Monday, 18 October 2010

Are virtual world's viable?


This may seems like a strange question for a blog like this to ask, but I have to wonder if virtual worlds are actually viable.

Now one thing I learned from the dot bomb mess is that social changes needed for the take up of a technology are far slower than the development in technology itself. My work with Web 2.0 and collaboration is a perfect case in point. I am putting in systems and concepts that we were discussing in 10 or even 20 years ago. There is really not that much unique to Social Computing, blogging, wikis. Really if you looked at University Internet sites 15 years ago you would have seen home pages, usenet discussion, social networks forming.

It took 20 years for the Usenet provided by DARPA to become the World Wide Web of the movie Social Network. So I am not one to jump ship when I see some negative signs.

But, the dot bomb was a collapse of the Internet in the middle of great signs that the Internet was taking off. In 2003 I had a copy of my CV without the word Internet on it. A recruiter asked me to do it. But during that time consumer take up on the Internet was going nuts. Apple was developing the IPod, Google was getting reading to issue stock, Microsoft was ready to release Server 2003 (their first really web ready server) and SharePoint, LiveJournal and Blogger were starting to take off. Online advertising was going nuts. The World Wide Web was on fire in 2003 and the same year I was told by people in suits that the web was dead Zuckerburg was developing Facebook.

In Virtual Reality I don't see any signs at all of growth. With WoW having maxed out the gaming sector of Virtual Worlds the all important "open spaces" of Second Life, Blue Mars, Twinity, IMVU, InWorldz and any other "hang out virtual space" are a pretty depressing story. Not only do I see business failing and people leaving, but I hear no positive story from any level. Even the hard core users are pretty depressed.

Now I can still get most people who will listen impressed by the possibility of Virtual Reality and there are some amazing designers. But there is always a 'but'. And in the end all the issues people have with virtual worlds seem to come up to one: space works great as a metaphor for information in space, but otherwise it sucks.

Second Life specifically has some major problems because it is tryign to present information as space:

1. Time difference: if I am looking you in the eye that means I am in your time zone. In Second Life groups almost always find that significant members are living in vastly different places and unless someone gives up sleeping communities are limited. The coolest thing about SL, that you can interact in real time with people from all over the world, is rendered almost impossible by the sad reality that the real world, unlike the world of SL, is round and not flat.

2. Lag: assembling vast amounts take huge amounts of time to assemble, making SL an ugly world of Lag. You end up having to decide to see the world or experience but you can't do both.

3. Limited avatar motion: you get a body that you can't really do anything with. Second Life has essentially collapsed in to a very busy IM and IRC client.

4. Its "unnatural", one thing I noticed about bad Special Effects and early CGI is that people get very upset, on some basic level, if their reality does not fit how they imagine reality should be. A VR that looked like Tron or Matrxi would be cool because it would confirm to a lot of people's concepts of reality, but for most users Second Life, Twinity, Blue Mars and the entire rest simply look too unreal. WoW can get around this by presenting itself as a game. People understand games don't always look real. But SL is trying to be a space, and I think this is a powerful counter to it.

Rober1236 Jua the Cyber Trekker of Second Life
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