Bruce in the news
Bruce was interviewed by Ido Hartogsohn for the Israeli web site Nana (www.nana.co.il), about the possibility for a metaverse, Note this article is in Hebrew. (Nov 2007)
The English version of the original interview is presented here.
Ido: I am currently working on an article for the Israeli web site Nana (www.nana.co.il), one of the 3 leading Internet sites on the israeli web, about the possibility for a metaverse. Recently we have read that a company that attempts to build a basis for a metaverse was TechCrunch 40 finalist which was somehing new.
This idea of a metaverse has been with us very long, and people like Steven Berlin Johnson have stated that this is only a matter of time until the metaverse is built in their opinion
But until now nothing substantial has happened in this direction yet, at least that I know of.
I was wondering if you'd be willing to answer a few questions about the metaverse for my article:
1. What initiatives do you know of that have worked or currently work on creating a metaverse?
Well, as far back as the Earth To Avatars conference in October 1996 we were having sessions on "Avatar Standards" trying to explore and promote ideas of creating inter-operability between the first generation internet virtual world platforms (Active Worlds, Black Sun, The Palace, Onlive Traveler, WorldsAway, Oz, Worlds Chat, etc). In subsequent years, each of the companies behind the platform went their own way, most going out of business. Several of the platforms continue till today but no interoperability was ever attempted. Today, we again have a crop of incompatible virtual world platforms (Second Life, There, IMVU, Multiverse Network, Croquet3D, etc) and each was born of its own business need and is on its own trajectory. Projects like Open Metaverse, Croquet and others that operate outside the investor/return-on-investment model may have a chance to create some kind of standard.
2. Could you tell us a bit about the roots of the metaverse idea and what this could mean for the net?
Neal Stephenson coined "Metaverse" in his 1992 novel "Snow Crash". William Gibson referred to Cyberspace in his earlier works (Neuromancer, 1984). See some quotations from my book Avatars (1997 - which was also an inspiration for the metaverse when it came to the internet). See:
"Hiro is approaching the Street. It is the Broadway, the Champs Elysees of the Metaverse. It is the brilliantly lit boulevard that can be seen, miniaturized and backward, reflected in the lenses of his goggles. It does not really exist. But right now, millions of people are walking up and down it."
-Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, page 24.
My book Avatars is out of print but can be bought on Amazon still, full text is at:
3. How do you estimate the possibility for a metaverse? Will this really happen, and if so, then when?
I think the probability of a metaverse (ie, a single, dominant set of interfaces, and prototcols) is very low, at least in the next decade. I agree with Steven Berlin Johnson that it is a trend in technology to factor down from many incompatible systems to one or two. However, the virtual worlds market is dominated by several factors that work against the emergence of one dominant platform (ie, one metaverse) including:
1. The high cost of development of 3D interfaces, servers, grids, user interfaces, and security models push companies toward guarding, not sharing, technology. So investors want to see a return in a relatively short period of time. Big firms like EA will shut down a new platform if it is not making its number (like the Sims Online). VC and angel investors have a limited time scope and vision and don't like to see their dollars lost. So virtual worlds platforms (gaming and social) all have limited lifetimes (often measured in 2-3 years, sometimes longer). Thus, for most virtual worlds, the entire platform is "thrown away" including the engines, content etc and companies build all new platforms and content for the next generation. So you may be able to wander around in the retro landscape of Ultima Online or Active Worlds ten years later, but the majority of users have migrated into World of Warcraft or Second Life.
2. Virtual worlds are not just about data formats, and protocols, they are about creating "experience" with is extremely hard to translate between platforms. For example, it was relatively easy to aggregate documents created in word processors and convert them to the web (HTML). It is also relatively easy to connect instant message formats and make them interoperable. However, a fully defined 3D world with behaviors, a big database of objects, and user interface features is truly a "walled garden" and virtually impossible to translate to another platform. One would have to piecemeal reconstruct it and this is too time consuming and costly to make sense. There is also no
"business sense" for creating interoperability between platforms as suggested in the Johnson article.
3. The emergence of one dominant platform as with Microsoft Windows is unlikely, unless perhaps Google buys a virtual worlds company and continues to invest with that in mind. The user populations of these worlds, especially the social virtual worlds like Second Life, are very small (41,000 users logged in the last time I was there) and very fickle. In gaming worlds, populations of a popular property like World of Warcraft were the previous year inhabiting other game properties, and will move on when WoW is getting to the end of its life and there is a new kid on the block.
4. The continued expression of variety in what it means to be an avatar in a virtual world works against the emergence of "one metaverse". For example, is the Second-Life style virtual world the only form of the medium people will ever want to use? Absolutely not! Already there are 2D interfaces (the Palace, Cyworld), instant messaging oriented small spaces (IMVU), facial expressive interfaces (Traveler) and even spaces derivative of the physical world (multi user Google Maps or Google Earth). So there will be a continued variety of virtual world techniques and platforms, working against the domination of one medium or platform.
4.What would effect would the arrival of a metaverse have in your opinion on virtual worlds and the net?
Well, gosh, I suppose it would create a universal mode of interaction much richer than just texting, email and browsing documents, but see comments above.
The correct answer to this is: "There will be a variety of metaverses that come and go, and many niches for virtual worlds. The metaverses will continually evolve to match the business needs and creative output of their citizens"
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