While at the Immersive Education Initiative‘s Boston Summit April 23-25, I went to a workshop on Open Cobalt, an open source virtual world browser and toolkit. What I found most helpful about the presentation was the “historical” overview, which began with reference to the radical nature of linking in Gopher (a text-based predecessor to the WWW) as well as the “walled gardens” of CompuServ and AOL. One of the keynote speakers, Duke University professor Julian Lombardi, compared the “closed source” approach of Second Life to these walled gardens of the past and presented Open Cobalt as a potential solution to the current situation.
I immediately recognized the great potential for using this platform to have students experiment with the creation of virtual memory palaces, a concept I presented last month in the Writing for New Media class I’m teaching at Emerson College this spring. Open Cobalt’s ability to connect virtual worlds via links echoing the powers of connection that Gopher inaugurated in the 1990s can allow for collaborative projects and experiments in collective intelligence (or collective mnemonics). The possibilities are quite exciting–I saw this as one of the most promising developments to come out of the conference.