I can remember the launch of Google Earth, the sense of wonder and curiosity it engendered for me, and most other people that I spoke to about it. It was great, brilliantly interesting and thought provoking, entertaining and technically fascinating, but how could it be commercially useful? The appearance of Google maps didn’t have quite the same impact, but its commercial value wasn’t immediately obvious either.
Today the commercial value is all too obvious, and the idea of using services running on Web platforms from people such as Google is growing by leaps and bounds. Its all part of a new generation of Web based capabilities that let us use browsers to see ‘track and trace’ as a normal part of any one of a hundred different logistics companies services, and of course there are many more uses as well.

I reckon in a couple of years Google Lively; the service of providing ‘Virtual Rooms, will fall into the same league. The announcement didn’t go down too well at the time, as those heavily into Virtual Worlds couldn’t see why it was worth having such a limited environment when you could build a whole ‘island’ just the way you wanted it. For everyone else Virtual Worlds were either too complicated to contemplate using, or populated and used in a way that didn’t seem to connect to the reality of their business, so they weren’t interested either.
Actually it’s the simplicity that has the potential to make Google Lively so usable, not sure if I am going to upset anyone with this way of looking at them, but I figure its like the ‘Regus’ office facilities services www.regus.com. Walk in, pay your money and get a functional office to use and what ever you need to have as extras will all be available and installed for you. That’s Google Lively, only the office, workshop, stage, etc is virtual, for you to use and furnish as you wish with all the virtual bits and pieces you need.
If you wanted to demonstrate to a service engineer what the piece they are going to fit looks like then you could meet in a Lively Room. Your sole contribution is limited to the piece you are going to handle and some basic familiarity training with the environment. In fact if you have read an earlier blog of mine then you will know that there is an Open Source project that allows the use of Wii controllers as low cost simple virtual interfaces http://swik.net/Wii+open-source. It’s worth taking a look at Google Lively rooms, off the shelf avatars, furniture, etc to see how little commitment you have to make on the ‘infostructural’ side.
Now comes some interesting speculation about how to make this work as a solution, hopefully in a few weeks time we might have managed to make this work as some colleagues with whom I have discussed this are up for trying it out. My conjecture is that another not so well understood topic that also promotes mixed reaction could be used to make this launch as part of a Web App. REST, Representational State Transfer, allows a url that is a noun to be read by a Java serverlet and then to kick off some other instructions rather than find and display another static web page. (Well you wouldn’t want a web page for every part in a car as an example as its just too cumbersome, and this link on REST is old but good).
This can, as an example, be used to locate the information on the part in question from a conventional database, and then be sent back to the browser using XML. It seems possible that you could automate bringing the part, and the technician who is doing the support into the room, so that a personal interaction and demonstration can be made of the service engineer’s problem. Now that does make the concept of virtual rooms seem a usable proposition, and if I am right, as solution developers understand using REST, Web Apps, Cloud Computing Platforms and Services, then Google have just done it again.
What does this do to Virtual Worlds? Well the obvious answer is if it doesn’t fit in a room then you are going to need the ‘bigger’ environment of a virtual world. A less obvious thought is will highly focussed ‘Regus’ like facilities be built by enterprises in Second World etc to be rented to those who need something more specialised and ambitious? An underwater training tank as a possible example.