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First of all, it signals something of a surrender; that the virtual environment just does not command compelling attention, and that it must – therefore – be placed somewhere that users and would-be-users are already focusing their attention. It implies that the MUVE (Multi-User Virtual Environment) isn’t shooting for the top spot in user attention, and is content to become a rider to something else.

I’ll get back to that point in a minute.

Some feel that the idea of embedability also implies simplicity, greater attention and accessibility. Let’s look at that notion.

How much simpler would it be? The answer is, actually, not very much, and perhaps not at all.

To download and install a standalone client/viewer requires a download, and a few mouse-clicks. About the same as any other software. While many people do find this a nearly insurmountable sort of barrier, plugging software into your browser can actually be quite a bit more complex than that.

If any support software that the user requires isn’t already installed in their Web browser, then those dependencies need to be downloaded or installed first. Just two components requiring downloads, installs, and browser restarts has already made the browser install more complex than installing standalone software.

Plus, complex software is best kept out of the browser (unless you’ve got a fantastic QA team), because you can crash the user’s browser with a bug in the addon software – and users don’t like that sort of thing at all.

As for the embedded viewer itself – unless you’re stripping client-features out, the user-interface really isn’t going to be any easier than a standalone installation – and a standalone installation probably has the added benefit of having a lot more screen real-estate to play with.

Finally, back to my original point on attention. The embedded viewer really only gets the users attention when it is visible – yes, you can say that of standalone viewers too, but what if it is buried in a tab? Or needs to signal a user? An embedded piece of software has somewhat fewer options in that regard.

The fact is, unless it is embedded on a page where a user is spending most of their actual time (eg: Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever page the cool kids spend the majority of their Web-browsing time looking at these days), the user’s attention is – frankly – going to be elsewhere most of the time.

If it’s not in front of their eyes and/or easily toggleable to and from, it’ll lay fallow until the user wonders why they’re using it at all. That makes the viewer second-place to whatever page it is embedded in, from an attention perspective. Of course, you could embed it on the provider’s own page – but I really wouldn’t expect that to work out.

The idea is a pretty decent one. A lightweight tool – integrated in the browser – where you can pop into your MUVE of choice, and do some tasks or chat to people when you’re not at your regular PC, or unable or unwilling – for whatever reason – to install the standalone software wherever it is that you are. I think that’s something most of us would find handy.

Handy, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that the overall experience is necessarily going to be better, easier or simpler than a standalone client installation. Perhaps what we need is a better range of lightweight standalone clients.

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