ratios.

But HOW MANY users don’t matter. More important to know WHO the users are. VWs are dominated by kind and tweens from a population perspective. However, adult residents of VWs are passionate about environments. Research shows that it is the older users (30+) that are most dedicated even though they are a smaller population. Lots of plugs for KZero’s anaysis. Encourages us all to take a look at the most recent analysis.

Virtual worlds are all about people, but this industry is being driven by engineers so the predictable pattern of functionality explosion and interface confusion. Technologists see things as physical problems when VWs are really about people. Therein lies a disconnect. User interfaces are a HUGE issue. Keep it simple. If you notice the interface it is already getting in the way.

Community and Socialization needs to come before creation. People like talking to people they have things in common. Community built around Love, Belonging and Self Esteem (Maslow). Contrasts going to Barbie Venue versus SecondLife. Secret of vibrant active virtual world community is about community not creativity, people not physics.

SecondLife saw huge growth early on. It is not a failure, but not as successful as some that focus on people. Carefully targeted or linked to toys. Look at IMVU, Habbo, closing in on 100M downloads. They relentlessly deliver against the needs of their segment. SL tries to target everybody…but everybody is not a segment.

We need to provide ability to personalize and customize. But just like you go to IKEA to buy your furniture instead of building yourself, this should happen in VWs. Societal pressure conspire adults to do things required to do rather than having fun. Kids are easier to target. Kids/tween worlds have strong aspects of gaming and social/reputational capital. Habbo is 2.5D but gets 10M unique users. High end features are not essential to success. Virtual worlds are about people and interactions.

How about Virtual Worlds in the Enterprise. Increasingly he talks about intersection of Technology, Business and Society. Notion of Co-Evolution. Business and Societal landscape. Ref to 1962 Arthur C. Clarke’s laws. Democratization of IT challenging the very fabric of how enterprise IT works. Users are increasingly changing the rules for Enterprise IT leaders. Rise of global communities that have broken free from the constraints of geography.

Why did initial enterprise foray into virtual worlds fail? Not understanding demographics and not understanding community. Enterprises got caught up in hype. End result was as predictable as it was disappointing. Few successes were focused on internal deployment rather than customer oriented. Educational Sector, virtual worlds have progressed quite well. Lot of universities are engaging with students around virtual environments. Broadcast media has also had some success.

Opportunity to engage with audience and control brand experience is attractive. Know your segment and build affordances around the community they want. Add the immersion of Virtual worlds and you have a place where people feel they belong. VWs are 21st century equivalent of Fanzines. TV program will become the trailer/advertisement for the Virtual World community build around it.

Training is the one place where promise has been met but it does leverage creative component. Virtual reality as tool for simulation and scenarios is a historical artifact here. Can do deterministic (simulations) and non-deterministic (social interaction) scenarios. Vastpark, Wonderland etc allow the technically savvy to create a controlled and customized environment. We are also seeing RRR and Sheep getting into this work. Scenario based role playing is a key area where Virtual Worlds have significant advantage. Training is always the first application he recommends. Role based scenario is key. ESA says 70% of major employers leverage games/virtual worlds for learning and half are role based.

Gaming is huge…average age is in late 20s. Most business audiences have serious WOW players. Maybe time for them to come out of the closet. If you are a good trader on EVE online you are probably a pretty good trader in the real world too. If you are a Guild Leader you could be a world class project manager. Maybe all the long hours at MMORPG keyboard can help you in your career.
Steve referenced our IBM GIO on online gaming research, he says…”Read it, digest it and leave it out for your boss to see.”

Beyond training there are also Meetings, Bloody Meetings. We can effectively use VWs for this. But we need to be careful. Sometimes Webex and Webcam is all you need. Sometimes you need Telepresence, but VWs fit into the face to face sense of belonging required for meetings. Immersive Work Space from Rivers Run Red. Wonderland may be strong in the enterprise next year. We will see more of the collaborative benefits of Virtual Worlds due to fuel prices. So first focus on TRAINING, then INTERNAL COLLABORATION. But beware on collaboration, do not get too carried away. Remember to keep it simple. They are but one tool.

Next stage for organizations will be about resolving social elements of work as we are no longer physically co-located. Virtual worlds are good for cementing and strengthening the social fabric and the culture of the organization. These trivial conversations are important. Virtual worlds can play an important role as a virtual water cooler. But ROI is hard.

