Standardising Virtual Worlds, an update

31 10 2007

Some time has passed away since I last posted something about the Second Life Grid Architecture Working Group and related efforts (because there are now).


So what has been happening on defining a new protocol for Second Life? Well, actually technically not too much, we are still being in the discussion phase. But a lot of discussion has happened. A big one was of course the discussion around Intellectual Property and fears such a new protocol can open the door to all sorts of misuse. There is a lot of detail on this wiki page about it. Summarized the situation is that we don’t want to implement any DRM as it will be hacked anyway but we will keep the permission system as it is (other grids are free then of course to implement their own permission system like a true GPL one) and make sure the objects will stay in the trust domain you define.

Then there was some discussion about alternative region and geometry formats but Zero made clear in his lates office hour that we won’t define a new format for all this. Groups who want to discuss this can do so but in a different place while they still should stay abreast with the protocol work the SLGAWG is doing. Should there be the fear that some doors might get closed which are not being that easy to reopen again, they should say so.


From these discussions which got a bit unstructured the idea of the Viewpoint Advocacy Group (VAG) was born. Those groups have a special topic such as Scalability, Quality Assurance or Geometry/Physic and they will closely follow the protocol definition. They will also discuss certain use cases under their individual viewpoint. Should there be conflicts between different views then somebody (probably Zero) needs to decide on them. The goal though is of course to reach consensus where possible. You can find more about them on this wiki page.

In-world group AWGroupies

Zha Ewry of IBM founded a group called AWGroupies as a group for meetups in Second Life. Zha also provided some group space for those meetings to take place. Meetings are once or twice a week and there is an agenda on what to talk about here. This group is invite only but if you are interested in the technical details of the protocol definition and want to contribute to a technical conversation there should be no reason not be allowed in.

These meetings are sort of preparation sessions for the office hour with Zero Linden. Results will of course be posted on the wiki.

AWGroupies also have a public subversion repository here:

The Scope of the SLGAWG

In his last office hour Zero Linden was talking about the scope of this project: The main goal here really is Second Life and how to make it possible to open up the grid and that way also make the architecture more scalable. It is a project for the next 1-2 years. It is not about redefining everything, most of the data structures present in Second Life today will probably also be used in the new architecture. It is also not about being able to host 5000 people on a region because this needs severe rethinking and experimentation about how to do that with all the SL features still intact. For a more general standardization of virtual worlds there is actually the vwinterop project which I will describe later.

The last decision of what is in scope and what isn’t is now defined by Zero should there be problems coming up regarding this. He also promised to edit the wiki next week and move stuff not in scope “elsewhere”.


Well, on the coding front not much really has happened yet. We are sort of still in the discussion on how this project actually should work instead of working on something. There are some exceptions of course, like Gareth Ellison who is working on some python based components. From the official site (== Linden Lab) there is only known right now that they want to have an implementation for a customized client logging in to an agent domain at the end of Q4.
But now that Q4 is passing past fast and Zero will edit the wiki I hope that some more official coding is happening soon. I think this is very important because right now probably everybody has their own view on how things might or might not work.

Code can then also be used as a basis for discussion and an example for the ongoing work

Virtual World Interoperability

At the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo in San Jose earlier this month IBM hosted a closed session with many players from the virtual worlds business, such as AutoDesk, Samsung, HiPiHi, Anshe Chung Studios, Sun, Transmutable, Areae, Forterra, Mindark, IBM, Cisco, Google, Linden Lab, Sony, Multiverse, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, and Philips. According to Peter Haggar, Emerging Technology and Standards Senior Technical Staff Member at IBM, this meeting was mainly meant to check out if there is interest in creating standards for virtual worlds to make them interoperable.

It seems there is some interest and so a group has been formed which now has a home on the web at This page includes the full agenda for the day complete with presentation slides.

The status of the group is probably “forming”. Not real work has been done except some discussion about how this group might work. So it’s definitely an interesting place to watch and maybe participate. I missed the last meeting unfortunately but will try to attend the next one. Everybody can join this effort btw, just signup at the site. You need to be confirmed but for me this seemed not to be any problem.

