As if last week’s big reveal – Metaplace – wasn’t enough, this week rumours circulated that Google themselves were working on a virtual world/avatar program to be released later this year. Ars Technica probably has the most detailed account of what might be going on (remember nothing has been confirmed yet, other than that a ‘major internet company’ is beta tesing a new product that is in some way related to ‘3D modelling, videogaming’ and ‘virtual avatars’). Admittedly all the evidence points to the major internet company being Google, primarily the ASU connection and the gmail account question. But what form will this virtual world take? Metaversed states that ASU students have been testing a virtual world by the bame of ‘My World’ since last year, but don’t give any more details than that. The article emphasises the fact that Google Earth CTO Michel Jones stated that GE “would always remain true to the real world and not dive into the type of fantasy world that Second Life has become” leading to the question – so what’s the point?
However, ‘My World’ is not the same as Google Earth even if it makes use of it in some way. Everyone with any experience of virtual worlds knows that avatars, no matter how closely they are based on ‘real life’ selves will incorprate a degree of ‘fantasy’ even if it’s simply because of the stylistic limitations of the software used. More important then the form the virtual world will take, however is the relationship it will have to the broader online world. Metaplace will quite literally break boundaries by making all in-world objects and characters compatible with the web and vice versa (another great video here) making virtual worlds as portable and accessible as the web is now. Vastpark, which is just about to go into beta, is doing something very similar, although it is less apparent what degree of interoperability it will have with the rest of the web.
Google has always made it clear that its services are interoperable so I think it’s reasonable to expect a ‘My World’ link above the search box on your iGoogle page. The question will be: how far will Google take the interoperability? Will Google searches now come up with matches in ‘My World’ or at least give you the option to include or exclude this option? Will My World be a collaborativevirtual world allowing users to give access to world building tools to friends and colleagues? Will Chat be operable with Gmail and across virtual worlds (if it isn’t one huge virtual world)? If any of these feartures turn out to be available then the whole web 3.0 concept that once threatened to be no more than a parody might actually be a credible proposition.
New World Notes asks if MMOs will swallow the web or the web will swallow MMOs? To me it looks more like a Yin Yang with the boundaries between them being grey at best. If a virtual world is part of your Facebook page and your Facebook feeds part of your virtual world then whos’ to say what’s swallowed what?