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Review: Onverse

My avatar, on the Learning Course

Onverse is comprised of a 2D web site, connected to a 3D virtual environment. Together, they form an intriguing new social networking platform with games included – games intuitive enough for non-gamers to learn, but complex enough for gamers to be interested in. You log in using the same account credentials regardless of whether you log in on the web site or the virtual environment. Cross-functionality between the two is increasing even as Onverse gets closer to its official launch date, which is slated for April 15th 2010.

From the moment you start signing up for an Onverse account, you are given some personal artistic choices regarding your avatar’s look, and as you progress into the environment, more and more choices open up to you, including decoration of your own free apartment. Some of the clothing, furniture, and tools are free. Some things you can buy using points, one of the Onverse currencies collected in-world. Some items are available only by purchasing Cash Coins (the other Onverse currency). Apart from clothing, you can also choose animations and emotes to use that further individualise your self-expression and your experience of Onverse.

The Avatar Cannon There are currently three modes of travel in Onverse: you can teleport between worlds, of which there are three at this time (The Hub, Volcano Island, Ancient Moon); you can travel long distances with the Avatar Cannon (though it’s best if you don’t try to aim for any specific landing point the first few times); and of course, you can always walk.

The Hub, Volcano Island, and Ancient Moon each feature outdoor areas and shops. The Hub also boasts apartment buildings, a casino, a nightclub, and an amphitheatre. Volcano Island and Ancient Moon each have themed housing communities – instead of having your apartment in an instance run just for you, apartments are grouped together in lots of 40+ to an instance. You can meet new friends or encourage your existing friends to become your neighbours.

I was initially unimpressed by Onverse. That was until I started doing a little digging, and discovered how little time it had been in development for, how few people were working on it, and the tiny budget that Onverse has currently. This is the team listing: Steve Pierce – “The Designer”; Wes Macdonald – “The Engineer”; Eric Hoefer – “The Artist”; Ben Steele – “The Animator”; Scott Mitting – “The Web Engineer”. The social networking component alone was built in under a month; the virtual environment in a comparative period of time for its size. Many parts of the coding for the game world, including the back-end server, have been written from scratch. The team also needed to learn to create avatar and clothing meshes. Other things that impressed me:

1. There’s a client available for the Mac that does not lag behind the Windows client

2. The client for the virtual environment can be run on computers with relatively low specs, and they have been streamlining their software and reducing the RAM footprint so that machines with even lower specifications can still run it.

I was also intrigued by the Onverse method of filling the world with music: signing on bands and artists who allow their music to be played in-world. Indeed, “Onverse is always looking for new bands who would like to showcase their talent inside our world. If you would like to be considered, contact us at music@onverse.com.”

If the use of casual games and social interaction on Facebook is any indication, then Onverse, with its more engaging environment, combined with socially interactive opportunities, should do extremely well. I believe that there will need to be a range of add-on game types if the product is to appeal to gamers and casual gamers alike, but I feel that the trend in Onverse is towards such a range. I look forward to monitoring their progress.

Ancient Moon

Popularity: 1% [?]

Avatars United: desire or forced marriage?

Linden Lab, whether by design or by accident, appears to have pulled their usual stunt: Wallace Linden’s post caused panic and disarray, focussed in a misleading direction, and barely hinted at the truth of the matter. Once again, decisions had been finalised even before the post went live. This sort of behaviour does nothing to inspire confidence in the user population, but I suppose it is at least consistent. These days, many of us know to be very critical of any blog post offering, even from new folk on the team. This consistency means that we can predict with some confidence that changes have been made. What changes? That is a much trickier question.

Putting that aside for the moment, let’s look at the acquisition of Avatars United by Linden Lab.

Acquiring a team of people who have already demonstrated their abilities in a certain field makes a whole heap of sense – especially when you want your existing development team to continue on with what they are doing. It’s also great to bring in new people for a fresh look at old problems.

