Virtual worlds are the next Internet frontier. And one company is developing the next-generation technology to profit from them. Here's everything you need to know to stay ahead of the curve...

I've been writing about Multiverse (The Multiverse Network Inc.) for years. This Silicon Valley startup is, without question, one of the most exciting investment opportunities on our horizon. Last month, I'm happy to say, the company accomplished a major milestone on its path to IPO.

Multiverse has built, and continues to develop, an extraordinary software platform for both 2-D and 3-D interactive virtual worlds (VWs). The company is unique in that these rich virtual environments can exist entirely on remote servers.

Let me restate that in English. With little more than the software that comes loaded on a typical laptop, you can enter into one of Multiverse's realistic computer-generated environments and interact with others. Multiverse is unique in that it has optimized its platform to work with the fewest resources possible as well as the most tricked-out systems.

This means that a mobile device, such as an iPhone, Droid or netbook equipped to run Adobe Flash, provides the ability to access a Massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) or a corporate collaboration space.

The same VW could also be used simultaneously by someone in a completely immersive holodeck environment with haptic sensory-feedback systems.

The most obvious use of VW technology is gaming. The gaming industry is already bigger than the movie business and on track to soon surpass online music sales. Gaming generates more online revenue than any other form of content, including movies and news. Game revenues grew from $2.6 billion in 1996 to an estimated $44 billion today.

Though sales fell somewhat during 2009 due to the international economic downturn, sales have already begun to recover. Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are the fastest growing segment of the industry, at an estimated 25%, or $11 billion total. That's up from about $3 billion in 2005.

Everything about Multiverse's approach to serving this market has been brilliant. To begin with, the company gives away its platform, with programming tools, free of charge. This allows widespread and low-risk experimentation. It charges only for profitable uses of its technology. This is analogous, incidentally, to the game platform companies that distribute PlayStations and Xboxes as loss leaders, making their money in game and game licensing sales.

I know about this company, incidentally, because I consulted for Netscape in the seminal days of the Web. Back then, I got to know the key technologists behind the company that changed the world. To this day, most people don't understand the role Netscape played in the development of the Internet as it exists now. Just about everybody knows that Microsoft came late to the game and backwards-engineered Netscape's Web browser. Netscape, however, did far more than create the first user-friendly browser.

The company innovated all of the most important aspects of what we think of as the Internet. That includes interactivity, individualized Web pages and the ability to share, rather than just consume, media and data. Moreover, Netscape developed the security and privacy protocols that have made online commerce possible.

That's the reason I've always been interested in what the smartest of these people are doing. Multiverse, I'm convinced, has the greatest concentration of that original talent and vision. The most obvious evidence is the recent collaboration with Coke and McDonald's, launching promotional MMOGs in conjunction with Jim Cameron's new 3-D film Avatar.

Cameron, incidentally, is on Multiverse's board of advisers. Using Multiverse's Remix software, the digital models Cameron used to generate lifelike 3-D characters were converted into forms appropriate for games on various other computer platforms. Multiverse has, in fact, its own game development studio and expects to unveil revenue-generating games in 2010.

The company's clients are not limited to the game business, however. Though Multiverse has gone through only one round of angel venture capital funding, it already has major Fortune 50 corporations as well as military and intelligence agencies as clients. I am convinced, in fact, that the corporate market will be a far greater source of revenue than gaming in the long run. The reason is simple.

Training simulations are already an industry five times larger than the movie business. The unique Multiverse platform, designed for educational as well as entertainment purposes, lends itself readily to sales, customer support and other training regimens. Eventually, those sales and support simulations will become the real thing, bringing real human contact as well as advanced artificial intelligences to 3-D Web commerce.

The second major corporate use of VWs is in collaboration or conferencing. Users of these 3-D environments find the VWs extremely productive for meetings and collaborations. Without the cost or inconvenience of travel, participants can meet in computer-generated environments and see one another face to face. They can manipulate and present data in real-time from anywhere in the world while working as if they were in the same room.

Eventually, these VW tools will become common. Gartner, the preeminent IT research and consulting firm, predicts that the widespread implementation of VWs will be as big and profitable as the innovation of the Internet itself. I don't think there is any doubt that this is true.

Moreover, it looks more and more certain that the software that runs our holodecks will be written by Multiverse. I look forward, in fact, to meeting with you in a VW of our own. I also look forward to Multiverse's IPO, when I can give the buy recommendation for this world-changing and world-creating company.