Rise in bandwidth for the Internet has seen a rush towards pushing content online. While video, audio and text represent a bulk of this data movement, identity is also making a transition online. The rise of virtual worlds has proven that there is an online frontier of immense capacity that is waiting to change our perception of presence on the internet.
Virtual worlds consist of digital identities inhabiting a computer simulation of several factors that govern real world. This implies that people get to create their characters (called avatars) and get to move about in a computer generated representation of objects. While inspired from the early days of virtual reality where users would use heavy devices to map motion to events on a PC, the virtual worlds of today are essential governed by keyboards and mouse with VoIP (Voice over IP) capability enabling more real interactivity. Also early virtual worlds consisted of online gaming communities or chat rooms.
SecondLife, Moove and There.com are examples of virtual worlds evolving into online representations of everyday life. While these worlds may not seem that alluring considering the not too high definition graphics, they have really taken off from the business perspective. The advantages to organizations are in enabling interactivity among individuals who are globally apart but virtually local. That combined with the fact that a high volume of merchandise (virtual merchandise) trades on these worlds for real money is compelling reason for businesses to look at virtual worlds as the next commercial frontier.
The evolution of next generation services on virtual worlds will perhaps add the next layer of abstraction to software, making them all the more intuitive and interactive. This is real when considering the complexities that are inherent in designing software systems. Virtual worlds will perhaps provide the missing layer of abstraction that is needed for simplifying the designing process.
The Virtual Real world
While Second Life is a virtual world complete with its own fictitious places, there is a view that perhaps a virtual mapping of earth would be more widely adopted. Already, digital map services have been a major success. For example, Google’s Maps and Earth have found major adoption in mobile navigation and also on connecting online information to locations in a jiffy. At the same time, a little research reveals that perhaps Google itself may be planning a variation to the Second Life type of world. With its Google Maps Street view and the rumors of Google virtual world replete with 3D objects, there is much to look forward to.
Personalized virtual worlds
There is also the view that virtual worlds represent another form of expression online. Thus, like blogs and forums, virtual worlds also need their own personalized niche rather than a one-fits-all solution. The research on Metaplace is of interest in this regard as it melds together different virtual worlds allowing users to host their worlds while providing seamless navigation for users from one world to another. Its a heady idea, considering that it it about providing an open standard for interaction among the virtual worlds.
A world built on your social graph
With all the talk on virtual worlds, there is the aspect that a virtual representation of social connections need only picture the social connections that are in place. Consider for example your online friends on FaceBook or your contacts in Gmail. They may represent the social graph of your online connections and a virtual world needs to make it easier to interact and collaborate with them.
While there is a whole avenue of exploration in this space for the individual, businesses are finding virtual worlds as an alternative to cut costs and collaborate with individuals in a better way. Not to forget that the constant evolution in hardware capabilities means that virtual worlds get that much better to view. Perhaps one day the virtual worlds will totally replace the textual web as we know it.