OpenSim discussion panel: podcast available

Zatzai Asturius from Second Convention held a discussion panel last week about the future of the Second Life grids (both the Linden Lab and OpenSim grids).

The panel consisted of Australian Adam Zaius and Teravus Ousley from the OpenSim project and it’s now available as a podcast.

Zatzai describes the podcast: “The discussion is about an hour long and it covers why there are problems with the grid today and what can be done, and what is being done to correct it. As well as what OpenSim is doing differently and what it is doing the same for compatibilities sake. The capabilties and mentality of the OpenSim design are also brought up and I think it gives a good glimpse into their development process.”

It’s a fairly technical discussion but if you’re interested in what’s under the grid, it’s an interesting listen.

Listen to the podcast here.

New Second Life business / education tool

Clever Zebra are a well-respected Second Life development company who recently changed their business model to an ‘Open Solutions’ approach. This week they released a new and free tool called Zebra Presenter. It’s an in-world presentation package and having seen a few of them over the past year, this would have to be the best one to date.

Check the introductory guide to Zebra Presenter produced by Australia’s Skribe Forti:

This is one noteworthy product: it’s free, it’s feature packed and it’s user-friendly. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Openlife – Second Life’s open source competitor

Openlife is the first fourth alternative Second Life grid to open up for widespread access.

It’s still a work in progress but one that’s well worth exploring, something I’ll be doing in coming days and weeks. 

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Openlife’s creator, Sakai Openlife, is based in Australia and we’ve made contact with him for an interview – stay tuned for further details.

Thanks to Tateru Nino at Massively and SL Universe for the heads-up. 

Update: A further thanks to Tateru Nino for pointing out that Openlife is actually the fourth alternative grid – there’s also Central Grid, OS Grid and Deep Grid.

Linden Lab Press ‘Tech Talk’ Media Conference – Aussie Second Life servers still likely.

Today at 3pm SL time (10am Saturday 26th January AEDT) Linden Lab held a media conference entitled ‘Tech Talk’ that featured Linden Lab’s VP of Platform and Technology Development Joe Miller, VP of Systems Engineering Ian Wilkes and Software Developer / Havok 4 ‘Guru’ Andrew Meadows.

Each member of the media present was allowed one question with one follow-up. For me, there was an obvious one I wanted to ask and the glitchiness of the audio experienced by a proportion of those gathered confirmed the need for it to be asked again. And as luck would have it I was first cab off the rank:

(Any dialogue from Linden Lab or attendees that came over voice is shown in brackets and are my summaries, not their exact words)

[15:08] Lowell Cremorne: “Joe you mentioned in the podcast that you’d like 2008 to be the year where true collaboration could occur in Second Life. The technical changes coming up should help a little but is Linden Lab truly committed to increased usability outside of the USA through increased server placement outside the USA?”

Joe and Ian Linden: (We’re in the test phases of servers in different countries. Still not happy with how some aspects are going and want to get that right before announcing anything further)

(Note: I attempted to ask my follow-up question on whether Telstra and Linden Lab were in negotiations to house servers in Australia but response was “we don’t comment on rumours”.)

[15:12] Reporter Hotshot: Adult Video News media Network: As I’ve toured SL with an eye toward the adult use in the space, what I see is a broad swath of varied uses in sexual activities. Both private and commercial. In the past year, there has been a considerable amount of media attention regarding the adult product copyright violations of SL Powerhouses like Strokers Toys. So much so, that the top adult industry publication, AVN, has put me “in-world” as an “embedded reporter” for them. The three hundred pound gorilla in the room seems to be how very much Sl is being used by most citizens for sexual explorations, and how very little anyone at the company wants to talk about it. How do the Lindens feel about this, and do they support it? and the follow up question, why, or why not?

Catherine Linden: (not relevant to subject of media conference)

[15:13] Lexa Dryke: Joe – not directly related to your immediate subject matter – can you tell us if there is a technical reason to limit the number of groups per avie (avatar) to 25?

