Saturday, February 16, 2008

henrik's questions

Henrik has posted 4 questions about the metaverse that he hopes Metaverse U participants will answer. As the day gets underway, here are my thoughts.

What excites you about current metaverse technology?
The diversity of exploration is the most exciting aspect of where virtual worlds are going, especially the wide range of unannounced projects we'll see over the next year, whether a full world approach like Second Life, or the myriad approaches leveraging the web-as-platform that will impact media consumption, production, community formation, and a whole host of not-at-all sexy business uses. Sure, we're seeing a host of social kids games and tiny advertising worlds, but these explorations are good. Like the Web in 1997 (or 1995, or whatever), most of these experiments will fail.

And we will learn from all of them. The fact that people are kvetching about this leads to...
What concerns you about current metaverse technology?
This is less a technological concern than a concern about how virtual worlds are sometimes discussed. There is tremendous technological overlap between mirror worlds, virtual worlds, middleware, and games, equally significant differences exist between use cases, business models, audiences, and interfaces. Buildings may not be as fun to play with as Scrabulous.

Some of the protocols will surely become standards but we should keep in mind Mitch Kapor's statements about the mistake of premature standardization. It is critical to the long-term success of virtual worlds that small commercial worlds and games are starting up in parallel to Google Earth and corporate uses. We are just gaining enough experience to start thinking like virtual world natives rather than tourists, so we have the opportunity to be expansive in our thinking and imagination.
What will be most the surprising impact of metaverse technology on society within the next decade?
Even the dreamers aren't thinking big enough about virtual worlds. The walls between the digital and the real are falling -- personal fabrication, mass customization, alternate reality gaming, crowdsourcing, open spectrum, remote collaboration, increasing access to the Web, pervasive sensor technology, virtual corporations -- and virtual worlds will accelerate these changes. Consider the changing use of information technology from '88 to '98, or '98 to '08. Virtual worlds, metaverses, et al are another step along this path and their impact will be at least as significant.
What barriers will metaverse technology never overcome?
This is like asking what barriers communications technology will never overcome. Or, technology in general. As Linda Stone has discussed, time is the scarce resource that technology is never going to overcome. Or, as she argues, is actually making more scarce.

Virtual worlds, like other technologies that reduces the cost of learning, can help regain some of the time, by reducing travel time or increasing the rate of trust production. Moreover, by improving collaboration and innovation, virtual worlds join the Internet and Web in generally reducing scarcity of goods and services. Until we eliminate sleep and really understand genomics, the 24 hour day and lifespan will be tricky to overcome.

Everything else is fair game.

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