Sep 122006

I have posted prolifically about MUVE’S (Multi User Virtual Environments) in the past, concentrating mainly on the ever customisable Second Life. It is interesting to watch the buzz spreading and consider if virtual worlds are really web 3.0, I think so. A quick look at the evolution of the intraweb from the mid 90’s. From text and graphics dominate 2D environments, immersive web sites with flash quickly followed combined with ubiquitous communication via IM and IRC chat. Then the early 00’s with the expontential growth of self publishing, blogs and wikis. From 2002 onwards the massive sharing social network communities of flickr and YouTube in sync with the explosion of portals containing all of the above in services such as MySpace, Yahoo and MSN etc: We are heading towards a rich media personal hub that points to and houses all of our ‘shareable’ content. But the current 2D web, mostly linear to linear linking, is about to be enhanced by virtual environments in which we meet as avatars, interact as 3D moving objects that takes sharing, co-creation and communication to the next, predictable level. The important component here is real time collaboration and communication as the paradigm shift.
Web 1.0 to 3.0

Web X.0. To me evolution of the web can be defined in single sentences:

    1.0 the pushed, one way only web
    2.0 the two-way shared web
    3.0 the real time collaborative web (3D, isometric or just 2D)

A sign that this is reaching a level of maturity is when big brands and subscriber numbers start to escalate. This item entitled Second Life Targets Existing Branded Web Communities succinctly sums up some of the major changes in one MUVE.

Major companies such as Major League Baseball, and institutions such as The University of Southern California, have already turned to Second Life to host virtual events synched with live real-world events. Organizations such as the New Media Consortium are using Second Life to convene meetings and conferences. Wells Fargo is teaching kids about finance in an engaging manner through Second Life. Clothing designers are using the community to prototype their designs and get community feedback and build buzz before they have to manufacture.

In 2 years time will the most effective way of communicating be through a variety of MUVEs rather than 2D web? As Second Life subscribers go above half a million, from less than 100 thousand less than 6 months ago one can see other players beside Linden Labs taking part of the action. Here are the Second Life stats from yesterday to give some idea of the scale

Statistics from 3:20pm Saturday 26 Aug 2006
Total Residents: 568,856
Logged In Last 60 Days: 256,425
Online Now: 8,369
US$ Spent Last 24 Hrs: 357,140

Many of the projects we are doing in LAMP start from a position of ‘experience design’ that has its ultimate incarnation in letting the users ‘live’ the story. Personalizable MUVE’s will shortly have real potential to enable any experience requirement you can throw at it. As the gaming generation take up lead roles in society (the average age of a Second Lifer is 32) I really believe that remote communication will exist more and more in virtual worlds. Entertainment, education and business is already taking root. The article continues by even pointing to the political engagement these environments afford…

Imagine a wiki-based web community now being able to collaboratively design detailed 3-dimensional objects, complete with nuanced permissions, instead of just text documents. …Imagine a dark horse political candidate with a virtual campaign headquarters in which campaign volunteers can collaborate regardless of geographic location and be trained personally by the avatars of real campaign staff, and where the candidate can conduct a virtual whistlestop tour to test new stump speeches and conversations with highly educated, affluent, and socially networked focus groups

Current MUVE’s do require decent computers, graphics and bandwidth but many millions of terminals are already capable. There are many posts that talk about a ten year from now predication of what a Virtual World may be, many not looking too deeply into the ethical or moral issues as that really is an unknown as this quickly cobbled together chart above suggests I think we are lucky to be at the dawning of ubiquitous MUVE’s across all devices (mobile devices are part of distribution in this context – not a movement in itself). The next challenge as I always point out is interoperability – how our personalized digital fingerprint can exist across an ever growing range of portals. To put it another way using the present day, can out MySpace profile work with our Second Life avatar, our flickr and YouTube accounts. Will our eBay positive rating be carried into World of Warcraft, can Amazon engines learn what we are buying in Second Life to recommend things to buy from eBay and so on. The brand and advertising targeting potential goes off the scale here. The first company that comes up with a profile engine that combines all of the above, sits above them, cross-relates them but needs to get started right now before it becomes way too complicated 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

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