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May 21, 2011 / Omar J. Peters

Virtual Cities

Back in the late 1990s researchers proposed that a new type of city will materialize on the advent of the internet: Virtual Cities.

One piece, “Virtual Cities on the World-Wide Web: Towards a Virtual City Information System” from British researchers in 1997 describes Virtual Cities:

New towns and cities are springing up in cyberspace, constructed with digital bricks and mortar. These new electronic cities are popularly known as virtual cities, digital cities or cyber-cities. Many thousands of people are using these virtual cities to carry out everyday activities like shopping, relaxing and meeting friends.

“True” Virtual Cities are ones which are an effective digital equivalent of real cities, providing people with a genuine sense of walking around an urban place. To fulfil this demanding criteria a true virtual city must have a sufficiently realistic built form interface, a rich diversity of services, functions and information content, and crucially, the ability to support social interaction with other people.

The prospect of creating true virtual cities, with a real sense of urban life, that people can visit from anywhere in the world and at any time are tremendously exciting. Perhaps the virtual city will be the city for the 21st century!

Off-course virtual cities are not the cities of the 21st century (at least not yet) and there are no “true” virtual cities today. The online virtual world, Second Life may be the closest realization of that concept, but even that service has past it’s peak.

Today’s social networking services may be considered virtual cities, but in a less literal sense. Websites like Twitter, Facebook, Digg and LinkedIn have digital inhabitants that interact together as they would in a city through serendipity (as explored here). This type of virtual city is a community of minds thats redefining the “local.”


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