Mitch Kapor on Virtual Worlds: Like a Drug Experience

(Via Information Week)

PC pioneer Mitch Kapor described his moment of insight into the potential of virtual worlds as being like a drug experience. Kapor, who is chairman of Linden Lab, which operates Second Life, said he realized the potential of Second Life at an in-world Suzanne Vega concert last year. Vega performed from a recording studio, and her audience were sitting at personal computers all around the world, and yet the concert brought them all together in the same virtual place. The realization, he said, was like the drug experiences of the ’60s.

“What’s driving virtual worlds is a shared sense, by a few hundred thousand crazy people, that this is important, and they’re going to drop everything and go after this,” he said. (…) Virtual worlds, like PCs, are disruptive technology, with unforeseen consequences, Kapor said. They will become mainstream quickly, but — like PCs in the very early years — they’re now a very marginal phenomenon, Kapor said. Like PCs, virtual worlds will enable people to do new things, and will create new economies of winners and losers.

But virtual worlds are still in the early adopter stage. The next, larger stage of users — pragmatists looking for a payoff in uselulness — has yet to begin. (…) Virtual worlds are succeeding now, where they’ve previously failed, because of faster PC hardware, global broadband, and an Internet culture which now accepts an “ethic of participation” in areas such as open source, free culture, GNU/Linux and Wikipedia, Kapor said. But virtual worlds have a long way to go until they become mainstream, Kapor said. They need the equivalent of the Web application server — building content in virtual worlds is still equivalent to hand-coding Web pages and code. They need an improved user interface; Second Life is dificult to use. They need to be decentralized, to permit creation of private spaces — the equivalents of intranets and extranets.

What it means: people often ask me: “do you believe in the Second Life phenomenon?” I answer: “I don’t specifically believe in Second Life but I strongly believe in virtual worlds as a way to navigate, access information and interact with people in the future. It’s the simple convergence of videogames, real life, social networking and computing power. I believe people should at least try Second Life to get a taste what this could all become in the future. Many experiments are going on there currently which will eventually lead to new standards and business models.