Business in Virtual Worlds, Collaboration, Deep Thoughts, Events, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Is the Metaverse Less Real if Madison Avenue Says It Ain’t? (Report from the Virtual Worlds Conference)

The Virtual World Conference was a sort of giddy hallucination for me, never having been before, and maybe I’m LUCKY (based on other reports) that it’s a bit more somber and less gushing than past events. Everything feels a bit more gray these days, constant drizzle in New York (gave me a cold) and all these “bad vibes man” coming from Wall Street and Main Street and CNN, but for me it was a thrill to see the Lindens, and Philip, who was looking well barbered and tanned in his Neko collar and visionary vision, all the Californians seemed to look well barbered and tanned.

Thing is, a number of years ago I went to this Internet conference. 1998 I think it was. Maybe 99. Yeah, I was a child really (uh huh). And everyone had this sort of money-eyed happiness, a sense of prosperity and limitless futures, and I was walking around trying to figure out where all this money was supposed to come from, because for all the portals and aggregating eyeballs and paradigm shifts in industries and pet food online and groceries online and B2B and B2C and who knows what else, I didn’t see anyone actually PAYING for anything, and so ended up being very confused and decided that this Internet thing was TOO big and TOO massive and just TOO, and I couldn’t handle it, so I’d just plod along with my weary little life and make money by doing work and getting paid for it.

So fast forward a decade or so to the Virtual World Conference, where Cory Ondrejka (formerly of Second Life) came in and had a look around and sounds a little glum about the prospects. And Prok observes that (until we hit Toronto) there is no Metaverse. And it all feels a little slow and sad and the shine is off.

But then, I’ve never been here before, and maybe if I went a year or two ago I would have walked away, scared off by too much gushing and too many wide eyed adventurers, but instead I showed up THIS year, and looked around, and figured, well, hey, people are just trying to make a living I guess, trying to cobble together some ideas and find someone to pay for it, so it can’t be THAT bad.

So here’s my take – if you hang out in virtual worlds, don’t worry – you didn’t miss anything. Sure, there’s some improvements coming, Multiverse has a “flat app” version of their platform so you can view it in a browser. Vast Park is plodding along. RealXtend was there, and they have some neat stuff to say, and open source is a bubbling little corner of progress. But really? Nothing much is gonna change – not until Blue Mars comes out, at least, and they have a LOT of proof-of-concept before they’re anywhere close, and besides you’d better power up your computer because it’s gonna take a monster to run.

So go about your business everyone, there’s nothing to see here. A new mouse maybe, for Second Life, kind of cool. Servers behind the IBM firewalls, but that hardly affects your beach side property or store selling Gor slave gear. Some amazing new technologies integrating better voice in VWs, which will make collaboration a lot easier. But otherwise, well…if you have kids, there’s a lot of Habbo/Club Penguin lookalikes on tap. And otherwise…well. Hmm. Not much to report.

Oh. But hold on. Because I forgot to mention who WASN’T here.

EA wasn’t here. Because isn’t the next version of the Sims kind of a virtual world? Their next iteration will include user generated content and a better economy and some good looking avatars and nicely textured builds.

And surely Spore isn’t a virtual world, is it? Because you don’t have multiple concurrent users, you just have millions of users playing separately in a universe where their creations co-mingle.

And Sony Home wasn’t here either, because it’s one of those *ick* platform things.

And while we’re at it, the New Media Consortium wasn’t there either. And the university guys weren’t there with their expressive avatars and 3D cameras and mixed reality platforms. And the 3DVIA guys weren’t here with their emerging virtual world platforms. And Google wasn’t there (well, some Google guys WERE there, but they were always at the back of the room and they were VERY low profile).

The Electric Sheep were there, too, and Sibley was even a keynote, and while he’s no doubt a genius, I can’t help thinking that ESC protests too much, Giff having recently thrown in the towel on Second Life and then said on this blog “no, we haven’t” and then Sibley saying “well, yes we have” … for NOW, because the issue isn’t Second Life, said Sibley, it’s that it had a nice blip on the technology up ramp and then stopped, and virtual worlds are stalled in general because there’s so much damn WORK to do on the underpinning code, and those blasted advertisers still measure things by eyeballs, how the heck will we ever convince them unless we get the eyeballs.

I’m simplifying, for sure, and will get into it more I figure once Sibley gets his blog up and running where he’s promising a big old fashioned conversation to try to get our IT acts together and plan and move this thing up a notch or two, headed to that gold pot of the metaverse of which they all supposedly dreamed.

But I don’t get it.

For all this stuff about all the things that virtual worlds need to pop, for the metaverse to happen, well…well…see, what everyone seems to say they want are things like:

Brand Experiences
- Immersive experiences – “engagement” is the key thing. Like places you go to, and people hang out, and listen to music or live DJs, and really, really get INTO their little virtual lives.
- Objects as branded experiences. As in, things that are made are bought or won or traded or sold amongst users. Objects are coveted and loved and treated as status symbols and are given away, shared, admired.
- The ability to create ambassadors for experiences and brands, kind of like how there’s Facebook, or how there’s communities of bloggers who generate lots of traffic and cross interest and cross posting and “buzz”.

Education and Collaboration and New Ways of Doing Business
Places where people can go and have a sense of presence, and share ideas, and work together in new and different ways, and maybe invent some new business processes, or new thing kind of like 3D Wikis or who knows what, the possibilities are endless. Meetings in virtual spaces with people from all over the world, chatting using text and/or voice and sharing ideas.

Actually, you know, I won’t go on, because my point is sort of made already.

A couple of brands came in to Second Life and they flopped. And the Sheep people can blame the technology, but it wasn’t the residents or the Lindens who said that 10s of thousands of people would be soooo grabbed by a CSI episode that they would be compelled to get up off their comfy couches and turn on the computer, it was NBC and ESC. It wasn’t, I’m sure, the Lindens who said they’d better set up 400 sims so that their entertaining and engaging Cisco signs wouldn’t crash the Grid.

(By the way – did you SEE the episode? I was too lazy to get away from my computer to watch, but maybe ESC should blame the network TV people for a lack of creativity, from what I heard.)

So in the meantime, I figure, let all the people who are looking for venture money plod away at the Sibley technology road map. Because every time I log on to the Grid I find some new little application, some new branded experience (it’s just that they’re branded by RESIDENTS not by the multinationals), some new education methodology, some little piece of script, some improvement in the way we communicate and collaborate.

The Metaverse is alive and well.

It may not be where we think it is. Maybe it’s hidden in the universities and in mixed reality, and augmented reality, and gaming platforms. Or maybe it’s still where we once thought it was, it’s just that a collective blind eye has been turned (even by the Lindens themselves but thank goodness not by IBM), which gives me a big sigh of relief, because we’re safe for now, we can go about our normal business, we can build the Metaverse in relative quiet, until one day it’s just there…and if we do it right, we’ll build it before someone else has the chance to co-opt the dream again.


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