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?