So there are definitely interesting projects going on. One a bit more concrete (SLGAWG) and another somewhat broader (VW Interop). Now if the first one just gets a better name than SLGAWG it might be all fine 😉

PS: There is also the press release from Linden Lab and IBM regarding creating e.g. a standard for universal avatars. This is probably more related to the work done by the VW Interop group.

Tags: , , , ,

What is the future of Social Networks?

31 10 2007

So recently I “had to” add some new social networks to my growing list of accounts (e.g. this one) and it again started to annoy me quite a bit.

So what is wrong?

Basically I think it’s the fact that all those social networks out there (or at least most) are very much walled gardens. They surely give me all sorts of interaction possibilities with my friends and contacts but it’s all happening just on their site.

They model my social graph for me but it’s hidden on their site.

The let my friends send me messages but those are hidden on their site (although we have a quite well working messaging system called email. Why not at least include the message body in that email).

The let me write applications for their site but they again are hidden on their site and not portable anyway (might change with OpenSocial).

The have all my data but it’s hidden on their site.

So all of this is sort of annoying me plus the fact that nearly none of those sites utilize useful things like OpenID (IIRC some Ning representative at the AlwaysOn conference said that users don’t want OpenID. Hello?)

So what is the future here? I think I am getting more and more lazy with each new social network which wants my data. I might not try to find my friends anymore, I might not try to interact much with it beside that what might be very much useful for me.
I might not even respond to messages anymore because I might happen to have forgotten my password for this one and I am too lazy to go through that email process (which email was it again? Which was actually my account name?!?)

As long as you are not the top ten of those sites that’s probably bad for you.

So social networks need to open up. They need to give me my data back and might subscribe to my already existing data like my social graph which might be stored where I like it. That way those networks will get much more useful data.

One problem is of course also the advertising model most of the sites use. This of course is a main driving force for walled gardens. So it might be interesting to see if the open source community will come up with something better. There are already good attempts like NoseRub or even OpenID (maybe not open source but open standards).

Then there are also attempts on making virtual worlds more interoperable and from what I see so far esp. in the Second Life Grid Architecture Working Group is also promising for social networks in general. They think ahead of how to define identity in a more global way. Of course we have to see how much is left when the protocols are finished and of course many of the existing virtual worlds (actually all) are also walled gardens. But maybe there is hope 🙂

So what do you think about the future of social networks regarding openness? Will you have a future where virtual worlds will be part of that and where you have to define an avatar additionally to friends, groups and profile on every single website you want to visit or do you think you can reuse existing information and actually control it?

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Travel plans ahead

29 10 2007

The end of the year is slowly approaching but the end of travelling is not 😉 So here are my most recent travel plans. If you are at these places too and want to meet me just send me a note!

Barcamp/Podcamp Berlin, 3-4 Nov 2007

This will be a lot of fun! It starts on Friday with a party and will close on sunday again with a party or actually 2. One is the Geek Dinner with Stowe Boyd and the other one the pl0gbar special Berlin. Right now I am thinking about giving at least 2 sessions: One about the new Second Life Grid Architecture (basically the same as at the webmonday in Aachen but this time in english) and one about Plone. I just have to prepare it though and I am wondering what I might put in there. Audience will probably be people who don’t know Plone yet. You can find all the information about the Barcamp here.

After the Barcamp it goes on in Berlin with

Web 2.0 Expo Berlin and Web2Open Berlin, 5-8 November 2007

Those are sort of related. The first one is the conference by O’Reilly and the latter will be the more barcamp like unconference at the same time. I still need to check out which sessions to attend and maybe thinking about holding one. Will probably quite problematic as the conference is already 5-track and the Web2Open will add to this amount of stuff to listen to. On monday there will additionally be workshops. If you are attending, maybe add yourself to the social network around it (my profile).

