Dusan Writer's Metaverse http://dusanwriter.com Creativity, business, collaboration, and identity in the metaverse. Tue, 09 Sep 2008 13:48:28 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.5 en Help Extend Second Life to the Web http://dusanwriter.com/?p=898 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=898#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2008 01:28:39 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=898 Think that the Grid shouldn’t be a closed off “place”? Wish it was integrated into the wider Web? Well the Lab has a job for you:

Linden Lab is looking for talented, creative web developers to extend the Second Life platform to the Web. We are looking for someone who has experience developing web-based products and services both internal to a medium-size company, and external to a customer base of tens of millions, with an eye towards scalable, internationalized solutions. We are a small team with an important long-term mission, so we work hard to keep our workload reasonable.

(Reasonable workload refers, I think, to doing whatever you want from the JIRA list and playing Foozball in the afternoons, but I’m not sure.)

OpenSim Developers: They Don’t Bite http://dusanwriter.com/?p=897 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=897#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2008 17:28:02 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=897 The open source community says that standards arise first from code. Without the code driving things, there are no policies, standards, identity systems, content protection, or ability to tag and flag grids for their level of privacy or whether they’re G or X-rated or any of that stuff - it all starts from bytes, baby, and what brilliant little bytes they are.

OK, so some context, because the geeks had their own table at the recent Virtual World conference in LA. Two tables in fact - one a booth in the exhibit hall, and the second a panel discussion on the main agenda, unfortunately slotted in the last spot on the last day but well-attended.

The panel was facilitated by Tish Shute of UgoTrade and included Ubergeek Adam Frisby of Deep Think, Mic Bowman of Intel (who, Trish took great pains to tell everyone “has actually written code” as if the writing of code was a critical entry pass to even be ON a panel like this), David Levine of IBM (Zha Ewry in SL), Justin-Clark Casey who’s currently ‘unemployed’ but is about to start work on the Fashion Research Institute project, and Mike Mazur working with 3Di in Japan (and who had that endearing Japanese way of giving you his business card).

Super Geeks

Now, before I go on, I should say that I use the word “geek” in the most endearing possible way. This being an open source discussion, I’ll rely on the open source Wikipedia and choose one of their definitions of geek (leave it to Wikipedia, by the way, to point out that we can all join in the celebrations of Nerd Pride Day on May 26th in Spain…I didn’t know there was such a day and I really didn’t know that Spain was such a hot bed):

“A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest.”

In fact, these aren’t your usual geeks. These are super geeks. Brilliant people who live in that netherworld of code and deep thought and IRC channels that put the SL forums to shame with a kind of rough-and-tumble energy and, well, geekiness.

OpenSim Booth Babes Photo by way of Adam Frisby

And I mention the fact that these are super geeks because, well, I’m not. Or maybe I’m just a geek in whatever way a non-coder can be a geek, but it’s a tough call because I can get intense sometimes but I don’t have much depth and I don’t have a particular subject of interest, in fact my attention span is that of a gnat, so I was thankful that the session on “open source and virtual worlds” was kept on schedule, because an hour is really pushing my ability to pay attention.

What They Said
OK - so, you can see what’s happened here. I have a point but it takes me 30 minutes to get to it. With the VW panel on the other hand, they get to the point, and they arrive at it with the ruthless efficiency that only bright minds can. But because of that efficiency - and you know what I mean if you know any geeks, sometimes the message gets a little lost in translation, it gets lost in words like “extensible” and my favorite new phrase “computational fabrics” and the fact that for some reason, and I don’t think it’s because it was a public forum, these folks TALK really fast which makes it all a bit of a blur.

Now…thank goodness for Tish from UgoTrade who managed to bring some structure and purpose to the conversation - plus, she talks at a speed I can follow.

And this is important: because I think that lost in all the code talk is a message that I can buy into, or at least understand, but the thing with people with passion is that they can be SO passionate, and they can get SO excited about how OpenSim is a “tight kernel” (whatever the heck that is), that you sort of lose track of what they’re getting at. So I can only give a kind of impressionist take on half of what was said, or at least what they intended to say, although frankly I might be making some stuff up here as well.