[…] we’re committed to keeping this ideal of a place where avatars from multiple worlds and games can come together.” ~ M Linden

The Avatars United (AU) idea is all about collating your online identities, and connecting to other people engaged in the same virtual environments (VEs) or games as yourself. I am forced to wonder, how many people have the time to be heavily engaged enough in several VEs to want to be connected this way? Perhaps AU will encourage cross-pollination of VEs, perhaps each person will remain firmly in their own VE’s social circle. Since you cannot easily share the details for each avatar name between VEs, the latter seems most likely.

“The first design principle in this social strategy is respect of your privacy.  We aren’t going to take away any privacy or anonymity for those that want it. We are not going to “out” people.  We are not going to force anyone to reveal any private or personal information. […] But for those who don’t want to opt in to an arrangement like that, nothing at all will change.” ~ M Linden

Thank you, M, that’s a fantastic idea – make all linkages opt-in! But wait, what’s this – linking all your avatar names together in AU is opt-out, not opt-in? I sincerely hope that this is changed in the near future, and that the place that this is accomplished is made more obvious, instead of having it tucked away under the Account Privacy settings. I’m also keen to know why there’s a section under the Account tab that allows you to fill in your personal information. It too is opt-in, except for birth-date, but I don’t see how having that section is useful, or who might require or desire access to that information.

“In coming months, we’ll be looking at the best way to create new services for Second Life around some of the sharing and networking tools that Avatars United has to offer.” ~ M Linden

AU is set to be changed in the next few months. Applications for SL users seem imminent, and it will be interesting to see how much work is funnelled into SL-related ideas, and how much is devoted to other VEs. Fortunately, “the AU team already has an active and growing developer program”, so we should start seeing useful, relevant, apps quite soon, regardless of what is happening internally at Linden Lab.

I would like to see AU become a way to be lightly engaged in VEs, whereas actually entering those environments would be a heavy engagement. In the future, AU could become a way to check in, in a central location, and see who is online, what they are doing currently, keep in touch with groups via forums. You could use it to form an “acquaintance list”, or perhaps use the group features to belong to extra groups, or to have a forum for existing group. AU is a good place, and hopefully in time will become an even better place, to keep your finger lightly on the pulse of what’s happening in your social circle online, while still being able to get in-world and experience all the wonders of high social engagement and creative past-times.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Identity: Linden Lab change of heart?

Your identity is defined in part by which pieces of identification you choose to share with a person or group. Every person you know does not have the same information about you as everyone else. What you share with your mother, your boss at work, your bank manager, is different to what you share with your lovers (unless there is some overlap there).

You are identified by the identifications you share with those people. You create an aspect of your identity (or one of multiple identities, depending on how you like to look at it) each time you use a subset of your identifications to identify yourself; all those aspects, or different identities, all point back to you, the unique mind or being behind it all.

After centuries of discussion and thought, the only thing we can say for sure about identity is that it points to something that is both unique and somewhat fluid.

“Identity is an umbrella term used throughout the social sciences to describe an individual’s comprehension of him or herself as a discrete, separate entity.” ~ Wikipedia, Identity (social sciences)

“An online identity, internet identity, or internet persona is a social identity that an Internet user establishes in online communities and websites. Although some people prefer to use their real names online, some internet users prefer to be anonymous, identifying themselves by means of pseudonyms, which reveal varying amounts of personally identifiable information.”  ~ Wikipedia, Online Identity

“As other users interact with an established online identity, it acquires a reputation, which enables them to decide whether the identity is worthy of trust.”~ Wikipedia, Online Identity

There are some pieces of identification that hold the promise of telling us all we need to know about a person’s identity. Their name, for example. Or, at least, a name that, when we communicate with them, that they respond to. That’s really as close as you can get – there’s no such thing as a person’s “one true name”. People may have names given at birth, names changed at the time of marriage, names changed by choice by deed poll, nicknames by which they are commonly known, stage names, a nom de plume, a nom de guerre, a gaming handle, a user name, or one of the other many types of pseudonym. All of which can be valid, legal, usable name types, and of which people will often have more than one – and each of which is an identifier for an aspect of identity.  Actors in particular commonly choose stage names; these names are often chosen to reflect a different ethnicity to the one they were born with and named for. It means they often get more work, less discrimination, less chance of being beaten (for example) for having the wrong background. Additionally, a stage name can be chosen to be more memorable than one’s given names, easier to pronounce, easier to spell.

