The Future of Internet Is Virtual Worlds. Or Is It?

Posted in 3D, all posts, future, internet, rss, UX, web by coleman yee on February 17, 2007

“The future of internet is virtual worlds. Or is it?”

That was the topic of discussion in one of the sessions at the recent Web 2.0 Unconference.

The discussion leader Douglas Abrams defined a virtual world as a fully-immersive 3D environment that is shared by everyone and used for interactions in areas like entertainment, communication, and commerce.

Basically, the internet will become primarily 3D, instead of 2D as it is today.

He believed that the internet will eventually become a 3D virtual world (or worlds), simply because of the richness of information that 3D is able to communicate, as compared to textual, visual, or video information.

He’s wrong.

His is a common mistake – the same mistake that people years ago made when they predicted that TV would kill radio.

But I’m running ahead of myself.

The internet as we know it now is mostly what I would call “informational” – where people access content. This could be for knowledge (reading up a wikipedia article or my blog *ahem*) or for entertainment (reading my blog *AHEM*).

Currently, while the content is mostly in the form of text (like wikipedia and my blog again), there are other forms of content, including audio (podcasts, webradio), still visuals (photos, illustrations), and moving visuals (video, Flash animations).

Besides the informational, the internet also has a large experiential element. These are interactive elements or environments, where the interactive experience is the goal itself, and not a means to an end. These would include Flash games, simulations, and so on.

What do we get when web designers fail to distinguish the informational from the experiential? Flash-based websites that are a pain to navigate. Sure, surfing Flash-based informational websites is certainly a “richer” experience, thanks to pretty animations and sound effects, but when the information I want is best represented by text, don’t give me any animations along with it. Let alone a 3D experience.

Here’s another example – RSS feeds. I can go to a news site or a blog to read the informational content, and experience the look and feel of that site as well. But why do many people eventually move to reading the same content from RSS aggregators? Yes, the convenience, but many of us are eventually only interested in the informational content, not the experiential.

Virtual 3D worlds are better suited for the experiential, much like Flash. Because they are experiential in nature, they are great for the user to experience something, like exploring a new environment, playing an immersive game, or having social interactions with others. Thus 3D worlds are certainly here to stay, since they are best for certain types of the expriential.

Now if a user wants the informational rather than the experiential, and a 3D environment is given, it may not be pretty, especially when the novelty of 3D wears off. Remember those horrific Flash sites you tried to navigate through? The horrificity of 3D will be worse in an order of magnitude, thanks to the additional third dimension.

So are virtual worlds the future of the internet?

No, it won’t. Unless…

Only unless the experiential overtakes the informational on the internet in the future.

Will that ever happen? I hope to explore this in a later post.


Read part 2 here, or jump to part 3, “Why the Matrix Will Not Happen“.


Kevin posted a video of the discussion. The quality of the discussion wasn’t great, so it may not be worth watching.

21 Responses

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  1. pohlse said, on February 17, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    I agree with you about Flash. But Ajax is surpassing Flash in many ways and in some cases bringing the experimental and the informational together into one dynamic experience…

  2. Benjamin Koe said, on February 18, 2007 at 1:27 am

    I agree with you. The current thinking that 3D worlds are going to be web 3.0 is not going to happen i believe. Just take the evolution of the web itself, everything web 1.0 can be upgraded to web 2.0, made interactive, placed on new technology, but can a 3D world fully replace web 2.0? I don’t think so. Web 3.0 (as we see it through the browser) is going to have its new technologies and its not necessarily going to be 3D.

    3D worlds are more the evolution of chat/IM. I believe.

  3. nay min thu said, on February 18, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    totally agree with u.. flash-based websites are cool to surf.. but if u overdo it, it can be annoying.. a case in point.. i was just surfing a particular website which is done in flash.. and there was this background music.. which was kind of irritating after a while.. and there is no option to turn off the music.. and the music kept playing and playing.. i got pissed off and closed the tab..

    but even after i closed the tab, the music didn’t go away.. so, there was only one thing for me to do.. to close the browser.. which i reluctantly did because of the other tabs i was surfing.. so, the question: was it a great experience for me on that website?? nah, no.. will i ever visit it again?? a big NO..

  4. Harro! said, on February 19, 2007 at 12:40 am

    Hi Min Thu, are you vietnamese?

