Second Life's take up by NATURE and numerous Universities illustrates how established institutions are testing the water and exploring the potential of virtual environments. As readers will know we are huge supporters of virtual worlds in geographic science, outreach and education and 2008 looks like it'll be the year when such environments reach into more and more peoples homes.
A World of My Own (AWOMO), currently in beta, is indicative of the increasing number of systems that are looking to get into the Second Life model. Interestingly the system is aimed at developing a communication space and distribution network for gamers. The movie embedded below provides a glimpse:
Sony's 'Home' is similar in concept to AWMO but via the Playstation 3, a notable move to bringing virtual worlds into the home.
Due early in 2008 'Home' is not looking like taking Second Life's crown but with the ability to tap into the PS3's graphics ability it looks like being the most visually impressive virtual world to date -note the real time shadows, something that Second Life is crying out for.
The official trailer is embedded below:
More speculative predictions are the launch of Google's own Virtual World system, something that wouldn't surprise us at all. Google Earth is being rapidly out manoeuvred by Microsoft's Virtual Earth and a populated earth is without question the next big thing. We would love to tell you more about the 'Populated Earth' but sadly we aren't allowed to yet :)
The number of virtual environments is growing at an ever increasing pace, we believe 2008 will be the year of Virtual Worlds entering into main stream science and that can only be a good thing for outreach, education and visualisation.