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In my last blog I introduced you to a prototype the Public Sector developed, which allows its users to register a real-world business in a virtual town-hall within Second Life. The article also explained how virtual worlds can help us to enable new ways of human interactions over the internet. In this entry, I want to talk about virtual worlds besides Second Life. In the last years new kinds of metaverses have emerged. Some of them take the idea of providing new ways of human interaction one step further than Second Life, and thus create a really interesting new approach to virtual worlds.

Qwaq Forums – Virtual Spaces for Real World

Qwaq, Inc. focuses on the business use of virtual worlds. More precisely, they provide businesses a virtual space, where team members from all around the world can meet in and collaborate.  And they do so quite differently than Second Life does. In Qwaq, users don’t need to create their world themselves. Templates are provided that create collaboration rooms automatically. This way meeting rooms, labs or lecture halls can be created instantly.

In Qwaq, people don’t explore a virtual world, like they do in Second Life. Most of the times, people just meet in one virtual room, and use this room to share information and work collaboratively. To enable this collaboration, Qwaq provides quite an amount of functionality. As an example, Qwaq offers full Open Office support. That way, PowerPoint presentations, Excel sheets, or Word documents can be reviewed and edited together within the virtual room.

Like other virtual worlds, everything within Qwaq is consistent. That means, you can leave your unfinished work within the room at any time, and when you reenter it in the future, the place will look exactly the same (unless of course any other team member has entered the room and continued work in the meantime).  Furthermore you can create additional rooms if necessary and connect them with each other. A use case for this functionality could be if your team splits in workgroups and wants to work in private locations. Then you could easily create a new room, which would be connected by a port. Ports are like hyperlinks in the web. The rooms don’t have to actually be next to each other. A port can lead to any virtual space that exists on the Qwaq servers.

To get a feeling about how Qwaq looks like, watch this YouTube Video.

Internet, Open Office, etc. In Qwaq you can work with teammembers like in a real office.

Sun’s Project Wonderland

In my opinion Sun’s Project Wonderland provides a healthy mix of collaboration tools like they are offered in Qwaq Forums and the rich opportunities that one big virtual world like Second Life gives us.

Project Wonderland is a toolkit for creating collaborative 3D virtual worlds. It relies on Sun’s Project Darkstar, a game server technology, that provides a scalable and persistent server software infrastructure. With this technological background virtual worlds using Sun’s Wonderland can be the size of a small office or an entire world, like we know it from Second Life.

Within those worlds, users can communicate with high-fidelity, immersive audio, and can share live applications such as web browsers, Open Office documents, and games.  Wonderland provides some nice additional features like the possibility to make a phone call out of a virtual world (watch the video).  This way, people who don’t have access to a computer during a virtual worlds meeting can still attend via the phone. The person appears as a little bubble that you can talk to in front of you. You can carry the bubble around, hand it to other people, like you would do it with a cell phone in the real world.

OpenSimulator

The OpenSimulator Project is an open source virtual world server which can be used for creating and deploying 3D virtual environments. What makes this project so interesting is the fact that you can use the Second Life client (which is also open source) to travel through the virtual spaces created with OpenSim. And after spending some time in OpenSim you’ll find out that this is not the only thing similar to Second Life. In fact, OpenSim becomes more and more an exact look-alike of the world’s largest virtual world. 225 out of 333 functions of the Linden Scripting Language (the language all Second Life scripts are written in) are already implemented in OpenSim.  That makes it possible for developers to easily take their objects they’ve created in Second Life to OpenSim and vice versa.

The speed of the project’s development is impressive. OpenSim was founded in January 2007. 18 months later, the project is already considered stable and used by several different so called “public grids”. The largest of these public grids, OpenLifeGrid, has already more than 20.000 users.

Further reading

I hope this little introduction to the different virtual worlds besides Second Life provided some interesting information for you. If you’re now interested in virtual worlds and its possibilities here are some links for further reading:

  • MetaXLR8 – An interesting blog with news and personal interpretations of what’s going on in virtual world development
  • VirtualWorldsNews.com – Provides interesting news about companies and projects around the topic “Virtual Worlds”.
  • Croquet Consortium – Qwaq is based on the Croquet SDE. Reading about what Croquet is, getting to know the TeaTime architecture and finding out about the Cobalt virtual world browser can be really mind opening.
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  1. Lee Chisholm
    While these worlds are great, the problem is that they need human feedback / features.  For example, when I laugh or frown my avatar in the virtual world doesn’t do that with me.  When I’m talking my avatar isn’t moving it’s lips along with me.

    If this visual feedback could be added into virtual worlds then we really could be ready for rolling out 3D virtual offices.  As far as bringing together global companies and saving on travel this could be a huge productivity tool.

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