Metaverse needs a new kind of search

We’re about to see a big increase in the size of the hypergrid.

According to my data, there are currently 96 grids that I know of that are hypergrid-enabled, with a total of 16,628 regions and 8,052 active users — though some of those active users might overlap as some folks have accounts on more than one grid, or travel from one grid to another and are counted on both.

But Avination and Kitely are both working on implementing an “export” permission for the content on their grids, which would allow creators to have control about where their content goes. They can mark content “no export” so that it cannot be saved to an OAR or IAR backup file, or taken via hypergrid teleport to other grids. Or they can mark it “export” so that the content is allowed to travel.

The technology has already been implemented into a viewer and donated to the OpenSim community. It will take time for all the bugs to be worked out, but I’m hoping to see this working this summer.

The best part is that the export permission is something that is implemented by the grid, and doesn’t require that residents use any particular viewer. The export setting will still work to protect content even if the viewer doesn’t support it yet, though residents who want to change this setting on their own products will need a viewer that already has this functionality.

Once Avination and Kitely fully implement this functionality and turn on hypergrid — as both have promised to do — the number of regions on the hypergrid will jump to 20,745 and the number of active users will rise to 10,492.

That’s twice as many active users as regions — most of the time, most of the hypergrid will be empty.

The big challenge will be to help people find stuff to do, and to find each other.

Not to find information, or to find things. Existing search engines, however, are better at finding things and data than finding people and events.

This is where social networking can play a vital role.

I can see Facebook, say, stepping forward and telling you about events you might be interested in, or telling you where all your friends are going.

It will take years, though, before Facebook catches on, and there’s an opportunity there meanwhile for a startup.

Here are some ways I can see it playing out.

Grid-based social search

Your home grid knows what events you’ve been to, and who your friends are. By adding an in-grid calendar — the kind where you add events to your calendar and get a reminder when they’re about to start — the grid will also know where you plan to be.

Putting all that together, and you can have a system that can tell you, “There are several events going on this Friday night that you might be interested in. Five of your friends are planning to attend a party at The Dance Club on this grid. Two of your friends will be at Sci-Fi Roleplay on the Sci-Fi grid. There is also a book club meeting scheduled on the Book Grid that you might want to attend because you have gone to similar events in the past.”

MeetUp does a nice job with real-world events, and a grid could simply copy some of their functionality. Plus, a grid could automatically check you in as present at an event because the grid knows where you are.

This could be a revenue-generating function as well, if in addition to the standard results the grid offers some sponsored recommendations.

In addition, a grid with a strong social search function could be stickier than one without. Sure, you can send messages and have groups and landmarks across the hypergrid, but your home grid is going to know a lot more about you than a foreign grid, and can make much better recommendations.

Your home grid will know about events on other grids because some of its users will be adding them to their calendars, or because the event organizers will buy ads on other grids to draw in more traffic.

I recommend that whoever decides to do this first in a big commercial way donate at least the calendar part of the code to the OpenSim community, so that all grids will have a common format for listing events. I can see myself teleporting to, say, Craft, and seeing an announcement of an upcoming gallery opening, clicking on the “add this to my calendar” button, and have Craft send the event invite details to my home grid to add to my personal calendar.

And people will be able to send event invites to their friends, or to groups, across the hypergrid.

Viewer-based social search

A viewer could build social search into its platform, separate from any individual grid. The viewer knows where you go. It knows what you like. It knows where your friends go and what they like.

As with the grid-based social search, there will be privacy issues, and a recommendation will need to be generic. So, instead of saying “Maria and five other friends plan to attend the Friday Night Sexy Stud Party on the Vile & Filthy Grid”, it could just say “Six of your friends plan to attend” and leave it up to you to try to guess which six.

A built-in calendar will be a sticky feature — switching to another viewer means giving up the event recommendations and the reminders for things already on your schedule.

And it could also be a revenue generator, same as with the grid social search.

Third-party search

The Web has seen all kinds of models for search come and go. We had search bundled in with email and social networking on AOL. The Netscape home page had search, though I can’t remember whether the search function was embedded into the viewer. I’m sure Microsoft would love to have Bing be the only search engine of the Internet Explorer.

Instead, we have third-party search, in the form of Google. I can visit the Google site from any device, using any browser.

The virtual world equivalent could be a device that you pull out — a virtual tablet, say — that keeps track of your social life for you. Or it could be a wearable device, like a watch or necklace, that you would touch to get a pop-up translucent screen in front of you with your calendar and event recommendations. Or it could be a heads up display. Or it could be a fixture — a display board in your virtual home or office, for example.

One way to do this would be to distribute it virally — when you invite a friend to an event, and they don’t have one of these devices, the invitation will include a free copy of the device.

The makers would make money through promoted announcements, or through up-selling premium features.

 

 

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is a science fiction writer who covers cybersecurity, AI and extended reality as a tech journalist at her day job.
Check out her author page on Amazon or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Her first virtual world novella, Krim Times, made the Amazon best-seller list in its category. Her second novella, The Lost King of Krim, is out now.