What about external deployment. It will take a while. 18 Months or Two Years. Interfaces will have improved and user bases will have become clearer. Some good examples. Retail Shareholder example from a Steel Organization. Chambers from Cisco also hosted a meeting in SL. Opportunity to promote organization directly at the grass roots. Microsoft has made product announcements in SL at 30% of cost. Direct comms and brand building in public virtual worlds will pick up, but it will be a while. Controlled limited deployments with specific audiences and community/collaboration agendas.

Average dwell times in virtual worlds is about 15 minutes. This is very attractive for marketeers. Here is where Lively comes in. Maintain and build a community around a brand is going to be a key play. RRR and others are seeing this.

What about the future. Technology is advancing. Visual fidelity and gestural computing are on the way. Combine with multitouch and broad adoption of accelerometer. Much more intuitive control interface. Forget the mouse, forget the interface. These things will trickle out. If we don’t VWs will be abandoned by the mainstream. MOBILE will be huge. 3B of them as opposed to 1B interfaces. VWs need to build on the Mobile Platform. Not full functionality, but do need to maintain DIGITAL SOCIAL GROOVING. More valuable will be SEAMLESS CONNECTIVITY BETWEEN platforms rather than visual fidelity within 3D platforms. Huge explosion in Mirror Worlds using geospatial data. Virtual Travel before real Travel.

Big challenge is USER INTERFACES, THICK CLIENTS. Browser based interfaces need a middle ground. Interoperability is a key. He does not believe in the overarching Metaverse. People are getting used to maintaining separate digital personai.

Are we nearly there yet? No but people before physics, community before creativity and enterprise focusing internally on employee education and collaboration will be key. Today’s virtual worlds have interfaces that people do not have patience to learn. People don’t want technology they want magic. In the words of Jean Luc Picard…JUST MAKE IT SO.

The 3Di-Web Singularity is Near

Kurzweil fans will recognize the blatent lift from his most recent book. But as far as I am concerned stealing is the ultimate form of flattery, especially in a Web 2.0 world where “TEACHING” and “CHEATING” are anagrams…..More on that in another post.

Since I was asked to talk on this subject this Thursday at the e-Learning Guild Online Forums, I had to give this some attention this past week. Here is my latest back-of-napkin-turned-into-PPT thinking on the 3i-web singularity. If you like what you read here, you may want to consider signing up here for the Forum on Thursday.

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In “The Singularity is Near” Kurzweil posits that due to the law of accelerating returns, technology is progressing towards a singularity where a machine/technology mashup extends beyond the capability of human beings.

Victor Vinge originally coined the “singularity’ term observing that just as our model of physics breaks down when it tries to model the singularity at the center of a black hole, our model of the world breaks down when it tries to model a future that contains entities smarter than human.

My attempt here is to take some of Kurzweil and Vinge’s thoughts and mash them up with some more pragmatic guidance from Analysts such as Steve Prentice at Gartner who suggests that

“By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a “second life,” but not neccessarily in Second Life.”

Anyhow the story towards the i-web singularity goes something like this:

SYNCHRONOUS LEARNING GOES BECOMES IMMERSIVE:
The integration between traditional synchronous learning systems such as WebEX, Centra, Adobe Connect, Citrix and 3D Avatar-Mediated platforms is not far away. Karl Kapp and I have written a whole paper on this topic that is available through the e-learning guild site.

CORPORATE SOCIAL NETWORKING GOES INTERACTIVE
I continue to marvel at the speed of the 3D space. My hypothesis is that this speed is driven by the Web 2.0 network that is built around it. Mark Wallace or other notables in Virtual World news post something as soon as they hear it on the grapvine. It is the ultimate in radical transparency and it is this transparency that propels the industry forward informed by the wisdom of the crowd that is both producting and consuming insights on where it is going. For instance, at Virtual Worlds II Ruben Steiger, in his morning keynote, posits that there will be a mash up between Facebook/Myspace and 3D worlds. That AFTERNOON I am at the Active Worlds table where I see an Facebook/Active Worlds mash up. Later I ready that Korea’s Cy World is going to go 3D. If this is where things are going in Consumer land, enterprise can’t be far behind. In fact, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that some lower end integration of Webex and Telepresence could be a new Killer App for Cisco, while IBM has already announced plans to integrate 3D with Lotus Connections.

