Such predictions are fun to make and fun to read. Since I mostly swim in the waters of online communities and virtual worlds, most of the predictions I come across have to do with the future of technology.
I have a prediction for the coming year. And while my prediction involves the technology landscape of virtual worlds, what I predict will happen actually has nothing to do with technology.
A Time of Options
The current technology landscape of virtual worlds is in flux. Second Life continues to be the largest general-purpose virtual word out there, but other viable options are gaining ground. Opensim provides an increasingly stable open-source environment with interconnectivity between different grids via hypergrid protocols. Blue Mars continues to grow while adding new features. And various web-based virtual worlds based on Unity3D offer compelling lightweight ways to quickly bring people into virtual worlds that can be developed using mesh-based content creation tools.
Looking at One’s Past Work
People who have been developing projects and content in virtual worlds for many years, particularly Second Life, are starting to spend a good amount of time looking at the above options. But they’re also thinking a lot about all of their preexisting work. Many people have invested significant time and energy in their past and current efforts. This investment naturally makes them hesitant to make any dramatic change in their current virtual world platform. How will I move all my stuff to a new world? Will I have to learn how to use new tools?
As a result of this, many people are not outright abandoning their current virtual world platform of choice. Rather, they are starting to dip their toes in other virtual worlds. Testing the waters.
My Prediction: A Realization
Which brings me to my prediction. As seasoned virtual world users begin to test the waters of new platforms, I predict these people will have a striking realization. A priceless epiphany.
I predict people will realize that all their past and current work in virtual worlds has given them a wealth of experiential knowledge and connections to amazing communities of people. And it is this combination of wisdom and community that will allow them to succeed in any virtual world they choose to explore in the future.
The most important things in life are not things. And in a similar fashion, the most important things in virtual worlds are not the objects you’ve created or the code you’re written. And while you may have gained many specific skills with different technological tools, those learned skills are also incidental.
To use an artistic metaphor, it’s not about how well you’ve learned to hold different sized brushes or how deftly you can mix paints. It’s about how you’ve learned to create beautiful works of art that seize the imagination. That wisdom goes beyond any specific tools. And that kind of wisdom is eminently portable to any new tools you happen to pick up in the future.
What matters most is the wise hand that wields the tool and the community of other wise hands that can work together.
So in a nutshell, what’s most important are the experiences you’ve had, the wisdom you’ve gained, and the communities of people you’ve connected with over the years. It’s a powerful realization. And I believe it’s one that many people will have in the coming year.
As a growing vista of new virtual worlds spreads out before us all in 2011, we will stop focusing on the things we’ve wrought.
We’ll pause. We’ll look down at our own hands and at the hands of all our friends and colleagues.
And we’ll realize that we don’t have to predict the future of virtual worlds.
We have the wisdom and community to simply create it.
-John “Pathfinder” Lester