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.
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)
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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?