OK, so here’s what was said in a very broad, general way:

- OpenSim is driving innovation for virtual worlds (being a VW conference, they assume I guess that everyone believes that virtual worlds are important)
- Open source is better because it helps to establish standards, a code base, and that innovation thing again
- Insert lots of code-type structural talk here such as “modular components” and “browser neutral” and all that. They SORT of made a connection between why this was important and examples, but they kept getting side-tracked.
- Justin Clark-Casey for example is doing some really interesting stuff, but he merely touched on it without really explaining why it’s an example of why OpenSim is important.
- Likewise Mike started to talk about what they’re doing at 3Di which is also interesting stuff - for example, a browser-based client, one that WORKS (mostly), load balancing so that you can exceed avatar limits and reduce lag, things like that. But he got side-tracked on some codey discussion of some sort.
- OpenSim will work because there’s lots of people, well, working on it….and they’re very smart people, and some of them are adults (which doesn’t make them smarter, it just means they have IBM and Intel on their cards)
- Standards will be a critical component of OpenSim IN ADDITION to open source code, although the point got somewhat lost in explaining the technical stuff about how OpenSim is coding a very granular list…something about “disaggregating architecture” and “articulating boundaries between modules”.
- Policy will arise from all this coding.
- And, oh….the OpenSim development community “doesn’t bite”, according to David Levine.

What I Think They Meant
So I went back to my hotel room and sorted through everything and had two feelings: one, that I was highly impressed, and two, what I heard and what they were saying were, I think, two different things, especially when it comes to standards and policy.

Now admittedly, this was a panel discussion, not a presentation. Which means it had permission to meander a little. To get lost down little side roads and to use words like “articulating boundaries” and “expressing virtual worlds across various computational fabrics” (huh? You mean use it anywhere?) and “decomposing virtual world activities in order to create innovation ecosystems”.

So here’s my own version:

OpenSim is a large group of very smart people that may have used Second Life as its jumping off point, but that has moved well beyond that. OpenSim has broken down all the stuff you DO in virtual worlds: how your avatar appears, how architecture and objects rez, how identity is managed, how the viewer works.

By breaking it down into the smallest possible “chunks” it means that you can create your own “world” out of whatever Lego blocks you want - prefer mesh to prims? Go ahead! Want to integrate with enterprise systems like Lotus? Go ahead! IBM already has! Want to prototype fashion and then turn it into real life clothes - fantastic! That’s what we’re doing already!

Now - if people can make their own “worlds” (or virtual environments) in any way they please, that means that it will give people more options - and more options are better, it will mean more metaverse for everyone, it will mean you can use it for more things, and you won’t be limited by whatever business models and code the “closed worlds” like Second Life restrict you to, and thus through innovation and a robust community we’ll see a more ubiquitous technology.

(Hmm…I take back the word ubiquitous, sounds too geeky. How about “we’ll see virtual worlds everywhere…work, home and play.”)

Are Standards the Same as Policy?

Now, I made a mistake, because I was curious about this very clear and, hmmm, entrenched view they seemed to present. The one that says “standards arise from code”. And maybe I don’t understand the difference between standards and policy - or how the code will enable policy, in any case, and so I asked a question about this philosophy comparing it to e-mail.

Because e-mail, I said, doesn’t really “work”. Which of course elicited one of those quick technical briefings about how e-mail actually does “work” including something about protocols or something, but my point wasn’t that you don’t GET or have the ability to SEND e-mail, my point was that e-mail is a standard that TECHNICALLY works but that wasn’t developed with some thought as to identity POLICIES which, if it had been, might be a solution for all this spam I wade through every morning.

And sure, e-mail came out 100 years ago before anyone dreamed of spam. But my point was, how do we avoid similar mistakes, and the response was that without the mechanisms FIRST, you shouldn’t really bother with policy discussions because standards should never arise from the top down, they should always arise from the code up, anything else is, hmm, Betamax I guess?

See….we have a communication issue here. And it’s really my point about them being geeks and me not being geeky. Because the immediate response is “No, there’s only one way to do this that will work” rather than, you know, showing that you can relate to the kitchen table issues of the common user, and you can do that Bill Clinton thing and say “I feel your pain” and then show that you actually DO get it and trust me, we’re not oblivious to these issues, which is what they WERE saying just not in a way that seemed particularly reassuring.

