Do Virtual Worlds know the way in San Jose?

[qi:020] First the good news: virtual worlds are experiencing their own dot com boom. Now the bad news: virtual worlds are experiencing their own dot com boom. Tomorrow and Thursday, the second Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo launches in San Jose; the first one went off last March in New York, when just nine worlds/MMOs were showcased. Six months later, thirty of them will be on hand, many you’ve probably never heard of, and if past history is any guide, just as many you’ll probably not hear much about, afterward.
Seven slated for the show are kid-oriented, including Zwinktopia, Gaia Online, and Habbo Hotel, all of which have been featured on GigaOM; with the continued growth of MMOs for minors, this isn’t surprising. But then, four of them are virtual worlds designed for enterprise solutions, including Forterra, Unisfair, Project Darkstar from Sun Microsystems, and something called VT&T, a stealth project from a team of developers formerly of AT&T.

Like the original dot com boom, the Expo is an awkward convergence of traditional media corporations like Disney (new owner of Club Penguin), MTV/Nickelodeon (announcing eight virtual worlds), and Turner (which recently bought partnered with Kaneva), scrappy start-ups like Metaplace and Ogoglio, and lumbering into the proceedings like they always have, Microsoft with Virtual Earth and an unknown MMO set to be announced there.

And if the last boom’s trajectory of hubris and greed is followed, most of these are destined for obscurity– or acquisition by their wiser superiors. While kid-oriented MMOs have the most active users and thus seem like the safest bet, for example, as FoundRead editor Carleen Hawn suggests, they’re also fragile ecosystems that can fall apart with too much outside interference and commercialism.

In any case, I’ll be there to appear on a panel, and looking for GigaOM stories to file from the scene. If you see me, be sure to say hi; and if you miss me at this virtual worlds conference, you can still look for me at the one in London, later this month.

Disclosure: My Second Life blog New World Notes is a “media partner” with the Expo.