Today’s 3-D Browser Wars – The Battle For Control of the New Internet and Much, Much More

It is 1994 all over again, but the stakes are even higher this time around. A new battle for development, acceptance, and control of information delivery is underway in Silicon Valley and across the globe. Numerous companies, most of which you have never heard of before, are racing to develop and deploy the next generation user interface. Which company will win? What business models are they using? How will the future look? The shift in technology will be so great that it will affect how you use the Internet, how you communicate, and even change the equipment you use to access the Internet.

It is not Netscape and Microsoft this time. Facebook and MySpace have already lost. The new guard is Second Life, Active Worlds, World of Warcaft, IMVU, Shanda, Red 5 Studios and others. Their new landscape is not the quaint two dimensional reproductions which we have become accustom to in Explorer, FireFox, and Safari. It is a rich and robust three dimensional world that can convey information and culture in an effective and engaging way. Within these robust virtual worlds, the only limitation is our own imaginations. Virtual technologies are in their nascent development stage, but are growing faster than anyone would have ever predicted. A confluence of infrastructure, computer technology and social behavior theory is yielding powerful new ways to interact and socialize over the Internet. The idea of “goggling into the Metaverse with your personalized Avatar for a meet and greet” as predicted in the futuristic vision of Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash” is truly not far from today’s reality.

Second Life, World of Warcraft (WoW), and IMVU offers a fabulous view into the future of immersive communications and the next generation browser development. Watching how people team together to overcome the game challenges in WoW has spawned interest from social interaction to leadership development academics, as well as the Military. The application of immersive environments on learning and education are limitless. In the future, teamwork and leadership may no longer be a pedagogical exercise contained to sterile classrooms; it will be a fully immersive hands-on learning experience where students learn skills in various virtual settings and scenarios. The U. S. Army believes in this vision so much that they spent six million dollars in research and development and sponsored “America’s Army” video game to train our youth before they ever enter basic training. Ubisoft, the game’s developer, wrote that “America’s Army” was the “deepest and most realistic military game ever to hit consoles.” A small audience by WoW and Shanda standards, the game has over 30,000 players everyday and is available on Xbox, PlayStation, cell phones and Game Boy. Another and perhaps better use for the technology is education. Hiring newly minted MBAs with little real world experience has always been a sticky point with employers, especially with today’s education and talent challenges. What would companies pay to hire an MBA graduate that had spent a couple hundred real hours in Jack Welsh’s simulated shoes? And we thought EA’s Madden Football was big. In the near future we will be able to teach, test and hone key skills to produce better knowledge workers and leaders with the advances in new immersive browser technologies.

Today, the virtual world business models are in development. WoW has a subscription service where it charges about twenty dollars a month to login to the virtual fantasy world. China’s Shanda with its Legend of Mir and other virtual properties has a pay per usage and subscription models. IMVU has a novel model. Its chat environment is so rich and realistic that users actual pay for virtual clothes for their avatar and virtual gifts for others. Active Worlds has taken a more platform centric approach charging for the base application for others to develop upon. Second Life has virtual money called Linden dollars which is used to pay for goods and service within the virtual world. Linden dollars can be purchased with real currency. Walking around in Second Life and seeing all the billboard type advertisements does make me think about the Internet’s early days where advertisements popped up out of nowhere and there were no usability guidelines or design best practices. But, which model will win? There is room for several models, but it is too early to tell which browser will win.

I bought my last desktop seven years ago and don’t plan on ever buying another. Being tethered is no longer an option. Surfing while walking between rooms, booting up at the coffee shop, and logging on at the airport is normal behavior for most of us. However with new emerging technologies, our computing habits may change even further. myvu and iTheater are making goggles that project information right in front of your eyes. It is primarily for game consoles and iPod movies today, but it has potential. In the near future, you may have a pair of goggles which have a higher resolution and are lighter than your laptop LCD display, as well as delivering significantly more privacy while on the airplane. Celluon has technology that laser projects a keyboard on any flat surface, eliminating the need for a physical keyboard. With advancements like these, will our future computers look more like a soda can hooked up to goggles than the rectangular paperweight of today? Hardware advancements along with the developing interactive virtual software will merger to deliver us a new totally immersive user experience.