IMMEDIATE DYNAMIC KNOWLEDGE DISCOVERY
This is the point at which Knowledge MANAGEMENT gets left in the dust. We stop focusing on trying to create “STOCKS” of extracted knowledge from experts, but instead we focus on enabling “FLOWS” of interactions via Blogs, Wikis, Social Tagging and Networking to increase the number of knowledge accidents within the firm. Also, we forego corporate competency modeling in favor of real-time, ongoing tag clouds attributed to both PEOPLE and DOCUMENTS. Blog squads go seek out the truth about an issue or opportunity, Wikis capture the wisdom of crowds around a given topic or task, dynamic social networking enables real-time capability discovery and takes advantage of an affordance long leveraged within MMORPGs and the list goes on.

INTUITIVE NETWORKED VIRTUAL SPACES
Finally the integration of SLSs such as Live Meeting and Repository/Work Spaces such as SharePoint just plain makes sense. Marrying interactive work activity with the explicit knowledge required to engage in virtual work is an inevitability. If people like MS or Google get this right (given that Ozzie is now with MS, the chances of the former are good), then we will FINALLY have an intuitive NewWORKed environment where work just plain gets done.

THE 3Di Web SINGULARITY
Masup the Mashups and you end up with a totally new platform upon which people work, learn and play. A 3D environment that affords information age work like nothing we have seen before. One that is immersive, interactive, immediate and intuitive. One that unleashes the human capital inside the firm more effortlessly than ever before and one that attracts people to it because it is a space that allows them to uncover endeavors around which they have both the capability and the passion to engage. With something as powerful as this less than 4 years away (and I predict sooner), lets hope that those Human Capital Management folks are paying attention.

Web 3D follows Web 1.0 Adoption Meme

In an earlier post I mused on how it looks like Web 3D is following a similar adoption meme to Web 1.0. The sizzle comes from Business to Consumer (B2C) side, the Steak is starting to emerge in the Business to Employee (B2E) domain and the special sauce we anticipate will come where the serious move back and forth on digital pipes…in the Business to Business (B2B) space.

Last October I was asked to the Society for Information Management’s Advanced Practices Council. The audience was CIOs from large corporations. Only one or two had heard of Second Life and a few had heard of MMORPGs. Five minutes into the presentation I could feel the resistance from the audience. Although this was the Advanced Practices Council and although they had asked to be briefed on this topic, they were clearly uncomfortable. Thankfully I had a ton of data and corporate examples to back up my claims that corporations were getting serious about Serious Games and Virtual Social Worlds and the audience eventually became very engaged around the possibilities that this new technology could afford their respective organizations.

As a result of that session, Blake Ives (Head of the Advanced Practice Council and Chair in Business Leadership at the University of Houston), Dennis Adams (Chair of Decision and Information Sciences at the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Huston) and I embarked on a study to find out what IT leaders believed with regards to the future of Online Role Playing Games (ORPGs) and Virtual Social Worlds (VSWs) in business.

The chart below is but one of many that we developed in surveying 105 IT leaders around the world. I can’t go into all the details of the study here, but I can say that, overall, IT leaders saw more business potential in Virtual Worlds than they did in Online Role Playing Games. In fact, with regards to virtual worlds, 82% agreed or strongly agreed that there are many opportunities to leverage virtual worlds for commercial benefit.

Going a little deeper into the left side of this graph, we uncover some data to validate the replication of Sizzle, Steak, Sauce meme.

B2C facing activity (Brand Development, Reverse Branding) does not get as much emphasis as B2C facing activity Education, Simulation and Leadership/Teamwork. B2B activity like managing Distribution Channel and Product/Service Development, also get some mention, but it is clear that from an IT perspective the emphasis for the near-term will be on B2E.

Of course with that comes all the other issues I mentioned earlier about the feature/function that enterprise grade 3D environments will need that existing B2C Metaverses do not have in place. So there will be a lot to figure out on this front to make the B2E plays of learning, collaboration and development come alive via the first person interface.

It is clearly early days yet. But things definitely have come a long way since that cold October pitch in Philly last October ; )

Tony’s Take on Webvolution

A while back I wrapped some text around a model that I developed with Jim Spohrer at IBM Research that tries to explain how the web is evolving and how is impacting, well, everything ; )

You can re-read that post here

Well, if a picture tells a thousand words, a movie may tells even more (especially if it is me at 2AM in some strange state between alertness and dreaming).

I originally put this piece together in Articulate but could not figure out how to publish it to WordPress (again probably due to lack of sleep). So I gave up and dropped it into Vegas, rendered it and posted on YouTube.

