Adventures in Reality

Anyone who has followed any of my writing knows that I’m fascinated by the man-machine continuum and especially the fluidity of technology, as we use it in physical lives, virtual worlds, and augmented realities.

Not a day goes by where there isn’t something new that further informs and fills in the gaps of this physical-augmented-virtual continuum. I’ll pull one item of interest from each of these realities.

monolith-from-WiredFirst, physical reality. One of the things I totally dig about the ubiquity of microprocessors, especially in increasingly “smarter” mobile phones, is the ability to have them real-time “crunch” data that enriches your life – your problem-solving, your choice-making, and your other actions – when and where you need it.

A number of good examples were showcased at a Government 2.0 Expo/Summit earlier this fall that I’ve written about. One that I regularly cite, because we’ve all been affected by it, is a public safety mobile app. Called “Are You Safe?”, this app actually provides a visual gauge that mashes together localized crime data and your GPS-detected position, giving you a real-time indicator of crime.

While one could argue this being a “leading” or “trailing” indicator, nonetheless I’m fascinated by the concept. Just think of the other real-time indicators that one could receive by crunching data sets: climate change/environmental indicators, infectious disease monitors, etc.

Second, augmented reality. I read about a little DIY video off of Slashdot that caught my eye, featuring the provocative headline of building your own virtual reality goggles using an Android-enabled phone. Now, the video is cute, thought not something I would take the time to do, kind of in the spirit of the popular Nintendo Wii video that was the rage two Christmas seasons ago, when an engineer showed how you could reverse the motion tracker that comes with your Wii system to create immersive, 3D games.

But, what I found more intriguing (as usual) were the comments in the slashdot commentary. I especially found this one to be immensely intriguing: “What would actually involve a bit of innovation is if someone hooked up those glasses to, say, a pocket beagleboard or similar device capable of video output, and ported/hacked Google Street View to output stereo information…”  Think about that for a moment: you’ve just created a relatively low-cost device that enables a blind person to “see” the precise details of their surroundings, real time!  Now that is life altering augmented reality.

Third, virtual reality. For this one, I actually want to draw attention to the work of Aric Sigman ( Sigman, Baroness Susan Greenfield, and others have been documenting the consequences of a sustained, increased participation in highly immersive virtual worlds and commensurate decreased “physical” world participation. To quote from Sigman’s article “Well Connected” in the February issue of Biologist earlier this year:  “While the precise mechanisms underlying the association between social connection, morbidity and mortality continue to be investigated, it is clear that this is a growing public health issue for all industrialised countries.”

Hear, hear.  My recent personal reflection on how too many people emphasize the “media” part of “social media” and don’t appreciate enough the importance of the “social” – especially the physical, human contact aspect of social – is an affirming data point of one.  Now, let me hear from you!

Talk to the (Digital) Hand

Take a look through the screen shots below. 

I’ll bet that is a set of companies you’ve never heard of, including:

But, between them, these companies took down $43,500,000 in the first quarter of this year, along a pretty even distribution (the largest was Offerpal, at $15 million).

What do they do? They are among a rapidly growing band of virtual goods companies that are getting some big bets placed on them, in an expectation that they are onto something. CNET blogger Dave Rosenberg provided a nice shout outto these and a handful of others in the sector that is worth a quick read.

Second Lifeis rightly regarded as having pioneered the modern era of virtual goods for grownups at a serious enough level to have attracted substantial corporate interest and experimentation. Close behind, The Simshas added the social,Seinfeld-ian spin to the virtual experience. And while there are clearly many satisfied Sims players and SL corporate success stories, there has been plenty of room to learn and build newer offerings that extend the model.

That’s what these companies like Offerpal Media and Nurien are doing and, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

As Don Tapscott often says in his keynotes about his latest book, Grown Up Digital, the under-25 net generation is a generation “bathed in bits.” Certainly they know the difference between the physical and digital worlds – we all do.  But the beauty of well-done virtual experiences is that they provide for an immersive reinvention or amplification of one’s self.

I believe many of these virtual goods companies are just taking the 2-D platforms of Facebook and LinkedIn and extending them the logical next step into 3-D information and commerce platforms.

Already, Hollywood has shown that it thinks 3-D movies are where the public wants to go. With a virtual, 3-D platform, you won’t just exchange information with your friends and colleagues, but your virtual self will interact with them, negotiate, meet, and conduct business.

It will be very interesting indeed, to see where all of this leads, but I urge you to check out some of these technologies.