What is a Virtual World?

Which reminds me…

I got an email the other day that asked me if my comments in a recent interview indicated that Microsoft "was going to get into Virtual Worlds in a big way."

I was somewhat taken aback, to be honest. Not to be overly ego-centric on behalf of my new employer, but by my standards, Microsoft is into Virtual Worlds in a big way already — consider Virtual Earth (mirror world), Halo 3 (multi-user worlds, with very good machinima/storytelling capabilities), and even MSN Messenger’s video chat (2D telepresence) as examples of virtual worlds.

You can argue if "big" means "everywhere" or what sort of ultimate market share or technology it implies. But I don’t see any timid offerings in the lot.

Now, if the question was assuming virtual worlds are defined as 3D Avatar Chatters, then look back about 10 years to the work Linda Stone’s team did at Microsoft (she’s also the one who defined "continuous partial attention"). Did it hit the big time? Was it better then modern offerings? No, IMO. But companies might still learn something very valuable from that experiment.

I mean, even if 3D is richer and more ubiquitous today; even if the browser-embedded approach makes it a little easier for people to adopt, there’s still a fundamental question of "what is 3D good (and better) for and why?"

And that’s the question I think everyone in the industry should be asking themselves on a daily basis. I know I spend a part of each day thinking about just that.

But, just in case it helps people, here are a few bits of tech jargon I’ll be promoting around town:

Virtual Worlds are a general human-to-human (or even human-to-computer-to-human) communications concept. Although we identify things like Second Life and Lively as "Virtual Worlds," the terms is much broader. Common traits may include a sense of place/spatiality, presence/immersion, identity (not always your own), etc..

Common categories of VWs include:

Social Worlds generally speaking, includes chat & IM, networking tools, and sometimes home spaces, from Habbo to IMVU to Lively
Narrative Worlds most 3D games fall into this category, even those with very weak plots or backstory. The point is to tell a participant: "there’s this world, and these things happen. Now go be in it."
Creative Worlds add User Created Content and building tools to the mix — think Second Life, Lego, Roblox, but include any 3D game with a user-friendly, preferably in-world editor.
Productive Worlds meant to improve "process," "context," and "productivity" through the use of computer-mediated communication. Often called "serious" worlds to distinguish them from "fun." But who wants their work to be un-fun?
Mirror Worlds as in, "reflecting the real world" — includes Google Earth, Virtual Earth, etc..
Augmented Worlds sensory additions, based on the real world, but adding magic.

Obviously, any Virtual Worlds technology can address more than one category. A "Metaverse" typically implies at least two of those together (usually social + creative). But thus far, most offerings have their one big dominant trait with other features much less so.


3 thoughts on “What is a Virtual World?

  1. Pingback: Recent Links Tagged With "telepresence" - JabberTags

  2. Pingback: Recent Faves Tagged With "sensory" : MyNetFaves

  3. Pingback: User links about "habbo" on iLinkShare

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