Thursday, June 10, 2010

Second Life: New Directions?

In my early morning TechCrunch scan I learned that Linden Lab Lays Off 30 Percent Of Staff. This is already on the main Second Life blogs:

Gwyneth Llewelyn: [Reset] and do a 180ยบ turn
New World Notes: Looking into Linden Lab Layoff Rumors -- UPDATE: Confirmed, 30% Lindens Being Laid Off, Restructured Team to Develop Web-Based Second Life Viewer -- UPDATE 2: My Take on What This Means for SL's Future -- UPDATE 3: Babbage & Other Beloved Lindens Let Go
Official SL blog: A Restructuring For Linden Lab

Of course I am saddened by seeing so many brilliant and creative people go, but I am sure they will soon find other interesting and rewarding things to do.

Concerning the implications for the future of Second Life, I see two important developments:

1) The move reflects a new strategy for Linden Lab, says the company, which aims make its virtual world more browser based, eliminating the need to download any software.

Most articles agree that the SL Web Viewer could be based on Unity3D, which, in my opinion, would be a great choice. See for example the Unity3D based Moondus technology developed by my good friend Bruno Cerboni and his team. Gwyn says "The average user wants to spend 3 minutes registering for an account and expects everything to be immediately obvious after they log in", and I couldn't agree more. Second Life needs to become much easier to use in order to attract and retain casual users, and a web client will at least simplify the installation (The Unity3D plugin auto-installs, and Unity3D support could become a native feature of at least Chrome). Of course running in a browser does not by itself make using SL easier. I think the 2.0 viewer is easier for casual visitors, and I see it as a first step toward the development of what I like to call onion interfaces: a first interface layer designed in such a way as to be extremely easy to use for newcomers, and more layers with more advanced options hidden inside.

2) Linden Lab... let the enterprise group go, which creates a customized version of the virtual world that sits behind a firewall.

To this Gwin adds that Second Life is "focusing again on the consumer market", which seems a solid and pragmatic choice. I had hoped the launch of SL Enterprise a few months ago would start a renaissance of SL as a business collaboration and e-learning platform, but feared that it was too-little-too-late. Too little because other platforms like Teleplace address corporate and professional needs much better (See my article on Telepresence Education for a Smarter World for more thoughts on business and e-learning applications of VR worlds), and too late because, as Gwyn says (disagreeing), "the bad image of SL as a sex-only VW is too strong... The harm is done and LL cannot fix it."

So I think re-focusing SL on the consumer market, and acknowledging that it will never appeal to the more conservative "dinosaurs" in the corporate and educational sectors, make a lot of sense. But this does not mean the smarter professionals, corporations and universities should abandon SL: on the contrary, SL will remain a wonderful creative lab for the more dynamic and creative adventurers, and an enabling platform for many real advances to be made.

It is an important trend that the smarter organizations use IT platform and tools developed for consumers, because they just work better than legacy corporate IT systems. Google Apps is the best example: the integrated business versions of Gmail, Google Docs, Voice, Video and other Google Apps in-the-cloud, initially developed for the consumer market, are so much better and cheaper than equivalent "professional" tools that I expect an exponential adoption, first by the leaner and smarter entities, and then by all the others. And once all collaborative Google Apps integrate multiuser videoconferencing, which seems to be appearing on the horizon, the Google cloud will probably become the standard online collaboration tool used by organizations of any nature and size.

In my post Simple videoconferencing in Second Life I have suggested some ways to integrate Google Apps as a standard videoconferencing and collaboration suite for closed groups in SL. Also, a Web based Unity3D viewer would permit integrating SL as VR part of an Intranet running on Google Apps. I definitely recommend these relatively simple developments which, I believe, would make the consumer-oriented SL much more suitable for professional collaboration as well.



  2. Take a look at the great image on Khannea's blog!

  3. Oh I had no idea that Moondus was also based on Unity3D... that definitely explains quite a lot!

    It seems to me that this will be the way to go for Linden Lab as well. I'd certainly welcome it. On some areas, and for some types of clients, Unity3D has been the biggest competitor to SL by far. Launching a Unity3D Web-based client for SL would neatly get the competition out of the way.

  4. Hello Gwyn. Yes, Moondus is based on Unity3D. Take a look at their website to see the latest interesting developments, they have some new projects in an interesting new sector. I promised Bruno to blog about it, but I am not going to pay Lottomatica a deposit of 30 euros to play bingo in VR. I guess I will wait for poker.

    Unity3D id a great platform and development environment, and is really a pleasure to work with. I believe Rezzable have some interesting developments ongoing. I also think a Unity3D Web-based client for SL would be a great development and possibly kind of relaunch SL and make it mainstream. I don't think a Unity3D Web-based client for SL would permit building though, so developers would still use the thick client, and casual visitors would use the thin viewer.

  5. I'm adopting a wait and see attitude. My biggest concern is that of continuity. I want to see LL develop away from the closed world model and become the facebook of the VR age. The more flexible, and open source they become, the greater the likelihood of that happening.

    I mean, yes, I can rebuild my avatar if I HAVE to, but I have invested four years in collecting clothes, items, and customization, which I would strongly prefer not to simply lose. So while I am HOPING this will result in LL embracing the idea of becoming the VR "COMMON GROUND" I'm waiting to see if it ends up being another fubar on LLs part.

  6. @Gwyn - I see in your blog and your comments in the blogosphere that you consider this "re-focusing on the consumer market" as a positive development. But to me it seems more of a Farmvillization of SL. Consumers, yes, but not the same consumers of a few years ago. Not passionate SL evangelists and committed creators, but casual visitors with attention deficit.

    @Valkyrie: Perhaps a browser-based viewer may be a good first step in the direction you want. The requirement of compatibility with a specific technology supported by browsers (Unity3D, web.alive, WebGL...) would force a harmonization between different visual conventions used in different VR worlds. Also, there could be central repositories of avatars information (Avatarbook?) with profiles, looks and inventories, which could help implementing interoperability.

  7. Wish I had the technical know how to create "Avatarbook" because that is precisely what I am talking about.

  8. @Valkyrie - well... I have it. Should we brainstorm?

  9. If you would like to. I certainly think it would be a great idea for ensuring a basic "common ground" for VR/AR future apps and MMOs.

    Standardization is the prime requirement for universal adoption. For movement, I would recommend the WOW movement interface, because it's simple and intuitive. The camera stays locked on the character, and all motion can be accomplished with just the mouse. Camera movement should be a toggle, allowing direct mouse movements to translate into camera slides i.e. side to side and up down.

    A basic repository needs to be able to distinguish between "body parts" and "Outfits" For example, my succubus avatar has numerous attachments for the horns, hooves, tail, and wings. There needs to be a way to define such attachments as "body parts" and give them a higher priority than "outfits" so that while I may not be able to take "clothes" into a MMO or VR setting, my basic body shape remains the same from setting to setting.

    This would allow exclusive DLC on a per game or setting basis, while still retaining the "individuality" of an avatar.

    One possible way to do this would be to create a database of body meshes with a wide variety of bodyforms, basically meshes and movement skeletons, for human, furry, centaur, winged, etc, which can be added to by open source developers. Basically any bodyform made should be a mesh with standardized customizations for individual preferences (i.e musculature, breast size, height, hair etc) but each body form must include not only the mesh (skins should be separate to allow customization by end users or 3rd parties) but the movement routines.

    This way, users could chose the bodyform they wish, use any custom skin, or allow an MMO to skin their body form automatically, And it will provide a framework which any developer could use to standardize outfits