Mike Arrington did a good overview post this past weekend entitled Play A Multiplayer Online Game While Surfing The Web about O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures‘ portfolio company GameLayers, whose first product, a “game” called PMOG, is due out of private beta in a few weeks.
In this post, I want to connect what GameLayers is doing to the theme I wrote about the other day, augmented reality. A key concept that we all need to wrap our head around is the idea of multiple information layers. The narrow view of augmented reality is the overlay of generated images onto, say, a real-time video stream, but I think of it as any technique that creates additional layers of information on top of the primary layer we’re interacting with. Google Maps’ blended view with street lines overlaid on satellite imagery is thus a kind of primitive augmented reality. Adding 3D images of buildings would be a further augmentation. As would being able to twitch sideways to a view of data about the companies or people residing in those buildings, or downwards to view the subsurface infrastructure of sewers, water pipes and cable runs.
Taken in this broad sense, now consider what GameLayers is doing. Via a Firefox plug-in, they provide a platform for building additional layers across websites. As Michael explains, this could be used to create virtual tours of related sites, quests and other game-like activities, all happening on a layer that is invisible to many of the people coming to those sites, but all too real to those inhabiting the shared consensus reality of the new layer.
GameLayers is thus a bold experiment in searching out new possibilities in cyberspace. We invested in the company because of the long view that the web is only the first level of electronic augmentation of the world we live in. There are many more levels to be built, until, as Wallace Stevens said:
One might have thought of sight, but who could think
Of what it sees, for all the ill it sees?
Speech found the ear, for all the evil sound,
But the dark italics it could not propound.
And out of what sees and hears and out
Of what one feels, who could have thought to make
So many selves, so many sensuous worlds,
As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming
With the metaphysical changes that occur,
Merely in living as and where we live.