In the first wave of the big virtual worlds hype (which was a Second Life hype, actually) the canonical application for this new technology was "marketing" - maybe because marketeers are the ones, which just love new ways to reach the minds of customers (and the costs for some experiments in Second Life did not mean much in relationship to typical marketing budgets). They were disappointed after a while, when they discovered the size of their target groups, which they could reach through Second Life ... and the anti-hype began.
At the same time, quietly and steadily, another group of people began to discover virtual worlds. And actually, it seems as if at least in the "corporate world" there is a lot more immediate potential for a real ROI with applications in the context of intranets and education/training. The big advantage of virtual worlds, immersion, the feeling of being together with other people, no matter, where they are in the physical world, is extremely interesting for these application areas, too. That is not just a virtual worlds fanboy's opinion. IBM, Gartner, Forrester or McKinsey do agree.
So, while we might have to wait a few years until the global Metaverse appears, there will certainly quite a few Intraworlds around in the near future. I would like to define an Intraworld as follows:
Intraworlds are to virtual worlds what intranets are to the web. An Intraworld is a virtual world, which is accessible to the employees of one company. The server side of such a platform usually runs in the company’s own data center and the users access the world with PCs connected to these server(s) through the company’s LAN (or through a VPN connection). Additionally, an Intraworld is optimized for similar purposes as an intranet: communication, information sharing and general collaboration. Typical applications are meetings, conferences, presentations and sometimes training.
In a similar way you can define 'Extraworlds', too, of course.
The first products, which are optimized for this market, are Sun's Project Wonderland and Qwaq by a company of the same name. Both are intended to help companies set up their own Intraworlds. Qwaq is more of a packaged service offering (see here), while Project Wonderland is a real "tool kit" in a more technical sense. You can build a virtual world with it, but you can not simply "log in to" Project Wonderland. Sun has used Project Wonderland to create their own demo intraworld, already, which it calls MPK20.
I will be looking into both products in some detail in the coming weeks.