The always brilliant Boris Anthony came to visit Rebecca and me in Cambridge today, and we found ourselves talking about virtual worlds. Berkman just participated in a conference in New York titled “State of Play”, focused on serious scholarly analysis of online spaces and games, especially massively multiplayer online games. Several of my colleagues – Rebecca included – came back from conference excited about learning more about these spaces, especially social spaces like Second Life.
I’ve had a hard time getting excited about virtual worlds. This isn’t because I find them uninteresting – I spent much of my teens and early twenties fascinated by MUDs and MOOs, early text-based multiplayer games and worlds. Early on in my time with Tripod, one of the teams I led focused on adding images to LambdaMOO to create a graphical online environment. I watched The Palace become the next big thing and then that thing everyone had forgotten about. In other words, I find myself wondering whether the new interest in online environments is, in fact, a very, very old idea.
Boris pointed me to an excellent post from Michael Lenczner about “the immersive web”, his term for these new multiuser social spaces. He makes the interesting point that, as people start spending more of their time, energy and creativity in these spaces, they’re living large pieces of their lives in environments owned by companies that may or may not have their best interests at heart. An important aspect of their life is tied to a specific company, its fortunes and its policies. Michael proposes an open source project to create a community space that’s free of some of these encumberances.
Whether or not 3D interactive spaces would be my top priority for new open source projects, I think it’s an intriguing idea – I’d certainly feel more comfortable putting time into a world I co-owned into one I was just renting. And I’m building a character for Second Life just to see whether this is something new, or just the most recent retread of a very old (and very interesting) idea…