Encouraging Exploration: Tales of Telehubs and Hypergrid Hops

We all have a desire to explore.  It’s in our nature as human beings to seek out novel things, both the conceptual and the physical.  To be human is to be an explorer.

Virtual worlds give us an opportunity to explore and discover new environments filled with new people.  And given the malleable nature of virtual worlds, we can design these environments in ways to specifically encourage exploration.

But trying to encourage people to explore by design is tricky.  Read on for some thoughts and examples.

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How to build the impossible

Throughout history, we have tried to build impossible things.

Insanely impossible things.

Things that require innovation, complex combinations of technologies, and a lot of coordination and work.

And despite great difficulty, we’ve managed to successfully build many impossible things.

Like airplanes.

But the main reason behind our success at building the impossible may surprise you.

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The Lattice of Coincidence

“A lot of people don’t realize what’s really going on.

They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things.

They don’t realize there’s this, like, Lattice of Coincidence that lays on top of everything.”

That’s a quote from the movie Repo Man.

And while it may be the ramblings of a character who did way too much acid in the 60’s, I think it has a deeper meaning in Virtual Worlds.

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You Look Marvelous

We all want to look marvelous.

And in virtual worlds, we want our avatars to look marvelous.

In both form and motion, we want them to possess beauty and grace.  We want people to gasp at their originality and for virtual heads to turn when we walk into a virtual room.

And we want them to look as lifelike as possible.

But there’s a catch.  As our avatars march forward into a bright future of ever-increasing realism, we’re going to face a major obstacle.

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How the Metaverse was Won

Most people deeply involved in Virtual Worlds, from researchers to developers to enthusiastic users, have read Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash.”

In it, Stephenson coins the term “Metaverse.” He describes it as a perceptually immersive successor to the Internet, populated by avatars interacting with each other in a collaboratively created virtual space.

If you’ve read it, you probably remember the Metaverse with its cool motorcycles, thrilling swordfights between avatars in The Black Sun, and the endless glittering stretch of The Street.

Seductive stuff, yes?

But I bet most of you don’t remember something mentioned in the novel.  And I can sum it up in a simple question:

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On Being Human

Artificial Intelligence is sexy.

At least, that’s what we’re constantly being told.

Technologists wax poetic about how computers can increasingly replicate our ability to think and reason.  Folks like Eric Schmidt gleefully proclaim that people really want Google to “tell them what to do next.”

Even Clay Shirky believes that people re-Tweeting on a global scale somehow means the Internet itself is beginning to engage in human-like problem solving.

Someone recently asked me “Do you think the Internet itself will someday become intelligent and self aware?  Like a big brain?”

I replied “No.  Never.  But something much better could happen.”

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