Google’s virtual world

According to a breathy report on CNN / Business 2.0 Google are getting into the Virtual World business. In short the idea seems to be to map 3D models as custom layers to Google Earth and make them public.

Talk about collision of rights issues and a large bucket of fun – where do we start?

Writing about the project on Googleblog, Brad Schell, Product Management Director, Google SketchUp enthused: “Visionaries, utopians, virtual world builders: your time has come.” And I'm sure that there will be business in creating things like a virtual Royal Academy over the location of the physical one in London’s swinging West End.

But our experience of VWs so far suggest that virtual utopias always come with heavy dose of distopian practices known as greifing. As every new virtual form is invented a new and unusual corruption of that form quickly follows. For a lesson in what might happen one need look no further than your average virtual utopian’s space of choice - Second Life (sorry for the third SL ref in a row – I really need to get on a bonus scheme, so for balance consider also for all your 3D social world needs), and the multifarious kinds of architectural greifing that go on there.

So, if A knows where B lives, A does not like B so I create a large purple phallic looking building over their location and publish it as a layer. Assume for the moment that it’s not defamatory in a legal sense and that But B owns their property – do they have some kind of right over that space or those co-ordinates in any space that seeks to replicate physical world geography?

Further - linking back to the interesting discussion we are having over anti-war protests and Amercia’s Army in the dead-in-iraq: thread – what’s public, what’s common, is political protest on say the location of 10 Downing Street OK?

With my speculation hat firmly in place the way I see things going is as follows:

- Some form of official virtual map will emerge, special rights will be treated like rights to domains initially with Google and arbitrator and possibly national based authorities along the domain model should the project be a success.

- In parallel a number of fantasy layers as group project will emerge – initial ones possibly along lines ‘what if’ conceits – such as what if this were are cartoon world, here fair use and satire would exist and parallel spaces would compete for audience share though would probably target like minded groups.

- On the edge will be political world-views such as an ecologists view of the world using visual representations of climate states and organisations that pollute so one can zoom around the globe from a eco point of view.

These broadly map against the more nuanced version of the Four Worlds Theory I’ve been working on following the helpful comments on the thread.

Note: for previous physical / virtual mapping conundrums see Skinnable World I and II.

Comments on Google’s virtual world :

Andrew Burton, aka Jarod Godel says:

Ha ha! I so predicted this when Google bought SketchUp.

Posted May 15, 2006 9:28:29 AM | link

LEKO says:

The first "Virtual Real World" is coming! Everyone should 3d-draw their house now.

Posted May 15, 2006 9:54:03 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

Having used Sketchup, I'm going to be very keen on seeing how the 90% of crap hurts the performance... =P

Posted May 15, 2006 12:44:41 PM | link

Mind Booster Noori says:

As in the "real world", a _good_ virtual world can't just be a ludic-world, social-world, or a civil-world, but one world that can be used to anything (so has to be ludic, social and civil components). In such a world you must have the concept of freedom, and if it's society wants to, a concept of property. But since we're talking about another world, you can't (or shouldn't) transpose property from one world to another.

Posted May 15, 2006 1:24:23 PM | link

greglas says:

Ren -- I've got this one on my RSS:

Pretty cool stuff, but I'm not clear on what functionality you get from Sketch-Up past the 3D modeling, can someone clarify? Seems like this is a long way from anything VW-like.

Posted May 15, 2006 2:07:17 PM | link

greglas says:

Well, let me clarify at bit -- I see the connection between certain MOO-like VWs and this AND I think it's fascinating, but I don't see (other than in theory) how this is Google getting into the virtual worlds business...

Posted May 15, 2006 2:12:32 PM | link

csven says:

I see them approaching it from their particular strength: advertising. It'll be more AR than VW, however. But then VW's are increasingly becoming vehicles for real content - like the BBC Radio 1 thing in SL over the weekend.

Posted May 15, 2006 2:17:44 PM | link

Jerry Paffendorf says:

Totally interesting stuff. Being quoted in the article, let me give quick background and a few interesting project links. Want to jump in on Ren's speculation specifically but some links I want to point to seem down right now (grr) and I'm time-strapped.

The article came out of the Metaverse Roadmap Project and an invitational summit we had last weekend at SRI International. Definitely of note: some of the most intense interest we've had in the project so far is from the geospatial community who want to turn the real world into gamespace--the avatarized Google Earth.

(Elevator tag for MVR: "What happens when video games meet Web 2.0? When virtual worlds meet geospatial maps of the planet? When simulations get real and life and business go virtual? When your avatar becomes your blog, your desktop, and your online agent? What happens is the metaverse.")

There's a new Very Spatial Podcast that talks a bit about the Metaverse Roadmap and virtual worlds from a geospatial point of view. From that:

"The point is that I think a lot of people that are in the more professional [geospatial] world are thinking of [Metaverse Roadmap topics] still as kind of a gamey thing and maybe not serious… But what’ll happen is that most of us who are in our middle generation, so 30s, 40s, 50s, whatever, that are professionals now are going to sit back and go “Ehhh, you know this is probably just a trend,” or say, “Well, I just don’t have time to deal with this,” and then 5, 10 years from now all this stuff is going to be completely integrated with the next generation people that come out of school, and we’re all gonna go, “Wha’happened?”

Then they go on to talk about Second Life with great interest. It's with a wink, but a serious wink, that I wear a Second Life/Google mashup shirt in Second Life (pic on this page) ;-).

