Virtual Inertia

Virtual Worlds, Web 2.0

A new virtual world by the name of Kinset has been creating some buzz lately.  Boston Globe wrote them up last week, and MIT gave their perspective on the format this past Tuesday.

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Kinset is essentially a Second Life that is devoted to retail.  It’s a walled garden, it requires that users download software, and it’s a bit clunky.  It has a few interesting additions, such as search, but for all intents and purposes it is more of the same.

I could rant about their choice in using a real bookstore for virtual inspiration – floors and aisles and bookshelves – all day, but I won’t. 

Well, maybe a little. 

It’s creatively lazy, guys.  Adhere to the cliche and think outside the box.

Moving on, I strongly believe that Kinset is doomed to mediocrity by the simple fact it has not built itself as a web-based technology open (or licensed) to the general public.

Web-based virtual worlds (WBVWs) are still in their infancy, but when the technology catches up with our dreams, many 2D websites will be converted to 3D. 

Fortunately, WBVWs got a leg up last month.  After years of speculation, the startup Areaehas built the most powerful and open WBVW ever.  It is called Metaplace.

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Wagner James Au of GigaOMgave the new software a great writeup.  At the TechChrunch40 conference, were Metaplace was unveiled, he writes:

To be honest, I’d expected a user-created online world built on top of a Java platform or something. Instead, Koster’s vision is far more ambitious: in effect, he’s proposing to make online world elements like dynamic, graphically shared space, avatars, and virtual currency part of the standard code which drives the web. How is that possible, and how can they compete in such a crowded market?

Here is how Areae is going to do it (per Au’s notes):

  1. Destroy the Walled Garden (YES!)
    • The Metaplace platform is a web browser with virtual world capacity.  It comes with a toolkit, and if people want to build worlds – for any reason – Areae will host it.
    • It uses HTML-style code and each individual “world” is served by the Areae network. Any code can literally be copied and pasted from one page to another.
    • Instead of a contiguous world (like Second Life or Kinset), someone visiting the Metaplace site will get a YouTube-style home page, but instead of videos you will get teasers of all the virtual worlds available to explore.  2D plus 3D.  I love it…check out the demo at the bottom of this post.
  2. Get Gamers To Embrace the System
    • Areae has been talking with an “A-list roster of people interested in creating their projects in Metaspace.”  Soon, several MMOs will be built on the network, which could help Metaplace get an critical mass of followers in a hurry.
  3. Have Multiple Revenue Models
    • Make it free to use.  Make it free to host.  Start charging when the traffic increases to a critical mass.  This is the tactic many blog hosts (e.g., WordPress) use.
    • Let companies sponsor sites…duh.
    • Build out a virtual currency that can be shared across the network (I hate this idea…but they’re going to use it anyways).
    • Build out an Adsense-style ad network that will track and target user behavior.

Au summed up his article with the philosophical differences between Second Life and Metaplace:

While Second Life is evolving as an immersive 3D metaverse which slowly incorporates web elements like XML and RSS in-world, Metaplace is beginning as a web-based network which swallows the attributes of online worlds. As Koster put it: “We don’t think the Net is getting stuffed inside a giant 3D client.” That’s just the Second Life strategy, which demonstrates the fundamental philosophical difference between Raph Koster’s Areae and Philip Rosedale’s Linden Lab. Rosedale wants a one-world utopia where all Second Life users share the same space. Koster wants a metaverse that looks more like the web. “Cramming people into one world doesn’t make sense to us,” he told me.

Amen.  This is exactly what we need.  It is going to be very exciting to see how Metaplace changes the web, and communication, as we know it.

Raph Koster’s Demo of Metaplace: