Re-Thinking 3D Virtual Worlds Development

November 6, 2010


Scratch is a programming language developed by Mitchel Resnick’s research group at MIT Media Lab.  Scratch “makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web.”  Scratch was designed for youngsters, to encourage them to build applications and games without having to learn the ins and outs of conventional programming languages.

Scratch programmers use their mouse to snap together blocks to form “stacks”.  The stacks embed actions.  For instance, some blocks allow players to control characters via keystrokes.  Programmers sequence their blocks to create animations and games.  Let’s consider how the concepts behind Scratch could be applied to 3D virtual worlds.

Virtual World Evolution

Previously, I wrote about the evolution of virtual worlds from self-expression to marketing to monetization.  With the concepts behind Scratch, however, I wonder whether a similar framework for 3D virtual worlds can re-ignite the Self-Expression stage.

Wider Adoption via Easier Development Tools

Scratch was created to empower youngsters by making it easier to build computer applications.  A similar approach may be needed to empower creators of 3D virtual worlds.  Let’s face it, creating a virtual world is not easy – it requires specialized skills.  Those who can afford it (e.g. corporations) often outsource 3D virtual world creation to agencies or development shops.

What results is a classic “chicken and egg” problem – the barrier for creation results in less supply (e.g. fewer interesting 3D worlds), which depresses demand (e.g. less people interested in visiting virtual worlds), which keeps the supply low (e.g. less interest to create them, since no one will visit).

This phenomenon may explain why IMVU is thriving, while other services (e.g., Google Lively, Vivaty) have folded.  IMVU brings the world to you – that is, the self-expression is focused around your avatar, rather than building worlds.  It’s easy to customize your avatar – and, if you’re so inclined, you can design virtual clothing and accessories, that are then made available to other users within IMVU.

Importance of Feedback Mechanisms

Scratch has two feedback mechanisms that are central to its success.  First, users can see the result of their work (in real-time) as they’re building the application.  The conventional cycle of computer programming is “code, run, debug” – with Scratch, you don’t debug, so much as you adjust your application as you go.

The second feedback mechanism comes from the Scratch community. Users can upload their application and have others post comments and suggestions.  This gives programmers the positive reinforcement behind their work (e.g. there’s an audience for my creation), which creates more incentives to create more applications and be part of an active community.

Both mechanisms could be effective in 3D virtual world creation.  The community aspect, in fact, addresses the chicken and egg problem, as the developers create an audience for each other – and can encourage their network of friends and colleagues to visit virtual worlds that they’ve found and reviewed.

Open Sourcing, Sharing and Remixing

The name “Scratch” is derived from the way disc jockeys scratch records to re-mix existing songs into new creations.  Community members can view the code for any uploaded Scratch application and are free to re-mix and modify existing applications.

This is a tried and true way to learn computer programming – take someone’s existing program, study the source code, then add some pieces to it.  Once you’ve done that a few times, you’re ready to write your own program from scratch (pun intended).

Sharing and re-mixing makes it easier to get started, will encourage wider adoption and is sure to generate interesting creations.  Imagine if a similar framework existed for 3D virtual worlds.


One of the prominent barriers to 3D virtual world adoption is the lack of easy creation tools.  Let’s learn from what MIT Media Lab has created with Scratch and see if we can apply their concepts to 3D virtual worlds.  How about it?

Related Links

  1. August 2008, NewScientist, “Creating your own computer game is child’s play
  2. March 2009, Wired, “Scratch Lowers Resistance to Programming
  3. May 2008, American Libraries, “Minds at Play

Virtual And Social Technologies: A Perfect Fit

August 12, 2009


Jeremiah Owyang has an interesting posting on his Web Strategy blog titled “Web Strategy: How To Integrate Social Technologies with Virtual Events“.  Jeremiah notes that the integration of social technologies should apply to both virtual and physical events – by way of these principles:

Three Principles Of Modern Events
To be successful, virtual –and real world– event planners must abide by the following principles:
1. Events should integrate with existing communities and social networks where they exist.
2. Events should have a strategy that includes the before and after –not just during.
3. The audience can assert control over the event, so encourage audience participation and know when to get out of the way.

I left the following comment for Jeremiah:


I’m a big fan of social networks – today, my primary networks are Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.  That being said, I’ve considered today’s social networks to be a Version 1.0 of Web 2.0.  Now that social networks have built a critical mass of audience/community, I think that some key technologies can advance us to Version 2.0 of Web 2.0.  Some examples:

  1. Presence Indication – While Jeremiah blogs that email was the first social network, I think of instant messaging as the dawn of social networking.  So all the way back in the mid 90’s, we had a technology to allow us to connect with friends, family and colleagues – and, provide presence indication.  I knew if my mom, colleague or best friend was online – and if they were online, they could indicate to me whether they were available or “Away from my desk”.  While some social network sites include in-page presence indication (including Facebook, with its Facebook Chat), I’m surprised that presence indication (and chat) have not been more tightly integrated into the core service of social networks.  If I’m running a social network site, but my users are using AOL IM or Skype for presence indication and text/webcam chat, then I’d want to build better presence/chat tools into my core platform.  Or, integrate existing technology, so that my users launch their IM client within my service.
  2. Personalized Spaces – Facebook has done a great job in allowing me to post pictures, videos, links, status updates, etc.  What about blending the existing technologies/applications within Facebook with virtual world technologies to create a virtual room (for personal use) or a virtual office (for b-to-b use).  Vivaty is thinking along these lines, as they’ve integrated their 3D virtal world technology into Facebook.  So within Facebook, I can build a personalized room with Vivaty and invite my friends (or colleagues) to visit and interact with the objects I’ve placed in that room (e.g. perhaps a link to a movie review).
  3. Profile Matchmaking to Extend Your Network – Virtual Event technologies have their roots in b-to-b use, in which virtual event show hosts tend to collect a deep registration profile on attendees.  This provides data points that allow the virtual event platform to recommend  like-minded attendees (who have similar profiles).  For personal use of social networks, matchmaking may not be relevant – you know whom your friends and family are and you’re probably not inclined to go find new friends (with the exception of a social site for online dating).  In a b-to-b setting, however (e.g. Linkedin), profile matching can be very powerful, as it allows you the potential to extend your network.  B-to-b networking sites that combine presence with matchmaking can create a powerful combination – imagine that I find like-minded people.  Instead of pressuring them to accept me as a connection, I can chat with them (based on presence indication) and introduce myself.  Later, both parties may be comfortable enough to become connections within that social network.

I’d be interested in your thoughts – what related technologies should social network sites look to build or integrate?

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