Brief thoughts on virtual worlds

My boss’s boss Luba recently asked me to put together a short video for an internal conference on the future of applications. I didn’t have long, so I wandered around Hursley with my camera and my laptop for an afternoon, thinking out loud about the near future for virtual worlds.

For anyone following virtual worlds, none of this will come as a surprise. It’s just a very quick summary covering some subjects I tend to talk about a lot anyway.

In putting it together, I distracted myself by buying the full version of ScreenFlow, which made the gratuitous picture-in-picture stuff from 2:09 onwards stupidly easy and is generally a lot of fun.

Update: transcript:

Hello. My name’s Roo and I’m here in IBM Hursley.

There’s a number of virtual worlds projects now. Not all of them are external. Not all of them are public-facing, although there are some of those as well There’s a variety of recruitment events and conferences – public outreach is definitely a big thing for IBM in virtual worlds – but unlike most companies it’s not the only thing we do. We’re also exploring collaboration. There are a number of different projects now, inside IBM’s firewall, exploring what does it mean to come together and work as a team when you’re using a virtual world. Is it different to Instant Messaging? Is it different to using a teleconference? And the answer seems to be that yes, it is different.


In the last 12 or 18 months there have been a lot of people meeting and talking and signing deals and agreeing to interoperate and open up a lot more. Linden Lab have made a joint press release with IBM in which we talk about avatar portability and being able to move your avatar between virtual worlds. A lot of people hear that and they get confused. They start thinking, well I don’t want my Dwarf from World of Warcraft to move into my Second Life space, that would be nonsensical. And indeed it would be. There’s very limited appeal for that kind of interoperability. I think what people really could be thinking of instead is more like could I bring my friends list with me? Could I bring my contact list? Could I bring my wallet? Could I bring my inventory? What are the standards what are the services that are going to be required in order to make true interoperability between virtual worlds make sense.

Bringing together different services APIs and data sources in the intranet and visualising them and allowing people to come together and collaborate around those things. It’s all SOA. It’s all just Service Oriented Architecture. We’re simply treating a virtual world as another endpoint – another way of consuming and composing different services and bringing them together.

Augmented reality

Once you get into the idea of a mobile device with a screen and a camera and sufficient processing power to do some interesting things then augmented reality starts to rear its head as well. This idea of dynamic overlays on top of the real world, and holding up your mobile phone and looking through the screen and using the camera and the onboard processing to display real-time information about the real world.

I don’t like making predictions, but I think I can pretty confidently say that we should pay attention to augmented reality. I think it’s going to be a pretty important theme in the next generation of applications.

6 replies on “Brief thoughts on virtual worlds”

  1. Any chance of a transcript so I can enjoy it at work? Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll have comments later….

    Incidentally, watching Iron Man made me realise that every computer should have transcription software running at all times, transcribing (along with identifying where possible speakers from voice print), everything said around it or played out of its speakers to a sound log. It doesn’t even matter if it’s not 100% accurate, it’d still be massively useful. Especially if the timestamps can match up to versions of files, which video is being played, what VOIP calls were taking place, etc.

  2. Interesting stuff. I’m excited about AR, as it’s a way to get so many of the benefits of virtual objects and spaces in the real world, not to mention a feasible way of providing a high bandwidth link between a computer and myself while walking around in a way that doesn’t hog my attention – one of the most important aspects.

    I would be interested to hear more about the way people react to collaborating in virtual spaces differently to IM/video conferencing. I do remember seeing a study about how notions of “personal space” had translated into Second Life, showing that there is transfer of some information and experience beyond what you get in IM and video conferencing. I wonder what other ways people treat it differently.

  3. would you say there’s a slight difference between interoperability (open APIs and being accessible, etc) and data portability (action of being able to share and understand the data)?

  4. Yes, although they’re related and I didn’t have time to make distinctions in this short and hasty video.

    Perhaps data portability fits into the larger themes of interoperability and openness which we’re coming to expect from the online world.

  5. When we say Augmented reality we are really doing interoperability with the world. Adding API’s in real physical worlds to consume existing data and re-rendering visualizations.
    If we create a real object from a virtual object e.g. using a 3d printer then that trasformation is a data portability :-)

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