Someday, the Internet will be a virtual world.

23 07 2008

It’s going to happen. At least, I kinda hope it will.

One day we’ll log onto the Internet and we’ll be able to customize our view and our environment to suit us. It will be a virtual world and we’ll operate within one tiny sphere of it.

The closest physical embodiment of the Internet is the universe, because the World Wide Web is bigger than any one of us and already may indeed be bigger than this planet. Someday we will explore beyond the earth and the confines of a single rock in space will not be big enough to hold all the information we possess.

The Internet could be represented as a field of stars, with sites occupying planets and being grouped into galaxies, solar systems and the like. In the case of an errant supernova, nearby orbitals would of course not be affected.

We’ll travel between these faraway places using what I would best describe as “spaceships” (guided by maps of course) and we’ll explore planets using transit provided on the surface and by exploring via flight or foot. Generally the “planet” idea will be mostly a representation, as only a small portion of the planets will be inhabitable, if at all. The concept of scale comes into play here, too; Second Life takes place on land because it has to be walkable, and comparable to something from the real world. In this universe, scaling is a challenge.

Some data bits from older Web sites and such will remain as searchable pods. With existing search technologies, we’ll be able to read the Metadata of planets and pods and orbitals and satellites and such and find our way around much the same was we do the current Internet.

The Web will still exist as a data-only form, but increasingly, sites will have a virtual form. Older sites will be grandfathered in and posted into pods. People will give up their cheesy “homepages” and opt for houses like you see in Second Life. Information will be presented in browsers and displays similar to what we already have, but the browsers will integrate seamlessly with the environment.

Multimedia will be an afterthought; we’ll have built-in chat, video and music capabilities that far exceed what we have today. The whole system will be upgradeable, modular and open-source; you’ll be able to view the Internet as you like and even put skins on it so it looks like what you want: the universe out in space, an aquarium with fish, a golf course.

The idea as I see it is to take current information and make it viewable in the virtual world, while at the same time creating virtual-specific environments. Information will be classified as nuggets in a hierarchy that is standardized and compatible with backwards standards. Programs will emerge that will either define or work within the confines of these standards. Many different services will do battle, and only a few will emerge as victors.

In order for a plan like this to work, the Internet from circa 1993 should work seamlessly alongside the Internet from Now.

The current vision of the virtual world, as a sort of fantasy life that is separate from the real world (and at the same time very similar) will continue to be valid, but will operate as its own society within the greater virtual society. Specialization will grow in the fantasy worlds and they will cater to certain kinds of clientele. The greater virtual world will serve as a pathway to steer people to where they want to go, and a platform upon which sites will create their own environments. Second Life, for example, would seamlessly integrate with the greater virtual world while remaining separate from it. Sites like Facebook and such would be emulated in a virtual form and people’s personal sites would be a matter of choice.

Where to start? The first obstacle is technology, and then comes old habits. Perhaps a virtual world like Second Life is the future, or perhaps something else is. It’s hard to tell what will happen, but something will happen to visualize the Internet.

The first step, I think, is coming up with a way to quantify the current Web. Perhaps sites could be viewed as fish in an aquarium. The trick is to have a virtual world that operates within these parameters and is searchable — enough to make the head spin — and is compatible. This world cannot be owned by one company to survive. It must be open-source and malleable according to different developers’ involvement. Innovation, while occasionally painful, will be required.

Why do I think about these things? I should go to bed now; a long day awaits.

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