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You may be able to fly around chatting to giant rabbits or battling trolls but the lure of virtual worlds such as Second Life is not as strong - for silicon.com readers at least - as you might think.
Asked whether they'd ever visited a virtual world, more than half (58 per cent) of respondents to a silicon.com reader poll said they had never been tempted to find out what life as an orc is like. And although one-fifth (20 per cent) had decided to take the plunge once to see what all the fuss is about, they said they got bored and didn't go back for more.
However, a sizeable minority of silicon.com readers do frequent virtual worlds, according to the poll.
Survey: Virtual Social Networks - Get A Life [silicon.com]
i danced, i flew, but basically virtual dancing is dumb. i had the most fun designing my body and getting all kids of cool hair, but i was bored to tears in about 2 hours.
and he paid real money for a virtual island. i'm kind of skeptical about that....
Kudos to silicon.com readers
I agree. But people pay real money to buy virtual land, property and widgets and rent virtual properties in SL. WoW has a slightly different model but land still has a real money cost. The VR "economy" was worth an estimated $500 million last year. And growing at 15-20% per month. And that's not Linden, that's US dollars. There are many who've given up well paid professional jobs to make money in SL.
Some people take SecondLife quite seriously, and there is certainly real-life money being made by some. I think the current implementation is perhaps a bit offputting for many users. But what if it was REALLY realistic? We may not have the software, computing horsepower, or bandwidth right now, but certainly in the future we will.
What if one could come to WebmasterWorld, enter the Webmaster's Pub, and hang out with the same people one sees at Pubcon? That would certainly appeal to some...
I think the key to attracting the majority of users who shun SecondLife into virtual worlds is to make them less cartoonish and more lifelike. Idealized in places, perhaps, but very lifelike. And, either in the context of separate worlds or different places in a total world like SL, appealing to specific interests will be important. Most current online communities have some kind of theme - they offer users a purpose for showing up, whether it's to solve a technical problem or to talk about cats.
The vector graphics look like something out of the 90's and things frequently slow to a crawl even on my relatively high end graphics system.
But despite that it's insanely popular, and profitable. The idea itself is good. Imagine what it's going to become when someone creates a similar system that actually works. This is something which is already possible with today's processors and bandwidth.
There is an endless potential market for MySpace 3D. :-)
[edited by: IanKelley at 11:09 pm (utc) on June 19, 2007]
Imagine being able to pick something up with your virtual hand, rotate in 3D and possibly even get tactile feedback from your virtual glove which will replace the mouse in that environment.
Not happening anytime soon but that's how I think people will shop online in 15 years.
The difference between SL and the web is that it is real time, interactive, and 3d. Do you have more of a life when you sit in your room alone browsing a web page rather than interacting with a group of like minding people in a virtual world?
People are afraid of Virtual Worlds because it represents the same disruptive change that the web did. Except now the disruption becomes complete - before person to person interaction still had a place, but pretty soon we may find that avatar-to-avatar interaction may be just as effective.
Suddenly, *everyone* may be competing with joe blow from India/China/etc. (well, except for the plumber / hair dresser / low wage manual labour here).
but it was just too darn slow and buggy for me.
the most fun i had was designing the character.
then I realized that all sl was about was virtual sex, gambling, and having conversations with a few other visitors...and waiting and waiting, and waiting for the lag to stop.
It's not clear to me why some people who are already heavily involved in computing and web technologies see this as something to dismiss rather than the next step forward.
I agree with both of these observations by blaze:
I still have to point out the irony of people who spend tonnes of time on the web poo-pooing things like SL. [...] People are afraid of Virtual Worlds because it represents the same disruptive change that the web did
Right now, SL looks to me like IRC circa-1995.
I realized that all sl was about was virtual sex, gambling, and having conversations with a few other visitors
For a lot of bored people, yes it probably is. But the medium has excellent potential for:
a) reducing the need for so many long-haul flights and give people back the time that they currently spend travelling to and from international conferences or business meetings. (IMHO video-conferencing cannot compete with a virtual 3D environment, even if it uses video images rather than graphics).
b) transforming distance-learning courses by allowing for the kinds of peer support and social interaction which exist between students attending real life courses.
c) enabling the development of cross-border friendships which make chat-room relationships look primitive and the concept of penfriends positively neolithic.
d) cutting down on hours wasted for people who have to commute every day or spend hours stuck in city centre traffic travelling between offices.
