Virtual worlds: what value proposition?

I spent part of yesterday installing and playing with the very ordinary Google Lively – a poorer quality, cartoonish-version of Second Life.  Yes, it takes up much less processing power than SL but it still is full of people amazed at the gameplay rather than actually doing anything interesting.  This is why I’m still rather cynical about SL, and several other virtual worlds.  Unless you’re playing a game (as in Everquest and World of Warcraft or any of the Multi User, Object-Oriented games) there’s really only novelty holding you in these environments.  And novelty wears off.  This is why I’m still struggling to come to grips with a value proposition for virtualised worlds.  I know the usual argument is that vehicles like SL create a useful integrated platform for virtual conferencing, but to be honest, I’m finding a range of tools – such as Skype, video streaming like qik.com, twitter and slideshare – are actually more efficient and less processor-hungry than SL.  I also don’t believe SL actually works as well as applications like twitter where you can have a private back channel with just a few friends – much like whispering to your neighbour in the audience of a conference.

The trouble is that actually meeting people is a far better way of experiencing a conference than virtual conferencing.  And when you do have to virtual conference (due to distance or time constraints) you have to really *commit* to participation to prevent yourself from getting distracted by phone calls, client issues and other media, distracting your attention.  And when all you’re getting in an SL virtual conference is the slides and the people… which you could get through a range of other media with less processing power and (let’s face it) less digital hair… then I just don’t see SL as being compelling enough to adopt. 

Now Google Lively is even *less* likely to attract me.  Unless you’re online just to meet new people and have a bit of manga-esque cybersex (let’s not beat around the bush here) then I just don’t see why you’d use it. 

Sorry Google.  Until you can actually add value to participation with an avatar, I just don’t want to use it. 

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