If anyone can get me over the hump in terms of posting Articulate files to the blog (Jay? Mark?) I would really appreciate it. I found it very user friendly to create with all the functions embedded right into PPT and the version on my desktop really does work well.

Anyway, another nine minute rant on Webvolution awaits right if you are up to it! I am going to bed at a reasonable hour for a change.

Virtual World and Game Change Update

I have been out on vacation then down with some crazy bug and on top of that my notes has been crashed for two days. Choosing to be off-grid for vacation was fun. Not being able to be on-grid to deal with the deluge of mail due to me being off-grid is not.

e-mail truly is a killer app. It is killing the CIO because as technology gets wiz-bangier folks love to send around flash and ppts that weigh the digital equivalent of a ton and the digital highways that the CIO must fund are stressed to the max from all the heavy traffic. More importantly, e-mail is a killer applicaiton because it is killing us humans. OK, maybe not killing us, but certainly dramatically reducing our ability to focus for any reasonable length of time. e-mail is probably the biggest contributor to the fact the most of us have been reduced to having the attention span of a nat, or a ferrett on two cappucinos.

Anyway, on to other things. Virtual Worlds Day II was great. It focused more on the meat and potatoes side of the potential for this technology. Joe Miller of Second Life was kind enough to use one of my charts to describe the evolution of the web:

A lot of folks seemed to resonate with this chart although as I mentioned in an earlier post, many well known thinkers in this field like Henry Jenkins warn against continuum charts like this. You can read more about this from my previous post on entrepreneurial capitalism here. BTW, I got a nice surprise while on vacation….A note from none other than Joe Pine of “Experience Economy” fame where he said “I recently caught up with your post on Second Life and the Experience Economy — and, yes, the former is absolutely a platform for the latter! A platform I’m increasingly enamored with for its potential. I actually think it not just a platform but a new medium for experiences.”

OK, back to task – I did mention I have ADD Right?

Upon reflection of the two days at VW, I am seeing a similar meme to what happened in Web 1.0. Back then, the SIZZLE was all about Business to Consumer (B2C) which focused on Marketing/Branding/Advertising. Remeber the Sock Puppet from Pets.com and a ton of other similar ploys to establish presence and leverage brands with little or no back-end to crazy valuations? The STEAK was in the Business to Employee (B2E) space where companies leveraged the differentiating capabilities of this technology to enable self-service for employees allowing better access and usage to information and services by employees at dramatically lower costs. Finally the SPECIAL SAUCE for Web 1.0 (and the place where the biggest bucks were made) was in the Business to Business (B2B) space.

My colleague at IBM, Peter Finn came up with the terms Intraverse and Interverse to bring a 3D flavor to the 2D concepts of intranets and internets. Metaverse is reserved for Neal Stepenson. BTW Ruben Steiger of Millions of Us had a very funny story of how he met Neal and told him that they had created the Metaverse with SecondLife…Neal’s response…”cool.” That was it, nothing more.

Coming out of the VW conference, I think that MTV is bringing a lot of Sizzle to the B2C space. That being said, it is intersting to note that they are building their Laguna Beach, The Hills and Pimp My Ride destinations on the There Platfrorm and working with Game Designers to get the production/addiction quality where they want it to be and to have more control over the worlds. In a way, Secondlife is the ultimate B2C play as the consumer is the producer (or prosumer as Tapscott would like to say). Joe Miller reckons that residents contribute over a billion dollars worth of content creation a year to SL as things stand today. That is prosumption at its wildest!

On the Business to Employee side, players like Forterra and Proton Media provide industrial grade 3D worlds built to reside behind a company’s firewall and integrate with other enterprise apps which is a core requirment to deliver value in the B2E space. Finally, Multiverse’s notion of universal browser that allows folks who use their platform to connect worlds through that browser gives us the first notion of the Interverse and is well worth keeping track of.

So when it comest to 3Di there is Sizzle, there is Steak and there is Special Sauce. We need the sizzle to create the interest, we need the steak to show how real business to employee applications can be achieved via the application of 3D technology and we will ultimately (3-4 years out according to most panelists at VW) get the special sauce that allows all of this to connect in a seamless way.

Don’t know about you all, but I got my Fork and my Steak Knife and I am ready to chow down on the 3D future!

Virtual Worlds Going Mainstream!

I know, I have been a bad bad blogger lately. But rest assured, I have not been idle and now you get to share in the fruits of my labor!

