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MMOSpace or virtual worlds 2.0: my thoughts on Metaplace

September 20, 2007

I wasn’t going to write about this week’s breaking news, Raph Koster’s Metaplace, but having seen this Youtube video I feel in a slightly better position to comment.

It’s only a short video, but if the tools are as easy to use as Raph implies then MMOs really could become the next phase of the socialnetworking trend, following in the footsteps of Myspace, Facebook etc. One of the examples Raph shows is an ‘apartment’ where “you can have friends over to chat” which immediately reminded me of the ‘miniroom’ in Cyworld, which, let’s remember, has 20 million users over in South Korea. This link is to the US version so you can see the similarity more clearly.

The language Raph uses to describe some of the features is intentionally lifted from web 2.0 lingo; when he demonstrates how to set up a virtual world he uses the term ‘style sheet’ “it’s a lot like a theme for a blog” he explains then he goes on to describe how you can import photos, music, video etc. Although the term UGC has been used to describe Metaplace, this is not the free form and slightly intimidating UGC of Second Life where items and environments are generated from scratch, but has more in common with the ‘bricolage’ of a Myspace page.

Admittedly if you look at the video carefully you can see that the page with the ‘stylesheets’ on is tabbed and the tab Raph focuses on is entitled ‘noob’, the next tab up is called ‘bring it!’ and the last tab ‘hardcore’. So we can surmise that Raph is showing us the ‘easy’ option, and the ‘hardcore’ option may be closer to the Second Life UGC model, if you check the Alpha sign up application form it does ask if you have any programming skills and if so what they are.

Clearly the real clincher in terms of web 2.0 similarities is the web-like capacity to build feeds through in-game items and link in-game items/spaces to the web through widgets and the like (not to mention the free movement of items between the virtual worlds in Metaplace itself). While Raph suggests that users can build their own ‘World of Warcraft’ if they wish, the obvious benefit is the simplicity of the platform which sounds no more difficult then setting up your own Facebook or Myspace page. As you may have noticed many brands/companies have their own Myspace/Facebook profiles not just because they’re seen to be an essential online presence but because they are cheap and easy to set-up and maintain, something that can’t be said for a Second Life presence, for example. Together with the web compatibility of Metaspace’s virtual worlds with the rest of the web, meaning that companies could have their users embed widgets into other personal web spaces, it seems like a done deal.

Of course, Metaspace isn’t unique in this capacity, as Alice Taylor points out there are other companies planning similar services, and there are companies like Koinup who are building social networking tools based on existing virtual worlds/MMOs, but Raph Koster’s ‘celebrity’ will certianly carry a lot of weight in bringing virtual worlds to the masses. We’ll just have to wait and see if these metaverse ideas bear the fruit they promise.

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