I've spoken with Dr. Fred Limp, Director of the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) at the University of Arkansas, who's very, very interested in this area and is giving input on the roadmap. He's been writing a series of forward articles for GeoWorld including An Impending Massive 3-D Mashup: Fundamental Technology and Business Drivers.

I have the chance to present some of these ideas at the upcoming O'Reilly Where 2.0 conference with a talk called Google Earth and Second Life Mashups: Virtual Worlds Meet Geospace, and I'm really looking forward to the conversation on this thread re: that. (For one really simple and really exciting mashup, check out Mark Wallace's 3pointD Google Map with embedded SLurls--direct links to locations in Second Life.)

Now, you can't move 3D directly between Second Life and Google Earth at present, though as I mentioned on my blog the idea is out there for new Google 3D Warehouse buttons like, oh, "Download to Second Life," "Download to There," "Download to Croquet," "Download to Multiverse," "Download to Rapid Prototyping," etc. I'm sure someone's working on one or two already. :-)

The closest thing I've seen is when Mike Frumin at Eyebeam R&D in New York used his OGLE software to yank 3D from Second Life, put it into Maya, and suck it into Google Earth, landing among other things my avatar in 3D Google Earth Manhattan (pic from Mike's Second Life Future Salon slide deck).

Exciting times ahead. My biggest question about Google Earth at the moment: How can it be avatarized? Will people be ripping Google Earth data into other 3D platforms? Or what? Also, Google Earth isn't alone in virtualizing the planet. Will Microsoft's Virtual Earth or someone else try this? Could they (would they, please) release it for the Xbox 360 so I can run around the world Halo-style? :-)

Posted May 15, 2006 3:15:54 PM | link

Avi Bar-Zeev says:

IMPORTANT CAVEAT: although a little research shows that I've coded for both Second Life and Google Earth (I may be the only one with that particular honor), I have NO insider knowledge about any current or future plans. So don't read anything into this beyond my own opinions.

Putting copies of Second Life objects into any other 3D package is fairly straightforward with OpenGL, and, like you said, done. But 2L objects are not like normal polygonal models. You'd get a copy, but lose everything but basic shape and color. Interactivity is gone. Dynamism. That's fine for buildings, but then 2L just becomes another modeling package (though a collaborative one, which SketchUp doesn't seem to be).

To get the benefit of 2L objects, you'd really have to meld the code behind those objects. And that requires, obviously, the source code to both. Rendering on a global scale is no mean feat, but 2L's grid-centered tech is more about simulation and interactivity than big rendering. They're two different animals in terms of technology. Even if Google bought Linden tomorrow (and again, I know of no such plans nor am I endorsing the idea), it would be quite a bit of work to produce such a chimera.

On another level, one of the things that makes 2L great is that they can just keep adding land. It need not be cartesian on the whole. It need not conform to reality. Why would they want to build a copy of 1L when they have the relative freedom of 2L? What's the need that's being met, apart from fleshing out GE with more real-world buildings? (which, I'd imagine GE would be developing automatic mechanisms for...). I guess if you prefer 2L's modeler to SketchUp, it makes sense. But that's not earth-shattering, so to speak.

That's not to say that avatars and social networks in GE are a bad idea either (there are already GPS tracking addons...). Or that 2L wouldn't do well with a nice spherical viewer for their world. :)

Anyway, I'll chew on this and maybe post a trackback'd entry on my blog in a day or two ( I need to think about what's old NDA first.

Posted May 16, 2006 6:38:51 PM | link

Jerry Paffendorf says:

> Anyway, I'll chew on this and maybe post a trackback'd entry on my blog in a day or two ( I need to think about what's old NDA first.

Thanks, Avi! Wow, looking forward to your follow-up.

Glitchy Gumshoe just sent me this: . Let's you upload and now *sell* your SketchUp creations, like markets for virtual goods we've seen around Second Life.

" is simple, powerful, convenient, and is free to use. More importantly, if you’ve been building a personal library of quality models, this site can potentially make you a good bit of money for doing next to nothing."

Posted May 18, 2006 6:46:59 PM | link

anonymous says:

So in the future will we all go to virtual boutiques where they image map our bodies to create an exact replica avatar?

How long before they put tracking chips in our bodies and permanently link our signal to our Google World avatar?

Then when you are at the bar during lunch, your boss can log on to Google World and get your coordinates, walk up to you and scream at you in real life by screaming at your avatar in Google World via your cell phone.

Posted May 18, 2006 7:30:51 PM | link

Avi Bar-Zeev says:

Okay, Jerry. Have at it. Comments welcome.

Google's Virtual World (

Posted May 19, 2006 1:00:28 PM | link

Malcolm Williamson says:

2L surely has thought about the prospect of limiting the total extent of available land, just as in 1L. More value, better development, ?? Meanwhile, I get the sneaking suspicion that many VW folks are, due to their own comfort with fantasy, missing a staggeringly huge audience out there who are much more comfortable with a mirror VW (Google Earth) than unlimited VWs such as 2L. Look at the number of people that read fiction but not science fiction. I would like to see the freedom of 2L in a real-world environment, and I suspect that I'm not alone.

Posted May 30, 2006 4:58:12 PM | link


no coments

Posted Jul 5, 2006 8:16:36 PM | link

Luke says:

No, you're not alone

Posted Sep 22, 2006 3:32:00 PM | link