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On Charlanna’s blog (whoops! forgot to link this when I first posted it!), she talked recently about how her expectations for Second Life had kind of dropped a little over time. It’s still amazing, I think many of us agree, but it doesn’t seem to be turning out to be revolutionary, changing society around us.

So is it revolutionary? Yes! Is it revolutionary right *now*? Probably not.

A lot of us have had very high expectations for virtual worlds, but I think we’re expecting them to meet those expectations in just a few years. Honestly, except for better reliability and refinements in building and aesthetics, Second Life as a technology doesn’t seem to have changed much in the six years since it started. (That’s not to say I don’t appreciate all the amazing improvements that have been made within those boundaries!)

I don’t think virtual worlds will really start changing society until they’re much more advanced. For instance, imagine you could put on a headset and push a button and find yourself in a virtual world with a very realistic and accurate representation of you as an avatar. Then imagine that you could step into an enormous virtual clothing store, narrow down the racks around you by searching terms, and try on any number of things to see how well they really fit you and what they look like. If it were really that easy, that accurate, and that useful, you could get a realistic idea of products anywhere in the world: clothing, houses for sale … visit locations with a realistic view of what they look like … visit with a friend who lives a thousand miles away in a projection of her actual living room, seeing each other’s actual facial expressions …

The three real limitations I can think of right now to virtual worlds are realism, ease of use and ease of finding the things you really want. Right now Second Life is hard to get used to, and I think it scares off anyone who isn’t good with technology, really committed, or both. When you do get to Second Life, while there are some amazing tools for building and creating, it really isn’t like the real world in a lot of ways–think about opening a door, for instance, or dancing, or books. Also, it’s very difficult sometimes to find what you want unless all you want is to spend time with friends who happen to be online. Many tools–Web sites, groups, the search feature–help you find things, but if I want to find a pencil skirt or a house with two bedrooms, I might have to search for a long time. That’s to say nothing of what happens if I want to find a place where people who like literature are hanging out (unless there happens to be a successful event of that kind right then, and even then I might just want a hangout, not an event), or someone who can teach me how to make virtual clothing.

So I think the success of virtual worlds won’t be something we can really measure until these three things–realism, ease of use, and very good searching and filtering of the world itself, including the objects in it–have all the kinks worked out! And the timeline for that, it seems to me these days, will probably be measured in decades.

^^^\ Kate /^^^

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