"A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. This habitation usually is represented in the form of two or three-dimensional graphical representations of humanoids (or other graphical or text-based avatars)."
A conference held in a virtual world
The expression "virtual world" usually brings up to our mind the idea of a 3D environment that typically appears similar to the real world, with real world rules such as gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions, and communication. It is a kind of "alternative world" that was conceived to provide a different form of entertainment both online and offline.
However, in the past few years we witnessed the birth of numerous internet-based virtual worlds, which have started moving from the initial entertainment purpose to a completely new objective, which is likely to extend the abilities of present-day real-time collaboration systems.
Virtual worlds are nowadays equipped with social networking facilities and online collaboration tools (integrating blogs, personal homepages and sometimes VoIP), which transformed them into highly valuable tools for e-learning and distance collaboration.
Moreover, many recent virtual worlds also promoted a new way of marketing content and products by integrating support for e-commerce. This situation is progressively leading to the creation of alternative Internet-based marketplaces where users showcase and exchange products whilst chatting.
In this mini-guide I have taken a look at virtual worlds by reviewing some of the most popular and intriguing services available today. Some of them are already well known for having generated buzz around them, while others might be still unknown to many of you. While reviewing them I have taken into account the following traits as comparison criteria for this list:
Please remember that this mini-guide does not aim to be a definitive resource of all the Virtual Worlds available out there. This list will grow with time thanks also to new items that you will be suggesting by using the Comments section at the end of the article. Your contribution will be much appreciated.
Second Life is a highly sophisticated, creative environment in 3D. The high-resolution avatars are fully customizable and users can buy new accessories. The characters of Second Life have the possibility to enormously contribute to the growth of the virtual world. Because residents retain the rights to their digital creations, they can buy, sell and trade with other residents.
Habbo Hotel is a virtual world that uses a hotel metaphor as its theme complete with a "lobby" gateway and private "guest rooms." Guest rooms can be decorated with furniture purchased with "Habbo credits." Habbo credits can be purchased with several types of real currency in a wide variety of ways (credit card, mobile phone, prepaid stored value cards). Access to the world itself is free and relatively easy to navigate.
There has several exotic virtual locales for visitors to explore. All avatars are human and can be customized to have a wide variety of face and body shapes. A favorite activity of There members is the outfitting of their avatars with custom-made clothing items, which can be purchased with the local currency.
Weblo is a virtual world based on the real world. Members earn real money by owning online replicas of real cities, states, famous properties and internet domain names. Members create sites and get paid for their popularity via internet advertising. Owners of cities and states earn additional money from transaction fees in their territories and by selling their virtual investment properties for a profit.
Kaneva is a virtual world that allows users to interact through 3D avatars. Aside of enabling them to build custom environments, Kaneva provides the user with the ability to share, comment, rave, tag and search a wide range of media including videos, blogs, photos, music/audio and games. Kaneva is currently in open beta and currently it is not possible to purchase items within the virtual world.
Moove's home page highlights room-building and online romantic encounters as the primary activities available to visitors. Moove's avatars are called "actors" and the choices range from human avatars to animals and robots. New visitors are given their own collection of rooms and can decorate their online home with a selection of furniture. Each member hosts and manages their own space, which allows a great variety of individual expression.
Cybertown is a virtual world that allows you to get a private 3D home with your own personal chat, inbox, message board and free e-mail. You can invite your friends over to hang out, chat and party. The Cybertown shopping malls and Flea Markets allow you to buy, sell or trade 3D objects for your virtual home.
Playdo is a virtual world with a variety of supplemental community-building features, including an intuitive web page editor that allows members to easily create personalized home pages. Playdo does not have an in-world economy in the form of points, merchandise, which means socializing is the central focus of this community. Playdo includes a WAP interface that enables social connections from mobile phones.
The Active Worlds Universe is a community of hundreds of thousands of users that chat and build 3D virtual reality environments in millions of square kilometers of virtual territory. Users can shop online in a 3D virtual reality mall and chat with store clerks while playing interactive 2D and 3D games
Whyville is an educational virtual world for children and teen-agers. Originally established to support an LA Times weekly science education article, Whyville actively engages its visitors and encourages them to participate in fun, educational events that give kids "hands-on" experience with science projects (in a virtual way, of course).