  5. walter said, on February 19, 2007 at 1:17 am

    Interesting point of view which I totally agree. Many tech developers unfortunately live in their own rose-tinted lenses world. They expect everybody to be all gooey and gushing over the latest 3-D virtual worlds, avatar based, experience rich, VRML whatever.

    Well, the sad sad truth is that most of us do have an experience rich, 3-D REAL LIFE WORLD to live in, complete with REAL LIFE people that we can talk to, laugh with, hug, kiss, and socialise with. And there is nothing that I can ever eat in Third Life that can replace that steaming hot bowl of Bak Kut Teh from Balestier Road, with fluffy fragrant rice assailing all my FIVE SENSES.


  6. theory said, on February 19, 2007 at 1:59 am

    Coleman: I’d emphasize media history as proof that 3D virtual worlds or interfaces aren’t going to replace the Internet anytime soon. As you’ve mentioned, even though TV provides a richer experience than radio, yet it didn’t replace it. I explained to Douglas Abrams in their session that media is chosen according to one’s needs… the “Uses and Gratifications theory” explains this phenomena quite well. 🙂

    I think the group was just trying to provoke discussion on the topic as there was little else they really provided. Didn’t particularly enjoy it since I learned nothing new from the session.

  7. theory said, on February 19, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    Yo Coleman, check out Rina’s funny videoblog on this exact issue: http://rinaz.net/2007/02/some-thoughts-about-the-metaverse/

  8. Ivan Chew said, on February 19, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    I’ve no doubt a 3D Internet will evolve (i.e. it will be part of the future), but having a 3D Internet does not negate the usefulness and need of a 2D version (i.e. 3D Internet does not become THE future only). Both serves a need. Also, the 3D Internet is probably going to be more costly than a 2D one (e.g. bandwidth and computing power). I think cost will be a bigger determinant of how fast 3D Internet develops, rather than “experiential Vs Informational” needs.

  9. coleman yee said, on February 19, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    Ivan: Yes, cost (bandwidth, computing power) will be an important factor, but in this post I’m assuming that those costs are negligible, so it will come down to other factors – experiential vs informational. Just because I have a fast broadband doesn’t mean I prefer Flash-based websites when finding information.

  10. […] UPDATE: Rinaz, an active SecondLife-r(?), made a nice video offering her perspective on the virtual world discussion. Coleman Yee frames the “Future of Virtual World” question as an “informational vs experiential” debate. […]

  11. marina said, on February 20, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    I agree. I dont think metaverse is a complete replacement but an enhancement as well as an alternative mode of choice for communication. First life is of course important, but I do think that the metaverse is extremely useful for those who may not have the means to interact due to certain reasons like economic reasons.

    We need to remember that the demographics are much larger as compared to the commerce. There are real people in there who are just happy to socialise. There are even some handicapped people who are happy to use the metaverse to communicate as it eliminates pre-judgemental views as opposed to them going into real life.

    Anyway, I’m just rambling. :\

    My point is that with new technology, comes different alternative for us. which is great as we have a choice of what medium we want.

  12. aileen said, on February 22, 2007 at 11:46 am

    agree with marina. I don’t think metaverse will ever completely replace real life, or tv, or the web (am differentiating web from the Internet. heck, virtual worlds run on the Internet!) or print, or… you get the point. Instead, what metaverses provide is possiblities for new content, commerce and communication which could greatly enhance interaction between people.

    (Btw, Coleman, how did tv not kill radio? tv was the dominant medium for news and entertainment for the last few decades?! >.

  13. […] Future of Internet Is Virtual Worlds. Or Is It? (Part 2) In part 1 of “the Future of Internet Is Virtual Worlds. Or Is It?”, I explained why an immersive 3D internet will not take over the 2D […]

  14. coleman yee said, on February 23, 2007 at 12:33 am

    aileen: yup tv was dominant, but it didn’t kill radio. and quite strangely, book sales have increased the last few years.

  15. […] Yee muses about whether virtual worlds are the future of the Internet. I totally agree with Walter’s comment. I also wonder if its the same Bak Kut Teh store that […]

  16. Sam said, on February 23, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Second life is the most overhyped overrated piece of shit out there. Sorry real life is still better.

  17. kwokheng said, on February 24, 2007 at 3:48 am

    He believed that the internet will eventually become a 3D virtual world (or worlds), simply because of the richness of information that 3D is able to communicate, as compared to textual, visual, or video information.

    He’s wrong.

    If your take is truly that, then I readily disagree.

    The implicit assumption that you’re making is that the internet in eventuality will still be the same internet 30-50 years later.

