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Today’s 3-D Browser Wars – The Battle For Control of the New Internet and Much, Much More
It’s 1994 all over again, but this time the stakes are higher. A new battle for the development, acceptance and control of information distribution is underway in Silicon Valley and around the world. Countless companies, some of which you’ve never heard of before, are racing to develop and deploy next-generation user interfaces. Which company will win? What business model are they using? What will the future look like? The change in technology will be so big that it will affect how you use the internet, how you communicate and even the devices you use to access the internet.
Not Netscape and Microsoft at this time. Facebook and MySpace have already lost. The new guard is Second Life, Active Worlds, World of Warcraft, IMVU, Shanda, Red 5 Studio and others. Their new landscape isn’t the weird two-dimensional reproduction we’re used to in Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. It is a rich and robust three-dimensional world that can convey information and culture in an effective and engaging way. In this robust virtual world, the only limit is your own imagination. Virtual technologies are still in their nascent stages of development, but growing faster than anyone could have ever predicted. The confluence of infrastructure, computer technology, and social behavior theory is offering powerful new ways to communicate and socialize on the Internet. The idea of ”going into the metaverse with your personal avatar for a meet and greet” is not really far from today’s reality, as predicted in the futuristic vision of Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash”.
Second Life, World of Warcraft (WoW), and IMVU offer a great look into the future of immersive communications and next-generation browser development. Seeing how people work together to overcome game challenges in WW has sparked interest in everything from social interaction to leadership development to academia, as well as the military. The uses of immersive environments on teaching and learning are limitless. In the future, teamwork and leadership may no longer be a pedagogic exercise contained in a sterile classroom; It will be a fully immersive hands-on learning experience where students learn skills in a variety of virtual settings and scenarios. The US Army believes so much in this approach that it has spent six million dollars in research and development and sponsored the “America’s Army” video game to train our young men before they enter basic training. Ubisoft, the game’s developer, wrote that “America’s Army” is “the deepest and most realistic military game ever to hit a console.” A small audience by WoW and Shanda standards, the game has over 30,000 players per day and is available on Xbox, PlayStation, cell phones, and Game Boy. Another and perhaps better use of technology is education. Hiring newly minted MBAs with very little real-world experience has always been a sticking point for employers, especially in today’s education and skills challenges. What would companies pay to hire an MBA graduate who spent two hundred actual hours in Jack Welsh’s simulated shoes? And we thought EA’s Madden Football was big. In the near future we will be able to teach, test and refine key skills to create better knowledge workers and leaders with advances in new immersive browser technologies.
Today, business models are evolving in the virtual world. Wow has a subscription service where it charges about twenty dollars a month to log into a virtual fantasy world. China’s Shanda has a pay-per-use and subscription model, including Legend of Mir and other virtual properties. IMVU has a new model. Its chat environment is so rich and realistic that users pay real money for virtual clothes for their avatars and virtual gifts for others. Active Worlds has taken a more platform centric approach to charging for the base application upon which others will develop. Second Life has a virtual currency called Linden Dollars that is used to pay for goods and services in the virtual world. Linden Dollars can be purchased with real currency. Walking around Second Life and seeing all the billboard type ads makes me think of the early days of the internet where ads didn’t pop up out of nowhere and there were no usable guidelines or design best practices. But, which model will win? There’s room for several models, but it’s too early to tell which browser will win.
I bought my last desktop seven years ago and have no plans to buy another. Tethering is no longer an option. Surfing while walking from room to room, booting in a coffee shop and checking in at the airport is normal behavior for most of us. However, with new emerging technologies, our computing habits may change further. myvu and iTheater are making goggles that put information right in front of your eyes. It’s primarily for game consoles and iPod movies today, but it has potential. In the near future, you could have a pair of goggles that have a higher resolution and are lighter than your laptop LCD display, while also providing significantly more privacy while on a plane. Celluon has technology that laser projects the keyboard onto any flat surface, eliminating the need for a physical keyboard. With advances like these, will our future computers look more like sodas attached to goggles than today’s rectangular paperweights? Hardware advancements will merge with evolving interactive virtual software to give us a new fully immersive user experience.
A downside is that most virtual worlds require large application downloads and installations. Each virtual world needs its own application, so if you develop for Second Life, you are limited to the inhabitants of Second Life and have no access to other audiences. Application diversity is a major negative for revenue scaling. This harkens back to the browser interoperability of the 90s, where companies had three versions of their websites to accommodate browser differences. But eventually, there will be a real standard and the winning application will be preloaded on your computer. I’m interested to see if this shakeout also leads to an antitrust lawsuit.
The battle for new 3-D browsers continues today, and the future of interactive communications is up for grabs. Will Silicon Valley Create the Next 3-D Interactive Browser Standard or China? Only time will tell. However, the impact of immersive 3-D virtual worlds on communication, social interaction, and education will change our lives as much as microwaves and remote controls…and maybe TiVo.
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