In the old days, staying home and playing on your computer on a Friday or Saturday night was considered anti-social. With the advent of social networking sites, spending countless hours on websites like Facebook or MySpace has become socially acceptable. Still, there's an element missing in these sorts of websites-the ability to wander around and explore places. Necessity is the mother of invention and indeed the Internet has revolutionized the way dateless geeks spend their weekends; by creating virtual worlds in which people can "interact" with one another.
A year ago, CNNMoney.com ran a story musing on the possibility of Google Earth evolving into a virtual world or-as Neal Stephenson coined in his 1992 novel Snow Crash-a metaverse.
The idea of a Google metaverse reemerged this week when a student at Arizona State University posted screen shots of a questionnaire looking for candidates to beta test what appears to be a 3D social network called My World. In the description, My World claims to be in development by "a major Internet company," for which ASU was uniquely chosen to test. Vague descriptions of the product make mention of 3D modeling and video gaming, while the questionnaire explicitly asks about social networking website usage, and if candidates have a Gmail account, or their willingness to get one. Combined, these have led some to believe that Google is coming out with a new service that will allow users to create a virtual avatar to walk the streets of a metaverse.
This service would come as one of many products Google is supposedly coming out with in the near future-including a free cell phone service and a computer operating system. This may lead to some speculation as to how realistic it is for Google to take on more ambitious projects like this.
Some are calling it a rival to Second Life, while Ars Technica suggests that if this new virtual world is indeed backed by Google, it's more likely to be an extension of several of the services Google already provides, including Google Talk, Google Earth and Google Maps. Contrasted to Second Life, a virtual world in which users are free to create buildings, advertise, campaign and sell products, this Google metaverse would be exactly the same as the real world, with the same streets and buildings-in 3D.
If such a project is in development, it would likely revolutionize the Internet and social interaction online. Why, just imagine such a world! We could start all over again! We could rebuild civilization! It's a revolution! In digital form!
But what's the point? Creating this metaverse is purely escapism, and it's likely that real-life problems will manifest themselves in some other virtual form. Inevitably, this virtual world will lead to an elite few who manage to be really good at doing whatever it is you do in a virtual world while marginalizing the rest. This will promptly lead to the marginalized group of people committing metasuicide, and/or metaterrorism, while the others engage in metasex and metabation. If you don't believe me, try playing a massive multiplayer online role playing game for a few days.
But come on! There's an upside to this, right? No longer would sweaty stalker computer nerds have to be concerned about leaving their homes to get closer-if only in a virtual sense-to that cute girl in their humanities elective. In fact, they could start cruising bars that would ordinarily turn away people with their jelly-doughnut-eating-physiques, in which they can then hit on sexy avatars of the opposite sex who are probably also guys. I can see the conversations now:
"I'd like to deliver my package in your mailbox!" to be rebutted with "lol n00b. dont u mean malebox?"