From Second Life to Metaverse

In Technology Review, Wade Roush offers an article on the intersection of Second Life-type virtual worlds and Google Earth-type "mirror worlds" that examines the potential future of such a mash-up combined with mobile networks. It seems likely that these technologies will combine:

  • mobile networks and devices
  • highly detailed 3-D maps of the real world
  • geo-tagged, cross media, participatory databases
  • virtual world ability to interact with simulated spaces as an avatar

As we think about these technologies coming together, however, one might imagine them as mixing in different amounts and ways for different kinds of purposes. The producers of the Metaverse Roadmap offer this schematic as a way of understanding the different potential trajectories of the web and virtual reality. Metaverse RoadmapThe vertical line maps movement between technologies that emphasize augmenting our perception of the real world and creating simulations that might either model real world contexts or present alternate realities (a la Second Life). The horizontal line shifts between a focus on providing users with information about the external world and allowing users inttmate expression within an environment. I see this latter dynamic as roughly along the objective-subjective line.

The result are four different trends the roadmap details. It’s not so much a question of which direction we’ll move in, but understanding the dynamic relations between these technologies. One might imagine swinging from one space into another.

For example, let’s say I am meeting with colleagues in a virtual world putting together a presentation for a conference the following week. In deciding on a place to meet before our presentation, we might move through a mirror world of the city, drawing on participatory data to pick a hotel or restaurant. When we arrive at the conference, we might rely less on simulation technologies and move more toward augmented technologies that can keep us on schedule, help us with directions, provide us with information about the world around us, help us record our experiences, and keep us in touch with our colleagues and what they are doing. Meanwhile, those who can’t make the conference might participate through tapping into participant’s public lifelogs and within the virtual world.

To some degree all of these technologies already exist and these practices are already at work, though I think it is fair to say that only a small number of people are putting them to work and we are only at the start of these practices.

Thinking about this interrelations, however, is important as we continue to discuss the direction virtual worlds will take. On the one hand, it makes sense that virtual spaces do not need to be literal interpretations of real spaces. Whatever advantages virtuality may offer will be negated if we insist on importing the inefficiencies of reality that VR might overcome. On the other hand, the future success of VR will likely depend on its integration with the other dynamics of the future metaverse.

Second Life potentially overcomes the inefficiencies of long-distance, real-time interaction. It’s not necessarily a replacement for videoconferencing or conference calls or even IM, though I suppose it could be in a sense. SL has the added advantage of offering a more permanent sense of belonging and community. Not only do we meet in SL, but we meet in a space that we collectively share; we become members of a community in a way we would not by participating in a conference call or something similar. So I suppose in my mind I am thinking of my SL avatar as an extension of my identity rather than as an alternate  identity that is disconnected from my real life. 

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