The 1992, Neal Stephenson's cyberpunk novel Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra) inspired web technology in much the same way that the Beatles inspired rock music (see Figure 9-1). The idea behind Google Earth, the use of avatars on computers, and my own interest in social and viral marketing all sprang from different parts of Stephenson's classic work.
The most talked about element in the book was the Metaverse, a virtual reality view of what the Internet could be. In the story, wealthy, famous, and intellectually gifted users logged in with a pair of 3D goggles and socialized in elite and exclusive clubs. Constructed around a single street encircling a featureless planet, the Metaverse was constrained to a stringent set of physical rules modeled on reality. You could be only as tall as you were in real life, for example, and there was no teleporting—only walking, driving, and public transport.
Many multiplayer games have emerged since Snow Crash was published, but these gaming worlds are entirely created and controlled by the designer, with users playing parts like they would in interactive movies. The Metaverse is a set of programming interfaces, a platform upon which users can build their own realities.
In 2003, the virtual world known as Second Life was launched. Founder Philip Rosedale envisioned it to be the real Metaverse, where users could socialize, buy and sell virtual goods, and learn. In this version, you can teleport and fly, and the geography is far more complex, but ...