Most of today’s virtual worlds are set in mythical places, with landmarks that no newcomer would be familiar with. While this may suit most people just fine, it can be unsettling for those who have never been exposed to a virtual world. Today sees the launch of Journeys, a mashup that hopes to appeal to these users by leveraging Flickr and Yahoo Maps APIs to create what it calls a “virtual world based on real Earth”.
Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to Journeys (though the same could be said of nearly every virtual world). Users can fly around the world to a handful of destinations, including the Louvre, New York’s Central Park, and the Golden Gate Bridge. After landing, they can chat with their friends in front of their favorite landmarks. And, in a somewhat bizarre twist, their avatars will continue to travel the world and meet people while they’re logged off, sending an email digest of its daily activities (I couldn’t see this in action because nobody was logged in when I tested the site, but I can’t imagine it working well).
Besides its social aspect, Journeys also aspires to be a basic travel guide. When users fly to the dozens of cities littering the world, where they can get a brief synopsis of each locale. Unfortunately, the amount of information is very limited, and serious travelers will likely look elsewhere for their travel guides. Founder Guy Bendov says that the site is still a work in progress, and that many of the features including sharing trips, missions, and games are on the way.
I could see Journeys appealing to someone like my mother, who hasn’t been exposed to many social worlds and would love to log on and tell me to meet her at the Louvre in five minutes. But because of its extremely barebones feature set, Journeys is going to have a tough time competing with well-established virtual worlds like Second Life – even Google hasn’t been able to compete with the established players, as its recently launched world Lively has been a flop.