A Second life (SL) account name is likewise a chosen name, albeit with some restrictions on what can be chosen. The behaviours associated with that account name are associated with an identity or identities, depending on how many people use the same account. No matter whether you inject your own personality, wrist, vocabulary, or what have you, or whether you imagine all the behaviours you create for that account, you are still the one creating those identifiers. There’s not some imaginary being making this up for you – this is part of you. As stated in the introductory paragraph, not every person knows everything about you – with an SL account, you may choose to share very few of the identifiers from your offline world with the people you meet there, and very few of your SL identifiers with people who are not a part of SL.

Every person limits how many identifiers other people and groups have about them – it’s what I would call “privacy”, being able to choose the amount and type of information you share. When you are forced to share things you do not wish to, privacy is broken. The bank manager does not need to know your shoe size, the passport office does not need to know your banking details, your mother does not want to know if you’re kinky in bed. We give each person or group only enough identifiers to specify us as an individual, so that they can eliminate all the other candidates. My gender (female) eliminates the 40% of physically male candidates present in the world, my address narrows the field to 2 potential people, my name eliminates the other person, if we were to carry out the testing in that order. Some people and groups do more testing to ensure the likelihood that they have arrived at the correct individual – Social Security, for example, is very keen to make sure that they get the right unique person, as are the police.

Why do we require privacy? Mostly, to prevent other from doing harm to us. Someone who knows your physical whereabouts has the chance to do physical harm to you or your property. Someone who knows how to access you online may be able to do mental harm, or even financial harm, depending on the identification they hold for us. People are judged by their identity – identity is comprised of names, locations, sexuality, ethnicity, preferences, what you choose to wear, what you have for breakfast, and many more such things – and people are quite willing to harm other people who they have decided deserve it.

When does privacy seem like less of a good thing? When it’s difficult to pin-point one person as the individual in question, therefore making it difficult to make them accountable for their actions. It’s where anonymity, or the semblance of it, encourages people to think that they can get away with harmful actions without consequences – because we cannot identify the correct individual to hold accountable.

Disclosure

Residents are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy with regard to their Second Life experience. Sharing personal information about a fellow Resident –including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, and real-world location beyond what is provided by the Resident in the First Life page of their Resident profile is a violation of that Resident’s privacy. Remotely monitoring conversations, posting conversation logs, or sharing conversation logs without consent are all prohibited in Second Life and on the Second Life Forums.” ~ direct from the Second Life Community Standards

There’s no way to know (bar leaks) whether Linden Lab plan to diverge from this standard and either provide “opt-in” ways for us to connect our SL and our other identities or to force us to do so if we wish to continue using their service. Certainly Wallace Linden’s blog post does not give me the impression that they are about to present it as a fait accompli. Unfortunately, we must remember that people who have not signed up to SL greatly outnumber those who have – Linden Lab can afford to throw away every user they have at the moment and, as long as they find a way to appeal to those who are not yet in SL, still come out ahead and profitable.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Will the Real You Please Stand Up: precedence in communications

The precedent that has been set by most of the employees permitted to post on the Linden Lab main blog is this: that the issues addressed in the post are close to final or finalised already. The posts are presented as though those commenting on the posts could still have some input, however it’s usually in vain – decisions have already been made. Indeed, often the item in question is ready for launch within hours or days of the post being made.

I do rather hope that Wallace Linden’s first substantive post is a departure from that state of affairs. It seems to me that what Wallace has presented here is a timely topic. Perhaps it has been discussed internally at Linden Lab, perhaps not; nonetheless, what the post contains is Wallace’s own ideas about aspects of identity and identification management, followed by an elicitation for comments from Second Life users about how they would like to be able to manage their identifications, on and offline.

