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TECH: Avatars, and the Metaverse

I have been struggling with the new attention on online virtual worlds like Second Life, World of Warcraft, etc, etc. I think that there’s something here that’s more than games. But I can’t quite tell what yet. And if it’s just games, well I don’t want to get sucked into this, as I waste enough time on the Internet already.

Here’s an article by a tech veteran suggesting that this is The Next Big Thing. The question is, what moves to virtual worlds? If it’s just games, then it’s self limiting as only some people have that much time on their hands and they’re not the ones with the money. There are obviously options for moving community online to virtual worlds, but community per se doesn’t have that much economic value. However in some aspects of health care, like patient groups, there is real value from community.

The web though is most important for moving commerce and information online. It’s not clear to me how you put that into a virtual world, other than advertising to those who are playing games or otherwise spending time there which is the TV/newspaper model. Any ideas?

(Note: Slight edits made to clarify)

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  1. I wrote an article on Second Life as civic-organization building tool back in July – it was posted in a pretty prominent place, likely to be read by PR people, so I’m wondering if I’m partially guilty for the wave of Second Life hype.
    What I think happened is that “online community expert” and “social media optimization” gelled as job descriptions. Then there was a mad rush by all the would-be “thought leaders” to do whatever looked cutting edge. Plus, Second Life is a new concept to most people in the professional world and has a slight learning curve – so self-proclaimed “experts” can charge their business clients a premium.
    I don’t think Second Life will take off as a business setting. It’s time-consuming, and it’s hard on your computer. It might be a 5 second fad while over-worked, old-before-their-time slobs build themselves Wonder Woman avatars – but after they take a few screenshots, they’ll be done.
    In Second Life there’s a map that shows you where other people are. There usually aren’t that many, and they’re often hanging out in private areas – i.e., not shopping or taking over the public sphere with their radical political ideas.
    With more non-commercial development there might be some Second Life tourism…and that could possibly lead to some shopping. But again, it’s faster and easier just to go to Amazon or NewEgg.
    I’ve never played WoW, though I’ve read the articles on Wired and Corante and a few other places. The people I’ve talked to say that WoW isn’t conducive to extensive commericialization, and that the players agitate to keep it that way. I’m not convinced that WoW is the optimal way to gain leadership and management skills, either. Couldn’t those same skills have been developed by running an afterschool club for kids? Then people could do some social good while honing their ability to organize and manipulate others.
    VR settings will probably continue to rise in popularity as venues for escapism – particularly with so many entertainment companies focused on developing rich environments and structured experiences. It’s just important to remember while people are partaking in this brave new world, they are abandoning -not solving – the problems of the real world.

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