A Thousand Virtual Worlds Bloom…but where are we headed?

Randy Hinrichs of 2b3d turned me on to this cool video called 50 Virtual Worlds in 7 minutes. It is well worth a look:

Given the explosion of virtual world new entrants, K-Zero did a nice job of trying to tag a lot of these worlds by sector in this plot:

So, it would seem with all this activity the movement up the s-curve of adoption should be significant right? Not so fast says Gartner. According to their most recent Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle, public virtual worlds have not yet hit the bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment but they have been moved from the 5-10 years to 2-5 years column in terms of years to mainstream adoption.

So what gives? Linden Labs is about 2500 days old. Yesterday I waxed on Kevin Kelly’s observation that the web is merely 5000 days old. Why have we not crossed the chasm and gotten on main street yet when it comes to virtual worlds?

Well, because there are so many of them and they serve different niche needs. To my mind this won’t pan out like Web 1.0 did. I don’t think I will be teaching the Virtual World Interface wars case like I have the Browser Wars case where Microsoft and Netscape go at it full force. There are worlds that serve different niches and need and they will stay vibrant to that community. Everquest continues to enjoy active participation by 250K folks year over year and they are not going anywhere.

That being said, I do believe that there is a line between social/entertainment worlds and business/enterprise worlds. Forterra recognized this by setting up There to address the entertainment market using the same underlying platform but customizing it in different ways.

I also agree with Steve Prentice’s comments lately at the V-Business Expo. The B2C applications of virtual worlds have gotten a punch in the gut, and similarly to how things went down in the Web 1.0 era, on the enterprise side of things companies are looking to take the technology inside the firewall and try it out in a controlled setting (in Web 1.0 parlance this would be a Business to Employee application).

So here is the big question. In the video above, the front runners for B2E enterprise applications were not prominently covered. In K-Zero’s Virtual Worlds by Sector, I don’t see an Enterprise Learning and Collaboration Sector and Gartner is not yet breaking out public and private virtual worlds on their hype cycle?

What gives? If this is the very place where most pundits are suggesting the industry is moving why is it not showing up on these analytical constructs? Am I missing something? Help me out. Am I wrong in assuming that for Virtual Worlds B2C was the Sizzle and B2E will be the Steak that enables companies to make money selling steak in the B2B space? If so…should we not be placing more emphasis on Private virtual worlds focused on enterprise learning and collaboration?

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  1. You tossed one right into my glove here, Tony. 🙂 I agree with you completely which is why as an industry analyst I have chosen to focus exclusively on enterprise use of the Immersive Internet (e.g., virtual worlds and campuses, immersive workspaces, etc.) Before long I will have to hone in on more specific coverage areas because just like the Web, the Immersive Internet (or the Immernet, as you call it) is going to permeate all of business, just like the Web did.

  2. Virtual worlds on the Internet are older than the Web. The Web, though, still didn’t ‘make it’ to main street proper in developed nations until after year 2000. Sure, you and I and our friends were a part of the Web well before that, and it was obvious and normal to us – but to the average Jane and Joe, it’s only been a scant five years or so since the Web really became normal for them – and then, only because they were exposed to it daily as a part of their jobs.

    I’d give virtual worlds at least another 3-5 years before they start to get close to that mark.

  3. Hey Tony. At K Zero our primary focus is on the consumer side of virtual worlds, hence the lack of reference to the enterprise side. We let other, more informed people and orgs cover the B2B side as they have more interest/experience in it. Clever Zebra, if you follow those guys have been active in understanding enterprise applications in VWs.

  1. Live the Virtual Life | Thinking Aloud

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