Nov 192014
 

Philip Rosedale was interviewed by Signe Brewster at Gigaom Roadmap 2014 yesterday and Gigaom have posted the interview in an article entitled : The gap between virtual reality and sci-fi is shortening. Philip talks about virtual worlds, including Second Life and not surprisingly, High Fidelity.

The video is interesting because Philip talks about the past and future of virtual worlds as well as discussing how science fiction is a good influence for him. The interview runs for about half an hour and that includes a Q&A session.

There’s a really interesting part of this interview where Philip talks about body language. New devices allow virtual worlds to capture the body language of the person behind an avatar and reproduce that body language inside a virtual world. High Fidelity staff conducted an experiment where they were each interviewed in High Fidelity using the same avatar and then those videos were later played back to all of the staff without sound. The staff members quickly realised that they could recognise who was who based on the face gestures and body movements of each avatar.

When asked about what he has learnt from Second Life Philip talks about economies, virtual communities and how people will self organise. This may explain why High Fidelity is more of an open source venture than Second Life was. Philip has witnessed that people will self organise and presumably he also feels they are capable of self governance. Philip does point out that technology has changed since Second Life was created, for example there was no cloud computing back then and he does state that they tried to make Second Life as open as they could. This is a comment that has a lot of merit. Whereas Second Life isn’t open in the way High Fidelity will be, it remains very open in the concept of user generated content.

Philip talks of how reading science fiction is almost an instruction manual for building virtual worlds and his big influence in this area is, not surprisingly, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

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Nov 062014
 

An interesting post on The Verge : The Big Future: Can we build a virtual world? The question may initially seem odd to those who have experienced virtual worlds such as Second Life, Kitely, OpenSim and are keeping their eyes on future virtual worlds such as High Fidelity and Linden Lab’s next generation platform. However the question is one that goes beyond the current generation of virtual worlds :

The web is fine, but how do we get the internet we always wanted — a “real” space you can walk around in, like the Metaverse from Snow Crash? It’s not a new question, but it’s one that’s being taken a little more seriously now that a huge company like Facebook is putting its weight (and its money) behind virtual reality. In this week’s Big Future, we look at what it takes to build a convincing virtual world, why we’re not there yet, and what we might do if we got one.

The Metaverse that exists in Snow Crash has long been the inspiration and dream of many a virtual world enthusiast, but will we ever get there? Indeed do we really want to get there? That level of immersion may well read well in a novel but can it ever really be a place that will happily co-exist with the physical world?

There will be no real answers to this until we have an answer to the question “Are we there yet?” As The Verge article states, it’s easy to trick the eyes, it’s a lot more difficult to trick our other senses and natural motion. For example The Verge talks about walking in a virtual world and how that’s far more of a challenge than tricking our eyes. I remain sceptical because of the sheer number of peripherals required at the moment to achieve greater immersion. However over time those peripherals will become less intrusive and more intuitive.

Obviously the full on immersion that some crave may not be the route to go. Whereas I fully expect greater immersion to open many a great door, I do feel that some doors may be better if they remain locked. The Verge article does mention the current virtual world scene :

We already have examples of “virtual worlds” like Second Life, and they’ll only get cooler with immersion. But some of the most exciting possibilities involve blending the physical world with VR. Sharing experiences will become more intense, and online research takes on a whole new meaning.

However one area that The Verge article doesn’t touch upon is who will be running the bold new worlds.

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Nov 042014
 

If EndgagetExpand doesn’t tickle your fancy then there’s another conference taking place this weekend that is well worth keeping an eye on, it’s the OpenSimulator Community Conference, which takes place on November 8th-9th. Unfortunately inworld tickets are already sold out for the conference but you can register for a free streaming ticket.

The basics of the conference can be found on the about page of the conference website, but I’ll give you a brief snippet :

The OpenSimulator Community Conference is an annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software. Organized as a joint production by the Overte Foundation and AvaCon, Inc., the conference features two days of presentations, workshops, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.

The OpenSimulator Community Conference 2014 features four themed tracks and a Learning Lab for hands on hackerspaces, speedbuilds, and more:

  • Business & Enterprise
  • Content & Community
  • Developers & Open Source
  • Research & Education
  • Learning Lab

This conference features a lot of speakers whom followers of Second Life and virtual worlds will be familiar with. They include :

  • Philip Rosedale – High Fidelity
  • Nara Malone – Greyville Writer’s Colony
  • Steve LaValle – Oculus VR
  • John “Pathfinder” Lester – Reaction Grid
  • Maria Korolov – Hypergrid Business
  • Ilan Tochner – Kitely
  • Caledonia Skytower – Seanchai Library
  • Tranquillity Dexler – Inworldz
  • Latif Khalifa – Radegast, Singularity
  • Jessica Lyon – Phoenix Firestorm
  • Kim Anubis – The Magicians

There are many more speakers whom some of you will be familiar with, it’s a jam packed schedule full of interesting looking discussions.

