Paraverse Meanderings

I stumbled across a new term the other day: paraverse. Perhaps it’s not so new, but it’s new to me. Have you heard of it? The paraverse is where avatar extensions of ourselves would hang out in a virtual representation of our physical earth (vs. an imaginary virtual world like Second Life, which is a metaverse). So the paraverse is another name for the virtual worlds (like Google Earth or Virtual Earth) with social networking added, something like what the New York Times described last month. (There is, apparently, some disagreement about the term metaverse, though, because the Wikipedia definition of metaverse talks both Second Life and “Second Earth”-type ideas.) At first I was kinda curious how this relates to Google’s OpenSocial, but from what I’ve read about it so far, it’s not like that.

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The blog I stumbled upon was discussing what the paraverse could learn from the metaverse–simply put, the lesson is “don’t be boring”. Some metaverse dwellers appear to be afraid that information from the paraverse might infiltrate their environment and spoil all the fun.

I think information about the real world represented via a paraverse we can explore and interact in is exactly what makes the idea exciting, not boring. The idea that we could wander about this virtual world and learn more about the real world around us–that’s exactly why Google Earth is so popular. As Michael Jones of Google said in a keynote address I saw at one of those geo-conferences,

“It’s not Google Earth that’s exciting–it’s our Earth that’s exciting.”

The more we can learn about our earth in a direct, visual, interactive way, the better. Direct interaction makes for a better user experience. Google Earth is fantastic for that already.

But now imagine we can do that exploration together. I work alongside earth scientists and engineers, so I envision crazy stuff like flying around the globe side by side with geologists to learn about rocks and volcanoes or with fire scientists to review the burn history of the world and being able to ask them in real time “how is that pattern changing recently with the trends in global warming?” What a fantastic teaching tool–what if you could get guest scientists to host sessions for students (and earth-geeks like me)?

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