“And as Web and mobile services continue to work their way into all corners of our lives, these aspects will continue to proliferate — and as they do, we’ll start facing important questions about how we handle these collections of selves.” ~ Wallace Linden

“The question we now face, both as people and as organizations, is how we handle these connections, how we handle these collections of selves.” ~ Wallace Linden

Unfortunately, Wallace has not satisfactorily expressed the intentions of the post. The evidence? The many, many comments from Second Life users who have failed to understand what Wallace was driving at.

“One question that’s interesting to contemplate is whether your avatars will share that digital identity card.” ~ Wallace Linden

“The interesting conversations here will be about what kind of value we’re looking for, and what kind of tools we need. The answers won’t be the same for everyone, of course, but they will be important to everyone as the various digital contexts we inhabit continue to converge.” ~ Wallace Linden

I believe that the above statements, combined with years of precedence of blog posts made too late, got people jumping to the wrong conclusions. They are seeing some sort of linkage between Second Life account names and other identifications, and have gotten the impression that such a thing has already come to pass, launch date to be announced within days.

I see that Wallace, however badly he has performed expectation management, however poorly he has expressed his intention, is genuinely looking to elicit responses about what Second Life users want with regards to what identifications they do and do not want to share. I see him looking at tools that will assist us in both creating links, and in suppressing such links, between our different aspects of identity.

“I get a lot of benefit, both personal and professional, out of being the same person in many different online contexts.” ~ Wallace Linden

“But you shouldn’t necessarily be forced to make the same associations I do. If you ask most people, making those connections should be opt-in. Not everyone sees the same value in such links.” ~ Wallace Linden

Wallace, when many people get the wrong impression about something, you have not successfully communicated your ideas. Communication has failed.

As a counterpoint to this blog post, I’ll point you to Diary of a Paranoid Mysql Upgrade by Charity Linden, and anything written by FJ Linden. Clear and concise, with good expectation management and intent stated clearly and upfront, their posts are a joy and a relief to read. Hey, Charity, could they pay you enough for you to take the post as communications Linden?

Photo: Von Cellar School

Popularity: 1% [?]

Review: Fantage

fantage front page

Fantage” is a contraction of the words “Fantastic Age”, with dual meanings: that the target audience is 7 – 14 year olds, which is presumably a pretty neat age to be, and that the virtual environment itself is fantastic.

I was not overly impressed by Fantage, having previously encountered “Super Secret“, though a good friend of mine, who is within the age range for which the environment is intended, found Fantage to be fun and interesting. Fantage has been around since 2007, and their 40+ servers are often packed to capacity; it would seem that despite my personal misgivings, it is a very popular place to go.

Registration

The registration process is quick and simple, getting you into the virtual environment with a minimum of fuss. You get to choose the gender of your avatar, and do a little customisation of hair and outfit. Choosing a user name with a number in it is typical – when I was online, every avatar except mine had a number in the user name.

Premium Membership

The Premium Membership price compares favourably with that of Club Penguin. A membership confers some advantages: you have much greater choice in what you can buy, you get access to luxury rooms to entertain guests in, and you are given 1000 stars when you first join. At USD$5.99 per month (less for more months paid for at a time), memberships cost little more than a pocket money allowance for that age.

Overall Look and Feel

“Eye candy” is the term that comes to mind in describing the overall look of Fantage. Eye-wateringly bright colours and pretty pastels coat the surface of all buildings, and exterior and interior landscapes. Everything that can be shiny has been made shiny. Everything is smoothed and simplified in shape, like a baby’s stuffed cube. It’s all a bit reminiscent of a child’s TV program, more than of a child’s painting or drawing. It all seems much more geared towards the tastes of girls rather than boys, though there were no shortage of male avatars present online each time I was there: everything is super cutesy.

Avatars are tiny; in anime or manga terms, super-deformed, with overly large heads, huge eyes, and tiny bodies. It makes for a very cute, though entirely unrealistic, appearance.

When the servers are heavily loaded, there is an amazingly large amount of lag. You can wait minutes to be able to move from one place to another, or have huge pauses in the middle of mini-games that make them unplayable.

