The kitchen I designed in Second Life last summer now exists in real life. I did most of the work before I went to the Austin Game Conference, but we had to move our 500+ plus CDs out of the way before we could install the gas plumbing and the cooker - the conversion of our kitchen from bits to atoms was held up by the conversion of our music from atoms to bits. Thankfully our music now exists as a collection of bits on a hard drive leaving room for more atoms in the living room.
In the end after designing the kitchen in Second Life I had to take a notebook of measurements to physical shops to buy most of the parts for the real kitchen, but all of the cupboard doors were ordered over the Internet and effectively 3D printed based on measurements copied out of Second Life prims and pasted in to a web page. It's easy to see how this could be taken further, kitchen suppliers could provide scripted modifiable models of their products which could be stretched and squashed in to the correct shapes and which automatically sent their final dimensions to the supplier for fabrication and delivery. All of the technology to do this exists in Second Life today.
I think the project also serves as a useful concrete example which sheds some light on some of the ephemeral issues surrounding Web 3.D, the Metaverse Roadmap and Overlay Worlds versus Mirror Worlds versus virtual worlds.
First, this project was fundamentally 3D. Although virtual world veterans quite rightly point out that a lot of what we do gains nothing from 3D, there are things that people do, like designing and building kitchens, that really are 3D and would really benefit from a 3D web.
I used a 2D planning tool before I turned to Second Life and it gave me little idea what the finished product would look like. Sharing plans or elevations on a 2D Web 2.0 app wouldn't have been anywhere near as useful as sharing the design in 3D with other people in Second Life. Designing the waste plumbing for the sink was one of the toughest 3D jigsaws I've had to solve. There are people who do things other than read and write blogs. There are activities that are better done in 3D.
The experience also demonstrated the utility of Mirror Worlds: virtual worlds designed to mirror the objects and locations in the real world sometimes seen as the poor cousins of either Augmented Realities, which annotate the real world with information or fantasy virtual worlds which exist as entertaining escapes from the real world. By building the kitchen in a virtual world I was able to extensively change it to create a speculative alternate reality and share my plans with others. The goal was not to simply annotate reality but to model it and mutate it to plan a possible future.
The shared virtual Mirror World also allowed me to show my family around the proposed kitchen without them having to come to Nottingham. In the near future I might decide to turn my laptop in to a Mixed Reality Boundary and hold a mixed reality party in the kitchen (the best parties are always in the kitchen). This model has already been used successfully by Electric Sheep, SLCC and recently Radio 1 to create virtual overflow mirror worlds which allow people attend real world events virtually when they can't attend physically.
The project also shows why mirror worlds should model the entire world rather than selected parts of it. As Second Life is mostly a traditional escapist virtual world my micro Mirror World kitchen exists as a tiny bubble of alternate reality in an arbitrary corner of the Linden Village in Ambleside. If I could just have gone to the appropriate place in a complete mirror of earth I could have started with a standard model of my house, made my modifications there and seen how my kitchen fitted in with the view out of my mirror world window. It's very unlikely that my little house in Sherwood would appear in a mirror world that selectively modeled the real world. Most people would never visit and my virtual next door neighbour might be miles away, but my house should exist so I can undertake projects like this. In a world where space is cheap and everyone can teleport, who cares?
I'm sure there will be lots more experimentation with mixed realities and mirror worlds in the near future, especially with Google now building virtual worlds. In the meantime I'm glad I finally have a finished kitchen. Building a virtual kitchen in Second Life was useful and lots of fun, but a meatspace kitchen is better for cooking meat.
Below: Old Virtual Kitchen, New Virtual Kitchen, Meatspace Kitchen.