The “roadmap” part of the Metaverse Roadmap conference turns out to be a structured brainstorming document using a model proposed by Dr. Peter Bishop at the University of Houston. There are 18 “inputs” into the model, including visions, problem statements, assumptions, projections, cycles and constants. A number of folks – me included – wonder whether this isn’t a lot of structure for a brainstorm. At least one person asks, “This looks like a great way to build a road, but we haven’t all agreed on where we’re going.”

My first discussion group includes Randy Farmer, a programmer who’s literally had a hand in a third of all the virtual worlds, as well as Wagner James Au, Second Life’s first “embedded journalist”, who is now embedded in World of Warcraft. (“Embed”, in part, refers to the fact that Au was a Linden employee while reporting on Second Life…) Randy’s got a good deal of skepticism based on watching lots of attempts to virtual worlds crash and burn, while WJA has his skepticism balanced by enthusiasm for the developments he’s watched day to day in SL… (and, of course, I’m just a naturally cranky bastard.)

Our discussion ends up being being about assumptions – as we talk about virtual worlds, what assumptions are we making? It becomes pretty clear pretty fast that someone in the group is willing to take either side of any of these assumptions:

– Avatars will continue to be important (central) to a metaverse

– Some form of economy (probably related to the “real” economy) is neccesary

– The metaverse will be commercial

– Three-D models are more useful than 2-D

– The metaverse will be a single, space

– The metaverse will be run on open protocols and platforms.

– The metaverse will be used for business applications and workspaces.

While these questions have at least two answers, others have multiple answers – how much time will the average user spend in these worlds? How big or small will the communities around these worlds be?

There’s a sense in which you can create a model of possible immersive web spaces by thinking of each space as a constellation of settings – avatars:on, economy:off, 3d:on; time commitment:minor. In mathematical terms, this is a vector space – you can model these spaces as the set of n vectors where n is the number of key characteristics. You can calculate the similarity between worlds by taking dot products of these vectors – in cases where the vector sets are near parallel, it’s likely that objects, identities and currencies will be transferrable between spaces; when they’re closer to orthagonal, that will be less likely.

I’ve been reading a lot about the metaverse lately. It’s all very intriguing, but I have to ask: Why are 3D models more useful than 2D models?

It’s a damned good question, Richard. Some folks at the conference felt like 3D is compelling and immersive in a way that 2D can’t be. Others felt very strongly that no one had demonstrated that 3D was a more useful workspace than 2D… I am, unsurprisingly, skeptical that just adding 3D adds much realism or nuance, but am also pretty open to the notion that the 3D games I play nowadays are a hell of a lot more compelling than the 2D ones I grew up on…

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