Joe Linden: (It’s essentially a resource thing – we’re looking at it but if we increase options there it may affect resources available for other in-world activities.)

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[15:18] Dizzy Banjo: Following the recent survey LL have taken out. What is the current strategy for the development of voice ( recording / voicefonts / voice to text etc ) ? Did the survey results provide anything you hadn’t expected ?

Joe Linden: (Survey results not tabulated yet, group voice chat moderation facilities on the way. We’re aware people want to be able to design their own voice and are working on voicing morphing – look for beta testing of that in coming months)

[15:19] Babu Writer: In a recent article in Technology Review, i read that Cory Ondrejka was testing Metaplace, which could one day allow folks to travel from virtual world to virtual world like one surfs the web today. I read that Metaplace would be released more broadly in April. Will Linden be doing something that allows its avatars to travel from virtual world to world outside of the “game.”

Joe Linden: (Active dialogue occurring with other virtual worlds – working on common protocols to allow avatars to carry themselves and goods between worlds but at a very early stage)

[15:24] Katier Reitveld: I do motor racing as a side in SL and the physics engine currently causes a lot of issuies. Lag, cars going throught he track, sticking togethe rand freezing mid track when they collide.How much of an improvement with the upgrade to Havoc be liekly to improve this?

Andrew Linden: (Aware there are still issues, working on improving the physics of vehicles. Will continue to hold ‘vehicle sessions’ to allow residents to provide feedback / look at issues.)

Joe Linden: (The commitments made on stability and usability for 2008 very much apply to vehicles. Havok 4 will free up cycles to process other things which will improve experience.)

[15:28] VirtualWorldsNews Writer: You mentioned a lot of projects that seem to be building on the experience for existing users–stability, performance, etc. That’s great, but what is being done on development side specifically aimed at new business, consumers, etc.?

Joe Linden: Improving search has been one small step that helps both business and consumers. Additional search capabilities on the way. ‘Dazzle’, a re-skinning of viewer is also on the way.

Prokofy Neva: (what are top 10 reasons for viewer crashes. Will new implementations break thousands of customs scripts created by residents)

Joe Linden: (Work being done on correlating crash reasons well underway. Now have a single dashboard and there will be a direct data feed from viewer to dashboard to help pinpoint tech causes of crashes and what’s occurring most commonly. Reason we believe viewer crashes are so important because it’s a primary reason for people not coming back. Want people to stay long enough to identify the more discreet issues. On custom scripts – it’s a challenge, on the beta grid now and encourage people to execute their scripts there.)

[15:37] Mitch Wagner: Joe, you said a few minutes ago that the Lindens are looking to make it easier for users to find context and people of like mind and like interest in Second Life. Could you please go into more detail on that?

Joe Linden: (the new search functionality is it at present, other stuff in development but not able to disclose at this stage. New developments centred on context and community.)

[15:39] Chizzy Dilley: Could you give me more long term plan, 1, 3 to 5 years, I mean some like road map if you have for viewer, server, and back system, or others. any concern or difficulty for developing with other language? Do you put any team member as international developer?

Joe Linden: (Can’t see that far out. You might have acuity out to 3-6 months. We have a number of international developers – UK, Australia. We’re looking for talent wherever it is. No active development in China at present but developer presence in Japan.)

[15:42] Eric Reuters: anecdotally, I’ve known a lot of people who have tried SL, if no reason other than they heard I was reporting here, and no one ever told me the reason they didn’t stick was the viewer crashing. on what do you base your belief that the reason newbies don’t stick around is the user crash rate? And not, say, the UI?

Joe Linden: (We’re dealing with data that isn’t anecdotal. We reach out broadly to understand their issues and viewer crashes a big one)

[15:43] Tinsel Silvera: There are a lot of Residents with older hardware that does not work well with Windlight. Will Windlight be kept optional or will it be incorporated to a point that those Residents will be forced to upgrade their hardware?