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Oct 072014
 

Episode 39 of The Drax Files Radio Hour is another packed affair with the star attraction being Argyle Alligator. However as usual there’s much more than that and they touch upon Facebook’s real name policy with Jo Yardley and Drax both seeming far from impressed about Facebook’s policy. However I really can’t see room for Second Life’s profile feed to fill much of a gap here. Jo does however make good points about the features of social networking sites to promote events which brings me back to an old point of mine, web pages for groups.

This is something that could be added to the Second Life profile feed and the advantage of a web based group page advertising events is that it means you don’t have to send landmarks, notecards, textures, etc. All you would need to do is send a link to the event on the group web page.

Moving on, they give a shoutout to the 250th edition of Designing Worlds which was broadcast on October 6th and has already been covered in her usual magnificent manner by Inara Pey.

However the main feature is an interview with in game reporter Argyle Alligator who talks about his interviews, which are at times amusing. Argyle Alligator isn’t only an in game reporter for Second Life, he also interviews people in Garry’s Mod and Rust but this interview is largely about his Second Life experiences.

Argyle also shares the new user experience of Second Life and highlights some issues he found, how he had to work out the teleport system for himself, how he had difficulties finding locations that supported voice. This is important for Argyle’s work as he conducts his interviews with voice.

Argyle also offers up some good suggestions about starter zones including having verified residents of Second Life easily identifiable to help new participants. Drax also asks him about the UI. Drax has commented often that the Second Life UI isn’t complicated. I disagree, not because I find it difficult myself but because when so many people keep raising this point then it does suggest there’s an issue. I’m ok with the Blender UI too but I’ve seem many complaints about that as well. There is an issue, but it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what it is but Argyle Alligator offers some insight on this.

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Jul 182014
 

Episode 13 of The Drax Files Radio Hour featured an excellent interview with Richard A. Goldberg. I covered it here : Second Life TOS – Why Bergs Should Collide. I’m not going to go over it all again but Richard made some excellent points on why the TOS was problematic, why Linden Lab should not need all the terms they require, why there should be limitations and he did all this in a very calm and rational manner. Ebbe Altberg should at least listen to what Richard A. Goldberg had to say and then he may understand more of what the issue is.

The Linden Lab blog post on the updated terms of service states :

As part of an update to our Terms of Service today, we have made a modification to further clarify Section 2.3. The updated section still provides Linden Lab with the rights that we need in order to operate and promote Second Life, so you will see that we have retained much of the language as the previous version. However, the updated section now also includes limits that better match our intended meaning, and we hope will assuage some of the concerns we heard about the previous version.

Now the problem arises with the words that have been left in. First of all let’s rewind a little and give Linden Lab some credit for the change they did make, but also let’s rewind further and see what the controversial section said before the changes of last August, a time when it wasn’t remotely controversial :

You agree that by uploading, publishing, or submitting any Content to or through the Servers, Websites, or other areas of the Service, you hereby automatically grant Linden Lab a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicenseable, and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the Service.

I’m struggling to understand why that is no longer suitable, it’s clear, it’s to the point and there’s no ambiguity as to whether it refers to the Second Life service or not. However let’s move on to the controversial TOS and break this down, again, first of all this part :

Except as otherwise described in any Additional Terms (such as a contest’s official rules) which will govern the submission of your User Content, you hereby grant to Linden Lab, and you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and sell, re-sell or sublicense (through multiple levels)(with respect to Second Life, Inworld or otherwise on the Service as permitted by you through your interactions with the Service)

Now that’s better than before because of the part about being with respect to Second Life, inworld or otherwise. That’s the big plus point from the change, the problem is with the next part of the TOS, which makes absolutely no reference to this limitation.

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Jul 102014
 

On another question, its also unfortunate that in some countries in the EU that gambling is allowed, but because our servers are all in the US these residents cannot gamble. This is something we can fix and we’re working on it. In the meantime, unfortunately no gambling. – Zee Linden 1st August 2008.

The above quote from the then CFO of Linden Lab, Zee Linden (AKA John Zdanowski) was actually in relation to a discussion about Linden Lab annoying the life out of us Europeans by introducing VAT to our bills. Eventually a lot of us realised Linden Lab were the wrong target and I still find the law silly as it applies to Second Life. There are good reasons for collecting VAT for electronic services, but Second Life isn’t a good example. The problem is that the EU regulation simply isn’t flexible enough. However I’m not here to talk about VAT today, I’m here to talk about governance and in particular governance in a virtual world.

