This week I participated on an evaluation panel for student projects with live clients in a senior-level computer science course I help teach at MIT. It's incredible to see how much these incredibly talented students accomplish in a single term, juggling other courses. Early exposure to real users made some of these projects especially compelling.
Everyone is out there trying to figure out the next MySpace. One problem MySpace suffers from is that it's not very visually appealing to a younger audience that values 3D games over 2D text. Enter new phenomena such as Cyworld, which has swept Korea and is now about to enter the US. One critique of Cyworld is that the visual metaphors effective in Korea may not translate well here, so the hunt is on for environments that might work better.
One application presented at the class that suggested interesting new directions for where MySpace-style communities might go was "atMyPad". Imagine that on visiting http://www.myspace.com/octavianspace you see not the current "portal style" layout, but rather enter an apartment that looks more like a Second Life environment. Different objects in that apartment represent different things that interest me. For example, if my blog includes posts about fish, a fish tank visually represents posts I have categorized or tagged with the term "fish". This visualization could be animated to reflect activity by me in this category -- perhaps a feeding frenzy if there's lots of comments, perhaps my fish get bigger as my Technorati rank rises, or perhaps the fish float belly up if I haven't posted in a while. Think "dynamic visual tagging".
There's an interesting business opportunity in this that the atMyPad builders are exploring. Just as wireless carriers sell me ringtones, atMyPad could sell me objects to decorate my pad according to the topics of interest represented by my tags and categories. Next, taking a page out of Linden Labs' book, atMyPad's builders could provide an API or their own simple scripting tool and object library to allow me to build -- and resell, with a commission to atMyPad -- objects to others. Going even further, sponsors might pay to have their objects distributed to decorate my pad and stuff its closets, and perhaps these might even represent 3D wish lists of items friends could buy for me in real life. In return, perhaps I, the pad's owner, could stream my iTunes playlists in tinny mono format out of the "stereo" object in my pad for my friends to enjoy while they look around my place. And, maybe there's an Oddcast-style avatar that might take care of my guests by answering questions about objects via text-to-voice rendering from my associated blog.
Eventually, perhaps as presaged by the Skype acquisition, eBay stores could go this way as well?