Navigation and Movement

Navigation of the world of Fantage is accomplished via the world map. There are several places to access, including Uptown, Downtown, and the Carnival. You mouse over a location to bring up the title of the area and a listing of which games and places can be found there, and left click to travel there.

For the most part, movement in Fantage is by left mouse click; you just click on the location you want to travel to. Every avatar owns a skateboard, and floats from one location to another within each local map. Therefore, there’s also no walking animation: avatars never get off their skateboards. There are however animations for gestures, like waving, or jumping, for example.

Purchase of Goods

fantage starries

“Stars” are the currency of Fantage. Stars can be earned by playing mini-games; you also get an initial payout of stars when you begin a premium membership. Considering how difficult it can be to make hair and outfits for avatars of this size and shape, there’s a surprising range of goods available.

Hair, clothing, shoes, accessories, and skateboards, are available for purchase, as you might expect, however there are also extravagant costumes, phone accessories, and furniture on offer as well.

For the most part, you need to be a premium member to be able to purchase items. While each shop is packed full of things to look at, the only thing you can do once you have entered the store is to look at the store catalogue and interact with that.

Meeting People and having Friends

As with other “tween” oriented virtual environments, there’s not a whole lot of communication action to be seen. Possibly on the days when there are lots of people online, they are just IMing each other, instead of chatting out loud. I didn’t manage to have any contact with anyone else while I was online.

You get a buddy list which will hold up to 200 names.

Mini-Games

The mini-games have two purposes: to entertain, and to allow the player to earn stars to spend on items.

The mini-games are essentially casual, with low entry requirements. The rules are simple, and are usually encapsulated in a sentence or two of explanation. Most of the mini-games are single player, though there are at least a couple of multi-player games. The mini-games in Fantage cross a fair spectrum of game types, some requiring good hand-eye coordination, others needing good estimation skills, yet others requiring good pattern-matching skills.

Despite these benefits, I found the games to be unsatisfactory. The games failed to engage me, being either far too simple, or too difficult. The difficulty often did not ramp up well either, in games where the difficulty was variable. I found there to be an insufficient number of games; if you were drawn only to one type of game, likely there’d only be one or two available for you to choose from.

Missions

fantage missions

Missions lump together several mini-games not otherwise available into a theme-consistent whole with a storyline.

I didn’t find the mission itself to be all that attractive, but, despite some grammatical and punctuation errors, the interplay between yourself and some of the characters is decidedly amusing and entertaining.

Missions are probably the best part about Fantage.

The Sum-Up

Overall, Fantage is a pretty good environment, but not outstanding. It would be a nice, safe place for a child to start learning about virtual environments, however I think that most children would grow out of it quickly.

Popularity: 2% [?]

UWA: making everyone welcome

The UWA campus in SL

It began with a team from the University of Western Australia and Google SketchUp. Having won the Google “Build your Campus in 3D” competition, for which the team re-created some of the physical world’s campus buildings in SketchUp, it was but a short, logical step to want to bring those same buildings into Second Life, and create the campus in a more detailed fashion. SketchLife is the product of a UWA student – SketchLife realises SketchUp models as prim-based builds in Second Life.

Jayjay Zifanwe (SL) heads the team which put together the buildings and the surrounds of the UWA campus in Second Life. This team, composed of people from the UWA, together with associates gathered from across the globe – and discovered through Second Life – has done a marvellous job of creating a campus that is welcoming to all. Apart from the rendering of the real-life campus, intended for prospective students, alumni, and the vice-chancellor, there’s also:

- a skybox, intended to be used by university staff to run classes in
- a magnificent art exhibitions, composed of the ingenious works of Glyph Graves
- the entries for the UWA’s art and design competitions.

The main UWA landing site can be found here.

Mini Launch Day, August 21st 2009

4004178744_a7a1d5da80The mini-launch of the UWA sims occurred in August, well before the campus was complete. Jayjay Zifanwe and Ted Snell worked feverishly for several weeks and at least one whole weekend to ready the Astronomy art gallery in the SL Physics building for the occasion.