One downside is that the most virtual worlds require a large application download and installation. Each virtual world requires its own application, so if you develop for Second Life you are limited to Second Life residents and have no access to other audiences. The application diversity is a big negative for revenue scaling. It harkens back the browser interoperability of the ’90s, where companies had three versions of their websites to accommodate browser differences. But eventually, there will be a de facto standard and the winning application will come preloaded on your computer. I am interested in seeing if this shakeout also produces anti-trust litigation.

The new 3-D browser battle is being waged today and the future of interactive communications is up for grabs. Will Silicon Valley produce the next 3-D interactive browser standard or will China? Only time will tell. However, the impact of immersive 3-D virtual worlds on communications, social interaction, and education will change our lives as much as the microwave and remote control…and perhaps TiVo.

Top Ten Web Browser Games

In the last few years, we have seen an increase in the use of Internet for the everyday task. Hence, agenda, encyclopedia, shopping, movies, games and even university classes can be all found online. This is because the Internet is so accessible to everyone, and reduces the cost of nearly everything. This is especially true regarding games. Consoles are still very popular, but due to the high cost of a single video games, more and more people opt for web browser games, which are often free, or allow the user to play at a minimal cost. Online games can appeal to a variety of people and there are thousands of web browser games on the internet catered to different groups of people. These is my top ten web browser games.

1. Club Penguin

Owned by Disney, this MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) caters to a younger crowd. In this game, children get to play different activities and games. Club Penguin is designed for children 6 to 14 years of age but is open to all ages. Some parents even admitted they love to play the games too.

2. SwitchIn

The social network based game SwitchIn is played by teenagers from over the world. Translated in 8 different languages, this MMO integrates two concepts:a chat room and a cool 3D online game. Players can dress up their character, customize their room, chat with other players and even go horseback riding by the beach!

3. Habbo

Habbo caters to both male and female teenagers. This MMO, or massively multiplayer online game, attracts each week almost seven million unique visitors. Players interact using their personalized character and can design a room in a virtual hotel and invest virtual money to furnish it.

4. Bejeweled

This puzzle games created in 2001 has become so popular that it lead to sequels: Bejeweled 2 (2004) and Bejeweled Twist (2008). Beware, a very fun but addictive game!

5. Tribal Wars

The strategy browser based game Tribal Wars is a game set in the medieval times. The goal of this game is to lead a small village, and to let it flourish into a powerful city.

6. Miniconomy

Not only fun, Miniconomy is a very educative game. As a matter of fact, this game is even been used in some business schools from the Netherlands and Belgium. The goal of the game is to simulate an economic society, by trading, starting a career and even creating a corporation!

7. Sudoku

Who said high-resolution graphics were needed to make a successful game? The popular skill-based game Sudoku makes thousands of people happy every day. While it was first created over a hundred years ago, it wasn’t until the late 2000 that Sudoku became popular. The advantage of Sudoku? You can play online, or on paper!

8. DiveIn

Imagine swimming as a creature of an undersea world. Sharks, dolphins and even mermaids are only a few of the many creatures you can magically transform into. Swim and discover an pirate ship and other sea creatures while chatting with your buddies.

9. Neopets

The cutest game ever. Take care of a virtual pet, buy them food and toys.

10. Farmville

Developed for Facebook, a popular social networking website, Farmville has become quickly one of its most popular application. In the game, the player simulates a farmer’s life by planting, growing and harvesting virtual crops and raising livestock.

