Tuesday, May 22, 2007

IBM Presentation on Virtual Worlds

I think IBM has correctly identified the conceptual link between today's Web2.0 formulation and the future 3D virtual web.

Check out this presentation from the eightbar blog, now in my 2D Google Reader. One great point is made in a qute from Ian Davis' blog, where he says, about Web2.0, Web2.0 is an attitude, not a technology. It's about enabling and encouraging participation through open applications and servers.

I have been been asked several times why I'm messing with Second Life, when X, Y, or Z allows you to use your 3D modeling tool of choice to import a CAD drawing, etc. This is a very good question, and I can't claim to know the answer, but here are some observations.

First, I think it's been said that people working in technology A are probably better at predicting the future of technology B, which may be a less familiar field, than in their 'own' field. This could be true. I know that as a hard-core Java/J2EE developer, it took me some time, and distance, to understand the Web2.0 ethos, as well as the value of dynamic scripting languages such as Ruby. I think the same holds true thinking about virtual worlds. My immediate reaction to the questions about various virtual worlds is to try and remove the lens of past experience with 3D technologies.

Second, my reaction is to re frame the question, and to reconsider the 'things that matter' when judging virtual content. I helped (in small ways) as UNC worked on its Second Life campus. The natural first step was to make the UNC island look like UNC by building various familiar landmarks, such as the Old Well and the Bell Tower. Great...Then soon after the island opened up, Intelligirl took one look and pretty much said it can be a mistake to push the real world into the virtual. I took a step back, and had to agree that the virtual space is different, and is neither a game, nor is it real life. It needs to be taken as it is. The true goal in virtual space is not the ability to accurately replicate real life, the goal is to provide content formed by community participation.

Third, remember when Mosaic came out, and all there was was a tour of Amsterdam with some hyperlinked pictures? Anyone looked at any HTML source lately? HTML is crap, I'll go ahead and say it! The most important point is to imagine the end product based on the creative power of the participants, not on the nature of the component tools. Here is where Web2.0 comes into play. The power of Web2.0 is built from simple pieces of technology...RSS, HTML, AJAX, XML, etc. It's the fact that modest tools have been put in the hands of the many, with low barriers to entry, that's made the web a revolution. Comparing the tools in a space like Second Life to those on the workstations of professional designers is not the test! These comparisons lead to faulty conclusions. The real test is, does the environment provide sufficient facility to create compelling content, and enough critical mass to create communities around that content.? To me that's the test, much different than the ability to manipulate sophisticated polygons!

I'm still somewhat skeptical that Second Life is the answer. Its move towards open source gets things moving in the right direction, but if the Web2.0 analogy is to hold, than it implies that a walled garden will fail. Certainly the ecosystem is there, but new generations of web users are fickle, and will jump if a more open, buzz-worthy environment arises. My guess is that alternative virtual worlds will reach hype-parity with the current Second Life buzz, there will be an explosion, and potentially open source will move in to create some standardization. Either way, it's going to be an interesting, and increasingly virtual web.

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