Spreading the word

After the mini-launch, but prior to the main launch, Wad Halberstadt, from the UWA’s School of Business, was gamely plugging away at teaching his Electronic Communication Strategy classes in Second Life, unaware of the work going on in other parts of the university. It took a chance meeting between Wad’s student, Leonie Clarrington, and Jayjay, to bring the campus builders and the teachers together. Wad and Jayjay have collaborated on the project since that time.

Main Launch Day, October 2nd 2009

uwa_launchOn the launch day of the UWA sims, 40 people attended the ceremony as avatars in Second Life, and 120 people packed into a RL space to attend. The people in the physical space were able to follow the proceedings in SL; the SL folk able to view the video kindly relayed the action for the other people unable to view the video through SL.

The IMAGINE competition: calling all artists

Second Life is swarming with artists of all persuasions, and what do artists like better than extra cash to help them to continue making art?  Peer recognition, perhaps? A place to exhibit? How about all of the above?

What better way to encourage this burgeoning group than to offer prizes, put on awards ceremonies, and then display the winning pieces in pride of place?

UWA has recently launched the IMAGINE 3D art competition, open to all users of Second Life. The response to this launch has pleased and overwhelmed the UWA SL team – there were 30 submissions for IMAGINE, and 40 people were present in Second Life for the awards ceremony for the inaugural month. The IMAGINE competition has been designed to encourage people to push their imaginations to the limits, and to submit work which expresses their best efforts in their SL favourite medium. There is a 100 prim limit on submissions.

Due to the efforts of the UWA team, the prizes for the overall winners at the end of the IMAGINE competition have been increased to L$75,000 each for first place, L$14,000 for second place; also L$14,000 for the best non-scripted entry. Monthly prizes come in at L$5,000 for first place, L$1,250 for second place, and L$1,250 for the best non-scripted entry. Additionally, the two winners receive a custom RL tee-shirt.

Each entrant who submits any genuine entry (not a block of plywood), and does not win a main prize, is eligible to receive money from the participation pool. The participation pool for the month of September was filled by Jayjay Zifanwe, Sasun Steinbeck and Tranguloid Trefoil, and in October, Phillip Vought will be contributing. If you would like to donate to the participation pool, you can do so here.

The monthly judging panel consists of: Professor Ted Snell (RL) – Director, Cultural Precinct, The University of Western Australia, Frank Roberts (RL) – The University Architect, The University of Western Australia, John Barret-Lennard (RL) – Curatorial Director, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Jayjay Zifanwe (SL) – Owner of The University of Western Australia, Raphaella Nightfire (SL) – CEO SW&MB Fashion Productions, CEO Evane Model Agency
Snr Writer Best of SL Magazine, Owner Sanctorum Gallery, Tranguloid Trefoil (SL) – Owner of WASP at the University of Western Australia. Each of these people is well-versed in the judging of art, therefore when they sat down together to judge the September competition, many of their decisions were unanimous.

Along with honourable mentions for the works of Venom Silverfall, Ninka Darkstone, Tweak Serpente/Strix Serenity and Soror Nishi, and the Best New Artist award, going to Isaa Gelber (see the reason why here), the main place-getters for September were:

First Place: Snubnose Genopeak

Best Non-Scripted Entry: Isaa Gelber

Second Place: Alizarin Goldflake.

September Round Winners: view them here.

Jayjay Zifanwe, as the head of the UWA team, has been particularly impressed with the efforts of Quadrapop Lane with regards to IMAGINE, naming her “the jewel of Western Australia”. Along with Jayjay, Quadrapop acts as the co-host of IMAGINE, and is the curator for all the entries. In a world where much art is plonked down higgledy-piggledy next to contrasting, distracting, or down-right incompatible pieces, Quadrapop’s efforts have allowed the entries to shine individually, and create a harmonious whole of all the pieces together.

The FLAGSHIP competition: calling all architects

There were fewer entrants for the FLAGSHIP competition, the design component, and with good reason. While IMAGINE encourages people to push their imaginations to the limits, and to submit work which expresses their best efforts in their favourite media, the end goal of FLAGSHIP is to attempt to bring the winning Second Life build into being as a physical building on the UWA campus.

