On the cusp of the Virtual World Conference, starting today in California, a company called Multiverse Nework has announced a partnership with Google that opens up Google’s 3D Warehouse — terrain and metadata from Google Earth — to third party use. According to CNet, Multiverse Nework offers a platform for game developers. However, the implications of this go well beyond games.
As the article explains:
The idea is simple: Multiverse’s technology–which gives game developers tools to design custom virtual worlds–will let those designers pick and choose from most of the millions of 3D models created using Google’s 3D software tool SketchUp, and to import pieces of terrain, as defined by entering specific longitude and latitude data, from Google Earth.
If you want to build a virtual world centered on, say, downtown San Francisco, you could use the new technology to create the area itself and populate it with the digital versions of real-world buildings that have been created and uploaded to the 3D Warehouse.
Obviously, everyone knows about SecondLife and all the hype that has surrounded it. But fewer people may be aware of kids and virtual worlds, such as Disney’s Club Penguin, which was acquired a few months ago in a deal worth up to $700 million, or the enormously popular Webkinz, among others. These environments are not as rich as SecondLife, but they’re acclimating children to virtual worlds and conditioning their expectations for the future of digital media.
For example, research aggregator eMarketer has predicted “that 24% of the 34.3 million child and teen Internet users in the US will use virtual worlds on at least a monthly basis in 2007. By 2011, 53% of them will be going virtual.”
The 3D buildings and cities being created by Google and Microsoft represent the non-kid versions of these kid-oriented sites. Although they haven’t yet been turned into full-blown social networks or fully developed into virtual worlds and metaverses, they represent the future of the Internet. And I would eventually expect to see third parties develop on top of Google Earth and Virtual Earth 3D in the same way that they now do mashups on Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo mapping platforms. Virtual Earth has an API for its 3D environments for some time, just waiting to be used.
Furthermore, as the Internet moves onto larger screens (think TV in the living room), these visually rich 3D environments will ultimately become more compelling and more mainstream. It has been rumored for awhile that Google is creating metaverse, like SecondLife. While concrete evidence of that has yet to emerge, you can bet that if Google doesn’t do it itself, someone else will.
I’ve written quite a bit in the past about metaverses and the coming “3D Internet” on my personal blog Screenwerk. Google To Pressure Facebook To “Free” Social Data & Planning Google Earth World? from us last month also covers speculation that Google might create its own virtual world within Google Earth.
In a related piece of news, the Google LatLong Blog announced that its StreetView photography has been expanded to six new U.S. cities. Note that Google is also starting to do StreetView photography in the U.K., eventually moving into Europe more broadly.