I always believed in virtual worlds, & was very intrigued by the concept, because of the possibility of building, testing & actually living in alternative society/culture/community/world. So in 1999 a few friends & myself started a project, named Virtual Parallel World, that tried to provide an intuitive spatial 3D interface to all computing resources – a single interface with which you access all software, hardware & humans, connected to the network. It tried to create an abstraction between the user & all mundane details of software/hardware/people access (physical location, address, installation, hard disks, &c). The spatial model also proved very useful because of its mapping to the familiar real world, which helped people collaborate better, orient themselves & find stuff quicker, & in general do computer tasks just as they’re used to do things in the real world. I think the immdediate drive for doing it came from David Gelernter great Mirror Worlds book. We tried to make a commercial product from it, but also had many far reaching dreams of its social usage (we even named the currency to be used inside the virtual world…).Unfortunately, we only got to produce a prototype, with a 3D model based on my house, & only few simple software/hardware resources (the GUI was create cool however, allowing you to easily control your avatar movements.)
We stopped working on it when my son was born, december 2000.
I remained very fascinated with these kind of applications, & from time to time checked out how the technology progressed. So when There.com announced their early beta I immediately jumped in, & quite liked the metaverse they created. I was however too busy to try it thoroughly, so I taught my little son to use it. Actually my user name was my Son’s name, & I added 20 years to his age in order to register (really sorry for breaching your policy, There, I just had to let my Son play with it, & take full responsibility for it). He was about 2 years old then, & grasped the interface very quickly, including taking things in & out of his pocket, driving vehicles, &c. Without knowing to read & write, he was able to create very pleasant relationships with others, riding with them on their cars, playing races, or just mingling in the bar or swimming pool. It was the game he liked most, & stayed awake late in order to pass the maintenance dead hours There used to have (our timezone is PST+10).
Watching him play was really amusing for me, because of the blur between the real & virtual world. When he said he was thirsty, I offered to bring him his bottle, but saw that he wasn’t referring to the real world, rather just wanted to buy a glass of cocoa from one of the vending machines. After a long time in which he didn’t play, his avatar got fat because of the lack of physical activity, & he had many embarassing moments with the girls he met. I had to teach him ethiquettes, because many people left their fancy vehicles outside, & he really really wanted to take them for a try. & more amazing, he once asked my help when someone attacked him with paintball gun. I’m a fanatic pacifict of course, but the combat my Son & I gave to that bastard is probably one of the best military battles ever occurred…
The problem was that because of the cost of membership, I couldn’t convince friends to jump in & use it for practical use-cases. So I was really happy to learn in January 2006 about Second Life, a free & open virtual world! At first I didn’t like it, because one of the 1st things I saw there were porn stuff (!), but slowly understood that this may deliver the promise of a real virtual world. Lately I learnt from my friend Muli Koppel, whose vision & predictions I always trust, that Second Life is going to be the next big thing, so I’m really excited that reality has come to page with my old Virtual Parallel World project & we may start to see the wonderful applications we so much wanted to create.