Likewise, the FLAGSHIP competition attracts prizes of L$75,000 and L$14,000 for the first and second place-getters in the overall competition, and L$5,000 and L$1,250 for the equivalent in the monthly competitions.

Flagship Winner: view it here.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Open source virtual environments living server-free

Inside Solipsis, one month ago.

Most people familiar with the Second Life grid are also aware of the existence of OpenSim technology, commonly thought of as the Open Source alternative to Second Life.

With OpenSim, you can create your own virtual environment grid without needing to pay for licensing. The grid can be made open to the public, or be kept private, only available to those on your side of the firewall.

What is the difference, then, between the OpenSim concept, and that of Open Cobalt and Solipsis? Essentially, OpenSim grids are designed to be served from a common point. Open Cobalt and Solipsis implementations are designed to be served from many points – they are both peer-to-peer technologies.

Open Cobalt: specific market niche

Open Cobalt consists of two parts: a browser and a toolkit. The browser is used to view the 3D virtual workspaces created with the toolkit. Each workspace can live on a separate personal computer. Workspaces are real time and computationally dynamic, and each can host multiple participants. Additionally, individual workspaces can be interlinked into a private and secure network of workspaces.

Open Cobalt is based on Croquet technology. Squeak is an open source software development environment for Smalltalk-80 programming purposes; the Croquet system is derived from Squeak. The Croquet system features a peer-based messaging protocol that eliminates the dependence of a virtual environment upon a single server or server cluster, and that fosters the creation of highly collaborative workspaces. The Croquet software developer’s kit (SDK) was released in 2007, after which development under the Croquet umbrella ceased. Further development of Croquet has continued under the Open Cobalt banner.

Open Cobalt has a number of very attractive features, particularly for researchers, educators and students:

  • Open source licensing (MIT).
  • Deeply malleable, collaborative space.
  • Runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • Internet access is not required; it can run over LANs and Intranets.
  • Private environments can be created. This eliminates the incidence of griefing by outsiders.
  • Public environment can be created. This brings richness and diversity to learning environments.
  • In-world text, voice and video chat, web browsing (VNC allows access to browsers like Firefox) and annotations.
  • Access to remote applications via VNC.
  • Navigation between virtual workspaces is possible using 3D hyperlinks.
  • Workspaces can be easily saved and restored.
  • Mesh, texture, media, and whole avatar imports are possible.

Open Cobalt was started in January of 2008 by Julian Lombardi and Mark P. McCahill of Duke University.  The pre-alpha release of Cobalt (downloadable here) was announced in June 2008. Since then, Open Cobalt has progressed in leaps and bounds, featuring more functionality and more extensibility. The beta release is due this year, and a full implementation is expected to be released in 2010.

Solipsis: our market niche includes everyone.

Solipsis is also open source, and also features de-centralisation of computational work and data storage. Nonetheless, its background, implementation and philosophies are of course quite different from those of Open Cobalt.

Solipsis has been developed by French R&D partners Orange R&D, Artefacto, Archivideo, IRISA and the Université de Rennes II. The product, which has been available for download for some time, is currently in beta testing, though that is slated to be completed soon.

The Solipsis 3D project grew out a prior 2D project; the 2D browser also featured a peer-to-peer facility, and thus allowed users to engage in chat sessions without the use of centralised servers.

Beginning in 2006, with a time-line of 30 months to completion, the Solipsis 3D universe and the advanced modelling tools should now be available.

The Solipsis team has a rather grand notion of the position it will hold in the future: they desire it to replace and greatly extend the Web as it exists today. Far more than just creating a metaverse in which to communicate and collaborate with other people, they also see Solipsis as a potential way to store and present data in a more meaningful way than the conventional Web does now. Additionally, they hope that Solipsis will conquer scalability issues, promote usage and creation of high-bandwidth services, and that it will be self-organising – any part that is cut off from the rest of the metaverse will be self-sustaining.

The Solipsis GUI presents as both a stand-alone navigator, and as a Firefox plug-in and ActiveX component.

Popularity: 3% [?]