As I noted earlier today, a crowd of 100-some people gathered for a “metaverse meet-up” at the Eyebeam Open Lab in Chelsea last night. Billed as “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Metaverse but Were Too Afraid To Ask” this event was an off-shoot of the Metaverse Roadmap Project, a “public ten-year forecast and visioning survey of 3D Web technologies, applications, markets, and potential social impacts." Here are some notes from the meet-up...
A number of interesting comments came out of the discussion. This obviously is not exhaustive, but just some of the ideas that I managed to capture. Apologies for major points that I missed.
Jerry Paffendorf, Director, Metaverse Roadmap Project; Futurist In Residence, Electric Sheep Company
- Jerry introduced the general idea of the metaverse, and what the metaverse roadmap project is all about. He offered a definition of the metaverse as a "read-write information space" with dimensionality.
- Jerry showed a slide showing the rapid rise of MMORPGs, from mmogchart.com.
- He asked will World of Warcraft-type virtual worlds become the standard, where the content is pre-determined and controlled by the owner of the world, or will an open-content model virtual world like Second Life become the standard? I.e. will virtuals worlds become an extension of the web.
- He noted several technologies coming together to build the metaverse including: CAD software, mapping tech, Web 2.0, 3D graphics cards, etc.
- He used the Google Maps open API as a model for how a company can allow a larger community of developers to create hooks into their data while also increasing their market value. One silly project he demo'ed was "Goggles", a simple flight sim that allows you to fly a biplane over a google satellite map!
- The Flickr photo sharing service started out as part of a MMORPG called Game Neverending!
- Myspace has passed the 100 millionth account, and passed Yahoo as the web's most visited website.
- He showed a video from the Zefrank show on the aesthetics (or lack thereof) of Myspace pages. Zefrank noted that people are purposely creating "ugly" web pages, subverting the somewhat conformist notions of what "good" and beautiful web design principles are.
- Jerry showed the video of Robbie Dingo making Suzanne Vega's virtual guitar (which ironically was not actually used during her performance in SL.)
Mike Frumin, R&D Technical Director, Eyebeam OpenLab; creator of the Open GL Extractor
- Mike described the OpenGLExtractor as an open source program that captures 3D "screenshots" from games or virtual worlds and saves the source in a format that can be re-purposed for other programs.
- One innovative use of this software is to print out a 3D dimensional digital object like an avatar using a 3D printer. Several examples were on display at Eyebeam.
- Several minutes were spent discussing and debating what Prokofy called "web versus world." I.e. can you mix virtual worlds with web content, or are they like oil and water.
- Mark noted that there are beginning to be collisions between virtual worlds and the real world. Real companies, ad agencies, and pop musicians are coming into virtual worlds.
- However many virtual world residents think the virtual world should be a walled garden from the real world, should be an escape from real life, not an extension of it.
- Prokovy observed that lots of people in Second Life create sub-cultures that hearken back to simpler times, the Victorian era, Medieval mores, Gorean culture, etc. The web offers too much information, so they want to get away from that by going deeply into a simpler, rules-based culture where they can commune with other like-minded souls.
- However these walled garden communities are contrary to the idea of a pluralistic, democratic society -- the public sphere. It's important to have contiguous spaces, and an overarching rule of law.
- Prokovy joked that if you had asked her if she would like to invest $10,000 to start a business in a foreign country which every Wednesday was hit by hurricanes that might wipe out all of your inventory she would say you were crazy. And yet, this is essentially what she has done.
- Prokovy assumes that at some point everyone will be in virtual worlds. It will be as ubiquitous as having a cell phone, a digital music player.
- They talked about the sometimes conflicted relationship between Linden Labs and entrepreneurs in SL. The most notorious example was the GOM (Gaming Open Market) which created a way for people to convert linden dollars to US dollars. Linden Lab, for various reasons, decided to take over this market and essential cause GOM to go out of business.
Sibley Verbeck, founder and CEO, Electric Sheep Company
- Sibley noted that there is no platform that is ready to be the 3D web. That platform has to make it easy to create content, to enable anyone to host a server on the 3D web, and has to support business applications.
- He noted that for the first time we have the business momentum to sustain the hype.
- Where will we be in a decade? There are changes in nation-state power. There are 3D virtual spaces with 100s of millions of people and objects with monetary value. There are services in that space that only have meaning in that space. However the business and legal infrastructure doesn’t translate to virtual worlds.
Tony Parisi, veteran of the 1990s VRML wave of 3D on the web and founder of the company Media Machines
- Tony helped write the VRML protocol. He now heads up a new company that is developing new open source tools to create the 3d web. In his view, the metaverse is exactly like the web.
- What do we do with all that empty space? Hyperlinks fill the gaps between virtual spaces. The virtual world is built within the standard web browser. It's the web with more rich media.
- Who is going to own it? There will continue to be Worlds of Warcraft and Second Life. But nobody will own the infrastructure, just like nobody owns the web.
- How do we build it? It needs to be open: open source, open protocol, open platform, open process. It will be out of control, based on user-created content, self-organizing, mash-ups.
- What are we missing? An open protocol for multi-user chat. An identity that is stable across virtual spaces.
- He demoed a prototype of a 3D Virgin Megastore that reported took a couple of days to program.
- In conclusion: it won't take ten years to build the metaverse. It's here now, it's just like the web.
Paul Hemp, Senior Editor, Harvard Business Review, author of Marketing To Avatars
- Paul is fascinated with the idea of avatars, and the alter-egos of people that avatars represent.
- What does it mean for advertisers to market to avatars? In a way, this is a natural extension of all advertising, which appeals to the "hip. good-looking, sexy person waiting to emerge with the advertised product."
- Is my buying behavior different from my avatar?
- Am I accountable for the behavior of my avatar?
- How important is anonymity in virtual spaces?