Thursday, March 15, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

Shortly after Sun showed their MPK20 workspace (see previous post) another company came out of stealth this week with a virtual world collaboration space: Qwaq. With the venerable Alan Kay as one of their advisors, I will not doubt they've given their business model a lot of thought. However, my gut feeling is that they are too soon and have chosen the wrong approach.
I feel Qwaq is making a translation of virtual worlds to a business collaboration context that is too literal. A literal translation of a virtual world to a business collaboration context has been attempted before. Around the turn of the century a virtual world called Alphaworld was a bit of a hype (although nowhere near what we're seeing with Second Life at the moment). This coincided with the popularity of a research field called Collaborative Virtual Environments (virtual reality based collaboration spaces). We then also saw companies trying to capitalize on this popularity with a business-oriented virtual world collaboration space. The one that springs to mind is Blaxxun. The company still exists but we have not seen a large-scale adoption of these kinds of collaboration spaces in the past five years. One of the reasons is off course that there was never a consumer pull for virtual worlds like there is now. It was more or less the hobby of a small number of researchers. The context has changed tremendously, with tens of millions of people using virtual worlds now.
However, I personally don't think that just because there is now a big consumer market for virtual worlds, applications in business like Qwaq will suddenly be succesful. We are just beginning to understand what is behind the current success of virtual worlds like Second Life. It will take a bit more study to understand which aspects of virtual worlds can have a relevance in a business collaboration and knowledge sharing sense. And that is exactly what our research project is trying to uncover.
For now, I would put my money on companies like Raph Koster's Areae which is much more in touch with the gamer community and related aspects of fun, enjoyment and motivation. As described in a previous post, this is the direction that we are currently taking in our project.

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