Sunday, December 09, 2007

Virtual world killer apps

Virtual worlds seem to be distinct from the Internet but are really the natural evolution of the web as a communications, commerce, information and computation medium; a move to real-time 3D interaction from 2D text.

Virtual worlds are no longer exclusively recreational, they are becoming increasingly routine for a wide range of professional activities. Will Sun Microsystems be the first to announce their corporate earnings simultaneously in-world as they do now on CEO Jonathan Schwartz's blog?

There are about 50 virtual worlds in various stages of funding, launch and adoption. Linden Lab’s Second Life is the largest and most complex with an economy in excess of $1.5m USD per day. With the surge in activity, killer apps are starting to emerge.

Consumer Killer App: 3D Immersive Shopping
Shopping could be the killer app of virtual worlds for consumers, just like email drew people to the Internet. Shopping, not in the sense of avatar couture, coiffeur and custom animation, although this is an important sector of the virtual world economy, but in the sense of physical-world retailers having virtual showrooms for customers to review and potentially purchase their products in a 3D visual immersive way, everything from cars to furniture to electronics to tax services to books and music.

Steelcase furniture showroom
Click here to teleport

EOLUS/SAP experimental shop
Click here to teleport

Business Killer App: the Interface
For businesses, it is not about the application but the interface, the interface is the application. Virtual worlds are the modern functionality-extending overlay for any existing application, a 3D real-time information-rich collaboration environment. Some examples include IBM's virtual NOC business, constructing VNOCs for their own and client operations, Intel's in-world Dev Zone developer network meetings and Coke's "Virtual Thirst," Cisco's "Connected Life" and Osram Lighting's "One Million Dollar Idea" virtual world creativity campaigns.

IBM Watson's VNOC (Virtual Network Operations Center)
Click here to teleport

Due to resource consumption, virtual worlds are not yet used pervasively by most people; they are an application to log into intermittently, just like the Internet was before broadband. It could be in five years that computer processing power and broadband speeds, including on the mobile platform, make virtual world pervasiveness possible. Even before then, it will probably be as natural to book an airline ticket in-world via a travel sim as it would be to go to Orbitz.

How could progress not be underway in an evolution from users to residents?


Roko said...

I think a key turning point for virtual worlds will be the point when it is more fun for ordinary people to interact in a virtual world than the real world.

I'm talking about

* much better graphics [like the very latest generation of computer games, e.g. crysis]

* interfaces with senses other than sight and sound - e.g. a suit that allows you to touch things and to be touched, synthetic scents [smellyvision!]

* Perhaps a better/more natural interface than a mouse and keyboard? VR headsets?

once these things happen, lots and lots of ordinary people will spend their leisure time in the virtual.

When you think about it, the only way you know that you're in the real world is through the sense data that your eyes, ears, fingers, etc get. Once the virtual world can successfully and faithfully replicate these sensory inputs, there will be no reason to hang around in the real world.

LaBlogga said...

Hi Roko, thanks for the comments. Great points! It'll be great when we have some new tools like you mention, the next obvious one would be a mesh mapping of facial expressions from webcam to avatar.

Roko said...

indeed. Gradually does it, eh!

Also, see this from the BBC, about people "abandoning" reality.

LaBlogga said...

Hi Roko, Thanks for the BBC link. Virtual worlds have been getting a lot of coverage in the popular press this year. Virtual worlds are not any different from books, TV and the Internet as earlier realms of 'escapism'