Opinion: apples and oranges — I like them both!

Comparing the 2D Web to 3D multi-user, immersive virtual worlds can be tricky, and some might consider it like comparing apples with oranges or comparing the experience of reading an online health information leaflet to that of having a face-to-face meeting with a clinician. The affordances of both media are different; they are also not mutually exclusive or a substitute for one another, but rather very complementary and synergistic in many ways.

The sea of our SIM in SL. Click to enlarge.

We need to especially identify and focus/capitalise on what 3D virtual worlds are best at–those (useful) things/scenarios that can only be effectively carried out in virtual worlds and not via any other ‘e’ medium (as effectively), and also determine the optimal formulae for blended approaches that combine 2D and 3D media.

Eloise Pasteur.

Online leaflets and static information materials have no social component–even those materials offering single-user interactivity or asynchronous, multi-user (predominantly textual) interactivity remain seriously lacking in this respect. Second Life, on the other hand, is about 3D social networking par excellence; it has this unique ‘human touch’ and is instantaneous, something not found (in a similar way) in 2D social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook or in instant messaging/voice chatting services like Paltalk. Second Life is closer in many respects to face-to-face/social encounters, but also adds to them many exciting new dimensions, fantasy, and virtually endless possibilities–you name it. And let’s not forget that Second Life is a collaborative 3D wiki and an immersive audio-visual spatial experience that users can edit, experiment with, and see the changes in real time!

People also have different tastes/preferences and currently the audiences of the 2D Web and the 3D Web/Second Life are overlapping but still different (read the US CDC arguments about this: “going where people are… yet another opportunity to learn and teach about public health”). Furthermore, and in support of the above mentioned potential complementarity and synergy between both media, we are starting to see the 2D and 3D Webs gradually converge and merge; see, for example, the Flux project, this blog article and this application.

So 3D virtual worlds are here to stay and eventually become one with/tightly and seamlessly integrated with the 2D Web over the coming months and years (rather than replace the 2D Web). Indeed, a recent futuristic/visionary American report entitled VISIONS 2020–Transforming Education and Training Through Advanced Technologies suggests that by 2020 (or before) we will see new jobs like “simulation and virtual environments engineers who build and maintain the components for synthetic environments, including specialised scientific software, e.g., a digital human that can be used for a variety of learning situations; specialists in building the components of simulated towns, instruments, landscapes, biological systems, or physical phenomena”.

M.N.K. Boulos – 24 July 2007


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