“What? You don’t have a web site? Is that possible? It’s only a small company. Does not matter! If you do not have a web site, you do not exist. Period!” This seems a plausible exchange in 2008. Yet no one could have imagined such a conversation as recently as 1980. Not to have a web site has simply become unthinkable. I think the same will soon be said about you or your organization’s Geo-Presence ; the description or model of yourself, your organization or some activity on the Virtual World. Note I did not say Google Earth or Virtual Earth. I will only use those words when I need to talk specifically about one or the other. Otherwise I will talk about Virtual World. This is in part, because I have no desire to curry favour or the opposition of either party, and partly because the issues of which I am going to talk, are more general than either product. Also in the long run I anticipate that there will be to all intents and purposes, but a single Virtual World, there being, after all, but one Real World.
So what might a GeoPresence look like? What might it behave like? Both the visual and behaviour terminology are apt. A GeoPresence might be thought of as a visual and behavioural representative for yourself or your organization, not in a complete world of fantasy such as Second Life, but in some sort of approximation of the real world; the Virtual World. Furthermore, we can expect that this GeoPresence will reflect you or your organization more or less in real time. If a private airplane lands at your county airstrip, we might expect to see this event in our Virtual World as it is happening. If the lake that supplies the cities drinking water is becoming polluted, we might expect to see values of fecal coliform or other such measures also.
More than just showing the world as it is in the present, we can also expect that the GeoPresence will portray the world as it can be expected to look at some point in the future, or as it may look. A mining company might for example, show an undeveloped mine site in the present and provide time dependent and animated scenarios showing the mine’s development and the later land reclamation and remediation of the site. Thus the whole life cycle of the mine might be part of the mine’s GeoPresence. Still more is in the offing. As the avatars of Second Life interact with one another, we can expect various types of interactions between the GeoPresence’s we create in the Virtual World, perhaps reflecting the real world legal infrastructure, and physical dynamics. Some of this is already explored territory in online gaming, so there is no reason to exclude it from the Virtual World. I might for example, create the GeoPresence for my house in such a way as to encroach on my neighbour’s lot. Seeing this, my neighbor might then take me to court in the real world, and obtain a ruling requiring that my GeoPresence be adjusted to reflect the legal reality.
The reflection of physical dynamics has even deeper implications. Today we are able to visualize the weather in our virtual world, and we can even overlay temperature predictions from climate models (see http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/1659/  ). The really interesting part will come when the climate models get enough input from the GeoPresence representations to compute the impact on the future. That will be interesting! Of course this is not restricted to climate modeling, nor is it restricted even to physical dynamics. Population dynamics and ecology can also play in a similar manner and there is no reason to exclude political dynamics either!Of course you will claim that I am living in a dream land, and many will agree with you. I think not. It is a matter of social change, and the global realization of the interconnectedness of things. We are increasingly a “global village” and the need for information transparency will become more and more evident with each passing year. This is thinking that challenges age old concerns for personal privacy, and more importantly the protection of elite individuals and elite societies. It thus will not come about in one fell stroke, nor can we look to a future in which the management of the world is transformed into some kind of Game of Perfect Information. Competition and negotiation will remain, however be cast as features of the Virtual World, with the boundaries between what is to be revealed, and what is to be hidden, significantly redrawn.
We need a Virtual World because it can help us develop consensus. Consensus on the state of the world – the state of our ecosystems – the state of our energy and food supplies – states on which everything else depends. Consensus on these issues is essential, because it is all of our actions in the real world that is transforming it, and only by transforming those actions can we hope to alter our course. It is a new reality indeed!