Scoble, PR and NOAA head to virtual worlds

, posted: 23-Aug-2006 14:02

Second LifeReality is good, but it can be improved with some vivid imagination and plenty of computing power. I am of course referring to virtual worlds like Second Life and Entropia Universe, both of which have been operating for a few years now and are starting really take off.

Virtual reality is nothing new - we've been doing that with books and films for a long time now - but the computerised and networked variants add some new twists to it. The first one is money: Entropia Universe says that in 2005, it turned over US$160 million.

Second Life states on its website that the turnover in the last 24 hours was just over US$300,000 (I'm writing this on August 23, 2006). That's good money in anyone's books, and with user communities around half a million each, it's easy to see why both are attracting interest from the real world. I'm not sure how many of the signed-up members are paying subscribers, but as the monthly fees are low and the virtual reality doesn't become much fun until you cough up the dough, it's a safe guess that a fair few people pay up.

So where's the interest coming from? At this stage, mainly tech-oriented businesses and media. This month, PR agency Text100 decided to set up office in Second Life for instance. A surprise join was the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Earth System Research Laboratory, which has set up a sim in Second Life called Meteroa.

Even old school geek and mega blogger Robert Scoble discovered Second Life in March this year, and proclaimed it an operating system because you can store files in there and create stuff like videos. Scoble's stay in Second Life didn't last long, however, because he let his twelve-year-old son play, which is against the rules (and fair enough, too). He was booted out in July, losing the $100 he had invested in Second Life.

I don't agree with Scoble that Second Life qualifies as an operating system, but he's absolutely right that Microsoft and other, traditional software houses should pay attention to virtual worlds. So should media organisations but most of these are currently busy getting to grips with the Internet as a whole and things like blogging, so I don't see that they'll get into the virtual realm until maybe another two or three years.
First time I looked at Second Life and Project Entropia as it was called then was two years ago. At the time, I remember liking the concept, but noting that you really needed fast broadband to make the most of it. I did at the time, as a customer of Telecom New Zealand's full-rate but low data cap and steep excess charges ADSL, which made Second Life a rather pricey experience for me.

Another issue that's particular to living in the antipodes is lag. We're a long way from the US and Europe based servers, so even with a fast connection, there will be delays. It's not so bad in virtual worlds as it is for fast, online games, but annoying nevertheless.

Trying out Second Life again a few days ago showed me that it has improved signficantly, and is a much smoother, slicker experience now (geo-lag apart). A couple of years ago, the place was empty but it's now teeming with avatars. There's also a rougher edge to Second Life now, with avatars pushing and shoving, and some even trying to run you over with virtual cars.

Money, millions of members and the freedom to do whatever you like (well, almost). That's going to an unstoppable combination I believe, even moreso when the virtual worlds being to integrate better with the real one. I would like to have a less intrusive client that you could run without occupying the entire screen for instance - kind of like a viewport into the other world. That way, the virtual reality wouldn't either-or, and consume time that I'm so desperately short of as it is.

Once the virtual worlds start talking to each other through standard APIs and maybe also a set of monitored financial rules, things could become really interesting. I wouldn't be surprised if your next office or shopfront goes up in a virtual world rather than the real one.

Update I almost forgot about this GigaOM entry which says UK branding agency Rivers Run Red is getting Adidas and Toyota into Second Life.

Other related posts:
Video: Kim Dotcom and Mathias Ortman at the IITP Mega breakfast
Two-factor authentication broken
The problem with naming and shaming

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