Emerging Metaverse

Fleep working on a hospital simulation at the
University of Cincinnati’s virtual campus in Second Life.

Second Life and OpenSim are virtual world platforms that allow a user to become a digital avatar and “walk into” the emerging Metaverse.  Second Life is created by Linden Lab, a privately held company based in San Francisco.  OpenSim is an open source off-shoot of the Second Life platform.  Many believe these platforms are precursors to a fully immersive 3D web of the future, while others think that virtual worlds will always be a separate place from the “flat web”.   Either way, I find them fascinating places to study human behavior, culture, and society.

Closely related to virtual worlds is the concept of augmented reality, loosely defined as the use of a device to overlay digital data, images, or information on top of the real world.   It may sound far-fetched, but users of smart-phones can already use basic augmented reality displays on their phone screens to view the world around them with data layers on top.

To begin exploring these tools, see the links below.


It is free to create an account and download the software to visit the virtual world of Second Life.  There are many different virtual world platforms, but Second Life remains one of the largest and most popular.

Second Life main website – http://secondlife.com

Visit the Chilbo Community, the virtual town that Fleep founded in 2006 – http://chilbo.org


OpenSim began as an open source off-shoot of the Second Life simulator software, but in the last year has been nearly redesigned from the ground up.   There are many “grids” running the OpenSim software, where you can create an account for free, or rent virtual land or islands.  In addition, you can download the OpenSim source code and run your own virtual world!

OpenSim Main Page – http://opensimulator.org

Reaction Grid – http://reactiongrid.com


Current iterations of augmented reality (AR) overlays are still in early or developmental phases.  Many prototypes exist in research laboratories, but the average consumer can see new augmented reality overlays by downloading and installing “apps” on smart-phones that support it.  Personally, I’m a huge fan of my Motorola Droid phone, but you can also use AR apps on Apple’s iPhone and some other smart-phone devices.

Augmented Reality Apps for Smartphones

Layarhttp://layar.com/ (Android and iPhone) – This app adds “layers” of data to whatever you are looking at through your phone’s view screen.  You can choose from many different layers including wikipedia entries, local restaurants, twitter users in your vicinity, etc.

Wikitudehttp://www.wikitude.org/ (Android and iPhone) – WIKITUDE World Browser presents the user with data about their surroundings, nearby landmarks, and other points of interest by overlaying information on the real-time camera view of a smart-phone.

Nearest Tube – Main Website (iPhone only) – Application that tells Londoners where their nearest tube station is via their iPhones video function.