Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Open Source Second Life

It's really not a question of if. It will happen. It's just a matter of when.

Second Life is gaining more and more attention, and more and more users. As I write this there are now 2.3 million user accounts, with 20,000+ users now on-line. It's really impressive ... but another lock-in application. Once you join and begin to pay ... you are captive forever. This is obviously a good deal for Linden Research, Inc. - the owners of Second Life - but not the way that the Internet likes to evolve and develop.

For those not yet familiar, Second Life is a very impressive virtual world. The kind of place that was forecasted and imagined by authors for decades ... the kind of place described in Snow Crash. In Second Life you can create an avitar ... a character ... to represent you in the virtual world. You can wander through a wide range of virtual land, buildings, boats, businesses, and fantasy objects. If you want to, you can purchase virtual property, and "own a home."

The problem is that it is all a huge lock-in right now. You are limited to their servers, their designs, their tools, and their rules. Oh ... and you pay their rates. Want to buy some land? Here is how to buy land in Second Life. Want to buy a private island? Here is how to buy a private island in Second Life. Wait! What is going on here! These rates are even higher than my real-world property taxes!

So what can I do about it? Nothing. Right now, there simply is not a Open Source Second Life solution. Let's call this Third Life. (Of course that domain name is already taken ...) What has to emerge is the Open Source platform that I can download and install on my own hardware and bandwidth. Where I can set the rules, and define how things work. Of course, as my server would only represent some small parcel of land, I would have to work agreements with others to create portals to travel between my land, and other peoples land. So maybe several of my friends and I might join our servers together to create a larger landmass.

There are even some other interesting ideas that could emerge from this ... such as using a commercial for-pay service like Second Life as the "connector" between private servers. What if there was an apartment building in Second Life, and when your character comes to the door of my apartment in Second Life, I actually have the option to connect my server to the other side of that door? So entering that portal transports you from Second Life to my private server. To me, this is the inevitable future for virtual worlds ... one that is open and interconnected, freely allowing people to pay to use "hosted virtual worlds" like Second Life, or to choose the option of hosting their own.

Their are two possible solutions for this to occur ... one is for Second Life to open their platform - and source code - to the world to use. The other is for the next generation of virtual worlds to emerge from the Open Source community. I hear rumblings of Second Life/Linden Research and what they might do, however it appears to be to push the business model and "open standard" more than Open Source. Of course, there are other people like Glyn Moody who also see Why We Need a Open Source Second Life. Even Ben King at The Register articulates the value of Open Source Second Life in his article Open sourcing Second Life.

The most impressive Open Source solution that I am now seeing is Croquet. Croquet is being developed by some brilliant minds, and is already out there and working. I'm about to install the lastest versions and begin to experiment, however much of the core is in place. As the networking layers solidify, we'll see how quickly you and I can get our own Croquet servers up and running, and begin to link them together via portals.

What is interesting is that I am beginning to see a parallel between this, and the beginnings of the World Wide Web. Instead of Web Servers, we have Croquet Servers. Instead of hyperlinks, there is now the world of TPostcards. And unlike the World Wide Web ... the client and server are the same.

I can't wait ... and I know it will occur. It's all just when ...


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