We have an industry

I just turned 44, which kind of sucks, but as they say, it’s better than the alternative. I think I’ve been old for a long long time, but now I have to admit it. Virtual World have been growing up, too, and my feelings are somewhat the same. Despite reports by Gartner and Forrester, articles in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Information Week, and even popular press like the LA Times, I still hadn’t quite caught on to the idea that we now have an industry. But when I saw Christian Renaud’s blog, I had to admit that “Virtual Worlds” is an industry category, and I’m in it. None of these articles are about the technology (what I do), but about what people do with it and how businesses make money with it. I guess it’s better than the alternative. OK, it’s pretty cool, but kind of weird. This stuff isn’t household technology or household names yet. The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet. It’s an interesting life-span inflection point.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. Well Howard,

    You have always been big on that “crossing the chasm” way of looking at what technologies become widely adopted and what companies make money as technologies move from “early adoption” to “widespread adoption”. In order for a company to prosper and a technology to become widely adopted, there must be one market segment which the technology/company are the unambiguous leaders.

    I don’t do much in “virtual worlds”– unless you describe the Net itself as such a virtual world. So I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.

    But it seems that the “market segments” emerging & their related technologies are:

    1) Corporate collaboration — Quaq/forums/croquet

    2) Online gaming — World of Warcraft & its model.

    3) “higher education” — online college, and whatever it morphs into. Is croquet also the technology leader here?

    4) Social networking — Facebook

    Meanwhile I’m stuck in flatland, writing books and running a very retro blog.

    I guess, like Brian Wilson, I just wasn’t made for these times.

  2. Yup. Also:

    5) Simulations/Visualizations – walk around collaboratively among the molecules. It’s hard to see how anything that doesn’t use the Croquet Tea-time model could do this on a large scale. However, that same model means that there’s a lot of work to include a replicated physics model that is a prerequisite for a lot of simulations.

    6) Training – A cross-over between 1, 3, and 5. All of the categories have their own existing industry standards, norms, relationships and expectations established outside of VW. In some cases, the existing standards don’t matter yet because the VW-based stuff is disruptive. In some cases they do matter. For training, the existing stuff does seem to matter. Leader here is Forterra.

    7) The future. No market (nor enabling technology) yet for
    * convergence. e.g., VW is your operating system for your computer, mobile phone, and toaster.
    * mixed reality. e.g., VW is projected onto the real world around you, augmenting it with info, capabilities, and decoration.

    So, what category is Second Life?

    By the way, John, I don’t think you’re wrong for these times at all. In particular, I’ve read novels that are set in VW where the bad guy is an AI and where the bad guy and its corporate/government henchmen/dupes are using VW to act their ills. Otherwise the VWs are portrayed rather nicely. I haven’t read anything of ordinary human corporations and politicians using VW as an evil itself. How about it?

Comments are closed