Sunday, 12 August 2007

Are Interconnected Virtual Worlds The Future Of The Web?

A LOT seems to have been going on in the arena of virtual worlds lately. Amongst other events, Disney acquired Club Penguin (a virtual world for kids) for $350 million. Mattel has even launched a Barbie Girls virtual world. According to Techcruch, Barbie Girls hit 3 million users in just the first 60 days in operation.

Some other virtual world efforts include There, Entropia Universe, Cyworld, Zwinktopia, Stardoll, Haboo Hotel, Web Kinz, Gaia Online, Neopets. In addition, the newly released Multiverse platform allows people to actually create their own online 3D worlds.

All this activity begs the question: are we going to see an eventual migration to an interconnected network of different 3D virtual worlds on the web? Will we then be able to wander around a 3D virtual web, moving from world to world, perhaps with the same avatar and user profile? If this becomes the case, we would of course still be able to jump back to the 2D web at the click of a button.

A current Business Week article Just Ahead: The Web As A Virtual World addresses this concept. The article points out that Google, Linden Lab and IBM are all working on products based on the belief that this scenario is not just possible, it is on the way.

It does seem clear that it's not going to happen any time soon, but I can't help wondering what the web will be like in 10 years. Is that enough time for this idea to become a reality, and then for it to become mainstream? It does pay to think about what has happened during the last 10 years. This kind of change seems equivalent to the amount of change since the early days of the web.

Significantly, Linden Lab (makers of Second Life) plans to publish the software code for its servers. Developers will then be able to modify it to create their own worlds and build connections between them.

The previously mentioned Multiverse Network, which was founded by some early Netscape employees, has developed avatars that can move from one world to the next. However, people need to use the company's browser which surfs only worlds created using the Multiverse software. Multiverse gives away the tools so that users can build their worlds for free. The Business Week article maintains that more than 200 are in the works.

Within 18 months, the Web3D Consortium (a 3D web standards group) also hopes to launch an avatar that can jump between sites. The Web3D Consortium was formed to

"provide a forum for the creation of open standards for Web3D specifications, and to accelerate the worldwide demand for products based on these standards through the sponsorship of market and user education programs."
It seems clear that highly engaging and entertaining virtual worlds are going to become a big part of the future of the web. I for one have decided to spend more time in Second Life, as well as trying out other virtual worlds. Apart from having fun, I'd like to achieve a good understanding of the the Second LIfe community and how it operates while it's still reasonably early days. However the story plays out, it's certain that there is a lot more for virtual worlds on the near horizon.

What do you think? Are interoperable virtual worlds going to play a central role in the future of the web, or is this just more 3D virtual hype?


Warlach said...

While I think this integration to a 3D, virtual representation of information and community is probably a big part of the future of the web, I think we hit the main problem quickly: hardware.

Secondlife would be amazing if it ran as fast as my first life. I'm not going to go into it, personally, because I find it easier to establish community, and find information and community, in a more traditional 'flat web' format.

When I think about what would be possible in a virtual world, I get excited. Call up information, interact, play, conduct business etc, but I think, despite the geeky circles in which I move, the mainstream won’t accept it until it offers a way to make things easier rather than more complicated. Otherwise you’re losing time to something which may be addictive, and even helpful, but which so many will view as an indulgence or a game, with the perfect example being Twitter.

I think the type of virtual worlds that offer this type of functionality are coming, especially those where interaction is closer and closer to virtual reality (such as the Internet in Futurama is what I'm picturing. Lame I know, but my thesis title was a Back to the Future quote, so...), but the hardware framework, and adoption of said framework, has to be there, otherwise it may as well be a tech demo.

For now, the majority of people aren’t going to buy a gaming rig-esque computer to dress up in virtual clothes and visit digital bars in Secondlife. It's not hype as much as vision, but at the moment I think the reach far exceeds the grasp.

SuezanneC Baskerville SuezanneCB said...

Are Linden Lab and Hipihi working to establish any kind of real-time interaction between their virtual worlds?

That seems like a good place to start on the multi-platform avatars. Second Life's already reasonable popular, and Hipihi looks likely to be a success to me.

Hipihi has prims that are quite similar to Second Life's. It doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility for the two companies to work out a shared format that would make prim based objects portable and tradeable across the two platforms. It looks like it may be possible to use SL skins on Hipihi avatars - I haven't tried it yet, but I've heard they are quite similar - if so, maybe a common format for skins can be worked out if they aren't currently interchangeable.

A big challenge in making a truly worldwide internet is going to be making a multilingual internet. The textures in my inventory in Hipihi, for example, are named in Chinese. I can't read the texture names. The people in Hipihi with Chinese names - I can't read them, can't pronounce them, can't refer to the people because I can't type their names. The entities - textures, objects, groups, group charters, need to have multilingual capability.

Chat systems for a worldwide virtual world system need to have machine and human translation capability built in.

One of the IBM folks working on the SL client mentioned building machine language translation into his personally modified SL client.

Cheryl said...

rather than taking the same avatar and username between worlds, I'd settle for having the same friend list without having to re-add all the same people over and over and over...

Gary Barber said...

Really need to get out of the walled worlds and into a 3D worlds like Web, with free flowing Data APIs and an Open API/ protocol/standards for Avatars. And A streamlined simple interface before you will get true business (small business) using SL