The Virtual Web: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

by francine Hardaway on August 1, 2007

I’m listening to a panel on virtual worlds. It starts with a demo by Philip Rosedale, who is telling us Second Life is an entrepreneurial atmosphere. Philip left Real Networks to start it in 1999, because he felt that the technology had finally become available.
He designed it to be better than the real world, although he knows that it is still awkward.  He’s showing us through a shop in which virtual jewelry is sold.  $1.3 million real dollars are exchanged in SL every day, and there are 40,000 people who are cash flow positive in Second Life.

This is just the Internet in 3D. Philip is taking us around  SL, and even he is having the same experience with it that I do. He’s showing us around the world, and having trouble moving around and getting the sound to work. He’s demonstrating the translator, which sends everything people say through Babelfish for translation. The translator has the same problems everyone has with Babelfish.

Only 30% of SecondLife users are from the US.  The bulk of them are in the UK, and many from Japan are joining now.  Philip points out that this is a good way to learn about other countries.  You can just walk up to somebody and  ask them what they are all doing. SL is a globalizing force on the Internet, because it is easier to talk to people than in RL.

70,000 have registered on SL through specific portals written in their native languages.   (Eric Rice   has just IM’ed Phillip in SL during his presentation, telling him he’s watching from the car because he can’t find the lecture hall where the conference is.)

The other people on the panel are everyone from Irving Wladawsky-Berger from IBM, who says that virtual worlds are a godsend for meetings to Jaron Lanier, who sold the first intellectual property on virtual worlds to Sun, to Craig Sherman, CEO of Gaia Online. In IBM, the convention for SL is to dress appopriately for the meeting you are having, so IBMers have avatars that look very uncorporate.

Irving, who is brilliant, says that the killer app for virtual worlds is  learning and training. Virtual worlds have the ability to engage team members in a meeting and prevent them from multi-tasking.

"What are the killer revenue streams for virtual worlds,?" Jaron asks.  At Gaia, the revenue stream is virtual goods. They have three people who just open envelopes and collect quarters and dollars from teens.

Kids are going to be more skilled at doing these things than people are now, so the barrier of creating avatars and moving around virtual worlds is a temporary one. Only today’s adults can’t do it.  It’s like building web sites was in 1996; it used to be expensive and you had to be a techie to build a site. Now, anyone can build one. Virtual worlds are the evolution of the web.

Irving says ERP will be reinvented for the web so hospital administrators can administer their hospitals in an environment that looks like their hospitals. Virtual world access will be more ubiquitous than Internet access is today.


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