Levine said something for example about needing to create some sort of “Grid entry” panel so that before you teleport into one of these mini OpenSim grids you’d know what their policies are or whether the content is X-rated or what the dress code is (funny what they give as examples, I’m more worried about privacy and content protection than strip clubs). So, it’s not like they don’t understand the issue, it’s that they figure it’s better to get the code base up and running and then start testing policy and standards AGAINST the code instead of bothering with it ahead of time.

And you know - maybe that’s fine. Because I think what they’re really saying is the following:

Standards and policy arise when the code is tested against the “real world” applications of the code - because if it can’t be used in a way that won’t piss people off, then it won’t reach that “innovation/ubiquity” thing which is the promise of all this open code.

And thus, we’re invited to join the community - whether as coders or investors or hosts of our own mini sims. And Levine tells us not to worry, because the OpenSim development community “doesn’t bite” which is a slightly different pitch than “they don’t bite, and in fact WANT to work with people who not only want to test the code, but also the models and standards and policies that could arise from it”.

Innovation and Parallel Policy

In all fairness, again - the panel made these points. But they always start with what the code makes possible. And I understand that now - I understand that until you’ve sorted out all the granular bits of Lego that you’re not ready to have an intelligent conversation about policy - as Mic Bowman of Intel said (I think it was him) “You get the mechanisms in place first and then run policy in parallel” and others noted that social models, role transparency and trust were significant issues that would need to be addressed.

Whether decisions are being made at the granular level that will later restrict the range of policy I have no idea - I’m not a geek. And where the forums will be for testing various notions of standards and policy is somewhat unclear.

Maybe it’s time to find a geek and get him to code up some different permission systems or something - if that’s the case, let me know, I’ll fund it.

In the meantime I’ll say again - I may not have understood half of it, but compared to pretty much everything else on display at the VW conference, OpenSim is the true heart of innovation in virtual worlds today. Long live the geeks.

Virtual Goods Worthless? Now wait a minute… http://dusanwriter.com/?p=896 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=896#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2008 02:42:32 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=896 Cyndy Aleo-Carreira, a contributor to the Industry Standard, writes a pretty spot-on refutation of her colleague Jordan Golson’s claim that the volume of virtual goods sold on Facebook and its ilk will not be a serious contender to advertising revenue.

Aleo-Carreira cites the example of Electronic Arts, who gave up the battle against the pirating of its FIFA soccer game in South Korea and chose to give it away online for free. Rather than making EA’s bottom line suffer, this hurt the pirateers tenfold, and the company started to sell online customizations like outfits and enhancements starting at $1.60 a pop. It goes without saying that this was a successful gambit.

She says that online gaming is the place to look for models where people will pay for content. She also argues that the cheaper the goods (for example, $0.99 songs on iTunes and elsewhere) the less time a consumer will give thinking about purchasing. She calls these micropayments, and writes that, as small as they are,

Any money coming in is a good thing, and it’s fairly safe to assume that companies like Google (and Facebook) are looking beyond the typical CPM-dependent ad revenue model to alternate methods of collecting those nickels and dimes consumers aren’t afraid of dropping, even in a faltering economy.

SLim Client for Second Life to Open Up Code http://dusanwriter.com/?p=894 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=894#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2008 17:21:30 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=894 The new SLim chat client for Second Life may have hit the streets too early but having seen it at VW08 and talked to the Vivox folks, I think it has more in store than the initial “so what” impression.

In discussions at VW08, Vivox indicated that in addition to being able to sort friends, access group list and notices, and provision of group chat and conferencing, future versions of the SLim client might include integration with other chat clients.

Now, Vivox has announced an Open Initiative to drive innovation, and the SLim client will be the first to benefit from releasing parts of the code to drive innovation. According to the press release:

“By opening its code and network, the Vivox Open Initiative will expand the reach of communications in and out of online games and virtual worlds while accelerating the development of new and innovative features.”

Second Life will be the first beneficiary:

In the first phase, launching today, Vivox will provide the object code for SL Voice, the Second Life voice chat client. By the end of the year, Vivox will open APIs to third party technology providers. Soon thereafter, Vivox will open up source code to the client side SDK.