The VAT discussion was an example of laws applying to one set of Second Life users based on where they live. However this was only an issue for European residents, it didn’t apply to Americans. The gambling ban on the other hand applied to all Second Life residents, even those who lived in countries where online gambling wasn’t illegal. I should point out here that even in those countries, gambling in Second Life would have been questionable as it was unregulated. However even a licensed gambling outlet would not have been allowed in Second Life because Linden Lab are based in San Francisco.

Now if we go back a bit further in time to the Second Life Community Convention of  August 2007 we can find an old Reuters interview with Philip Rosedale. This interview is interesting because it gives an insight into where Second Life was back then and what they were hoping for. However the section I want to highlight is this exchange :

Reuters: Is there a problem where German laws are more restrictive than American laws on ageplay? And likewise, American laws may be more restrictive than European laws on gambling. Are we moving to the lowest common denominator?

Philip Rosedale: No.

The lowest common denominator is just not what you want to do. It’s not going to happen on the Internet, and it’s not going to happen here. We’re doing what we can as a platform to try to make that the case.

If you want to apply a local jurisdictional law to people, we’re going to make it so you apply that to people who are individual avatars trying to go to one place. That’s what we’re doing with age verification. We’re making that a feature that’s tied to land and people, not a feature that’s tied to the whole system. When we’re confronted with a legal or regulatory matter where we need for legal reasons to enable a certain type of restriction on behavior, we do that as locally as possible and not have a lowest common denominator.

Reuters: So there may be code in the future where your avatar is tied to your real-life nationality and then based on that nationality certain restrictions may or may not come into play?

Philip Rosedale: Right.

If the local restrictions that countries for example are making on avatars, if those restrictions are well-published and transparent and in the public light, I think we’re going to get to a good overall set of choices. Countries will make the right choices about how they want to restrict people’s use in Second Life if they can see what other countries are doing rather than us being the sole decider of what’s right locally.

So we can see here that Linden Lab wanted to be able to restrict behaviour locally. However this is very challenging when Linden Lab are the only governor, more on that later but what fascinates me about this is that the new skill gaming policy is actually going to try and enforce this notion of restricting people’s access to areas and activities based on their local jurisdiction. This has been quite a long time coming.

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Jun 252014
 

Ebbe Altberg (AKA Ebbe Linden) has been engaging with the Second Life community on the official forums. In a forum post Ebbe reiterated that Second Life isn’t closing down, despite the announcement of plans for a new Linden Lab virtual world.

I’m still somewhat at a loss to understand why people seem to be ignoring the fact that Second Life isn’t closing down, but people seem convinced that the new virtual world is a replacement for Second Life, rather than just another virtual world from Linden Lab.

In the forum post, Ebbe stated :

I pretty much only said these things:

We are embarking on a huge project to build a better virtual world from the ground up.

We are not going to constrain how good it can be by forcing some levels of backwards compatability (Sine then I’ve added some detail that identity and social connections and Lindens$ will come across and quite a bit of content as well, but with content we need more time to figure out exactly what will be backwards compatible, people will have plenty of time to see how this plays out and get a chance to try the new while still also hanging out in SL)

We will continue to invest in SL and keep improving and have no plans for any shutdown.

The rest is all speculation that has since then popped up.

That really is pretty much all Linden Lab have said, yet people seem to be reading between lines that don’t exist. Here’s the thing, even if Linden Lab wanted to force migrate people to their new world, a lot of people wouldn’t go because their virtual world love is Second Life, if Second Life closed down some people would give up on virtual worlds, others would move somewhere away from Linden Lab properties and some of course would go to Linden Lab’s new world, but it would be extremely foolish of Linden Lab to close Second Life in the next few years and to be fair to Linden Lab, there are absolutely no signs whatsoever that they intend to close Second Life.

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Jun 242014
 

Back in March 2009 Tateru Nino wrote an article for Massively : Give Us More Worlds Linden Lab. The general point of the article was that Second Life should not be the only virtual world Linden Lab managed. Tateru’s idea was that there could be multiple grids running on Second Life technology and that each world could have different characteristics. However Tateru also wrote :

One-size-fits-all doesn’t just doesn’t work in the mass-market. Otherwise there’d only be one kind of iPod. What the Lab really needs is a number of differentiated ‘world’-products, each offering something a little different.

