I noticed with interest the difference between:
Michael Anissimov's review of how Second Life and IRC affected Transvision 06
George Dvorsky's comments on Twitter's impact on Convergence 08.
There appears to be a number of advantages and disadvantages to each medium. While Second Life allows those not in attendance to interact with the conference, it requires a lot of commitment. Resources need to be invested in an account, downloaded client software, a powerful computer with a lot of hard drive space, and a good net connection. Even if those things are not an issue, Second Life requires your full attention, you have to control your avatar, its camera, and inventory. Even for a seasoned veteran, the interface is extremely clunky (albeit powerful).
Twitter on the other hand provides a very casual way to stay in touch both in and at the conference. It can be accessed in many different ways, including RSS reader, phone, browser or desktop client, as well as the webpage. It's simple and it gives the user a choice, with little commitment. By all accounts it also provided a great feel to the event.
So, is this the future? Are we no longer interested in fully immersed virtual worlds, instead content with streams of text? What has the world come to?
It certainly seems to be the case. Look at the rise of RSS over the past year. We want our information without the frills. And we want it personalised.
The generic virtual world has failed to evolve with the rest of the internet. It's lagging behind and dooming itself to extinction.
There's talk on the net of the next generation of virtual worlds being server generated. There will be no need to download clunky software, a simple browser is all it will take to have photo-realistic graphics. Ease of use and low commitment are desperately needed to keep virtual reality alive. However, the most desperate requirement is a larger step away from reality.
That's not to say that the worlds themselves should become less realistic, but the interfaces and the features need to be brought more in line with current trends. The closest Second Life comes to what I'm talking about is the mini browser within it. There should be far, far, far more integrated services. RSS feeds, interaction with blogs and forums, and data inputs should be a given. A necessity is improved interaction. The reason Second Life is losing so much ground at the moment is because it's so hard to use, and more casual virtual worlds are emerging. Creating simple objects or performing simple gestures should be easy.
You should have access to your virtual world account and everything about it without having to invoke the virtual senses. In other words, you could be present in the virtual world without an avatar, and without being able to see the world where your presence is residing, but you will still be able to interact with the conversations in that area, make transactions, and perform actions relating to your virtual account.
So what, in that case, would be the point of the virtual world? Well, the interface still offers a level of interaction not found in text based communication. It transmits body language, atmosphere, and imagination. It allows the user to be anything, and to do anything, and to go anywhere. Technically, it has the potential to provide a rich environment to interact with remote events, but it's currently falling desperately short.
Perhaps VR still has a part to play in tele-coverage and communication, but at the moment it's just taking a break, waiting for both the technology and the people behind the software to come up with new and innovative virtual concepts.