Cambridge, Mass.--The industry around virtual worlds, also referred to as the 3-D Internet, is chaotic and messy but on the brink of mainstream adoption, said Mitch Kapor, chairman of the Linden Labs and PC industry pioneer.
Kapor spoke here on Friday in an event organized by IBM and the MIT media Lab on virtual worlds. Linden Labs is the maker of Second Life, a popular virtual world environment.
During his talk, Kapor drew many parallels between the early days of the PC and virtual worlds: there are many people who are skeptical of virtual worlds and the product is not suitable for many tasks.
But people's passion for virtual worlds, albeit early adopters belie the potential impact of the technology, Kapor argued. That enthusiasm is mirrored in the deluge of media coverage of virtual worlds--sometimes hundreds of articles a day.
"What's driving this and why it's so darned disruptive is this shared sense of a few thousand crazy people thinking that it is really important and a really really big deal, even though they can't fully articulate it and don't know where it's going," Kapor said.
He described a moment of insight while watching a Suzanne Vega concert recorded in Second Life. He realized the potential of the medium when he saw the involvement of the spectators who could have been anywhere in the world and the simulation of Vega performing and interacting with people.
"I realized these virtual worlds become what we imagine they could be and the limits and constraints are enormously less than that of the physical world," he said.
"It reminded me of a drug experience in the days when we didn't know how dangerous recreational drugs could be," said Kapor, a self-professed product of the 60s.
Kapor said that some of the choices that Linden Labs has made will become more commonplace in other virtual worlds.
Specifically, he said having user the ability to generate content, rather grahics professionals--which was a radical notion when Linden labs was starting a few years ago--will become the norm.
Kapor predicted that, as a disruptive technology, the 3-D Internet opens up markets for hardware and software products. For example, hardware, such as goggles and gloves, to create a more immersive experience will emerge.
He also said that there will be huge demand for "reality acquisition devices" that allow people to create replicas of physical goods in the virtual world. More technical infrastructure, such as today's application servers, will be required to create more sophisticated and scalable applications and virtual worlds.
Finally, Kapor sees a parallel in what the PC did for desktop publishing and what the 3-D Internet can do for three-dimensional printing, where specially designed printers spray layers of powder to create physical goods.
Moving forward, Kapor said that the technical infrastructure of Second Life will become increasingly standards-based and open. The first step to doing that was open sourcing the client software.
"Long-term, there shouldn't be any single proprietary standard protocol used in the thing so Second Life becomes part of something larger," he said. "My view is that it's very prudent to do this because if we don't do it, another company will and we will end up being crushed."