The coolest development in the 'Verse
uni-verse.org is a project foundation who will make it their business to affect the inevitable. The "inevitable" being the marriage of 3D Audio/Video immusive environements with Internet Protocol (IP). This is not a new concept, in fact, it's fair to say that most IT literate people would say it is inevitable.
The thing is, now is the time. All the planets are aligned. We have a mature planetwide IP infrastucture. We have cheap commodity 3D graphics and audio hardware. But most importantly, we have a market who is ready for it. Unless you have been hiding under a very large rock, you will have noticed that 3D gaming has matured into an advanced anomaly highly conversant with a large part of our population - and I don't mean nerdy "youngsters". I mean everyday PC owning folk who are now creating such a demand for interactive escapsit entertainment products, that it has the multi-billion dollar movie industry sitting up and paying very close attention.
The uni-verse project, a consortium of skilled industry experts, have positioned themselves to design and build the platform which will make the development of these future systems both economically viable and integrated. In order for this to happen, there need to be open standards and toolkits, and the Uni-Verse consortium aims to provide just that. They have a statement of deliverables which says so.
I don't think it is possible to overstate the implication of such a platform. Lets look at the impact of the World Wide Web ("You're soaking in it!"). Some guy came up with a system for distributing knowledge based on a the concept of "hyper-text" (computer assisted cross referencable text), a protocol running on existing (IP) network infastructure called HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) and an environment which allowed you to experience it (a web browser). I don't believe I need to connect the dots by pointing out the similarities (assuming you've read their about page). We also know the imact that the WWW has had on modern life.
The Uni-Verse system won't be designed to replace the distributed document system that is the World Wide Web - it will probably integrate with it*. However, I believe that the impact will be just as great assuming we're not plunged into a standards war (if say, MicroSoft came along and made a competeing closed source one and bundled it with their operating system (or xbox console) charging massive licence fees for developers to be able to build stuff for it - no, that would never happen...). In 10 years from now, it should be just as ubiquitis as the web is today.
Then there is the social aspect. The Web has achieved a massive impact on the very fabric of our culture after it achieved ubiquity. What the Uni-Verse project seems to be striving to do, is no less than creating an IP-based life-support system for human relationships. Gamers have been interactving with each other over the internet in ever expanding contexts, but the base context has been competition based - each multi-player application being a silo. With a more generalised protocol to build functionalities on top of, software applications** will no longer be siloed, and they will be free to explore contexts beyond competitions or business transactions.
Add to this equation ubiquity, and as they say, "the possibilities are limitless".
* I'm refering to the WWW as we know it (if that is ever possible). What can only be inaccurately refered to as Web 2.0 will be more than just document management, but wil bear similar paradigms to what is being discused at uni-verse. I'm speaking of the symantic web - RDF specifically. It would not surprise me in the least if the data management aspect of uni-verse is RDF based.
** Applications is probably a misleading term if we are to understand the approach the consortium is advocating.