The Next Big Thing

October 23, 2006

With all the recent excitement about Second Life’s 1,000,000th “resident,” the buzz over the emergence of the 3D web is getting louder by the minute. Economist and columnist Patrick Cox compares the current state of the art to the early days of the World Wide Web, drawing parallels between the catalyzing effects of Netscape and new 3D virtual world technologies such as the Multiverse Network — a startup founded, perhaps not coincidentally, by Bill Turpin, one of the minds behind Netscape itself:

Like AOL and CompuServe a decade ago, virtual worlds exist as a relatively small number of isolated, walled-off realms, each requiring the user to download separate software. Just as the Internet did not become the social force it is today until Netscape tore down the walls separating Internet fiefdoms, virtual world technology is currently limited.

There is, however, something going on that has the potential to change that, and quickly. Not coincidentally, a team of core developers from Netscape’s early days is now developing the equivalent of a virtual world browser for MMOs. Called Multiverse, the company includes the same portentous entrepreneur noted above: Bill Turpin. His team includes Netscape veterans known throughout Silicon Valley, if not the world at large: Rafhael Cedeno and Robin McCollum, who built critical Netscape server technology still in use today, and co-creators of RSS; Jeff Weinstein, who coded the world-changing SSL; and Corey Bridges, Navigator product manager who then went on to launch companies like Netflix and Zone Labs. On the entertainment side, ex-physics major and film director/producer James Cameron, of Terminator and Titanic fame, has thrown his lot in with Multiverse, joining its board of advisors.

Their plan is to provide virtual world creators the client, server, and development tools to create an MMO world. The entire technology platform is free for non-commercial use, so academics are paying nothing to create economic, architectural, sociological and other simulations. For-profit enterprises would pay royalties, but only when their games or other applications collect money from consumers, not before.

This is significant because, until now, creating a complex virtual world required tens of millions of dollars in initial development costs alone. The Multiverse technology, currently in beta-testing, claims to lower the cost of virtual world production to a fraction of its current stratospheric level. For many purposes, such as personal online spaces, there would be no cost at all.

Most importantly, however, all these Multiverse-based worlds, and many are already in development, would be compatible. With the Multiverse client software, users will be able to access any virtual world built using the company’s technology. Virtual worlds will become, in effect, ubiquitous. The Metaverse. (TCSDaily)

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