At Training this year I delivered a presentation entitled Games and the Future of Learning at 8:00 AM on the opening day of the conference. To my pleasant surprise, the room was packed and the energy palpable.

I won’t go into the whole story about Tony’s typical last minute shennanigans in pulling together pitches, but suffice to say that I pulled this one off with very very little sleep the night before. That being said, the response to this pitch was overwhelming. Folks were truly pumped about the possibilities for games and virtual social worlds.

Since that pitch much has happened both internally and externally. The e-Learning Guild published their report on Immersive Learning Sims, I wrapped and IBM study on Leadership in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing games and Lisa Neal at e-Learning Magazine asked Jay Cross, Eilif Trondsen and I to do a piece on VSWs for this months edition (good timing right ahead of the first Virtual Worlds conferece in NY next week).

The e-Learn article is up right now so please have a read and see let us know what you think.

If you liked it, and you did not make my session at Training, I have been working like a maniac to condense this message form this pitch down. I bought some video editing software and hacked together a 9 minute piece that I really believe will leave you with a true sense of the incredible possibilities that the 3D internet offers to learning. I spent over 30 hours to get this thing together, between learning how to film in virtual worlds, to learning how to edit video and audio, to scouring the web for good examples of the sensibilites and audio clips from visionaries like Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia.

Take a look, the first two mintes are talkie, but then I get into some very cool machinima clips from inside virtual worlds that bring the sensibilities alive. To completely mash up some of Jay’s eloquent writing, my latest one liner is “Avatars are Free Range Learners and Virtual Social Worlds are the Learnscape within which they learn.”

So go get a coffee, sit back for a 10 minute break and take a look at movie director debut ; ). More importantly please respond here in this blog so others can share in your widsom.

UGH, unfortunately it seems that this billion dollar lawsuit is causing some drag on our Google pals. For whatever reason, access to this video intermittent. As a backup, I have posted a slightly longer,ergo more detailed version of this video on Acid Planet. The benefit of this site is that you can download the file for your own use, the downside is it costs you two more clicks!

Click HERE to view and/or download.

In the Web 2.0 world is all about Rip, Remix, Resubmit, Repeat. Let me know how to make this better of if you are better at video editing than me, rip it, remix it, resubmit it and lets get the power Wikiography (as opposed to videography) going.

Into the VerseScape

OK, been a while since I posted. Sorry.

Been thinking a lot about the ‘Verse. I know that SL is the 300 pound gorilla in the room, but certainly not the only game in town and depending on what your business intentions are, there may be other solutions that work better.

This is my first and I am sure meager attempt to catalogue some of the major players across a continuum. Please help me make it better:

Metaverse:
Clearly a SL/There/Big World play where the Virtual Social World has an economic underpinning and the primary value drivers are commerce and collaboration within those contexts.

Intraverse:
Where organizaitons are keen to extend their learning and collaboration technologies into the third dimension. They want to do all the things that their LMS and Collaboration Software can do but extend it into the 3D realm. Centra meets Saba in the 3D world if you will.

Interverse:
Where communities and organizations want to leverage the power of 3D for community and collaboration across firewalls. Not unlike some of the existing collaborative technologies that allow customers to share virtual space with providers. The Interverse is about facilitating 3D interaction between communities and enterprises who have a common goal that requires a higher level of collaboration. Think about New Product Development Prototyping, Chip Layout, Architecture Reviews etc….

So you have the Metaverse, InterVerse and Intraverse. These verses roughly correlate to the value drivers of Commerce, Collaboration and Learning. But as you can see in the picture, these value drivers themselves have overlap value spaces.

Below that I have tried to map SOME of the key players in terms of how they can enable the value drivers. SL is clearly in the Metaverse/Commerce and Intraverse/Collaboration realm with the emphais being on the former. There and Forterra are different packages of the same stuff. One for Metaverse and other for Intra/Interverse. There already has VOIP on board but the difference is you can’t buils stuff like you can in SL. If Peer Procuction (or prosumption) as Tapscott calls it is what you are after, then SL is probably your best bet.

However if you want a platform that runs on 56K, integrates with existing apps, allows you to fire up a browser in world and oh-yeah integrates with your current LMS you may want to check out Protosphere. Metaverse is a new arrival on the scene (for me at least so have not had a chance to grok it) but it seems to fit somewhere in between. And finally for all of us who are educators and have bene salivating over SL meets Moodle (SLOODLE), I’d urge you to take a look at Open Croquet. Some big brains behind this software, most noticably Alan Kay