Virtual worlds the next social networks?

Virtual world 

As regular readers of this blog will know I am fascinated by virtual worlds.  My instinct is that the blurring distinctions between real and virtual worlds is the start of something very important.

The inspiration for this post came from speaking with Alex Tew of Million Dollar Homepage fame and got a big kick on from what I learned at the Microsoft Digital Day last week.

According to Virtual Worlds Review virtual worlds have the following characteristics:

1. Shared Space: the world allows many users to participate at once.

2. Graphical User Interface: the world depicts space visually, ranging in style from 2D “cartoon” imagery to more immersive 3D environments.

3. Immediacy: interaction takes place in real time.

4. Interactivity: the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content.

5. Persistence: the world’s existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in.

6. Socialization/Community: the world allows and encourages the formation of in-world social groups like teams, guilds, clubs, cliques, housemates, neighborhoods, etc.

All of these could apply equally to social networks.

See where this might go?

Second Life is miles better than most social nets for many aspects of self expression, and you can do much more with it.  So bring some of that to MySpace or make it a new network and it will pull users of the others.  You can then go on to do much more by moving real life activities into the social net/alternate world.

At Microsoft they are seeing social networks as an extension of email and IM.  These are all tools that people use to organise their lives.  Some social nets are getting on for being virtual worlds already – Cyworld in Korea being a good example.  So seeing virtual worlds and social nets on some kind of continuum makes sense.

I will leave you with a quote from Anne Kirah – a Microsoft anthropologist.  (This is from memory so apologies Anne if it is out a little.  The message is right.)

We should drop the word virtual.  People experience strong emotions online.  Try telling them they are not real.