There's a new phrase around town -- "Augmented Reality."
For a period of time, Virtual Reality (VR) was the hot new thing. Folks could create avatars, pretend to be other people, and buy and sell 'virtual' goods. You know, fake stuff.
But alas, for most of us, there was just too much to get done in our daily lives to allow us to vanish into the 'virtual worlds' of Second Life or such.
But now the combination of the web and technologists seem to have found a way to bring the 'virtual' world of the web into the real world of our daily lives.
And shockingly - it's pretty darn helpful.
The new emerging buzzword and space is called Augmented Reality (AR) - and it is exactly what you might imagine. It is the power of the web layered magically over the world that makes up our real life existence.
Example - let's say you're hungry. You're standing at the corner of 7th Avenue and 29th Street in NYC. Hmm.. where to go? Well, with an application called Yelp on your smartphone, you can turn on a feature called "Monocle" and as you point the camera around the block,Yelp overlays user-reviews, ratings, information on the buildings and the street. Wow. That's really cool.
(UrbanSpoon has a product called Scope which does a neat job of this as well)
AR adds computer vision and object recognition to mobile technology - and provides what is pretty much a sci-fi version of the world around us - think "Minority Report" with your cell phone - today.
For iPhone 3GS owners in particular a new breed of "augmented reality" apps allow you to point your camera in any direction to see overlaid information on the video screen (similar to the imaginary line that TV stations add to the football field to help you understand the game). Cyclopedia, Wikitude World Browser, and Nearest Wiki all can do this.
Of course, the world of AR quickly will expand beyond information, and into the world of ideas - not all of them without controversy.
For example, if you download Wikitude and walk down by Lower Manhattan where the World Trade Centers once stood- the Wikitude browser will superimpose an image of the Trade Center buildings where they once stood.
As a memorial, says the founder of Wikitude who was in New York during 9/11.
Already the applications are growing fast - Bionic Eye on the iPhone is an app that includes fastfood resturaunts, hotels, even a subway stations for major cities in the US and abroad.
And it won't be long before the more absurd and frightening AR experiences will emerge. Imagine a Hollywood Star Map in AR, or a map of famous locations of notable grisly crimes, or historic WW II battle grounds, or imaginary playing fields for games.
The idea that the power of the web can be visually layered over the real world has huge potential. The blurring of the real and the virtual world is fraught with complexity.
But one thing is for certain, Augmented Reality is here to stay - and it's cool as heck.