The metaverse — darling of Davos

In case you missed the addendum to the post about the rumor about Google Earth turning into Second Life, it ain’t happening.

What’s interesting, however, is that at Davos this week Bill Gates reiterated his view from 15 months ago that virtual shopping will be Virtual Earth 3D’s killer app.

Also interesting is that Second Life was very much the darling of Davos, fawned over by business leaders, digerati and journalists alike. In a space of about a week, a burgeoning meme that was all set for prime time has exploded in reach.

But most of Second Life’s fame still rests on its potential. This makes for backlashes, and the criticisms are fair — yes, much of Second Life is concerned with pörn and gambling; yes, there are fewer users than you might think; yes, it can be empty and sterile; no, we don’t know what protocol the coming metaverse will settle on. But what I am convinced of is that a metaverse is coming, and it is best to start getting the expertise for it sooner rather than later.

That’s the rationale behind the Swedish Institute getting into Second Life now. If there was anything holding us back in our decision, it was not the fear that Second Life was over-hyped, but rather that we’d be seen as falling victim to the hype. In fact, we’re in it to experiment, make our mistakes, and have Second Life residents act as our focus groups. A couple of years from now, every time the Swedish Institute embarks on a new nation branding campaign, our toolbox will contain print, web, audio, video, traveling exhibits and, yes, the metaverse. It’s the next “next” communications platform, with its own advantages and quirks, and we want to find out what works.

And what will work? My guess is that as more conventional content enters the metaverse, more conventional users will follow. The challenge is to find out how to make such content compelling, using the specific advantages that 3D virtual worlds bring. It will take a while before we stop using old communications paradigms in this new medium, just as it was when the world wide web was new — we had to learn to stop publishing virtual issues of paper magazines to the web and move to more native systems: Continuous publishing and blogs. What are the metaverse’s native communications tools? Perhaps it will be role-playing, perhaps crowd participation, perhaps learning by example, and probably something completely different. I can’t wait to find out what it is.