Second Life

On White Steeds They Ride: Cory and Philip’s Streamy Vision

We’ve seen a shift in the axis of the metaverse. With the launch of OnLive, “rich experiences” have reclaimed their place on the Web landscape after being pronounced dead by folks like Raph Koster. The conventional wisdom was that virtual worlds were over – MMOs and richly detailed worlds would sort of fade away, while clicking your mouse in Farmville would become the preoccupying pasttime of millions.

Now, I hardly think that the reported decline in social gaming on Facebook suggests we’ll tip back to World of Warcraft, but there’s enough room on the technology landscape for both: immersive experiences with rich content, and casual social games you can play in line at Starbucks.

OnLive changes the dynamic for console games and virtual worlds by putting all of the burden for rendering on the server: no download, instant access, pick your game up exactly where you left off, and with frame and response rates which are, by many accounts, close to console quality.

(OnLive is currently in Beta in the U.S. It will be interesting to see if they can tackle the many challenges of rolling it out globally, including to countries with metered access. It’s interesting to note their partnership with AT&T which would seem to indicate they’re working directly with ISPs to avoid bandwidth toggling).

Second Life Streaming
Mark Kingdon announced that their recent restructuring would allow Linden Lab to focus on a browser-based experience. Access to Second Life with NO download and NO plug-in. And what immediately occurred to me were two things.

First, there are reports that Linden Lab tested OnLive as a server-side rendering technology for Second Life. And the tests were impressive: you were able to access Second Life with no download and the frame rates were impressive. Theoretically, there’s no reason you couldn’t do all of the same things you do in Second Life – key map the same functionality of the viewer to an OnLive-type platform and you’re good to go.

I’d suspect, however, that the Lab might instead launch a ’simple access’ viewer – the same richness and functionality of Second Life but with the build tools stripped out.

But the second thing that occurred to me was that Linden Lab could have been the ones to invent OnLive.

The basis of Second Life was to conquer the concept of real-time streaming of 3D digital data. Philip’s background as the founder of FreeVue and as CTO of RealNetworks gave him the background to understand how content was being streamed in the days when getting a video to play without stuttering was a feat in itself. With Cory Ondrejka at his side, he was able to build a platform where multiple people could view the same content at the same time and to tackle the challenge of that content being both 3-dimensional and EDITABLE.

And if I was to take a bet today on how to get Second Life into the browser, my bet would be on bringing brains like Cory and Philip to the task of mapping where Second Life is at, to the macro trends of server-side rendering, WebGL, HTML-5, mobile platforms, and device/controller developments (including surface computing).

Cory and Philip Together Again?
Sure, it’s idle speculation. But I couldn’t help wondering whether reports by New World Notes about management changes at Linden Lab don’t rely to some degree on Hamlet’s relationship with Cory. By stating that he was looking for confirmation inside Linden Lab, he seemed to be indicating that his source was external.

But that’s just wild, back-of-the-napkin speculation. Right?

It’s a fun exercise to imagine that regardless of any speculative changes at Linden Lab, Philip and Cory might dust themselves off, go out for a Chai Latte, patch up the old differences, and then go off on some wild technical discussion on what they’d do to advance the Second Life platform. Maybe they roam the halls as consultants or something. Maybe someone sets them up in a back corner where QA used to be. Who knows.

Frankly, I’m of the belief that Philip turned over the reins because he was, well, tired out. The pressures from his board, of running a complex enterprise, and of losing the feeling of being a garage company doing cool, nifty stuff might have gotten to him a little. Whether the timing was right for Second Life to move from being a “frontier” to being something managed, channeled and commercially packaged will be a story for history I suppose….we’re too close to it to be looking back.

Now, there was some bad blood I think between Cory and Philip, but who knows. I mean, by Cory’s own accounts he received his notice by, um, e-mail. Which I guess is a kind of management in the cloud. But time heals wounds, and Cory has tasted the corporate life over at EMI, which barely merits a mention in the various bios he has posted with, for example, the Washington Speakers Bureau.

So keep an eye – because the folks who allowed us to stream our dreams could quite conceivably be back at it again, as they take another kick at invigorating that spark between technology and creativity, towards bringing Your World and Imagination in line with the next generation of technology, while they take the reins back from a board that declared the frontier days over before they had even been settled.


speak up

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site.

Subscribe to these comments.

*Required Fields

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.