I recently attended a presentation at the Philadelphia Area New Media Association (PANMA) where a portion of the discussion (presented by Tim Allen) focused on some of the more recent business applications in Second Life... including demo's of some interesting examples.
Last year, I had been present at a demo of a virtual-world meeting in a virtual conference room with streaming content. The goal of that presentation was to show-case the potential of e-learning. For all of the non-Second Life people present, it actually showed the social-interaction differences (strengths and weaknesses) of that environment. I've also recently been party to a demo (by Ben Lindquist) in the Second Life environment of an evolving product that visually shows intricate connections/relationships in a datawarehouse.
Individually, each of these presentations were interesting. But a recent discussion with Frank about the Open Metaverse Foundation (OMF) really started to bring it all together. The OMF is effectively working to define an open approach to creating and using virtual worlds. This work will allow individuals to create their own metaverses and teleport assets between environments run by different organizations.
This evolution reminded me of the early days of the webs transition into more widespread consumer and business use. I believe the a parallel can be drawn between AOL and Second Life... and that the eventual evolution/emergence of http servers for business (and individuals) define a map for the future path of virtual worlds. If the OMF does their job in defining standards, maintaining compliance with "open" definitions, involves the existing communities and properly defines/targets future business use, they'll change the future landscape of the web.
Will every business or person need a virtual world server? Probably not. But don't make the same mistake early adopters of the web made - where they presumed there was no business value... and then boldly stated only the largest businesses could afford it... and then only serious businesses could find value... and I think you get the picture.
I believe that the demo's I've received and the people I've met that are driving these efforts are onto something useful... and they appear to be moving in the right direction with the right purpose. I also believe that keeping the "open" nature of the effort will spawn the necessary innovation to find a LOT of paths into the future for virtual worlds.
So, with that, I place the OMF and the efforts to evolve virtual worlds onto my "Next" List... and I wish them well.