Exploring viewer development / by Donna Davis

After a series of serendipitous events, we may have an opportunity to work with Crista Lopes, the creator of OpenSim and Tom's colleague at UC Irvine, on what we're calling "The Dream Viewer." A “viewer” is the program your computer uses to interact with Second Life. Linden Lab (the company that owns Second Life) makes a viewer, and there are many other viewers out there (the best-known is probably the “Firestorm” viewer). Unfortunately, these viewers are not always easy to use for disabled folks. The “Radegast” viewer is another example that has been used by some disabled persons, particularly those with visual impairments, but it is no longer being developed.

To best understand what a "dream viewer" would look like, we've hosted a series of focus groups in Second Life. The theme for the focus groups was: imagine that someone gave you a million dollars to design the ultimate Second Life viewer for disabled folks. What would it look like (or sound like, or feel like, anything)? What are the most frustrating or limiting features of the current viewers that it would not do? What *would* it do? What are the most important things a viewer could do for specific disabilities (visual impairment, auditory impairment, difficulty using a keyboard or mouse, special needs for social interaction, issues around bright textures or loud sounds, anything)?

The feedback was wonderful and the prospects are exciting. While we don't have a million dollars to develop such a viewer, we at least are beginning to understand what it would look like and are now exploring funding options. More soon!