Joe Linden: (Windlight won’t be released generally until it is feasible for most users to access and there is a switch-off capability anyway. Still tweaking settings to make sire we can maintain framerate and improve crash rate on current viewer.)

[15:46] Yabush Yamdev: Now we can’t input Japanese language directly into scripts. Can we use Japanese language and other two-byte characters in scripts in the near future?

Andrew Linden: (Don’t know answer to that – will get back to you)

[15:47] spitfire Hultcrantz: What kind of content or event do you think suitable for Havok4 Second Life world? Or, what kind of change do you want users enjoy in Havok4 world?

Joe Linden: (Primary goal is to create more predictable experience, less lag etc)

Andrew Linden: (All about stability initially but then will be about adding features. Some may allow new content.)

[15:48] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, let me just send the congratulations to Babbage & the rest of the Mono team for the fantastic news :) As for my question… what will be the internal status of the “Architecture Work Group” in 2008? 1) A cool community-and-Linden chat group that sometimes has some insight on a few ideas, but that will be slowly phased out; 2) something that did not work at all; 3) the core for a future “Open Second Life Protocol Foundation” which will lead the metaverse industry into adopting protocols, standards, and grid architecture design for the future; or 4) None of the above :)

Joe Linden: (fully committed to the working group – actionable projects to put into practice. Encourage visits to Zero Linden’s office hours if interest in this area.)

[15:51] Reporter Hotshot: I have a development related question….are you planning to make APIs available to developers to link “inworld” actions with external user computers….so one might deveope an interactive haptic interface that responds to inworld actions?

Joe Linden: (Encourage you to do it today via open source code plus current scripting language gives some general options as well. That said, more things on the way in that regard.)

Farqot Gustafson: (what are stats on lag / crashes?)

Joe Linden: (performance stats are now published monthly)

Lexa Dryke: (learning curve for SL is steep, does LL have plans to improve that.)

Joe Linden: (Yes – first user experience being studied in detail to improve things. If someone wants to bring friends in for a live event they should be able to do so without going through orientation. CSI event was a classic example of that – will see a lot more of that.)

[15:59] Curric Vita: I am Steve Atlas, writer for Metanomics.net. My question is: Which elements of the SL experience do you see as central improvement dimensions in retaining new and experienced users, and in that context, what actions are you taking to ensure that users do not migrate to competitors’ grids as viable alternatives emerge?

Joe Linden: (We’re all quite passionate about that – core of SL is collaboration and other people. Walking around an empty grid is not a very exciting experience. Central improvement is giving people better access to each other and better collaborative tools. Migration to competitors isn’t one that keeps us awake at night. We’re interested in how we engage people rather than making it a technology challenge.)

My take on the whole thing? There’s no doubt Linden Lab from top to bottom are stating their commitment to improving stability and there’s fairly wide acceptance of the sincerity of that claim. Like anything, if progress isn’t perceived to have been made, the next media conference may be a different atmosphere to todays. On the issue of Australia-based servers, I have no doubt they’ll occur but after comments of ‘real soon now’ in May 2007 it doesn’t appear timeframes are any firmer.

Update: the official transcript of the podcast released prior to the media conference is now available.

Third-party SL viewers continue to grow

Since the open-sourcing of the browser code, the innovation that’s occurred in that area has been substantial. A recent browser iteration I noticed was one that blocks eyesores.

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I’ve been a bit conservative and just used the stock standard LL browsers but I’m interested to hear about any third-party browsers you’ve used and why.

Ubrowser

The uBrowser website states that uBrowseruBrowser “is an open source test mule that renders interactive web pages onto geometry using OpenGL® and an embedded instance of Gecko, the Mozilla® rendering engine. Its primary purpose is to help me integrate Gecko into my company’s software – a 3D virtual world called Second Life.”

