The Virtual Whirl: News of the Whirl

This week, in The Virtual Whirl, we're having our monthly roundup of news items. Things that got missed, things that didn't make the cut, things that got buried under the Star Trek Online launch, and things that really should have gotten your attention anyway.

The Chronicle of Higher Education carried an interesting piece on virtual environments and education but, while author Jeffrey Young had a couple excellent points to make, they seemed to be lost among some rather poor work.

Apple Computer Inc have been granted a patent on a virtual environment 3D shopping experience. What that means for everyone else remains to be seen, as patents tend to be phrased to cover the largest conceivable territory. On the whole, we think that they'll be increasingly less likely to partner up and push their presence into virtual environments operated or developed by others.

PCPro (UK) have an interview with Linden Lab CEO, Mark Kingdon, though it got the Lab's name wrong on the first pass and had to make a correction. In it, Kingdon points out that sex isn't a key driver for Second Life engagement. We're inclined to agree with him; you'll find far more sex per capita in institutions like Cambridge or Harvard, which are clearly educational institutions.

The US Government continues to make forays into virtual environments. This time, the US Department of Agriculture is looking for virtual environment tenders. We can't help but wonder if they've heard of Second Life's Cornfield region.

Forbes explores the soaring virtual goods market. While only a few people are getting rich, there's increasing amounts of money pouring into and out of online marketplaces, and there's little sign of that trend slowing down.

The Journal of Internet Medical Research carries a paper on the use of virtual environments (specifically Second Life) for medical education. The tl;dr version: It works. Not astonishingly ground-breaking, but obviously useful. The sample size of physicians wasn't exactly huge, but you get that with doctors.

Fashion environment Frenzoo now allows new accounts to be created via Facebook Connect, an animated snapshot facility, and an all-new comprehensive chat system. The chat overhaul is definitely overdue and worth a look if you've not been in Frenzoo for a while.

Also on the fashion front, Swedish run fashion environment Stardoll reports that it has reached 50 million users – though the promotional material on the Stardoll Web-site itself only admits to 47 million right now.

We took a look at upcoming Linden Lab technology projects. There are several in the wings, and Linden Lab's official line on these projects appears to differ significantly from what Lab staff are telling users about the status and progress of these projects.

Richard Garriott, who should need no particular introduction, is back on the scene with a new start-up, Portalarium, which will ultimately seeks to combine social media, gaming and virtual environments. Garriott isn't always a success, but whatever he's doing is always interesting.

Sun/Oracle has dropped resourcing for virtual environment platform Project Wonderland, though developers are continuing with the project on a volunteer basis. It probably didn't really help much that Project Wonderland was frequently mistaken for CMU's artificial intelligence/virtual environment Oz Project. On a related note, Philip Rosedale seems to be going back over some of the Oz Project's territory with the announcement that he's working on an artificial intelligence project in Second Life.

This article was originally published on Massively.