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VWFall: Walled Gardens and Open Gates, Virtual World Cross-Platform Delivery and Portability
post Oct 14 2007, 10:09 PM
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Let’s go back to an era gone by, one that is indeed difficult to even recall. An age when you accessed your Prodigy account from the DOS sign-in screen and that wonderful slogan, ‘Discover a New World of People and Ideas", greeted you. It was a brilliant motto that was synonymous with the advent of the fearless future that many of us were emboldened to pursue in various community enclaves, such as the beloved Prodigy, GEnie, and of course CompuServe. For a brief time, it seemed as if these computing networks offered us all we might have wished for. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the world wide web hit, marking the end of the little walled gardens and welcoming in a diverse, bold interconnectivity that few had foreseen.

Dr. Aaron Delwiche, co-founder of Metaversatility and advocate for Internet global dialogue, is clearly inspired by the pursuit of true innovation, both on the Internet and in virtual worlds. “Let’s remember that the vision from the very beginning was that personal computing could have a transformative effect on society,” Delwiche noted. Contrary to transformation, the walled communities that once existed as the sole means of networking online were prohibiting the exchange of ideas, as users chose a single community and were ensnared accordingly until the world wide web and the ability to mingle (through browsing and email). The history of these walled gardens serves as a perfect metaphor for the state of the virtual world industry today, where individual platforms are exclusive and serve to inhibit growth rather than embrace the future that awaits, according to Delwiche. The future as Delwiche sees it can be met with both exuberant enthusiasm and reluctant apathy, and is summarized by one word: portability.

Currently, there are dozens of virtual world platforms that offer their own unique brand to entice participants, not unlike the niche communities of the Internet walled garden era. Most people within the industry agree that these dozens will soon be in the hundreds and many believe we must brace ourselves for thousands of platforms in the near future, creating a problematic state of affairs for the industry and its users. From a participant’s perspective, how will the industry solve basic concerns such as if a platform folds or merges? When will we all have the ability to move our avatars, or our assets, from one world to the next without worry, not to mention for easier and quicker access to new and emerging worlds? How will we decide which platforms are right for us if dozens of them offer capabilities that interest us, let alone communities that we wish to involve ourselves with? These questions are not only important to the millions of 2D and 3D virtual citizens, but they are of chief concern to the numerous organizations who want to experiment within current virtual parameters with less risk down the road.

Delwiche adds in Moore’s Law for good measure, of course. Moore’s more aptly named ‘trend’ follows the clearly visible timeline of the history of computer hardware and suggests that technology grows exponentially, approximately doubling every two years. Given this rate of increase, Delwiche argues that PC’s will no longer be the primary or sole means of virtual world access, and he implores virtual world companies to preserve their content in multiple file formats in anticipation of this inevitable future. Not doing so will only make for messy (if not incompatible) retrofitting when the time necessitates it. We’ve already seen SONY introduce their Home, and Microsoft’s Table may prove to be the next generation of personal computing. Other 2D means may offer more convenience to participants at certain times. “Cell phones might very likely be used for managing things like virtual inventories,” Delwiche explains, thus enabling us to do basic transactions and menial tasks via our mobiles at our own convenience without entering in world. Technology already presents us with a variety of input devices, including those currently being tested that tap into our brains for mouse control, and more such hardware devices will continue to develop and come to market. A pair of chic sunglasses may very soon be just one of many choices we have rather than our standard pc monitors, offering us accessible (not to mention fashionable) head monitors with greater resolution. Keeping in mind the vast array of products developing and emerging, Delwiche beseeches the attending virtual worlds companies to focus on accessibility and adaptive technology today.

Current government laws also suggest a strong trend in Internet legislation that we must assume will continue to increase globally. For those of you who have followed the recent accessibility lawsuit against global retailer Target’s website ( Reference: PCWorld ) , you are already versed in how civil rights laws are expanding into the Internet. “Eventually, there will be more such laws that require access of virtual worlds to the disabled,” Delwiche notes, and including adaptive technology today will ensure demands can be met when they become required.

From a participant’s perspective, the idea of interoperability between virtual platforms is enticing, offering us the ability to take our assets and reputation between 2D or 3D sites and worlds. It would allow us to discover all that awaits in the many virtual platforms available, thus expanding all of our horizons in an open sourced virtual landscape. Linden Lab’s push towards open sourcing serves as just one example, but there were many other platforms I encountered who are keen to investigate ways to make the industry much like the world wide web. While some view it as a pipe dream, recent technology coupled with greater discussion suggests that those who disregard it will be left out in the cold, much like Prodigy was after the walled gardens closed their doors for the last time.

"The future is here, it's just not widely distributed yet." - William Gibson
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