Ok, a little bit of futurology for you…..Every now and then I will put a few company’s products together and come up with some predictions about the near future, in terms of what products, services and technology will be needed or might emerge.
Lets start with video-conferencing. At a high level, video conferencing simply provides a window into another place in the world through the internet. High-quality video and audio then provide a fairly emersive environment for people to talk, collaborate and socialise without needing to be physically next to one another.Video calls today are almost always ‘active’ experiences, where the call is initiated much like a phone call, with a specific purpose and requiring the immediate attention of the other callee(s).
So imagine if video conferencing could become a ‘passive’ experience in some way, where the video/audio connection to that other place in the world is constantly open, and so it now becomes your choice whether to passivley watch it, or actively interact with people on the otherside….
Lets explore an example; imagine if two coffee shops could have displays spanning a whole wall, each set up as digital window into the other, with sound and video mirrored both ways (similar to UNC’s inevitable “office of the future” concept above). Would this simply be another marketting gimmick to help Starbucks force more mocha-lattes into you, or could it actually have a use?
I’ll leave you to ponder that one. Now lets take the idea a step further…
Lets imagine people use the coffee shop scenario in the most positive way, to sit down at a table and strike up a conversation with someone on another continent as casually as you might today. Or, lets say your college buddy moved to europe but you still keep up your friday afternoon coffee session with him, only sharing photos and stories are now a little more virtual (see Dynamo video above). I guess the driver here is that broadband, computers, cameras, screen-sizes and image compression have all now reached speeds and prices where we could see video-calls and this type interaction explode into everyday life in the very near future (12-18 months?).
So, the final part of this idle thought concerns virtual worlds. Last month (March) Sony announced PS3 Home, essentially a high quality virtual world accessable through the Playstation 3 console, for the self serving purpose of socializing and meeting to play games.
But how is this different to the slew of virtual worlds on the PC that haven’t hit mass market? A console gamer can be described as a more mainstream consumer than the average PC gamer. Because of this, the idea of a 3D virtual world for socializing is likely to gain more traction outside of the ‘geek’ domain, and therefore gain mainstream market potential as more ‘mainstream’ people and their families use it.
If Sony’s ‘Home’ was the only example of such virtual worlds, it would be easy to dimiss it as a geek’s fad or craze that would go no further. However, we only have to look at the traction of games like World of Warcraft and SecondLife, social-networking sites like MySpace, Friends-Reunited and Facebook and even the size of the online communities with other consoles like xbox360 and the Wii to see that a large market for these socially driven worlds has been rising for some time, and 3D representations of them are more-or-less an inevitable progression.
So it can be fairly easy to imagine a variety of these virtual worlds emerging, be them games, social spaces or hybrids; each allowing realistic customization of personal information, your personal avatar, but also the world environment. All of which becoming more realistic using ever advancing 3D game engines (CryEngine2, VirtualEarth).
Much like constantly having to set up the same information in MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr and Digg, this would cause an annoyance where your online world is continually more fragmented between different services or worlds requiring each user to synchronise personal data manually. So digital identity really needs to come of age (CardSpace, OpenID), either offering export/import options between these worlds (xml?), or allowing each world to be seamlessly accessible through a digital window (see Project Crotchet).
So, how do the real world and the virtual world avoid a complete dichotomy? after all, this would simply enforce the critic’s and technophobe’s growing criticism of virtual worlds being dangerous, offering no practical ‘use’ or perhaps influencing a new generation to sit in front of a screen and neglect learning important real world social skills.
The answer can perhaps come from video-conferencing. Lets imagine our coffee shop example is now twinned with a virtual coffeee shop in a virtual world, say Secondlife. Now, heavily disabled people can visit real-world coffee shops and interact, the screen bound teenager is more exposed to the real world, and the benefits of global community become enforced further.
What if microsoft’s VirtualEarth 3D became a virtual world? A carbon copy of the real world for your avatar to walk around, perhaps into a virtual coffee shop twinned with its real world counterpart?