I'm sure there are many other benefits. The key point (for me at least) is that geography is no longer a barrier. Email, VOIP, forums, IM etc. already make communication over any distance possible but interacting with other avatars in a semi-real 3D environment is at a tangibly different level from just typing and reading words on a screen.
The vast majority of this isn't in stuff like Second Life though (whose monetary value has been greatly exaggerated). The bulk of the money flows through games like World Of Warcraft where players are willing to buy and sell items and characters through official channels or more likely unofficial channels such as ebay.
It's people paying to skip over some of the gameplay, rather than people investing in virtual property.
What's worrying is that many (perhaps most) countries have no legal system for protecting virtual property, so it could just disappear one day because the game publishers decide to shut the game down. Short of a nuclear holocaust or cultural revolution, that kind of thing doesn't happen in the real world.
Right now, SL looks to me like IRC circa-1995.
The key point (for me at least) is that geography is no longer a barrier.
ronin, I hear you, but I can't believe that.
One of the first things we teach our new businesses is that it is critical to get an office where you all can be in the same place. The energy that builds and communication that happens when you're all in the same place just makes things happen better and work seems to get done quicker. 
SL will be good for distance learning, because most courses are taught in a one-way fashion that is conducive to how SL works. In 90% of cases, peer interaction doesn't happen in a classroom setting. My .02.
SL may also be good for social events, and the advantage over IRC is that it has pretty pictures.
Beyond that, I still think it's application is limited. Most people like going to conferences, not just for the interaction, but because they actually get to go somewhere and experience things they don't traditionally experience.
As far as boardroom meetings go? I can't see it. Body language is far too important.
 Yes, I know there have been sucessful "virtual" businesses built. But I still maintain that your chances of success are greater when you're all working in the same place.
The only thing that might replace virtual worlds are high end video conferencing environments, such as the ones that Cisco produces.
In the end, however, I think we all want freedom. Freedom to be where we want to live and with the people we truly care about.
Getting stuck in an office politicking with a bunch of strangers is only fun for the truly masochistic.
A virtual office in a semi-real metaverse environment could replace a real world office and allow everyone who currently works there to work from home closer to their spouse and children, or their friends or family. If your commute to work is only one hour, that's 500 hours a year lost in travelling to and from the office, which you could be spending with your kids in their earliest years. (Or in bed, indeed).
Furthermore you can have a virtual office space for a team of six who are variously based in San Francisco, Paris, London, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney. It may not be quite as real as a real-life office, but that's already an unprecedented step forward. I don't think a combination of email, wiki and VOIP can come close to competing.
I don't know how much is lost between actual human interaction in physical space and human interaction in virtual space, but the gap is not huge. People actually say things in SL like: "Why don't we go and sit over there, by the waterside?" - it feels much more real than internet chat, because people embrace the metaphor and try to behave in a real way.
And bear in mind that SL is still very crude. I am fascinated to watch how things will develop over the next 5-10 years.
[edited by: ronin at 6:05 pm (utc) on June 20, 2007]
I feel sorry for those that lack the skills for real life
An often-heard but false dichotomy. Virtual social networks are not a replacement of real life, they are a tool. Is email less real than a letter? Is a conversation using IM less real than a conversation using VOIP (or less real than a conversation face to face)?
I suspect that no-one here harms their social life by spending time every week reading and contributing to threads on WW.
There will be people who are socially inhibited who thrive in virtual environments. And there will be people who thrive in real world environments who find it difficult to adapt to the metaphor of a virtual environment. But there will be (increasingly) a majority of others who thrive in both. I don't think this is an either/or.
I feel sorry for those that lack the skills for real life, reminds me of the film "Spy Kids" when the virtual characters are revealed in all their true geeky human form. Sad.
You overlooked the part that WebmasterWorld is a form of VR, so lump yourself in with the sad geeky kids.
Where in "real life" can you go and talk to people all over the world on a daily basis?
Not at the local pub!
At the end of the day, unfortunateley, the world is changing. How we socialize is changing. Everything is changing. Pretty soon, some day, the works of William Shakespeare will make absolutely no sense to the majority of the world's population and they will be living lives we simply can no fathom at this point.
It's pretty inevitable and has already happened to a certain degree. Some will adapt and flourish and others will be luddites, thinking about the good ol' days when the Web wasn't realtime/interactive/immersive.