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All work & play in the new social age

Being separated by land borders, politics and oceans means nothing in this day & age. We live at a point in time that when looking back in years to come, we will see this first decade of the twenty-first century as a turning point in social interaction.

It’s a bold statement, I know, but I only have to look to my father and see how he deals with the daily deluge of data pouring into his life.

To him, the newspaper is more than enough. In his mind, any more than the tabloids would be information overload.

Well that’s his generation, not mine.

My generation looks for knowledge. We look to harvest data and turn it into meaningful information that we can make some use of in either our personal or professional lives.

I’ll stop right there, because I’m in real danger of making this sound like some treatise for modern society and the computer-aided expansion thereof.

The paper-thin dividing wall between work & play is peeling away. There’s money to be had while at play. There’s also money to be had getting people to do the flesh-pressing thing while on-line, too.

We all know the entertainment industry is in many respects where the cutting edge of many technologies intersects. And so it is with web-based social interaction that the boundaries are finally being pushed.

How to make friends and influence people .. on the ‘net

So we can chat on-line, either by way of text messages, or actual spoken words. Even better, we can see each other, too.

For some, that’s too invasive. For some, for whatever reason, they’d rather not be seen as who they are in real life, but would rather occupy the form of some digitized avatar. And idealized extension of themselves, no doubt.

A persona, if you like. Their id made real.

Personally, I’m me wherever you find me. I’m well over six foot tall and quite well built. So without wanting to sound too full of myself, I don’t really need to pretend to be anyone. I’m happy being me, thank you very much!

Anyway, I doubt I’m the target audience, here. For the likes of Sony and their up-coming Universe, I might not fit within their demographic profile.

Besides, I’m not a great fan of games consoles, either. Which is basically the whole point of Sony’s Universe:

“Sony is hoping to replicate the success of social networks and Second Life with a feature called Home. Playstation 3 gamers will be able to meet, chat and share content with friends inside a 3D universe.”

Apparently, it’s about community. Well, that’s society for you. Community and sense of belonging is what it’s all about.

“Gamers can buy furniture and clothes, while publishers and retailers are also expected to offer 3D spaces.”

Sounds very familiar. There’s this little on-line world called Second Life which I keep reading about. Then there’s Kaneva hoping to cover much the same ground, too.

And like all societies, you have them & us. So it’s only fitting that there should be three competing, inevitably Balkanized worlds, all vying for you, you’re social time and your disposable income.

“The service launches in the autumn and Sony hopes it will answer critics who feel the firm has been overtaken by Microsoft in the online gaming arena. Sony is hoping companies outside of gaming will want their own spaces inside Home.”

Social ambitions aside, the critics of Sony and their PlayStation 3 with respect to Microsoft aren’t likely to be placated by a virtual world, no matter how immersive and involving it may be. So I’m not too sure of the thinking there.

However, within the Universe, there will be an array of venues made available to “game publishers, game developers, and titles”, though the value of people rubbing shoulders with the games publishers might not be immediately obvious.

What I imagine happening here – and maybe it’s Sony’s intension – is the games publishers getting more direct feedback from their customers. So presumably, a disgruntled gamer could land a punch on the chin of the lead developer if they didn’t like their last game from them .. all from the comfort of their virtual world.

Or something like that.

The world of the future

What we’re seeing right now is quite embryonic. These 3D worlds are quite crude, which is a disappointment for me. Especially when there are much better alternative 3D engines out there, ones that are both tried & tested, as well as being free:

“The Quake 3 engine source code has been made open source for a long time now. Its a far superior real-time 3D rendering engine to anything the Second Life people are likely to come up with anytime soon.”

It’s likely that Sony will want to make the most of the capabilities of their PlayStation, so we can but hope their make a decent fist of things, should their Universe run through the PS3.

It’s likely that all of those interminable predictions from the early 90’s of ‘fully-shaded’ 3D shopping malls will come to pass. What with web commerce being quite mature now, as well as many aspects of entertainment being equally mature on the web, some comprehensive and comprehensible 3D world from the likes of Sony could go a long way towards making 3D worlds a viable and lucrative prospect.

If being on-line can be as much as social activity as being out there in person, then there’s a lot to be gained for both business and consumer alike, virtually anyway…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.