In October 2011, I wrote a blog on a very similar theme : Multiple Linden Lab Grids For More Virtual Worlds. I also talked of Second Life technology being used for multiple use cases and that Second Life did not need to be the only club in town :

This isn’t to say I feel the main grid should close, the main grid is where it’s currently all at and Linden Lab should nurture and cherish what they have, develop it and make that product an appealing product to current and new users who want that level of freedom and creativity, it remains a wonderful idea. However in terms of wider appeal and getting others interested in their own controlled spaces, Linden Lab could well consider making Second Life the technology the option for those who seek it, rather than Second Life being the only product in town on their servers.

Now Tateru and myself were largely talking about multiple grids using Second Life technology, rather than virtual worlds running on completely unrelated technology. However with news of Linden Lab’s new virtual world plans making the news, I really don’t see why Second Life and the new world can’t exist at the same time. They will simply offer different options and appeal to different people. Obviously both worlds will also appeal to people who want to engage with both worlds but this is no different to how things are now with people who engage with one or more of Second Life, Kitely, Inworldz and Opensim. People are also keeping an eye on High Fidelity.

I’m a bit bemused at the reaction in some quarters to Linden Lab’s announcement on the new virtual world. People are talking of how problematic it will be to migrate. They are talking of how they should be compensated for their Second Life land. They are talking of how higher sales tax fees and lower land tax fees will hinder rather than help content creators. The reason I’m bemused about this is because Linden Lab have not announced that Second Life is closing and that people will have to move to their new world, indeed, as Inara Pey reported, they’ve said :

Does this mean we’re giving up on Second Life? Absolutely not. It is thanks to the Second Life community that our virtual world today is without question the best there is, and after 11 years we certainly have no intention of abandoning our users nor the virtual world they continually fill with their astounding creativity. Second Life has many years ahead of it, and in addition to improvements and new developments specifically for Second Life, we think that much of the work we do for the next generation project will also be beneficial for Second Life.

Now I can understand people being cautious about the future of Second Life, especially those who own a lot of land, but I can’t understand some of the outrage at this point in time. I would have a different point of view if Linden Lab were telling people they must migrate, but that is not the case.

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Jun 122014
 

The Guardian is so famous for it’s typos that it has a nickname of The Grauniad, so much so that http://www.grauniad.co.uk redirects to The Guardian website. However, despite their support for The Liberal Democrats it remains a decent newspaper, more so probably for the left leaning types, but it’s a decent newspaper.

They have also long had an interest in technology and that has included Second Life. Back in 2006 Suart Jefferies and Victor Keegan were talking about their Second Life experiences. Victor Keegan’s experience would later turn a little sour as he got involved in a trademark case regarding use of “SLART” over Second Life art galleries.

However The Guardian has boldly continued to cover all sorts of virtual world issues and has now issued the following call :

we want to hear your favourite virtual places – from a beautiful view in GTA to that 20-million-strong SimCity megalopolis you’ve been building (or possibly destroying). What are the best game cities to live in? The worst? Perhaps you’ve designed one you think would be better than your own city?

Second Life users were quickly on the case using Guardian witness, which revolves around user generated content. 1920’s Berlin, New Babbage and Philomenaville have all made an appearance as favourite virtual cities.

Linden Lab have been tipped off about this by 1920’s Berlin owner Jo Yardley. Linden Lab have blogged about The Guardian call and in doing so, exemplified a degree of spotting a good marketing opportunity when they see one :

This is a great chance to share some amazing Second Life locations with The Guardian’s readers. Whether it’s a place you created personally, discovered (maybe through the Destination Guide?) and love, or just a spot you always find yourself returning to, the Second Life locations that ‘wow’ you are great ones to share to help show off Second Life to the uninitiated.

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Apr 172014
 

Metareality Podcast has returned to the airwaves … well it returned in March but I’ve only just noticed! The third episode in the return was released on April 11th. The good news here is that now we can get an Anchorman style fight between Metareality Podcast and The Drax Files, although as Metareality Podcast has a three person team they won’t be allowed to use William Reed Seal-Foss whom I strongly suspect is really Dr Octopus, which would make the fight unfair anyway!

Also they possibly should do transfers between the presenters. Drax has been on Metareality before, so maybe Jo Yardley could go on Metareality and Qarl could do a guest spot on The Drax Files. Reed would have to stay on Metareality, as I’ve already explained, being Dr Octopus comes with complications.

There’s certainly room in the market for both of these podcasts, particularly as they cover different subjects, obviously they also cover similar subjects but the styles of the two shows are different enough to mean that listening to them both covers enough different ground for them to be worthwhile.

One of the interesting discussions in the latest Metareality podcast is a discussion about the character creation in Black Dragon Online :

This does look quite interesting and character creation is an issue for virtual worlds, but I’ve always found too much choice to be a pain too, sometimes you just want to get on with it.

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