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The future is here: Google Earth meets virtual worlds

A futurist predicted the marriage of Google Earth and 3D, social virtual worlds when the search giant bought the Sketchup software. What's next?

When Google first announced in 2006 that it had purchased @Last Software, and its Sketchup 3D modeling tool, there were few people more excited than Jerry Paffendorf.

Paffendorf was at that time the futurist-in-residence at The Electric Sheep Co., as well as one of the people behind the Accelerating Studies Foundation's Metaverse Roadmap project.

And he saw, even early last year, that folding Sketchup into Google could mean magic for virtual world developers, since it meant there was a high probability of a 3D, social virtual environment built around Google Earth.

As a futurist, Paffendorf was spot on: Virtual world platform developer Multiverse Network has built a system, dubbed "Architectural Wonders," that will allow anyone building a virtual world with its technology to incorporate terrain and 3D models from Google Earth and Google's 3D Warehouse--models made using Sketchup--into their projects. My story on this, which ran Tuesday, is here.

A new technology from Multiverse Network allows developers who use its virtual world platform to incorporate terrain from Google Earth. Multiverse Network

This is still a far cry from a fully massively multiplayer social 3D world built by Google itself, but it's definitely a start, and it brings a lot of new possibilities and realism to virtual worlds, just as the mainstream is really starting to catch on to the potential of these environments.

So, Mr. Paffendorf, what should be look for as the hot innovation in the fall of 2008?