Second Life is many things, but among them is an attempt to build a virtual world that works more like the web (where anyone can add a site or a page) than a finished product that can only be modified by the corporation that manufactured it.
It remains an ambitious dream, but it's also on the skids.
Higher ed institutes around the world built islands in Second Life for virtual instruction, and some of these are still online, seemingly paying $300/month to keep them alive.
Splinter's Patrick Hogan toured the remnants of the higher ed campuses in Second Life, finding them utterly abandoned and haunting — vaulted halls and manicured gardens, and whimsical classrooms in forests or on pirate ships, designed for throngs, empty save for the odd 2D cutout of a person. Even the squatters had departed, leaving nothing in their wake but warnings posted by anti-squatter vigilantes who tried to get the campus administrators' attention.
All of this emptiness raises the question: Who's paying for these virtual campuses? Second Life's website currently lists private islands costing $1,000 to set up and then $295 a month to maintain. We contacted each of the schools in this list to see if they're paying to maintain these spaces and will update if we hear back.
In the meantime, I actually like how most of these islands represent an attempt by education institutions to embrace the weirdness of the web. The current crop of education startups seem bland and antiseptic in comparison to these virtual worlds. I can't take a Coursera class on a pirate ship, or attend office hours in front of an edX campfire.
And honestly, that's probably a good thing. But it makes the web slightly less interesting.
We took a tour of the abandoned college campuses of Second Life [Patrick Hogan/Splinter News]