I did two speeches back-to-back earlier today at the X|Media Lab and Mobile Content 2008. In both, I gave an overview of what the BBC’s been doing on mobile; which is slightly ironic since the Koreans are so far ahead of the UK, technologically. Hopefully I had alot to share with the audiences about the content side of things.
The theme of this X|Media Lab is “3D Internet: Virtual, Visual and Social.” I have to admit, I don’t know a hell of alot about the 3D internet other than that it exists and has a huge audience. Before spending last week at Crossover Nordic, I didn’t realise just what a huge audience it has but when it was put in the context that many of the big worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life have more inhabitants than many real-world countries, my ears perked up and I realised it was time to pay more attention. Good thing I’m here. But what on earth was I going to talk about?
The answer had to be about how mobile and virtual worlds could overlap and complement each other. Here’s my presentation (.ppt) and I’ll elaborate on it below, because the more I think about it the more excited I get about the possibilities. Click to Download: X|Media Lab Presentation
So here’s what I suggested could be done:
1) Mobile can provide a persistent and ubiquitous connection the worlds, extending the opportunities for play and connection to the worlds.
Users of these worlds are ‘addicted’ to them and I suspect would welcome any opportunities to be more connected, more immersed and able to constantly participate ‘in world.’ I understand there are some Flash clients being developed for phones that will hopefully create 2D or 3D versions of the worlds. This seems good, but like a ‘mini-me’ type of approach; and I’m not sure this will work. Will the screens be big enough and good enough to render something useful? Will on-the-go users really want to pay this much attention? Or would they rather a thinner connection when the world is in their pocket at work?
On thing I spend alot of time telling people is that mobile ‘isn’t just a mini version of the web.’ Sure, mobiles access the web, but a mere copy and paste approach doesn’t always ensure success.
I think it might be cool to see if the types of services that help audiences stay in touch with their real world would be popular with helping them stay in touch with their virtual worlds. SMS alerts sent from the worlds or text messages from or between characters in the world seem like an obvious opportunity. Imagine a guild of players in World of Warcraft texting out of the world to players in another guild to get online and help them in a battle where they need backup/support. Texts would reach the players and they could rush from the real world back to their PCs to get in world and play.
And what types of web apps could provide data from the worlds to thin mobile clients, widgets or even simple mobile web pages?
2) Thinking about this type of connection and play, I wonder how these could be crossed with Alternate Reality Games. ARGs are doing more out of home and with the crossover between real the real world and mobile and I think that this type of crossover could be replicated into the virtual world – possibly even triangulated between reality, alternate reality and the virtual world. What a game that could make. Can you geocache in any virtual worlds (yet)?
3) So how could all this work. Well, I’m no expert. But I have an idea that flexible, open web services could sit in the middle of these different ‘worlds’ (aka media) and provide the glue that lets transactions and interactions flow between them.
For example, using the Last.fm API you could (I think) create a situation like this if you built the right connections into the Virtual Worlds, Mobile Web, etc:
- I’m in a physical store and see a CD I want to recommend to a friend;
- I capture the barcode/semacode on the packaging which gives me information about the album from the mobile web on my phone;
- I could then choose someone from a list of virtual friends to recommend the track to;
- They would get notified, in say Second Life, and be able to stream the track for free;
- If the friend likes the song, they could add it to a Last.fm style playlist or even buy the track using real or virtual currencies.
In my presentation, I tried to describe it with this diagram:
To elaborate… If we’re moving to a world where the ‘Internet of Things’ is becoming a reality, then everything around us will be connected, not just our devices. This should apply to things in the virtual world as well. If flexible and open web services can connect to these via mobile devices, strong connections between the real and virtual world can be created. Behind this a strong system design strategy would be required. Expanding from the idea that ‘Designing for Accessibility is good design’ (because everyone can use it), you could move to the idea that designing for mobile is (also) good design because everyTHING (in the real and virtual worlds) can access and use the service.
I’m obviously not going to be the only one thinking about this stuff but sitting in a room full of experts on this world has me really excited. Neil Katz, from IBM, told me about a few examples where you can start to see this stuff coming to life in a very basic way.
The first was an IBM R&D project that echoed/emulated a Virtual World on Treo device. Video of it here:
He also showed me this motion-aware mobile interface on a Samsung for Virtual Worlds (very cool!):
Also: Click to download my Mobile Content 2008 Presentation (similar to the X|Media Lab presentation but with a little more detail on the specific content the BBC has done)