The Future of Internet Is Virtual Worlds. Or Is It?
“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.
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.
Kevin posted a video of the discussion. The quality of the discussion wasn’t great, so it may not be worth watching.