“Input from the communities that we serve is invaluable to furthering Vivox’s vision of ubiquitous and immersive online communications,” said Jim Toga, founder and vice president engineering of Vivox. “Like many other open source and partner initiatives, we hope that engaging with the community in this manner will generate tremendous creative content and solid improvements for everyone. We look forward to extending the value, performance, and ease of integration of Vivox voice chat with the gaming and virtual world communities”

What’s unclear, because I have no idea what “object code” means, is whether this will allow Vivox to integrate with other chat platforms. But the fact that it will be opened up for community-led innovation is a big tick in the plus column for the new SLim chat client.

More information on the Open Initiative is available including an FAQ page which clarifies its use:

What exactly is Vivox making available?
At this stage we are allowing free download of binary object code for Vivox client-side software. This software allows the Second Life viewer to interact with Vivox servers in order to provide voice services.

Why is the source code not made open and free?
Vivox software includes proprietary third party products. Our license terms for these products do not allow distribution of their source code. However, we are working on restructuring our source code so that these components can be left out for distribution, and later developed or licensed out by the open source community.

When will more code be available?
Vivox engineers are working on code improvements and modifications that will enable the open source community to improve or change existing functionality. We will update the community as this develops and more becomes available.

Unit 13: Architecture, Mixed Reality, Second Life Machinima http://dusanwriter.com/?p=892 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=892#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2008 16:24:34 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=892

IBM and Business Collaboration in Virtual Worlds http://dusanwriter.com/?p=891 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=891#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2008 16:09:55 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=891 IBM presented a demo at the VW08 conference of integration between Sametime Instant Messaging, user authentication, and virtual meeting spaces. The following video shows it in action, and it’s a very compelling demo of how virtual worlds and collaborative applications like LotusNotes will integrate.

Virtual worlds not as destinations for collaborations, but as mini applications built within collaboration processes. Brilliant work.

It’s a Webby Virtuality: Future of Browser-Based Worlds http://dusanwriter.com/?p=888 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=888#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2008 15:57:43 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=888 How should the Web and virtual worlds interoperate? What’s the role of Flash-based efforts? Mitch Olson of SmallWorlds, Keith McCurdy of Vivaty, Daniel James of Three Rings (makers of Puzzle Pirates), Sean Ryan of Meez were led through a discussion of the integration of the Web and virtual worlds by Giff Constable of ESC at this week’s virtual world conference.

The panel kicked off by discussing the difference between 2.5D and 3D, noting the range of implementation within 2.5D. The motivation for launching a 2.5D game is primarily driven on the lack of friction between the user and experience. Plug-ins, installs, client downloads are all barriers to adoption.

If There’s a Download You’re a Science Project

Sean Ryan of Meez claimed that plug-ins or downloads mean “You’re dead, a science project.” Only Flash or Java are, well, anything other than science projects. So first is whether there’s a download, and then there’s the question of whether the environment should be in 2.5D or 3D which is also incredibly difficult to execute, something to do with cameras getting lost.

Daniel James claimed that 3D graphics are not relevant because immersion happens in the head not on the screen. He noted again the issue of plug-ins and downloads and that 95% of Puzzle Pirate users are lost when the Java security “button” pops up.

Vivaty on the other hand claimed a 50% conversion rate in spite being a downloaded application, although commented that it might be the demographic or the early adoption curve.

Virtual Environments and Social Networks

Vivaty is based on the value proposition of the idea that you want to be in virtual worlds with your friends, thus the integration with Facebook and the ability to upload content into your scenes. The adoption of Vivaty is thus made easier because it can both leverage your social network and content.

James, coming from a gaming background, comes from the perspective of providing a fantasy, which implies not connecting it with your ‘real life’. The co-mingling of a game environment with ‘real life’ social circles isn’t a given, in his perspective.

SmallWorlds sees social gaming as a key driver, however. Social networks offer a way to complement synchronous experiences with asynchronous connections with your friends.

