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Virtual Worlds Worth a Real Look

September 11th, 2007 (orginally published)

Second Life and Gaia - both examples of virtual worlds. Skeptics see these virtual worlds as places where losers and introverts go in a feeble attempt to make new friends, no thanks to their pathetic social skills. But there is so much more to these virtual worlds that becomes obvious when you take the time to do some analysis and research.

First, these worlds will eventually overtake the Web as people’s first choice for search, learning, commerce and collaboration. Welcome to the killer app which we have all been waiting for. Virtual worlds allow us to explore and interact in a way that far exceeds anything that a dynamic web page can provide. The 3d experience, the ability to use an avatar to represent yourself, the interaction with others - all make the experience much richer than the WWW.

What specifically will change?
Commerce will have a completely different flavor in these virtual worlds. The ability to shop in a way that is much more similar to real-life including walking into a store, browsing and talking to other customers as well as the store employees is all possible and exists today in the virtual world. eCommerce as we know it will become vCommerce. In a few years, we’ll look back and laugh at the rudimentary way in which we used to look at static web pages to make a purchase - currently the Web provides a 2d world with no way to see who else is in the store and more importantly no way to interact with them.

Training and education will change dramatically in these virtual worlds. The interaction in a virtual world is much richer and more like real-life. It wont simply be about pasting videos in a virtual world. Think about actually sitting in a virtual classroom with the same feeling of a normal classroom. Raise your hands to ask a question. Pass a note to someone. Whisper about the teacher.

Virtual traveling will become a new activity as people “fly” to new locations and discover new lands (and islands). The ability to interact and communicate with other people as you discover new locations will make all the difference in comparison to static pictures or even videos of locations with no real ability to interact in today’s Web. The experience of sharing, learning and meeting new people will drive usage. Already, Second Life is experimenting with voice capabilities which allow you to speak directly to people in these virtual worlds instead of texting with them.

A host of new virtual jobs will be created. Already, people are selling avatar clothing in these virtual worlds as well as design services for things like store fronts. People are creating all sorts of virtual items and that will only increase over time.

A variety of companies are already creating their presence in these virtual worlds. Second Life has a raft of companies that have set up locations such as Cisco Systems, Reuters, IBM and many others. This validates the fact that big companies dont want to miss this new trend and see virtual worlds as a new medium which they need to learn about and leverage.

Adoption?

It is unclear how rapid the adoption of virtual worlds will be. Will people flock to these new worlds at the same speed that they have adopted YouTube and Facebook? There are a few roadblocks to making that happen. One roadblock is the technical difficulties that these virtual worlds are having in terms of stability - the virtual world crashes, is inaccessible or slow. Second Life in some cases is impossible to access from work due to company firewalls. The rendering of a 3d world is CPU intensive and scalability while managing costs will be a challenge.

The bottom line is that the virtual world experience is much richer than the Web and this richer experience more closely resembles real-life. This added reality will draw subscribers and the usage will grow in a viral way.

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