SAN FRANCISCO - THE creator of Second Life and technology stalwart IBM announced on Wednesday they have joined forces to knock down walls separating virtual worlds on the Internet.
The US firms are using a Virtual Worlds Expo and Conference in San Jose, California, to promote enabling people's animated online personae, referred to as 'avatars', to freely roam from one virtual world to another. Currently, avatars are trapped in the virtual worlds in which they are created.
Since people routinely spend hours customizing online proxies with hairstyles, tattoos, wardrobes, skin tone and more, they are averse to repeating the processes in multiple virtual worlds. This fact is thwarting the virtual life universe from reaching its potential as a place to socialize, advertise, do business and make money, according to San Francisco based Linden Lab, which created Second Life.
'You spend an enormous amount of time on your avatar's appearances and the things it uses to interact and you want to take those with you,' Linden vice president of business affairs Ginsu Yoon told AFP. 'We don't think the future of virtual worlds is going to involve a lot of siloed experiences competing against each other. The future is going to involve going from one world to another.'
Pioneering virtual world Second Life has approximately 10 million registered users, with nearly ten percent of those 'residents' having logged into the virtual world in the past 30 days.
Other flourishing online worlds include Gaia, which is inhabited with avatars inspired by Japanese anime cartoon characters, and Entropia Universe founded in Sweden more than a decade ago.
IBM and Linden are crafting interoperability standards and protocols based on open-source software in the hopes they will result in open borders between virtual worlds. IBM's vision of the future of 'three-dimensional Internet' includes companies using virtual worlds for tasks such as recruiting, meetings, and employee training.
'As the 3-D Internet becomes more integrated with the web, we see users demanding more from these environments and desiring virtual worlds that are fit for business,' said IBM digital convergence vice president Colin Parris.
Businesses have already followed people into virtual worlds; opening shops to promote brands and even sell items that are delivered to avatars' counterparts in the real world. Investors channeled more than a billion US dollars into 'in-world' companies during the past year, according to virtual world conference organizers.
Virtual worlds will duplicate the explosive expansion of Internet websites that occurred in the 1990s if, as is the case browsing online, users are free to go whether they choose, Yoon predicts.
Gartner research firm predicts that by 2011, 80 percent of the people using the internet will have alter egos in virtual worlds.
'What we are really trying to do is lead an effort that others will want to join,' Yoon said. 'None of this stuff is going to be enforced by the will of unreasoned dictate. I'm sure there will be the usual amounts of interest and skepticism mixed together.' -- AFP