Applications and Tools, Collaboration, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Across the World(s): Metaplace and Second Life Bring Interoperability To Life

Second Lifers talked to themselves today in Metaplace (or their Metaplace avatars talked to their ‘mains’ in SL) as Metaversatility hosted a cross-world event that was ostensibly about developments and trends from the recent Game Developers’ Conference, but which was also a significant test of having two versions of yourself in two different worlds at a time, or at the very least have a conversation that seamlessly bridged two environments.

Second Life, Metaplace, Cross-World Event

As Raph noted on his blog, a recent influx of Second Life residents to Metaplace has also led to interesting developments in cross-world communication. Of course, Raph had to point out that Metaplace scripting is like building with Lego or whatever, (and I’ll take his word for it. I can barely get a rotation script to work so I’m hardly a coder) but regardless, he makes a good point:

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that making such complex stuff in Metaplace is easy. Remote controlling an object from outside is not hard at all for a Metaplace world. After all, every object has a URL, and every object can interact with Web APIs as well… you get the idea, there’s a lot of possibilities there.

I have been sour on “virtual worlds standards” for a while, because it seems to me that trying to force all virtual worlds into a single mold at this stage of their development is a mistake, and pretty much all the VW “standards” efforts have tended to have too narrow a conception of the medium for my tastes.

But standards for bridging data — well, that’s easy and obvious! :) And most obviously, using the standards the web already has is the easiest way.

Interoperability is About the People Stoopid

The idea of meeting across such different virtual world spaces seems odd at first. Many of the initial Metaplace environments have more of a kid’s feel than anything, although the code allows for a great deal of variation – whether “flat” games, to text MUDs, to isometric environments.

For someone from Second Life the lack of avatar customization or a ‘true 3D’ experience (and, to an SLer, a disturbing lack of camera controls) can make Metaplace feel more game-like than world-like at first. But like any online environment, it quickly becomes less about the mechanics or appearance and more about the people.

Being able to bridge a meeting or discussion from one world to the next, (or in many cases, having avatars in two worlds who are able to speak to each other) hints at one possibility for interoperability – at least for communication and identity. While the coding geeks chatter away on MMOX (which has gone strangely quiet, or is at the very least going through a navel-gazing period as they try to reconcile, um, why they exist in the first place), we’re starting to see code arise from actual cases of people wanting to get stuff to connect. When interoperability tries to tackle content interoperability ahead of just letting people chat, they’re putting code ahead of use, and they’re putting both ahead of policy.

With interoperable chat, you have policy first, then use, then code, then standard.

These initial forays into cross-world communication may be looked back on as milestones. They’ll also be looked back on, I think, with a sense of “um, yeah, and what was so complicated about THAT” as we lose track of the fact that technologies and worlds didn’t always bridge so easily – but that when people want to connect, there will always be hacks, and that sometimes the hacks become the standard.

As these discussions and events gain traction, the question will increasingly become about “what do we want to talk about” and less about “how can we talk”, and when that happens the interesting work of community-building and shared stories can start to bridge worlds as well.


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