December 06, 2007

The Virtual world and the Real World - An Analogy

Internet's Time Travel - 1969 to 2007
Collaboration has been the key factor that has changed the world from the Stone Age to the Rocket Age. The real essence of creation of a virtual world started off with the invention of the internet. We've seen the advancement of the internet from the day when the first message was sent over ARPANET (Oct. 29, 1969) till date. There has been a lot of notable changes in this timespan (38 years). Some of the key stages of advancement have been -
  • The creation of internet (ARPANET) - 1969
  • Email was invented - 1971
  • Telnet (first commercially available ARPANET) was created - 1974
  • First Virus was created - 1980
  • TCP/IP was created -1982
  • Creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee - 1989
  • First browser-editor, HTTP and HTML was founded by Tim Berners-Lee - 1990
  • First audio & video broadcast over internet - 1992
  • World's first commercially available Web Browser by Netscape - 1994
  • Sun Microsystems introduces Java! - 1995
  • Google was founded - September 1998
  • First blogging service, Web Diary was launched - October 1998
  • Napster was launched - 1999
  • Wikipedia was launched in English, RSS format was created by Dave Winer - 2001
  • Apple launches iTunes, MySpace was launched - 2003
  • Mozilla Firefox launched - November 2004
  • YouTube launched - February 2005
  • News Corp. buys MySpace for $580 million
  • Facebook was launched - September 26, 2006
  • Google buys for $1.65 billion - October 2006
  • Facebook Application Platform launched - May 2007
  • Google Open Social launched - November 2007
As we can observe, the attempt has been the create a virtual world that one might want to call as the "Second World". A world where people could collaborate effectively as in the real world today. A place where the limitations of geographical boundaries would not pose an impediment to the level of collaboration.

Social Network and the Real World
The Social Networking phenomenon in the virtual world is something that attempts to accomplish the above objective. In my opinion, the existing social networking platforms like MySpace, Facebook, Orkut, Hi5, etc can all be compared to shopping malls in the real world. Shopping malls are places where one can find a lot of shops, people, gaming arcades, entertainment zones, etc. A social networking platform like Facebook does just the same thing - It offers a platform for people to share apps (like shops in a mall), share pictures and passion (a substitute to people's presence in a real mall), groups (like meeting people in a mall).

But in a real world, its not just malls all over! Malls are located in towns and cities, and cities are located in countries. Open Social of Google just answers this . It offers a platform for any social network platform (mall) to plug into its framework (roads linking malls!) and interact with other social networks as well.

So, is Open Social (or some other initiative in the similar lines) going to be the long awaited "Virtual world", or is it going to be Second Life? This is indeed interesting! Here are some of my mentations...

The Infrastructure Issue
When considering the virtual world, one needs to come back to reality to understand the fact that this "virtual world" is going to be possible only when the "real world" (where we exist today) exists. The infrastructure provided by the real world also matters when it comes to accessing the virtual world. Given the fact that different countries have their IT infrastructure in different levels (some with T1 and T2 lines, while the others with Dial-up connections), the resources consumed by the virtual world will matter a lot. A virtual world like Second Life badly fails when we look at this space from a real world perspective.

The Missing Piece
So, is something like Open Social going to be the virtual world that will look like the real world? Well, to be precise, the answer is No. Why? The real world is so perceived to be because we are able to see, hear and feel things around us. While a virtual world today has features that help us see and hear, the missing piece is the third sense "feel" - The ability to feel something.

So, can the virtual world really replicate the features that can help us "feel" too? Thats something we will see in the years to come. There has been a lot of research going on in the areas concerning the transmission of smell over the internet. The future is exciting, indeed!

I leave it at this. Should the collaborative bug bite me again, I'll talk about this in one of my future posts.

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