The Technology Review has a great feature on Metaplace, a virtual world startup that aims to allow users to create tiny, individual multiplayer worlds that they can link together like homepages. I'm a huge fan of the founder, Raph Koster, who previously created Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, and I love the idea of letting players shape their worlds in simple, easy-to-understand ways.
With Metaplace, designers can build worlds using a markup language, style sheets, modules, and a scripting language. Every world acts like a Web server, Koster says, and every object in a world has a URL. What this means for users of these worlds is that they can move seamlessly from the rest of the Web into the virtual world and back again, he says. A user can browse to any object in a Metaplace world from outside, and every object can be linked to the rest of the Web and exchange information with Web services. With this architecture, Koster says, he plans for users to be able to build worlds with games as simple as a two-dimensional Tetris game, or as complex as the World of Warcraft, a massive, multiplayer, online role-playing game. Users might also build widgets, such as a virtual weatherman who could deliver the latest news from weather.com, or a Coke machine that gives them a real-world coupon whenever they drink a virtual Coke. Koster says that users should be able to stage up a basic world with chat functionality and a map within about five minutes.
Koster envisions users coming to a Metaplace world by clicking on a link in a Web page. That link launches a page where the user finds herself inside a world, perhaps using a default avatar, but no log-in or registration is immediately required. "They don't make you log in to play a YouTube video," Koster points out.
The Metaplace client is basically a Flash application, he says, and, consequently, is available to nearly everyone who uses the Internet. Currently, Metaplace does not allow users to build 3-D worlds, but Koster says that he expects Flash to add 3-D capabilities in the near future. The client will work anywhere on the Web, and Koster adds that he hopes to see user-generated clients built for mobile devices such as iPhones.
(Disclosure: I'm a proud member of the advisory board for Areae, Inc, the company that makes Metaplace)