Friday, October 05, 2007

The Metaverse Manifesto

When I look at virtual worlds with fixed features at specific virtual locations, which is most of them, I think what this place really needs is more user control. Consider some kind of user-controlled remapping capability. Let's say Starbucks has staked out one corner of every virtual block, but I personally don't care about Starbucks. I don't want to see it there, so I click it and tell the environment to show me a nice grassy park square instead of a Starbucks whenever I run across one. Maybe the Virgin Megastore is three blocks away from Tower Records, and I couldn't care less about anything in the virtual real estate in between. I click on the street in front of one store and drag it over to the street in front of the other, and now the stores are right next to each other and I don't even see what's in the middle. How about user-added mash-up capabilities? Say I've found some third-party service that can put a big colored column in the air over the stores selling something I'm interested in, perhaps with taller columns for lower prices. I can just look around and tell where I want to go shopping. Or maybe I want to hop every virtual bar, so a mash-up app could draw a dashed line on the street for me to follow like Jeffy in Family Circus. Give the user control over appearances. Maybe I want to theme the world, so every building looks like it's ivy-covered University Gothic and the streets are all grassy quads and everyone else's avatar looks like Joe College from the '50s. Make the user's choices persistent and portable. Make it so all my changes are stored in a way that lets me hand a token of some sort to someone else, and they can see the virtual world the way I do, and vice-versa. Give me a dashboard that can show me when my friends are online no matter what service they're using, and send them a ticket via IM so they can teleport right to where I am in the virtual world. Maybe there's a toggle switch on the dashboard that lets me view things with my theme, or see them the way their creators intended, or with all the signs translated into Japanese. Maybe there's a whole scrolling list of possible themes I can pick from, and I can download even more. Let me create the themes, the mash-up services, the virtual remappings, the dashboard applets. These facilities probably need to be built into a virtual world toolkit so developers can make them available to users. Maybe not everyone will want to implement all of them in their virtual worlds, but those that do will probably be popular. I want to be able to pick whether I see flying genitalia avatars or not, whether I see advertising or not, whether random strangers can talk to me or not, and I want my choices to be respected portably across all kinds of virtual worlds. Let me choose whether I wear rose-colored glasses or not. Don't censor the environment for me (at least, beyond some initial setting like Google's SafeSearch default at Moderate), let me do that myself if I want to and how I want to. Give the users control.