Cloud Party, a virtual world on FacebookIt looks like Facebook is winning this round: I wrote a few weeks ago for Wired about Facebook “killing” the virtual world, and was met by a great deal of skepticism about whether Facebook could become a meaningful platform for 3D social experiences (even though they’re already taking place in the Facebook-based game space). Now comes news from one of the skeptics (my friend James Au) that there’s a very Second Life-Like virtual world available on Facebook! It’s called Cloud Party, and it’s apparently not too shabby, though still early in development.

It will be interesting to see what kind of traction this gets. In large part, it will depend on how well integrated with Facebook it is. One of Second Life’s greatest failings was its complete inability to stay integrated with — or at times even aware of — what was happening on the Web. If Cloud Party can evolve to support people’s lives on the Web and on Facebook, it could be very interesting. If it attempts to create another hermetically sealed experience with no compelling reason to engage, it will languish.

More interesting still is the question of whether a 3D social environment like this can thrive on Facebook at all. Even if Cloud Party doesn’t prove a success, subsequent offerings might well do so. (It’s rarely the first mover who wins the day.) My off-the-cuff opinion is that it won’t work — at least, not until there’s some meaningful and widely appealing affordance offered that Facebook doesn’t include. In other words, I’m arguing for function over form here. Two things need to be in place for a 3D social space like this to flourish:

  • It needs to offer functionality that its platform or channel (be it Facebook or the Internet) doesn’t offer
  • That functionality needs to be something that a very large number of people want but aren’t currently able to obtain

I don’t buy the contention that 3D social interaction around user-generated content is that killer feature. So I’m scoring this round for Facebook once again.