Over the weekend I stopped by the new STA Travel sim, created by the Electric Sheep Company. For those who haven’t been to college in awhile, STA Travel is a ubiquitous presence in campuses all over America, tempting you with discounted travel packages to farflung places. Nothing makes an Intro to Electrical Engineering class go by faster than dreaming about Spring Break in Bali.
Given the number of colleges and universities that are moving into Second Life, it makes sense for STA Travel to build up their presence there as well. What I found most intriguing about the STA build was the virtual dorms they are offering to students. Which makes me wonder if this is where housing in SL is going.
For reasons that seem less-than-compelling to me, Second Life residents seem to be very interested in setting up their own virtual homes in SL. Witness the new housing developments offered by real world real estate firm Coldwell Banker. I come into SL to play, to attend particular events, to explore, to meet up with people. Having a "home" in SL doesn’t really help fulfill any of these interests.
But on rare occasions, I wish I had an environment that I had more exclusive control over, where I could show off something I had created or to host a party or a meeting. But this is not enough justification to pony up even the modest few dollars it would cost to maintain a permanent in-world home.
Which is why the "virtual dorm" system at STA Travel seems so cool to me.
New users who come into SL through the STA Travel orientation get the opportunity to sign-up for one of their free dorm rooms. These "dorms" bear small resemblance to the Attica-like quarters offered at UCLA when I was an undergrad. You can choose from a number of different room configurations, from modern to Japanese to floral print. And you can re-arrange the room any way you like it, and even add other items from your inventory or that you purchased elsewhere.
What is really cool is that when you are finished using the room, it resets itself and becomes available for other dorm residents to use. Your room settings are saved and can be re-loaded anytime you visit (minus the external items you place in the room, which are returned to your inventory.)
I love the idea of sharing spaces this way, which seems much more sustainable and fair. I would love to see other housing developments created in this way, where you might share a house with other residents who are in different time zones or who need a space only for very limited time periods. A virtual time share.
The next step would be to integrate a scheduling system. I imagine there might be peak periods where none of the dorm rooms are available if the service really takes off. So say that you want to get together with some of your friends and have a party on Friday at 6PM after finals? It would be great if you could schedule access to a dorm room to make sure that you could actually meet up there.
And the auto-return feature might get old fast if you have your own Bon Jovi posters and milk crate furniture that you want in your dorm room. Perhaps you could pay a small fee for adding your own items that would rezz in every time you visited.
But that’s quibbling. In general, I think the idea of time-shared virtual housing is a great idea that I hope becomes more common in SL.