    If you go back to what is exactly, the ‘internet’ as it was initially conceptualised, then there’s still a huge gray area left unexplored.

    That’s not to say that you’re wrong. It’s just that your context is still the here and now, whereas transhumanist performance artist, Sterlac, and his ilk, would assert otherwise.

    It is one thing to speak of the internet as described by you, as ‘informational’. It is another to fully assert the view that insofar as human beings are like informational mediums unto themselves, the ‘cluetrain manifesto’ does hold true for markets and that all affect and ‘the experiential’ is still, ‘informational’.

    The chasm between Douglas Abrams’ view and yours lies in perhaps, the difference between definitions: the definitions of ‘reality’ and thus ‘life’, more specifically.

    ‘Real life’ as Sam (Feb 23, 4.52pm) puts it, is indeed better. What is not yet conceivable or seemingly imaginable is how ‘second life’ can be used to support/sustain/protect the longevity of ‘real life’.

    As for what I’m driving at, I did put out in a blog post of mine elsewhere:

    Then Gary raised the point, ‘Wouldn’t there be problems as well, with the verification of experience?’

    I said, ‘Yes, but that’s only one strand of development. The other strand that’s taking place at the same time has to do with transhumanism and biometric verification.’

    And alongside this development of technology comes with the development of reputation systems, things like Identity 2.0 for Web 2.0.

    So the verification of knowledge may eventually be passed onto reputation systems of the transhumanist nature. And again, even if the academics don’t use it, if the technology does become wide-spread then like the news you get from newspapers, common folk will not be able to divorce themselves from it because if they do so, they risk cutting themselves off from society.

    Which is then again, where all the theories for politics and hegemony will come in, alongside Lawrence Lessig and his ‘code is law’.

    Then to his question of how transhumanism might take place in the first place, I brought up the question that I’ve been thinking about the wide-spread implementation of Wi-Fi hotspots and said that Wi-Fi is essentially radiation; if people in all eventuality decide to adopt some transhumanist device that allows them to shield their cells from mutation, there’s no saying where all that use of augmented technologies will develop into.

    Then again, maybe I’m just crack-brained. As I’m always told.


  18. coleman yee said, on February 24, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    The implicit assumption that you’re making is that the internet in eventuality will still be the same internet 30-50 years later.”

    No, that was not my implicit assumption at all. I gave no timeline, but you could say that the internet I referred to here is a pre-transhumanist internet, if you like. I’ve written my speculations that would apply to a transhumanist scenario in “Why the Matrix Will Not Happen“.

    It is another to fully assert the view that insofar as human beings are like informational mediums unto themselves, the ‘cluetrain manifesto’ does hold true for markets and that all affect and ‘the experiential’ is still, ‘informational’.

    I must say I lost you here. Interesting thoughts though.

  19. kwokheng said, on February 26, 2007 at 11:59 am

    I must say I lost you here.

    Then you’ll have to refer to writings and research within the intersection of media arts and fine arts.

    Art criticism writings are a lot more abstract than that.

  20. The Future Internet « μεταcole said, on July 11, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    […] Future Internet Some time ago, I argued that the future internet will not be virtual 3D worlds. So a number of people have asked me what I thought the future internet will be […]

  21. Robert Macniel said, on September 12, 2008 at 4:58 am

    The Internet is nothing more then an infrastructure over which we are able to get information and entertainment. The way we experience this information or entertainment has to do with the capabilities of our browser, software programs and computing power of servers and PC’s.
    I see a shift from just information from the Internet in the form of text to a lot more entertainment from the Internet as in online movies, music and so on. I think the Internet will replace TV and radio soon in the same way records and VHS cassettes have been replaced by CD and DVD. And after that the advance in bandwidth and computing power will also allow us to submerge ourselves into 3d worlds. Not replacing 2d information or entertainment, but adding 3d worlds as an extra which in time will grow out to something like a Matrix but then in a positive sense and in which we can plug in and out when we want to. Commercially sold VR goggles and gloves will come first. Then headsets that feed neuro impulses to our brain in stead of reading impulses from our brain like the headset Nintendo is currently developing. The reasons why we would want to enter 3d worlds are simple. We will be able to communicate in a whole new manner, and people love to use the Internet for communication. We would be able to virtually meet everyone from around the whole world as if it were face to face. It will be commercially interesting to companies and governments. I think a 3D Internet is not far off and I wish it was here already.

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