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The developer behind this browser experience is Callum Prentice. Callum is part of the Linden Lab team and he goes into great detail at the uBrowser website on how he sees this software integrating with the content and developments going on in SL. His aim is to have “residents … put interactive content anywhere they like – the much rumored “Web-On-A-Prim”. As well as allowing for the display of regular Web pages”.

If this is the case and uBrowser achieves the goals that Callum is setting. it would bring about a synergy between the realtime interactions in SL and the semi-static text, audio, video and graphics that make up the bulk of websites.

Put your hand up if you’d like web on a prim?

Linden Lab CEO: ‘We’ve got to increase the quality’

Reuters have published an interview with Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale from this weekend’s SLCC. Most of the interview is fairly predictable but it’s encouraging to see the acknowledgement of quality as the key driver into the future:

“We’re at a place where we’ve demonstrated that the virtual world can exist. Now we need to make it high quality so it does continuously support the activities and desires of the people who are using it. That’s what we’ve learned by listening for the last couple of quarters. We’ve got to increase the quality.”

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Of course, I’d deluded myself that some mention may be made of further internationalisation of the servers but the only allusion to that came from Rosedale’s thoughts on open-sourcing:

“If you’re an entrepreneur, wanting to enter the virtual world and sell stuff to people, you’re going to want to find the largest possible audience. So you’ll be strongly drawn to set up your shop on the system with the largest number of people using it. There will be a tremendous desire by people to link those servers together and be on our network so they can have access to the largest base of people.”

Finally, on the legal issues around ageplay and gambling, he summarised Linden Lab’s intent to tie restrictions to avatars through verification of that avatar’s RL location. That seems the most sensible way of not forcing the whole grid into a universal lockdown in a range of sensitive areas.

If Linden Lab are planning some incredible revolutionary step in SL’s development, it’s certainly not apparent in Philip Rosedale’s thoughts. What would you have liked to have seen asked of him in the interview?

The scenery just got prettier

Yesterday’s Linden Blog posting heralded a major step forward in the visual strength of the SL platform – Linden’s acquisition of the Windlight graphics technology from Windward Mark Interactive.

As Linden Labs say themselves, the short story on the technology is “killer skies”. The initial shots supplied certainly live up to that description:

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(Photo part of set created by Torley Linden – access the full set here)

The Windlight-enabled viewer is available “now” for PC users – though I can’t find the specific download link. No firm date on the Mac release as yet.

What’s not clear for Australian users of SL is the impact on bandwidth and whether lag will increase further. However, announcements like this do flag the oncoming wave of enhancements resulting from open sourcing SL. And here’s a YouTube video provided by Linden Labs to showcase Windlight:

Australian SL servers on the horizon?

The transcript of the Town Hall held earlier today provides a small glimmer of hope for Australians frustrated with the lag in SL. In response to a question on internationalising the server locations, Corey Linden provided this snippet:

“We absolutely want to deploy servers overseas. We have an architectural quirk in how we talk to the dbs — a layer of single threaded dataservers – that would suffer in situations with greater ping latency, so we need to fix that problem first, which is being worked on. Once that is fixed, we will begin international deployments. This is critical since over 65% of our use is from outside the US.”

Of course, Australia is very unlikely to be part of the early expansion – Europe and Asia are the obvious targets. However, the combination of Australian SL servers and the next-generation architecture should surely provide some relief in the medium term. The challenge is delivering the goods before competitors do.

Light at the end of the tunnel for lag?

There are growing reports of Linden Labs opening up their servers to open source. New blog ‘LA 2nd Life’ run by Australian, DanteJones Laszlo, outlines nicely the upsides of non-Linden Labs owned servers.

Whether open sourcing solves some of the greater underlying architectural issues is debatable, at least in the short term. Aside from lag, the deal breaker for a lot of SL users is the inablity to have more than around 100 people on any one sim at one time. Solve that and SL will truly come into its own.

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