On Monday March 3rd I posted a reply to a thread on the SLED Listserve entitled ‘Metaverse is One’. I then expanded on this post the following night on ISTE island when asked during the Q&A about my comments on the Listserv. And I’ve since expanded on this for an article for the CETPA Databus magazine. I’ve also been asked several times here at the CUE Conference about my comments. I am posting a copy of the reply here so that it is easy to access, and maybe someone will read it with some pull in these things and we can have a deeper conversation on the future of the Metaverse (keep in mind that this was an unedited post to a listserv):
“Right now the areas of communication and collaboration benefit the most from virtual worlds (outside of pure entertainment). Last week at the Sun Worldwide Education Conference they stated that on any given day 50% or more of their staff are working away from their offices. Through their iWork program their employees can work from home, or other ‘connected’ locations. They built their last building in the virtual world (MPK-20) as a pilot for allowing their employees to work in a virtual world. Their technology is only in v0.3, so still very much a pilot project.
These technologies are all coming together at a time when a huge “greening” of business is taking place worldwide. Every corporation out there is looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, and to ‘go green’. With slightly more mature technologies than we now have available now, it will finally be possible for knowledge and tele-service workers to work literally from anywhere in a collaborative office environment. A computer, VoIP headset (using a soft client) or handset (traditional desk phone), and a broadband connection will be all that is required for entry. With a ‘Metaverse’ you can travel to meetings with clients, or meet with just about anyone on any server. Metrics will be important to show who, what, when and where you did your work. This is the killer app that will launch this technology into the mainstream. This will also break us free of our geographic location (city, state, country) as far as earning a living. It may even be possible to work for multiple companies on different continents (micro transactions).
I already have two offices here in my district, as I have two locations with employees several miles apart. The first thing people ask me when they are trying to reach me in person is “where are you today”. I have no problem working from home on occasion, or out of either of my offices using my computer and VoIP. And this is not even tapping into virtual worlds. I use a lot of video conferencing. Virtual worlds could potentially replace expensive video conferencing in business. When businesses figure out that all of this has the potential to greatly reduce their costs (energy, construction, insurance, liability, dedicated office space, etc) it will start to take hold as a way to further cut costs and add to the bottom line.
We are maybe three years from this technology being mature and reliable enough to base a portion of business in virtual worlds. Notice I am not speaking to commercial use, ie buying and selling stuff. I think Second Life has shown that there is some market for virtual goods in a virtual world, but not so much for real world products being sold ‘in-world’. At this time, Second Life has far too many grid issues and reliability issues to be used by real world business for daily knowledge workers. It will take a ‘federated’ or ‘distributed’ model where the businesses host their own servers for this to be accepted fully. And for the model to work, there has to be a ‘Metaverse’, unified grid, or some transport system (portals) that allows these distributed systems to talk and allow avatars to move between them. Once the systems move to a standard 3D object and avatar file format, you will be able to store your avatar and assets on a server where they can be loaded from anywhere with your personal key encrypted in your avatar. A central master (proprietary) asset database will not scale and is not going to work for the ‘Metaverse’.
And one last thing, before I step down off my soapbox. It will be the real world financial institutions that provide the currency for this ‘Metaverse’ and not a single company that controls a proprietary platform. The L$ model does not scale and will actually restrict this ‘Metaverse’ model. A universal currency that floats and operates like credit will be the model that is ultimately accepted by business. Anyone remember the universal time standard that Swatch tried to promote a few years back (they are still pushing it, http://www.swatch.com/internettime)? Swatch Time works much like Linden Time (PST). The strains and pains (and recent scam exploits) of the L$ model are becoming painfully obvious. Businesses will want something ‘real’ and insured to base their commerce on in the ‘Metaverse’. There are already credit cards that award in-world currency for purchases of real world products, so these credit card companies are already experimenting with virtual worlds in a peripheral way. Maybe they will call it ‘Metadollars’ and use a conversion rate similar to foreign exchange rates, or link the currency to a basket of world currencies. I guarantee you that the currency will not be owned or controlled by a virtual world company, or be proprietary in any way to any one company.
All of the pieces for the ‘Metaverse’ already exist, it will just take organizing them in the right way and making them reliable and scalable that will catch the attention of the business world. And educators would do well to start training their students now in the standard graphics packages (Maya, Bryce, Photoshop, etc.) to prepare these students for an expanding new job market that will grow out of the establishment of this ‘Metaverse’. Mix in some augmented reality components on cell phones and other personal technologies and this will be orders of magnitude greater in the impact to the real world and global business than the Internet was back in the 90’s.“
So what are your thoughts? Post a comment to this post, or drop me an email at PacRimX@Comcast.net