Thoughts on the future of Virtual Worlds

So what of the future of virtual worlds? I think most folks would agree that today these environments are in their infancy, unfortunately plagued with technological and social problems (that said, really good right now for simulation and training). I’m convinced however, that give the industry and society some time and we’ll be using virtual worlds daily, I’d like to imagine that this will be what today’s web turns into.

One of the things that probably needs to happen to bring virtual worlds into mainstream use is for developers to bring the software off the desktop and onto our television screens – allowing users to be instantly accessible (logged in and online) at the press of single button, perhaps using the increasing number of media boxes such as the Apple TV, Microsoft’s Mediaroom and if it ever launches, the Google Box, (probably based on android standards).

So why so long to wait for a useable metaverse, couldn’t a software giant like Mircosoft or IBM just launch something tomorrow? Unfortunately, I think even if we could do this right now, as an industry we’re still going to need to overcome two more technical barriers. Firstly, we’re going to need to make the software easier to use (for example, the VOIP telephone feature needs to be as easy to use as making a phone call is today). Secondly, we’re going to have to make some changes at home, we’re going to need to increase the bandwidth into our homes (many times over) and many of us will need to increase the size of our television sets, (maybe hologram technology will finally launch commercially to support this).

At a vendor level I also think it’s going to take a while for Linden Lab (the developers behind SL) to be comfortable making their software opensource and even if they don’t, to allow for time in for other competitors to enter the market. Above all else, even if we do manage to do all of the above (and maybe we need to do this first), we’re still going to need to sort out and agree some standards, (I imagine like http is for the web today).

Away from the technology, for non-technology driven businesses and to attract mainstream consumers I think we’re going to need to move away from this idea of hidden identities (for example, in Second Life my first name is Ray – not because I wanted it to be, but because Andrew wasn’t an allowable name in the month I signed up) virtual avatar’s are going to need to represent real people and these folks are going to need to access real life applications, (including their existing e-mail and IM). The ability to chat to other virtual folks who’s true identities are a mystery, has a place, but not in mainstream takeup of VW’s.

In truth, however hard it going to be, this is probably the largest challenge to the take up of virtual worlds, we’re going to have solve the merging of the currently totally separate line between real and virtual life. If all this wasn’t hard enough, it’s probably going to take us a few years more to work out the social consequences of such an existence, and above all else, how we are planning on controlling/policing this new mainstream virtual world.

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