I recently had an opportunity to revisit one of my favorite virtual worlds, Second Life, with a mind's eye focused on looking at how the world and the culture had evolved over the past couple of years.
Before going any further, I'd like to preface this post by saying that I am not an expert on virtual worlds, rather a casual observer who has a keen interest in understanding why they exist, their overall potential for consumers, and how people are communicating with another inside of them.
What I really love about virtual worlds is that they are built and maintained by their virtual residents and hosts so that users can engage as avatars to interact, play, do business and communicate with each other. Residents can trade or sell virtual goods and services to other residents, host live concerts, participate in public debate and engage in many activities similar to those done in real life. The purpose or theme of the world is completely dependent on what the users want.
When I began taking a glance at virtual world usage rates, a a couple statistics really jumped out at me. Firstly, a firm (Strategy Analytics), reported that over the next ten years some 22% of global broadband users will have registered for one or more virtual worlds resulting in a market approaching one billion registrants. That's a HUGE number of individuals! As the technology evolves over time these worlds will become more and more sophisticated and visceral, making their use more widely applicable. Secondly, Second Life has 15 million users, of which over 1 million have been an active participant within the virtual world during the past 60 days. Thirdly, Second Life residents spend a collective 34 million hours of activity in the last month, and transacted over $9.5 million dollars worth of goods and services.
All of the above certainly leads me to believe this "phenomena" will soon grow into a bigger trend that rapidly engulfs the world by storm. Virtual worlds present information to users in an immersive manner that creates more memorable experiences, and draws on a human's tendacy to explore that information in a more natural and real way. The web is more or less flat, and these virtual worlds, which mimic real life, can translate our own ritualistic ways of soaking up information into a plausible virtual activity.
Without going to much further into this, I wanted to share my recent trip to the virtual Burning Man. Since I couldn't make it to the real Burning Man (known in SL as "Burning Life"), this was a welcomed substitute, and a nice homage from Linden Labs to give nod to such a creative culture. In my few years perusing Second Life, this event had some of the greatest virtual pieces I've seen to date. See my snapshots below: