It's not the most innovative name but the concept may be revolutionary. Metaplace, a virtual community that is currently being tested for launch in spring 2008, was one of the most talked about start-ups at the TechCrunch40 Conference. The new platform allows anyone to build a virtual world from scratch -- for the web or even mobile applications -- without any programming knowledge. Like other virtual communities such as Second Life, There, Entropia Universe, or World of Warcraft, the Metaplace worlds can be used for gaming, socializing, and e-commerce. And they come with the usual community features: forums, user ratings, wikis etc.
Unlike Second Life et al, however, users will not need to download any special software to engage in their respective virtual spaces; the service is hosted, so everything happens inside a browser. Because the Metaplace worlds are based on standard web technology, they can be embedded in blogs, Facebook profiles, MySpace pages, or web sites. "It's basically an MMO accessible through Flash apps, 3D clients, cell phones," as Om Malik writes: "While Second Life is evolving as an immersive 3D metaverse which slowly incorporates web elements like XML and RSS in-world, Metaplace is beginning as a web-based network which swallows the attributes of online worlds."
Metaplace is the brainchild of Ultima Online creator Ralph Koster. Koster ultimately envisions people share thousands of user-created virtual worlds with one another and tear down the walls between existing platforms. "We want to see 10,000 virtual worlds so that lots of wild and crazy stuff gets made because that is the only way it will advance as a medium," Koster says. His vision is just the latest in a series of moves to open up the "walled gardens" in online communities: Facebook opened up its platform for third-party developers, Second Life did, and MySpace is supposed to follow soon. Technology Review depicted a mash-up of Google Earth and Second Life into a "Second Earth" meta-verse, and models like Pageflakes allow users to completely customize their homepages. Metaplace presents an even more radical step -- the fully convergent virtual meta-platform for divergent user-generated content.
Slowly but surely we are seeing what may be the tentative contours of web 3.0: a user-generated, entirely customizable "world wide sim" that is mashed-up of geo-mapping (Google Earth), immersive 3D virtual worlds (Metaplace), and social networking features (Facebook) -- peppered with the power of the semantic web (Radar Networks) and a constant lifestream of user content.