A couple of years ago if you wanted a high impact post that would generate a lot of comments, all you had to do was post something on Second Life. It was very much the hype topic at the time and supporters and detractors were pretty well balanced in numbers thus guaranteeing a lively set of posts. Personally I was ambiguous in that I believed 3D was an important step forward that would benefit quite a few genuine business areas, but even though I possessed my very own avatar, (Andymulholland Hax is my name if you are asking), I didn’t find myself much attracted to the SL lifestyle. The novelty wore off for me and I confess to not having played around in SL for some time.
So it was with some surprise that I realised the SL is now five years old, and quite frankly the changes are pretty startling, and that goes for some other virtual worlds as well. The one thing that seems not to have changed is the polarisation between those who love it and those who hate it, or at least the way Linden Labs run SL, so in the interests of good reporting let’s turn to Reuters for a well reported review.

It’s certainly a much better engineered environment and it both looks and feels it too, but it’s the who and how it’s being used that really is a good starting point. Let me illustrate this with two examples starting with Splitsville Second Life, a real world ten pin bowling company in Tampa Florida. The pitch is ‘too busy to get down here for a game with your friends? Then go into SL and meet them there for a game’. The current score is more than 7800 avatars have played 18000 plus games of virtual bowling, and in so doing made the real Splitsville Lanes into a ‘must visit’ attraction for out of town visitors and vacationers. The company is doing so well that it is adding new ‘real’ world sites in Miami, Dallas, etc having succeeded in building a recognisable brand.
Coca-Cola was an early experimenter in SL, testing its well known marketing skills in a completely new medium, but I wasn’t prepared to find the extent to which they have grasped and made use of the ultimate end of Web 2.0 with the development of their very own social networking into virtual world environment. The starting point of www.mycoke.com remains in place, but the old 2D CokeStudios is gone replaced by a full on virtual world called CC Metro which comes across as a mix between all of the things that the ‘coke generation’ will be interested in. Clearly it’s still in development but it’s a safe controlled world of fun, whereas SL still suffers from a dubious reputation at times.
The common link between the two examples is that they both employ multiple social media, blogs, web site, a mix between real and virtual, but most of all they allow social relationships to flow between all the media. That’s what seems to be changed most, no longer is SL, or other virtual worlds, the entire environment, now they are just another element in the whole mix of Web 2.0. It’s this that seems to underpin a huge amount of technology activity, and in this I will remain focussed on SL, but it seems to be true for other virtual worlds as well.
The big move has been the forming of the Architecture Working Group, AWG, with the intention of defining protocols for ‘broad based’ interoperability between virtual worlds. This pretty ambitious move has on one side the support of Linden Labs, the promoters of SL, and on the other IBM, and the chosen focus is the development of the Open Grid Protocol. A confusing name, and one that has nothing to do with Grid Computing, and everything to do with the control and positioning of objects and avatars in a virtual world. Draft 5.0 of this has just arrived in mid October so it’s all starting to get pretty serious.
The immediate objectives include allowing an enterprise to operate their own servers to support their activities on their ‘rented’ island in SL without needing to rely on Linden Labs. This allows a large scale and extensive SL enterprise such as IBM to be able to develop with out any restrictions and most importantly to be able to reuse their development in other worlds. This has changed the offerings from Linden Labs in SL to offer OpenSpaces which are low rent islands without dedicated CPUs.
But there is a whole new game starting around creating 3D through Photorealistic rendering of virtual reality which is supposed to be able to be able to run on small devices such as Smart Phones. TechCrunch – the startup showplace – introduced LivePlace who is developing the technology for this, but latter the demonstration video shown by LivePlace was questioned as to whether it was genuine. There is a fascinating story here, I have no idea if it is true or not, but the science certainly exists. There is no doubt that interest and development in 3D is growing on all sides, so I guess I will have to go back to tracking the topic and SL!