There will be also some parties around this:

On thursday I will then travel back and eventually attend the Second Life roundtable in Cologne, should it happen (I heard rumours about Twinity and StageSpace showing their products)

Webmontag Cologne, Nov 26th

This will just be an evening and not far so it might not count as travelling but it should be nice nevertheless. Maybe I will also present something, we will see. You can find all about it here.

So that’s it for November. There is nothing really planned for December except going for some vacation to Poland to visit the family of my girlfriend (and getting lots of great stuff to eat ;-).

Snow Sprint 2008

The new year might begin with the Snow Sprint but it might also begin with the annual #amigager meeting in Karlsruhe (called MeKa). I haven’t heard about this yet so we will see.

Definitely happening will be the Snow Sprint 2008 though and I am planning to attend it in order to get some new features implemented (maybe we can finish commenting there with Tom).

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Webmonday Aachen/Euregio rocked!

23 10 2007

So yesterday we had our first webmonday in Aachen and the region called Euregio which consists of closer parts of the neighbouring countries Netherlands and Belgium. The idea was to get participants also from those areas but somehow we failed in addressing the right people. Nevertheless it was great for a first webmonday in Aachen. 25 people showed up while we were expecting 5 😉

We even had two talks, one about which is some nice event portal for organising dinners in a city and by doing that meeting new friends (each course will happen in a different place and after that there will be an after dinner party).

The second talk was held by myself and I was talking once again about the new Second Life Grid Architecture which seems a very important topic for me. We had quite a bunch of people in the audience who never have been in Second Life and have been somewhat sceptical about it but in the end they might see Second Life in a different light now. Which is cool! 🙂

You can find another summary in german on my german blog and you will find there also the videos of the two talks. Attached is the slideshow of my presentation:

[link to slideshare]

Tags: , , , , , ,

New Client looks

22 10 2007

It seems that soon we will have some new looks for the Second Life client. One is done by Benjamin Linden and thus will replace the existing look of today at some point and the other is the OnRez viewer which will debut on Wednesday in conjunction with the airing of the CSI:NY episode about Second Life.

So here are the two screenshots:

Linden Lab viewer

(The long term goal here is btw to make the official client more easily skinnable in general)

OnRez viewer

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

New Blog is up!

11 10 2007

So I just created a new blog or more or less reactivated my old technology blog. It is about all the lower level technical stuff such as things about Plone, Python and Zope. It will definitely also cover some Second Life related stuff in this area, esp. if the SLGA gets going.

Speaking of the SLGA: Zero Linden just presented us the goal of Studio Icehouse (which he is leading) for Q4 and number 3) of this was actually getting a viewer authentication running on a demonstration grid with an agent domain. Yay!

But back to my new blog, you can find it here:

Please subscribe if you are a geek 🙂

You will also find a lot of material from the Plone Conference there right now. Esp. useful for me is what I just posted.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Lessons learned from the Plone Conference streaming

11 10 2007

So doing the streaming for a Plone Conference is quite a stressy task at times. You mostly run around trying to get the right people, you are searching for a possibility to plug into a sound source and you are trying to get a good network connection. Sound was working in the end after I check the mixer myself and managed to get a long enough cable (wireless mic would be nice but is expensive). And instead of having a dedicated line I had to share the wifi connection. But in the end it worked better than expected and I had 2 streams running, one to for the website and one to for Quicktime to use it in Second Life.

So should you plan to stream a conference or any other event live, make sure you

  1. arrive early, 3 days in advance might not be too little time. Make sure, the technical staff is around, too.
  2. bring enough long cables with you (or buy some in the area).
  3. have a power connection. Make sure you have power adapters should you be in foreign countries.
  4. check in front if there really is a dedicated line for you (not sure how good a 3G connection might work but it can be better than nothing and especially not shared)
  5. setup a Second Life venue far before the event
  6. prepare a streaming website (basically showing a widget) also ahead of the conference. This should be announced early and should also contain up-to-date information. A CMS like Plone is of course quite useful for managing such things.
  7. announce the life streaming early on as many channels as possible. Prepare a text and send it out to your blogs, to news sites, as group announcements etc. (create a group ahead of time or use existing ones)
  8.  have a good enough Quicktime Streaming Server. You might want to look out for a sponsor which should be easy to find for interesting events. If there is a budget it is even easier of course. As for our sponsor, StreamGuys, I can only say that it worked like a charm.
  9. don’t forget to hit the Record button on also. This way you directly have an archived version of the video you can link to.
  10. you link to the agenda of the conference and eventually convert it to Second Life times (something which I hadn’t time to do yet).

