NMK’s 2nd Life

26 10 2006

Yesterday I attended the NMK session “My So Called 2nd Life” – there were a number of very interesting talks, very perceptive questions, and illuminating conversation in the bar afterwards. The talks were a good mix of big and small company plays and academic work.

As we delved into the various MMORPGS, ARGS, MOORs and so on, it became clear to me that we are actually looking at the early form of the “next” Web development phase after Web 2.0.

To explain…”Web 2.0″ is essentially – when all is said and done – the endgame of Web 1.0 dreams. To be fair, the open environment of Web 2.0 has been taken to an unimagined level with tagging, mashups etc – or was until the money started to arrive anyway – but essentially it is about broadband speed and penetration. Massive numbers of web wise “eyeballs” are connected to cheap, fat pipes, doing a lot of the stuff that was dreamed about in Web 1.0 but was just not then feasible or affordable. We had VoIP in 1999 for example, but you had to buy for $200 what your laptop now comes with for free, then set up your own wifi station (with a pringle antenna), and do it all on a dialup line.

The next phase of the Web though will (imho) be both a continuation of this trend, yet different. It is a continuation in that it will do, with ever increasing power and bandwidth, what we have done since the text internet (and before) since time immemorial – form “social nets” and communicate with each other. It is different in that it will be virtual 3D, and that is a much richer contextual environment that will blur real life with virtual life.

i.e., not so much Web 3.0 as Web 3.D!

Taking some of the principles of the Web today and projecting, here is a possible scenario-set:

(i) User Generated Content – building our own spaces, our own personae, and probably using the 3D worlds to make our own content – machima is the starting point, but YouTube has shown there is a lot more talent out there than those officially sanctioned by the Media Moguls. Who will be the first to film Hamlet in 2nd Life or similar?

(ii) Existing content – as iTunes has shown, content at a reasonable price, allowing a high degree of user choice and “playlisting” (a form of user content generation) that is easy to download/upload is very attractive. I also think content rights may increasingly evolve into a de facto “Use it or Lose it”

(ii) Identity and Profile – my 3D avatar(s) becomes the repository of my identity, which I own. This avatar travels between applications and interacts with them, sometimes in 2D, sometimes in 3D. I will probably have a nuber of avatars (profiles) depending on the application, Clearly the management of Intimacy will be far more subtle than it is today on MSN say, and relate more to real life.

(iii) Search will change….at present search in 2nd Life is non existent, that must change and will do so as it becomes open. The current search regimes were built for Web 1.0, (which is why the GYM crowd have had to acquire web 2.0 technology), but the emerging world will have much richer metadata and thus new search techniques will apply.

(iv) Webservices are becoming mainstream, reliable and have an increasingly light touch on the client, allowing dumber and dumber devices to become part of the experience.

(v) Bandwidth – ah, bandwidth. The nay-sayers argue that as soon as we all start consuming movies etc the bandwidth will collapse. But my observaton over the last 10 years is that there has always been a nay-saying about bandwidth, especially by the owners of the last generation of business models. However, bandwidth provision and demand are in a sort of helix dance, and there is still a huge amount of darknet out there. I don’t think we will all be consuming TV and VoD movies all the time anyway, the alternatives are just too enticing and will become more so as the blend of real and virtual worlds increases.

(vi) The Customer Environment – Game machines, Mobiles, TV, PC…will all interwork (not as devices, the manufacturers are determined not to do that) as Services. I will set up my service on my PC, consume it on my TV at home and interact with it on a Mobile or Nintendo when out and about. What will be most revolutionary is the the “environment” will blend between the virtual and the real world. My Avatar has already attended seminars on line in 3D, 2nd lifers increasingly arrange to meet in real pubs, and ARG players play virtual games in real worlds – the trend to using reality as a backdrop to the 3D characters’ world will continue.

Will I still consume old media – sure, the new never replaces the old – but they fight for the same hours and wallet, so getting attention will be the key issue going forward.

(vii) Analytics – there is a lot of data generated by you online….all the commercial Co’s (and no doubt governments) will want to collect it, but I see an increasing counter-drive to privacy as well – the end position will be an Opt-In play – I share data about me, but at a price.

(vii) Advertising…..it must happen, and is to be encouraged as a way of subsidising services – but beware, we can “TiVo” a virtual world quite well. 2nd Life for example has roughly doubled in population in 4 or so months, a mass immigration if ever there was one, and this is attracting mass retail interest. However, caveat retailer – in 2nd Life or similar users can just go somewhere else, so the challenge will be to enhance the existing experience – for example will an easy to navigate 3D Grocery mart be better than shopping online off a web page?

To me it is quite sad the way many Brands are now barging into 2nd Life, boots and all, to get the publicity buzz – the risk is it turns into another overdeveloped tourist resort, the virtual equivalent of Torremolinos or somesuch. (Mind you, I was told yesterday that in 2nd Life life the inhabitants have moved from mainly building cool stuff to buying expensive branded shoes and colouring them in, so it looks like the package tourists are coming in droves! I await the first Virtual Timeshare huckster with trepidation :-D)

For this reason, one can imagine subscription services also existing, both as business models where longer term commitment is required to build services, or for private services, or simple to avoid advertising supported ones.

(viii) Bad Behaviour. Yesterday we asked the Linden guy about possible money laundering, tax evasion, fraud etc on 2nd Life. One of the speakers actually noted that deviant behaviour is a norm in society. The answer so far is we must be all be excellent to each other and be self policing. .I can believe that in an early environment it is all fine, but by and large cometh the money (the stampede by the Brands shows its arriving), then cometh the crooks.

We are all the same underneath all this…humans do human stuff, regardless of the medium or the media.

(ix) V-Government – it is clear that if the Real/Virtual world mix occurs in a commercial sense, it needs to exist in a governmental sense too. That doesn’t mean I want to see Dave peddling his Green V-Bike in 2nd Life, but it does mean that government communication will need to reach into this world. Who knows, maybe this is the way to break the political apathy in so many developed countries. Anyone up for the Ban No Fly Zones Movement in 2nd Life ?

(x) V-B2B – Videoconferencing, meetings, presentations can all be failrly well done in 3G worlds – in fact there are advantages over traditional Videoconferencing, we were told yesterday by IBM that one unexpected effect of Virtual Conferencing is avatars having “water cooler” conversations, which you can’t get in a phone meeting or videocon. Private environments where business can be done will no doubt come into effect, if not on 2nd Life then elsewhere.

Thats a brief brain dump summary. One small step for avatar kind……

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