Friday, March 09, 2007

Second Life, second rate

I'm not a huge fan of Second Life for a couple of reasons. One is admittedly that I'm mostly a text guy - i like being locked in discursive struggles over meaning making which is why I prefer chat, IRC, blogging and tagging over having to negotiate moving through virtual worlds. The second reason though why I'm not a huge Second Life afficianado (and I have been in there a dozen or so times) is that I find it's model to be so completely last century that it I think that they'll suffer from the Tivo "first mover" effect before too long. While being the first to market has it's advantages it also has the disadvantage that others who follow can learn from your costly mistakes. I think Second Life has made a mistake -- which is strange, since the example was all around them.

I have no doubt though that for another generation of highly networked youth, spaces like Second Life will be where they prefer to inhabit, where they play and where they work and learn. I just think that a highly centralized, proprietary and highly commercialized 'service' is not where it's at - it didn't work for the internet as we mostly know it today, and I don't see why it will be what the Web3Ders of tomorrow will want either.

For this reason it was interesting to see Tim Wang's post: Arts Metaverse Constructed on Open Croquet. Tim's group at the University of British Columbia, who have already done work on the UBC island in Second Life, are now moving into developing for the Open Source Croquet system. Croquet is:

an open source software development environment for the creation and large-scale distributed deployment of multi-user virtual 3D applications and Metaverse that are (1) persistent (2) deeply collaborative, (3) interconnected and (4) interoperable. The Croquet architecture supports synchronous communication, collaboration, resource sharing and computation among large numbers of users on multiple platforms and multiple devices.
There are a lot of advantages to Croquet over Second Life (some are mentioned in Tim's post) but the most obvious and powerful has to be that it is truly Open Source and that there is the possibility for the server power required to run these kinds of enivonments to be distributed over the network, ie. decentralized. If Croquet can start getting some real backing by developers like the UBC is doing and other organisations who start looking beyond the fancy graphics and more at the long term implications of supporting proprietary and centralized services then this platform could make Second Life look second rate.


D Holton said...

Another alternative is project darkstar and looking glass from Sun, it is done in java and open source.
This article describes some of the technologies and examples:

Jo Kay said...

I agree with you Brent. An open-source, highly customizable virtual world is a much better option than Second Life, which comes with a range of problems including that it is a commercially owned company.

However, having said that, as much as Open Croquet excites me, it isn't so easy for most educators to contemplate, as it requires higher technical skills to get setup and going.

Also, I believe there is important work going on within the Second Life Educators community, which will inform the open-source 3D spaces of the future... hence my interest, and investment in Second Life.

And I think you might be right... Second Life may very well suffer the 'first-mover' effect... but it has at least been successful in bringing discussion about 3D environments much more into the mainstream.

Whatever the outcome - it's certainly going to be an interesting few years in 3D web circles! ;)

brent said...

Jo... i had a great time talking to Sean in Second Life the other day at the Taloswapmeet07 and he too repeated your point that currently Second Life is the best we've got and that lessons learnt in there will apply to all 3d spaces in the future... which is a good point I think. I hope that Croquet can start attracting some more developers; that's always been it's weakness but i think it's just a matter of time. UBCs interest seems to suggest that there may start to be more people becoming involved. I'm hoping, and advocating, for a snowball effect to take place with an open platform in the near future.

Tim Wang said...

Brent, it's great you are pointing this out. When we introduce virtual space to our faculty members, the first challenge we face is how to help them produce ACCURATE, PRECISE and HIGH QUALITY 3D models. Limited primitives in SL certain doesn't cut it, and thus only limited amount of subject matter experts can appreciate what SL is providing, and they are mainly excited by the "social power" of SL.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. The supposed "walled garden" of proprietary Second Life is *open* and pretty much anybody with a DSL line can enter and start exploring and consuming or making content. You don't have to be a programmer or insider geek on a special project to partake of it, the way you do with Croquet. Croquet seems to be saying "we'll make it different, we'll make it right, but we'll make it without you, thank you very much" whereas you have to hand it to Philip Rosedal, very early on, he said, "Come on in, everybody, the water's fine!" As much as SL itself suffers from the insider tekkie types, it's nothing like having to know C++ to go in a world -- and not get to be part of making it because some geeks are going to do it all for you without your input. Prokofy Neva

brent said...

I think part of my point here is being missed. I'm advocating an open and distributed metaverse engine, an Apache + TCP/IP rather than a centralized and closed server model. The thing isn't scaleable to reach the kind of saturation that the current Web enjoys. If SL had any real smarts I reckon they'd open their server platform up -- they're still so far ahead of the game that there's a strong business model in there for them, but if they don't then something like a Croquet (and it may be something else other than Croquet) will emerge in an open and distributed fashion.