Of course I knew some of these things before but you forget quickly 😉 Especially doing the website before leaving is a very good idea as you probably will have enough stress already on location.

So if you want to join today’s streaming of the conference (starting in about 1 hour), join us via web or Second Life.

(photo by Aaron van der Lip)

Tags: , , , ,

Plone Conference News

10 10 2007

So after a stressy day yesterday to get audio etc. working for streaming we now have a live stream going on from 2 rooms. One is Newton and one is Archimede. The latter is also going to Second Life (thanks to StreamGuys again for making this happen).

I also did my talk by now (Marketing Plone the Web2.0 way) which was quite ok but we have to see if I really encouraged people to just try something new, like doing a blog. I was faster than expected though 🙂 (maybe better than the other way round).

If you want to join the Conference virtually either by Web or in SL, please visit the Streaming Page.

There are also calendars available for the program:

(Thanks to Alexander Limi and Vincenzo Barone to make this work)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Plone Conference 2007 in Second Life

9 10 2007

Plone Conference 2007

We are doing it again! After the great reception of streaming the Plone Conference last year to Second Life it will also happen again this time. From Oct 10-12 about 340 Plone fans and experts will meet in Naples for the Plone Conference 2007, over 50 people will give over 60 talks in 4 tracks. Topics will range from Beginner’s tutorials to highly technical details about the Open Source Content Management System Plone.

And you can be part of this even if you are not in Naples yourself. Just join us for the Plone Conference in Second Life. We are working hard right now to make streaming possible. The great thing is that Second Life also helped in finding a sponsor for streaming. Some months back I was visiting a Cisco event where the keynote of the Cisco CEO was streamed live to Second Life. The stream was provided by StreamGuys and we talked a bit about streaming into Second Life. This turned out to be a great connection as they are now sponsoring us to get the stream from Naples to Second Life. Thanks to StreamGuys!

For more information check out the Plone Conference Streaming Page.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

HTML on a prim is getting ready for prime time

2 10 2007

Firefox wallpaper

Now Linden Lab seems to be eager to ship feature after feature. First Havok 4 was announced (of course this is not really about a new feature but about reducing the crash rate) and is now even available in beta, then Windlight seems to make some progress (and we even had a First Look some time ago) and now we hear back from another long awaited project, called HTML on a prim which Linden Lab prefers to call “Web Media” (on a prim) because it’s supposed to be much more than just HTML.

Earlier today there was a little meetup with Callum Linden, the project leader for the Web Media project. He presented us the state of the project as well as future directions. There is even a wiki page available now which gives quite a lot of detail actually and it’s nice to see some more formal use case descriptions on there. That’s how I like it 🙂

So what is Web Media actually all about? As mentioned already it is not just about putting HTML on a prim in the form of a media texture and thus like we do it with videos today. It is all about an extensible system which also allows 3rd parties to provide handlers for completely different formats. One idea which came up during the meeting was a simple text rendering engine to get rid of the limitations of xytext (while being a great tool done by smart people it’s still sort of a hack). So one part of the work is apparently decoupling the actual rendering module from the logic. What comes then will come in 4 stages. As only the first stage is sort of fixed so far only for this a rough date is given.

Stage 1: Getting static HTML on a parcel

This work is supposed to take 2 months and Callum is doing everything to ship this before the end of this year. Of course it’s very brave to give a date but I think the main point here is that it’s being worked on. In stage 1 also the refactoring of the current implementation to allow for the pluggable architecture described above. Static HTML here means that it won’t support forms or anything like that.

