Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Future of Synthetic/Online/3D Worlds

I had a "fika" (a chat over coffee or tea) with Rita Raley at Wayne's Coffee yesterday afternoon, and she was kind enough to discuss my dissertation with me. We talked about aspects that would be possible to explore with Second Life as a reference, and meandered into a discussion about where Second Life as a platform was heading. Both of us saw an increasingly seamless integration with the Internet and Web 2.0 features as a likely developement.

This is a development that has already begun and in my opinion the seamlessness is likely to increase, both because this is sought-after by many SL residents, but also because of the Linden Lab aim to become a major operating system as Joe Miller, Linden’s vice president, puts it in an Infoworld article: "a vehicle for social interactions, commerce, and entertainment that amounts to a new kind of 'operating system'" (Infoworld).

Interestingly enough I read Mark Wallace's blog entry Next Gen Web Integration in Virtual Worlds earlier today and it points in exactly the same direction. A similar, and perhaps broader discussion, was initiated by Bryan Alexander in his blogpost Towards Third Life.


Bryan's workshop blog said...

Nicely concise post, Mia, getting at this enormous issue.

I think you're right about the integration. I also think it'll take some serious time and work in order to happen.

Let me try a couple of responses. "Try," since I'm still working through this.

One: Web 2.0 succeeded in part because it was easier to do than other Web apps. Making a blog, editing a wiki page take a lot less time and technical skill than the full HTML-FTP-server arc required. Reading RSS saves users time in web reading right away, and forever. Getting users right into microcontent creation and sharing is the genius of Web 2.0.

The 3d web, Third Life, whatever is nowhere near this easy. There are still far too many barriers to cross for most users: hardware limitations, learning the interface (remember my story about arrow keys?), getting through initial socialization (I just heard yet another story about a college president looking at "most popular places"), dealing with search, etc. etc. - there are reasons why I see 20-35K people in-world. 2d3d worlds are more popular in part because they're just easier to get going: PenguinClub, Cyworld, Habbo, etc.

Two: device convergence might still happen, but it largely hasn't. We were expecting a few multi-purpose devices, and I use this laptop like it, and most of the world uses mobile phones for three things, but the general computing experience has divergent devices.

Similarly, web 2.0 apps are divergent. I don't watch movies in a wiki. I don't blog from Twitter. I comment on one from another, but only because of the necessary break between them.

Experiencing Web 2.0 in a MUVE is then a process of reintermediation. It forces me to add layers of complexity and dependence - that's going to be a barrier for many people. Convenience is critical.

Now, people will do this work of intermediation once they see benefits. There has to be, say, a use of emotional bandwidth in reading RSS feeds, or there's not going to be a big desire to check Bloglines from my avatar. Or we need the Web 2.0 features affecting a world, like being able to write on a wiki which is someone's house's wall.

So, three: this will take time. Time for hardware to grow (I wish I'd recorded the bitter laughter I heard yesterday from IT managers, when I mentioned SL's demands and the university laptop replacement cycle). Time for apps to grow. Time for the user base to grow.

Or, four: seeing actual Web 3.0, not out of browser, but in-browser. 2d3d worlds like Penguin Club. Those are a lot easier to use, quite popular worldwide, and probably easier to Web 2.0-ize.

Me? I'm hoping for #3. I'm a child of the 1980s. :)

Mia said...

Thank you very much for your long and very interesting comment, Bryan.

Yes, I definitely think you're right. There are a lot of things that need to "happen" before Second Life actually works as an "operating system" or usable platform on a more general scale.

Hardware issues are admittedly an obstacle for many people, knowledge another (scripting isn't something that a majority of residents in SL do on a daily basis, but probably a necessity at this point to be able to integrate a number of the current web 2.0 features = not convenient) but it's also something that actually can be addressed, preferably by making the interface more accessible.

Somehow, as a fellow child of the 80s, I agree with you in hoping that your alternative three will gain ground. 2d3d worlds are of course interesting, but what I'm interested in doing (building, designing and then use what I've created) is not possible in such a world, at least not at this point in time. But of course the needs look different for different people.