A typology of virtual worlds

As mentioned previously, the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research launched its first issue and there’s some fascinating reading that we’ll continue to refer to in coming weeks and months.

First cab off the rank is A Typology of Virtual Worlds: Historical Overview and Future Directions . Written by three academics from the Universities of Alberta and Toronto, the paper looks at the usefulness of a typology proposed in 2004 for virtual communities. A typology is a descriptive structure, in this case used to explain all the virtual world variants. The one the authors looked at has five aspects:

1. purpose (content of interaction)
2. place (location of interaction)
3. platform (design of interaction)
4. population (participants in the interaction)
5 profit model (return on interaction)

The categories are broad enough that I’m struggling to find anything that wouldn’t fit the typology and the article comes to the conclusion that it’s particularly effective when applied to the history of virtual worlds:

We, thus, see that the five typology elements are useful for interpreting the historical
progression of electronic gaming and online social networking that ultimately led to virtual
Indeed, the five elements (purpose, place, platform, population, profit model) focus on
critical questions that journalists, marketers, and service providers are taught to ask: (1) For
what purpose? (2) Where? (3) How? (4) Who? and (5) How much?

The second use for the typology argued by the authors is in examining future uses of virtual worlds and in identifying research areas:

because of the growth of consumer participation in virtual worlds, firms will
need to learn to manage the utilization of these worlds for the following business decisions:
(1) Choosing in which worlds to promote, advertise or engage in other
(2) Selecting in which worlds to open e-commerce stores, e-government
activities, and virtual service offices;
(3) Choosing in which worlds to offer classes; and
(4) Choosing in which worlds to perform market research, such as focus
groups, surveys, and test markets.

It all may sound a little dry but its research and discussion like this that’s laying the foundation for the evolution of virtual worlds in mainstream society. The full article is well worth reading just for the historical perspective on virtual worlds.

What do you think? Does typology get your motor running or bore your socks off?

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