Stage 2: Extending the system

In stage 2 Linden Lab will work on enabling more than one stream per parcel (he says a handful). This is of course great news as having only one stream is quite limiting and parceling up ones land is annoying, too. Especially as you can have different sorts of media on one parcel then (like HTML and a video), this makes sense. Callum said also, that support for media on a HUD will be implemented then. The question here maybe remains how the details are. It would be great to put your music or video stream on a HUD and just carry it around with you. Having dynamic HTML on a HUD would also allow for a better way of implementing search or information interfaces (so the Reuters HUD could simply be a web page which makes things quite easy). As these requirements came up more during the conversation there’s nothing about this in the wiki yet.

Stage 3: Making things dynamic and interactive

So here the fun begins, both for security experts (sort of) and users. This stage will actually contain separate phases in itself. First of all single user interactivity is going to get implemented. This means every website you see on a prim or HUD can only be seen by you (of course people can see the same URL but if you do any input only you can see this. It’s basically like everybody having their own browser). I’d think that even this step will enable quite a lot of possibilities, beginning with the search/info interfaces mentioned before (actually an info interface could already be implemented with stage 1 if there is no clicking involved).

The second phase will then what he calls “poor man’s shared browsing”. In this scenario URLs, clicks and keyboard input will be passed around between users on a parcel. I am not sure how good this will work. We might try out beforehand by getting a bunch of USB mice, connecting them to one single computer and everbody trying to browse the web simulatanously ;-). But if done right and maybe only one person being allowed to click at one time this might be nice for tutorials etc.

The final stage is true shared browsing. In this situation the actual browser sits on the server and delivers it’s graphical output to the prim. Again I am not sure how good this will work and Callum also said that having the browser implemented on the server side can be quite tricky. Additionally it’s not very useful for highly dynamic sites using Flash or AJAX like components. The implemenation in the end will probably be a mix between these 3 alternatives and parcel owners can then choose which one to use.

Callum was making clear that he definitely is looking for more input especially for stage 3. This is where all of you can participare by adding your use cases to the wiki page. What would you need and do with HTML on a prim?

Stage 4: Implement the holy grail

The holy grail is actually to implement full support for web on a prim. This means that you don’t put media textures on a parcel but instead you can define them on a per-prim-basis. According to Callum this is a completely separate project though and we might come back to that with another meeting.

Problems to solve

So the main problem to solve is actually security esp. when it gets interactive. If many people can see the same browser page instance then it needs to be defined who is allowed to input data into forms, click on which links and so on. If everybody can click and type everywhere and they are logged into your account you might soon have a different password or worse things. And with a shared browser you’d also have shared cookies for authentication. This sort of sounds scary to me and thus this definitely needs to get tackled.

What else might be nice to have?

Of course some more feature requests came up during discussion. Here are some parts of the discussion:

  • We have Quicktime support only now as this can be implemented easily cross-platform and along with GStreamer on Linux it gives a wide range of media support.
  • Flash is complicated to get it running. Callum was making some progress on windows but not an any of the other platforms. But it’s definitely something they wish to implement for obvious reasons. Flash playback works though but the interactive part is what’s the hard part. This means that Flash videos will probably work after stage 1.
  • With support for multiple streams different streams can also be played on in different heights (e.g. on each floor one TV at the same location)
  • Users should be able to turn these streams off or get a confirmation before starting it. This is important for people who are afraid of eventually giving out their IPs to foreign people (which you do all the time browsing the web anyway but we all know that some people are very sensitive to that so this should probably be an option).
  • Interaction between LSL and Web would be nice, e.g. in form of some JavaScript calls which do not control the browser but your SL client. This would allow in the simplest case to teleport you somewhere by clicking on a button.


All this sounds great to me and by looking at the use cases for stage 1 it should already adress quite some use cases (examples are listed here). And should it be possible later to add HTML to your HUD and at some point even to perform some text input there (not really sure actually in what stage form support for individual users get’s tackled) we should have a quite decent solution.

And again I would like to invite you to participate by providing use cases. Some are listed already, many are hopefully waiting in your brain to get added to the wiki page!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,