Don't Believe In Google's 'My World'

Speculation about Google’s potential new virtual world is a case study in how rumors build in the overheated echo chamber of the Internet.


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Posted September 26, 2007

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

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Everybody's talking about Google's secret "My World" project, a cross between the virtual environment Second Life, and the social network Facebook.

Like Second Life, “My World” would let you create a cute, cartoonish avatar version of yourself, build and furnish a virtual home, play games, see the avatars of and chat with friends, and see lots of virtual advertising. But instead of a fictional virtual space, “My World” would use the real world – via Google Earth.

Sounds awesome. Unfortunately, what we know about the “My World” project is made up from what Google might call a "mashup" of sketchy facts, speculation and wishful thinking. Let's have a look.


Exhibit A: A MacRumors post from someone claiming to be an Arizona State University (ASU) student links to two screenshots of a survey. The screens appear to show a selection process for students to take part in the beta testing of a secret "new product" named or code-named "My World" from a "major Internet company" that will be "publicly launched later this year." The survey asks, "Are you into 3D modeling, videogaming, etc. Do you have a virtual avatar?" It asks if students how much time they spend on major social networking sites. Another question asks if they have a Gmail account and, if not, would they be willing to use one. Google is not named, but has existing and extensive projects and relationships with ASU.

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Exhibit B: GigaOM blogged the following on January 26: "Sources in China say that Google has teamed up with a Chinese company to develop the 'virtual people' or avatars." The blog also reported that "Our sources say that Google is working with a team of engineers who used to be key developers for There.com." (There.com is a virtual environment like Second Life.)

Exhibit C: The blog Techcrunch reported September 21 that "industry luminaries" met at the Googleplex recently to talk about the "Facebook issue." The post said Google would announce November 5 a new set of APIs that would enable developers to "leverage Google's social graph data" (starting with Google's social network, Orkut).

So these are the facts. None are conclusive. One is based on a single anonymous post. Two are based purely on the unnamed sources of two blogs.

There’s no evidence that these “facts” are true, or even related in any way.

Speculation and Wishful Thinking

Google has developed or acquired a huge portfolio of companies, products and services in recent years, including AdScape, an in-game advertising company; Dodgeball, a Maps-oriented cell phone social networking service; Sketchup, a tool for building 3-D objects on top of Google Earth; Socialstream, a Carnegie Mellon University research project sponsored by Google designed to extend Orkut personal content to other social networks.

Because Google controls all these projects, the wild-eyed speculation is that Google will combine some or all of them into a giant new service. For example, the ASU “My World” project might involve leveraging Google Earth to serve as the virtual environment for people to build homes and objects using Sketchup, which will be tied into Socialstream and Orkut, accessible on your phone via Dodgeball and all paid for by Adscape ad revenues.

But it’s all just guesswork.

Next page: It gets pretty strange...

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