Maximizing Educational IT Assets – An Integration Strategy for Educational Institutions

PROBLEM: Among the unique challenges facing educational institutions in the early years of the twenty-first century is how best to serve a diverse user base with new technologies in a time of tight budgetary restrictions. While many businesses in the private sector can focus on the handful of software solutions that fit their particular needs, colleges, universities, and other institutions must attempt to integrate large-scale solutions for the entire campus community with a myriad of applications and business methodologies used at the individual department level.

To make this mandate even more challenging, many state-funded educational institutions are facing belt-tightening measures that put a cramp on their information technology budget and force them to focus on crucial services, often at the expense of innovation. Consolidating core software functions and getting existing and new applications to “play well together” makes perfect sense in such a climate.

While the current economic slowdown may have stalled some bold and exciting plans for the future, it also may provide a chance to clean up some of the sloppiness left behind after ten years of rapid, often directionless, growth.

SOLUTION: The needs of each department of an educational institution are so diverse that it would be foolhardy to try to develop one application to meet them all. However, there is no reason the basic functions common to all departments, the “business infrastructure,” cannot be tapped by each department for its own purposes. The salient reasons for developing on a common framework include:

  • Efficiency — The integration of accounting and billing methods allows departments that use their own software for business services to directly tap the data provided by a centralized entity that provides services to the entire campus, such as a Financial Services office. By the same token, a common platform such as the web allows a facilities management department, for instance, to provide utility billing and work order information to departments in a paperless format, as well as to streamline common services such as work order submission.
  • Security — Every application with sensitive or private information requires a database to store user logins, passwords, and permissions. The ability to use one central database to store this information for many applications means each user need only remember one login and password, and authentication can be handled in one place, meaning fewer access points need to be secured.
  • Interdisciplinary study — Institutions are beginning to recognize the value of linking different disciplines for a common good. For instance, a researcher into online security issues might find it useful to share information with a behavioral scientist to understand why people are willing or unwilling to provide credit card information online. Or an historian might find it useful to plumb data from a molecular biologist’s lab to understand the dispersion patterns of ancient human populations.

METHODS: Fortunately, technology can be used to ease many of the unique headaches universities, colleges, and academies must endure. The emergence of middleware solutions using standard data formats like XML can be powerful tools in the right hands. While the IT department for the institution itself must provide some support for these methodologies, there are concrete solutions individual departments and other organizations on campus can use to get themselves up to speed:

  • The Central Authentication Service (CAS) — Developed at Yale University, CAS is an open source method for authenticating users in one place for many different applications. Integrating existing applications into a CAS solution allows users to provide their login and password combination once, and these credentials are passed to every application the user accesses during that browser session, including uPortal, webmail, and custom software. Applications large and small can capitalize on this technology with a good developer and a little help from the central IT department.
  • Adopting a web-based interface — The proliferation of web technology is approaching a level of sophistication that will eventually rival that of desktop technology for even heavily data-intensive applications. While we may never live in a web-only world, it’s not too soon to capitalize on the unique advantages a web-based application or a web interface for an existing non-web application provides. Aside from making the application available to any machine with a web browser (the other kind are very hard to find these days), a web solution in many cases replaces paper and phone calls as a means of doing business.
  • Maximizing existing assets — While it would be nice in the best of all possible worlds to replace an aging application with a brand-spanking new one, it is not always feasible. Under tight budgets, getting the most out of existing applications is often the right way to go. While not all applications are worth salvaging, a surprising number can be retooled or replaced one piece at a time, keeping the underlying data structure intact until it makes sense to upgrade to newer back-end technologies. Additionally, even legacy databases can often be coaxed into providing their essential data in a usable format, even if it has to be converted from raw text. Often, such a conversion leads to a streamlined data structure after columns and tables that are no longer used have been dropped.

SUMMARY: While universities face a set of challenges rare outside of academia, highly diverse user bases and shrinking budgets need not mean substandard application design. An intelligent mix of integration, centralization, and the incremental replacement of outdated technologies can ease these challenges and allow an educational institution to focus on its primary objective, to educate.