Virtual worlds are nothing new. Second Life blazed the trail and opened up people's eyes to the various uses of a virtual environment. Now virtual worlds may have gone mainstream, as we've noticed a serious trend that consists of meshing a virtual world on top of the Facebook social graph.
Turntable.fm, which we covered previously, was one of the most recent to hit it big with this trend, scoring millions in funding. Today Shaker, an Israeli startup, may have hit the jackpot as well. The startup launched at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference and took home the top prize, leaving some wondering, what's all the buzz about?
People have been hitting up bars and other fine establishments to meet and interact with people for centuries. Shaker just launched the first watering hole on Facebook in a virtual world, complete with “virtual” cocktails. The application offers you a controllable avatar that you can move around and interact with other Facebook users – just like on Sims or Second Life.
The application color codes everyone: Your friends are blue, friends of friends are yellow and total strangers are gray, so you can easily scout the room and find your friends. I wish real bars offered this friend finder functionality.
Once you find people you might want to talk to, you can join a conversation and chat with them. You can even buy them a drink if you like. Or, if you feel like busting a move, you can dance. While chatting, you can flip through the Facebook profiles of the people you are talking with, which helps you get to know mutual friends better.
The entire experience has a soundtrack that is supplied by SoundCloud and cannot be changed, but it can be paused or muted.
I spent a better part of an hour exploring Shaker's Loft tonight. It was packed, just like a party, and also offered some of the same experiences you might have at party in real-life. For example, there were very few women hanging out in Shaker. The ones I did get to talk to were open to talking with me, but I heard from other guys that they approached women to chat and then the chat room was instantly blocked or closed – similar to how they might have been shot down in a real bar.
I enjoyed my time chatting with a number of new people and a few people I already knew. At times, I felt like I was actually at a party, so I could definitely see Shaker catching on and becoming a huge hit. It could also turn Facebook into a pickup machine for people looking to meet new people to date, and the fact that Facebook uses real identities could keep all the riff-raff out of the chat rooms.
The risk, just like at any party, event or bar, is that there has to be some interesting people to talk to in the rooms or else people will bail – there's nothing more awkward than a party or bar with only one or two people there. That would just leave Shaker flat.