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Online communities have existed since the inception of the World Wide Web, and before that, in the form of bulletin board systems. New technologies are making them much more advanced than the original text interfaces, creating virtual meeting places where users can congregate in a more personal atmosphere. These developments are popularizing online multi-user environments for business, entertainment, education, and recreation.An article that defines multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) is provided by the Education and Development Center (1). Although it is a bit dated, the information is still accurate and does a good job of explaining the uses of MUVEs, especially in educational settings. Microsoft Research's Social Computing Group (2) lists several implementations of three dimensional virtual worlds. With a wide range of applications in research and academia, the projects are briefly described, and links to most of their homepages are also given. An interesting perspective on the virtual economies of online games is given in a research paper from California State University (3). The author considers whether these games will effect real-world economies, since users can buy items in the virtual world with real money. A research project at Georgia Tech, called AquaMOOSE 3D (4), is a system that allows math students to interactively participate in a virtual world by experimenting with mathematical concepts. The software is freely available for download, as well as three research papers about the software's development and results. In a March 2003 interview with a Harvard professor of learning technology (5), the professor specifically addressed his work with Multi-User Virtual Environment Experimental Simulators (MUVEES). This technology allows students to collaboratively explore a virtual world and answer scientific questions based on what they observe. A link to the MUVEES project Web site is also given. The potential for using online virtual communities in business applications is explored in this issue of Release 1.0 (6). The author notes that advancements to multiplayer games are happening so quickly due, in part, to development done by the users of those games, which is essentially free to the company. This trend of open source cooperation could possibly be extended to the business world as well. A professor at Chicago's Loyola University is researching the social interactions of multiplayer games, and his viewpoints are expressed in this article from the BBC (7). He asserts that, despite the mindlessness that is often attributed to such games, there is a very complex process of communication and teamwork that is often ignored. Rather than simply being an entertaining retreat, the games could possibly have a positive effect on users. Lastly, a short research paper from Wichita State University (8) provides another look at conceptual learning via Collaborative Virtual Environments. The peer-to-peer dynamic of these worlds mimics in-person communication, but the author states that current systems are a long way from being perfect.
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