In prior posts, I provided a definition of social web as well as how household-name businesses such as Jeep and Nike are embracing the social web in order to more closely engage their respective communities of passion.
In this post, I'd like to focus my attention on the intersection of the social web and online virtual worlds. While I find the recent news about 3D virtual worlds interesting, the highlighted examples such as Vivaty, Google’s Lively project, and the Electric Sheep Co.’s WebFlock feel a little empty and unremarkable from a "meaningful interactions" perspective.
I consider ROBLOX Virtual Playworld a much better example to explore. Why? Because it is an online destination that not only satisfies kids' social and entertainment needs but also addresses their hunger for creativity and learning.
To get a better feel for what ROBLOX is all about, just view the following video which illustrates ROBLOX in action:
Click here to view this video on YouTube.
ROBLOX enables 100's of thousands of kids to interact and play within virtual worlds while learning design, engineering, science and programming. I find the educational aspects so remarkable that I wrote a post earlier this year stating that ROBLOX was grooming our future open source developers.
Since that post, my son has spent countless hours designing, building, and scripting his own customized virtual worlds. For example, he created a very popular Baseball Stadium where you can almost smell the grass on the field while having fun throwing, fielding, and hitting the baseball. It is a modern stadium complete with hot dog stands and a giant blimp hovering over it.
He spends a lot of time using the ROBLOX Studio development environment PROGRAMMING the behavior of the elements/objects within his worlds. For example, he creates complex 3D behaviors within the world by calling mathematical functions that enable the bat, for example, to swing at a wide variety of angles rather than just back and forth. He also adjusts the impact on the ball so that it bounces off at varying speeds.
He leverages the "social" features of the site (beyond the Forum, Wiki, and Blog) including "friending" other people on the site, sending email-like messages to each other in order to ask and answer questions, chatting online while playing within a particular world, voting for "favorite places", etc.
Using my 7 Key Attributes of Social Web Applications, I think ROBLOX scores pretty well. Every user has an Identity; the information is not rich likely due to the fact that we are dealing with kids so onlineprovacy is important. Their Reputations are based on how they conduct themselves online as well as the quality of the places and/or scripts they create. They don't offer much in the way of Presence. People can strike up Relationships with eachother, but not nearly as robust as what you get on sites like Facebook. You can't really Group your friends as far as I can tell. Conversations happen via Forums, chat, and their built in email/messaging system. And Sharing happens all the time since people can share objects, scripts, places, etc.
ROBLOX Business Model
Standard membership in ROBLOX is free and provides the ability for kids to receive an avatar, play within the worlds, as well as design, build, and save a single place of their own. ROBLOX also offers Builders Club which is a premium service that gives kids the ability to create and manage multiple places. It also enables players to earn ROBLOX currency (called "ROBUX") which can be used to purchase premium items in the ROBLOX catalog that enable much greater customization of avatars and interactive creations. I like the fact that ROBLOX offers a free way for kids to get started and then charges extra for increased value.
Bottom-line: ROBLOX provides a great example of how combining the social web and online virtual worlds provides value beyond entertainment and social interactions. As they say on their website, ROBLOX believes "in the theory that kids learn best by making things - by engaging in the creative and complex process of imagining, designing, and constructing. Provide them with a safe and nurturing place to build, give them the requisite tools, and let them play."
NOTE: ROBLOX has a great web page for parents who want to learn more.