Aggregate Eyeballs
Browser-based worlds were still a major theme at the Virtual Worlds conference. But somehow, not as much as the previous one in New York. And I think there’s a reason - because while browser-based worlds are purposefully designed to overcome the friction point between the user and actually being IN an environment, that’s based on the premise that it’s the world builder who’s attracting users rather than users being attracted to a world.

Most of the browser-based worlds are based on a 1998-type premise: build it, they will come, get enough of them and you’ll eventually make lots of money.

I remember being pitched once on the idea of launching a Web portal. It was all about eyeballs, I was told: if you could aggregate enough content, spoon feed people streams of information, then eventually you could convert all those eyeballs into money.

And now we have browser worlds where it’s not the fact that it’s in a browser that’s at issue: it’s what’s there when you arrive and the philosophy on which they’re built. More than one of the panelists called their worlds “entertainments”. And SmallWorlds certainly is just that - well, first, it’s hardly a world, it’s a bunch of cartoon lobbies where the avatars sort of float there and send chat bubbles to each other but really it’s a “game portal” - we’re supposed to get hyped up by playing fancy versions of tic tac toe I guess.

Browser-based worlds don’t add anything significant to the 2D Web. They give us games. They let us chat. Of the panelists, only Vivaty truly offers something significantly different, which is in the ability to display Web-based content like your Facebook profile stuff, and then to integrate that with your friends list or whatever.

So long as browser-based worlds are built mainly on the premise of entertaining, they’re media properties not worlds. And there’s nothing wrong with media properties, it’s just that it’s very expensive to keep people entertained with the off-chance hope that in entertaining them they create social bonds with each other because you’ve built rooms around the entertainment.

Puzzle Pirates is great, but already they’re needing to shift to a newer product because you get bored. You want to move on. You’ve created some friendships but they don’t last forever - your Warcraft raiding party of yesteryear is your Conan tribe or whatever of today. And that’s fine, there can be money in that…but worlds? We’ll see - in the fight for eyeballs, people are bringing the same media models that have always been attractive to venture capitalists, maybe, but that have a hard time gaining long-term traction with users.

Quick Link: Second Life Patient Demo http://dusanwriter.com/?p=879 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=879#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2008 15:45:38 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=879 Kathleen Rose at Resilient Ambassadors of Change wrote a short entry about a Second Life demo she recently attended, where a group of avatars tended to an avatar that had been thrown from his (virtual) motorcycle.

Some very interesting conclusions in the post about real-world, ER-type collaboration here. The group pokes and prods at the still body, as the crashed-avatar, who is available to communicate via text, is able to tell the group what he is feeling. The group then administered ibuprofen to the patient and then placed him on a backboard, ready for transport by an ambulance, which, sadly, the group neglected to have with them.

In the same post, Rose provides links to some other current patient demos of varying quality.

Communications Expert Vouches for 3D Web http://dusanwriter.com/?p=884 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=884#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2008 15:28:10 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=884 Shel Holtz, who has been in corporate communications for 30 years, recently wrote a post expressing enthusiasm for the coming 3D Web.

Holtz recognized the marketing failures in Second Life from the past few years, but rather than dwell on the negative, he writes about the many organizations and individuals that continue to use Second Life for innovative means: a toy designer, an architecture team, a video display company, and a people mover company. He also cites a Business Week article that outlines various startups and entrepreneurs in SL.

Holtz then concludes with some sage advice for companies:

Don’t ignore virtual worlds; you’ll be living in one soon enough. Buying into the shrug-off so many others have given Second Life will keep you from helping your company prepare for the inevitable 3D web.

Even in VWs, Teens can get credit cards http://dusanwriter.com/?p=889 http://dusanwriter.com/?p=889#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2008 15:27:23 +0000 Dusan http://dusanwriter.com/?p=889 Experian, one of the world’s leading providers of financial service and assistance, has teamed up with the 3D-game application developer Caspian Learning to create Creditability in Britain.

This serious game for teens takes aim at educating them on, hmmm, racking up debt I guess. Creditability walks teenagers through the various stages of financial management. Using a virtual environment, kids can learn about money, borrowing, and spending. The advantage of the virtual environment is that the students walk through four different environments: university, a shopping area, TV studios and a village. Challenges are presented in each area which teach the value of financial management and the risks and rewards of credit.